Kingdom Christmas

Oh, how I love Boxing Day.

For those of you who don’t know, Boxing Day is the day after Christmas and is a holiday in the UK.  I won’t take time to explain the history of this day (look it up if you are interested) but all you need to know is that now Boxing Day has become just a wonderful, relaxing extension of Christmas.  There are family gatherings, meals out, sale shopping and many, many brisk walks to mitigate the over-eating from the day before.

As I picked at the leftovers, tidied up and mopped the floors this morning, I was pondering our Christmas Day.

Our family is changing.  Sometimes more quickly than I am ready for but it is changing none the less. It was interesting and wonderful sharing Christmas with my new son-in-law and other ‘appendages’ and talking about different Christmas traditions.

Of course, everyone thinks their way is the best way.

For some, Christmas can’t start until they have been to a Christmas Eve Candlelight service at church or read the Christmas story together before tucking excited children into bed.  Some insist opening gifts on Christmas Eve is the only way.  Others somehow manage the patience to wait until after the Queen’s speech.  In some houses, Christmas breakfast is smoked salmon while others keep it simple with tea, toast and a few chocolates from the tin.  My mom started a tradition of fancy breakfasts in our house so we go to town and pull our grandma’s dishes and wine glasses, despite the impracticability of it all.

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I know some very artistic present wrappers but many more ‘stick it in a gift bag’ types.  Some families love games while others can’t imagine missing the Christmas Day film.  Whether you always buy new pyjamas for the family, fill up stockings with goodies or don’t bother, cook for a crowd or only a few, insist on Christmas pudding or apple pie or chocolate cake, you probably love the way you do Chrismas.  It is your family culture, a mixture of your upbringing and your spouse’s and new things you picked up along the way.

But it struck me yesterday, that for those of us who love and follow Jesus, we have a culture that binds us, the culture of the Kingdom of God.  And, whichever way we love to do things over the holiday season, there some cultural norms that should tie us together as brothers and sisters in Christ.

First of all, Christmas, at its heart, is about giving.  As Christians, we shun materialism, but we embrace generosity.  If I decided one year to escape the commercialism of Christmas and hunker down in a cabin in the middle of nowhere and just think religious thoughts, I would be missing the central core of the message of Chrismas.  For God so loved the world, He gave. 

Love gives.

It just does.  If we don’t give, we don’t love.  Love gives hugs and it cooks and washes up.  Love makes time for family and friends and those who are alone.  It gives even when there is no reciprocation.  In fact, I don’t think there is a proper way to remember the birth of Jesus that does not involve generosity.  We give to those we love, those we work with, those who have less than us.  We give out of an overflow of what God has given us. We give time and kindness and the gift of ourselves, even when we don’t really feel like it.

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And, Christmas is about people.  There is something about the holidays that draws us together.  Christmas songs like ‘Driving Home for Christmas’ and ‘I’ll be home for Christmas’ capture well this need to be with those we love.  Perhaps it is the desire to share time with those who know us best,  those who we are bound to by blood or marriage or friendship, or perhaps it is a need to connect with those with whom we share traditions and history.  This is, of course, a Kingdom value too.  In God’s Kingdom, people are always the priority.  As children of God, we are being like our Dad when we love our families, appreciate our friends and when we make room in our gatherings for someone new to join us.

There is something very Christ-like about looking around the Christmas table and deciding to love those you have been given, despite inevitable conflicts, irritations and frustrations.  It takes work and commitment, forgiveness and grace.  It takes the love only God can give.  It is the way we show we belong to Jesus and it is a perfect way to celebrate His undeserved gift to us.    

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And, by the way, thoughtful gifts are a beautiful way to show someone that we know who they are and we ‘get’them.   I personally think that being known is one of our deepest human needs and these holiday times are an opportunity to express this to one another in intentional ways.

Yesterday, after all the presents had been opened, the lunch was eaten and games had been played, my husband had us all go into the kitchen with the lights off.  He went out in the garden and suddenly it was lit up with a string of festoon lights that I had admired earlier in the year. I’m a writer and a thinker.  Honestly, I can be a little complicated and not everyone gets me.  Sometimes that is really very lonely.  When those closest to me show me I am loved and understood, and even liked, it is a healing gift to my soul.

And finally, a Kingdom Christmas is always filled with worship.  Worship is intended to be the starting point of everything we do.  It is what we were created for.  It can, and should, fuel every aspect of Christmas, and actually, every part of our lives

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These next few days can be worshipful, despite the full schedules, if our minds are daily being renewed (Romans 12.1-2) and we are careful what we are thinking about. Finding opportunities for prayer and God’s Word will leave less breeding ground for the disappointments, annoyances and hurts that Christmas can so often produce, like every other time of the year.

Whatever we are doing today, whether it is a long walk, movies and chocolate, a family party or just chilling,  we can fill it with the culture and traditions of the Kingdom of God.

We can give.  We can give encouragement and kindness, thoughtful gifts, delicious food or just our undivided attention or acceptance.  Sometimes these gifts are the most costly,  and the most appreciated.

We can also decide to make people the priority.  We can call someone who would love to hear from us.  We can play a game with our kids and tell our spouse how much we love them.  We can decide to forgo sale shopping and really be there for someone who needs it. We can choose help when we would rather sit and love when it feels undeserved.

And we can worship, every moment of every day.  We can worship God with how we act, with our thoughts and with our hearts.  We can find the good in the disappointing and find the beauty in the mess.  We worship God because He deserves it.  And, because worshipping our Creator and loving people is the only way to spend Christmas.  it is, in fact, the only way to spend our lives.  

Wishing you all a Happy Boxing Day!

 

 

 

 

 

The rightful King

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Our God has a habit of showing up in very unexpected places.

We see in Genesis chapter three his startling visit to the Garden of Eden after Adam and Eve have sinned.  As two broken souls are coming to terms with their first sip of shame, they are stunned to hear the sound of God’s footsteps as He walks through the ruins of paradise, looking for His children.

In Exodus chapter three, another man hears His name spoken.  Yahweh sets a bush ablaze and Moses experiences a Divine interruption of his ordinariness.  In that surprising moment, destinies are birthed and the dry desert becomes holy ground beneath his feet.

As onlookers witness the attempted execution of three Jewish boys in Babylon, their God, our God, makes His appearance alongside them in the furnace. Their lives are preserved, their uncompromising faith vindicated, their bodies and clothes unscathed.

But was there ever a more surprising appearance of God than in that manger in Bethlehem?

In one of my favourite quotes by CS Lewis, he says this.

“Enemy-occupied territory — that is what this world is.  Christianity is the story of how the rightful King has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.

More than 2000 years ago, beneath a starry sky, God’s plan of redemption was set into motion.  He had successfully snuck behind enemy lines and out-manoeuvred the opposition.  Herod got a sniff of what is about to happen, but He was too late.  The rightful King had landed. 

In a place of no fame, to an ordinary young couple, at a time when nothing much seemed to be happening, God shows up, His splendour hidden, His glory veiled.  After what seemed like a very long and dark silence, God speaks to His world with this full-volume, angel-illuminated announcement,

Don’t be afraid. For I have come to bring you good news, the most joyous news the world has ever heard! And it is for everyone everywhere!  For today in Bethlehem, a rescuer was born for you. He is the Lord Yahweh, the Messiah.”

Let the wonder of this plan of God sink into your heart.  This moment in history was the fulfilment of hundreds of years of prophecy and it was the beginning of the end for the enemies of God.  It was a turning point in the war that would culminate in a victorious empty tomb.  The rightful King had landed.

I don’t know about you, but I need this today.  I need to remember that Jesus is a victorious King and that His place on His throne is undisputed.  My ordinary life has been brought into His Kingdom and He is at work in every moment to sabotage the enemy’s plans for me.  His ‘MO’ is to show up and show Himself mighty as He works miracles in my mess.

Thanks to God, I see the evidence of His presence.  The enemy is losing ground in my life.  God’s ways are finding their home in my heart. Like the wonderful scene from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Aslan is on the move.  Winter is melting, Spring is advancing.  Bulbs of His character are poking up through my hard, cold ground.

I think Christmas is the perfect time to step up this ‘campaign of sabotage’ against the schemes of the evil one in our lives, and the lives of those we love.

As we wrap presents, let’s declare God’s purposes over the recipient.  Let’s sing Christmas Carols with less nostalgia and more faith.  Let’s pray for those who will be spending time with over Christmas, fighting on their behalf, expecting our God to show up and bring freedom, healing and breakthrough whenever souls and bodies need it.

Every prayer, every Godly thought, every kindness, every step of obedience is an act of sabotage, an act of war.

The rightful King has landed.  His Kingdom is on the move.  We are part of it.

Merry Christmas.

 

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Clearing Christmas clutter

 

 

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We finally faced the dreaded task last weekend and cleaned out the loft.

It was pretty miserable, dusty, dirty work but it needed to be done.  With children coming and going, moving in and moving out, the loft was filled to the brim with all sorts and it had become impossible to locate the last few Christmas decorations.  So, I announced a family work day with the promise of pizza reward.

If your family is anything like ours, clutter is a constant battle.  As soon as you clear a surface in the house, it seems to instantly become a magnet for keys, post, phones and pretty much anything else that needs a home.

And there are other kinds of clutter.  We can pile up unmade decisions or unresolved conflicts.  Too many commitments or projects can squeeze the life out of our routines until they are joyless.  And of course, worries, fears and negative thoughts often clutter our minds and drown out God’s voice.

Don’t be fooled, clutter is nothing but a thief.  It steals our time and our attention, clogging up closets and minds.  It distracts and derails us.  It burdens us and pulls us down.

And, Christmas is no exception.

When clutter fills our holidays, what is really important can disappear under a pile of festive jumble. 

But we can fight it if we want to.

And we can start by saying no.  Over Christmas the invitations are endless.  So is the list of things we think we ‘have to do’.  It is impossible to do it all so we must learn to be selective.  What is most important and what can you just leave out this year?   What gives you joy and fills you up?  What do you dread?  There are, of course, responsibilities and commitments that are non-negotiable but there are also things we do that are unnecessary and just serve to wear us out.  I love receiving Christmas cards but I find it very hard to organize myself to send them, so I don’t.  For years the kids and I would have a big all day baking marathon. It was so much fun but now they are all working and busy so we had to let it go.  My girlfriends and I often wait until January for a big get-together.  It is a fun event to look forward to and one less item to fit into the Christmas calendar. What can you leave out this year or reschedule for the New Year that will free up some time and space in your schedule and in your heart?

Then, resist the hype.  Every advert on the television, daytime tv slot or magazine cover tells you that Christmas has to be perfect and that it has to be expensive.  Don’t listen, it isn’t true.  It is meaning that makes celebrations special, not matching baubles or a perfect party outfit. Most of my decorations are quite old now, but they are filled with memories, like the mugs that Paul and I were given on our first Christmas after we were married or the Christmas quilt the women in my family made together years ago.

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So, this year, look the culture square in the eye and swim upstream.  De-emphasize perfection and acquisition.  Emphasize the unseen virtues of tradition and generosity of spirit.  Be different.  Celebrate Christmas in a way that gets you noticed.  Travel light and be a light.

And learn to love simplicity.  Christmas lunch doesn’t need dozens of side dishes.  It really doesn’t.  Streamline it down to the most popular elements.  Make the table pretty and then enjoy.  If you really love baking and have time then go for it, but if not, don’t sweat.  I now make just three cookie recipes every year and then I buy stolen and Italian panettone.  That’s it.  Boring maybe, but it saves me overspending and overeating and frees up time to just be with people I love.  I don’t need to be a martyr to an endless supply of baked goods or a gourmet lunch.

The key with Christmas is to include what is important and then to be brave enough to let the unnecessary go.  

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So, think before you buy.  As we are trying to clear our own lives of clutter, let’s not contribute to anyone else’s.  Spend much more time thinking about what to give and less time walking around the shops, dazed and desperate.  I find myself favouring gifts that are perishable much more now and I try and avoid anything that will need storage or dusting.  Gourmet food, toiletries, candles or gift vouchers for activities like the cinema have become my go-to’s.  If in doubt, just ask and save yourself from wasteful guesses.  Let’s be honest, most of us don’t need any more knick-knacks.

Then, make time for quiet.   In order to enjoy the spiritual aspects of this season, we have to make room to think and to meet with God.  I like to get up early before my young adults have emerged, and sit by the tree with my Bible.  There is something so important about worshipping first before the craziness of the day starts.  I also take any chance I am given to get outside and just walk.  I have learned this tip from the British and there is no better way to balance out the overdose of chocolates and mince pies.  A brisk walk somewhere beautiful is a very good way to clear mental clutter.  It can put things in perspective and still our souls.   Without these moments of escape, we run the risk of starting the New Year with ragged emotions and tired hearts.

And finally, make space for loving people.  Over Christmas, we will inevitably be spending time with people we find difficult or with whom we have a strained relationship or just clashing personalities.  Instead of accepting the awkwardness and enduring it, how about approaching it with prayer?  Praying now for those we will be seeing over the holidays in the days leading up to our get-togethers is so powerful.  It makes space in our hearts for love for family members or colleagues and it has the power to change and heal situations.

People are what matters, so make relationships the priority.  

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Decide today that Christmas will be clutter free.  Be brave enough to let the tinsel go and fill the days with only the good stuff.

Enjoy it.  Do what you love.  Do what matters.  Play games and laugh.  Kiss your husband.  Be generous with words and smiles and time and attention.  Read the Chrismas story.  Wonder at His love for humanity. Weep at His love for you.

The recipe for a good Christmas isn’t rocket science.  Start every day with worship and end it with gratitude.  And, fill the middle with love.  

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Advent Jubilee

 

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Oh, the pain of finding the perfect quote when it is too late!

My husband sent me this quote after my last blog post.

We need not despair even in our worst, for our failures are forgiven.  The only fatal thing is to sit down content with anything less than perfection.’  CS Lewis

As usual, CS Lewis says it better than I ever could.

This is the tension of the normal Christian life.  It is a life of perfecting, but not perfectionism; resting, but never passive; grateful, but still hungry.

You see when the New Testament uses the word ‘perfect’ it comes from a Greek word, ‘teleios’, that means mature, complete, whole or mature.

There is a work that Jesus has started in my life.  His desire is to finish it and my job is to let Him.  

This is so important to understand. We cannot afford to get this twisted.

The normal Christain life is a life where I am to let go of trying to be good enough but to instead put all my effort into being available, open, and teachable to God’s perfecting work in me.  

Legalism has no place in this kind of Christianity, but neither does lackadaisical Jesus-following.   The only appropriate response to God’s graceful gift is to be willing clay in the Potter’s hands.  The cross of Christ means I can make peace with my past mistakes and failures, but I must never make peace with an incomplete work of sanctification and restoration in my life.  

This is the full gospel.

I love the verses in Luke where Jesus announces why He has come.

 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, and he has anointed me to be hope for the poor, freedom for the brokenhearted, and new eyes for the blind, and to preach to prisoners, ‘You are set free!’ I have come to share the message of Jubilee, for the time of God’s great acceptance has begun.”  (Luke 4.18, the Passion Translation)

Is there anything more beautiful, more hopeful, to know that we live within the time of God’s great acceptance?  This friendship with God that we experience as Christians is beyond comprehension.

But look closer, there is more.  God’s saving work in our lives also includes freedom, healing and wholeness.  God’s desire is to save but also to restore.

Let’s never be content with less than Jesus came for.

In this time of Advent, let’s invite God’s work of Jubilee right into the centre of our lives.  As we remember the birth of Jesus, let’s also sit at the feet of the risen, victorious Jesus.  Let’s dare to bring Him what is fractured, damaged or bound and expect His life-giving, restorative work, wherever we have need of it.

Let’s celebrate Christmas this year thankful for God’s gift of salvation but also hungry to know all the fullness of that salvation in our hearts and lives.