Tag Archives: winter

Lessons from Your Favorite Christmas Songs – 3: Count Your Blessings

The best part of the holiday favorite, White Christmas, is when Bing Crosby, in his baritone voice, sings Count Your Blessings to Rosemary Clooney.  The advice is ageless: “When you’re worried and you can’t sleep, just count your blessings instead of sheep and you’ll fall asleep counting your blessings.”

Everyone’s story in 2016 contains victories and defeats. Even if yours was countyourblessingsmostly packed with victories, most are hard-fought and include moments of difficult work, questioning if the end would ever come and times of despair when it all seemed too difficult. The defeats come with their own set of worries.

Christmas is usually thought of as the season of comfort and joy, yet the world is not exempt from sorrow during this season. Perhaps life has changed dramatically for you. A cherished relative or friend might be missing from the celebrations. Maybe you fear being alone. Or the time brings back painful memories from the past year – things you wish could be undone, but can’t.

Remember at the first Christmas, Jesus wasn’t born into ideal circumstances. Mary’s fiancé, Joseph, thought she had been unfaithful and wanted to break off the engagement. Probably to calm things down, Mary’s family sent her to live with her cousin, Elizabeth, for a while. And just as Mary was getting ready to give birth, the couple had to travel on foot from Nazareth to Bethlehem – a distance of about 90 miles. Mary gave birth in a stinky, cold stable with only Joseph to help. Yet the Light of the World made his grand entrance as a little baby. The glory of that night could not be held in. Angels sang, shepherds and wise men came to visit because hope, true Hope for the world, was born.

Life will always be less than ideal, so it is wise to count your blessings. Rather than focusing on what you don’t have, rejoice in what you have. Rather than arguing with your family, praise them for the gift they are. Rather that wishing for better circumstances, embrace God’s plan for your life. And rather than walking through suffering alone, depend on the hope Jesus gives as He walks through the valley with you.  Christ’s birth brought healing and promise to the entire world – no matter what the ache or longing, the sorrow or suffering.  That is the best blessing anyone can receive.

Lessons From Your Favorite Christmas Songs – 1: O Come, O Come Emmanuel

Rejoice, Rejoice! Emmanuel; shall come to thee, O Israel.

It’s a funny word, Emmanuel. It’s rarely used – almost solely at Christmas. It means God with us. You are not alone because God can never leave you alone. You are always in His love, His presence, His care.

emmauelFor most of us, the Christmas season is the busiest time of the year. There are presents to buy, a home to decorate, cards to send, presents to purchase. This list is endless. Yet, Christmas is the time God invites us to open a present we could never purchase ourselves. He asks us to come to the manger to find Him.

The heart of Christmas isn’t the brightly decorated tree with the presents underneath it. No, it is the amazing gift of God who offered His Son to the world even when we didn’t deserve it. God saw our brokenness and sin. He didn’t turn away from it; instead He gave Himself to us.

Emmanuel, God with us. The word should resonate in our hearts no matter what the season. People will fail you, institutions will close their doors, plans will go awry. But God will never leave you. You will never be forsaken, rejected, abandoned, forgotten and alone. He gives Himself to you for all time. And He never stops whispering into your life: with you. With you. With you.

Through His coming on earth God made a wild, bold proclamation: I love you. Nothing you can do or failed to do can change the strength of My love for you. You are the child I created and whose name is etched in the palms of My hand. You are the one who I think about, the one I can’t stop singing love for. You are My child and I will suffer for you. I will carry you through all your pain until it is no more.

Christmas isn’t about the busyness of the season. It is about a love deeper than we know. God with us. That’s where the wildest joy is found!

Stop, Seek, Care

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”        Luke: 8 – 12 (NIV)

Working for a major hotel chain after graduation from college, I came to adore the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Right after Turkey Day, holiday decorations transformed the lobby from a normally utilitarian meeting spot to a glowing, sparkling space to celebrate community. Throughout the month, the guests changed from road-weary, often cranky business travelers to happy singles and delighted families visiting loved ones in the area. I’d generally request to work on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day even after I had the seniority to have them off. A magical shimmer floated in the air those days and I wanted to share it with as many guests as possible.

More than you’ll ever know, I miss that stimulating feeling of expectation. I still enjoy the Christmas season. There are cookies to bake, parties to attend and all those Christmas cards I mail out. But while I decorate the tree, I don’t sing as many Christmas carols. Even though my life goes into overdrive this time of year, most of my activities are solitary – not part of an amazing team and not for such a large group of wonderful people.

My Advent has changed from something boisterous and exhilarating to a calmer, introspective time. Maybe that’s a good thing, though. Advent is a time of preparation, remembering His coming and yet longing for His return. It begs us to still, to hush, to quiet our souls so we can focus more deeply on the One whose birthday deeply transforms us and the world.

mangerJesus came quietly, slipping unnoticed into a little town. He arrived in the middle of the night, in the dark, but suddenly there was the Light among us. And this Light brought with Him hope. His newborn cry broke the silence that had lingered over the world for 400 years. And while most inhabitants of the world were asleep, the earth could not contain its joy. Angels appeared, the Christmas star illuminated the dark sky and I imagine even the animals in the stable knew something momentous had just happened.

The following day, most folks went back to the hustling of their lives. They wouldn’t know the beauty and magic of Christmas for many years to come – not until Christ’s death on the cross, if even then. The birth announcement was there that morning, but to catch it, you had to care enough to watch for it. Most didn’t, staying blissfully unaware of the miracle in their midst. The day’s joy was swallowed up instead by mundane activities. I suspect our lack of rejoicing exists to this day for much the same reason. When we hurry and rush, if we’re honest, we fail to rejoice.

Jesus came into the chaos and mess of life. In the midst of it all, He brought hope – the ability to reconcile with God. He wasn’t loud. He never appeared to be in a hurry, but that never stopped Him from entering in and saying, “Here I am. Emmanuel. God with You.”

We can’t pause life, though we’d like to try. But we can purposely pause in this season, to hush, to still, to advent. To take the time to be left breathless by the awe-inspiring work of God all around us – the endless treasures that come to us through Him. This is what the Advent season is all about: looking with anticipation toward the Christmas child. We only need ask our Father in heaven to clear space in our hearts so we stop, seek, care. Advent gives us liberty to implore God to help us reveal in the gift of the Christmas child coming to earth in humble glory and splendor.

The very best thing you can do with your life is build one with hope. So take some time to slow down, open your hands and your heart to the only one who can offer that hope. This God who came to us as a baby in a manger takes broken, hopeless hearts and gives you His. Not just during Christmas, but always.

May the infinite love of Jesus bring you hope, peace and joy during this season and throughout the coming year.