The Christmas Gift

The manger stays empty until Christmas Eve.
The manger stays empty until Christmas Eve.

As economic times are tough, I have had a real challenge of figuring out about what gifts I might be able to afford. There is just no way to be able to do the usual extended family Secret Santa gift exchange this year. The family vehicle needed repairs that cost more than our Christmas gift-giving budget would have been.

So, I have had a chance to think even harder about the really important aspects of Christmas being so much more than pretty presents under the tree.

I want to share with you a family tradition that we have had for several years. Front and center under our family Christmas tree is placed a small manger. We place raffia straw in it and it sits that way until Christmas Eve. The last thing that I do before going to bed on Christmas Eve is to take a baby doll and swaddle the doll in burlap and lay it in that manger. THAT is the greatest gift of all.  That reminder greets our family when we desend upon the tree Christmas morning.

Emmanuel, God with us…. what a wonderful gift! To know that God gave His only son so that we may be called His children forever, if only we accept Him as our Savior. We were in such great need when we were dead in our sins. And now, as we celebrate with the lights of the season, the Light of the World has come. We have received the greatest gift of all!

There is no greater gift that I could wish for you my friend than that of Jesus Christ the Savior. Do you have Him? If not, He is waiting to be invited to be your Savior and Lord. Once you have received that gift, what more could you possibly desire?

When it comes to the very real human feelings of sadness that I cannot just go out and buy some things that I know would make my friends and family happy to unwrap on Christmas morning; I just acknowledge that I am sad. But, then I think back to that wonderful traditional claymation video that used to be shown every Christmas season on television called “The Little Drummer Boy”.

The little drummer boy was extremely poor and had absolutely no gift to give to the baby Jesus. However, he was able to play his drum for Him….  par rup up pum pum…rup up pum pum…rup up pum pum.  And then, the baby Jesus smiled at him. How cool is that?  Just a fictional story, perhaps, yet it is true that Jesus doesn’t require anything from us other than our desire to have a relationship with Him. Everything else that we do from that point on will bring honor to Him as we get to know Him more and obey what He teaches.

Merry Christmas!

The Anticipation of Advent

Our family is in the middle of celebrating one of our favorite Christmastime traditions.  In 1994 I made a lovely discovery at a local discount store of 4 ceramic figurines that I used to create our family Advent Wreath. advent wreath closest

These 4 figures sit around the perimeter of a wreath with accompanying colored candles that we light in 4 consecutive Sunday nights before Christmas.  Then on Christmas Eve we light all of them and the center white candle which is next to a babe in a manger that I also created out of clay bake and some matchsticks and straw.

Week One: Mary — an angel came to Mary and announced to her that God was going to use her to give birth to the Savior. The Virgin would give birth.

Week Two: Angel — angels were used by God to announce to Mary and Joseph  (and later to the shepherds) that Mary would give birth to a baby boy that they were to name Jesus for He would be the Savior. Angels are messengers of God.

Week Three: Shepherd — While shepherds watched their flocks by night, angels came to the lowly shepherds to invite them to come behold the baby born in the stable. The darkness of the night was penetrated by such bright light as the Glory of the Lord shone into the night to make the great announcement.

Week Four: Wise Men/Kings — Wise men sought out the promised Messiah, they had used knowledge and prophecy to seek Him. When they did finally come face to face with the Savior as a toddler, they presented Him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Gold was the Gift given by Melchior, a king of Arabia. He is said to have been the oldest of the Three Kings.

Frankincense was the Gift given by Balthazar, a king from Saba – present day southern Yemen. Frankincense is resin from the dried sap of the Boswellia tree – a tree that has grown on the craggy slopes of the Arabian Sea for thousand of years. In ancient times, Frankincense and Gold were equally valuable.  Frankincense is harvested by making slits in the bark of the tree and letting the resin slowly bleed out and harden into white “tears”of Frankincense  The primary use of Frankincense is the same today as it was in ancient times: it is a very strong incense with a sweet aroma that is used today in religious services.

The Gift given by Caspar, a king from Tarsus – present day Southern Turkey. At the time of Christ, the world’s finest Myrrh came from Southern Arabia and it is generally thought that this was the origins of Caspar’s gift.  Myrrh is resin from the Commiphora tree and is harvested by cutting slits in the bark of the tree from which Myrrh resin hardens into dark red crystals. In ancient times, Myrrh was among the most valuable substances known and, at the time of the birth of Christ, it was worth seven times its weight in gold. It can be used as an incense or it can be ground into a powder and mixed with oils to make a balm or processed into an oil. In ancient times, myrrh was used in the mummification of the Pharos in Ancient Egypt and to anoint kings.

Christmas Eve: The Babe in the Manger — Emmanuel, “God with Us: …The promised Messiah was not born in a palace but in a lowly manger.

Behold I bring you good news of great joy for all the people:
to you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, who is Christ, the Lord –[Luke 2:10,11]

So, each week before Christmas our family gets to focus on what the true meaning of Christmas is all about. It isn’t just about baking cookies, hanging lights and decorations, or buying presents. Our celebration of Christmas is a time in which we really look at the greatest gift of all. The birth of a Savior to save us from our sins, from a God who literally reached down into time to give us a way to have a relationship with Him.

Merry Christmas everyone. May you receive the greatest gift of all. And if you already have, may you relish it all the more in this season of Advent. For even when the celebration of the Advent of Christmas is over, we still have the anticipation of the return of our Savior.