Saturday, December 18, 2010

When Christmas is Hard

In my senior year of high school, my family was celebrating the holidays and preparing for Christmas much as we had every other year. The house was decorated, presents purchased, wrapped and under the tree, groceries being laid in for holiday feasts and parties being attended. Everything changed for us in an instant that holiday when my fifteen year old only brother was suddenly killed in an accident three days before Christmas.

Having a funeral for a teenager is never easy, but something becomes extra difficult when you have to rush in order to complete it before Christmas Eve. The shock of the loss echoed not only through my family, but throughout our small town. Some students, who were my friends at the high school, were unable to complete their exams as they dealt with the shock of what had occurred. Students at the junior high had to deal with the blow of coming to school and looking at an empty seat that had just the day before been full.

Our church was a large community in a smaller town. Not only did they struggle with the loss of my brother, but we also lost a young mom of three small children to cancer that same weekend. The pain of it all seemed too much to bear. These were the circumstances my pastor had to face that Christmas Eve when he stepped in the pulpit.

It is difficult to imagine the task Bro. Wilson had as he looked on our congregation. What do you say in a season that is supposed to be filled with joy yet is reeking with so much pain? Though I cannot give you exact quotations these many years later, I will never forget the message he brought that day.

Christmas is not always a time of joy. Sometimes it is a day of pain. But whether it is a day of pain or a day of joy, there is something we must never forget. Jesus still came. Jesus still comes. In the midst of our brightest shining moments or in the midst of the darkest pain, Jesus comes.

So where does Christmas find you this year? Are you struggling with estrangement from a loved one, unemployment, missing a spouse or child who is away from home, serious illness, loss of a loved one or a difficulty that no one knows but you? Do the carols that once brought joy to your heart bring tears to your eyes this season? May I encourage you today as Bro. Wilson encouraged me those many years ago? Wherever Christmas finds you, Jesus still comes. And because He came, your pain is not in vain. Nor is it the end of your story. Jesus came to die and pay the price for the wrongs that separate us from God. Because He came, we can accept His payment for the bill we owe. And when we accept that payment, this is what we will be a part of one day:

For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their
He will lead them to springs of living water.
And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
Revelation 7:17 (NIV)

And Christmas will be hard no more.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Christmas Cookies

Going to my Aunt Dot’s and Uncle Don’s house for Christmas has always been a treat. Very few places on earth feel as comfortable, warm and accepting as being in their home. One of our favorite things about Christmas though is Aunt Dot’s cookies. She starts very early in the season preparing and freezing cookies of every variety imaginable. No dieting or scrimping in these cookies. They are filled with butter, sugar and many other yummy ingredients. When we arrive, there is always a tray out filled with these delicious delights.

There is only one problem with all this sugary yumminess. Sometimes, I find myself grabbing “just one cookie” so many times during the day that when the mealtime arrives, it is hard to eat. Like a five year old, I have already filled up on cookies, leaving no room for the main meal my body needs to actually nourish me and satisfy my true hunger. So like my spiritual condition at times.

God knows I am hungry – and wants me filled up – on Him. But too often, I have filled up on cookies and have no room left for the food that will actually nourish and fill me. Then, in spite of the fact that I have eaten, my body ends up hungry for the nourishment it requires.

Let me share with you some of the spiritual cookies that I have used to fill me up in the past:

1. Having the perfect house (ok, realistically, I was never even close on this one!)
2. Being the perfect parent (might have made this one except for those “imperfect” children I had to raise – just saying)
3. Getting everything “done” on my list (yeah, that was going to happen)
4. Being the hostess with the mostest (Martha Stewart, look out)
5. Having a career/job I loved and valued (somehow this rings very hollow from a currently unemployed person!)

Here is the real truth. God and His word are the only things that will actually satisfy the empty hungry places in my soul.

How do you know if you have hungry places that are unfilled? Maybe your anger with your spouse, your frustration at your job, or your fear of the future is actually unidentified hunger pain. Today, can you let go of some of the cookies you have been stuffing on and fill yourself with the only thing that will actually truly satisfy?

Cookies are great, especially when made by my Aunt Dot. But they are treats, never meant to actually satisfy deep hunger or provide extended nourishment. So, enjoy your cookies this holiday, but make sure you are filling your soul with the things that will feed your hunger.

Open your mouth and eat what I give you.
Ezekiel 2:8b (NIV)