Monthly Archives: December 2014

Christmas Is the Season of Hope

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“The Season of Hope.”

Those are the words emblazoned across the gift bag I just puttered past in our bedroom.

And so it is, this great season of Christmas. A season when hope takes center stage.

And, sorry if this is picky, I really do think the season is a good deal more hope-full when we realize that it’s a season, not just a day that ends on the last gasp of December 25 and vanishes once the wrapping paper hits the floor. (Google it. Many centuries of history are on my side.) It’s a season that begins on the Day and runs for twelve days. Hence the song.

You know, “lords a-leaping” and “swans a-swimming” and “French hens,” etc. And how many “golden rings”? Five, I think. I’ve always been partial to that “partridge in a pear tree.”

Go with Madison Avenue if you want to. Trot out Christmas decorations for sale sometime around the end of August, run up to a fever pitch, jump off the cliff, and jerk to a stop at the end of your rope sometime by about noon on December 25. Then Christmas goes back in the box (or the attic or the garage or . . .). The poor partridge gets shafted.

More to the point, we tend to miss the point by getting the cart before the horse.

If Christmas is just about Santa and Rudolph (I’m on good terms with them both), it doesn’t make much difference when we jingle the bells.

But if Christmas really centers on the coming of the One whose name this good season bears, then the wisdom and practice of the ages can come to bear quite nicely and bring in some real blessing.

Strange how often, having forgotten the past, we rediscover wheels that have been rolling along for centuries. A “wheel” called Advent (from the Latin “adventus,” meaning “a coming,”) a time for preparation and repentance (and historically even, brace yourself, some fasting, though I’ve not tried that part) before the celebration of Christ’s coming has roots as far back as the fifth century and a history many centuries longer than our “box the whole thing up at the end of Christmas Day” practice.

Oh, I know. This very old practice might seem a little nutty and new if you’ve never heard of it. If anyone in the church where I grew up had mentioned such, we’d have been sure they were conspiring to stick our church key in an envelope and mail it to the pope. Ah, well. Now, it seems, lots of Christians from lots of traditions are discovering that a little preparation before the season is not nutty or eccentric at all. It makes very good sense. New it’s not.

All to say, Christmas is a season, not just a day. And here’s the real point: It centers on hope that mankind could not engineer in any season and only God could give. Not a single spark of the light he brought into this dark world at Bethlehem, light that shines most brightly even in darkness, comes from us. It’s his gift, completely undeserved.

Is Christmas a season? Yes. Of hope? Oh, yes!

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

Copyright 2015 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


“No, I’m Not the King of Christmas, But I Know Who Is!”

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“The king of Christmas.”

That’s what some of my kids called me the other day. It’s a world-class compliment, and I way more than halfway hope they’re way more than halfway right! But surely it’s far too strong a statement.

No borderline blasphemy is intended. There’s only one King of Christmas. But, loving him, I do indeed love this time of year!

I’ve found that the more my hope is centered on the real Reason for the season and the more I focus on that marvelous mystery—“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us”!—the brighter seem all the lights and candles, the taller and more verdant the trees, the more beautiful and soul-stirring the music, and the more brimful of joy are all of the sights and sounds of Christmas.

Yes, the season may lend itself to excess, and it is often twisted and misused by those desperate for artificial joy. But that a very good thing can be badly debased does not rule out its being a very good thing. Quite the opposite! Satan is far more keen to besmirch the truly beautiful than ever he would something of much less worth.

Those who fear wholeheartedly celebrating Christmas as honoring Christ’s coming, lest the celebration become an idol, may fall to the greater danger of refusing a deep blessing from the hand of the true God. As his coming truly blesses us, so may a true and good-hearted celebration of his coming.

But it is odd, isn’t it, that those who, for whatever reason, adopt old Ebenezer Scrooge’s opinion of the season (“Humbug!”) come from such diverse camps.

Some who are irreligious are suspicious of anything that purports to be of Christ. Some whose politically correct “spirituality” is largely a matter of wispy feelings and vapors are afraid of celebrating a season that bears Christ’s name so particularly. I’d have thought our buying so many Christmas trees from China, many of which I suppose are made by Buddhists whose religion bears another name particularly, would have made the PC folks feel better. But no. It’s the name of Christ that particularly bothers them.

G. K. Chesterton once wrote that skeptic Bernard Shaw criticized Christmas as being simply “a conspiracy kept up by Poulterers and wine merchants from strictly business motives.” Laughing, Chesterton wrote that it would make as much sense to say that “the two sexes were invented by jewellers who wanted to sell wedding rings.”

No, for centuries people have found all sorts of reasons to oppose Christmas and decry its celebration. Some most stringently opposed have been those who wear Christ’s name but, wedded to the stone cold tablets of law they call their religion, won’t allow themselves to love anything that smacks of joy and color, fiery warmth and full-to-overflowing life. After all, the joy of God’s Spirit is uncontainable and unpredictable. Where might such lead? Freedom can be quite frightening!

Oh, but it is also beautiful! May the God enfleshed at Bethlehem also beautifully inhabit our souls anew in this sweet season, and may we honor the true King of Christmas with hearts fully open to his joy.

 

 You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com! Blessings to you for a wonderful and joy-filled Christmas! Merry Christmas! 

 

 

Copyright 2014 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


Bethlehem Is About What God Has Done and Still Does

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The glory of Christmas is that it centers on something only God could have done.

No committee could ever have come up with Bethlehem.  While God was busy saving the world, they’d have still been arguing over the shape of the table or the wording of the mission statement or fussing about regulations regarding sheep droppings and the environment or the perplexing problem of camel emissions.

No pow-wow of politicians, be they Democrats, Republicans, Conservatives, Liberals, Whigs, Tories, Labor, Green, Independent, Mean, Dumb, or Dull, or any combination thereof, could ever have drafted legislation to dispatch the right angel to the right virgin and send the right Baby. What politicians were on the scene fouled up royally. Herod was being Herod, which means being murderous. While Heaven was sending angels to glorify God, Caesar was sending bureaucrats to glorify government with its usual answer to every problem–longer lines and higher taxes.

No covey of theologians could ever have written enough books about the problem of sin and the nature of deity to have given any of us a clue as to how the God of the universe would choose to break in and save the world from sin.

No, what God did was something that only God could do. And that’s the glory of Christmas. It’s not about what we could do. It’s completely about what God did. And, though through the prophets, God had sent some tantalizing hints long before the birth at Bethlehem, what God did and how he did it was a complete surprise.

The amazing thing about Christmas continues to be that every time we celebrate the Grand Event, God still surprises us in the midst of the great blessing with a whole host of smaller ones.

When I strung the Christmas lights to spread a little holiday cheer even out in my shed, I didn’t know that a sweet granddaughter would go to sleep one evening out there on my lap after pointing her little finger upward and pronouncing one of her first little words in sleepy wonder, “Lights!”–and light up her PawPaw’s heart.

When at church we planned and rehearsed a little Christmas pageant with the angels and Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and the wise men, we didn’t know how completely and sweetly the flock of two-year-old sheep would steal the show by defying even the best shepherd’s attempts at corralling them. But they warmed a church’s heart.

You can’t program and plan joy. When it comes in its purest and most beautiful form, it’s always a glorious surprise, and God is always the One behind it, stealing the show wonderfully.

And maybe that’s one of the deepest truths behind everything wonderful that God did at Bethlehem and the most important things he still does in our lives. If God lives in our hearts, Bethlehem’s Child is born there each day, surprising us yet again with His Joy.

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.come! You might even find a Christmas gift there, and you’ll certainly find some Christmas music!

 

Copyright 2014 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


Even at Christmas, the Circle of Life Is Often a Whirlwind

Christmas Pageant Kids 001

By the time you read this, the Christmas “mini-pageant” our church kids are presenting this year will be history.

But although this church is definitely a non-prophet organization, I can already tell you, as I’m writing two days before the event, it was cute and sweet, beautiful and full of meaning.

Right now, pageant practice is in the morning. If you walked through our church fellowship hall today and took a look at the stuff on the tables, you’d think a flock of Wise Men had molted.

Bethlehem didn’t see those wise fellows every day. Their appearance in our fellowship hall is a little unusual, too. We don’t do the pageant every year. Though, come to think of it, when we remodeled the sanctuary a number of years ago, straw still lurking in the crevices of steps up to the pulpit bore mute witness to more than a few past Christmas nativity plays!

It’s good to be encouraged to think about what that first Christmas must have been like. Some little wise “men” (one-third of whom is a wise girl, my granddaughter) who’ve not broken into double digits age-wise, but still look wise for their age, help our minds start mulling. As do some shepherds in bathrobe attire, a few sheep, a donkey (my grandson), and some sweet angels who’d never have to say, “Be not afraid!” because just looking at them makes folks smile.

Of course, if the wise folks had been a little wiser, they’d have told the shepherds that herding little siblings dressed up as sheep is uphill business.

But it all “works,” drawing our minds slowly but steadily away from bathrobes and escapee sheep; it points us to Bethlehem.

My mind needed some focusing this week. The week was promising to be a bit challenging schedule-wise even before it got started.

Some of the “busy-ness” was wonderful! One grandson was to be born on Monday (and he was!). Another was due on Wednesday. (Still holding, at this point.)

Then I got the call that a church member, dear friend, and amazing lady—91 years old—had passed away. I officiated and sang at the service Monday morning, jumped in my truck and made it to my newest grandson’s birth 100 miles away by early afternoon. He and I arrived at the nursery at almost the same time, a sweet meeting.

The “circle of life”? More like a whirlwind! My head was spinning. Even before the new fellow’s siblings—later cast as wise gal and cute donkey—came down with the flu. Then another granddaughter got bit by a stomach bug. (Two other grandchildren were still okay.) And one little grand-guy-to-come was still putting off his appearance.

Oh, well. It was into a world far from calm that the Babe of Bethlehem made his own entrance. It was a sinful, needy world. That’s why he came. And it’s into a heart, not a stable, that he wants to be welcomed again today. Yours.

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne! Some of the music of the season is there–and even a potential gift or two!

 
Copyright 2014 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


“God Has Forgiven Me, But I Can’t Forgive Myself”

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“I know God has forgiven me; I just can’t forgive myself.”

I hear people say that. To my shame, I probably have also. I’m almost 51% sure that most folks mean well by it. But I’m 100% sure it’s among the most wrong-headed, arrogant, and idolatrous statements we could ever make.

Do we think it sounds humble? “God has forgiven me, but I can’t forgive myself”? How could that conceivably be confused with humility?

It’s completely encased in arrogant pride as, while we acknowledge that God can and does forgive the sins of others, we’re sure our own sins are so much worse than theirs that, though God has forgiven us, we can’t manage to do the same for ourselves.

Are we really such a better (or worse) class of sinners than the run of the mill, ordinary sort? Are our standards (here comes the idolatry) higher even than God’s who says that through his Son, we’re forgiven?

Will we say, “Thank you, but I doubt that even the blood of your Son can forgive me, Sir. Instead of accepting charity, I choose to wear (if I can find them) a hair shirt, sack-cloth and ashes, and a dour expression. Instead of accepting your gift and focusing on your Son, I’d rather, if you don’t mind, go on gazing at my own navel, allowing the universe to be bordered north, south, east, and west by “I, me, myself, and mine,” and go on playing the victim. If you don’t mind . . .”

Oh, get over it. God minds!

Whatever we intend, this false humility is a stinky thing, a slap in the face of God, a denial of the cross. It can be nothing else.

But someone opines, “I can’t forgive myself. I know God says I’m forgiven, but I don’t feel forgiven.”

Two points. First, why would we ever think we could literally forgive ourselves? Jesus said it: “Only God can forgive sins.” If we’re his, he has done the forgiving at appalling cost; our only choice is to accept the gift or not.

Second, though our Father cares how we feel because he loves us, feelings, for folks as self-centered as we are, easily become our most popular idol. But they’re wrong about as often as they’re right. And they make a rotten god.

If God says we are forgiven, then we are, no matter how we feel. I may feel in my heart of hearts that the moon is green cheese; my feelings won’t change reality at all. But my feelings about forgiveness will affect my ability to live a joyful, gracious, unselfish, and fruitful life.

The Apostle John writes that God is greater than our “anxious hearts” and “self-debilitating criticism” (see 1 John 3:19-20, The Message).

You can’t forgive yourself? So what? If you’re God’s child, accept the gift and dance with joy! Or hold it at arm’s length and wallow around enjoying your role as a poor, pitiful victim. The first choice is life and joy. The second is as boring and tiresome as it is deadly. The first is heaven; the second, hell.

Refusing forgiveness is a lot of things, all bad; the one thing it absolutely is not is humility. God sent, God gave, his Son so we could get over ourselves.

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com! I’m pretty sure some Christmas music is waiting there, as well as some potential gifts!  😉

 

 

Copyright 2014 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


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