Monthly Archives: December 2016

What Does Christmas Really Mean?

 

16DCC-Church-Christmas 2014-08

“Christmas is saying ‘yes’ to something beyond all emotions and feelings,” writes Henri Nouwen. “Christmas is saying ‘yes’ to a hope based on God’s initiative, which has nothing to do with what I think or feel. Christmas is believing that the salvation of the world is God’s work and not mine.”

Christmas is choosing for a change to take a look through the right end of the telescope and thrilling to the sight of God’s work written large rather than cringing before a universe shrunken, shriveled, and constricted, bounded on all sides by the nearsighted view of mortals almost as blind and dull as me.

Christmas means that the real question is not, “What must I do to be saved?” Not such a bad question for a jailer back in Philippi scared stiff about losing his head because of almost losing his prisoners (Acts 16). But the far better question for me is, “What has God already done to save me?” Christmas means finding that answer all wrapped up in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.

Christmas means bringing the most precious of gifts to the Baby King not to enrich or impress him or add to the net worth of the One who owns the cattle on a thousand hills and who gives me the gift of my every breath, but simply because I love him and want to joyfully place before him the best that I have.

Christmas means finding a fleeting moment of sanity when I’m less full of myself and more filled with Heaven as I focus not on me but on the God of all life and joy.

Christmas means that instead of trying to save humanity theoretically through my unceasingly serious efforts, I sit down with one or two giggling and very specific pint-size children or grandchildren and tell a story about how once upon a specific time in Bethlehem a star twinkled and angels sang, and then I hum them to sleep with “Silent Night.”

If I’ve got Christmas right and know the real story, then Christmas also means I’m free to laugh with the little ones and tell them old new stories about how Scrooges get over taking themselves too seriously and what happens on “The Night Before Christmas.”

Christmas, for me, is realizing that the wonderful writer G. K. Chesterton discovered something as important as the law of gravity when he wrote, “Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly.” It was through pride, he wrote, that Satan fell, and “the very skies were cracked across like a mirror, because there was a sneer in Heaven.” Christmas means that sugar plums always win over sneers, that the deadly self-serious always crash and burn, and that angels aren’t the only ones lifted into flight by Joy.

Christmas means that though you may get a tiresome tax form in January, all you have to do is look up on a Yuletide night to see that Bethlehem always beats Caesar and that the twinkling tinsel of Heaven’s stars all point forever to the One brightest, the One eternal.

 

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

 

 

Copyright 2016 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


The Father’s First Birth Announcement Goes to . . .

 

Shepherds-CKS01

This Christmas I find myself wondering, yet again, about those Bethlehem shepherds.

It’s possible, of course, that the Almighty chose these particular sheepherders as recipients of the angelic birth announcement of his Son because they were a sheep-shearing cut above the other sheep guys in the region.

Maybe they were better-dressed than most, draped in new camo robes ordered from Zimfela’s Catalog complete with Velcro-secured mesh pockets for their ZX-7 night vision sheep-finding goggles.

Perhaps they were unusually prosperous shepherds, the sort who could afford a clean-robe-a-day laundry service; hence, if you were downwind and one was headed your way, your first clue would be visual or auditory, never olfactory.

Maybe, before entering any respectable domicile following their shepherd shift, they were careful to switch from their field sandals to high-dollar Habakkukstock footware lest they track in . . . something.

It’s even possible, I suppose, that the Lord God chose these particular fellows because they were unusually educated and articulate. Perhaps a couple or three of them were actually Aramaic majors who’d had a hard time finding lucrative employment after college but at class reunions, even though they were less well-sandaled than their Business major classmates, could take solace in the fact that they understood more about the meaning of life.

Or maybe the Creator chose them because they were, against all stereotypes, remarkably religious sheepherders. Sure, their work made it hard for them to attend worship services in town, but they never failed to hold regular devotionals during each of their shepherd shifts. Granted, it had been a bit more complicated since zealous young Zebulun, on vacation a couple of months ago, had wandered into a trendy mega-synagogue in Jerusalem. Now they were holding two devotionals an evening, one traditional and the other contemporary.

I suppose all of that is possible. But if you’re selling it (which is unlikely), I’m probably not buying.

What I really think is that our Father who brazenly, scandalously, seems to prefer ordinary folks over the boring and tedious, plastic and air-brushed, hang-your-own-halo, pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, super-spiritual crowd (always religiously first at the scene of any crucifixions)—chose these guys to be first at the scene of his Son’s birth precisely because they were . . . wait for it . . . ordinary.

I have no beef with these shepherds. Far from criticizing our Father’s choice, I find it laugh-out-loud delightful.

The heavens were torn open. The angel announced. The heavenly host sang. To an audience of guys who smelled conspicuously like the south ends of north-facing sheep, to gents whose manners and language were far from genteel, who were quite capable of describing recalcitrant sheep in colorful terms, and who’d heretofore been most likely to find angels only at the bottom of a wineskin.

For that Bethlehem birth announcement, God chose shepherds! Ordinary folks. Like us. Can you imagine anything more extraordinary?!

 

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

 

 

Copyright 2016 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


When Christ Was Born, the Situation Was Normal

 

Cross-Advent 01

In some ways, the world just a few moments before the birth of Jesus in that Bethlehem stable was almost exactly the same as the world just a few moments after his birth.

The state of the stable, and the inn out in front of it, and Bethlehem, and Judea, and Rome, and the whole wide world, was pretty much the same. As they say in the military (well, sort of as they say), it was one big SNAFU. The Situation was absolutely Normal. It was All Fouled Up.

The government was pretty much like governments have always been—happiest when people are standing in long lines getting crunched by bureaucracy and about to be burdened by one more tax to keep the crunching wheels crunching.

Joseph’s probably been working his fingers to the bone trying to make a living, and now he gets to take days and weeks and maybe even months off—all of which is death to productivity and income—so the bureaucrats can fill out one more form with his and Mary’s name on it. Now he’ll have more taxes to pay and less money to pay them with. Nobody’s more effective than the government at keeping really small businesses—say, a carpenter shop—really small.

Actually, all of this stuff with Mary had pretty well sapped him lately of much ability to concentrate and work very effectively anyway. First, he was so shocked and perplexed that he didn’t know how to feel. Then he was worried sick. And then he got the visit from the angel. Yes, that was a wonderful thing, a marvelous comfort, an amazing experience. But if you think seeing an angel, even one with good news, isn’t incredibly unsettling, it’s obviously been a day or two since you’ve seen one.

Then the tired carpenter gets to make the trip to Bethlehem with his very pregnant wife who is simply exhausted—not to mention enormous and well along toward D-day, by the time they get there. No cheap tickets left on Mideast Airlines. No tickets at all. So they get to go by donkey (which hospitals’ O.B. departments ought to keep tied out by their parking lots; they’re cheaper than I.V.s and Pitocin and are pretty much guaranteed to get things going).

Mary’s just about had it (literally), but they get to the Bethlehem Inn, and the place is overbooked. They end up stuck out in the stable, stomping around in the straw (which Joseph knows will have his allergies in full bloom before you can say Gesundheit!).

And then Mary’s birth pains are becoming very regular. Even first century folks don’t need the New England Journal of Medicine to tell them what that means. This baby is coming! And he’s coming right here, right now, “ready or not, Joseph!” in barn straw that was the real thing, not sanitized stuff for a manger scene.

The situation in the world and in that Bethlehem stable that night was normal—the same as usual in many ways—fouled up with lots going wrong.

But with the Baby’s first cry, the world would never be the same. And God was making sure that one day, all that is wrong with this world could be made right.

 

You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne! If you’d like to purchase some music, or just listen to some–hey, there’s lots of Christmas music there–you’d be welcome! And a Christmas special is . . . any combination of three CDs for $35 plus shipping. Email me at ckshel@aol.com or use the contact form on the site if you’d like that “special” discount! Merry Christmas! 

 

 

Copyright 2016 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

 

 


“The True Light . . . Was Coming Into the World”

 

christmas-cross

“The true light that gives light to everyone,” writes the Apostle John, “was coming into the world” (John 1:9).

And so each year at this time, we drape our trees, our homes, our churches, our cities and towns and villages, with innumerable lights. Every one of them, even if it’s nothing more than a glowing red light on Rudolph’s nose, is silent testimony to the bright truth that “the light shines” even “in the darkness.” Not only has the darkness “failed to put it out” (The Message), it’s precisely when darkness deepens that the light seems to blaze every more brightly.

Ah, it must be maddening indeed for the prince of darkness and his joyless slaves to see their night-shrouded malevolence so quickly burned into oblivion by even a little light from the Son. One word of truth and dictators tremble. One word of hope and fears melt away. One word of joy and sowers of dissension are struck mute. Even the slightest current of light’s warmth spells approaching and certain defeat for a cold ocean of darkness. The light always triumphs.

Whether we live largely oblivious to that truth, or whether we embrace it with all of our hearts, every light we hang burns in silent tribute to the reality that the light that night seeping into the darkness surrounding a Bethlehem stable is the light of the victory of the Father of Lights.

That little trickle of light would become a wave of luminescence, and that wave would surge inexorably into a tsunami of brightest joy. Even the worst that Satan could do with a cross would three days later be brilliantly overcome by the light of life blazing forth from a vacated tomb.

So we hang the lights at Christmas. Call them Christmas lights. Call them holiday lights. Call them whatever you wish; all of them are His.

Maybe it’s just me (I bet it’s you, too!), but I can’t walk into the quiet church sanctuary, the living room at home, or even  out onto the porch in the chill of night—any  place where Christmas lights and electricity are available—and not plug them in so as to bask in the glow. Were I embarrassed (and I’m not) about being childish, I might say we’ve hung all these lights mostly for the grandkids—and I do indeed love seeing the light reflected in those beautiful eyes—but I’d hang the lights and trim the tree if I was the only kid in the room.

One might say that it’s all basically illusory, artificial and pretty pathetic, just light we ourselves engineer and string and plug in to lift our own spirits and make ourselves feel better as we and all of humanity muddle through life mostly in the dark. Many say that whatever small glimmers of light we get here will be what we strain to create.

All I have to do is glance at our Christmas tree and see the little cross hanging in its branches, completely surrounded by light, and I know better. I plug in these little lights not in a pathetic attempt to defeat this world’s night but as a proclamation that darkness has already been mortally pierced and that even the smallest glimmers and twinkles of joy proceed from the brilliance of His grace, His truth, His Son.

All light is His.

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com! And for a Merry Christmas, any three-CDs for $35 (plus shipping), just use the contact form there to let me know you’d like to order (or message me on Facebook). Merry Christmas!

 

 

Copyright 2016 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


%d bloggers like this: