Tag Archives: Christ’s birth

In God We Trust–Not in Us

I am writing this column on December 26. Christmas is not even close to being over. This is only the second of the “twelve days of Christmas,” which was a season a very long time before it was a song.

I’m whistling in the wind, I know, but I prefer to stand with the wisdom of the centuries on this one and not with Western marketing. My little $5 tree and the lights in my humble shed behind the house will stay up until Twelfth Night, the evening of January 5.

I’m not sure if I’m a Yuletide purist or just the son of my mother. Mom liked Christmas and hated taking down trees. Ours often stood in the corner of the living room until February, by which time the tree was a genuine incendiary device we could have sold to terrorists for serious money had we not been patriotic Americans. (My wife, flaunting tradition and my maternal heritage, will slam the lid on the whole thing and shove the plastic tree into a box much sooner than I would prefer.)

Because I’m a Christmas traditionalist, I always hate to see Christmas go. I’m also quirky, eccentric, and loving my second childhood as, I hope, I’m growing younger inside as I grow older outside.

But I also have a deeper reason perhaps worthy of some reflection. You see, at Christmas, for just a little while, we almost get it. We almost understand that genuine beauty and light and joy and life itself do not proceed from us and are not about us. What happened at Bethlehem was something God did. (And though I’d not be legalistic about it, I see genuine wisdom and spiritual blessing in the truly Christian tradition of the preparation time of Advent leading to the sweet 12-day Christmas season.)

We could have sat through a million “success” seminars, strategically planned our hearts out, burned out our calculators creating fine business models, centered on ourselves in a thousand ways, and we’d never have thought of sending God’s Son from heaven and laying him in a manger. Even if we’d thought of it, we’d be as likely to start a nuclear reaction by rubbing two sticks together as to do for ourselves and our world what only God could do by his power. At Christmas, we see with a little clarity, which is far more than usual and about the best we ever muster, that everything we really need in this life is about God and from him, not us.

No wonder it’s a let-down when the lights come down and the lists of resolutions go up. We were centered on God’s great symphony; now we tend to focus again on our own little performance playing “Chop-sticks” on a plastic toy piano. We were enthralled by God’s power; now the temptation is to center on ours, take back the stage, pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps, start rubbing two sticks together, and get busy trying to do for ourselves what only God can do.

No matter when you take the tree and the lights down, remember the lesson of Bethlehem. In God we trust. Not in us.

 

 

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

 

 

 Copyright 2019 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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Thank God for Shepherds and Stargazers!

Thank the Lord for shepherds and stargazers!

While muckety-mucks in Rome were trying to figure out new and improved ways to shake even more shekels from the pockets of the subjugated populace and further filch the meager bread of the common man, the Highest of Kings was pretty much ignoring Rome. The most powerful of all earthly kingdoms was less than nothing compare to His. The true King was dispatching a troop of angelic hosts, any one of whom would be stronger than an assembly of all of Rome’s best troops, to appear before shepherds.

Shepherds!?

Yes, shepherds. Minimum wage kinds of folks Caesar would have completely ignored if he hadn’t wanted them on the tax roll.

And isn’t that just like the King in whose kingdom the janitor waxing the floor and whistling “Amazing Grace” could easily be a wealthier man and a truly mightier citizen than the CEO scurrying off to attend yet another “success” seminar, completely unaware that the janitor he bumped in the hall has already found success and could teach him where to find it if he’d stop and listen and learn? But he doesn’t have time to stop. Or to learn.

And don’t forget the stargazers, the night sky watchers with their faces turned upward focusing on another sort of heavenly host while Rome’s bean counters had their noses buried in ledgers, figuring taxable income, gross national product, and formulating plans to try to squeeze twice as much work out of tired employees for half as much pay. Bureaucrats never change. You can be sure they were looking for ways to further complicate anything they could “improve” that had once been simple, and struggling with such momentous questions as whether shepherds and bakers both had to file the same Form CCLXI-revised or if Form CCLXI-EZ would do.

At Bethlehem, God reminds us that almost everything we take for granted about power and prestige, success and status—not to mention “generally accepted accounting principles”—in the kingdoms of men is in God’s kingdom beautifully, wonderfully, delightfully, topsy-turvy if not altogether ignored.

As Max Lucado writes, “Were it not for shepherds, there would have been no reception. And were it not for a group of stargazers, there would have been no gifts.”

Yes, indeed. Thank God for shepherds and stargazers!

 

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

 

 

Copyright 2017 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.


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!”

16DCC-Church-Christmas 2014-08

“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.


“Christmas Must Be Tonight!”

 

“Christmas Must Be Tonight!” Christmas silhouette 2013-1

I’ve been singing that song and that line a lot this year! It’s a great song by Robbie Roberson (who wrote it in the seventies) and it’s the first song on my Christmas album.

And, as I write, tonight it’s absolutely true! To get that album ready to go, I’ve been singing Christmas songs since February, and loving it! I may just keep on all year around. I love seasons and try not to slight any of them, particularly the “holy-days” much of Christendom has been keeping for a scad of centuries. There’ve long been Puritans and their fear-throttled descendants around trying to throw cold water on such, but not in my spirit, they won’t! We have nothing to fear from too much genuine joy or beauty because, if the joy and beauty are genuine, they are God’s, and they blaze with His glory, far more brightly than human vessels can perceive. One day we’ll see them in their full splendor; until then, even the glimmers we see here are a magnificent gift from God. I’ll not slap my Father in the face by refusing or distrusting such a gift!

“Silent Night” points to the coming of genuine Joy, simple and exquisitely beautiful words about the coming of the Word, the greatest Gift. And joy is there. But for God’s people, all joy is God’s joy, and I figure we should sing “Let It Snow!” with more gusto, joy, and fun than anyone. And if you hear “Let It Snow!” warbling from the inside of my pickup cab in July, well, what better time to sing it with genuine feeling! Yes, the changing seasons are another of God’s gifts, but I must admit, it’s becoming clearer to me all the time: winter and snow and mountains and fireplaces and . . . Christmas! Those are my favorite things!

Yes, I’ve been especially attuned to Christmas this year, but I knew it was right around the corner when a sweet granddaughter awoke in our room one early morning and, as this little beauty often does, just launched, suddenly completely awake, into excited speech: “PawPaw, I heard sleigh bells and reindeer paws!” And another little beauty chimed in, “Me, too, PawPaw!” Well, if you’re hearing such, it’s proof positive that Christmas is well on the way, right?

And now, well, Christmas must be tonight! Our family cheated just a little and rushed it up a bit. We gathered around the tree and by the fireplace and tore into the presents last Merry Christmas 01weekend, to the delight of all, I think. I doubt it will confuse the sleigh-driver or the reindeer. And I’m casting my vote with the great song: I’m looking for a white Christmas, and this year have decided to take no chances. My wife and I were invited to snow country, to Red River, New Mexico, where I’ll be leading and singing in the Christmas Eve service at the Community House here. So, I’m looking out the window of the cabin and Christmas is already white!

Oh, yes, it starts tonight! And wherever you are, whether you’re thrilling to the beauty of the snow, hearing the sounds of reindeer paws, loving the carols of worshipers welcoming the Child, enjoying the presence of people you love, or quietly trusting in a dark time that His light is the truest of hopes and the source of it all, don’t forget on this Christmas night and all during this season of beauty and joy, God’s best Gift. Invite Him again into your heart, and feel His hope anew. All because of Bethlehem.  

 

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

 

Copyright 2013 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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