For The Day After Christmas

The sparkling glitter now settled
Amidst wrapping scraps here and there
Still laying – strewn across the floor
But what can we do now with these
Feelings that don’t come from a store
His birth is not an end to itself
The life Mary gave offers more

“So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.” Luke 2:16-18

Jesus offers, for each of us, life. But, His life is not the mundane, fear and pain-laden life that you’re used to living. Surely, his promise is not to quench the blood-thirst between nations here on earth nor is it to make our lives pleasant Sunday strolls in our own preferred time, but, He is offering us peace that rises above understanding and once you accept that peace and the directive that He gave to focus on others outside of ourselves, truly, you will experience life more abundant right here on the face of this planet. Along with all of that, you will also experience the joy of that which is yet to come: life eternal where there will be no tears and the joys yet to be experienced will surpass whatever our finite human brains can imagine here.

If you are hurting and would allow me to pray for you, please message me. If you’d prefer to just pray, please do. He’s waiting for you.

Unwrap Christmas

Perhaps more so than many, I am guilty of wrapping myself in the colorful nostalgic tradition of the holidays that I was born into

Ho. Ho. Ho.

Ho. Ho. Ho.

in 1976. With an ever-present nod to the visions of Clement Clark Moore and the sounds of Bing Crosby, I’ve reveled annually in the green, red, and shiny tinsel of the season. Christmas music, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, holiday lattes at Starbucks, and annual trips to the mountains of North Carolina for Christmas trees have all found their way into my family’s cannon of holiday traditions that make this season what it is for us year after year: a glowing, blinking, tinsel-strewn festival of merriment that, unfortunately, is as far away from the central, critical Christian focus of Christmas as it could possibly be.

In Reflections For Ragamuffins, Brennan Manning articulately described the crime that is so smoothly committed at this time each year:

The infant Jesus was born in unimpressive circumstances, no one can say exactly where. His parents were of no social significance whatsoever, and his chosen welcoming committee were all turkeys, losers, and dirt-poor shepherds. But in the weakness and poverty the shipwrecked at the stable would come to know the love of God.

Sadly, Christian piety down the centuries has petrified the Babe of Bethlehem. Christian art has trivialized divine scandal into gingerbread creches. Christian worship has sentimentalized the smells of the stable into dignified pagent….Pious imagination and nostalgic music rob Christmas of its shock value, while some scholars reduce the crib to a tame theological symbol. But the shipwrecked at the stable tremble in adoration of the Christ child and quake at the inbreak of God almighty. Because all the Santa Clauses and red-nosed reindeer, fifty-foot trees, and thundering church bells put together create less pandemonium than the infant Jesus when, instead of remaining a statue in a crib, he comes alive and delivers us over to the fire that he came to light.

Now, I’m certainly not saying that the happiness and warmth that is, in fact, shared by many during this season is bad. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m extremely thankful for the blessings that I experience on a daily basis and that come in the forms of a warm place to live, plenty of food to eat, a job, family, and friends and the holiday season is a time when such blessings can certainly be celebrated. But, what I need to focus on this year is carrying the same loving spirit that fills Christmas past December and into each and every day of the new year.

The notion seems simple enough to write about in a blog post like I’m doing here, but, what would that actually look like on a daily basis? For me it means filtering out the fat in my daily routine and replacing it with more time and interaction with my family. It will mean giving more of myself – my time, my creativity, my help – to others. My approach as a teacher has room for improvement, too, in terms of focusing more on the students that I teach and less on the content that I teach. It means spending less time reading sports articles and more time praying.

What would it actually look like in your daily life if you took the first steps in unwrapping the real meaning of Christmas and carried it into the new year?

To anyone kind enough to have given your time to read this. Thank you. I wish you a very merry Christmas in which you are able to fully, and happily enjoy your blessings. I also wish you, as I intend for myself, a leaner more giving New Year.

If you’d like to learn more about one of the major steps I’m taking in order to have a leaner new year, please peruse the posts that I’ve written focused on the Beards, Hands, and Feet Project. Then visit and ‘Like’ the Beards, Hands, and Feet Project Facebook page. Thank you and Merry Christmas!

“Greensleeves” with “What Child Is This” by Kevin Max and Stu G

Anyone who has read my blog for any period of time might know that I have a great deal of respect for the creative endeavors of singer/poet/author Kevin Max (former member of dc Talk, current lead singer of Audio Adrenaline). You might also know that I am a Christmas music enthusiast. While Max has a standard-bearing Christmas album that’s been out there for a few years already (see my review at Holiday Soundtrack Part 2: HOLY NIGHT – Kevin Max), this clip just showed up this evening and its rich. It’s my pleasure to post it for you.

Focus At Christmas

I read a daily devotional by Brennan Manning called Devotions For Ragamuffins. It is indispensable to me as a source of encouragement and a lens to focus my perspective through on a daily basis. The month of December features a number of devotions focused on Christmas and the one that I read this morning really struck a chord with me because of its emphasis on what really should be more widely recognized as a central tenet of the Christmas holiday season and Christianity as a whole throughout the year:

The wailing Infant bears witness to a God whose Word is fresh and alive, who is not the defender of the old, the already settled, the well established and familiar. The God we encounter in Jesus is free from preoccupation with his own glory, free to be for us, free to be gracious, free to love and let be.

This Christmas such a God might well expect us to be creatively responsive and thus truly Christlike. Indeed, He might call us to set free captives bound by loneliness and isolation, to share our hope with prisoners of gloom and despair, to invite the unlovely to our table, to celebrate our freedom in forgetfulness about our comfort and convenience, to cry the gospel by ministering to widows and orphans, to be the Church by bringing soup to the poor, to ignore conventional expectations, to call His Son out of Egypt once more.

How we interact with and serve those who are less educated, less popular, less cultured and who have less money says a great deal about who we are as people and where our focus is. The real meaning of Christmas is found in facing those who feel like they have the least reason to celebrate.

First posted 12/20/08

Holiday Soundtrack Part 2: HOLY NIGHT – Kevin Max

Holy Night is a delicious change of pace when compared with the bulk of what is released in the category of holiday music. There is tremendous consistency in style, quality, and vision from the first track to the last. The general spirit of the album is one of respect for the original historical contexts in which many of these classic Christmas songs were written and an apparent desire by Kevin Max to present Christmas music as art as opposed to pre-formatted, Christmas pop. He seems to have intentionally shunned the crowded commercial sound often employed by artists when they decide to record a Christmas album. Many of the tracks adopt a darker and more mysterious mood. For example “Joy To The World” seems closer to David Bowie than it does Mahalia Jackson. Yet reverence for the focus of the lyric is maintained and the quality and craftsmanship of the music is remarkable.
While a consistent thread of lonesome reverence is injected into each of the songs on Holy Night, a few of the tracks are hung on an up-tempo frame that, while continuing to maintain a level of intimate, personal sincerity, also breathe a sense of spirited optimism rooted in the birth of Jesus Christ. While songs like “What Child Is This” employ lush strings and the taste of a full orchestra for the musical backdrop, the basic, quick-tempo of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” is much simpler, yet, equally infectious and undeniably mood-lightening. Both songs have a character that grabs the heart of the listener and makes it feel just a little bit more than it did before.
A personal favorite from this album include “O Little Town of Bethlehem” which opens treading lightly with a particularly lonely sounding piano, but, soon unfolds into what I can only try to describe (and perhaps not accurately) as some kind of Soviet/middle eastern kind of rhythm. Max’s unique and lush vocals inject an often-heard and under appreciated song with a sense of renewal that draws the listener in.
The lowest point of the album in my humble opinion (if there is one on this album) is “Greensleeves” which seems to be thematically out of place. But, one blip isn’t enough to darken the bright light that is the quality of this album from front to back. The fantastic match between Max’s unique and piercingly powerful voice and the understated, yet masterfully present musical backdrop that blankets each track on this album is indeed magical if not, at least, worth a listen.
Holiday Soundtrack Part 1: Come On Christmas by Dwight Yoakam

(post originally appeared 12/8/08)

Focus At Christmas

I read a daily devotional by Brennan Manning called Devotions For Ragamuffins. It is indispensable to me as a source of encouragement and a lens to focus my perspective through on a daily basis. The month of December features a number of devotions focused on Christmas and the one that I read this morning really struck a chord with me because of its emphasis on what really should be more widely recognized as a central tenet of the Christmas holiday season and Christianity as a whole throughout the year:

The wailing Infant bears witness to a God whose Word is fresh and alive, who is not the defender of the old, the already settled, the well established and familiar. The God we encounter in Jesus is free from preoccupation with his own glory, free to be for us, free to be gracious, free to love and let be.

This Christmas such a God might well expect us to be creatively responsive and thus truly Christlike. Indeed, He might call us to set free captives bound by loneliness and isolation, to share our hope with prisoners of gloom and despair, to invite the unlovely to our table, to celebrate our freedom in forgetfulness about our comfort and convenience, to cry the gospel by ministering to widows and orphans, to be the Church by bringing soup to the poor, to ignore conventional expectations, to call His Son out of Egypt once more.

How we interact with and serve those who are less educated, less popular, less cultured and who have less money says a great deal about who we are as people and where our focus is. The real meaning of Christmas is found in facing those who feel like they have the least reason to celebrate.

 

First posted 12/20/08

In The Bleak Midwinter

Of all of the Christmas songs that I’ve heard throughout my life, none have ascended to the heights that this one has in terms of my appreciation for its beauty and lyric. This year the grace of this song is more evident than ever before to me.

A Christmas Carol

Alternate Title: In The Bleak Midwinter;Words by Christina Georgina Rossetti (1830-1894), 1872; appeared posthumously in The Poetical Works of Christina Georgina Rossetti, Poem #426,  1904. Source: “The English Hymnal,” p. 44, 1916;

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty,
Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom cherubim
Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk
And a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Which adore.

Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air,
But only His mother1
In her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the Beloved
With a kiss.

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man
I would do my part,
Yet what I can I give Him,
Give my heart.