The Message of Christmas

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This Christmas post starts with a very un-Christmas-y story, but stick with me for a minute, and we’ll get there.

2 Samuel 18 relates a little-known story that I find interesting.  The context is a war in which King David gives orders to Joab, the commander of his army, not to kill his traitorous son, Absalom.  Joab disobeys and kills him anyway.  Ahimaaz, a minor character but the son of a priest, is a messenger.  (Since they didn’t have texting or twitter or Facebook on their cell phones back then, messengers carried news around, to, and from, battlefields.)  The story plays out like this:

19 Then Zadok’s son Ahimaaz said, “Let me run to the king with the good news that the Lord has rescued him from his enemies.”

20 “No,” Joab told him, “it wouldn’t be good news to the king that his son is dead. You can be my messenger another time, but not today.”

21 Then Joab said to a man from Ethiopia, “Go tell the king what you have seen.” The man bowed and ran off.

(Perhaps Joab was afraid that David would “kill the messenger” and didn’t want to endanger a priest’s son, so he decided to send a foreigner instead.)

22 But Ahimaaz continued to plead with Joab, “Whatever happens, please let me go, too.” 

“Why should you go, my son?” Joab replied. “There will be no reward for your news.”

23 “Yes, but let me go anyway,” he begged.

Joab finally said, “All right, go ahead.” So Ahimaaz took the less demanding route by way of the plain and ran to Mahanaim ahead of the Ethiopian.

24 While David was sitting between the inner and outer gates of the town, the watchman climbed to the roof of the gateway by the wall. As he looked, he saw a lone man running toward them. 25 He shouted the news down to David, and the king replied, “If he is alone, he has news.”

As the messenger came closer, 26 the watchman saw another man running toward them. He shouted down, “Here comes another one!”

The king replied, “He also will have news.”

27 “The first man runs like Ahimaaz son of Zadok,” the watchman said.

“He is a good man and comes with good news,” the king replied.

28 Then Ahimaaz cried out to the king, “Everything is all right!” He bowed before the king with his face to the ground and said, “Praise to the Lord your God, who has handed over the rebels who dared to stand against my lord the king.”

29 “What about young Absalom?” the king demanded. “Is he all right?”

Ahimaaz replied, “When Joab told me to come, there was a lot of commotion. But I didn’t know what was happening.”

30 “Wait here,” the king told him. So Ahimaaz stepped aside.

31 Then the man from Ethiopia arrived and said, “I have good news for my lord the king. Today the Lord has rescued you from all those who rebelled against you.”

32 “What about young Absalom?” the king demanded. “Is he all right?”

And the Ethiopian replied, “May all of your enemies, my lord the king, both now and in the future, share the fate of that young man!”

33 The king was overcome with emotion. He went up to the room over the gateway and burst into tears. And as he went, he cried, “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you! O Absalom, my son, my son.”

David knew that Ahimaaz typically carried good news.  This time, though, Ahimaaz ran off without knowing what to say.  Being an excellent messenger, he knew the best route to take, and he arrived, but without the message, before the other, more official runner got there.  When asked about what he knew, all he could say was that there was a commotion, a tumult, a hurly-burly, according to different translations.

Now to the topic of Christmas. I told you we’d get there. The amazing message of Christmas has been proclaimed down through the ages.  The prophets foretold it for thousands of years.  Isaiah 9 declares:

2 The people who walk in darkness
will see a great light.
For those who live in a land of deep darkness,
a light will shine.
3 You will enlarge the nation of Israel,
and its people will rejoice.
They will rejoice before you
as people rejoice at the harvest
and like warriors dividing the plunder.
4 For you will break the yoke of their slavery
and lift the heavy burden from their shoulders.
You will break the oppressor’s rod,
just as you did when you destroyed the army of Midian.
5 The boots of the warrior
and the uniforms bloodstained by war
will all be burned.
They will be fuel for the fire.

6 For a child is born to us,
a son is given to us.
The government will rest on his shoulders.
And he will be called:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 His government and its peace
will never end.
He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David
for all eternity.
The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies
will make this happen!

Then, angels carried many messages to let people know what was happening.  Mary got the news in Luke 1.

30 “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God!

31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus.

32 He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High.

The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David.

33 And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”

An angel told Joseph in Matthew 1.

20 …“do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit.

21 And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

Then a host of angels declared in Luke 2.

14 “Glory to God in highest heaven,
and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

Christmas is a great opportunity to fulfill Jesus’ command in Matthew 28.

18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth.

19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

We have been commanded to take the message to all, this message of God coming to humanity, the message of salvation, the message of Christmas.

When I was in nursing school we studied the effects of change and stressful life circumstances on health and illness.  One of the things we did was to take the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale.  It is a list of 43 stressful life events that can contribute to illness.  Among items like divorce, change of job, and pregnancy, is Christmas.  Why Christmas?  I thought the point of Christmas was joy and peace, not stress and possibly illness!

In an American Christmas it’s easy to get distracted.  It seems that every Christmas I overcommit myself.  I come up with great ideas, things that would be nice to do for people, positive activities.  I plan handmade gifts, snacks for the neighbors, holiday activities with the kids, and other wonderful ideas.  Then as the clock ticks away and the calendar pages turn, I become frantic, pressured, and generally a grouch.  I lose my peace and forget the message.  I forget that these were all my idea and I can forgo them just as easily as I conceived of them.  I feel out of control when I’m really not.

Christmas is not about getting a list of things done.  It’s not about getting the best bargain on a gadget on Black Friday.  It’s about peace and joy and love.  If we get overcommitted and distracted by the hullabaloo of the season we get grouchy and short-tempered and impatient, and usually this gets taken out on those closest to us, the ones that need us most.

So this Christmas I’m trying not to overcommit.  I plan to keep my peace and joy.  I want to remember the message I should be taking to the world, the message that Jesus came to save us from our sins.  When someone looks at how I live out Christmas I want them not to see a commotion, a tumult, a hurly-burly, but instead I want them to catch a glimpse of hope and peace and the eternal message of our Savior. And with that first in mind, how can I not have a heart full of peace and joy and love?  So full, in fact, that it overflows to those around me and the true message is delivered.

 

 


DIY Silhouettes

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I’m all about handmade Christmas presents.  I don’t do it to be cheap, but to be personal.  Here’s one of the best I’ve done.

I tried it several ways because some of the things recommended on other sites just didn’t work.  (Murphy’s Law, anyone?)  What I landed on really works.  This is not an “I should do this sometime” post, but a “I tried this several different ways and this one actually works” post.

Supplies needed:

  • Person or cat or whatever you’re making the silhouette of
  • Digital camera (or smartphone)
  • Printer
  • Printer paper
  • Copier that allows you to shrink or expand your image
  • Any color of card stock, available at an office supply store (this may not be needed, but have some just in case)
  • Thick watercolor paper, available at a craft store (get the really thick stuff, as not all watercolor paper is created equally)
  • Either sharp scissors (both medium and fingernail-size) or an exacto knife with cutting surface
  • Black tempera paint
  • Large-sized artist’s paint brush
  • Word processor and paper for making name tags (optional)
  • Picture frame

photo

Take a side picture of the subject with your digital camera, like the one here. (I apologize if this picture appears horizontal instead of vertical on your screen. For some reason it is appearing sideways in some formats and not in others. Anyway, you get the idea. Just take a silhouette-style pic.) I should have had him take his glasses off, though.  You’ll want to do that if your subject wears glasses.  I put my girls’ hair up in ponytails to simplify it.  You can try it several ways to see what you like best.  Once you’ve done that, print the picture on plain printer paper. The quality of print or paper doesn’t have to be great; you’re going to paint over it anyway.

Now use a copy machine to adjust the size of your picture, copying it to be 20% or 110% or whatever of the original copy to achieve the size you want the finished product to be.  (If you know how to do that an easier way, go for it, but I’m technically challenged and this way worked for me.) When you have it exactly the right size, copy it once more onto thick white watercolor paper (available at any craft store) if possible and your printer cooperates, or on good white card stock (available at any office supply store) if your copier balks at the watercolor paper.

Cut out around the person’s shape from the card stock or watercolor paper.  Include eyelashes, cowlicks, etc.  I actually had to create eyelashes, and if you want eyelashes on your silhouette, you’ll probably need to do that, too.  Be very careful when cutting it out to keep little details such as the roundness of the nose, or how much a chin juts out. I used regular, very sharp, medium-sized scissors and also fingernail scissors. Some people prefer to use an exacto knife.  I searched online for other silhouettes to figure out how to shape the very bottom of the image.  I ended up making one shape for the bottom of the boys’ cut-outs and another, more curved shape, for the bottom of the girls’, as you can see in the picture of the finished product.  The possibilities are endless.

If your copier didn’t complain about watercolor paper you can skip this next step.  If your picture is now printed on card stock, place the cut-out picture flat on watercolor paper and trace around the image, tracing the shape onto watercolor paper, again being very careful to maintain the little details.  These little things are what really makes the end product wonderful, and if you’re not careful, you’ll lose some of them in this step.  Cut out this shape.

Now you should have the shape cut out of watercolor paper.  Put the image flat on old newspaper or scrap paper, and paint the shape black on one side.  I used black tempera paint and it turned out great.  Let it dry and mount it on white paper (I used white watercolor paper to mount it on also).  Since I was doing a composite of several silhouettes, I printed off the names to place under each figure.  I wouldn’t have had to, though, because it was obvious who each one was.  If you want to make name tags, just use a word processor and choose a nice font.

Put it however you desire in a nice frame, and enjoy the smiles as they open the present.


The Truth About Santa Claus

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I love Christmas.  I have a Christmas tree and stockings and traditions and lights and all that other Christmas-y stuff.  I even have a Santa here and there around the house at this time of year.  I don’t mind that the celebration for Jesus’ birthday has all these things added onto it.  As long as we remember the reason for the season, and as long as that’s not co opted by extraneous negative stuff, it’s okay with me.

However, there’s one Christmas tradition I’ve never taken part in: I’ve never convinced my kids that there is a Jolly Old Elf that magically flies across the sky and brings them presents on Christmas Eve.  I have told them from the beginning that Santa Claus is fiction.  We joke about it, and I call the UPS man Santa Claus since I do most of our Christmas shopping online.  I teach my kids that St. Nicholas of Myra is a historical figure coming from what is now Turkey.  They don’t expect gifts to magically appear under the tree out of thin air.  They know that I do the shopping, and that I have a budget, and they hand their Christmas lists directly to me.

They seem to be surviving just fine, and I see no signs that they’ll be scarred for life. My husband and I were both raised this same way and I think we’re both okay in the mental health department.

But why not indulge the fantasy?  Why not have a little fun and let them believe in something fun and friendly and magical? Why not?

The answer is because at some point all Santa-believing children realize that the magic isn’t real.  Whether it happens when they see Mommy kissing Santa Claus or when they find the presents from Santa hidden away in the closet on December 15, they will have a moment of truth when the fantasy crashes down around them.

You see, I want my kids to trust me.  I want them to believe what I say.  But mainly, I want them to believe me when I tell them that there is a REAL miracle worker.  The story of Jesus, the God of all creation, come to Earth to save my soul, is absolutely true.  My God has power above all others, He really does give good gifts to his children, and He is all places at all times.  I don’t want them to think He is a myth just like Santa or the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy.

So at our house the kids write out Christmas lists, hand them to me, stay away from the basement while I’m Christmas shopping online, and wait for the UPS man to bring the Amazon boxes to our front door.  They know I wrap them and they appreciate the gifts and the givers.

Because the true magic of Christmas has nothing to do with a fat man in a red suit.  The true magic of Christmas is that the God of all creation was born a human and gave us the best gift anyone could ever give: the gift of salvation.  And I want my children to believe that forever.