Thursday, December 19, 2013

What is Peace on Earth?

Sitting on a shelf in my little bathroom (the one closest to my desk) is a Charlie Brown Christmas tree. Last year I found a plush Linus, dressed as a shepherd with his blankie on his head. I was so excited when I placed him next to the tree and squeezed the “press here” sticker on his foot. Every time I visited my little bathroom, I smiled at the scene and squeezed his foot to hear the familiar voice tell me the real meaning of Christmas.

Now, I understand the memory available on these little guys is limited and they couldn’t record the entire scene, but the more I listened, the more troubled I became. The edited version of the entire scene, something all writers must deal with, seemed to change the focus of the message.

“For behold, I bring you tidings of great joy which will be to all people and on earth peace, good will toward men. That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

Do you see what I mean? They left out the part about the baby Jesus and focused only on the peace on earth part. The more I pressed his foot and listened, the more I realized how like our world this is. The masses are eager to spend their money on gifts, decorate their homes lavishly for holiday parties, and maybe toss some loose change into a Salvation Army bell ringer’s bucket as their good deed for the season. But, they leave out the baby Jesus. 

Peace on earth sounds like a good thing. However, the peace spoken of at Christmas is possible only because of the baby. Don’t let the Christmas lights blind you to the Truth. God sent His Son on Christmas, as a baby. He is God and man. He is the Prince of Peace.

We can only find peace by accepting his promise to forgive all of our sin. We only need to believe he will. That’s faith. During his ministry on earth, Jesus healed many people of physical sickness. All they had to do was believe he could do it. It’s the same with our spiritual sickness, sin. Just believe the Savior Jesus has the power to forgive our sin and bring us peace. Peace is healing from sin.
Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.
And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
(Luke 2:10-14)

Do you have peace this Christmas season? Would you like to have the peace that defies human explanation and is oblivious to the confusion and tumult of the world around us? What do you think peace really means?

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Why Bother to Deck the Halls?

Why do we celebrate Christmas? Why do we go to the trouble to deck the entire house, inside and out? Why do we drive ourselves nuts attending every concert, play, church program, and party we can fit into our already overbooked calendars? Why do we spend more money than we have budgeted, driving us into debt, just to buy gifts we don’t like, so how can the recipient possibly like them? We’re stressed, overextended, depressed and miserable—and it’s all so we can say Merry Christmas!

Decorating and shopping have become a burden for me as my health issues limit me. However, I love both. I love the colors of Christmas, the smells, the sparkle, the music, and the snow (even if it has to be fake here in Atlanta). I also love the programs and parties. Again, my health makes attending them a hardship.

The Christmas season is emotionally devastating to many people. It is the season of depression as we face the realization that our Christmas is not the perfect Christmas. It’s also the season when the loss of loved ones smothers us in pain. Stress, loneliness, anxiety, depression lead many suffering souls to the brink of suicide.

So, again I ask, why do we celebrate Christmas?

Most Christians would heartily say it is the season to celebrate Jesus’ birth. I agree. It is the main reason many of us honor the season. But what about all the other trappings of the season? Surely, there were no ornament encrusted trees and decorative items filling the stable. There was no rendition of “Jingle Bells,” “Here Comes Santa Claus,” and “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer” wafting through the hay-filled stalls.

This morning, I found myself regretting the fact that instead of taking care of my “Christmas To Do” list, I was sitting in the waiting room of my mechanic. 

When I entered a beautifully decorated lobby, with an electric fireplace, one thing was immediately obvious. The only Christmas decoration was a tiny USB-powered tree on the counter. 

Amusingly, he mentioned something about not being in the mood to put up the tree, especially since it was stuffed into a closet, blocked by pallets of antifreeze. He also mentioned that he’d had a lot of negative things going on in his life this year and he just couldn’t “feel” it.

I waited as they checked why my air conditioning wasn’t working (on a 31 degree morning). As I waited, my mind wondered as to why we SHOULD decorate for Christmas. After all, with my recent back injury, my decorations were still swimming around in the back of my van, waiting for a helpful elf to carry them into the house for me. Thoughts of being satisfied with a tree without the ornaments and a front door wreath was almost palatable--and sensible. And then it hit me.

The reason we should decorate is the same as the reason we don’t feel like decorating. It's because there are so many people experiencing suffering right now that we need to do that one little thing that can get their attention—even if for only a moment. For in that one moment, a seed of hope can be planted. In that one moment, a spark of meaning can ignite. In that one moment, a person who might not have survived otherwise can be distracted from their desire to give up. In that one moment, we might direct one lost soul to the real reason we celebrate Christmas. 

I walked over to the counter and told Dave I thought he should put up the tree. Then, I told him why. A couple of minutes later, he took a flashlight into the storage area, moved the antifreeze out of the way, and dragged out the Christmas decorations. When he came into the lobby with the boxes, his face beamed, “Yep, I need to put up the tree.”

So, as you get out there and run yourself ragged, don’t forget. One tiny act of celebration can save a life. So, smile, pass out a piece of chocolate to a stranger, wear a ridiculously overly decorated sweater, put a jingle bell on your jacket, switch your phone's ringtone to a Christmas song, wear a Santa hat, pay for the order behind you in a drive-thru, put glitter on your face and see who notices, or look someone in the eyes and tell them...