Wednesday, November 25, 2015

A String of Things to be Thankful For

The piece of twine stretched loosely across the wooden mantle, fastened to nails at either end. Along the expanse were clipped photos of the parents-to-be and single shots of the expectant mother in various stages of her pregnancy. More than just a clever room decoration for a baby shower, it changed the focus of the party from presents and cake to thanks for a healthy pregnancy and the joy that would accompany the birth of this long-awaited son and already much-beloved boy.

Sometimes we treat Thanksgiving like the baby shower before The Birth on Christmas Day... an excuse to eat turkey and watch football with family and friends... maybe a chance to grab a quick nap before the last dash to the Big Day begins. We need the reminder to stretch a string across the breadth of our days and deliberately clip mental pictures of all we have to be thankful for along its length - to turn our attention away from the party foods we're preparing and presents we're planning to buy and focus on the gifts we've already been given.

There are any number of ways to do it. An easy one is to simply review the pictures you've taken of late on your phone, thanking God for the people in them, the places you've been together, the laughter you found there... the love shared. Another is to make lists, deliberately naming your blessings in Ann Voskampf style, counting them as you write them down. Lately I've taken to picking a different letter of the alphabet each day and being especially mindful of blessings beginning with that letter I come across in a 24-hour period. I've been surprised at the things I hadn't thought to thank God for lately - the colorful beauty in a Peacock feather... the fun of a trip to the Zoo... a toasty sandwich at Quizno's. There is no such thing as a "hard" letter when your heart is full of thanksgiving. Sometimes we just need the reminder to let it overflow into the busy days that follow the holiday and lead the way in our celebrations as we await the arrival of the Birthday Boy Himself.

"In every thing give thanks..."
(1 Thessalonians 5:18 KJV)

Thursday, November 12, 2015

A Cup of Kindness

“I hate to admit it, but I'm thinking of putting up my Christmas tree”, a customer confided to me yesterday. On November 10th? My eyes bugged out in response.

But he is not alone. It appears that Christmas is intent on coming early this year, in our thoughts, our shopping trips, and our decorating ideas. Maybe the most certain sign of Christ's premature birth this year is the controversy in our conversations online. From biblical days on, just the mention of His Name has caused kings to kill babies, scholars to squabble over how best to suppress His influence, and the faithful to fight over detail in doctrine. For a Man who came to give us peace, His presence sometimes seems to bring anything but.

While Christ was on earth He delighted in challenging conventional thinking, attacking apathetic attitudes and raising spirits (as well as bodies) from the dead. From His question to Peter in Matthew 16:15, “Who do you say that I am?” to His actions in our lives today, He is constantly challenging us to rethink our view of Him, examine the motives behind our actions, and consider new ideas about who and what He wants to be in our lives. And if He can do so with something as simple as a coffee cup, who's to say He's not in Heaven drinking a peppermint mocha and laughing with delight at the latest brew-ha-ha He's stirred up?

None of His actions were without purpose, however, and perhaps the current hysteria has one, as well. Christians have long decried the seeming removal of Christ from Christmas, from the elimination of nativity scenes in civic holiday displays to the change in our holiday greetings to the absence of religious carols in school Christmas concerts. Starbucks' change from a “Merry Christmas” message to a generic red background on their holiday cups seemed to be one more instance in a long line of the same. And so when asked by a barista what name to write on the cup, some folks are coming up innovative monikers in a effort to get His Name back where they think it should be.

Except that Christ doesn't want to see His Name on that coffee cup; He's looking to see yours as the Christmas message of the season this year. His was born in a stable initially to be born in our hearts eventually, and if He lives there now, then He can't be removed, no matter how the holiday celebrations around us play out. His name is proclaimed in your every generous action, every kind word, every holiday hug and in the abundance of love you give away everywhere you go and in everything you do this holiday season. You are the light of the world; Christ in you is His message this year.

Maybe we're rushing New Year's too, but at the risk of celebrating all the holidays at once,let's “take a cup of kindness yet” and offer it to a thirsty world, letting our actions and love rather than a pen write Christ's name on our expressions of holiday cheer.

You are the light of the world...Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”
(Matthew 5:14,16 NKJV)
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