Friday, December 31, 2010

Sixth Day of Christmas: Emmanuel!

From the pages of Scripture we read how the baby was named . . . 

Seven-hundred years before Christ's birth, the prophet Isaiah said this in Chapter 7:

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

and in Chapter 9, Isaiah described the Messiah like this:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.   And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the greatness of His government and peace there will be no end.  He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.  The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.

Matthew records it like this:   

...An angel of the Lord appeared to him [Joseph] in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will save his people from their sins."

Luke's Gospel tells us this:

On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given Him before He was conceived.


Thursday, December 30, 2010

Fifth Day of Christmas: Much Better Than Five Golden Rings!

From the Gospel of Luke in the New Testament of God's Holy Word (NIV):

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.  This was the first census that took place whilet Quirinius was governor of Syria.  And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.    

He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.   While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son.   She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.  An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 

But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,  "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests."

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about."

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.

But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.  

The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Fourth Day of Christmas: Mary's Song

The Story of Love that Came From Heaven

From the Book of Luke in the New Testament

{This picks up where we left off two days ago}

At that time (that is, after the angel announced that she would become the mother of Jesus) Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah's home and greeted Elizabeth. 

When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.   In a loud voice she exclaimed:   "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!   But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?   As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.   Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!"

And Mary said:  "My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has been mindful of the humble state of His servant.  From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is His name.  His mercy extends to those who fear Him, from generation to generation.  He has performed mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.  He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.  He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.  He has helped His servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as He promised our ancestors."

Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Third Day of Christmas: The Love Story Continues

Our Love Story from Heaven Continues with these words from the Book of John in the New Testament (NIV):

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.   Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.   In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.   The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.   He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.   Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.   We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Second Day of Christmas:

Here is part of the Christmas story from the Book of Luke in the NIV version of the New Testament:

In the sixth month of Elizabeth's pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David.  The virgin's name was Mary.  

The angel went to her and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you."

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.  

But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David,  and he will reign over Jacob's descendants forever; his kingdom will never end."

"How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?"

The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be calledt the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail."

"I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May your word to me be fulfilled."  

Then the angel left her.

Tune in tomorrow for the remainder of this Love Story from Heaven!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

First Day of Christmas!

Here's the Amplified version from the Book of Matthew . . .  (yesterday's was from the NIV version)

How to read this:   note that the words in brackets [like this]or parenthesis (like this) are "added" to amplify what the original text says.    

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place under these circumstances:  When His mother Mary had been promised in marriage to Joseph, before they came together, she was found to be pregnant [through the power] of the Holy Spirit.   And her [promised] husband Joseph, being a just and upright man and not willing to expose her publicly and to shame and disgrace her, decided to repudiate and dismiss (divorce) her quietly and secretly.   

But as he was thinking this over, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying,  Joseph, descendant of David, do not be afraid to take Mary [as] your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of (from, out of) the Holy Spirit.   She will bear a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus [the Greek form of the Hebrew Joshua, which means Savior], for He will save His people from their sins [that is, prevent them from failing and missing the true end and scope of life, which is God].  

All this took place that it might be fulfilled which the Lord had spoken through the prophet,  Behold, the virgin shall become pregnant and give birth to a Son, and they shall call His name Emmanuel--which, when translated, means, God with us.   

Then Joseph, being aroused from his sleep, did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him:   he took [her to his side as] his wife.  But he had no union with her as her husband until she had borne her firstborn Son; and he called His name Jesus.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas fromTitus Two Friends!

From the Book of Matthew (NIV) in the New Testament of the Holy Bible . . . .

This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about:    His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.  Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.    

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.   She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus,t because he will save his people from their sins."  

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:  "The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel"t (which means "God with us").

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Advent 2: Whose Birthday Are YOU Celebrating?

Whose Birthday is it, Anyway?

Lest you get distracted by all frenzy and commercialism, here is a different perspective on the celebration drawing nearer each day.    

Mary’s Dream
author unknown
I had a dream, Joseph.
I don't understand it, not really, but I think it was about a birthday celebration for our Son.   I think that was what it was all about. 
The people had been preparing for it for about six weeks.   They had decorated their homes and bought new clothes.   They'd gone shopping many times and bought elaborate gifts.    It was peculiar, though, because the presents weren't for our Son.   They wrapped them in beautiful paper and tied them with lovely bows and stacked them under a tree.
Yes, a tree, Joseph, right in their house.   They'd decorated the tree also.   The branches were full of glowing balls and sparkling ornaments.   There was a figure on the top of the tree.   It looked like an angel might look.   Oh, it was beautiful.
Everyone was laughing and happy.   They were all excited about the gifts.   They gave the gifts to each other, Joseph, not our Son.   I don't think they even knew Him.   They never mentioned His name. 
Doesn't it seem odd, Joseph, for people to go through all that trouble to celebrate someone's birthday if they don't know Him?   I had the strangest feeling that if our Son had gone to this celebration he would have been intruding. 
Everything was so beautiful, Joseph, and everyone so full of cheer, but it made me want to cry.   How sad for Jesus - not to be wanted at His own birthday celebration.
I'm glad it was only a dream.  How terrible, Joseph, if it had been real.            

How Terrible, Indeed!

Some years ago, a friend mentioned that her family celebrated "half-birthdays."    I had no clue what she was talking about, so she explained that she and her husband were disgusted by the greedy gimmees they were seeing at Christmas-time (within their family and our society) and wanted their family celebration of Christ's birth to reflect that it was HIS birthday rather than a time for THEM to get and give a slew of presents.    

They decided to discontinue gift-giving within their immediate family (them & their children) on Christmas except for one little present or stocking gifts and instead celebrate half-birthdays.    Your half-birthday occurs six months after your "real" birthday--in a whole different season of the year.    So they gave presents midway through the year for each family member.    They still spent roughly the same amount of money as before but now it was spread out over a full year, instead of one day in December.  

The benefit of this was that Christ's birth became the main focus of Christmas.    The family budget wasn't stretched and blown in one big spending spree which made Dad happier.   Mom wasn't inundated with gifts to wrap and hide.    They still received a gifts from grand-parents and relatives, but within their own family the gift-giving was greatly reduced.    Instead of stockings, my friend made each family member a "camel pack" similar to maybe something the Wise Men may have carried.    

Just like my friend, I was fed up with the worldly focus that Christmas had become, even in our own supposedly Christian home, but Dear Hub and I had never before come up with a work-able alternative.   But this idea?  This I could see doing.    

“Therefore, I urge you, ... in view of God’s mercy,
to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, 
holy and pleasing to God—
this is your spiritual act of worship.
Romans 12:1 NIV

First of all, just thinking about doing this reduced my stress level!    I don't much care for shopping, and having to figure out and buy presents in a crowded store and spending a pile of money on top of it, ugh.   Then there was always the aggravation of keeping track of hidden presents purchased on sale in the summer.    Secondly, I knew my Dearly Beloved would like the idea of spreading the spending out over a year.   

Most importantly, this gave us a work-able solution....a way to bring CHRIST back to center-stage for the celebration of His birth.   Here was an idea that had true merit.     

The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to do it.   Hub and I talked it over, and, as expected, he caught on immediately.  The kids were not as keen on the whole crackpot idea, though.    Of course their little ears only heard the part about "not so many presents at Christmas."    We asked them to trust us that it would work out and once the first full-year went by, the idea was locked in their heads, too.  We still received gave gifts to and received from other family members on December 24 or 25:  grandparents, name exchanges with relatives, friends.    But within our family circle, we cut back drastically.

The great part of this endeavor was that the children enjoyed receiving gifts half-way through their year.   And celebrating a half-birthday meant my winter babies could now enjoy warm-weather party fun--instead of only being cooped up inside!   The boys were never big on inviting friends over, but our daughter certainly made up for lost time and had pool parties and sleep-overs in the tent set up in the backyard!

Like Mary's concerns in the poem above, too often we Christians get caught up in the commercial focus of Christmas and gift-giving--completely forgetting that it is CHRIST's birthday we are celebrating.    Too often Christians at Christmas look or sound no different from their unbelieving counterparts.

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world,
but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—
His good, pleasing and perfect will.” 
Romans 12:2 NIV 

Take a GOOD and HARD look at the list below.....
  • Gift-giving:    What is your motivation?   Are you truly celebrating Christ's birth?
  • Music you're listening to:  Does it celebrate Christ or Santa or worldly commercialism?  
  • Decorations:    Could someone know immediately --just from looking-- that you're a Christian?
  • Correspondence: Do your cards tell about Christ's birth or a "holiday" or "season"?    Does your Christmas letter reflect joy in the blessings God has sent over the past year?  
  • Cookies:    Do you get caught up in the chore or do you find joy in sharing with others?
  • Parties:   Can you share the Christmas story with your co-workers or friends?
  • December:   How are you spending the month between Thanksgiving & Christmas?   Are you frantically running around trying to buy or make the perfect present or getting the house to be picture-perfect for a photo-op?   Are you spending any time really and truly reflecting on the enormity of God coming to Earth because of  your very own sinfulness?    Do you make time to read your Bible?   Are you teaching your children the facts or the fantasy of Christmas?

Eternal Father, we praise You for keeping Your promise and sending Your Son to destroy the works of the devil and redeeming us from sin.

As we prepare to celebrate the birth of our King, use Your mighty Word to shatter our pride and to rouse us from spiritual slumber and apathy.

In these days before Christmas, fill our lives with the message of Your peace and music of Your grace.

Heavenly Father, direct our eyes not only to the manger but also to the skies where we will see Your Son coming again as the Lord of Lords.   Lift our hearts in joyful anticipation of that day. 

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Advent Decor: The Advent Wreath & Candles

The King is Coming!

Get or make an Advent wreath to set on your dining room table. Advent wreath candle holders are available on-line or at your local Christian bookstore.  Check out  Christian Book Distributors website at their website for a page loaded with Advent wreath stuff.  Type in “advent wreath” and you’ll be surprised at all the nice Christian stuff, at low (non-budget busting) prices.

You can also purchase (or make) a regular evergreen wreath--I'd get a small one--and lay that on your table, then insert four candle-holders evenly spaced around the perimeter.    That will smell very nice as you sit down to dinner each evening, too!

You’ll need four candles for the four weeks of Advent.    These are usually available at your local department store, although I've had trouble finding "purple" candles some years.

Be sure to lay in a supply of matches or have a candle-lighter handy.   And we like to use a snuffer for putting the candles out (this prevents wax from being blown when exuberant candle-blower-outers are too vigorous!
Take turns lighting and snuffing the candles, if that's fun for your family.   Children especially will get into the spirit of this if you give them an integral part of the duties.

Weekly Focus

Traditionally each week of Advent focuses on a different part of the Christmas narrative found in the New Testament books of Matthew and Luke, as well as passages from the Old Testament--written hundreds or even thousands of years before Jesus was born.

            Week One is the Prophecy Candle* (locate Old Testament [OT] prophecies about Jesus; check out Joel, Micah, Isaiah, etc.).     Week One begins on the Sunday right after Thanksgiving.

            Week Two is the Bethlehem Candle (King David grew up in Bethlehem, Joseph & Mary’s lineage was through David, too).   

            Week Three is the pink Angel Candle (angel appearances are always associated with the promise of the Gospel  [even in the OT!]; make a list of angelic appearances in the Old and New Testament).

            Week Four is the Shepherds’ Candle (many Bible references about shepherds including King David as well as Jesus referring  to himself as the “Good Shepherd,” too). 

The first week only one candle is lit; the second week you add the next candle, and so on.    By the fourth week, all four candles are lit.   And it looks neat because they’re graduated in height by the end of the Advent season (Dec 24).  

*Alternately, I’ve seen different “meanings” applied to the weeks of Advent instead of the ones I’ve just listed.     Find Bible readings to go with them (using your concordance to locate passages):    Repent, Restore, Ready/Readiness, and Rejoice!

On Christmas Day set a "Christ" candle in the center of the wreath and read the Christmas story (see below).  
Candle Colors

Purple and rose/pink are the traditional colors used for centuries by the Christian church.    But if you’re young and hip to the home d├ęcor scene, use royal blue candles instead---this is the “contemporary” color being used in churches in recent years.

We’ve used purple and pink for years, and have also had all red tapers other years or all green ones.    This  year, we're using olive green.  One year I used gold because I had some from a friend's wedding.    The Advent police didn’t care!

The Christ Candle--set out on Christmas Day--is usually white, but again, this is really up to your family.    I've seen silver used, and it looks very pretty with royal blue candles, too.

Tapers are nice if you like to see the graduated heights at the end of the month.    Pillars, votives and even tea-lights are nice too, but I prefer the tapers for the visual impact, plus that's the size that works in our Advent wreathsssss.   

Yes, that's right...we have more than one Advent wreath!     We have one on our dining room table and another one set up (some years) on a table in the living room.   

Readings for Advent

All four Gospels [Matthew, Mark, Luke, John] in the New Testament have a part of the whole story (look in chapters 1 and 2).   Matthew’s version is recounted more from Joseph’s point-of-view, while Luke tells more of the details from Mary’s perspective.    Mark’s and John’s readings are very figurative.    John’s especially is very poetic, which also will lead you to want to re-read the first few verses of Genesis 1, too!   

Don’t skip over the genealogies in Matthew (ch. 1) and Luke (ch. 3); do your best with the names, don’t belabor them!  Note the different and similar ways these two writers trace Jesus’ ancestry.   Matthew follows Joseph’s line which is “royal” through Solomon back to Abraham; Luke records Mary’s line through David’s other son, Nathan, back to Adam the son of God. 


"But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler 
who will be the shepherd of my people Israel." 
Micah 5:2 


Monday, December 6, 2010

Advent: The King is Coming!

Advent Calendar Chain

In case you're looking for a QUICK to-do Advent thing,  here's one from my files!

Remember those paper chains we made as children?   Skinny strips of construction paper, linked together and glued, to make a really long chain?

Well.   You can do something simple like this for a type of Advent "calendar"--and it will only take 30 or 45 minutes to do with your lovely little children!

Directions:   Make one copy of the little activities (below) for each child.    Cut-n-paste into your word-processing program.   Check the spacing between entries (make sure it's wide enough so you can cut them apart after printing).   Print this out using red and green papers (alternate them).  You might even be able to print them right onto construction paper (use regular paper for a template and cut the construction paper to fit through your printer).   Cut the entries apart into long strips.

Now here's where you can be creative.  You can either MAKE these into a chain, hang the chain from a doorway or windowsill, then daily take one link off of the chain.   The chain will get shorter and shorter.    

OR you can keep the little strips handy (envelope or bowl) and each day add a link to your chain, so it gets longer and longer!   Then on Christmas Day, add the chain to your tree.

We've done it both ways--and the kids seem to prefer starting with the long chain, and taking it apart one link per day.

The links generally don’t need to be done in any certain order.

Give someone a hug.

Take a moment to thank God for your Savior.

Thank God for your family.

Play Christmas carols and sing along!

Read Luke 2:1-20.

Put together a Christmas puzzle.

Read another story from the Bible about a different baby.

Thank God for his incredible love!

Recite the Christmas story from memory.   “In those days,…”

Draw a Christmas picture.

Think of someone far away and say a prayer for him/her.

Tell someone special you love him or her.

Be a helper—pick up your books and toys.

Make a Christmas card and mail it to someone who might be lonely at Christmas.

Make a Christmas banner (use big paper), and display it.

Sweep the steps.   Think about your sin being taken away!

Dust the living room; remember that God formed Adam from the earth!

Help bake something delicious for a treat or supper.

Play quietly.   Remember the peace that God sent to us!

Practice your Christmas piano music, think about the angels’ message.

Write a Christmas prayer, say it at supper tonight.

Set the table for supper; consider the miracles when Jesus provided food.

Count the links left in this chain.     Do that many jumping jacks!

Tell someone at home why you appreciate him or her.

Wash the kitchen cabinet doors; think about having your sins washed away

Friday, December 3, 2010

Advent 2: Exercising During Advent

Exercising During Advent

Advent, another word for arriving soon or breathlessly anticipating, is the time of preparation we Christians spend prior to Christmas.    Advent typically begins on the first Sunday after Thanksgiving (but not always!) and ends on December 25.   

In the busy world we live in, our preparations generally have a lot of busy-ness to them:   presents to buy and wrap, cookies to bake and send, parties to attend or give, bustling here and there usually rather breathlessly.    Christmas usually arrives far too quickly and, before we know it, the “season” is over, and we’re left with a sort of out-of-breath “when did THAT happen?” feeling.   

Some years ago, I heard a good definition of the word advent.   Our pastor wanted us to fix our hearts on the Savior’s pending arrival.   So he showed us what Advent—for a Christian—should LOOK like.    He said something like this: 

“You know how it was when you were a kid, and you were waiting along the parade route, and you couldn’t wait for the fire trucks and the marching bands and the floats and the candy to be tossed?   

Remember the anticipation of those few minutes before the first color guard came around the corner?   You had your head craning out, looking, looking, looking.    You wanted to be the first to see the color guard, to spy the flag.   

You’d venture a little bit further into the street hoping Mom or Dad wouldn’t call you back.    You’d stretch your neck; you’d stand on tip-toes hoping to get a glimpse.”

That’s what Advent is about.   That tippy-toe, stretching-your-neck, leaning-past-the-crowd, and trying-to-look-around-corners feeling.    Too often we get caught up in the busy-ness of the season and we forget what the whole business of the season is really about.    Satan is delighted when we focus on the presents and the tree and the decorations.  

We can re-focus our hearts and thoughts and use the time of Advent in a God-pleasing fashion.    Keeping Christ in Christmas involves more than superficially acknowledging Christ in your cards and letters. Mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually focusing all our attention on Christ—that is, every aspect of our life.      

An Exercise Program  You Can Follow!

What's a CHRISTian to do?    Start with your Christmas cards:   make sure they are CHRISTian-themed.   Your CHRISTmas letter should reflect a hopeful attitude.   Even the way you sign your card:   send a blessing to your loved ones!      Skip the ones that say "Happy Holidays" in favor of the ones with a Christian message.    Underline the word "CHRIST" in Christmas.  
How about getting rid of all the pop culture decorations in  your home?    Get rid of all your Santa Claus, reindeer and snowman stuff (I put my snowman stuff out in January instead).    Sell it on eBay so you're not tempted to put it up next year either! 

Put up a CHRISTian nativity scene on your front lawn.  How about a star or a cross.    We made a cross out of 2x4's and wrapped it with several strings of mini-lights and screwed it to our front deck---that cross was seen from quite a distance!   

Find a nativity diorama to decorate a table in your home.   I made one out of ceramics years ago that gets center stage in our home.  We have several other small ones picked up from second-hand shops that sit on side-tables or counters.    Remind children that these are only an artist's idea of what the real people may have looked like.  

Read your Bible (see passages below for prophecies about Christ).   The CHRISTmas narratives can be found in the New Testament books of Matthew (chapters 1 and 2) and in Luke (chapters 1 and 2).

Collect Christmas carols on CD and cassettes.    Skip the secular "Jingle Bells" and "Jolly Ol' Saint Nick" in favor of "O Little Town of Bethlehem" and the very beautiful "Silent Night."    Take the time to learn the background of carols and hymns.

"Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing...."

Have you been stretching your neck?  Looking to the sky each day of the year (not just the 24 days of December prior to the 25th!)?   Are you standing on tippy-toes, peering through the crowd, anxious to see the Coming Savior?

Do you ask yourself when you wake up each morning, “Will He come back today?”   Do you ask your friends, “Is today the day?”

Here are some Bible passages from the Old Testament, prophecies about the coming Savior--which Jesus fulfilled when He was born in Bethlehem.    Stand on tippy-toes and stretch your neck!

Genesis 3, verse 14-16
2 Samuel 7, verse 16
Psalm 34, verses 1-3
Psalm 89, verses 3 & 4
Isaiah 7, verses 1 - 17 (focus on verse 14)
Isaiah 9, verses 6 & 7
Daniel 2, verse 44
Daniel 7, verses 13 - 14
Micah 5, verse 2 and 5

You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.
Isaiah 55:12, NIV

So, please, exercise during Advent:   stretch your neck, stand on tippy toes, reach into the crowd!    The King is coming!    

Today may be the day! 

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Advent 1 - The King is Coming!

Advent - Preparing for the King's Arrival!

Note:   Apologies in advance for the whacky spacing.  I tried to get the formatting to change, but some things are beyond my feeble grasp.   I tried.   Really!

We have a big birthday coming up near the end of December:    CHRISTmas!   That's right--the holiday when CHRISTians celebrate the birth of Jesus CHRIST.    

Long ago, some church-father(s) decided to organize the CHRISTian Church Year and our weekly worship and readings around the events of CHRIST's life.   Rightly then, for CHRISTians, our year begins with the season of Advent.    This is the special time of year when we prepare for the coming (thus "advent") of our King--Jesus CHRIST.   

There are two kinds of "advents" wrapped in one lovely package for which we CHRISTians prepare.  With great thanksgiving we look back and celebrate CHRIST's first coming as a humble little child in obedience to his Heavenly Father and so we celebrate his lowly birth (altho' we have no way of knowing His "exact" birth date).  We also anticipate the future coming when the conquering CHRIST returns at the end of time to triumphantly take us home to Heaven with Him.   

Happy Christmas to you!
Advent always starts the Sunday right after Thanksgiving.   Which means....this past Sunday (November 28, 2010--this year) was the first Sunday in Advent (part of the liturgical calendar for CHRISTians).

In future posts I'll share the history of the CHRISTmas celebration that takes place on December 25th, and I'll post some fun "trivia" about the holiday, so you can see how much you REALLY know about CHRIST's birth and the historical events surrounding that occasion.  And I'll be sharing the background on some of our most favorite CHRISTmas carols.  

For this post, though, I want to share with you some of the preparations you can do --in your own home-- that will help ready your heart, the hearts of your children and your December visitors for the celebration of the Savior's birth.   


The Advent Wreath ~ Evergreens & Candles

For our family, Advent means special devotions at meal-time.   We have an Advent wreath with four candles on our table.  The wreath sits flat (ours is made of silk boughs), the candles fit into a metal ring--within the greenery.   You can use a real wreath and use votives in small glass holders or tapers or pillars.    Traditionally, Advent candles are purple (3) and rose (1).   Or contemporary colors include using four royal blue or white candles.    Personally, I like tapers because they are visually more descriptive.    We've used  a variety of candle colors and sizes over the years.    

On the first Sunday of Advent, we light only one candle as we're sitting down to eat supper.   This adds a special significance to the meal (even if only eating sandwiches or leftovers!).   At the end of the meal, we have a special reading that goes with our Advent calendar.   Then we snuff the candle until the next evening.     The second week of Advent, on Sunday evening, the second candle is added along with the first.    The third Sunday, we add the third candle to the second and first; the fourth Sunday, we add the last one to the prior three.    The candles look like stair-steps by the end of the month--very pretty!    The first candle will be quite short by December 25, so if  you're using tapers, be sure to buy the really long ones!

A fifth candle --white-- can be added to the center of the wreath--and lighted only on Christmas Day and afterwards.  This is the Christ Candle.   More on the colors and meanings later.   

Your children will enjoy the mystery of revealing the latest "character" of the CHRISTmas account.    Even though our children have done this since they were toddlers, we had to come up with a revolving schedule (honestly it goes from one year to the next!!) so that they each had a turn at being first or last.   And even though my youngest child is now almost 15 years old, she gets excited to be the one to turn over the little banner on December 25--revealing the infant CHRIST!    So, plan ahead for this--and have a schedule that rotates through the children (and Mom & Dad!).    Even lighting and blowing/snuffing out the candles can be a big deal, so take that into account, too.   

Advent Devotions

One thing you can do to prepare is to locate and read from an Advent devotion book.    Advent devotion books typically are geared towards families with children and usually have activities or small tokens to emphasize the point of the daily reading.     We have several favorites listed here.   There are many more available at bookstores, these are the ones we love and use(d).    

Celebrate Jesus!  At Christmas:  Family Devotions for Advent Through Epiphany, Kimberly Ingalls Reese, Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, Missouri, c2000.   (Daily readings with songs and activities to emphasize the approaching birth!)

Tabitha's Travels:  A Family Story for Advent, Arnold Ytreeide, Vine Books, Ann Arbor, Michigan, c2003.  (This is a three- or four-part series of young people involved in the first CHRISTmas story---how they "happen" across Jesus.   Very engaging stories for youngsters!   Some of the situations may be a bit scary for little ones--there are "bad" guys in Bethlehem!)

Countdown to Christmas:  Devotions for Families, Laura K. E. Zimmerman, Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, Missouri, c1997.   (Includes 40 punch-out ornaments/disks ready to hang on your tree--or we hang along the dining room window, from the first Sunday of Advent to Epiphany.)

Your own church may publish an Advent devotional, too.    Sometimes the Sunday School leadership makes something like this available.   Or the publishing house associated with your church-denomination may have such spiritual aids available, too.    Be sure to ask your pastor or youth ministry leader.    

Short of that, you may find some Advent Devotions available on-line.

Finally I am including some Advent readings (Bible passages) which you may also feel free to use for your family!   See below....

Your Advent Calendar

Another devotional aid is an Advent calendar.    We've used various ones over the years.  One is a home-made job (see photos) which is becoming quite the family heirloom.    It's a big deal to be the person who turns over #25!   In fact I've typed up a rotation/calendar for the next few years, so we switch off from one year to the next and everyone gets a turn.  

The other Advent calendar we really liked was called "Jesse Tree" (as in King David's father:  "a shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse").   We used the Jesse Tree as a lunch-time devotion when we were homeschooling our three youngest children.   I had it laminated, the kids colored the "leaves" (which had some iconic symbols), and each day we added another leaf to the Jesse Tree.    I wish I hadn't given this away!   
Anyway, use good judgment when buying an Advent calendar at the local department store; many Advent calendars on the market are hokey, "cute" and focus on popular culture (Santa Claus) rather than Christ.   Avoid this type of calendar.    You'll be better off buying one at a Christian bookstore.   Or try "Christian Book Distributors" (CBD) on-line--they have a good selection (or at least they used to!).   

A Home-made Advent Calendar

You can also make your own Advent calendar using the example I've posted as a pattern.  (photos at the far end of this post)  This home-made calendar starts on December 1st (rather than the first Sunday of Advent).   

From the banner a friend had posted in her classroom, I made photo-copies of each little banner and used those copies as a pattern.  Using felt, very sharp scissors and fabric glue, I made the little characters.  On the white "back" side, I numbered the little banners using some kind of glitter fabric gel pen and added some holly leaves & berries.    

I added a length of floss (knotted at each corner) so each little banner would hang from a button on the large background banner.    (See photos for better details.)

Feel free to use the posted photos as a pattern.   Or cut the figures out and have your children glue them to their own large piece of paper (daily), to create a stable scene fit for a King!

After I made the little banners, I used my Bible concordance to locate appropriate passages that corresponded to the figures on the little banners.    These are listed on the chart below.     

Advent Eating

Last of all on my chart is a suggested recipe to make for that evening's devotion.    These recipes (mostly) come from "The Frugal Gourmet Celebrates Christmas" by Jeff Smith.    I came across his book about 10 years ago and loved the idea of coordinating our meals with the various characters within the CHRISTmas  account.      

According to the little bit of research I've done on foods of the Bible, Smith's ingredients are right on target and culturally appropriate. 
I thought this might help my family appreciate the types of foods Jesus or his peers may have eaten.   You'll notice that not every day on my calendar has a recipe suggestion.  Here's where you get to be the creative woman that you are and come up with some of your own ideas---if you'd like!

Sorry, I don't have all these recipes on-line or linked (maybe if I get a big chunk of time, I can post them).   The internet is a great resource to find recipes.    One of my favorites is which has something like half-a-million recipes posted for free use.   My user name there is "Debber" (click on members to find me); I've posted quite a few of my own recipes there.    Sorry, but I don't remember which of these I've posted.   Have fun--do your own thing!

Advent Calendar

Concerning the list of animals and people:   in lieu of a felt calendar or making a collage, try using  your nativity (creche) figurines.   You may not have every piece, so you can improvise for that evening.   

December dates ~ Character ~ Bible Reading for the Day ~ Menu Idea
1 ~ Bull ~ Leviticus 4:3 ~ Barley Soup
2 ~ Donkey ~ Zechariah 9:9 ~ Straw & Hay Pasta
3 ~ Cow ~ Genesis 41:2 ~ Baked Barley Casserole
4 ~ Birds ~ Matthew 8:20
5 ~ Lamb ~ Isaiah 53:7

6 ~ Sheep ~ John 1:29
7 ~ Sheep ~ Psalm 100:3
8 ~ Shepherd ~ Isaiah 40:11 ~ Green Olive Soup
9 ~ Shepherd ~ Luke 2:8 ~ Peasant/Artisan Bread in Wine (sop)
10 ~ Star ~ Numbers 24:17 ~ Rosettes

11 ~ Angel ~ Psalm 91:1 ~ Angel-hair Pasta w/Mushroom Sauce 
12 ~ Angel ~ Luke 2:13-14 ~ Honey Cake w/Sweet Water
13 ~ Dove ~ Matthew 3:16
14 ~ Camel ~ Zephaniah 2:3 ~ Date Pudding 
15 ~ Wiseman ~ Matthew 2:1-1 ~ Persian Meatballs

16 ~ Gift ~ Ephesians 2:8                                                      
17 ~ Camel ~ Matthew 19:25 ~ Fig Pudding                                            
18 ~ Wiseman ~ Matthew 2:3-8 ~ Currant Cake w/Rose Water                                
19 ~ Gift ~ I Corinthians 7:7
20 ~ Camel ~ Matthew 23:24                                             

21 ~ Wiseman – Matthew 2:9-12 ~ Rose Wine (red wine mixed w/1/2 C. "rose" jam)
22 ~ Gift ~ Romans 6:23 ~ Sesame Cookies
23 ~ Mary ~ Luke 1:26-38 ~ Salad with Cucumbers
24 ~ Joseph ~ Matthew 1:18-25 ~ Unleavened Brown Bread                                   
25 ~ Jesus ~ Revelation 22:12-16 ~ Milk & Honey Birthday Cake ...or... Babes Wrapped in Swaddling Clothes (cookies)     

If your nativity/creche figures include any of the following characters, here are some CHRISTmas-related Bible passages and recipe suggestions for your family to enjoy.....

Innkeeper ~ Luke 2: 4-7 ~ Barley Soup w/Parsley
Tax Collector ~ Luke 2: 1-5 ~ Lambchops & Sauteed Onions
Roman Troops ~ Luke 2: 1-3 ~ Grain w/Vegetables (Quinoa or Barley)
Beggar ~ Matthew 26:11 or John 12:8 ~ Gravy Sop

Reading for First Sunday in Advent (from "Countdown to Christmas") featuring the Messianic Rose

"Show me Your ways, O Lord, teach me Your paths;
guide me in Your truth and teach me,
for You are God my Savior,
and my hope is in You all day long."
(Psalm 25:4)  

Advent Calendar - Days 1-4 (Back)

Notes about the home-made Advent calendar:

Photos are NOT to scale!!!!   Please use your own judgment concerning how large or small to make these.    The little banners are in various sizes.    Note on the whole banner (above) that these smaller ones are fitted in sort of jig-saw puzzle-ish-y way to fit nicely and create a poetical portrait of the CHRISTmas account. 

The white felt (back side) and blue felt (front side) rectangles are the same size--glued together, then the figures are glued to the blue felt.    The larger pictures here (below) are roughly the "right size" but some of the scans did not stay the right size (I'm not techno-smart, so please don't ask me why that happened), so refer to the large banner for similar sized ones.   

The large banner (on which the little ones all fit) is roughly 29-inches wide by almost 40-inches to the point of the banner-bottom.    A 1/4-inch dowel holds it up.   There are three tassels made of embroidery floss; one at the point on the bottom of the banner, the other two fitted to the dowel ends.    A decorative rope knotted and fitted over the dowel holds the whole thing up (on a nail).   I've also hung this without the rope (it comes off or on, whichever way you prefer), using two nails for the dowel to sit on.

The dowel fits in a roughly 1 1/2-inch casing that I fancy-stitched with the zig-zag thing on my sewing machine, using a special thread in the bobbin side.   Fussy, but I liked the effect.  You could just as easily turn the casing to the back and hem-stitch.

Dowel, rope, casing, buttons, number
Use colors you like for CHRISTmas.   I chose blue and creamy white because I didn't want this to look like just another holiday thing.   I wanted blue to look more night-like, to set off the star and angels.   This color blue was closer to the royal blue that we use(d) for our Advent wreath the year I made this.    Black would've been my second choice except I was worried about fading and lint and pet hair, and a big honking black banner hanging on my wall, well, it just seemed kinda like TOO gloomy at a time of the year when we're all feeling perky and cheerful! 

I laid my finished little banners on the big blue banner, then placed the buttons (for hanging) with tape and THEN sewed them on with my machine--so they wouldn't wiggle around.   I used nice blue ones for the five that show (where #6, 11, 10, 12 & 5 banners hang), the rest of the buttons were just ordinary orphaned buttons from my button bin.  

For the little banners to hang from buttons, I knotted some floss (six strands....and since it's harder than the dickens to thread a needle with that thick of floss, cut it very long!).  So know the floss on one end leaving a bit of a tail on purpose, poke in the corner of the little banner, leave a measured amount, poke through the other side, knot artfully, then cut from main thread.  Measure carefully so the little banners hang nicely, at complimentary angles.    

Finally, I placed the little banners from their floss hangers and THEN with a black Sharpie jotted a small number (for the particular day of Advent/banner).   This is a great help when we first hang the banner each year, to get them in the proper position.   

And remember.....your banner is YOURS!   Don't try to copy mine exactly.   Your banner/calendar will become a lovely heirloom your children will cherish when they get older.  (Two of mine have already put "dibs" on this one!!!)      Have fun making this....don't let little things ruin your holiday spirit!

Days 1-4 (Front Side, note colors of floss)

Days 5-9 (front side) NOTE:  #7 sheep looking upward

Days 10-13 (front) floss over dove's head accident-oops!! Also this one did not "size" right.
Days 14-16 (front)
Day 17-19 (front) Here's the other one that didn't "size" nicely. 
Days 20-22 (front)

Days 23 & 24 (front) Mary & Joseph

Day 25 "Infant Jesus"
These smaller photos are provided for size-relationship purposes only....they are NOT to scale.    You can see from the larger photo (above) of the full banner, that many of these are quite the same width, but length is longer or shorter.   Others are smaller (like # 7 & 22) and similar width; refer to photo of the full banner, and then just use your imagination! 

Days 5-9 (back side)
Days 10-13 (back)

Days 14-16 (back)
Days 17-19 (back)

Days 20-22 (back)

Days 23-24 (back)
Day 25 (back)