The Five Senses of Christmas

FIve senses Christmas

 Sights of Christmas:

The world wrapped in holiday colors of red, green, silver, and gold. Crimson berries nestled in emerald green holly leaves. Wreath-clad doors, mailboxes garbed with garland scarves, and shrubs robed in lights. The “Big Tree” towering over Lenox Square. Piled gifts spilling beyond the sheltering arms of a Christmas tree’s embrace. On, off, on, off, on, off, on, off of blinking bulbs. Windows alight in warm candle glow. Stockings hung by the chimney with care. “Kiss-me-quick” mistletoe dangling from doorways. Clydesdale horses stomping through a Currier and Ives winter wonderland. Traffic-jammed mall parking lots. Church pageant children clothed in over-sized bathrobes, cardboard wings, and pipe-cleaner halos.

Sounds of Christmas:

Salvation Army, red kettle ringers. Jingle bells jangling. Salutations of “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Holidays.” Crackling, cackling fires. Mailboxes crammed with catalogs, cards, invitations, and bills. Carolers’ off-key singing. Horn blare of traffic jams. Canned carols endlessly looping on store speakers. “’Twas the Night before Christmas” recitations. Children’s Christmas morning squeals of surprise, delight, and excitement.

Smells of Christmas:

Dusty boxes of attic-stored decorations.  Fir-scented Christmas tree smell. Hickory wood smoke wafting from ice-frosted chimneys. Oven roasted turkey basting. Sugar cookies baking. Cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, peppermint, and allspice. Apple cider simmering on the stove. Flavored coffee steaming in a mug.

Feelings of Christmas:

Sticky, sappy, prickly, pine boughs. Polar breezes that cut through pants to discover where underwear ends. Cozy down comforters for long winter’s naps. Fleece, flannel, wool, fur, cashmere, leather, velvet, cardigan, and cotton layered clothes. Overcoats, gloves, hats, and scarves. Candy-cane kisses from a sugar-smeared child. Children laying awake on Christmas Eve, knowing the night will never pass. Home for the holidays. The presence of loved ones, both present and absent.

Tastes of Christmas:

Anjou pears, red delicious apples, navel oranges. Hot cocoa with sliver sprinkles of chocolate and topped with marshmallows. Sweet eggnog sprinkled with cinnamon. Honey ham, sweet potato soufflé, cornbread dressing, and deviled eggs. Gingerbread dunked in milk. Chex mix baked with butter and garlic. Some homemade pumpkin pie.

In the Gospels, one title given to Jesus is “Emmanuel” which means “God with us.” For those with eyes to see and ears to hear, God’s grace is all about us in these Holiest of Days. During this Christmas season, see, hear, smell, touch, and taste that the Lord is good!

 

A Christmas IQ Test

Christmas QuizMuch of what we “know” about Christmas actually comes from TV specials, greeting cards, holiday songs, legend, and tradition. Today I invite you to test your Christmas intelligence quotient. Is your knowledge about “the reason for the season” based on Matthew and Luke or Currier and Ives?

Q1:      Christmas has always been celebrated on December 25.

A1:      False. No one knows the exact date of Jesus’ birth. In a prior calendar, December 25 originally marked the Winter Solstice. The church “baptized” the date to celebrate the advent of “the light of the world” during the 4th century.

Q2:      What did the innkeeper say to Mary and Joseph?

A2:      According to tradition, the innkeeper said, “There is no room in the inn.” Despite countless children’s plays to the contrary, the innkeeper does not have any speaking lines in the Biblical accounts.

Q3:      Who saw the star in the east?

A3:      The wise men saw the star in the east. Many Christmas cards show the shepherds following the star to the manger; however, the shepherds went to Bethlehem after the angelic chorus announced the Christ’s birth.

Q4:      How many wise men made the journey?

A4:      Most people know the correct answer is “THREE.” Most people are wrong! The Bible never mentions how many wise men came to see the newborn king. They DID bring three gifts. By the way, they were not kings, either. So the carol “We Three Kings” is inaccurate in every detail!

Q5:      What is frankincense and myrrh?

A5:      My favorite response is that frankincense is “an eastern monster story!” In reality, it is a precious perfume. Myrrh is a spice often used for preparing bodies for burial—a strange gift for a newborn. Even at his birth, the babe of Bethlehem was also the Christ of the cross and the Lord of the empty tomb.

Q6:      Where did the wise men find the baby Jesus?

A6:      Months and even years may have passed before the wise men arrived. According to the Matthew’s account, they found the Holy Family in a home and not a stable.

Q7:      Which animals does the Bible say were present at Jesus’ birth?

A7:      Don’t throw away your manger scene’s barnyard menagerie, but the Gospels say nothing about any animals at the nativity.

Q8:      Where do I find the Christmas story in the Bible to check these answers?

A8:      Matthew and Luke contain the stories of Jesus’ birth. Matthew focuses upon Joseph and includes the wise men. Luke focuses on Mary and describes the angels appearing to the shepherds.

During Christmas, many families enjoy the tradition of reading holiday books together. In addition to other seasonal classics, I encourage you to include the Gospel accounts of the first Christmas in your reading time as well.

By the way, according to the author, there WILL be an end-of-book test.

Our Best Word

Rudyard Kipling lived from 1865 to 1936. The British author is best remembered for  The Jungle Book. Countless boys have also memorized his poem entitled If for English class.

During the height of his popularity, Kipling became so popular that his writings earned 10 shillings per word—an exorbitant sum for the time.

A group of college students who did not appreciate his work sent him a letter with 10 shillings enclosed. They sarcastically wrote: “Please send us your best word.”

They received a response from Kipling with a one word reply: “Thanks!”

During this week of Thanksgiving, our best word is “Thanks!” We are called to cultivate an attitude of gratitude. Thanksgiving includes three movements:

  • Recognize the Gifts
  • Recognize the Giver
  • Give Thanks

May God grant us the grace to make our best word “Thanks!”

Clap and Cheer

In the book, A Third Serving of Chicken Soup, Marie Curly wrote about a young boy named Jamie Scott. Jamie was trying out for the elementary school play, and he was very excited about getting a part. However, his mother feared that he might be disappointed.

After school, he burst through the door and announced with great joy, “Guess what, Mom? I got a part in the play.”

His mother was delighted and asked, “What is your part?”

Her son answered with great pride: “I’ve been chosen to clap and cheer!”

Sadly, our default setting as fallen humans is to boo and jeer rather than to clap and cheer. We identify the worst in others, tearing down rather than building up. We give ourselves the benefit of the doubt while doubting the benefit of others.

In the Acts of the Apostles, the apostles gave devout disciple named Joseph the nickname of “Barnabas.” The title literally means “Son of Encouragement.” Possessing the spiritual gift of edification, he built up other believers in the faith.

All of God’s children are called to be Sons and Daughters of Encouragement. We are called to both recognize and elicit the very best in others.

We have been chosen to clap and cheer.

Breathe!

Breathe!

Breathe in.

Pause.

Breathe out.

Pause.

Breathe in.

Inspiration:     “To be filled with God’s Spirit.”

Pause.

Breathe out.

Expiration:     “To die to self.”

Pause.

Breathe!

Breathe

BOO!

Boo

Did I scare you? October 31st claims the title of Spookiest Day of the Year.

The church doesn’t quite know what to do with Halloween. Some believe it is a demonic observation that accentuates the occult. Others think it is a nothing more than a harmless fall festival. However, a deeper meaning makes the holiday a holy day for Christians.

“Halloween” is a contraction of the words “All Hallow’s Eve.” “Hallow” means to make holy. “Hallows” names God’s holy ones or saints. In the church calendar, October 31st is the evening before “All Saints Day” when the church honors God’s faithful dead.

Like many Christian holidays, the church co-opted a pagan holiday and baptized it with new meaning. The ancient Celtic people observed “Samhain” (SAH-win) on October 31-November 1. The festival celebrated the harvest and recognized the division between the “light” and “dark” halves of the year. It combined Thanksgiving and New Year’s in the Celtic calendar.

During this time, the Celts believed that the line between this world and the next—between the living and the dead—thinned. Spirits could cross the weakened boundary freely. So frightened people lit bonfires, carved gourds, and wore masks to frighten or confuse any harmful spirits. Many of our Halloween traditions reflect these Celtic practices.

Little wonder that Halloween so confuses the church. It blends piety and paganism, the profound and profane, the sacred and secular. Some devout believers see the occult disguised in costumes. Others dismiss the day as a harmless folk festival. A few recall the deeper meaning of “All Hallow’s Eve.”

Today fear and faith symbolically face off against one another. Halloween sports the traditional colors of black and orange. Black represents the darkness of night. Orange symbolizes the light of fire. The black dark of doubt challenges the orange fire of faith.

In my office, I treasure a copy of a 16th century prayer from A Peasants’ Cornish Litany which reads:

From ghoulies and ghosties, long leggitie beasties,

And things that go bump in the night, Good Lord, deliver us!

What frightens you? What threatens to scare your faith to death? Jesus Christ calls us from fear to faith. We can become fearless!

Fear nothing this Halloween. Fear nothing in this world. Fear nothing in life. Fear nothing in death. We serve the Creator of the heavens and the earth, and nothing can overcome us in the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord!

Amen.