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A-Second-Look-at-the-Christmas-Story-Blew-My-Mind

A Second Look at the Christmas Story Blew My Mind

Written By Mackenzie Winkel, USA

A couple of days ago, I went to the park in a T-shirt, shorts, and sandals. It was 80 degrees Fahrenheit (about 27 degrees Celsius) outside and felt absolutely nothing like Christmas. In most parts of the United States, it’s cold—maybe even snowing. But here down south, in Texas, it’s still warm enough to go swimming.

To get into the Christmas spirit, I decided to walk home and read the Christmas story in Luke 2. What started as a casual attempt to get into the Christmas spirit resulted in a mind-blowing realization of God’s humility, power, and sacrifice. Here’s what I realized: Instead of opting to come into this world in a display of power to gain our trust right away, Jesus gained our trust by humbly entering into this world—as a baby in a manger.

The Bible includes multiple accounts displaying the power of God. God destroyed the world in a flood—but saved Noah and his family—to punish humanity for their wickedness. God worked through Moses, one of his followers, to part the sea so that His people, the Israelites, could walk through. Jesus himself also displayed His might, later in His life, by raising the dead.

So if God is capable of these amazing acts of power and might, why did He send His son, Jesus, in the way Luke 2:7 described: “(Mary) wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them”? After all, Jesus is God himself—the creator and the protector. Jesus is the one who would, just 33 years later, die on the cross and save all of humanity from our destiny of hell. He is the all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-present God. So why would God send His son in such a small way?

Think about this: If Jesus came on a cloud of fire with angels surrounding Him and thunder filling the air, people would have immediately followed Him. But most of these people would likely have followed Him out of fear or compulsion—not because they chose to. Instead, Jesus chose to lead by example. He gained our trust through the way He spoke, lived, and loved.

God desires a personal relationship with us, as a loving father and not as a dictator. He wants us to follow Him because He is good, not because He’s an evil tyrant who will destroy us the moment we sin. That’s not at all who God is. He is good, He is kind, and He is loving.

I used to see God as being distant. I used to see Him as a lion that would devour me the moment I sin. But now I see that God wants me to have a relationship with Him because He loves me and created me to love Him back. Christmas used to be about presents, but now it’s a time where I get to thank God for sacrificing His son in order to have a relationship with me.

This-Years-Hottest-Christmas-Gift--A-Toy-Egg

It’s 2016 Hottest Christmas Gift: A Toy Egg

Six months ago, I would have scoffed at the idea that the most wanted toy for the Christmas season was a toy egg.

Okay, it’s not exactly a toy egg. Inside the egg is a mechanical stuffed toy animal, and the owner has to “help” it hatch from its egg. In case you haven’t heard, Hatchimals—as they are called—are one of the best-selling toys across the world this Christmas.

I know exactly what you’re thinking—Hatchiwhat?

This toy animal requires the owner to hatch it in an interactive way—by petting the egg, playing with it, and “comforting” it when it’s upset. And when the time is ready for the wee creature to pop out, you just need to rub the bottom of the egg while the animal pecks its way out. Once hatched, the animal goes through a series of life stages, from baby to toddler to the last stage, a kid.

In New Zealand, the toy is sold out for the Christmas season—to the dismay of some parents. From what I’ve heard, they will have to wait till February when a new shipment comes in.

Parents aren’t the only ones scrambling in search of the perfect Christmas gift for their loved ones. I am among the masses panicking because I may have left my Christmas shopping too late and missed the cut-off dates for international delivery.

Although I’m not running around trying to trace down the last Hatchimal toy available, I’ve been scouring supermarket aisles, websites, and malls for nice presents that are within my budget.

So far, I have successfully sourced boxes of chocolates, biscuits, beautifully scented soaps and lotions for my friends. For those friends living overseas with long, tricky addresses, I have resorted to buying Amazon gift cards for them. I have also managed to pick up a few treats for myself along the way (you see, my birthday was yesterday, just four days before Christmas).

As we rush into this busy season, checking off our shopping lists and making sure we’ve bought the nicest, cutest presents for the people we love, it’s so easy to oversee one very important detail: Christmas is about celebrating Jesus Christ.

What crossed your mind when you thought of Christmas? Was it: “Yay, it’s Jesus’ birthday! I am so glad He came to walk with us”? Well, mine was: “Yay, I can’t wait for the holidays! Will need to hang out with my friends at the beach.” (I live in New Zealand, so it’s summer time here when Christmas rolls around.)

It reminded me of a story I was once told about a couple who threw a birthday party to celebrate their child turning a year old.

Friends who turned up for the birthday were shown to the couple’s bedroom so they could leave their coats and presents on the bed before making their way to the lounge for food and drinks.

The party went on and on, until someone asked where the child as they had not heard her cry in a while. This led the worried parents to search the whole house for their child, only to find their baby—who had somehow found her way to their bed—suffocated under the piles of coats and presents of well-wishers.

It’s a morbid story, I know, but the story has stuck with me because it reminds me of how easily we drown out the real meaning of Christmas when we’re caught up in the world’s idea of the festive season. So if we’ve been moping or complaining about how we didn’t manage to secure the latest product or Hatchimal toy this Christmas, perhaps it’s a good time to remind ourselves why we’re celebrating in the first place. After all, it’s really not worth our time and energy obsessing over the latest toy that will likely last us for just a few months before its batteries go flat, or it breaks down, or it’s pushed out of a market by a newer toy.

We have already been given the ultimate gift more than 2,000 years ago, and that’s in the person of Jesus. Jesus was given to us—at absolutely no expense on our end, because God loves us so very much (John 3:16). And the Scripture tells us this is no ordinary child. “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” (Isaiah 9:6).

Jesus is the most costly and perfect gift God can ever give. And He’s the only gift we ever need, for He will never disappoint.

So, as we spoil our loved ones with presents and gather round the dining table for Christmas dinners and fellowship, let’s not forget to talk about the ultimate gift we can ever receive, and that is our Lord Jesus Christ—God Himself.

5-Ways-to-Love-A-Stranger-This-Christmas

5 Ways to Love A Stranger This Christmas

Written By M.D Valley, Africa

Once again, it’s Christmas—the season of merriment, goodwill, and cheer. For most, it’s a time for family and friends, and a time to reflect on the year gone by.

For believers, it’s the time we commemorate God’s gift to us—the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ (Luke 2:11-12). And just like how God showed love to us by giving us His son, we show our love to family and friends by giving them gifts.

Growing up in a northern Nigerian community, we have a tradition of preparing delicious delicacies such as a crunchy deep-fried snack known as chin-chin, cakes, donuts, meat pies, fried chicken and beef and other dishes in the lead up to Christmas. To show God’s love, we would wake up in the wee hours of Christmas morning to cook rice or some other dish, and deliver the piping hot food to our non-Christian neighbors and friends. They, in turn, would share food with us during their religious celebrations.

But how many of us extend this kindness to absolute strangers? And why not? This Christmas, how about making a conscious effort to show love to a stranger? Sure, there are countless ways, but here are five “gifts” that I think could help get us started.

1. The Gift Of Grace

As Christians, we are called to be gracious at all times—what more during the Christmas season? After all, this is the season we commemorate Jesus’ birth, God’s ultimate gift of grace to us (Ephesians 2:8).

So let’s try our best to exercise more grace and patience. To the person who interrupts our sentences, hold our tongues and respond with words of kindness. To the one who cuts our queue at the grocery store or into our lane on the road, let them pass and let our grievances go. To those who have offended us, whether it’s at work, in public, or at gatherings—let’s be quick to forgive them.

2. The Gift Of Giving

Some of us may already be involved in donating to charities and the less privileged on a regular basis. But how about paying a visit to an orphanage or old folks’ home?

Get involved in your local church’s charity drive. Donate blankets and warm food to those who have none. Remember, Jesus himself cared for the physical needs of 5,000 strangers (Mark 6:30-34).

3. The Gift of Prayer

The Bible tells us to pray for each other, and that “the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16). Maybe you tried to offer a word of encouragement or a gift that ended up being rejected despite your best efforts. In such instances, we can still pray for that person.

Pray for the hearts of those who have not received the good news of salvation, pray for the man you saw crying on the street on your way home, pray for your friend’s boyfriend’s uncle that you heard about but have never met, and pray for your leaders and the peace of your nation.

4. The Gift of Service

While we can show love to strangers by giving physical items such as gifts and money, we can also show love by serving others. There are several verses in the Bible that encourage us to serve others (e.g. Phil 2: 5-7; 2 Cor 4:5; Mark 9:35; Gal 5:13). Jesus himself came to this world to serve, not to be served (Mark 10:45).

Serving strangers can come in many forms. It can be as simple as helping an old woman cross the street, stopping at the side of the road to help someone change his car tire, or offering a ride to someone on your way home. It could also be helping out in church or joining a group of friends to hand out food and warm clothing to the homeless on the street.

5. The Gift of Time

Most of us know how precious time is—once it’s gone, we can never get it back. And with our never-ending list of responsibilities, no one seems to have time for anyone anymore.  Giving time may therefore be one of the most precious ways we can show love to a stranger.

It could be taking the time and effort to get to know our neighbors over the Christmas season, having a meal with a student we have seen on campus or a colleague from a different team, or inviting an acquaintance who has no family to spend Christmas with to your home. You could also be a listening ear to a distraught mother at the supermarket, or offer a shoulder to the person crying on the subway platform.

Jesus took the time to visit those despised by the religious institutions of His time. He fed the hungry, healed the sick, and mourned with those who mourned. He prayed for His friends, enemies, and those He knew He would never meet during His brief physical sojourn on earth.

 

During the Christmas season, I have found joy in making the first move to start discussions with strangers—sometimes I use the opportunity to talk about the real reason for the season. Along with members of my local church, I’ve also visited homes for the elderly or the physically disabled to sing them Christmas carols.

To me, Christmas is the best time to emulate Jesus’ footsteps, as we give thanks for the Savior of the world who humbled himself to visit those who did not know Him (John 17:25-26), to make strangers His friends, and to reconcile the lost to God.

When-Christmas-isnt-the-happiest-time-of-the-year

When Christmas Isn’t the Happiest Time of the Year

With the joyful endings of cheesy, Hallmark movies, comes the subconscious expectation that somehow during Christmas, everyone will get along, then snowflakes will fall at precisely the right time and in a perfect quantity.

It would make a terrible greeting card, but for many people, Christmas isn’t the “Happiest time of the year”, but actually one of the most difficult.

For me, this season will forever be tied to the anniversary of the big car accident that nearly took my life, four years ago and just five days before Christmas. Of all seasons, it is in this one that my family and I are most aware of our mortality and that nothing on this side of heaven can be taken for granted.

A season that often incorporates time with family also makes strained relationships or absences excruciatingly clear. The annual nativity plays prepared by my large group of cousins when we were kids provides a perfect example. Soon after announcing that a play was going to be attempted, a disagreement would often ensue over who was directing, the make and model of Mary’s donkey, and the finer points of the bible story and the parts to be enacted. It would often end with Mary or Joseph concluding the final rehearsal on non-speaking terms with the other party.

Our little nativity plays dealt with quite a set of high-maintenance actors and directors, so problems were aplenty right from the onset, for instance, pinning down roles. One year, my 5-year-old cousin exclaimed that he refused to be “no stupid wise shepherd!” Our cast also included actors with a reputation for quitting just moments before curtain call.

My family provided foster care for many precious infants, whose presence sometimes coincided perfectly to allow for a real, live, baby Jesus in our nativity plays. When this was the case, Mary, and sometimes a wise man or two, would become aggressive lobbyists for the job of cradling baby Jesus.

So, on a nearly annual basis, our little plays would unintentionally point to the real fact of Christmas: its occurrence was an act of divine intervention, requiring the awe and wonder of all. We would have kept the true Christmas spirit much more accurately had the pervading emotion been one of grace for our fellow actors (or sheep, as the case may be).

While we now laugh off those childish expectations for a Broadway worthy nativity reenactment, the fact remains that we still do—consciously or not—set impossibly high hopes of this day, and get disappointed if it turns out otherwise. Don’t get me wrong, it may still be one of your best days ever, filled with lots of warm-and-fuzzy moments and meaningful gifts. But it’s just as likely to be far from perfect and make you extremely aware that you’re not in heaven yet.

This year, how about this for a change? Expect that not everything will be perfect, laugh about the mishaps and then strive to fill your heart with gratitude. Shift the focus from your wish list, to the greatest gift of salvation, which you’ve already received. Let our love for others flow out of our thankfulness to God for His gift of salvation to us.