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Saturday, December 25, 2010

25 Days of Christmas - Day 25

Taking a page from Pastor Kinne’s worship handbook, let me start a phrase and see if you can finish it:

For unto you is born this day in the city of David(a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was(God.)

In Him was life, and the life was the … (light of men.)

Last night we heard the Christmas Eve Gospel from Luke 2. Those words from Luke have been read and shared for nearly 2000 years, especially at times like these when truth, meaning, and hope have been desperately needed.

This morning we hear the Christmas Day Gospel from John 1. To some, it doesn’t sound very “Christmas-sy.” If anything, it sounds old fashioned, even Old “Testament-y” (“In the beginning…).

But the words of John chapter 1 are just as filled with truth, meaning, and hope as the words of Luke chapter 2.

In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.

When I hear the word “light” I think of the sun. The sun is something we haven’t seen for what seems like a long time. But it is still there, right?

My favorite quote about the sun is by C.S. Lewis, who said,

“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen. Not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” [“Is Theology Poetry?” (1945)]

Even though we haven’t seen the sun this past week, we know it is there because we see everything else, during the day, by its light.

During the dark nights we can have “little suns” to illuminate our darkness – candles.

Candles are part of the Christmas celebration. We have them in church – altar candles, Advent candles, the Christ Candle, a paschal candle, and a sanctuary candle that forever burns. Their flames represent the light of Christ in our dark world.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

A long time ago, a pastor sat at his desk getting ready to write his Christmas Day sermon. This was before there were electric lights. As the sun set and the sky turned first cobalt, then black and dotted with the white light of stars, he lit his only candle and tried to begin to write.

He had struggled with that year’s Christmas message. He was a preacher and at Christmas it was expected of the preacher to preach about the birth of Jesus, the coming of our Savior, the angels’ message to the shepherds, Mary, Joseph, and the babe lying in the manger.

But what could he say that was new and hadn’t been said before? Could anything new be said? Should anything new be said?

He looked at his candle. It was one of the old altar candles that had been replaced with new ones for the Christmas service. This one was old and would only provide so much light before it would burn out. By the light of this candle, he would only have a limited time in which to write his message about the coming of the Light of World at Christmas. He felt that it would be a sign from heaven that he had written all he could when the candle burned out. When it did go out, he would stop and write nothing more.

The night that Jesus was born was like that candle and message. There had been thousands of years of waiting in faith and telling each new generation about the Messiah that was to come. But there would be a time when all the words would be said. The candle of time would come to an end and light from somewhere else would be needed.

That was when the night sky over Bethlehem exploded in light and angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, goodwill toward men.”

For that is what Christmas is all about. This day is about giving glory to God in the highest – the one and only God who is our King, our Creator, our Warrior, and our Savior. Why do we give Him glory? We give Him glory because He has come to bring peace and goodwill toward men. Not “to” men as if we would have peace and goodwill toward each other in this world. One look at the newspaper or the TV news and you know that there is no such thing as “peace on earth.” Jesus Christ came to bring peace and goodwill – God’s peace and goodwill – toward men. He came to reconcile God to us.

The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

One of the simplest yet poignant parables of the peace and hope that Christ came to bring is a half-hour television program that first aired December 9, 1965.

In A Charlie Brown Christmas our hero is depressed even though he knows he should be happy with all that the Christmas season brings – presents, parties, decorations, etc. He desperately looks for the meaning of the Christmas season. First he tries involvement. But he fails to control the Christmas play rehearsals. Thinking that the answer lies in getting a tree, he goes on a quest, only to find that all the trees at the Christmas Tree lot are shiny and aluminum. All, that is, except for one little tree. Amongst all the man-made seasonal items, it is a real tree that draws Charlie Brown’s attention. Yet, still, the tree is not the answer to what Charlie Brown is seeking – at least not yet (a tree being the answer to all our problems is a sermon for Holy Week).

Finally, Charlie Brown reaches the breaking point. He cries out in desperations, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?”

Linus steps forward saying he can tell Charlie Brown – and all of us – what Christmas is all about.

He calls out, “Lights, Please?” and then, in the spotlight, quotes the second chapter of the Gospel according to Luke, verses 8 through 14 from the King James Version.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you 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 and goodwill towards men.

“That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us

There was a famous monastery which had fallen on very hard times. Formerly its many buildings were filled with young monks, and its huge chapel resounded with the singing of the choir. But now it was deserted. People no longer came there to be nourished by prayer. A handful of old monks shuffled through the cloisters and praised God with heavy hearts.

On the edge of the monastery woods, an old rabbi had built a tiny hut. He would come there from time to time to fast and pray. No one ever spoke with him, but whenever he appeared, the word would be passed from monk to monk: “The rabbi walks in the woods.” And, for as long as he was there, the monks would feel sustained by his prayerful presence.

One day the abbot decided to visit the rabbi and open his heart to him. So, after the morning Eucharist, he set out through the woods. As he approached the hut, the abbot saw the rabbi standing in the doorway, his arms outstretched in welcome. It was as though he had been waiting there for some time. The two embraced like long-lost brothers. Then they stepped back and just stood there, smiling at one another with smiles their faces could hardly contain.

After a while, the rabbi motioned the abbot to enter. In the middle of the room was a wooden table with the Scriptures open on it. They sat there for a moment, in the presence of the Book. Then the rabbi began to cry. The abbot could not contain himself. He covered his face with his hands and began to cry, too. For the first time in his life, he cried his heart out. The two men sat there like lost children, filling the hut with their sobs and moistening the wood of the table with their tears.

After the tears had ceased to flow and all was quiet again, the rabbi lifted his head. “You and your brothers are serving God with heavy hearts,” he said. “You have come to ask a teaching of me. I will give you a teaching, but you can only repeat it once. After that, no one must ever say it aloud again.”

The rabbi looked straight at the abbot and said, “The Messiah is among you.” For a while, all was silent. Then the rabbi said, “Now you must go.” The abbot left without ever looking back.

The next morning, the abbot called his monks together in the chapter room. He told them that he had received a teaching from the rabbi who walks in the woods, and that this teaching was never again to be spoken aloud. Then he looked at each of his brothers and said, “The rabbi said that one of us is the Messiah.”

The monks were startled by this saying. “What could it mean?” they asked themselves. “Is brother John the Messiah? No, he’s too old and crotchety. Is brother Thomas? No, he’s too stubborn and set in his ways. Am I the Messiah? What could this possibly mean?” They were all deeply puzzled by the rabbi’s teaching. But no one ever mentioned it again.

As time went by, though, something unusual began to happen at the monastery. The monks began to treat one another with a very special reverence. There was a gentle, wholehearted, human quality about them now which was hard to describe, but easy to notice. They lived with one another as brothers who had finally found something. And yet, they prayed over the Scriptures together as those who were still looking for something. Visitors found themselves deeply moved by the genuine caring and sharing that went on among the brothers. Before long, people were again coming from far and wide to be nourished by the prayer life of these monks. And young men were asking, once again, to become part of the community.

In those days, the rabbi no longer walked in the woods. His hut had fallen into ruins. But somehow or other, the older monks who had taken his teaching to heart still felt sustained by his prayerful presence. [ChristianGlobe Illustrations, Adapted from “The Rabbi’s Gift” in Stories for the Journey by William White, ChristianGlobe Networks, Inc.]

The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.

There was a news clip which appeared in the papers after blackout in one city. I don’t know if was a misprint, a mistake or if it was true: “During the power failure many people complained of having gotten stuck for hours on escalators.”

Without the light of Christ people are truly lost. They may not even know it. But we do. We have been given the greatest gift at Christmas – the gift of Light. What will we do with it?

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

In the name of Jesus – the Light of the Word come at Christmas – amen.

Friday, December 24, 2010

25 Days of Christmas - Day 24

Today is Christmas Eve. This is probably my favorite day of the holidays, with Christmas Day a very close second place.

Billy Coffey – one of my internet friends and fellow bloggers – sums up how I feel about Christmas Eve pretty well:

For a lot of people, Christmas Day is their favorite day of the year. It isn’t mine. I’ve always fancied Christmas Eve a bit more. I’ve often wondered why and never really have figured out an answer, but I think I have one now.

It’s the anticipation.

It’s the knowing that what we’ve all been waiting for is now upon it. It’s almost here, mere hours away. No longer a wish, but a certainty.

In a life that promises doubt, certainties are treasures.

You can read his blog here.

Today my Christmas Eve included sleeping a little this morning (I worked the overnight shift at Target – which included twice as many groceries and products to make up for the fact that a truck will not be coming in tonight due to Christmas). I then cleaned up the house with my sons, turned on some Christmas music, and then dropped off some gifts at the neighbors whose driveways I clear when it snows.

This evening we will be going to the Candlelight service as a family. I’ll be sitting in the pew this year – something I always look forward to (because it doesn’t happen very often – usually I’m up front preaching).

It is also supposed to snow some tonight – about four inches. So before dawn and Christmas Day I’ll be clearing some driveways and then heading over to St. Matthew Lutheran in Hawthorn Woods where I’ve been asked to preach. I invited the neighbors whose driveways I clear to come to church with my family and they said yes!

All in all its been a great 25 Days of Christmas. I hope you enjoyed reading these blog posts.

I pray you have a very blessed Christmas!

Ed

25 Days of Christmas – Day 23

Quiet ChristmasFlickering candlelight.

The Christmas tree lit with a soft, white glow.

A warm, crackling fire in the fireplace.

My wife and sons taking a break from a game to have hot chocolate and watch A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

25 Days of Christmas – Day 22

I have a wonderful memory of my grandparents – Nana and Pop-pop – at Christmastime. They would hang up all the Christmas cards they received from family and friends on a chain of garland strung around the living room.

They had many cards each year – a real testament to how loved they were.

My wife and I started a similar tradition in our home in Mayville, Wisconsin. We hung all the cards we received on the wall of our kitchen. But that was a tradition that faded away after we moved.

This year, we are receiving less Christmas cards than in years past and more e-cards and Christmas letters via e-mail. In fact, this year, we elected to send our own Christmas letter via email.

Christmas cards are a long-standing tradition of Christmas that has adapted well to modern technology. Like listening to the radio play of “It’s a Wonderful Life” on an iPod and watching A Charlie Brown Christmas on a smartphone.

Christmas is something that transcends time – it is a holiday rooted in the past and is not limited by time at all.

25 Days of Christmas – Day 21

I’m counting down the days before Christmas with the idea to include the 25 days leading up to Christmas Day as part of the actual celebration of Christmas (which is 12 days – December 25 to January 5).

Day 21 falls on the first day of Winter in the Northern Hemisphere of the planet Earth (for those reading off-world).  This is the shortest “day” of the year and the longest “night” of the year. Where I live there is only 9 hours, 7 minutes, and 54 seconds of sunlight on this day.

With so much nighttime, it is a good time to light some candles and candlethe cold outside makes a fire in the fireplace a welcomed event.

Christmas and candlelight go together like peas and carrots. Advent candles adorn our church sanctuary and scented candles of pine and apple-cinnamon enhance our home.

Candlelight on a dark winter night reminds me of John 1, which says, “The light (Jesus Christ) shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

On the Winter’s Solstice it is as if the darkness tries to take over the world with its power. But even though it is the shortest day of the year, the days gradually get longer, adding sunlight each day.

The darkness of the devil and sin cannot overpower us because Jesus Christ  came into this world and atoned for our sins with His death on the cross. The Babe of Bethlehem grew up to be the Crucified and Risen Savior of the world. This is why Christians celebrate Christmas at this time of year. The days getting longer, the nights are lit up with candle and fire light, which point us to Jesus Christ for “in Him was life, and the life was the light of men.”

Monday, December 20, 2010

25 Days of Christmas – Day 20

We’re anticipating the big day – Christmas Day!

Our sons are anticipating it for slightly different reasons – they are looking forward to a visit from Santa and the presents that he will leave under our tree. Although our oldest son doesn’t believe Santa leaves those presents and our middle son admitted to “kind of” believing that Santa leaves presents.

My wife and I are anticipating the big day for the presents that we will give to our boys and each other, the family meal that we will make and share with my mom, and time spent together as a family.

I’m anticipating preaching a sermon on Christmas Day – as I have for the last 15 years. But I’m not serving a church full-time this Christmas and that is adding a little uncertainty to my anticipating.

One of the things that this is teaching me is to enjoy each moment as it happens. If I start to look too far ahead, I can get bogged down in so much stress and uncertainty as to miss the joy of this season.

Mary – the mother of Jesus – might have faced this challenge. Going through the joy of bearing the Messiah, she was also “warned” by Simeon that a “sword will pierce through your own soul also.” The pain of watching her son die on a cross was in her future, but that was later. Did she let it dominate her “now”?

Even though there is much uncertainty in the future, now is the time to live. We can ruin now by looking only to the future. During these days leading up to Christmas, we’ll be looking at each day as it unfolds and leave the rest to God.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

25 Days of Christmas–Day 19

There are a lot of sitcoms on TV – and have been in the past – about families. Some of the favorites of my wife and I are Everybody Loves Raymond, Mad About You, According to Jim, I Love Lucy, and The Middle.

I don’t think our family is quite as dysfunctional as some of those depicted on TV – at least I pray we aren’t – so these shows are a form of escape from everyday life that we enjoy every once and a while.

But for us, nothing beats being with family. With our three boys we have a Family Pizza and Movie Night just about every Friday night. We have a Family Breakfast of pancakes just about every Saturday.

And at Christmas we visit family that we haven’t seen in a while. My grandmother, my mom, my dad and his wife. My brother and his family, aunts, uncles and cousins. We really enjoy spending time with them and catching up with what’s happening in our lives.

000_0569 Picture 020

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 December 2008 012

Saturday, December 18, 2010

25 Days of Christmas - Day 18

Our oldest son was born in 1996. My wife and I thought it would be nice to take him to see the Santa at Field’s on State Street in Chicago. I remember going once or twice as a kid. So, we took a couple of days during Christmas break that year and drove down to Chicago from Michigan where I was serving a small parish and Nancy was a teacher.

Here’s the picture:

19961996

The following year we moved to Wisconsin. Since we were only 3 hours from Chicago, we drove down to visit family and stopped in at Field’s to visit Santa:

19971997

We did it again the next year:

19981998

In 1999 we were blessed with Kurt! Since we had a Chicago Christmas for the last three years, we felt that it was a tradition that would serve us well.

19991999

In 2000, Mark joined us. Time started to fly fast:

20002000

And faster and faster…

20012001

20022002

20032003

20042004

20052005

20062006

20072007

20082008

20092009

20102010

This is an awesome record of our boys lives – from the time Eddie was seven months old to 14 years old and Kurt at 11 and Mark 10. Some things do not really change even though they are changing all the time.

That’s part of what makes Christmas so wonderful for me. It’s the same things every year but it is different every year.

25 Days of Christmas-Day 17

For Christians there is a “Good Friday” – the day that Jesus Christ died to save people from their sins.

For retailers there is a “Black Friday” – the day after Thanksgiving where stores open extra early enticing shoppers to come in and save their bottom line for the year.

In 1997, the day before Thanksgiving, my grandmother – Nana – died. We had a quick Thanksgiving dinner with my dad and his wife, dropped them off that afternoon to be picked up by his sister, and then drove to my mom’s to be with her and prepare for the funeral that would take place on Saturday.

My wife and I found ourselves free for a couple of hours on that Friday so we decided to go to the mall and walk around, maybe do a little Christmas shopping.

I’ll attribute it to my grief about my grandmother that it didn’t occur to me that it was Black Friday. Black Friday 1We found a parking spot near the front door – so we weren’t yet tipped off that it was the busiest shopping day of the year.

But once we were in the mall, it hit us full-on.  We were in the middle of a tsunami of people.

But it wasn’t that bad. We weren’t there frantically searching for presents. We were there just to get away from thinking about my grandmother and our first Christmas without her.

Honestly, I’ve never had a problem with Christmas shopping. I don’t mind mall crowds. I seem to find extra patience at this time of year. I like to watch people and interact with them. And at this time of year I like to share the peace of Christ to those who are Christmas shopping. I find a way to smile at the clerks and at the shoppers and I always say “Merry Christmas” to anyone who gives me an opening to do so.

Christmas shopping is special to me. I try to find just the right gift from the people I love. I don’t always succeed (thank God for gift cards!) but I enjoy the hunt for them.

Water Place Christmas

One of my favorite places to go Christmas shopping is Water Tower Place on North Michigan Ave. in Chicago. They have unique shops in a unique seven-story setting with glass elevators in the center of the mall.

Sometimes I bring a bottle of bubbles with me, go to the seventh floor and blow bubbles over the railing and watch them drift up and down on the air currents. People who are pretty stressed out from their shopping will sometimes stop as, out of the corner of their eye, they catch a bubble drifting down. They then shuffle over to the railing and stand, mesmerized, for a few minutes of peace in a hectic day.

That’s just another way I can share the peace of Jesus with some stressed out Christmas shoppers.

25 Days of Chicago – Day 16

For a brief moment, I felt it. That thrill in my chest that comes from knowing that a special time of year has started. It was only a brief moment, just enough to remind me of a time years ago that I felt that thrill for hours and days at a time.

The beginning of Christmas vacation. Two weeks off from school. What a glorious time of year. The only time better is summer vacation.

Oh, there were times when a teacher would try to damper the excitement by assigning a book report during Christmas vacation. I don’t remember if I ever had to do this, but I still sympathize with Peppermint Patty having to read “A Tale of Two Cities” over one Christmas break.

As a school kid, all the way through graduate school, I always looked forward to Christmas break. It was a great part of Christmas time.

But these days, as an adult and father of three boys I find that while most of the time I enjoy Christmas break, there are times I feel like the parents in the lyrics of “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas”

A pair of hopalong boots and a pistol that shoots
Is the wish of Barney and Ben
Dolls that will talk and will go for a walk
Is the hope of Janice and Jen
And Mom and Dad can hardly wait for school to start again

But still, most of the time, I really enjoy Christmas break because I get to spend some extra time with my sons and wife that is all our own. And that time started today this year!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

25 Days of Christmas – Day 15

ebenezer'sLet’s talk about the coffee house. And yes, I’ll have to mention Starbucks but this isn’t really an ode to Starbucks (although I am a fan).

The coffee house is – as you probably have guessed – a place where you can get a cup of coffee, or tea, or something along those lines. The good ones have a variety of choices so as to offer something to all people.

But it is more than just a place to drink a beverage.

The coffee house is a place to sit, relax, think, plan, talk with other people (whether face to face or via the internet) and even worship (like at Ebenezer’s in Washington D.C.).

I realize that for some people, Starbucks has given the “Coffee House” a bad name. The complaint I most often hear about Starbucks is, “I don’t want to pay $4 for a cup of coffee.” The truth is you won’t, really. I visit my local Starbucks usually once a week. The most I’ve ever paid for a cup of coffee – a “tall” or 8 oz. cup – has been $1.75. (However, I bring my own cup to get a ten cent discount and use my Starbucks Gold Card to get free refills).

And while the coffee is good – to me, at least – I really go for the atmosphere. I can sit, watch people, talk with people, read the newspaper, watch the world go by, or surf the internet. Being with other people is the best part of the coffee house experience. And this is where a locally-owned coffee house can really excel. I can sit and talk with people from my neighborhood, church, and community. We live in the same place, are going to similar experiences, and share a cup of coffee and have great conversations.

At Christmastime, the coffee house can be a great place to take a cup of coffeebreak from the obligatory “hustle and bustle” of the season. At some coffee houses you can even get some shopping done (gift cards and coffee cups make great stocking stuffers!). Sit down with a friend (old or new) and talk, share, and find joy over a cup of coffee at the coffee house.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

25 Days of Christmas – Day 14

State Street Chirstmas

Since Christmas 1996, my wife and I have made it a family tradition to take our sons to downtown Chicago sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve. Part of our walking tour is State Street between Wacker Drive and Jackson Street. This includes a visit to what used to be the main store of Marshall Field & Co.

We’ve encountered all kinds of weather – one year it was sunny and in the 60’s. Another year there was rain, thunder and lightening.  It has snowed a couple of times and it has been bitterly cold – below zero kind of cold.

We love walking in this magnificent canyon of the city. It’s decked out in holiday decorations and lights. There’s great crowds of people. The windows of Field’s (now Macy’s) usually tell a story – oftentimes it is the Nutcracker or A Christmas Carol. One year it was Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – based on the book before the movie was made.

Pictures Important March 16, 2009 024We’ve visited the Santa at Fields fifteen years in a row (more on that on Day 18). We also have broken our fast with the delicious food served in the Walnut Room a couple of times but always make sure we get a picture of the Great Tree from the 8th floor viewing area.

The Marshall Field & Company State Street store has a long history dating back to the 1860’s. The original building burned down in the Great Chicago Fire in 1871, was rebuilt and burned down again in 1877. It eventually was rebuilt to encompass the entire city block, bordered by Washington, State, Wabash, and Randolph Streets. It’s long history is one of the reasons I love visiting the store. It has its deep roots in Chicago, as do I.

I’ll visit Marshall Field’s again with you on Day 18.

Monday, December 13, 2010

25 Days of Christmas – Day 13

Snow DayWhen it started snowing yesterday about midmorning, my sons started to get excited that they might have a snow day today (Monday).

There are a couple of discouraging things about heavy snow on a Saturday or Sunday. One, it wreaks havoc on church attendance (which gives stomach aches to some pastors). Two, it usually gives road crews time to clear the roads between our houses and our schools.

That was the case this past weekend. For a time, it seemed as if my boys would get that gift of gifts for any student – a snow day. But when the snow tapered off to light flurries about sunset on Sunday, I knew that it would not be so.

Sure enough, this morning school was in session. I felt bad for my boys. No snow day today. We were close, though! For the last four years we lived in Southern California and there is no such thing as a snow day in the San Gabriel valley. It rarely drops to below 50 degrees in the wintertime!

But it’s not so bad. After all, this week is the last week before Christmas break. Excitement is running high because Christmas day is less than two weeks away!

And we can still read about Snow Days in a book by first-time author Billy Coffey – which I highly recommend. Find out more about that here at his blog.

25 Days of Christmas – Day 12

snowstormThis weekend we had our first major snowstorm of the season. Near-blizzard like conditions occurred in the Upper Midwest with heavy snow, high winds, and bitter cold. It was so bad, the football game in the Twin Cities had to be postponed and then moved to Detroit. Many worship services in Wisconsin and Minnesota were canceled.

We did not have to cancel services at the church I serve. I was glad. I was preaching this weekend and I was really looking forward to that, and two adult confirmations and new members being welcomed, in addition to the Sunday School Christmas program.

Attendance was somewhat light but not all that bad considering the blowing snow and bone-chilling temperatures.

I give thanks to God for those who braved the weather and bad road conditions to attend worship. I understand and am sympathetic to those who could not attend and hope they are safe, looking forward to seeing them this coming weekend.

It’s all part of living in the Midwest at this time of year. And it is nice to have a blanket of new snow in the days leading up to Christmas.

25 Days of Christmas – Day 11

Over this past weekend we had near-blizzard conditions in Northern Illinois. Heavy snow, high winds, and wind-chills near zero.

This might have been part of what they meant by “The weather outside is frightful….” While I wanted to sit inside, in front of a roaring fire with my family listening to Christmas music, I had a job to do.

When we moved here in August, my mother – who lives just down the street from us – volunteered me to clear snow off the driveway of a neighbor of hers. This neighbor could no longer lug out the big, heavy, snow blower. I was glad to help – at the time. After all, it was August and we wouldn’t have snow for months.

snowblowing

It’s couple of months later now! So I was out there in the cold and blowing snow doing what I was volunteered to do.

It wasn’t so bad. After all, I had a snow blower at my disposal. This was a first for me.

Living 9 years in Wisconsin, I never owned a snow blower and had to clear my driveway with one of the two old-fashioned ways of doing it. Either 1) wait for it to melt on its own or 2) shovel it clear.

I’ll never go back to those two ways again.

25 Days of Christmas – Day 10

One Christmas, when I was about 9 or 10 years old, we were visiting my grandparents on the Southside of Chicago. Next door lived my cousins and we stopped in to visit with them.

They had a model train under their Christmas tree. Classic TrainIt was a an O guage, I think, with a three rail track. This was the first model train I had ever seen up close. Usually I only saw these kinds of train from a distance, or behind Plexiglas like at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.

I kind of lost my mind in the excitement of being so close to such a cool toy. It wasn’t long before I broke their train. I don’t remember how I broke it but I never forgot that and still feel bad about it to this day.

When our oldest son was born in 1996, my wife and I decided that for his first Christmas we would get a model train to put under our Christmas tree and have had one ever since.

We are on our third set (no, I didn’t break the other two, they just don’t make model trains like they used to). And when I get the train set out from under my bed – where it stays the rest of the year – the level of excitement among my three sons reaches near-astronomical heights. When they were younger, I had to ask them several times to move away from the tree so I could put the track together.

train under treeEach year they are able to help more and more and are nearly at the point where I can let them put the train set together all by themselves.

But I won’t because I’m still a kid at heart and get just as excited to put the train together as they do!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

25 Days of Christmas – Day 9

For my wife and I, our first Christmas was in 1991. When we discussed what kind of traditions we would establish for ourselves, in addition to some that we carried with us from our own childhood, the topic of Christmas ornaments came up.

We decided that we would buy one ornament a year and only hang that year’s and the previous year’s ornaments on the tree.

That first year we had one ornament on our tree. It looked a little weird – a 10 foot Douglas Fir with white lights, green and red garland, and one ornament.

But we stuck to the tradition, adding one ornament a year – each one dated, as well. By 1996, we added “Baby’s First Christmas” and by 2000 we were up to 9 ornaments and started a mini-tradition of getting one with all five of our names on it (we did that for a couple of years).

This year we’ll put the 20th ornament on our tree. It’s beginning to look a little more “normal”.

But each ornament on our tree tells a story.

- 1991: Our first Christmas as man and wife.

- 1995: Our first Christmas when we were both starting our careers in Michigan.

- 1996: Our first son’s first Christmas.

- 1997: Our first Christmas in Wisconsin.

- 1999: Our second son’s first Christmas.

- 2000: Our third son’s first Christmas.

- 2006: Our first Christmas in California.

- 2010: Our first Christmas together in Illinois.

Some of the ornaments are goofy – like the one with Ralphie from “A Christmas Story.” Some are far out – like our R2D2 ornament. Many of them are “Peanuts” themed (our favorite theme).

But all of them are special and hold a precious place in our hearts.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Switching to Word Press

I’m in the process of switching this blog over to Word Press. I’ll be posting the rest of the 25 Days of Christmas here on blogspot and then will change over to using the Word Press account exclusively. You can join over there by click through here: http://edblonski.wordpress.com/

Thanks!

25 Days of Christmas – Day 8

There are a plethora of Christmas movies – some more popular than others. Here’s a list of some of my favorites. I’d love to hear about yours.

The Bishop’s Wife

The story of an Episcopal bishop in a northeastern United States city, his wife, and God’s answer to the bishop’s prayer for guidance. The answer is Dudley, an angel sent to enlighten everyone as to the true purpose of our lives.

It’s a Wonderful Life

A perennial holiday favorite that once was aired at least once a day during the entire month of December but has since become the property of one network and is televised only once each Christmas season. Again, an angel is sent in response to a man’s desperate prayer for guidance. He is given the opportunity to see what the world would have been like if he’d never been born.

White Christmas

Bing Crosby tap-dances with Danny Kaye, with Vera Lang and Rosemary Clooney joining them for a holiday extravaganza of Irving Berlin songs – including the title song that has become one of the official theme songs of Christmas. Two war buddies team up to become successful Broadway producers then radio stars. They take time out from their careers to help another buddy from the army save his post-war dream.

A Charlie Brown Christmas

This television special is as old as I am. It originally aired in December of 1965 and has been televised every year since. It’s a simple story for kids of all ages about what Christmas is about.

Christmas With the Kranks

Based on the short story Skipping Christrmas by John Grisham, this movie shows us a couple that tries to get away from all the hassle of Christmas after their only daughter grows up and leaves home to spend their first holiday apart. But things take a turn when said daughter changes plans and brings home her new fiancé. The true meaning of family and giving shines through by the end.

What are your favorite holiday movies?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

25 Days of Christmas – Day 7

69 years ago, the Empire of Japan’s navy and air forces attacked the United States Naval base at Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Hawaii. This date would be described the following day by President Roosevelt as “a date which will live in infamy.”

“December 7th” thus became a “marking date” in United States history – alongside of July 4, 1776, June 6, 1944, November 22, 1963, and September 11, 2001.

The men and women who lived through the attack on Pearl Harbor are leaving us by great numbers every day, as are all those of the World War II generation. And even though these events happened nearly seven decades ago, those who are asked what they remember of that fateful day still tend to choke up, a tear or two falling silently. It was a day that we would never want to happen again, but also a day we should never, ever forget.

What has this to do with Christmas?

Well, for the next five Christmases (‘41-‘45) millions of people would not be “home for Christmas” except in their dreams – thus giving inspiration to one of the greatest Christmas songs of all time – “I’ll be home for Christmas.” And while not specifically written about soldiers or even during the war years, Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” became an anthem for many service men and women for those five Christmases. The notable exception would be those men who endured the Christmas of 1944 in the Ardennes Forest surrounding the town of Bastogne – who saw enough snow and cold weather, along with enemy artillery, to sour them on a “white” Christmas for the rest of their lives.

But even more significant, Christmas during a time of war can be a stark reminder that Christmas is part of a love story that takes place in the middle of a war.

Jesus came to save us from the enemy – sin, death, and the power of the devil. He was born on Christmas – as we all know. And the story of Christmas is equally well-known from Matthew 1 and Luke 2.

But consider this part of the Christmas story:

1 A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. 2 She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. 3 Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads. 4Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her child the moment he was born. 5 She gave birth to a son, a male child, who “will rule all the nations with an iron scepter.” And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne. – Revelation 12:1-5 ESV

This provides us with information that tells us that there’s more going on with Christmas than just “Silent Night” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.”

Actually, the fact that there were angels at the birth of Jesus, as Luke 2 records,

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel…. – Luke 2:13 ESV

should also clue us in on the war aspect of Christmas.

“Host” here is a military term and angels are not merely messengers for God but also the army of Heaven – another indication that Christmas is more than we at first might realize.

On this seventh day of Christmas where, in the United States, we remember an infamous day, we can also remember that Christmas is about God fighting for us and winning the war that saves us from our sins and gives us eternal life.

Monday, December 6, 2010

25 Days of Christmas - Day 6

December the Sixth is the Feast Day of Saint Nicholas of Myra.

Here is an except about Saint Nicholas from http://www.stnicholascenter.org/Brix?pageID=38


Saint Nicholas by Susan Seals
St. Nicholas
Artist: Susan Seals
All rights reserved
Exclusive print in our shop
The true story of Santa Claus begins with Nicholas, who was born during the third century in the village of Patara. At the time the area was Greek and is now on the southern coast of Turkey. His wealthy parents, who raised him to be a devout Christian, died in an epidemic while Nicholas was still young. Obeying Jesus' words to "sell what you own and give the money to the poor," Nicholas used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. He dedicated his life to serving God and was made Bishop of Myra while still a young man. Bishop Nicholas became known throughout the land for his generosity to the those in need, his love for children, and his concern for sailors and ships.
Under the Roman Emperor Diocletian, who ruthlessly persecuted Christians, Bishop Nicholas suffered for his faith, was exiled and imprisoned. The prisons were so full of bishops, priests, and deacons, there was no room for the real criminals—murderers, thieves and robbers. After his release, Nicholas attended the Council of Nicaea in AD 325. He died December 6, AD 343 in Myra and was buried in his cathedral church, where a unique relic, called manna, formed in his grave. This liquid substance, said to have healing powers, fostered the growth of devotion to Nicholas. The anniversary of his death became a day of celebration, St. Nicholas Day, December 6th (December 19 on the Julian Calendar).

Sunday, December 5, 2010

25 Days of Christmas - Day 5

The four weeks preceding Christmas in the Church Year is called the Season of Advent.


The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod website says this about Advent:

The word "advent" is from the Latin word for "coming," and as such, describes the "coming" of our Lord Jesus Christ into the flesh.
Advent ... focuses on Christ's "coming" but Christ's coming manifests itself among us in three ways--past, present, and future. The readings which highlight Christ's coming in the past focus on the Old Testament prophecies of his incarnation at Bethlehem. The readings which highlight Christ's coming in the future focus on his "second coming" on the Last Day at the end of time. And the readings which highlight Christ's coming in the present focus on his ministry among us through Word and Sacrament today. [http://www.lcms.org/pages/internal.asp?NavID=3903 accessed December 5, 2010]
It is tempting to forget about "Advent" in the rush to get to Christmas. Some radio stations around the country starting playing "all Christmas music all the time" the week before Thanksgiving. Christmas decorations were being sold in some stores since the beginning of October. Homes are decorated for Christmas soon after Thanksgiving.
Christmas is wonderful and more than just one day in the year. I think it is even more wonderful than just the traditional "12 Days of Christmas" (December 25 - January 5), so I started a series of blog posts about Christmas 25 days before Christmas.
I still observe Advent, though. In my anticipation of celebrating the first coming of Jesus Christ, I do not forget that He is coming again.
He came the first time to be born as the Scriptures foretold. He came to live the perfect life, suffer and die to forgive my sins, rose from the dead to give me eternal life and ascended into heaven to rule for eternity. 
Even as I look forward to celebrating the past - the traditions of my family Christmas and the birth of my Savior - I look forward to the second coming of Jesus Christ.
His second Advent.
Come, Lord Jesus!

25 Days of Christmas - Day 4

This is the time of year that many people decorate their homes - inside and out - with a multitude of lights and epic scenes of holiday cheer.

If money isn't much of an object, it isn't hard to quickly overdue holiday decorating. You've probably seen the stories on the slow news days about people who decorate their houses to the extent that they can be seen from the International Space Station.

My wife and I, when we celebrated our first Christmas as husband and wife 19 years ago, decided that we would decorate for Christmas tastefully and not too much over the top. I've been mostly successful in this endeavor.

















Decorating our house to light up at night has been great fun for us. It also sends a signal to anyone driving by that we celebrate Christmas at our house. Light is a powerful symbol for the celebration of Christmas. We are celebrating the coming of the Light of God's love - Jesus Christ - into a world darkened by sin.

As our sons grew old enough to help out in the decorating, we added another dimension to our celebration - making it truly a family tradition. They help us hang lights on our Christmas tree. They unpack the creche and place the figurines - recalling to mind once again the true meaning of Christmas.

Decorating at our house is more than just putting lights up. All our decorations point us to the reason for the season - the coming of Jesus Christ.

Friday, December 3, 2010

25 Days of Christmas – Day 3

We are living it tough economic times. Unemployment is high, jobs are scarce, and people are worried.

Add to this the stress that can come in December with the gift-giving holiday approaching fast.

This season, I have taken a part-time job to help make economic ends – if not exactly meet then at least get a little closer. That can add to the stress – if I let it.

But I found an extra job opportunity that helps me focus less on myself and more on other people. In my training for this job I have been instructed to greet guests with, “Can I help you find something?” The workers all greet each other by name where I work (thankfully we have name tags). And we huddle together towards the beginning of the work shift to learn about what we need to get done that day and to greet the new workers and to encourage one another. There are even special recognitions for those who have done something special or are celebrating a birthday or anniversary.

I have been blessed to have found extra work this holiday season at a place that emphasizes looking to others first – which is what Christmas is all about to me!

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Thursday, December 2, 2010

25 Days of Christmas – Day 2

Silent Night, Holy Night

The First Noel

O Holy Night

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

White Christmas

These are some of my favorite Christmas songs. I would even go so far as to say that the Christmas season just wouldn’t seem right or complete without these songs.

I like to sing them – alone and with other people. I like to listen to them – in all kinds of different genres. Some of my favorite Christmas songs are more appropriate for a worship service, others are more general in nature.

The Christmas season just wouldn’t be the same without its music. No other holiday has a specific type of music integrally attached to it like Christmas has its carols.

I think this may be one of the main reasons Christmas is so widely known and celebrated. I think people learn best through song. When I can’t memorize a long passage of text or learn the periodic table of elements, I can still remember the lyrics to a song that I first heard 30 years ago.

Music can bring peace to heart like no other thing in the world and peace is at the core of what Christmas is all about – peace on earth, good will towards men.

Music accompanies all our celebrations – birthdays, weddings, coronations, visits by heads of state.

And when the Son of God was born, music filled the skies that same night and our hearts every celebration of that anniversary since.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

25 Days of Christmas – Day 1

Today is the first day of December. It is the beginning GEDC0013of “Meteorological Winter” in the northern hemisphere and to emphasize this, it is snowing here. Nothing too bad, just a light dusting on the roofs and roads. It sure does look pretty, though. This is the view out my back window.

Snowfall in early December is a special thing for me. Even though Christmas is over three weeks away, it seems like it will be here before you know it. I’m sure to some – like to my three sons – it will seem like Christmas will never get here. I remember feeling that way when I was a kid. Now that I have kids of my own, Christmas-time, and just about everything else, seems to fly by at warp speed.

I try to slow down the season by extending it beyond what might be considered its normal length. Technically there are 12 Days of Christmas – December 25 to January 6. But I’m pushing that a little to include all of December.There is just too much I want to make sure I experience this Christmas (much of which I will write about here).

Yet, for right now, I’m sitting and enjoying the aroma of pine-scented candles and our Christmas tree and watching the white, delicate snow flakes drift past my window, while listening to Christmas music.

25 Days of Christmas

Last month I wrote about some of the things for which I am thankful in an attempt to extend the Thanksgiving holiday to more than just one day or one weekend. Since Thanksgiving Day – in the United States – was on November 25, I wrote about what I am thankful for each day leading up to the 25th. Thus, the 25 Days of Thanksgiving.

This will also work well for Christmas! So for the month of December I’ll be sharing with you 25 thoughts and feelings of the Christmas Season leading up to the Big Day!

I do realize that Christmas actually beings on December 25 and is a 12 Day Season and that the four weeks leading up to it are actually the Season of Advent.

But even 12 days is not long enough for me, so I’ll begin now to enjoy and share the Christmas cheer of the season!

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