Have you ever gone walking on a cold and clear winter night? When there are no clouds? And every star seems to be set in its own crystal setting?
When the moon is fiercely bright? Bright enough to see your shadow? Where your breath swirls around you like pipe smoke?
Have you? Ever?
On such a night we can imagine the Holy family resting before an inn in Bethlehem, waiting as Joseph pleads for his wife to be allowed to dismount, to rest, perhaps even deliver her baby.
There is no room. There is no room anywhere, the little town of Bethlehem is filled with travelers, all ordered to pay a tax and enroll in a census, by a Caesar they have never ever even met.
And suddenly, in the bright white light of that Midnight clear. a stable area was made ready, straw was laid in a manger, and closely observed by oxen and sheep and goats and donkeys, He, Jesus, was born.
Christmas came, and Jesus came. The first Advent was realized:
It came upon a midnight clear, O joy to the world, the Lord has come. O, come let us adore Him. He is Christ, the Lord.
Let all of humankind say, “AMEN!”
Romans 15:13 (NRSV)
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
In 2011, my mom and I were talking about her Friday morning bible study group and how much she loved each member. They have a small gift exchange at their meeting just before Christmas and she was having a hard time trying to come up with something. I suggested maybe a special bookmark. I could cross stitch the design and she could then sew something on the back. She really liked the idea and I found some bright jewel toned threads and decided the simplest way would be to do words. I chose ‘Hope’, ‘Peace’, ‘Love’, ‘Faith’ and ‘Joy’.
As I worked on each one, I prayed with each tiny crossed stitch that I made, to bless and keep the recipient in His Loving hands and hold them close to Him.
I worried that I wouldn't be able to complete the 12 that she needed by the time she would need them. However, I was laid off from my job and was able to complete them in time. I even was invited to join the group at their luncheon at Olive Garden. These were expressions of faith that I was able to share with them.
Since then I haven't done much counted cross stitching. I long to return to the joy and peace I would experience each time I worked on a project. It was very therapeutic and relaxing. I love the designs by a company called Stoney Creek based in Michigan as they quite often have a Christian theme to them.
I pray as you read this during this Holiday Season to take time to craft something. It will help relax you from all the commercial stress that comes during this time. And pray to our Heavenly Father as you work on your project to Bless you and those around you and to remember the real reason for the season - that tiny baby born in a manger!
Mea Pomaikai (Blessings in Hawaiian)
What was the Star of Bethlehem and what did the wise men or Magi actually see?!
There are only 12 verses in the Bible about the wise men and the star!
What the Bible Says: Matthew 2:1-12
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, 'Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.'
When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people's chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. 'In Bethlehem in Judea,' they replied, 'for this is what the prophet has written: "'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.'" Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, 'Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.'
After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.
On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
So what was the Star?
The wise men or Magi came from an area which is now in either Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia or the Yemen (then known as Persia, Arabia and Sheba). They're often called the 'Three Kings', but the Bible doesn't say how many there were, or that they were even kings! They became three because of the gifts they brought with them.
They were indeed 'wise men'. The Magi were 'Magupati', a title given to priests in a sect of the ancient Persian religions such as Zoroastrianism. Today we'd called them astrologers. Back then astronomy and astrology were part of the same overall studies (and 'science') and went hand in hand with each other. The magi would have followed the patterns of the stars religiously. They would have also probably been very rich and held in high esteem in their own society and by people who weren't from their country or religion. Find out more about the Magi in the Christmas Story.
They had seen an unusual new star in the sky, and knew that it told of the birth of a special King in Israel. But what did they see? The Bible says they 'saw it in the east' and then when they were in Jerusalem that it 'went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was'.
A very accurate translation of 'saw it in the east' is 'in the first light of dawn', so not just in the East, but early in the morning. And when the Magi were in Jerusalem it would have been in the south, over Bethlehem.
Taken from https://www.whychristmas.com/customs/advent.shtml.
There is an old Mexican legend about how Poinsettias and Christmas come together, it goes like this:
There was once a poor Mexican girl called Pepita who had no present to give the baby Jesus at the Christmas Eve Services. As Pepita walked to the chapel, sadly, her cousin Pedro tried to cheer her up. 'Pepita', he said "I'm sure that even the smallest gift, given by someone who loves him will make Jesus Happy."
Pepita didn't know what she could give, so she picked a small handful of weeds from the roadside and made them into a a small bouquet. She felt embarrassed because she could only give this small present to Jesus. As she walked through the chapel to the altar, she remembered what Pedro had said. She began to feel better, knelt down and put the bouquet at the bottom of the nativity scene. Suddenly, the bouquet of weeds burst into bright red flowers, and everyone who saw them were sure they had seen a miracle. From that day on, the bright red flowers were known as the 'Flores de Noche Buena', or 'Flowers of the Holy Night'.
The shape of the poinsettia flower and leaves are sometimes thought as a symbol of the Star of Bethlehem which led the Wise Men to Jesus. The red colored leaves symbolize the blood of Christ. The white leaves represent his purity.
Taken from https://www.whychristmas.com/customs/advent.shtml.
19th Day of Advent, December 20, 2018
Jesse Trees are a very old Christmas Tradition and first started in medieval times. They are used to help tell the story of the Bible from creation to the Christmas Story.
The name comes from Jesse who was the Father of the great Jewish King David. One prophecy in the Bible, in the book of Isaiah, says: A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him-- the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD and he will delight in the fear of the LORD. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
Isaiah 11:1-4 (NIV)
A branch is a sign of new life and new beginnings. Jesus was a descendent of King David and Christians believe that Jesus is this new branch.
The first Jesse trees were large carvings, tapestries or even stained-glass windows put in Churches that helped illiterate people (people who can't read or write) to learn about the Bible from creation to the Christmas Story. But now Jesse Trees are used as a kind of Advent Calendar. You can use a normal Christmas tree or a banner in the shape of a tree. Each day through advent (or sometimes just on the four Sundays of advent) a special decoration or ornament (similar to a Chrismon), that tells a story from the Bible, is hung on the tree.
Creation/Genesis 1/The earth
Adam and Eve / Garden of Eden/Genesis 2:4 - 3:24/A tree with fruit or an apple
Noah & the Flood/Genesis 6:9 - 9:17/A rainbow
God's promise to Abraham/Genesis 12:1-7 & 15:1-6/A tent
Isaac/Genesis 22:1-18/A ram
Jacob's Ladder/Genesis 28:10-19/A ladder
Joseph's Coat/Genesis 37 & 50/A multicolored coat or robe
Moses/Exodus 2:1 - 4:20/A burning bush
Israelites and the Passover/Exodus 12:1-42/A lamb
The 10 Commandments/Exodus 19:1 - 20:20/Two stone tablets
Joshua and the fall of Jericho/Joshua 6:1-20/A ram's horn trumpet
Ruth/Ruth (Whole Book)/A sheaf of corn
King David/1 Samuel 16:1-3/A six pointed 'Star of David'
Solomon's Temple/1 Kings 6/The temple
Elijah and Baal's Priests/1 Kings 18:16-39/A bonfire
Isaiah's 'Jesse' Prophecy/Isaiah 11:1-11/A tree stump with a single branch growing from it
Jonah and the Whale/Jonah (Whole Book)/A whale
John the Baptist/Matthew 3:13-17/A scallop shell
Mary/Luke 1:26-38/A white lily
Elizabeth/Luke 1:39-56/A mother and child
Zechariah/Luke 1:57-80/A pencil and tablet
Joseph/Matthew 1:19-25/A carpenter's hammer
The Shepherds/Luke 2:8-20/A fluffy sheep
The Wisemen/Matthew 2:1-12/A gold star or 3 gifts or crowns
Jesus/Luke 2:1-8/A baby in a manger
The Christmas Candy Cane originated in Germany about 250 years ago. They started as straight white sugar sticks.
A story says that a choirmaster, in 1670, was worried about the children sitting quietly all through the long Christmas nativity service. So he gave them something to eat to keep them quiet! As he wanted to remind them of Christmas, he made them into a 'J' shape like a shepherd’s crook, to remind them of the shepherds that visited the baby Jesus at the first Christmas. However, the earliest records of 'candy canes' comes from over 200 years later, so the story, although rather nice, probably isn't true!
Sometime around 1900 the red stripes were added and they were flavored with peppermint or wintergreen.
Sometimes other Christian meanings are giving to the parts of the canes. The 'J' can also mean Jesus. The white of the cane can represent the purity of Jesus Christ and the red stripes are for the blood he shed when he died on the cross. The peppermint flavor can represent the hyssop plant that was used for purifying in the Bible.
Taken from https://www.whychristmas.com/customs/advent.shtml.
Mathew 2:1, Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews: For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”
Advent! It’s always a special time to experience the excitement and preparation as we anticipate the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Emmanuel, God with us. God in the flesh, in the form of a new born babe, precious, innocent, vulnerable and fragile. The wise men of old were following His star in great anticipation of worshiping this new King. Though the wise men came after the birth of Jesus, we traditionally include their journey in our holiday theme. Growing up, I thought God’s provision was the star to announce and guide men to the place of Jesus’ birth but later when I heard the story of King Herod, I also learned about God’s provision of safety for baby Jesus. Who knew there would be those who would not want a baby, any baby, to be born, especially this baby? But I learned God knew. God knew His son would be King of Kings and Lord of Lords but there was another king, King Herod, who wanted Jesus dead.
The wise men had visited Herod in Jerusalem and asked where they might find the child born King of the Jews and when the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. So, the king called all his wisest priests and they met and decided that the three wise men should go to Bethlehem and find out about Jesus and when they came back on their way home, they should tell Herod so he could go worship the new King too. Well, we know Herod was lying and as we read, we find out that God knew and told the three wise men, in a dream, to go home another way. Soon afterward, God sent His angel to tell Joseph to take Mary and the baby Jesus and flee to Egypt. When Herod found out the three wise men had betrayed him, he sent his army into Bethlehem to kill every male child two years old and under in hopes Jesus would not escape. But He did. God knows the hearts of mankind. God provides. Only in God’s timing did Jesus give up His life, willingly. No one could take it from Him. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whosoever believes on Him shall not parish but have everlasting life. John 3:16
My prayer: Dear Lord God almighty, we are so grateful for all the children in our lives and please care for all the babies who will not see any life this Christmas. Please draw their parents to you, Lord, that they may feel your love and mercy and grace. Amen
Dianne Irvin - 2018
Advent occupies a special place in our own family life. Christmas has a prominent seat at the table of our human experience, taking us from the sweet, yet powerful story of an angelic presence, with its incredible assertions, including the calling of Mary to be the “handmaiden of the Lord” to be the mother of Jesus, and of the subsequent virgin birth, a miraculous event tumbling over miraculous event.
So much of the Christmas story is poured out as a recitation of the works of a God who will not be denied in His plan to restore His original program for all the people of His creation, a God bent upon salvation for all His creation, determined to restore the sweetness of an Eden lost to human folly and error and yet redeemed for all time in this one great gift of the birth and life and death and resurrection of Jesus, and of the incredible story unfolding.
A very young girl is chosen, and in the amazing words of the angel, Gabriel, invited to be the bearer of the Christ child. Jesus will not be conceived in the normal human manner, but instead she will be covered by the Holy Spirit. The Advent story begins with her acceptance of her role: “Let it be as the Lord wills.”
And the story is set into motion, the high drama unfolds, we are drawn in to the mystery with both feet, and as we follow the Advent story, we relive these moments that lead inexorably to our own Salvation moments.
Think about the whole story unfolding:
And then ...
O come let us adore Him!
Christ, the Lord!
In case you haven’t heard, my daughter is pregnant with her first child. Which means I am going to be a grandmother next May.
As you can see from the weekly prayer list, I have been requesting prayers for my daughter to have a healthy pregnancy. Pregnancy has been around since the beginning of time and the Bible is full of women who were unable to have a child and then God provides one. My daughter is like that to me - when I was married, we were unable to have a child and we turned to Foster Care with the hope of adopting. This didn’t happen and after my divorce, I signed up for Foster Care by myself, with my Mom’s help. Eventually, I was able to adopt my daughter, Gleni. So, I really feel close to those women in the Bible, especially Elizabeth and her cousin Mary.
When my daughter comes over, I am filled with Joy and Happiness and I am sharing in her experiences of being pregnant. We will soon learn what she is having just as Elizabeth and Mary knew they were having sons. These sons changed the world for us all, just like this baby is changing my daughter and me.
During this special time of year, when we are celebrating the arrival of Jesus as a baby, join with me and help me celebrate pregnancy and babies and the ongoing new life that comes from God in all things.
Mea Pomaikai (Blessings in Hawaiian)
About Advent wreaths:
Advent wreaths have their origins in the folk traditions of northern Europe, where in the deep of winter people lit candles on wheel-shaped bundles of evergreen. Both the evergreen and the circular shape symbolized ongoing life. The candlelight gave comfort at this darkest time of the year, as people looked forward to the longer days of spring.
Later, Eastern European Christians adopted this practice. By the sixteenth century, they were making Advent wreaths much as we know them today. An advent wreath traditionally contains four candles-three purple and one rose. Purple dyes were once so rare and costly that they were associated only with royalty; the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican and Episcopal Churches have long used this color around Christmas and Easter to honor Jesus. The three purple candles in the Advent wreath symbolize hope, peace, and love. These candles are lit on the first, second, and fourth Sundays of Advent. The rose candle, which symbolizes joy, is usually lit on the third Sunday.
Sometimes a fifth candle is placed inside the Advent wreath. This candle is lit on Christmas Day. It is white, the color associated with angels and the birth of Jesus.
Because Advent wreaths are an informal celebration, not all are the same. Instead of purple candles, some people use blue, which recalls the color of the night sky before daylight returns. Others use all white candles.
Information gathered by Jon Elvrum