Category Archives: Christmas Thoughts

Do You Have An Epiphany To Celebrate?

adoration-of-the-magi-by-el-cgrco-1568-museo-soumaya-mexico-cityDo you celebrate Epiphany? I didn’t grow up knowing anything about it, but January 6 is celebrated by many Christians as Epiphany. The term Epiphany means “manifestation” and celebrates the revelation of God in the person of his son, Jesus Christ, who is called Immanuel, “God with us.” Epiphany is celebrated on “the twelfth day of Christmas” (the first day being Christmas Eve), and it’s the traditional date for the visitation by the wise men from the east, who worshiped Jesus and gave him gifts. nativity-by-lorenzo-lotto-1523-public-domain-in-usaOn Christmas Eve, we attended a service where the pastor mentioned that the story about the birth of Christ is really a story about bread: Jesus, the Bread of Life, came down from heaven to the little town of Bethlehem (whose name means “house of bread”) and was born in a manger (a feeding trough). The baby in the manger was really God coming to earth to save us from our sins. Communion (partaking of the bread and cup) is a celebration of our taking in Christ, the Bread of Life, and receiving eternal life through him. The fact that he was worshiped by the wise men and presented with kingly gifts was a testament to the world that Jesus is the king of all kings and worthy of worship. Now, that’s an epiphany worth celebrating! Are you?  the-adoration-of-the-magi-by-peter-papul-rubens-1633-1634-kings-college-chapel-cambridge-englandNow when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him...and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh.” (Matthew 2:1-2,9-11).

‘Tis the Night Before Christmas

twas-the-night-before-christmas-ny-historical-society-wikiI was quoting a line from ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas and noticed that one of my kids didn’t automatically finish the verse. So, does that mean Millennials haven’t grown up with this cult Christmas classic? I grew up with visions of sugar plums dancing in my head on Christmas Eve as I awaited the sound of tiny horse hooves on the rooftop (which always seemed to come after I’d drifted off to sleep, no matter how hard I tried to stay awake). However, I also grew up in a home that didn’t teach me anything about the fact that Christmas Eve is really a celebration of the birth of Christ, “Immanuel—God with Us,” and the sublime mystery of God coming down to earth as a tiny baby, born to redeem and indwell each of us. So, after I grew up and understood that God’s gift to us is what’s really worth celebrating, and that Santa Claus and Rudolph were figments of active imaginations, I ceased advertising Santa as the great gift giver to my kids. I didn’t want them to grow up and think that if I’d lie about Santa, I might also lie about the reality of Jesus.

jon-joseph-as-josephOn Christmas Eve in our home, we’ve traditionally sung carols
and read about Christ’s birth from the Bible. admiring-makeup-for-a-22sheep22When we have enough cast members available,painting-childs-faceit becomes a major production, Michael, alias another wise guy (and part time shepherd) with Eowyn the sheep.but tonight we’ll have no grandchildren,
so we’re planning to attend two Christmas Eve services together instead.

angel-announcing-christs-birth-to-mary-family-playBy the way, if I started quoting a line from the Christmas story, would you be able to finish it? Just in case you’re a Millennial (or older), and you’re not familiar with the true Christmas classic, may I share this transcendent account of the birth of Christ from the Bible with you?

“Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, 2Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word; It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed. There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken in years. And it came to pass, that while he executed the priest’s office before God in the order of his course, According to the custom of the priest’s office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. 10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense. 11 And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. 13 But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. 14 And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth. 15 For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb. 16 And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. 17 And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. 18 And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years. 19 And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings. 20 And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season. 21 And the people waited for Zacharias, and marvelled that he tarried so long in the temple. 22 And when he came out, he could not speak unto them: and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple: for he beckoned unto them, and remained speechless. 23 And it came to pass, that, as soon as the days of his ministration were accomplished, he departed to his own house. 24 And after those days his wife Elisabeth conceived, and hid herself five months, saying, 25 Thus hath the Lord dealt with me in the days wherein he looked on me, to take away my reproach among men. 26 And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, 27 To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. 29 And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be. 30 And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. 31 And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus32 He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: 33 And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. 34 Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? 35 And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. 36 And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren. 37 For with God nothing shall be impossible. 38 And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her. 39 And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda; 40 And entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth. 41 And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: 42 And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. 43 And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. 45 And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord. 46 And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, 47 And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. 48 For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. 49 For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name. 50 And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation. 51 He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. 52 He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. 53 He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away. 54 He hath helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy; 55 As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever. 56 And Mary abode with her about three months, and returned to her own house. 57 Now Elisabeth’s full time came that she should be delivered; and she brought forth a son. 58 And her neighbours and her cousins heard how the Lord had shewed great mercy upon her; and they rejoiced with her. 59 And it came to pass, that on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child; and they called him Zacharias, after the name of his father. 60 And his mother answered and said, Not so; but he shall be called John. 61 And they said unto her, There is none of thy kindred that is called by this name. 62 And they made signs to his father, how he would have him called. 63 And he asked for a writing table, and wrote, saying, His name is John. And they marvelled all. 64 And his mouth was opened immediately, and his tongue loosed, and he spake, and praised God. 65 And fear came on all that dwelt round about them: and all these sayings were noised abroad throughout all the hill country of Judaea. 66 And all they that heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, What manner of child shall this be! And the hand of the Lord was with him. 67 And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Ghost, and prophesied, saying, 68 Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people, 69 And hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David; 70 As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began: 71 That we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us; 72 To perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant; 73 The oath which he sware to our father Abraham, 74 That he would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear, 75 In holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life. 76 And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways; 77 To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins, 78 Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us, 79 To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. 80 And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his shewing unto Israel.”

Chapter 2, Verse 1 “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. 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. 10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. 12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. 15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. 16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. 17 And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. 18 And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them. 21 And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called Jesus, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb. 22 And when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, they brought him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord; 23 (As it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord;) 24 And to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons. 25 And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him. 26 And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the law, 28 Then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said, 29 Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: 30 For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, 31 Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; 32 A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel. 33 And Joseph and his mother marvelled at those things which were spoken of him. 34 And Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary his mother, Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; 35 (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed. 36 And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser: she was of a great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity; 37 And she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. 38 And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem. 39 And when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth. 40 And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him.” (The Bible, Luke 1-2)

Struggling with the Ghost of Christmas Past?

christmas-tree-and-giftsI have friends in their 80s who just moved to an assisted living center. Christmas DinnerIt will be the first time in 60+ years that
they won’t be celebrating Christmas in their own home. 2015-opening-christmas-presentsWhat a sad thought that is to me! 😦2013-igloo I have a sister in her 70s who never married.skyping-for-christmasShe’s recovering from a bad bout of bronchitis2012-christmas-via-skypeand will have to celebrate Christmas all alone.2013-christmas-babiesI have a friend in his 60s who lost his wife not long ago to breast cancer.
They had no children.
2014-stuffed-pig-under-christmas-treeHis brother invited him over for Christmas,
but he’ll be returning to an empty house. christmas-2011Another friend just lost him mom and says that for the first time in 63 years
he’ll have no “home” to go to for Christmas. merry-christmas-morningAnother friend in his 40s who’s never married lost him mom three years ago, 12-30-12-christmas-dinnerbut his father has become so emotionally withdrawn and unwelcoming
that my friend doesn’t have the courage to even attempt a visit.brothers-with-reindeer-hornsI have three sons in their 30-40s who have wonderful wives and kidshappy-christmas-dinnerbut for various reasons none can make it home for Christmas this year. 2013-christmasI will miss them severely, and I think they’ll miss being home as well. 2013-quadrivium-2I have a friend in his 20s whose mom is just recovering
from a frightening stroke and hospitalization. 2013-family-photo-2He’ll be home for Christmas, but many of his siblings won’t be,
and that’s painful too. 2013-christmas-playing-on-iceAnd, the list goes on.

christmas-eve-joyI was talking to my sister yesterday, and she mentioned that she still dreams of going home for Christmas and remembers the carefree days when our family was all together and everyone had sparkling eyes.  2015-christmas-dinner-celebrationI realize that many people never even had the experience of a happy childood.christmas-princess-dressesI had a girl friend in college whose most graphic Christmas memory was looking through a neighbor’s window admiring their beautiful tree and presents…knowing that a dark house and a drunken father awaited her.

2015-christmas-family-disney-tripDo you dream of past Christmases
that were more exciting than your present circumstances? 2015-christmas-babyAlthough Alan and I are looking forward to celebrating with our Michigan kids on Monday, this Christmas Eve and Christmas Day we’ll only have one son.tiny-snowmen         Please don’t misunderstand. 2014-christmas-stephen-and-joel                I’m very grateful to have my dear husband and youngest son,

a-christmas-family-shot-2but it’s hard not to notice the contrast and feel a little nostalgic when your circumstances change and you can no longer enjoy the overflowing abundance that Christmas Past brings to mind. 2013-christmas-bundled-for-sleigh-rideIf you are struggling with the prospects of your Christmas Present feeling disappointing compared to the happiness you’ve experienced in the past, may I encourage you to look up?

2014-christmas-visit                God the Father is looking down, longing for your fellowship. 2013-christmas-exchange-studentsGod the Son, whose birth we celebrate, is at the Father’s right hand.
Can  you see Him there? 2015-christmas-funHe loves you with an everlasting love and longs for you to commune with Him. 2015-celebrating-christmasThe Ghost of Christmas Present can’t even begin to compare with
the Holy Ghost, who’s calling you to Himself. 2015-christmas-art-projectHave you figured this out yet?
2015-christmas-little-boy-and-big-bearIf you have no where else to go and no one else to talk to…Rejoice! God is here! opening-christmas-giftsTalk to Him. Worship Him. Know that He longs for you to accept the gift of His love this Christmas. “Oh come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord!”

christmas-party-2That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full” (1 John 1:3-4).2015-christmas-opening-presentsPS—All these photos were taken of Christmases in the last five years, when our home was full of children, chaos, and overwhelming joy!

A Tale of Christmas Shopping: Trying to Find the Perfect Gifts

christmas-tree-and-decorationsI hate shopping. Do you? It’s not that I’m a total Scrooge. I enjoy being able to gift people…if I know what they need or want, but I’ve never been endowed with the gift of giving. Inspirational visions from the Ghost of Christmas Presents for what might delight someone rarely brighten my brain, and successfully dreaming up great gifts in my concrete cranium seems as impossible as attempting to imagineer great plots for fiction stories…a non event waking or sleeping.   🙂  window-shoppingI believe it was my daughter-in-law Carlie who recently published on Face Book: “Am I my brother’s shopper?” (Uh…I think her husband is my son.)christmas-presents-under-christmas-treeNevertheless, ‘tis the season, and in our family the tradition is for each wannabe gift receiver (that’s all of us) to publish a list of wanted gift possibilities via our handy-dandy online Armstrong exchange accessed by a Christmasy password. a-light-dusting-of-amazon-packages-for-christmasSome kind-hearted kids even publish links to show the rest of us where to find said suggestions, so there’s always a light dusting of Amazon packages along with the light dustings of snow on our doorstep, as my son Aaron would say. And, as the days before Christmas draw nigh, there tend to be blizzards of both packages and snow. deep-snowsHowever, I’m a firm believer in buying locally if at all possible, and so I trudge through the drifting snow and freezing weather to every mall in America (or at least GR) looking for facsimiles thereof to delight my kids and soothe my civic conscience. To little avail! shopping-at-the-mallEver try finding some heavy-weight bookends these days? How about a Celebration Hymnal accompaniment book or a brown desk chair with an adjustment to raise the seat up to 25 inches? And that was just the tip of the iceberg! Kindly merchants sent me from store to store and mall to mall, suggesting other shops where I might find my particular treasures.slippery-winter-highway Grand Rapids is the second largest city in Michigan, and my theory was that somewhere in GR I could find the desired items. Wrong!o-christmas-treeHow is it that in the shopping center for a quarter of a million people, there are so few choices available? Sadly, I think it’s a vicious cycle: More and more of us find it easier to shop online, so even the best local stores can’t afford to stock anything besides the most commonly wanted items.christmas-shopping     By the way, are you also looking for the perfect gifts for those you love? christmas-ornaments-on-treeWhat about a gift for Jesus? It is His birthday, after all! Have you thought about what He might want from you for a present under your Christmas tree?believe-presents-under-a-christmas-treeJesus isn’t looking for something you can find in a store or online, He just wants you. He wants you to believe in Him, love Him, trust Him, give yourself to him, and wait patiently on Him. Can you believe that?? After all, is there anything you’d rather have from your loved one?isaiah-40-31-they-that-wait-upon-the-lord-will-renew-their-strength“…how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” (Matthew 23:37).

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house” (Acts 16:31).

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me” (John 15:4).

 

 

 

Homemade Chocolate Turtles: Even better than See’s!

chocate-turtlesI was roaming the airport in Atlanta restlessly, waiting to catch a flight to GR…cramped legs, bleary-eyed, and brain dead. We’d just survived a sixteen-hour, 40-minute flight from Johannesburg, which Alan and I figured must be in the running for the world’s longest commercial flight, and the thought of enduring two more hours in the airport was…discouraging to say the least. Just when I was thinking that eating breakfast might help,what to my wondering eyes should appear but a See’s candy shop! See’s Candies just happen to produce our favorite chocolates, but they’re based in San Fransisco and have precious few factories anywhere east of Spokane, Washington (yes…just a few miles from our son Jonathan’s home!). See’s used to be available in most major U.S. airports, but in recent years they’ve all but disappeared from airport retails. My eyes lit up, and I thought how pleased Alan would be at my discovery. I sidled up to the counter and asked how much it would cost for a box of turtles (Alan’s favorite).  I’m pretty sure the lady said thirty dollars. I smiled sweetly and left. I have too much Scottish blood to pay out that kind of ransom for anything less than the lifeblood of a loved one. However, I decided that no matter what else I did or didn’t make for Christmas this year, I was going to make chocolate turtles…more for less! If you love chocolate turtles as much as our family does, then you might enjoy trying our recipe, which is easy and pound for pound (this recipe makes about 3 pounds) costs about one-sixteenth what you might pay at a candy shop (at least an airport candy shop…)   caramelsUnwrap 1 pound of caramels. (I like Kraft, but I’ll bet there are lots of good ones out there. However, the quality of the caramel and chocolate make a big difference in the final taste, so make sure you choose flavors you really like.)  melted-caramels-and-pecansAdd 1/4 c. half’n’half and 2 T. butter. Microwave for 1.5 minutes. Stir until completely melted and smooth. While this is heating in the microwave, take time to line two large cookie sheets with waxed paper or butter them heavily.

Add to the caramels 1 pound of roasted, salted pecans (halved, although chopped also works). Stir thoroughly.  turtle-mix-ready-to-spoon-out                            Cool until the mix is starting to form soft balls. caramel-turtle-candiesWorking quickly, drop the mix in rounded teaspoons onto the waxed paper. Chill until very cold. (Overnight in the refrigerator isn’t too long.)  chocolate-chips-and-coconut-oilCombine 1 pound of chocolate chips (milk chocolate, semi sweet, or dark, depending on your taste) with 2 T. coconut oil in a narrow, deep bowl and microwave for 1 minutes. melted-chocolate-chips-and-oil                      Stir until completely melted and uniformly smooth.  fabulous-chocolate-turtle-candiesDip the turtles into the chocolate using two spoons, and place each candy back on the waxed paper. Chill until the chocolate is firm. Store carefully to retain the sheen. (If you’ve got room in the refrigerator, garage, or cold storage area, that’s ideal.) chocolate-covered-nutsP.S—If you have any leftover chocolate, try stirring in a few of your favorite roasted, salted nuts, such as almonds, cashews, peanuts, or macadamia nuts. Spoon into small cups and let them harden. Enjoy!

The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward.” (Psalm 119:9-11)

Beauty and the Beast and the Nutcracker—Two Wonderful Tales

grand-rapid-ballet-company-programThis holiday season, Alan, Joel, and I have attended the musical, Beauty and the Beast, at Civic Theater and the ballet, The Nutcracker, at DeVos Hall. Both will be playing again this coming weekend, and if you live in the area (or probably any area where they’re being performed), I can recommend them as really delightful. gr-ballerina-jumpingOne thing that strikes me about plays and ballet is that even though the words and music usually remain constant, a new creative interpretation for the sets and choreography, and a different set of actors playing the roles, makes each year’s experience fresh and unique. tale-as-old-as-time-from-beauty-and-the-beastDid you know that “Beauty and the Beast” type tales exist from 4,000 years ago? Truly, the story of love transforming us from beast to beauty is a “tale as old as time.” clara-and-the-nutcracker-gr-balletIn The Nutcracker, little Clara dances with her heroic prince only in visions of the night, but in Beauty and the Beast (as the story goes), being genuinely loved by someone is what breaks the curse of our ugly selfishness and transforms us into something beautiful…not just in our dreams, but in the reality of our lives. winter-setting-in-disneys-beauty-and-the-beastDo you have a love that brings the best out of you and makes you into a better person? Whether or not you have a human love with whom you share such an inspirational relationship, there is Someone who loves you with an everlasting love. Jesus Christ, whose birth is celebrated this Christmas season, came to earth as “Immanuel” (“God with us). He was born, lived, and died in our place for our sins. Faith in Christ as our Savior is what transforms our hearts from the icy cold of selfishness to the irresistible warmth of true love. beauty-and-the-beast-love-story-disneyCan you feel the love tonight? If not, I pray you’ll open yourself up to living out a creative, new version of Beauty and the Beast where you and Christ are the protagonists. ballerinas-en-pointe-gr-ballet-coEver want to participate in a musical or a ballet? Here’s you big chance…no auditions necessary! God the Father as already invited you, and He is the best when it comes to artistic direction and set design! Also, the Holy Spirit is the best ever choreographer. Let Christ transform your life into a story of beauty and grace.

nutcrackers-available-at-meijerThe Lord hath appeared of old unto me, saying,
Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love:
therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee
” (Jeremiah 31:3)point-shoes-gr-balletAnd let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us:
and establish thou the work of our hands upon us;
yea, the work of our hands establish thou it
” (Psalm 90:17).

(As no photos are allowed during professional performances, I took photos of The Nutcracker from our program and found pictures of Beauty and the Beast on line. If anyone is offended, please let me know and I’ll remove them.)

Joy to the World…or is that even Possible?

poinsettias-and-orchids-at-meijer-garden-12-16Yesterday I shared about how I’m feeling this Christmas, but how are you feeling this Christmas? Are you happy and full of good cheer, or are you finding it hard to sing “Joy to the World”? I thought you might be encouraged to know that even the author of “Joy to the World,” Isaac Watts, had a very difficult life! He grew up England during the 1600’s, and his father was twice incarcerated for holding non-conformist (Huguenot) religious views. As a small child Watts had to be lifted up outside the prison by his mother so his father could see him through the barred windows. As a young man, Watts was denied entry to Oxford or Cambridge because he was not Anglican. isaac_watts_from_npg-london-public-domainThroughout life, Isaac Watts was small and weakly. Although he was a great preacher and considered the Father of Hymnody (composing some 750 hymns), the only woman he ever wanted to marry declined his proposal with the cutting remark that while she loved the “jewel” of his mind, she couldn’t admire “the casket that contained it.” Talk about pain and sorrow. Still, Watts discovered inner joy despite the rejections and difficulties in his life.  He learned that true joy doesn’t come from an easy life or pleasant surroundings but rather from embracing the wonder of our Lord coming to earth to save us! When we allow Christ to reign in our hearts, He overcomes the sin and sorrow that would otherwise consume us, filling our hearts instead with joy and hope!poinsettias-and-orchids-at-meijer-garden-mi

“Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

“Joy to the world, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

“No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

“He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.”
(—Lyrics by Isaac Watts, 1719; Music by George Frideric Handel)

But let all those that put their trust in thee rejoice: let them ever shout for joy, because thou defendest them: let them also that love thy name be joyful in thee” (Psalm 5:11).