Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas letter, a Scraggly Tree and Jesus

Whoosh. Christmas is sledding our way like a wind gust bringing in a storm. Except Christmas is good.

This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Matthew 1:18 New Living Translation

Mmmm, Christmastime. I enjoy writing and sending a Christmas letter - trying to assure it’s a good balance of honest and upbeat, happy for activities and accomplishments, but not prideful. I like having the Christmas letter reason to stay in touch with far flung family and friends. At Christmas, I shop at more stores and for more people at once than I ever would choose to in such a short time frame. And repeatedly, I experience this as my busiest time of year for my bread-and-butter (and gravy, too) freelance writing client. Still, I enjoy this time of year. Whoosh.

One of our two family Christmas trees, we call Grandma Betty’s Charlie Brown Christmas tree. A few years before her death, my mother-in-law scaled down her Christmas decorating. She started using this, um, scraggly, not fully-filled-out-with-branches, three-foot tree, adorned it with her gold garland and some bright shiny bulbs - and some other ornaments I can’t recollect. She called it good. And it was. And is.

The little tree shows off its sweetness in our front window, perched on the dress-up clothes chest. Even with my yearnings for all things pretty, I love this tree. It makes me smile. My mother-in-law knew what she could handle as joints bothered her more each year, and she dealt with bigger health issues. She also knew the true meaning of Christmas.

He [Jesus] came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn – not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.
John 1:10-13 NLT

Maybe this little tree ought to remind me how Jesus humbled Himself to step down here to Earth as an infant, fully God, fully man. It actually does each year.

I love our seven-foot tree, too. It came with the lights woven into it. Pretty handy. The white lights make the icicles, the old-fashioned pink ornaments, the royal blue, silver and gold bulbs, the nativity ornaments, the little sequined high-heel and our children’s  school-made ornaments glisten in the darkened family room with the fireplace roaring. A white doily angel stands wings still sort-of spread, on top of the tree, a precious-after-20-years wedding gift.

I love Christmas music, too. O Come All Ye Faithful. What Child is This? The Little Drummer Boy. Silver Bells. O Holy Night. White Christmas. Hark the Herald Angels Sing. Christmas in Iowa. (Look it up, if you haven’t heard of it.) Yes, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and the Red Baron, too.

I love giving gifts. I love seeing our children receive. I anticipate with joy serving in our church nursery at worship on Dec. 23. I am thrilled that my husband and I will serve communion on Christmas Eve. I love spending time with my siblings, nieces and nephews, and parents. I look forward to hosting Christmas with my side of the family this year. Also, yes, I love receiving gifts.

More than all of that, the love of Jesus, takes my breath away. His love brings me to grateful, joyful tears. The true meaning of Christmas means my eternity is secure, because I accepted his gift of new life with the One who paid my immeasurable indebtedness in sin. Because after living a productive life of loving, teaching, rebuking, performing miracles and more, Jesus was beaten and willingly died an excruciating death — yet three days later. Three days later came His resurrection.

Seems a long way from the humble accommodations a desperate innkeeper could provide, a long way from a birth in a stable in Bethlehem. Seems a long way from a host of angels announcing to humble shepherds the birth of the Messiah. Seems a long way from when Baby Jesus was presented at the temple. Seems a long way from wise men visiting little Jesus. Seems a long way from Egypt, where Mary and Joseph fled with Him when God warned them to protect Him from Herod’s plan to kill Baby Jesus.

“That night Joseph left for Egypt with the child and Mary, his mother, and they stayed there until Herod’s death. This fulfilled what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: “I called my Son out of Egypt.”
Matthew 2:14-15 NLT

The resurrection seems a long way from the true meaning of Christmas. But it isn’t. It’s all part of God’s great plan. A plan of love, grace, mercy and sacrifice.

As much as it cost God the Father, the God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, in physical and emotional pain, it’s a gift I gladly accepted in faith when I was a child. A gift I remain grateful for today, through difficulties and in times of ease.

Is Jesus Christ a gift you will open for the first time this Christmas? Is He a gift you already opened and have, but need to fully savor in a regular relationship, seeking Him continually?

The confidence of my eternal destination is a gift, a great gift from God. Knowing Heaven is what lies ahead for me, not because I am worthy or wonderful, but because I worship a God of love, grace, mercy and compassion, gives me great hope.

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has become a child of God. 1 John 5:1a

I have written this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know you have eternal life. 1 John 5:13

I want you to know you have eternal life. Please open the gift of Jesus this Christmas.

©Helene Bergren. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Save a Life, Love like Christ

I love Christmas. I love that our God gave us the real meaning of it – the birth of our Savior. A baby boy.  My Savior.

When I try to imagine “how wide, how long, how deep his love is,” as it is said in Ephesians 3:18 that God’s people should understand, I just can’t. I think, and furrow my brows. My eyes dart as I try to picture it. I take a breath and sigh, because the idea that God Himself would come to this Earth, humbly, and live out life as a human. That's too much. And then He chose to die, for me.

I can conjure up an image of Mary giving birth in a cave stable, where the birth of Jesus is believed to happen. I can see Him working hard as a carpenter.  I think I can see Him laying hands and healing. But His love for me, when I really try to understand it, I don’t understand. Yet I know it’s true, faithful. And I am so grateful.

His love, I cannot grasp, even though it holds me together.

When I rest in prayer and ponder it, I love it.

So, shouldn’t I do something to spread that love? Weren’t we given the Great Commission. But how?

Here’s one way. Use the connections the ministry Compassion International offers. Yes, Compassion, the global child sponsorship organization.

As we skate toward Dec. 25, wrapping paper scraps littering carpets, and Christmas music playing around us, I would like to offer you an idea.

Before you decide on your gift for that person who is blessed to have so-called everything, would you also please buy a gift for someone who has almost nothing?

Compassion International offers a gift catalog. Shopping online is easy and convenient. Yes, we can shop online even for someone who lives 7,000 miles away on a continent and in a country where you cannot even picture the lifestyle or culture.

In a country plagued with malaria mosquito nets save lives.
Maybe you want to give money for a cow that could be used for milk to sustain a family, and generate income.
Want to help with beauty, mechanic, or bakery career training?
A soccer ball?
Other choices?

Here’s the link again:

It brings tears to my eyes that I long for a home with more space, while Compassion lists toilet stalls, water and water filters – as Christmas gifts. But oh, how Christ-like to give something like that. I pray blessings on those who do. How kind. What a good way to let that indescribable love help with critical needs.

Consider what moves your heart. Here’s what I chose and why: With each of our children, I’ve watched as doctors or medics tended to them in truly life-threatening situations.

I want to protect a child. Actually, God’s way better at that than I am. And I want God to use me to shelter a mother from at least one thing she has to fear. I am blessed to be a blessing. So, I chose to pay for a vaccine.

What will you choose? Please, please help today. And thanks! Way to love!

©Helene Bergren. All Rights Reserved.