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MEDITATION:

Written by Asheritah Ciuciu, a contemporary writer and speaker.

Because what you behold is what will take hold of you. We know this instinctively, but sometimes we can forget, especially during the busy Christmas season. The Bible tells us about the importance of this very principle. When Jesus first walked onto the scene, John the Baptist introduced Him by saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29b). John wanted people to stop what they were doing to gaze at Jesus…“Look,” John was saying. “See what’s in front of you.” Behold. means to see or observe, gaze at, or contemplate. We’re always beholding, even if we’re not aware of it. We behold the shiny purses and glittering things in storefronts, believing somehow, “This will make me happy.” We behold the number on the scale when holiday bites catch up with our waistline, groaning, “This will ruin me.” We behold the

Christmas family photo we posted, hoping to get more likes than her photo did, whispering, “This will validate me.” Behold. Look at the wrong things, and they determine your life’s direction. But … train your gaze on the right things, and they’ll transform your heart’s affections. Because when you stop to behold Jesus, His beauty and majesty will captivate you.  Jesus’ arrival and mission consumed John — it was all he ever talked about. John declared, “I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God” (John 1:34, ESV). Because what you behold is what will take hold of you. What things captivate us during the holiday season? We’re bombarded by shiny things screaming for our attention. Christmas catalogs. Black Friday “deals.” Pinterest-ready cookie platters. Swoon-worthy party dresses. These and so much more fill our newsfeeds, our to-do lists, our conversations. If we’re not careful, we can get so wrapped up in the external preparations for Christmas that we forget to unwrap the reality of Christmas. It’s Jesus. Behold. The Lamb of God. The One who came to take away the sins of the world that we may find forgiveness and eternal life with God. This Christmas pause to reflect: What’s taken a hold of you? Most likely, it’s the things you behold.  But take heart — it’s not too late to make a new tradition this holiday season, to take time each day to stop the holiday preparation frenzy and prepare your heart to celebrate Jesus. Behold Him. Gaze upon His beauty. Rest in His presence. And share with others the things you discover about Him. This Christmas season may we become [people] who behold Jesus.

SCRIPTURE:

John 1:29

“The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

LINK TO CHRISTMAS MUSIC/VIDEO:

The Nativity

MEDITATION:

Written by Nina Pope from the Village Church.

One special joy of Christmas is watching the excitement and anticipation of children as the season draws near, probably because it reminds me of that happy time in my own life. Our family had many traditions that we always looked forward to: parties with other families, visits with relatives, baking and exchanging cookies and treats with others, saving and choosing our gifts to others, driving around town looking at holiday lights which were so prevalent in those days, receiving a multitude of Christmas cards, buying and decorating a tree that was sure to be the most beautiful ever, then looking with wide-eyed wonder as the package count under the tree swelled. While there was an understanding of the true meaning of the season, church was not one of our family’s traditions, and I never remember seeing any version of the nativity scene in our home. It was a wonderful, warm set of experiences and memories but totally secular. I sang in the Christmas pageant at church but that was about it.

I wonder if my love of nativity sets now fills their absence from my childhood. The image of the nativity on any commercial product like wrapping paper or Christmas cards always draws my eye, and so it was when I discovered years ago that Fisher Price toy company produced a plastic yet charming Nativity set meant for children. The colorful pieces are just right for small hands to grasp, examine, enjoy. No worries about their fragility and no need to warn or reprimand little people about being careful. Chubby sheep and other animals surround the main characters. In those days, the toy company offered other sets including the wise men and camels, the innkeeper and his domain, plus multitudinous palm trees and other figures to complete the scene—all 100% plastic and 100% perfect to illustrate and share the Christmas story. Today several of the former toddlers are teens, but still each year they like to rediscover all the pieces and set up an expansive scene in our family room. One day, perhaps, they will find the same joy we feel as they introduce their own children to these meaningful, charming toys that never grow out of date and that fill a spiritual longing in each heart.

SCRIPTURE:

Isaiah 7:14

“Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel.”

LINK TO CHRISTMAS MUSIC/VIDEO:

Ornaments

MEDITATION:

Written by Pablo Diaz, a contemporary pastor.

Faith, family, and love are the three words that come to mind when I think about Christmas. When I was younger, I remember my Uncle Felix explaining the meaning of and reason behind Christmas. He always emphasized that Jesus’ presence has sustained our family through life’s seasons. As my uncle aged, he would remind us each year, “My desire is that you will continue this tradition of gathering as a family on Christmas.” Although several years have gone by since he passed away, my family has kept this tradition alive just as Uncle Felix wanted. Each one of us pitched in to make this time together special and memorable.

My brother Orlando and cousin Jose now take turns hosting the family gathering at their homes. My aunt and parents are in charge of sharing a Christmas message before the meal. The whole family exchanges gifts and expresses our appreciation for one another. And of course, our most important tradition is celebrating our faith in our loving God. On this day we remember that God came to live on earth among us and ultimately, He gave His life for the salvation of humanity. Keeping our faith as we gather to exchange gifts and break bread is essential on this holiday and throughout the Christmas season. On this special day, whether you gather with family or friends whom you consider family, let us remember to celebrate the coming of our Lord and the love we have for one another. This should be a fun and joyful time of year where we celebrate our faith, keep our traditions alive and make new ones too. On this Christmas, may your home be filled with faith, family, and love. I want to wish you and your loved ones a Merry Christmas.

SCRIPTURE:

2 Corinthians 9:15

“Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!”

LINK TO CHRISTMAS MUSIC/VIDEO:

Happy Birthday Baby Jesus

MEDITATION:

Written by Antoinette Farella from the Village Church.

As I grieve for my son Frankie, I remember our Italian American Christmas Eve family tradition when he participated in this long-time tradition from his childhood all the way to his adulthood. We prepared a traditional “Feast of the Fishes” for everyone in the family which certainly included all the children and grandchildren. Those same children, who were old enough, would participate in making a birthday cake for Baby Jesus. The entire family would participate in the “Feast of Fishes” food initially. After dinner, we would all turn our attention to the prepared birthday cake.  Our entire family would sing “Happy Birthday, Baby Jesus” to celebrate the Christ child along with his Earthly family – Mary and Joseph. I may be grieving for Frankie right now, but it is wonderful to consider Frankie actually meeting Jesus and being able to sing that same song he did all through his earthly life as part of our family directly to Jesus himself. I may have lost Frankie, but it is important to give thanks for all our wonderful blessings from God. So “Happy Birthday, Jesus.”  God bless everyone.

SCRIPTURE:

Matthew 1:21

“She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

LINK TO CHRISTMAS MUSIC/VIDEO:

Traditional Advent

MEDITATION:

Written by Ace Collins, a contemporary author. This is an excerpt from his book “Stories Behind the Great Traditions of Christmas.”

Advent is a Latin word meaning “the coming.” Officially established by church leaders in the sixth century, Advent was originally meant to be a time when Christians reflected on the meaning of Christmas and when new believers spiritually prepared themselves for baptism. Beginning on the Sunday nearest November 30th and running until Christmas Eve, Advent was essentially four weeks set aside to contemplate what the coming of Jesus meant not only to the world but to every individual’s soul. Hence, while recognized and organized by the church, Advent was also supposed to be a time of personal retrospection and growth.

Today, fourteen hundred years after the first Advent season, many families use the symbols of Advent—wreaths, candles, and calendars—to bring the spiritual meaning of Christmas alive in a way that teaches minds, touches hearts, and reflects the original purpose of the tradition. To the early Christians, three different meanings were to be found in the days of Advent, or the days of the coming. The first was the coming of the Son of God to earth in human form as the babe in the manger. The second was the coming of Jesus into the lives, hearts, and actions of those who accepted him as their Savior. The third was the future coming when Jesus will return to the earth as a king. As times changed and the world came to view Christmas in terms of the baby Jesus and not the role he played on earth and the role he will play in his future kingdom, the meaning of Advent changed as well.

SCRIPTURE:

Isaiah 9:6-7

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.”

LINK TO CHRISTMAS MUSIC/VIDEO:

Church Nativity Scenes

MEDITATION:

Written by Kathy Loftman from the Village Church

One of the highlights of Christmas each year was visiting the Nativity Scenes that were set up by the local churches in Santa Monica, a tradition that was established in 1953. Each church was responsible for a booth with a scene from the nativity. Our church was responsible for the angels’ announcement to the shepherds. Cars and pedestrians would line of at one end of Palisades Park and drive by each booth, listening to the music and reading the short Bible verse describing the scene. Some years, the wait to see the scenes was quite long.

Our family would be part of the crowd each year, sometimes visiting a week or so before Christmas and sometimes visiting on Christmas Eve after the church service. The telling of the story by all the community churches was special and very meaningful. Santa Monica earned the nickname “City of the Christmas Story.”

Sadly, as the years passed, there were protests by an atheist group, and some of the booths were destroyed by vandalism. In 2015, a ban was placed on the displays. The churches got together and decided to erect them on private property. Calvary Baptist Church, our largest African American church in Santa Monica, now hosts the displays each year. Donations are desperately being sought by the community of believers to keep the tradition alive.

SCRIPTURE:

Luke 2:11 

“Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.”

LINK TO CHRISTMAS MUSIC/VIDEO:

The Star Still Shines

MEDITATION:

Written by Debra Torres, a contemporary author.

I found the huge wooden star one day while walking through the pastures of a farm we rented.  It rested against a corrugated steel wall inside one of the farm’s outbuildings. What was the star doing out in the middle of a cow pasture? I wondered. When I asked my landlord about the star, his tone turned a bit nostalgic as he said, “Oh, Dad used to string lights on that and put it up on the roof every year.” See, my landlord had grown up in the house where we were living, and I loved to hear sentimental stories like that one.  I quickly asked if I could use the star that Christmas and he consented. I strung the star with fresh white lights and, not daring enough to venture to the roof, propped it up right next to our front door. At night it had a beautiful effect. And since our home was up on a hill a short distance from a busy road, I hoped that it would remind passersby of the Star of Bethlehem. I was surprised a year or two later when my son came home from school with a paper he had written on family traditions. My star made the top of his list! I had no idea I had created a tradition for my own family. But sometimes, when the holidays roll around, I get to thinking about how much work I’ll save by eliminating this or that tradition. I mean, what if we didn’t even do a tree this year?  No needles, no tangled lights, none of those crazy hooks stuck in the carpet. Our family has gone into a “simple mode” the past few years with a small artificial tree– but maybe we didn’t need to get that out either. But I was convicted this past summer by something I read by Richard Ivy, writer of the father’s devotional, “Memories of Dad.” Ivy highlights how important family traditions are to our kids saying: “Traditions are part of life. They set standards of behavior. They impart family values. They help knit together family members into a tapestry that gives each one a sense of belonging and acceptance.” “And traditions are not limited to any particular season. On the Fourth of July, families have reunion picnics. At Easter, families buy new clothes. Vacations are often always at the same place. And birthdays are where grandma always gives you a dollar for each year of your age. Each of these adds another stitch to the family fabric.” Traditions may take work, but they do have purpose. And one of the nice things about them is that while you can keep old ones alive, you can always add new ones to the mix like my star.

SCRIPTURE:

Matthew 2:10 

“When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.”

LINK TO CHRISTMAS MUSIC/VIDEO:

The Mummers

MEDITATION:

Written by Catherine Montgrain from the Village Church.

When I was a young child growing up in the north of England, one of our Christmas traditions or experiences was to have “mummers” ring on our doorbell in the days before Christmas Eve. They would proceed into our house, five or six of them, with masks on or faces blackened with soot, and proceed to dust all our shelves, fireplaces, and furniture, while making murmuring mumming sounds (like mmmmmm) while doing this. They were traditionally cleaning while sweeping out the old year. On their way out, we would give them a monetary gift for their church or charity.  They would usually be smiling which stopped them from frightening me. My parents told me that they represented coal miners with their blackened faces, as we lived in a coal mining area, and I would see the men with these same faces from the school bus coming home in the evening after high school.

On researching mummers, a little, I find that they date back to the Middle Ages and actors would actually perform a Mummers Play where a hero was slain then brought back to life by a clever doctor, all the while “mumming” with no words, and sometimes wearing elaborate costumes. Our local version was definitely a very simple version of this, providing a friendly dusting before decorations went up. What a fun tradition it was!

SCRIPTURE:

Hebrews 13:16 

“And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”

LINK TO CHRISTMAS MUSIC/VIDEO:

World Traditions

MEDITATION:

Written by Linda Bailey, a contemporary author, radio broadcaster, and ministry leader from Australia.

In Iceland, books are exchanged as Christmas Eve presents, then you spend the rest of the night in bed reading them and eating chocolate. The tradition is part of a season called Jolabokaflod, or ‘The Christmas Book Flood’, because Iceland, which publishes more books per capita than any other country, sells most of the books between September and November due to people preparing for the upcoming holiday. This is a Christmas tradition that I could commit to. Putting your feet up in bed, reading a good book and eating chocolate. You wouldn’t have to tell me twice!

I would love to know how this tradition started. Most of our Australian traditions come about because it’s Summer and we have hot weather and long days. People gather together outside in parks and play backyard cricket and have a BBQ. I’m assuming that tradition wouldn’t work in Iceland in the depth of their winter!  A lot of our family’s Christmas traditions have come from our faith. My parents were committed to making Christmas a very special time – not just for us but for many people. And their focus was always on Jesus rather than the presents and the decorations. Whatever is important to us comes out in the traditions we create. Have a think about the traditions you are part of this Christmas season. If someone was looking on, what would they say is of utmost importance to you?

SCRIPTURE:

Romans 15:13 

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

LINK TO CHRISTMAS MUSIC/VIDEO:

The Three Kings

MEDITATION:

Written by Mary Whittier/Johansen from the Village Church.

 A great joy for grandparents is to see their little ones in a Christmas Pageant. We enjoyed two granddaughters portraying baby Jesus.  One grew up to be Mary a few years later. A favorite memory is Grandson Neil as one of the three kings at a small Presbyterian church in Princeton, New Jersey. The congregation included several ethnic groups. Traditionally the wise man, magi, are Caucasian, Asian, and African, denoting that Jesus came to earth for all people.   After the shepherds and sheep gathered around the holy family, three mini-kings in elaborate robes and crowns presented their gifts to the Christ Child and retired.  Worship continued, but when the offering was taken, to my delight, the mini kings passed the plates.  Probably no frankincense or myrrh was given, but hearts were given.  Neil is now an elder at Jewel Lake Presbyterian Church in Anchorage, Alaska.

SCRIPTURE:

Matthew 2:1-2

“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 when it rose and have come to worship him.”

LINK TO CHRISTMAS MUSIC/VIDEO: