Looking at the Cross Through the Lens of Christmas: Hope for Excruciating Moments

ELIZABETH TURNAGE|CONTRIBUTOR Mary’s pain must have been excruciating. For how could a mother watch her son, the supposed Savior of the world, be crucified without feeling that agony herself? In the most excruciating moment of her life, what did Mary remember of the first Christmas, and how did it give her hope? In the most excruciating moments of our lives, what can we remember, and how can those memories give us hope? As the frenzied crowd shouted around her, “Crucify him!” did she remember a night over thirty years ago? Into the quiet of that night, the bright and fearsome angel Gabriel had burst with a troubling announcement, “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus” (Luke 1:31). As Pilate sentenced Jesus to death by crucifixion, did she remember how she and her cousin Elizabeth had celebrated Gabriel’s announcement and the early days of their pregnancies together? As Pilate scrawled out the word “King of the Jews” on a makeshift sign, did she remember the angel’s words, “…and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:33)? As she watched the life leak out of Jesus, did she wonder how a dying king could reign forever? Did she remember Gabriel’s assurance, “For nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37)? Did she remember how easily she had surrendered to God’s plan, voicing her faith, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38)? As the Roman soldiers ripped her son’s clothes, did she remember swaddling Jesus in a soft cloth the night she gave birth to him in the stable, because there was “no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:27)? As Jesus called to her from the cross, “Woman, behold your son,” and pointed to his beloved disciple, John, did she remember gazing into the shining dark eyes of her newborn son, the Savior of the world? As she heard Jesus cry out, “It is finished,” did she remember the “impossible” beginning of Jesus’ life? Did that memory of the miraculous lead her to wonder if life could yet again emerge from death?...

Looking at the Cross Through the Lens of Christmas: Hope for Excruciating Moments2022-05-04T23:47:54+00:00

When You Feel Like Pitching Christmas

When I was a little girl, my mother told me the story of a long ago relative, Amelia Ruth.  As a child, she was a notorious spoiled brat.  Her parents warned her that Santa rewarded bad behavior with “ashes and switches.” Amelia Ruth didn’t listen. On Christmas morning she ran to her Christmas stocking only to find it full of soot.  In predictable behavior she took that stocking, (my mom may have embellished this part) swung it round above her head, and pitched it across the room.  A CRACK interrupted her tantrum, for buried in the toe of this stocking was the hand painted china doll she’d asked for, broken. I feel like throwing a tantrum myself. As COVID fatigue sets in and my usual holiday plans could be turning to ashes and soot, am I acting like Amelia Ruth this Christmas? Sure, we experience spilt milk moments, and we try not to cry or pitch a fit.  As frustrating as piles of laundry or work deadlines can be, we are used to pushing through.  But now that Bing Crosby is on the radio and the familiar smells of the season take us back to Christmas last year, we may feel a panic.  What if I spend Christmas alone?  What if I can’t take the children to their grandparents’ house?  What if I can’t afford to celebrate in the usual ways? So much has been lost in this time of COVID, and I don’t want to lose my usual Christmas, too.  This is not the December I want, and I feel like swinging this holiday season along with the rest of 2020 over my head and pitching it across the room. Mary and Joseph would understand how you and I feel. After all, their simple, obedient Jewish lives were hijacked when the angel delivered to them his unexpected birth announcements.  When this teenage mom and her new husband stepped into parenting the Promised One, I doubt they imagined what would follow.  As we see in the events of Matthew and Luke, the first Christmas could be summed up in the word, unusual. First of all, a barn?  Really?  If I had been Mary, I would have stomped my foot in Amelia Ruth style and said, I knew I was giving birth to the Messiah, but it didn’t occur to me I’d have to do it in a barn! I doubt any of us would have expected to have donkeys and cows munching on hay and looking on while we panted and pushed, birthing the special baby. Far from the comfort of home and family, was Mary undone as she felt the contractions come? And, what about Joseph? Did he break out into a sweat as he struck out door to door, trying to find shelter for them in Bethlehem?  How was he supposed to take care of the Messiah if he couldn’t even secure a hotel room?  Life was outside his control, even while obeying God.  And after Jesus was finally born, when Joseph gazed at the Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, were his own dreams of being a dad for the first time subjugated to the reality in front of him, being an earthly father to the Son of God? But the surprises did not stop there. This unusual barnyard scene was interrupted by an unexpected group of visitors, a scruffy band of excited shepherds barging in with tales of singing angels, shining light, and tidings of comfort and joy.  In the middle of this first (and very unusual) Christmas day, what did Mary do? In the midst of what seemed to be ashes and switches, did she complain, pitch a fit, get mad at God or the circumstances He put them in?  Did she ever stomp her foot and say, I don’t like this! Luke tells us what Mary did in Luke 2:19. But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. Our traditional holiday celebrations are mere shadows of what Mary saw in these unusual days of the first Christmas – things she pondered.  Every year I’ve untangled yards of Christmas lights, yet God decked the first Christmas sky with “the glory of the Lord” shining on the shepherds (Luke 2:9).  I remember my daddy stretching off the top of a ladder to stick the star on our gigantic Christmas tree.  But, during Mary’s Christmas, God Himself hung a star over His Baby’s house to guide the Magi (Matthew 2:9).  I’ve worked hard on buying just-right gifts for all on my list, yet God used the Wise Men (not our mere Amazon delivery) to hand deliver treasures of gold, frankincense, and myrrh—perfectly-timed provisions for Mary’s needy family of three (Matthew 2:11). She saw the unusual and pondered what God was doing. Maybe I should take my Christmas cues from Mary, not Amelia Ruth.  Instead of pitching Christmas 2020 with all its disappointments and unusual situations, could I ponder it instead?  As I am tempted to wind up my frustration and toss it across the room, could I pause and unwrap what God is giving me to hold this Christmas? If I don’t, could I miss the china doll He’s hidden in the ashes and switches of a pandemic (Isaiah 30:15)? What is God giving me to ponder?...

When You Feel Like Pitching Christmas2022-05-04T23:50:22+00:00

The Greatest Pregnancy Reveal in History

LAURA BOOZ|GUEST The day I finally saw two pink lines on a pregnancy test, I held my breath. Could this be true? I wondered. My husband and I had trudged through two long years of infertility and were crushed by ghost lines, false positives, and dashed hopes. We longed for a child more than anything else.  On my way to work, I stopped by the doctor’s office for a blood test to confirm the pregnancy. The doctor told me to call in later for the results. I went through the motions of teaching poetry and grading papers, but all I could think about was the possibility that I was pregnant. At my first opportunity, I called the doctor’s office and I will never forget the nurse’s response as she looked over my results. She said, “Well it’s very early, but you are pregnant.” Later that day, I saw my husband. You’d think that after all those months of waiting, I would have done a dramatic pregnancy reveal with balloons and clever word play, but I was so shocked that I just blurted out, “I’m pregnant!” We sat together, amazed. We estimated that our baby was the size of the period at the end of this sentence and yet she was already our greatest joy. We talked about what our lives would look like as a mom and dad. We thanked God for granting our relentless request. And then we went to the store to buy the coziest baby blanket on the planet. Learning from Mary’s Pregnancy Reveal When Mary was newly pregnant and just arriving at the home of her cousin, Elizabeth, she did have a dramatic pregnancy reveal. Upon seeing the expectant Mary for the first time, Elizabeth felt her own baby (John) leap in her womb and she was filled with the Holy Spirit. Elizabeth exclaimed a blessing upon Mary that affirmed everything the angel had promised to her. “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (Luke 1:42-45)...

The Greatest Pregnancy Reveal in History2022-05-04T23:51:24+00:00

A Different Kind of Christmas

I’ll admit it. I have always been a Hallmark-watching, over-the-top lover of all things Christmas, but as a parent, I love the holidays differently now. I want my children to love these times as much as I used to, but for me, they are not so “perfect” anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I still get excited about the snow, time with family, and the opportunity to focus on and celebrate Christ, but the expectations have changed. I have to keep a calendar reminding me of the band concert, Christmas programs, children’s choir practice, work Christmas party, and the brunch for my Titus 2 group. I feel guilty because some people buy presents for EVERYONE —co-workers, bosses, friends, and the letter carrier—yet I feel like I can barely buy for my immediate family. Not to mention the cards I am supposed to get out, if I do at all. By December 20th I am exhausted, realizing that I failed again to accomplish the holiday tasks I aspired to do, tasks which others seem to accomplish without a hitch.   As I ponder this unique 2020 Christmas season, I am convicted when I consider the shepherd’s excitement to see the Christ-child so many years ago. Upon hearing the good news from the angelic assembly, they responded, “‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about’ . . . when they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them . . .the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told” (Luke 2:15,17-18,20).  Oh, that my family would capture their excitement and embrace the joy of the Advent season! A Mary Season  COVID has changed our lives in so many ways this year. It is safe to say our holiday season will change as well. There will likely be fewer holiday activities, less travel, and smaller celebrations. We’ll likely miss the annual school play. Some families may not gather together this season. And only time will tell how the Christmas Eve candlelight service will look. The all too familiar refrain of disappointment will be heard everywhere this December...

A Different Kind of Christmas2022-05-04T23:53:02+00:00

Athanasius and the Incarnation of Christ

When was the last time you read an old book? C.S. Lewis had an opinion on this: “It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between.” Lewis urges Christian readers to step outside of their century to read the “old books.” In fact, he penned these words as part of an introduction to the over 1,600-year-old classic, On the Incarnation by Athanasius. As Christmas nears and we reflect on our Lord Jesus coming in the flesh, let us learn first-hand about the Incarnation from Athanasius, a Christian who suffered greatly to protect the biblical truth that Jesus is both fully God and fully man. Who Was Athanasius? Athanasius, an early Church Father, was born sometime during 296-300 A.D. in Alexandria, Egypt. The city of Alexandria played a pivotal role in the Eastern Roman Empire. Athanasius grew up during the reign of Diocletian, emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire, and his successor Galerius, both of whom violently persecuted Christians. As a young child, Athanasius saw followers of Christ driven from their homes, tortured, and martyred. Later, as a young adult, Athanasius studied under Alexander, bishop of Alexandria, and engaged in the great Trinitarian strife—the Arian controversy. Arius, a priest in Alexandria, denied the divinity of Jesus and taught the heresy that since Jesus is the Son of God, as a son, Jesus had to have a beginning and thus was a created being. He confused many in the early Church by falsely teaching that God the Father alone was truly God, and that Jesus his Son was not God, but instead, was the first and greatest creature made by the Father to accomplish man’s salvation. Bishop Alexander opposed Arius and fought to maintain the true deity of the eternal Christ....

Athanasius and the Incarnation of Christ2022-05-07T22:51:47+00:00
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