A holiday postcard. A Norman Rockwell Christmas painting. The Christmas song, “Silver Bells.” All will give you the essence of the town Mary and I get to call home. It’s Noblesville during the Christmas season. The light posts all have snowflakes, bells, and ornaments attached that light up in the evening. Santa’s house sets on the town square reminding you that Christmas will soon arrive. Drive through in the evening and the county courthouse is lit in red and green. On any given Saturday you may see an elf on the square, and you will definitely see families lined up to visit Santa in his cozy little workshop. If you come early, stop in at the Uptown Café, Rosie’s, or Erika’s for a homemade breakfast. If you aren’t able to catch breakfast, at least stop into Noble Tea and Coffee, and grab a mocha or coffee before hitting the quaint shops. Each shop has its own unique décor, and all make you feel as you just stepped into Christmas. There is the Logan Street Mall with nearly 50 local vendors and the Old Picket Fence Shop filled with antiques. If your taste is for something more of the retro style or Magnolia, step into Vintage Adventure or Persimmon’s Avenue and you’re sure to find something you can’t leave without. If you plan for a December weekend visit, you will want to take the kids on the Reindeer Express train ride. Still need more? Grab dinner at one of the many restaurants, I have an affinity for Grindstone Pub or a good Italian dish at Matteo’s. Finally plan on finishing off the evening with a horse driven carriage ride through downtown, a walk through the Christmas Light village, or some ice skating at Federal Hill Park. I may have a bit of a bias and be a little nostalgic but add a big snowstorm and you have the perfect opportunity to see a Norman Rockwell scene in person, and the place Mary and I get to call home.
Why did I start a Christmas Series in November? Great question. Because it has been a long and difficult year and we needed some joy, something to make our hearts merry and a word to encourage our spirits. Nothing does that quite like a song, especially a Christmas song. In Ephesians 5:19, Paul encourages us “to speak to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your hearts to the Lord.” Christmas songs remind us of the hope found in Jesus. Sing Joy to the World, and you can’t help but feel the hope in Jesus. Sing Silent Night, Holy Night and calm and peace surrounds you. Other Christmas carols cause us to reflect on days gone by. Sing, Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire and whether you have a fireplace or not, or even if you have never tasted a Chestnut, you can still feel the warmth and nostalgia. Still other tunes take us to dreams of another place. Sing songs like Walking in a Winter Wonder Land or Let it Snow and whether you’re in Florida or the Rockies you want to grab the mittens and gloves and make a snowman or have a snowball fight. The simple point is this, Christmas and the songs changes the spirit of the heart. We become more reflective, kinder, and tend to have hearts that long to give. Proverbs 17:22 says that “a joyful heart is good medicine.” So, I invite you, click on your favorite Spotify Christmas list, pull out some old vinyl’s or dial up the Christmas radio station and start the joy early this year because as the song says, “We need a Little Christmas, Right this very Minute…”
Emmanuel, God with us. Announced to Mary, confirmed to Joseph. In a moments time, life changed. God comes to earth in a stable in Bethlehem in the form of a baby. First seen by shepherds and then wisemen. Life would never be the same. Religion as it was known would disappear. The lame would walk. People who were deaf would hear and those who were blind would see. Sinners would be forgiven, the broken would get an audience with Jesus and the dead would rise. When Jesus steps into your world, life changes. The story of Christmas is Jesus coming to humanity. But more than coming to humanity, it’s the story of God coming to individual people. What He did 2000 years ago He still does today. Has God come to your world? If so, when? What was your experience like? When did He become real to you? Was it an answered prayer that introduced you to Him? Was it an experience in a church service when you felt him in an undeniable way? Maybe it was in a bible study, a small group or possibly a quiet moment alone when you came to understand, “God was with you.” Whatever the moment, it was a “Christmas” moment, the moment God came to your world. This Christmas share your story. It may not be as dramatic as Mary and Josephs or as unbelievable as the shepherds, but your experience was just as real, and it could change someone’s life. Christmas, a reminder that God still comes to us and that He is still God with us.
Spontaneity. It’s a person walking up to a Salvation Bell ringer and beginning to sing Christmas carols with them. It’s a child, reacting to a gift that was totally unexpected; so overwhelmed that they respond without thinking…spontaneously! Spontaneity is a natural impulse or tendency; without effort or premeditation. It’s natural and unconstrained; unplanned. Spontaneity, it’s the way God wants us to live and what He wants us to experience. Mary hears that she is highly favored, that she will be overshadowed by the Spirit and she will birth Emmanuel, God with us. Without thinking, she reacts and says, be it unto me! It’s Elizabeth, upon seeing Mary, feeling her baby leap inside her and exclaiming loudly, “blessed are you among women.” It’s shepherds in a field, experiencing an explosion of light and songs of angels, and without thinking, leaving their sheep and going to see the baby Jesus. What does it take to experience spontaneity? It takes stepping out and acting when it’s not on our daily agenda. It takes hearing, believing and acting when we hear God’s subtle voice prod us. It is responding in faith, without completely thinking it through. It’s the spontaneous moments, the “suddenlys,” that change our lives. It’s often the spontaneous moments that our families remember the most. The gift of spontaneity, it changes our days from the mundane to magnificent. It leaves us with a smile on our face and a warm place in our heart. It’s where you want to live, it’s what God wants you to experience. Live in, live for, His gift of the spontaneous!
Here we go! It’s Christmas season. Trees are going up. Decorations are being hung. Parties and events put on calendars. All leading to a December 25th celebration. What we do each year resembles the spirt of heaven as they prepared for our Saviors birth. Imagine with me the gasps of Heaven as our Lord begins to unfold His plans. From what family, what lineage will you come? A king? A priest? A politician or religious leader? God responds, no, a twelve-year-old girl who will be engaged to a fourteen-year-old young man. A puzzled look. A frown and questions. Are you serious? Don’t you realize the ramifications? What people will say? God says, I’m fully aware. This way people will know that I can come to anyone in any situation. Another angel, sensing tension, asked from what city will you come? Jerusalem? Hebron? No, Nazareth. More puzzled looks and questions. Why Nazareth? It’s off the beaten path? A poor and forsaken area? God replies, yes, so I can identify with those who are forgotten and broken. As the Heavens grow more still, another asks. When will you go? God responds, around the time that Caesar Augustus takes a census. More gasps. Gabriel says, you realize that means that she will be nearly full term? That they will have to travel for Nazareth to Bethlehem. The weather, it will be cold and wet. Yes, I know, but I will be with them and as I am with them, I will be with others who face hardships. The story of Christmas is not so far from your story. A story with ebb and flow, twist and turns. Christmas. It teaches us to never lose faith and never lose hope. God is with us.
The year, and especially the past nine months, had seen more twist, turns, ups and downs than a roller-coaster. It was more than they could have ever imagined. The announcement of their engagement had filled their lives with celebration, travel, gifts and preparation for marriage. Nowhere in their engagement script was a pregnancy. They were virtuous and God-fearing people. Their family had taught them the law with passion and they loved God with all their heart. But a visit of an angel to Mary brought news beyond comprehension. She was stunned and speechless, filled with joy but at the same time feeling the sting of the overwhelming challenges. To be the one chosen to be overshadowed by the Spirit and bring God to earth was the greatest of honor. To explain it to her family and soon to be groom was nearly an impossible task. Joseph’s angelic dream brings some strength and hope to the moment, but still there are doubts. Those doubts would visit often; the thought of divorce would surface in his mind almost daily. Resolve moves into both of their hearts and they decide they will believe in the words from Heaven. That the pregnancy was supernatural and that God was truly growing inside of a teenager from Nazareth. Though they believed, others didn’t. There were endless questions from their parents. Friends strayed and foes judged. There are whispers, innuendo and downright rude gazes. That an angel visited a young couple from Nazareth with a prophetic word, and teenagers at that, was just too much. May we suggest that there was even mockery. There is an incredible moment when Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth; her baby leaps with joy inside her womb. There came flashes of hope when Joseph and Mary were alone and realized, it’s God in her womb. The end of the pregnancy brings yet another challenge. Herod has called for a tax, one that required families to return to the home of their birth. So, nine months pregnant, they begin a pilgrimage. It too is filled with challenges. Dangerous travel, poor weather and challenging terrain are all a part of the journey. Mary, days from birthing a child, must keep up with the caravan. For nearly two weeks, through rain, cold and wind they walk. Down mountain paths, across deserts and then a fifteen-mile ascent through rocky cliffs. When it seems as though it can’t get any more overbearing, it does. Bethlehem, a wide gap in the road on the journey to Jerusalem is their destination. They arrive in the small village only to find the family house already filled with relatives. No room in the house, they are relegated to the stable behind the house. Cold, damp, smelly; what place could be lowlier for the birth of any child, much less God in flesh. A stable, a place for animals now houses God. In the midst of all the hardship and difficulty, when no one could see the possibility, Joseph and Mary likely feeling hurt, lost and forgotten have no idea that the world changed. That night would be end of so much and the beginning of so much more. No one knew that in that moment the dateline would change from B.C. to A.D. No one knew that night that the sheep He laid among would never again have to die for the sins of a man. It was just a rough nine months for two obscure teenagers who believed the impossible could happen through them. Who could have imagined? Probably not Joseph and Mary. Whatever this year has held, whether hills and valleys, twist and turns you’ve walked through, know three things. First, the journey can be hard but you will make it. Second, regardless of how it looks in the moment, the impossible may be taking place in the midst of the most difficult situation. Finally, like Joseph and Mary, God has been with you, is with you and will always be with you. Christmas. The celebration of change!
The unexpected. It brings a myriad of emotions from screams to tears. Sometimes people faint while others dance. The unexpected, when the impossibility becomes a reality. One year we surprised our kids with a puppy. It was so far off their radar that when they opened the box they literally froze in shock. They were so stunned that they set in silence for what felt like five minutes. We nearly had to shake them back to reality, but when we did, the pandemonium was unbelievable. Dancing, shouting and screaming all ensued as the reality of the moment sunk in. The story of Christmas is about God doing the stunningly unexpected. An angel shows up in a forgotten little burg to a young teenager, calls her highly favored, and announces she will be the mother of Emmanuel, God with us. Unexpected. Simple and unassuming shepherds sitting on a quiet hillside tending sheep when suddenly there is an explosion of light and sound as the skies are filled with angels singing, Hosanna. Unexpected. I wonder how many people in the tiny town of Bethlehem were asking, “who is this teenage couple,” as lowly shepherds show up to honor Him and Magi come with mountains of gifts. Who could have imagined that God in flesh in the form of a baby had come to their town? Unexpected. Christmas and the gifts under the tree. They fill us with imagination, wonder and maybe the unexpected. They are to remind us of what Jesus did and can still do. The unexpected.