Celebrating Love

By Fern Horst

Valentine’s Day is fast approaching, that day in February when love is celebrated. I have to admit that some years Valentine’s Day has seemed more like a day of mourning than a day of celebration as I remembered a romantic love that was lost, or perhaps that hadn’t materialized.

We long to celebrate love because we feel that in many ways love completes and fulfills us. But what is it about love that does this?

Our society has pretty well convinced us that sexual satisfaction, otherwise known as “Eros” in the Greek text of the Bible, defines love. And yet those who pursue sex for this purpose are some of the emptiest people I know. The kind of love that fulfills us is unconditional love, called “Agape”. It is the True Love with which God loves us, and with which God asks us to love each other. True love is not romantic or sexual love (Eros), though God intended for romance to be carried out within the context of True Love (Agape).

I’m afraid that far too often Valentine’s Day is a celebration of Eros without Agape, of self-satisfaction rather than of true love. Eros without Agape is not love, and is about getting rather than giving.

True Love, the kind of love we should be celebrating whether Eros accompanies it or not, is about giving rather than getting. We are most complete when we have accepted God’s love for us and are in turn conduits of God’s love to others. We are most fulfilled when we are pouring out to others what God has poured into us, not when we are demanding or expecting or even just simply wishing for human love. Succumbing to the feelings of “I deserve to be loved, too” depletes us of the sense of completeness our oneness with God has already established.

So, how should we celebrate Valentine’s Day if we don’t have romantic love to celebrate? Consider these words of our LORD*:

  • “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” 1
  • “I will make you like my signet ring, for I have chosen you.” 2
  • “You will be called Sought After.” 3
  • “You are precious and honored in my sight.” 4
  • “See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” 4

Do these words which describe the love God has for us inspire you to celebrate? The best way to celebrate His love is to turn around and give it to someone else. There are many who are longing for True Love, for unconditional love, and we can have the privilege of multiplying love many times over. This kind of love is not exclusive between two people, but can be shared freely, not with just one but with many!

It is true that there is something wonderful about romantic love (Eros); none of us can deny that. However, hard as it may be to believe, Agape is the better of the two and is not limited just to those who are “in love”. It is sad that we have come to value Eros above Agape; it is a distorted, twisted view of love that does this. I challenge you, and myself, to acquire God’s perspective of which kind of love is the most valuable, to realize that this most valuable love is available to everyone, and to spend this Valentine’s Day celebrating Agape, that love with which God loves us so completely, and with which we find so much fulfillment in giving to others. Perhaps someday God will also give you Eros with one exclusive person, that exhilirating love that feels so wonderful; but if not, you’re not the poor deprived person society would have you believe you are. You are already complete in the arms of True Love! Take time to celebrate!

1Jeremiah 31:3 2Haggai 2:23 3Isaiah 62:12 4Isaiah 43:4 5Isaiah 49:16

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East at Easter: Living in the Power of the Cross

By Ross Clark

In 1994, Good Friday fell on April 1st, All Fools’ Day. Have you thought as to how much this co-incidence has to say?

We are not used to thinking of Easter in terms of folly. We think of Easter in terms of Jesus’ crowning in the triumph and the glory of the resurrection, and so it is. But such an approach ignores the profound lessons to be learnt from Good Friday in its own right.

Good Friday is not about some unpleasant necessity that Jesus had to endure before returning to his rightful place as sovereign of the universe. No: Good Friday is the pattern for all of the Christian life, the archetype for which is Jesus, as it was the pattern worked out in his life; the continual reminder that there is no crown without a cross.

In the foolishness of the Cross there is life and power. It is only one of the many paradoxes within the Christian pilgrimage: that life and power and glory could come from a place of death and weakness and disgrace.

We find such ideas paradoxical only because we insist on viewing them from the pespective of human logic. Seen through God’s eyes these things are quite logical; but such a way of thinking is not easily acceptable to us.

THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY

To see what the Cross means, let us begin with the first eighteen months of Jesus’ ministry, in which it appeared that he would fulfil the popular expectation of a triumphant Messiah. Even then, though, Jesus refused to pay to the gallery; the reality of the Cross was spelt out from the very beginning. The Romans had crucified hundreds of people in Galilee, so they all knew what a crucifixion was. Not only was it an agonising way to die; it was also utterly shameful and humiliating.

So, when Jesus told the crowds in Galilee that they would have to deny themselves, take up their Cross and follow him, it is no surprise that the crowds eventually lost interest in Jesus, despite all the miracles he performed.

“Glory to God in the lowest” was not an appealing message, then or now. It must have been utter foolishness to the crowds of that day to think that Messiah would go to a Roman cross; and even more foolish that his disciples would have to follow him there carrying one. Yet, the centrality of the Cross in Jesus’ teaching is easy to show. It is found in all four Gospels and generally, more than once.1 If this was the core of Jesus’ call to discipleship, then we must take it seriously.

Inevitably, Jesus’ life took him to Calvary. What happened that day?

The answer seems obvious to modern believers: Jesus sacrificed himself on the Cross on our behalf, to purchase our salvation. But this is to look at Calvary with the benefit of much hindsight. What did it look like at the time?

The answer to that question is simple — it was a total disaster.

Instead of the huge crowds of the early days, like those present for the feeding of the five thousand, there was almost no-one left to stand by Jesus. The disciples cut and ran. The crowd who a few days before had welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday became the mob who cried for his death on front of Pilate that morning.

Instead of the five thousand, there were only five people who acknowledged Jesus in his agony and disgrace:

  • Mary, his mother, now realising what Simeon had meant all those years ago when he had said, “a sword will pierce your own soul”.
  • Her sister Salome, mother of James and John
  • Mary Magdalene
  • Mary, wife of Clopas, who had supported Jesus financially
  • John, the beloved disciple.

Later, two more friends threw a hurried burial together. Between the crucifixion, the abandonment by God and the darkness, it is no surprise that Jesus should cry out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

It is no surprise that one writer had argued that Jesus died a failure to everything he stood for.2 Jesus’ death wasn’t a martyr’s death, not by any means — one could have understood the point of that.

If we remember these aspects of Good Friday we start looking at Easter in a very different light. They cannot be ignored, even in the context of everything which followed.

GLORYING IN THE CROSS

Jesus preached the Cross and died by it. He rose in glory some 36 hours later and one would have thought that glory enough to forget the awful memory of Good Friday.

And generally, that is how we have presented Jesus. I wonder if the real reason that Protestants don’t like crucifixes is because they remind us too vividly of what Good Friday involved; an aspect of Jesus’ life we don’t want to think about. We refer to “Calvary” forgetting that in Latin calvaria means “a skull”.

When we look at the apostolic preaching, though, the opposite pattern is apparent. The apostles could have preached Jesus like some ancient demi-god, resurrected from the dead but playing down the cross like some unavoidable evil. Instead they gloried in it, acknowledging and boasting in the disaster and disgrace. It was a mark of honour that the faith’s founder had died like a common criminal!

There are many, many examples in the New Testament to illustrate this principle. “St John was not ashamed to write of the cross as the place where the glory of God was displayed”.3 St Paul continued this line of thought, describing it as the place where the foolishness of God was shown to be wiser than the wisdom of men, 4 and the place where “Christ made a spectacle of his enemies”.5

Facing pressure from many things, Paul could even tell the Corinthians that he gloried in his own weakness. To the Philippians he wrote that he desired to know the fellowship of Jesus’ sufferings, thus to share in the resurrection from the dead.

Finally, around this time, St Mark’s Gospel would present Jesus as the “servant King”. This followed closely the theme of the suffering servant of Isaiah; 6 again, a part of Jesus’ ministry that people weren’t too keen to hear about. It has been suggested that this was partly in response to an incipient triumphalism in the early church.

If the evidence is brought together, two things are clear. First, the apostles preached the cross of Christ from the very beginning. Second, this was offensive and foolish to the people they preached to; because it cut against all the notions, Jewish as well as Greek, as to how God would act.7

In particular the Corinthians faced the fatal temptation to recast the Gospel in terms more acceptable to their own culture. This was the “worldly wisdom” which robbed the Cross of its power and which so concerned Paul.8 A triumphant God in glory going forth in the power of the Spirit was one thing, but Paul had to take some troubles to remind them that the only way to the power of the Spirit is past the Hill of Calvary.

A church in my city that I sometimes attend doesn’t have a Cross on its premises — anywhere. It has missed the point. If it doesn’t want to offend people, then it has also missed the point because the Cross is meant to be an offence!

It is not that the physical symbol of the Cross is, by itself, critical. A symbol is no more (or less) that the value people place on what it stands for. But the absence of a symbol may also convey a message; and in this case I believe that it is conveying that the costs of the Gospel message can be ignored. That is hardly Biblical Christianity.

LIVING UNDER THE CROSS

If we follow these interlinked themes, where do they take us? What is the significance of the Cross for us?

The Cross is a vivid reminder that our perception or understanding of God’s glory should never be confined to natural or visible things.

The Pauline readings referred to in this article show that the Cross was a place of victory; but crucially, this victory is never separated from the defeat and offence which accompanied it.

By extension: because of Christ’s redeeming work, many of our apparent defeats can be turned in the long run into victories — a theology of failure, perhaps. As C.S. Lewis put it, “nothing in us that has not died will ever be raised from the dead”. Of course the flipside of this understanding is that many of our apparent victories (success, large churches, money, crowds) may, in the end, prove to be nothing of the sort!

The Cross models “the way we need to follow and the truth we need to know”.

The Cross is not just about dying to sin and turning to righteousness (this part of it is understood, even if not always put into practice). The Cross also models our turning from things which are good in themselves but which have to be sacrificed for some higher good — the sharp edge of discipleship. To live by the Cross is difficult; but if we can do so, the power of the Cross will be available to us.

To truly live for Christ may appear foolish in the world’s eyes, never mind our own. From God’s perspective, though, is this the only way to live?

St Francis of Assisi was known as one of God’s Fools, or a Holy Fool, yet he is one of the greatest Christians who ever lived. Think of Forrest Gump; not perhaps the brightest person around, yet his simple faith in God was, in the movie, more than enough to sustain him. This is also a thread in Hebrews 11; you don’t care for the earthly city if the heavenly one is even partially visible.

The Cross sheds some light on the ultimate questions of faith — pain, unmet needs like healing, disappointment with God.

I say “some light” only, as this is a great mystery. However, the Cross tells us that when we come to God with these questions, he understands. In Jesus he has been there; on the Cross he faced those questions himself. This has big implications for both ministry and evangelism.

The Cross allows our evangelism to be upfront about the costs of discipleship — indeed, insists on it.

This sort of preaching both cuts across the grain of the predominant culture and challenges its values. As one New Zealand YWAMer once put it, “In our desire to be relevant, accessible and even trendy, have we left the Cross of Christ behind?” In some ways evangelism in my country is becoming “bad news for modern man”; the needs in the country are such that we have had to learn to preach “a broken God to broken people in a broken world”.

KNOWN BY THE SCARS

Most profoundly, the Cross is the ultimate expression of God’s love for us. In a world which has questioned the love of God even more than it has questioned the existence of God, we can reply that the Cross is the evidence of God’s love for those with eyes to see.

Some years ago musician Michael Card observed that in heaven “we’ll not be known by the medals but by the scars”.

If that sounds heavy going, consider Jesus’ way of identifying himself to his disciples after the Resurrection: by means of the scars in his hands, feet and side — scars present even in a glorified body. Indeed, some Catholic theology portrays Jesus as having had those marks for all eternity, not just after the Resurrection. Perhaps that is what Revelation means when it described Jesus as the Lamb “slain from before the creation of the world”.9

The Cross also sheds light on the issue of healing but does so by means of a paradox. We associate giving glory to God with the presence of the miraculous, especially healing. Yet God’s glory was present at the cross, despite the failure. Does that mean that His glory can be seen and witnessed to in situations of chronic unhealing, loss and disability?

That sounds odd, even illogical. It probably is illogical but the converse is easy to demonstrate; that healings or other forms of the miraculous may not lead to any glory being given to God at all. In the Exodus period the people saw all the miracles and God’s judgment of the Egyptians. Amazingly, though, the people did not respond with a mature commitment to God; if anything, quite the opposite. In Elijah’s time the people may have appeared to respond, as the power showdown on Mt Carmel demonstrates. But later history shows that the whole affair did not lead to any real revival.

Philip Yancey has commented, “Would a burst of miracles nourish faith? Evidently, not the sort of faith that God seems interested in. The Israelites give ample opportunity that signs may only addict us to signs, not to God”.

Luke 17 recount a similar incident in which ten lepers were healed, but only one returned to give thanks and worship. Power encounters may not lead to glory being given to God — at least, not as much as we think.

The logical conclusions to all of this is that for someone to remain faithful in the midst of sickness and even despair may — ultimately — bring more glory to God than any number of miraculous healings, even if God is glorified in them (as he often is).

The presence of the disabled in our midst, like Joni Eareckson, is a striking example of how glory to God can be shown even in the midst of their conditions. Yet we don’t follow that logic of that through into our healing ministries. Perhaps we dare not.

What is clear, though, is that God’s glory and God’s healing may not always work in tandem. Whether people are healed is God’s decision…whether he is glorified…is ours? It would appear so.

In a world crying out for healing it seems foolish to claim that God can be glorified in our failures. It is foolish. I hesitate to reflect along these lines because I am good in health and do not want to appear a Job’s comforter to someone who isn’t. But the logic of this view, that God’s glory is never seen more clearly than in the weakness of his people is as compelling as it is uncomfortable. I do not know why; but the Cross shows how.

Furthermore there is plenty of evidence from Christian history to support this view. People have sometimes exercised great healing ministries even in the midst of their lack of good health.

St. Paul for all the miracles in his work 10 had bad eyesight (there is evidence for this in Scripture as well as in early Christian tradition). St Francis of Assisi exercised a remarkable ministry of healing but knew great sickness too, even for the times.

Perhaps with this in mind Paul wrote, “The Lord said to me, ‘My Grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in your weakness’. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses so that Christ’s power may rest on me…when I am weak, then I am strong”.

We tend to quote these words a little too glibly, don’t we? And yet these ironies cannot go unnoticed. What also cannot go unnoticed is our inability to acknowledge that God’s glory can be shown in this way. But the Cross can, and does, empower our ministry and evangelism to the wounded. I had a friend once who had survived an horrific upbringing (incest survivor) and was left with a lot of doubts about God: “Where was he when I really needed him?” As we thought about it we were led back to the Psalm of Dereliction (Psalm 22), a Psalm of David which Scripture in Song will never bother with:

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?”

The words are, of course, of Jesus on the Cross. What that meant to my friend was that while God couldn’t answer their immediate questions, He did understand what they had been through. And that was enough.

The Cross shows us how to minister with some integrity to the chronically unhealed. It also shows us how to minister to the families of the unhealed, alienated by pressures which seem to assume healing as long as you follow the right methods. We can show that such people have not been excluded from the love of God: far from it. A healing ministry will not have any real integrity if it cannot speak God’s mercy to the situation of the unhealed.

It also means that we have something to offer those facing great psychological pressures. We know that God can be glorified in despite those areas of our physical lives which are left unhealed, or healed only in part.

Suppose the same is true, then, for those with emotional stresses or psychological needs. What, then, do we have to say to people whose needs here remain unmet while others find what they seek? A difficult question, but this appears in the “physical” area all the time.

God given glory despite emotional gaps, unhealed perverse sexual orientation, dysfunctional family life, being single — that we understand. But perhaps, if the teaching of the Cross is logically extended, it means that we should not be so surprised when these things don’t “come right” — and not because of some unconfessed sin. It sounds mad, but if so, it is the foolishness and mystery of the Cross; and the preaching of the Cross provides a way to minister to the lonely, vulnerable and hurting, because it shows those people that God can identify with them and in Christ has done so.

No longer do we have to give easy answers to hard questions.

NO CROSS WITHOUT A CROWN

Up to now I’ve presented the Cross in terms of cost, exile, self-denial. But now I want to look at the other side of the Cross: resurrection, life, power, wisdom, which are manifested when the way of the Cross is followed. There is no cross we carry now without a crown to come.

One of the highest points on the Antarctic continent is Mount Erebus. Photos of that mountain, which would otherwise be pretty featureless, have this distinctive feature: a Cross, which is visible for some miles. It is a memorial to people who died in an air crash on that mountain in 1979. The image is striking; and moving. Two thoughts which arose from seeing that photo:

First, the Cross is the promise of God to us of life in a barren place. You cannot get much more barren, or dry, than Antarctica.

Second, the Cross is God’s promise to us of light in a dark place — for in Greek mythology, Erebus was the god of darkness. Yet the Cross rules there too.

The photo reminded me of the certainty of Resurrection in the battle I was then facing and still am; and not just in respect of being single. What will be true for me will be true for us all. To follow the way of the Cross means that its power — resurrection, salvation, God glorified — can be made available to us.

The Cross is the profound reminder that while God’s Kingdom has not arrived in full, as that awaits Jesus’ coming, the kingdom is dawning, and Jesus’ resurrection was the beginning of that dawn. So we look “East at Easter” to see and live by that coming light, both already and not yet. In looking and following we make it possible for the power of the Cross to be shown among us. It cannot be shown any other way.

NOTES

  1. Matt 10:38 and 16:24; Mk 8″34; Lk 9:23, 14:27; John 12:24.
  2. Austin Baker, The Foolishness of God.
  3. Michael Cole
  4. 1 Cor 1:18ff
  5. Col 2:15
  6. Isa 52:13-53:12
  7. With the notable exception of the depiction in Plato’s Republic, of the death by crucifixion of the Perfect Man.
  8. 2 Cor 10-13; not, as generations of revivalists have thought, the use of an intellectual or reasoned approach to share the Gospel. Paul on Mars Hill, and the letter to the Romans, showed that Paul could well use that approach.
  9. Rev 13:8b
  10. Acts 19:12

© Ross Clark

This article is reprinted with permission from “Reality” magazine, New Zealand’s Christian bimonthly, available by phoning 0800-999-777 or writing Freepost 4428 c/o BCNZ, Private Bag 93-104, Henderson, Auckland 1231.

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Father’s Day? … Bah Humbug!

By Wayne Mytas

It’s not that I have anything against fathersor even having a special day to honor them. But for a child-less man whose image of my own father is criticism and distance, this Sunday morning’s sermon wasn’t exactly making my day. Your Dad as the rock, mentor and best friend? Fine for you; wasn’t that way for me. The joys of loving collision with preadolescent bodies as you walk in the front door? Whatever. Seems this message is succeeding at banging into all my raw bruises. Hey, this service is finally over; I’m outta here.

Almost making my way to the door without saying “Hi” to anyone, I was stopped by a pretty young lady from our youth group. “For Father’s Day,” she said as she placed a bag of cookies in dumbfounded hands.

“Oh….um….thanks!” I replied awkwardly.

Walking to my car, I had to laugh to myself, thinking, “I shouldn’t take these, they aren’t meant for me. I’m not a Dad!” But a grumbling stomach and a hurting, hungry heart took me past the “flee from evil” option, and I pulled one from the zip-lock bag. Savoring melting chocolate chunks and hand-kneaded dough, I was flooded with memories: peering through wavy locks of baby blonde hair as the wrestling five-year-old girl champ pinned me to the floor; holding tightly a sobbing pajama-clad nine-year-old as her warm alligator tears ran from her cheek onto mine, wishing with all my might that I could rescue her from life’s traumas; watching proudly as the young man I was mentoring confidently stood up for a relative’s wedding; having people tell me what a difference I had made in a child’s life.

The caring of an anonymous mom, poured out through a small handful of cookies, had broken through the crust of self pity surrounding a bitter heart. Sugar and shortening and flour and cocoa, seasoned with the salt of my own falling tears, had shown me that God has not forgotten me, but has given me experiences to know what a father’s love is about. My own Heavenly Father, giving me grace when I was appreciating Him the least, had lifted me from the depth and placed me on solid rock … again.

Yes, I still want to be a dad — those feelings never go away. I will, however, choose to proclaim that it is not my parental status that makes me whole, but the love and fullness I receive from my Dad in heaven. Thank you, my Heavenly Father, for blessing me in spite of myself.

As far as my earthly Dad goes, I wonder how distant and critical I would be if I were trying to raise seven kids and keep a failing business afloat. I guess it’s time for a little understanding and grace on my part. Forgive me, Dad.

And one more thing. You know all this talk about chocolate and sugar being bad for you? Don’t believe a word of it.

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Five Steps to Enjoying Christmas

By Fern Horst

No matter whether you look forward to Christmas or dread it, the holiday season is upon us once again. For those who anticipate this time of year, it’s wonderful. But for those who dread the holidays the coming days and weeks can be a real struggle.

Christmas, along with most holidays, is often portrayed as a family holiday, leaving singles feeling a bit uncertain as to where they fit into the picture. But the portrayal of Christmas as a family holiday is grossly inaccurate. Jesus Christ came to the earth as a baby in order to bring salvation for every person, married or single, young or old, with parents or orphaned, childless or having a house full. Ironically, the baby whose birthday we celebrate never became a husband or father, never had a home of His own, and felt out of place in His own home town. If anyone can identify with Jesus, the single person can. So those who are married don’t have a monopoly on Christmas as we singles so often assume. Christmas is for everyone.

So what do we do to make this season a celebration, in spite of the emphasis on family all around us? The following five steps are just a few of the many ways to keep a joyful heart:

Step 1: Assess Our Expectations

The ugly green monster of jealousy is quick to rear it’s ugly head when we think that life must be perfect for the person on the other side of the proverbial fence. The man or woman who has a loving spouse and beautiful children may be struggling with something difficult which we know nothing about.

Just this past week at the doctor’s office, a married woman with children confided in me that this time of year puts her in a bad mood. There’s too much to do and not enough time to do it. She’s glad when January rolls around and all the hustle and bustle is over for another year.

So, just as married people don’t have a monopoly on celebrating Christmas, so singles don’t have a monopoly on dreading it! It’s important to remind ourselves of this, and to reduce our expectations of what Christmas is “supposed” to be. This isn’t just a problem for singles, married people need to lower their expectations for a perfect Christmas also.

Step 2: Slay the Dragon of Self-Pity with Thankfulness

Make it a rule for yourself this year that you won’t allow yourself to indulge in self-pity. Once allowed room in our hearts, self-pity can soon consume us and spoil every bit of pleasure that God has given us. As soon as those thoughts come, rebuke them and replace them with a prayer of thankfulness for what you do have. Everyone has something to be thankful for, and remember – the most important part of Christmas is for everyone.

Step 3: Do Something to Make Christmas Special for Someone Else

All of us likely know someone who may be spending Christmas alone, or who may not have enough money for gifts for their children, whom we can help in some way. If we don’t personally know anyone like this, most nursing homes have individuals who have few visitors. Those who work there are usually glad to make it known who needs some Christmas cheer.

When you’re out and about, smile at those you see. Find opportunities to pass on warm and cheery greetings to those in the check-out lines with you, the cashier, and your neighbors. You never know who may be struggling with the holidays and need a bit of encouragement. You could make their day with just a smile or a cheerful comment.

And, something we often overlook are the families we do have: parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews. Children especially bring out the joy in Christmas and we don’t have to have children of our own in order to enjoy Christmas through their eyes. If you don’t have nieces and nephews, perhaps you can adopt a few at church, or learn to know your friends’ children. Help a child to enjoy Christmas, and you’ll inevitably find some enjoyment yourself.

Step 4: Count Our Blessings

Perhaps you’re feeling like this is getting a bit too Pollyanna-like, and this step takes the cake! But wait, before you stop reading, consider this: what alternatives do we have to listing the many blessings God has given us? We can slip further into depression and despondency, or we can become numb and without feeling. Neither are appealing prospects.

Making a list of the blessings we can celebrate this Christmas season keeps our focus where it should be, on what we do have rather than what we don’t have. Most of us have just as many blessings as those on the other side of the fence. We’ve just focused so long and so often on their blessings that we find it difficult to see our own. No doubt those who are married find themselves doing the same thing.

Step 5: Keep Christ the Center of Christmas

Alright, I admit it, that’s another overused cliche. I’m convinced, though, that it’s overused because it’s so very important. And again, everyone needs to make Christ the center of their Christmas. The busier we are with Christmas preparations, the easier it is to forget the importance of what we are celebrating. Christmas is not about gifts, it’s not about the twinkling eyes of children, it’s not about a Christmas tree and special cookies and a family gathered around a feast on Christmas Day. It’s about Christ and about what He came to give us.

Take time to read the Christmas story several times in the next few weeks, and then read the Easter story also to keep in mind why Christ came. Set up a small nativity in a spot where you see it often and enjoy it with any children who may come to visit. I followed my Mother’s example and bought a plastic set, so that my nieces and nephews could arrange and rearrange the characters without fear of breaking them. I have many fond memories of doing the same as a child with my Mother’s nativity set.

I trust that these ideas will trigger some of your own. Much as we’d sometimes like to, we can’t bury our heads in the sand and pretend that Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and Mother’s and Father’s Days don’t exist. The reminders are everywhere and we can’t escape them. What we can do, though, is determine to enjoy them in our own ways, establishing our own traditions and refusing to succumb to the idea that they are only for those who are married.

My most meaningful Christmas ever was the one when I initially felt despair, but in a special moment at a Christmas Eve service, realized anew that when Christ came to earth, He came because He loved me.

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