I hope you had a warm and wonderful holiday. We here at bradenbell.com had a delightful and truly blessed holiday--filled with all the joys of the season: faith, family, friends, and fun. It occurs to me that we can perhaps learn much about the nature of God from Christmas. Only a truly loving, deeply good, and abundantly generous God could inspire so many people to be so happy for his birthday--and that happiness is available to everyone, whether they believe or not. It is striking--and instructive--to me that during this time more people follow more closely the example and teachings the Babe of Bethlehem would grow to give, and that they do this without necessarily trying to. It seems to flow much more naturally.
I'm sobered by the tragedies in other parts of the world, where Christians were not able to safely go to church to worship the birth of their Lord, or, where they did go and gave their lives for it.
In times past (and currently, in some places and traditions) the Western world observed twelve days of Christmas. These twelve days came after, not leading up to, Christmas day, culminating with Twelfth Night--which was the traditional time that the Wise Men were believed to have come to see the Baby Jesus. In this paradigm, Christmas Day is the beginning, not the culmination of the celebration of Christ's birth. This is the day of the Feast of Epiphany, which celebrates the revelation or manifestation of Jesus to the world.
I find this a congenial pattern for my own internal observance of Christmas. I love the music and lights, the parties and presents, Santa, Rudolph, and all the merriment that comes with a hearty celebration of Christmas. But I also value quiet introspection and devotion. Thus, I try to celebrate the birth of my Lord while also worshipping him.
Perhaps this is trying to have my cake while eating it, too--but I enjoy the fun and excitement, the recreational aspects of the holiday up until Christmas Day. Then, I shift and in those wonderful quiet, still days between Christmas and New Year, I become introspective and worshipful. For this reason, I've never felt a conflict between the secular and sacred aspects of the holiday.
During this time, I take a long inventory of myself from the previous year. I try to identify the areas, large and small, where my actions have fallen short of the Man from Galilee. I examine the gap between what he taught and what I have done, between his perfect example and my very flawed execution. This is a solemn time for me--introspection is not easy, and it is certainly not pleasant to look at one's shortcomings.
But once I am focused on my failings, the sins of omission and commission, then comes the sweet gift of Divine Grace! And I savor the healing, empowering, redeeming love that took human form in that manger. In other words, I experience my own Epiphany.
Having gone through this process, I am excited to start the New Year, focused on what I can do to be a better man, to be a better father and husband, a better teacher, a better friend, and a better disciple of Jesus Christ.
As part of my personal celebration each year, I usually read George Eliot's Silas Marner. Short and easy to read, it's the tale of a miserly weaver who changes. Life experience, love, and God's grace combine to turn him into a new creature. To me, this is the practical meaning of Christmas, and it is the way I feel closest to my Savior.
Are you all a little tired of The Road Show yet? It's ok, you can be honest. I will admit I'm a little tired of it! I love it and am happy with it and hope it does very well. And, I'm sure I'll be blogging more about it in days to come. But how about we change the subject today?
I do apologize for being behind on my reading of all your blogs. It's been a youth trip to Palmyra, then a youth conference and work stuff and Road Show stuff, so I'm a bit behind. I'll get caught up, though.
For a few months now, I went back to reading the four gospels in the New Testament. I felt myself wanting to reconnect to the Savior. I wanted to refresh my understanding of His life and ministry. I want to be able to follow His example--and to do that, His example needs to be fresh and clear in my mind.
It has been a wonderful experience, a reminder of things I've learned before, and a chance to learn things I had not considered. I've decided all start blogging about some of the thoughts I've had because, well, because I want to and this is my blog. A lot of the things I've noticed this time have to do with discipleship--what it is and how it seems to work. I've noticed some patterns that seem common in the experiences of all that came to Christ then. I think they are still in place for those who come to Him today.
When I opened up to the first page of the Book of Matthew a few months ago, I was overwhelmed by a sweet and profound peace. The strength and comprehensiveness of this peace overwhelmed me. It was like I was returning to a special place, a safe place, a place I knew well. The Book of Mormon uses a phrase I like, "encircled...in the arms of his love." (2 Nephi 1:15). That was how I felt that night.
My spirit bathed in the warmth and love and peace that flowed from my reading that night and when I was finished, i went to sleep, feeling exactly like a small child wrapped in his father's loving embrace.
It's not that the scriptures in the opening of Matthew are so beautiful or powerful that they stirred my spirit. To the contrary--it's 17 verses of "begats". But that was when I felt this love and peace.
It is a little like passing through a very plain front porch and entryway into a home where your parents or grandparents live--a warm and cozy place you feel safe and loved.
But beyond that, I think it was the Holy Spirit saying, "Yes, this is where you should be tonight," validating my attempt to reconnect and renew my acquaintance with my Master.
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