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.
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