What Are We Celebrating?

It’s that time of year again!

Time for making cookies, shopping for gifts, decorating the Christmas tree and all our house inside and out. Time for family gatherings, parties at friends, watching Hallmark Christmas movies. The list goes on and on.

As I listen to people talk about the holiday, it almost seems at times as if it is more of a stressful time for some than a joyous celebration. People wonder if they will get the right gift for that special someone, if their decorations will look as nice as the neighbor’s next door, if they will have enough time for all they need to do to celebrate this holiday.

And I have to ask myself: what are we celebrating?

The Early Church did not celebrate Christmas. For them the important date was the day Jesus arose from the grave. Granted without His birth He could not have grown up and died for us. But for the Early believers, the important thing to celebrate was His resurrection. Two of the Gospels do not even mention the birth of Jesus but all four Gospels give great detail of the last days of His life as He was crucified, buried and rose again. The Aposle Paul shared that this was the heart of the good news.

Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

Doing some research into church history, I discovered that the first Christmas was celebrated December 25, 336. The Roman emperor Constantine decreed this celebration to take place throughout the Roman Empire and Pope Julus I selected the date of December 25. Bible scholars tell us there is nothing in the Bible or in Early Church history to know the date of the birth of Jesus. Many reason that it was more lately that his birth was in the spring. Would shepherds be out on the hills with their sheep in the middle of winter?

Many pagan societies observed this date as a celebration of the winter solstice. This was the shortest day of the year and would lead to the return of the sun. In ancient Germanic cultures, they would burn a Yule log, light bonfires, tell stories and drank ale. Ancient Romans had a seven-day celebration, Saturnalia, beginning December 17. They would have a sacrifice at the temple of Saturn followed by several days of a carnival atmosphere. oldest winter celebrations in the world.

It is believed by many scholars that the Pope chose December 25 to try to turn people away from the celebration of Saturnalia and begin to follow the Christian way of life.

Whatever the reason for the choice of December 25 it has come down to us as the day to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

But again, I ask: what are we celebrating?

I recently visited a Christmas celebration at a local mall. I wondered what someone who had no knowledge of our customs and came to the celebration would think it was all about. There were all kinds of items with Santa Claus, the elves, the reindeer. But I saw nothing about the stable, the manger, Jesus.

Now – do I sound like Scrooge?

I certainly do not mean to. I love the decorations, the Christmas movies of the Elf on the Shelf and all that goes with our holiday in America. This week I will be busy putting up my tree and decorating my home all in red and gold, looking for that perfect gift for my husband.

But I wonder: What if you were told your friends were going to have a party to celebrate your birthday. You get excited and come to the party expecting greetings from everyone – and maybe some presents. You arrive early because you are so happy your friends want to celebrate this day with you. When you arrive, no one acknowledges your presence. No one offers you a seat at the table. There are no signs saying, “Happy birthday.” Instead, another person is seated at the head of the table. Everyone is talking to him, wanting to have their picture taken with him, toasting him. You are totally ignored.

You might go home wondering: what were they celebrating?

I hope you will enjoy this month and all the food, decorations, shopping, family gathering, parties. But I hope you will truly remember who and what we are celebrating.

I hope you will take time to listen to this song – and ask yourself: what am I celebrating?

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Carol of the Bells – The Story Behind the Christmas Song

Normally on Friday I post a list of ten things I have found interesting in my reading and listening to various speakers. For the month of December, I am going to instead post the history of a beloved Christmas song.

The one today is one I hope you will take time to read – and then pray for the Ukrainian nation.

I have always loved this song. It is so cheerful and full of the holiday spirit at Christmas time.

The song first came to worldwide recognition when the Ukrainian National Chorus conducted by Alexander Koshetz performed at Carnegie Hall in October 1922. Dressed in their traditional embroidered dress the audience responded to their rendition of the song by cheering for encores and throwing flowers on the stage.

This traditional Ukrainian song was listed on the playbill as “Shchedryk.” This was actually a pagan folk song that was sung on the New Year and had nothing to do with bells or Christmas. The song tells of a swallow summoning the master of the house to look at the coming spring season and the harvest it will bring. In 1916 composer and teacher, Mykola Leontovych added music to the lyrics. He had worked for several years on his arrangement and orchestration of “Shchedryk.” He sent his arrangement to the director of the National Chorus in August 1916 and several months later it was performed by the choir in Kyiv.

Original version of the Ukrainian song

This song is closely associated with Ukraine’s history. When the Romanov dynasty fell in March 1917, the Ukrainian People’s Republic was declared in 1918. Its president, Symon Petilura, wanted the world to know about Ukrainian culture in the hopes it would gain support for his new state. So, the Ukrainian National Chorus began a worldwide tour. On their tour they would pass out brochures with information about their new country.

While the choir was touring Europe and the USA, the Cheka, which later became the KGB, began killing thousands in an effort to bring Ukraine back into Russia which was now ruled by the Bolsheviks. This period became known as the Red Terror.

This terror reached to the composer of this song. On January 23, 1921, the composer was shot by an agent of the Soviets, Afanasy Grishchenko. He had asked for shelter for the night at the composer’s family home. During the night he shot Leontovych with a rifle.

Hearing a performance of the original song, Peter J. Wilhousky copyrighted the music and wrote new lyrics (not based on the Ukrainian folk song) which he published in 1936. The new version became popular in the USA and Canada and became associated with Christmas.

By 1921, the short-lived People’s Republic had fallen. Its terriitories were divided between Russia, Poland, Romanis and Czechoslovakia. It was not until the collapose of the Soviet Union in 1991 that Ukraine became an independent nation once again.

While we enjoy this cheerful song with its cheerful lyrics, let us remember we owe our thanks to the Ukrainian nation for this song. Let us pray for this people who have fought so hard and so long for their own country.

Our American version

The Party’s Over

It is now four days since Christmas. I have my Christmas decorations all boxed up and downstairs in the storage room. Today I am dusting, vacuuming and doing whole house cleaning. Getting rid of the cookie crumbs in the carpet, the shiny tinsel that dropped from the tree ornaments as we took them off the tree. Giving my stove a good cleaning and getting rid of leftovers we did not eat

Many love to keep their Christmas decorations up until after the New Year. But I am not one of those. I love Christmas and look forward to putting up the tree and getting out my candles and angels. As soon as Thanksgiving day is over we decorate.

But to be honest, as much as I love the bright lights by the end of December I am ready to get back to more “normal.” Out goes the angels and snowmen and “Jesus is the reason for the season” and in comes the family photographs and winter decorations.

Although I know spring is still a long way off, now is when I start thinking of planting new flowers and longing for the first pop of daffodils in the spring. This year our daughter in North Carolina sent my husband some seeds from her own flower garden. We are really looking forward to having flowers from our daughter’s garden. Already thinking about where we will plant each packet of seeds.

For some there can be a little depression or feeling of loss after all the time spent shopping, decorating, baking and all the family gatherings and other Christmas events. For me, I feel a new sense of “let’s clean house and start planning for next year.”

But as the festivities of Christmas is over and we put up the decorations and move back to “normal” life, I wonder do we just as quickly put Jesus back in the box. We did our thing – we went to Christmas Eve service and sang “Silent Night.” Now we move on.

We often see signs at Christmas time that say “Keep Christ in Christmas.” I often wonder when people say that, what happens after Christmas. Should we not keep Christ in every day, every season, all the time?

As I try not to grumble about the cold and snow and look forward to planting my flower seeds in the spring, I want to keep Christ in each and every day.

Hope you do also!

Merry Christmas!!!!

To all my friends and readers, it is my prayer that you have a great day!

Merry Christmas from St Johns Michigan!

The Greatest Man in History… Jesus; Had no servants, yet they called Him Master. Had no degree, yet they called Him Teacher. Had no medicines, yet they called Him Healer. He had no army, yet kings feared Him. He won no military battles, yet He conquered the world. He did not live in a castle, yet they called Him Lord, He ruled no nations, yet they called Him King, He committed no crime, yet they crucified Him. He was buried in a tomb, yet He lives today (Lyle C Rollings III, 2008).

by https://gracequotes.org

Are You Anticipating?

Although it has been years ago, I still remember the day when I heard I was going to be a mother. What excitement as my husband and I began planning for this addition to our family.

I read books on child care. We began shopping for a crib, a baby bed, and tried to decide if we should use cloth diapers as our mothers did or go with the modern throw away kind. We picked out a new paint color for the nursery. I enjoyed a baby shower given by friends and had such joy finding a place for all the gifts.

After a few months while I still found joy in the waiting for this child, I also began to really long for the nine months to end and the child to come. There was morning sickness that seemed to never end, back aches as my stomach got bigger and bigger. The closer I got to the expected delivery date it seemed the more active my child became. It was hard to sleep at night as no matter how I laid, she seemed to move and turn and I was miserable. Sometimes I could feel what I realized must be a foot or a hand and my excitement grew.

See the source image

The time for her delivery came – and went. Now my anticipation grew stronger. Come child, come. I am so tired, so miserable and long to be delivered from this stage. But even more, I am so anxious to meet you.

For nine months I have thought about nothing much but you. I have wondered if you would be a girl or boy. I prayed that you would be healthy and have all your toes and fingers. Often I tried to imagine what you would look like. Would you have my red hair or my husband thick, dark hair? For nine months you have been the center of my thoughts. Everything has evolved around “when the baby gets here.”

As the delivery date passed, my anticipation grew much stronger. Every morning I would wake thinking “will this be the day?” Every night I went to bed thinking “will the baby come tonight?”

Then it happened. Sitting in my living room with my husband, my water broke. What excitement as we grabbed the bag we had packed a few weeks before for my stay in the hospital. Thankful that we lived only a few blocks from the hospital, we hurried to the car and were filled with such excitement. The baby was finally coming!

At the hospital there was still a time of waiting. The doctor said “yes, the baby is almost here. Just a few more hours.”

My husband paced the floor as I prayed the baby would come soon. It was painful and I wanted the pain to end, but more than the pain, I longed to finally hold this child in my arms.

After a few hours, the baby was born! I still remember as if it was yesterday, the moment I held her in my arms. To finally see her face to face. To be able to count her toes and fingers, to look into her beautiful hazel eyes, just like her Daddy’s. To whisper to her how much I loved her and how I had longed for her arrival.

It’s Christmas time. We are excited about the day. Seeing family members, opening presents, enjoying a great feast.

But I wonder, do we really understand what this time of Advent should be about? How much do we anticipate the return of our Lord? Do we even think about it?

Does the thought of His return fill us with excitement? Do we count the years since His promise and wonder “When will you return?” Do we think about what it will mean to see HIm face to face? Does that thought fill us with wonder?

There is such chaos in our world today. Covid has created health issues, and divided people on what our response should be. Politics have beoome so ugly, so divisive. Many are suffering financially. Fires in California, tornadoes in Kentucky. Almost weekly we hear of a shooting in a mall, in a factory and now even in our churches and schools. We are like a woman in the last months of pregnancy, hoping for deliverance soon.

But where do we turn for deliverance? Some are thinking if we can just get Donald Trump back in the White House all will be well. Others think if we can just get rid of Donald Trump and keep Biden in the White House all will be well. Some are hoping Congress will pass some legislature that will solve it all. Just the right action by them and suddenly the Covid crisis will pass, the economy will get better, the violence will be controlled.

As for me, while I have no idea when that day will come just as I did not know the exact day my child would be born, I live in anticipation.

“And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

Just as I did not sit around doing nothing when I was told I was pregnant, so must we not just sit around and wait for the day of His return. I was busy preparing. How do we prepare for the Lord’s return? He told us in HIs parables. We work to help others, to make our world as much like His kingdom as we can. To be His hands, his eyes, his arms to those in need until He returns and makes all things right.

This season, I encourage you to seek to do all you can to reach out in His love to the hurting world as you wait for His return.

And in all the dinners, parties, family gatherings, please take time to remember what this season should really mean to us. And in all the chaos, frustrations of daily life right now, remember our Lord will return. While we wait, work to be His hands and feet to help those in need.

There’s a light upon the mountains,
  and the day is at the spring,
When our eyes shall see the beauty
  and the glory of the King;
Weary was our heart with waiting, and
  the night-watch seemed so long,
But His triumph-day is breaking, and
  we hail it with a song.

In the fading of the starlight we can
  see the coming morn;
And the lights of men are paling in
  the splendors of the dawn;
For the eastern skies are glowing as
  with lights of hidden fire,
And the hearts of men are stirring
  with the throb of deep desire.

There’s a hush of expectation, and
  a quiet in the air;
And the breath of God is moving in
  the fervent breath of prayer;
For the suffering, dying Jesus is the
  Christ upon the throne,
And the travail of our spirit is the
  travail of His own.

He is breaking down the barriers,
  He is casting up the way;
He is calling for His angels to build
  up the gates of day;
But His angels here are human, not
  the shining hosts above,
For the drum-beats of His army are
  the heart-beats of our love.

(Henry Burton – 1578-1648)

While We Wait

This time of Advent we not only remember the birth of our Savior but we also look forward with anticipation to His return. We sometimes long for that day when evil will finally be completely defeated and peace will truly reign.

But what do we do while we wait?

We often pray the Lord’s prayer where we ask that “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” With that prayer we try to imagine what this world would be like if God’s will was completely done on earth?

But what do we do while we wait?

We admire the beautiful sunsets, enjoy the waves of the ocean crashing onto the shore, stand in awe of the majestic mountains and long for a world free of man’s pollution. Our imagination paints us a picture of what the world must have looked like in the very beginning of creation. How we long for the day when the earth will be restored to that beauty.

But what do we do while we wait?

As we look at the chaos and tragedies all around us, we can begin to even lose hope. We can wonder if God has abandoned us.

But what do we do while we wait?

We must remember that we who call ourself Christians, followers of Christ, are called to be His representatives in this world. While we wait for that day when He returns, even now in us we can allow God’s will to be done in our lives. We can surrender our own desires, our own opinions, our own will and allow Him to use us to reach out to others.

‘Wherever God rules over the human heart as King, there is the kingdom of God established.” Paul W. Harrison

“The church is not a fortress community waiting for a future kingdom. Rather, we realize that the Kingdom of God has already arrived, in part…The church is God’s eschatological community, drawing the future into the present, living out Kingdom values and inviting the world to experience its power now….As God’s eschatological community, we hope for ultimate redemption din the future. But, in the present, we break down barriers and bear each other’s brokenness. Through this here and now experience, Christ’s bride, the church, begins to take on the beauty that will be hers when He comes to claim her as His own.” Brad Harper

But what do we do while we wait?

Let us continue to look with hope to His return. But let us not be guilty of just standing around waiting for “someday.” Let us do all we can to show the world what it means to be part of God’s kingdom even here in this world we share. Let us allow God’s Holy Spirit to move through us to bring a little bit of “heaven” to our friends, neighbors, community.

My Christmas Wish Book

Still love the memories of that Montgomery Ward catalog.

Grandma's Ramblings

MW Christmas catalog

Growing up every year as fall began, I would begin getting excited when the mailman came.  I would come home from school and ask my mother, “Did it come today?”   Anticipation grew each day until finally Mom would smile and say “Here it is!”  How excited I would be as I opened the Montgomery Wards Christmas catalog.

Aaron Montgomery Ward launched the nation’s first mail-order business with a one-page price list boasting 163 items, which he sent to farmers’ cooperatives throughout the rural Midwest.   Unlike existing mail-order businesses that dealt only in individual items, Ward offered the rural consumer a variety of merchandise and, by eliminating the middleman, kept prices low. His new business found a ready market as homesteaders pushed west across the frontier. By the spring of 1874, his price list had grown to 32 pages and was bound into a catalog. Ward offered a guarantee – “Satisfaction…

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I Don’t Like Waiting

I hate waiting in line at the grocery store. I hate waiting in the doctor’s office. I hate waiting on my husband who is always talking to someone wherever we go. Did you notice? I don’t like waiting.

This Sunday marks the first Sunday of what the church calls Advent. Growing up in a non-liturgical church I never really celebrated Advent as it is done in main stream churches that follow a church calendar recognizing certain festivals and reading certain portions of Scripture. Only in the past few years have I come to appreciate this observance of “waiting.”

“Advent” literally means “coming” or “arrival.” It is a Latin term which was used when translating the Bible from Greek. In the Greek the word used is “parousia.” It meant “a coming” or “presence.” In the Early Church this term quickly became associated with the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ disciples were waiting for His return – as the Christian church still is today.

This season of Advent is a time of waiting for the coming of Jesus. We celebrate it from three different views.

First, we remember His first coming to earth in Bethlehem. What a time to remember and celebrate. That the Creator of the universe was willing to become one of us is amazing! To subject Himself to human limitations was in itself quite a sacrifice. But He not only came to be one of us – but chose to be born to a poor, simple carpenter and his wife.

This is also a time to celebrate His coming into our own life. To reflect on what his birth, death and resurrection means to us personally. In all the busyness of the season, we need to schedule some time to examine our own heart and make sure we have really made room for Him in our own heart, our own mind, our own life. To remember the real reason for the season.

Finally it is a time to remember that Jesus has promised to return again. We can get so focused on the “here and now” that we lose sight of that hope of the Christian. In today’s world when so much is chaotic it is good to remember we have hope beyond this life.

I hope you will take time this month to “wait” and reflect on the true meaning of Christmas.

See you next year Santa!

And just like that – Santa is gone for another year. But Jesus remains all year long. His gifts are year-round.

Santa comes but once a year; Jesus is an ever-present help; Santa fills your stocking with goodies; Jesus supplies all your needs.

Santa comes down your chimney uninvited; Jesus stands at your door and knocks, and then enters your heart when invited.

Santa Claus lets you sit on his lap; Jesus lets you rest in His arms; Santa may make you chuckle; Jesus gives you joy that is your strength; Santa lives at the North Pole; Jesus is everywhere present; Santa says you better not cry; Jesus says “come unto me all you who are weary.”

How Did the Baby Change Your Life?

I wrote this three years ago – but wondering again this year – after all the decorations are put up, after all the Christmas songs are put away until next year, after we have posted all our pictures on FB, has the baby made a difference in your life for 2021?

Grandma's Ramblings

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One last look this time around

Brrrrr! It’s so cold outside. So today while staying snug inside I read and thought one more time on the Christmas story which we have just observed. Now it’s time to move forward and begin thinking about spring and about the resurrection story.

But one writer I read during the Christmas season still speaks to me.

…the Christmas story is not just for observing, but for participating. A long time ago, Jesus Christ was born. But today, Christ is born in us. And so we would be wise to spend some time wondering with the sheep and the shepherds, how does this baby change my life?

Sarah Cunningham

For 2017 – how has this baby changed your life?

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