A Spiritual Rest during the Holidays

“Yet with the woes of sin and strife the world hath suffered long;

Beneath the angel-strain have rolled two thousand years of wrong;

And man, at war with man, hears not the love song which they bring:

O hush the noise, ye men of strife, And hear the angels sing.”

from “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” by Edmund Sears

Woes, sin, suffering, years of wrongdoing, war, strife… it seems like I’ve been hearing more of those words than usual these past few years.

So here we are in the end of the year “holiday”. But is it possible to find rest with our spirit so weary from life around us?

Many of the original holidays were holy-days, a time to focus on the spiritual health of individuals, a community or nation. They were intended as an opportunity to put the day-to-day work on hold, in order to have time to intentionally celebrate or remember significant spiritual principles or events.

What about now? Are spiritual matters that important these days?

DCF 1.0

I think so. I believe that we live eternally as a spirit, we have a soul, and we dwell in a body.

It’s easy and natural to focus on the physical and mental parts of our lives. I think that’s because they are, for the most part, visible and tangible. The spiritual side is intangible, however. And intangible may mean hard it’s hard to grasp its significance.

It might be that our spirit just doesn’t make as much noise, so we need some inner quiet to hear it.

What brought this to my attention was really listening to the lyrics of some classic Christmas songs. In them I heard a longing for relief from the powers of evil, from guilt, and from the tendency to sin, to go astray from what is right. And I also heard words of joy and peace coming to hearts of those who had found spiritual hope or rest.

Here are a few examples:

“Long lay the world in sin and error pining, ’til he appear’d and the soul felt its worth. A thrill of hope the weary soul rejoices…” (from “O Holy Night”)

“Then let us all with one accord sing praises to our heavenly Lord;
That hath made heaven and earth of naught, and with his blood mankind hath bought” (from “The First Noel”)

“Fear not then”, said the Angel, “Let nothing you affright… this day is born a savior… To free all those who trust in Him from Satan’s power and might…Oh tidings of comfort and joy!” (from “God rest ye Merry Gentlemen”)

“No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground; he comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found. He rules the world with truth and grace and makes the nations prove the glories of His righteousness and wonders of His love!” (from “Joy to the World”)

We need those things: goodness, light, a savior, mercy, a feeling of worth, reconciliation, fearlessness, deliverance, blessings, truth, grace, love. And when we can’t depend on our physical or mental powers, or mankind, scientists or governments to give them to us, we need to look at the spiritual, the divine.

I know it helps me immensely to focus my mind on spiritual good news. My spiritual beliefs center on Jesus, who created this beautiful world and everything in it, is the highest authority and power, paid the sin-debt I owed, and walks with me through life. What a relief for my conscience, and peace for each day. Now that is tidings of comfort and joy!

This holiday, especially after the strain of 2020, I hope you will find a quiet time to attend to your spirit, get out in nature, talk to God, hear his voice, and respond to Him.

And I wish you a healthy and happy New Year in 2021!

A German Christmas

Today my post is by a guest author, sharing first-hand memories of what Christmas was like for the children of Germany two generations ago.

 *  *  *  *  *  *  *

One of us always wanted to be the first to pull the 30th of November off the calendar, because Dec. 1 marked the beginning of the Christmas season.

The Advent calendar was taped on the window pane, the Advent wreath was hung around the kitchen lamp, the stores were suddenly full of wonder and magic and angel hair, and children began to write their Christmas lists.

Mama would say, “Remember, Sankt Nikolaus is keeping books on everything.” Every time she reminded me I tried very hard not to commit the slightest infraction of the rules and never say, or even think an unkind word. To my sister, the angel, that came natural, and the baby had no rules and couldn’t talk. To be quite honest though, I was always tempted to test Sankt Nikolaus’ omniscience – (or mother’s memory, which I suspected of being an able and willing informer). The only thing which kept me from being tagged incorrigible was the thought of Sankt Nikolaus’ fearsome companion, Krampus, who was known to lack understanding for temperaments such as mine.

I suppose the underlying idea which was being instilled in us was that “You can’t have what you wish for unless you earn it with virtue.”

Advent Calendar “Im Lande des Christkinds” (In the Land of the Christ Child)

On the evening of Dec. 6, (Sankt Nikolaus Day), the children in Germany eagerly await, or dread, the “hour of judgment.” Mothers prepare a festive table with Spekulatius and Pfeffernuesse (the traditional Christmas cookies) and lighted candles as a welcome for the honored visitors. Father is, for different reasons, always out until after “it’s over,” and wide eyed, fidgety children sit humbly on the living room floor. (But no matter how hard you try to look humble, you appear to be holding your breath and jump at the sound of the doorbell.)

Our Sankt Nikolaus was a tall, slender, awe inspiring, yet gentle, figure dressed in a white robe trimmed with gold braid. He wore a tall, pointed bishop’s hat set above kindly eyes and a resolute mouth made softer by the white, wavy beard. With a faint smile and soothing voice, he read from the list of nice and naughty things we had done, and he was surprisingly accurate.

“Well, I will see you all again next year, and I trust I will have nothing but good things to say. God bless.” He patted us gently on the head, winked at Mother and slowly disappeared into the hall.

Then suddenly Krampus appeared in the door. My little sister’s eyes widened, and she gripped my arm. And Krampus did look fearsome! Dressed in black from hood to boot, he carried a switch torn from a tree and a rope in one hand, and a sack flung over his shoulder in the other.

Without saying a word…his kind doesn’t talk…they just get physical…Krampus struck the floor with his switch as he aimed for my legs. At that point I thought I would faint. But then he turned on his heels and quickly left the room. How I wished Papa had been there to see such cruelty to helpless children! But fathers are always out of the room then because they have such important things to do.

Mother, who always had that twinkle in her eyes (a mixture of understanding and gentle reproach) looked at us and said, “Now, remember, you have time to make amends; so be good and keep praying for Christkindl to come.”

Every day until Christmas Eve was a new delight. Every morning we would politely take turns at opening a new window in the Advent calendar, would listen with both ears when Mama or Papa spoke, and were grateful for every encouraging note contained in the 24 little drawers of the Christmas House.

Frau Holly, the fairytale lady in the sky, was shaking her featherbeds and pillows just at a time when the layer of snow wore thin under the sleds, or the frozen leaves clung to the boots when we played in the nearby woods.

Frau Holly, you see, would shake the bedding so hard that the seams popped and all the feathers and down spilled out and made the sky white. We would catch the gaily dancing feathers and watch them melt in our hands.

And our little Bavarian town, surrounded by dark, dense, whispering pines, was the loveliest place on earth.

A day or two before Christmas, Papa would cut a fresh tree in the woods so tall that the star which adorned its tip would touch the ceiling. No one was allowed in the living room; all the hoping, the wondering, the preparing, was done in the family kitchen. At 6 o’clock on the dot, the traditional Christmas Eve dinner of baked fish was served. The magic hour of 7 o’clock seemed an eternity away.

With pounding hearts and flushed faces and deep faith in Christkindl, we’d wait for Papa to ring the bell from the living room. Then we would all rush to the door at once, and there, in the opposite corner of the room, stood the Christmas tree, decorated with white and silvery balls and angel hair, white candles lit to bathe the room in shimmering light, and Wunderkerzen throwing off sparks reflected in children’s eyes.

Lit candles and Wunderkerzen (sparklers) on the Christmas tree

As Papa passed out the presents, the excitement melted into a warm and sublime feeling of happiness and love.

And I quietly vowed, from that day forward, to always be good and kind and forgiving … just like Christkindl.

 *  *  *  *  *  *  *

Thanks Mom!  I can never hear this story too many times. I love you!

 

 Last summer, visiting my mother’s home town of Bayerisch Eisenstein, Germany, for the first time

For a first-hand telling of my own–rather humorous–childhood Christmases, showing the strong German traditions even while growing up in the U.S., you can read my article here.

I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoy hearing it. Merry Christmas! And may the Christ child, the Savior, Emmanuel, be with you always.

 

 

Photo credits:  The photo of St. Nikolaus and Krampus is courtesy of Terrie Schweitzer at Flickr, “St. Nicholas and Krampus”, https://www.flickr.com/photos/terriem/11285200115/.    The gorgeous advent calendar is courtesy of Richard Ernst Kepler [Public domain], https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Richard_Ernst_Kepler_-_Im_Lande_des_Christkinds.jpg.    The lovely winter scene is courtesy of MaxPixel CC0 Public Domain “Snow, Snowfall, Lantern, Lights, Light, Christmas, Mood” https://www.maxpixel.net/Christmas-Snow-Lights-Lantern-Light-Mood-Snowfall-1782614 .  The above black and white photos are from my mom’s scrapbook, and the last color photo is from my camera.

He Lifts his Voice, the Earth Melts

One of my mom’s favorite verses of scripture is Psalm 46:6, so I decided that for Christmas I would make her a poster of the scripture that she could hang on her wall.

I added my visual interpretation of the verse, using pictures that displayed the chaos and terrors of today’s world in contrast with the calm and strength in God Almighty, the highest authority in the universe.

 

My interpretation of the last line is that many people’s hearts are raging, hardened and cold, toward others and toward God. But when God speaks, when we hear the truth, and when we know who He is that is speaking, that ice melts. Then He gives us a “new heart” that can hear him speak and submits to his perfect government of our lives and our world.

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.

I also believe that the word-picture of the earth melting is related to the breaking, or melting, of the power of sin, which is what Jesus accomplished in dying on the cross.

Notice that the scripture says He will put his spirit in those who trust him, and “move you to follow” His decrees and laws. Instead of waiting for us to get it together and pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, he enables us to follow him.

 

If you like the poster, you can download it below for free, as my little Christmas gift to you!

Click here for the JPEG image

Click here for the PDF image

 

Merry Christmas, and I wish you a wonderful 2018!

P.S. Here are some of my other Christmas posts you might like!

Not a Normal Rockwell Christmas

I bring you Great News!

The Bells Still Ring Peace

A Personal Celebration

Joy to the world! the Lord is come; let earth receive her king.

–Isaac Watts, Joy to the World

All week I’ve had this song in my mind. I’d start many days with it as a way to counter my early morning tangle of thoughts and concerns. It has been refreshing to correct my thinking with this truth.

Today is Christmas. Shopping and wrapping, feasting and laughing and hugging, church and singing have all brought me so much joy. Now, at this moment I am alone. We’re not supposed to be alone at Christmas, apparently, but it can be lovely.

I have just walked through a snowy forest, said “Merry Christmas” to large families I passed on the path, breathed in the aromatic blue smoke of campfires and watched the children sled down the hill. I am also thinking about the true meaning of Christmas, and checking to see if I really do celebrate it.

Does Christ’s birth make such a difference in my life that I actually rejoice about it? Yes, I realize it does. God came to earth as a human being, and my most essential needs are satisfied by what Jesus accomplished.

He rules the world with truth and grace

I am truly at peace. I guess that’s because I believe that the important things are taken care of. I have peace with God, a clear conscience, and I rest in the hope of heaven and eternal life. The God of all creation forgave—and forgives—me, because Jesus paid for my life with his.

I have an overall purpose in life, and that is satisfying. I am humble when I sit down to talk to God, but I am not timid because he is full of grace. I feel important and valuable to him, and when I ask for his help for a loved one, or myself, I am certain that he is moved to action.

Wonders of his love

When things go wrong, when something frightens or upsets me, I know that eventually I can find understanding and guidance. The Bible is full of help and promises that God’s spirit will teach and comfort us. Even the very act of praying begins to set things right.

Now as I leave the forest and drive home on sparsely populated streets, I smile as I see empty parking lots in front of all the stores and businesses, because it means that as a society we have chosen to honor this day, and cease from our other distractions.

This holiday—this holy day—celebrates the fact that Almighty God wanted to draw close to us. He wanted this so much that he came to live on this earth through his human son, Jesus, and made himself visible, audible, touchable, loveable and most importantly, REACHABLE.

This is what I’m celebrating.

Let every heart prepare him room, and heaven and nature sing.

(Originally posted December 2011)

I Bring You Great News

Christmas angel
Good tidings of great joy…Emmanuel…God with us.

 

Christmas, to me, is evidence that God wants to be with us—near us—not far away.

 

That changes everything I used to believe about God being a looming taskmaster whose main purpose was to hand out a list of rules and dire consequences with a warning, “Now don’t mess up!”

 

Christmas shows the fallacy of a distant, indifferent Higher Being, chuckling and sighing as we struggle on our own to figure out the mysteries of our spiritual path and the secret to happiness and peace.

 

Christmas is the most visible and tangible expression of God pro-actively coming to live our lives with us—first in Jesus over 2,000 years ago, and ever since then in his Spirit—simply because he loves us. And that reaching for us, pursuing us, walking with us in every experience we have, was not a one-time thing. It has happened since the beginning of humankind, and happens everyday. And if we look with eyes of faith we’ll see it.

 

That is the good news the angels told of in Bethlehem. “Good”? I would call this great news! No wonder they sang their highest praises to glorify God.

 

God reaching for us...by sending Jesus
God reaching for us…by sending Jesus

 

 

Photos courtesy of Waiting for the Word at Flickr:  Good Tidings 08 https://www.flickr.com/photos/waitingfortheword/6369654687, God the Father 11 https://www.flickr.com/photos/waitingfortheword/5546445177

He appeared, and the soul felt its worth…

Merry Christmas!

See how valuable you are to Almighty God, as you read each word of this song, one of my favorites…

nativity-10

O Holy Night!
The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of our dear Saviours birth;
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
‘Til He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn;
Fall on your knees,
Oh, hear the angels voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born!
O night, O holy night, O night divine!

Led by the light of faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand;
So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming,
Here came the wise men from Orient land.
The King of kings lay thus in lowly manger,
In all our trials born to be our Friend;
He knows our need,
To our weakness is no stranger.
Behold your King, before Him lowly bend!
Behold your King, before Him lowly bend!

Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His gospel is peace;
Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother,
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name;
Christ is the Lord,
Oh, praise His name forever!
His powr and glory evermore proclaim!
His powr and glory evermore proclaim!

 

God bless you!

 

{This version by John Sullivan Dwight}

A Personal Celebration

Joy to the world! the Lord is come; let earth receive her king.

–Isaac Watts, Joy to the World

All week I’ve had this song in my mind. I’d start many days with it as a way to counter my early morning tangle of thoughts and concerns. It has been refreshing to correct my thinking with this truth.

Today is Christmas. Shopping and wrapping, feasting and laughing and hugging, church and singing have all brought me so much joy. Now, at this moment I am alone. We’re not supposed to be alone at Christmas, apparently, but it can be lovely.

I have just walked through a snowy forest, said “Merry Christmas” to large families I passed on the path, breathed in the aromatic blue smoke of campfires and watched the children sled down the hill. I am also thinking about the true meaning of Christmas, and checking to see if I really do celebrate it.

Does Christ’s birth make such a difference in my life that I actually rejoice about it? Yes, I realize it does. God came to earth as a human being, and my most essential needs are satisfied by what Jesus accomplished.

He rules the world with truth and grace

I am truly at peace. I guess that’s because I believe that the important things are taken care of. I have peace with God, a clear conscience, and I rest in the hope of heaven and eternal life. The God of all creation forgave—and forgives—me, because Jesus paid for my life with his.

I have an overall purpose in life, and that is satisfying. I am humble when I sit down to talk to God, but I am not timid because he is full of grace. I feel important and valuable to him, and when I ask for his help for a loved one, or myself, I am certain that he is moved to action.

Wonders of his love

When things go wrong, when something frightens or upsets me, I know that eventually I can find understanding and guidance. The Bible is full of help and promises that God’s spirit will teach and comfort us. Even the very act of praying begins to set things right.

Now as I leave the forest and drive home on sparsely populated streets, I smile as I see empty parking lots in front of all the stores and businesses, because it means that as a society we have chosen to honor this day, and cease from our other distractions.

This holiday—this holy day—celebrates the fact that Almighty God wanted to draw close to us. He wanted this so much that he came to live on this earth through his human son, Jesus, and made himself visible, audible, touchable, loveable and most importantly, REACHABLE.

This is what I’m celebrating.

Let every heart prepare him room, and heaven and nature sing.

Review of The Taste of Snow

by Stephen V. Masse

Illustrated by Brian Allen
©2012 Good Harbor Press
For Ages 8 – 14

This sweet story takes us along with the close-knit Kinders family through the days leading to Christmas in the small Austrian town of Gartendorf. We see life through the eyes of an eleven-year-old girl, Nicole, who has received a “magic candy cane” and shares a secret with her spunky little sister.

The descriptions of the mountainous regions surrounding the town, and of the town itself, are a delight. Fascinating details of everyday life made me not only want to be there, but made me feel like I have lived there. I particularly treasured all the references to the Advent and Christmas traditions, and the distinctively Austrian holiday foods, because most of them were familiar to me from my mother’s anecdotes of growing up in Germany. What a great way to introduce children and young adult readers to this way of life!

By Stephen V. MasseMama and Papa tell the girls about the meanings behind holiday customs, and about friends and relatives of the past and present, which were all captivating accounts, but often these pulled me out of the storyline. As delightful as these narratives were, I was confused for most of the book, trying to find the path of the storyline amid these other diversions. Yet in the end, I realized that they were the strength of the book for me. Among other things, I learned a lot about the realities of hardship and war in a country’s and a family’s past. I enjoyed living with this affectionate family whose world is so different from an urban North American world.

Young readers will enjoy the realistic relationships between characters. Nicole is quite independent for a girl her age, and her independence leads her into a dangerous situation which is described in characteristic detail. This provides yet another unique experience for the reader and sets up a satisfying ending to an all-around wholesome story.

The delicate designs on the first page of each new chapter enchanted me , and the gentle tone throughout the book was soothing. I was completely surprised by the recipes and photos at the end, and the personal notes about the chefs who shared them. What an ingenious idea!

This book isn’t meant to be a fast-paced page-turner populated by witty youngsters. Rather, it is a taste of how joyful an ordinary life can be in a small community joining to celebrate the true spirit of the holiday, without turning it into a reason to go shopping. It shows yearly traditions tightening the bonds of parents and children who do things together, and who care deeply for each other.

I was so excited when the author asked me to review this new story for children and young adults, and truly hope that my readers will experience it for themselves.