Wednesday, December 9, 2015

3 Ways To Celebrate Christmas

Dear Friends,

Have you ever been curious about how Christians around the world celebrate Christmas? In Belgium, Christmas breakfast is a special sweet bread “Cougnou” that’s shaped like the baby Jesus. In Brazil, the poor families who can’t afford a tree use a dry tree branch and put cotton on it to simulate snow. In Finland, at midnight, the Mayor of Turku broadcasts a Christmas peace declaration.The Christmas festivities start with a sauna. Dinner is traditionally boiled codfish or pickled salmon and herrings. In Germany, the lighting of a candle each week on the Advent Wreath is very traditional. After the Christmas dinner of salted, dried fish, German children wait in the dining room until they hear the ringing of a bell and that’s when they rush into the living room to open their gifts. In Hungary, children go to a relatives house and while they are gone, Jesus brings a tree and gifts to their house. 

In Portugal, the traditional dinner is salted, dry codfish with boiled potatoes. (I found many cultures that celebrate Christmas with salted, dried or pickled fish.) In Africa, the most important part of the Christmas church service is the love offering. It’s the birthday gift given to Jesus and each person comes up to the altar and lays down their love offering. On Christmas eve, children in Africa march up and down streets singing Christmas carols and shouting, “Christ is coming, Christ is coming, He is near!” In Bethlehem, the Christian homes are marked with a cross painted over the door and each house has a nativity scene that is handmade by a family member. 

In Russia, Christmas eve is a twelve course meal with each course in honor of one of the twelve apostles and it’s not Santa that brings gifts to Russian children it’s “Babushka.” Babushka means grandmother and the legend is that she declined to go with the Wise Men to visit Jesus because the weather was too cold. However once the Wise Men left, she immediately regretted her decision and filled a basket of gifts for Jesus and hurried to try to catch up to the Wise Men. The ancient Babushka never found the Wise Men or Jesus and that’s why she visits each house leaving gifts for the children.

In America, we have a number of wonderful Christmas traditions as we celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. And, I love the two Finnish ladies who attend our church, but I’m personally grateful that none of our traditions have anything to do with salted, dried or pickled fish! So how can a Christian believer celebrate the birth of Jesus that would truly honor our Lord and Savior? By telling others about Him just as the shepherds did 2,000 years ago. Luke 2:15-17 We have so many opportunities to talk with others about Jesus at this time of year when people are immersed in the Christmas season. Many people struggle with issues of faith, and more than at any other time of year, their ears are open to hearing the Gospel message.

And what was Mary doing this whole time while the shepherds were exclaiming the good news that the Messiah had come? In the middle of the busyness and fussing going on around her, Mary took a break to relax and think. The Christmas story tells us that “..Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.” Luke 2:18-19 There was the Angel Gabriel’s shocking message, the difficult journey and finally the birth of God’s Son in a manger. It must have been overwhelming for this little teen-age girl. In the midst of the most intense drama in human history being played out in the stable, we might imagine Mary lying down on some clean straw, closing her eyes and giving herself a spiritual timeout while pondering the meaning of it all. 

Mary shows us that the second way a believer can celebrate Christmas is to spend quiet time with God. Get away from the busyness of the holiday, make yourself a cup of tea and open your Bible to the first two chapters in Luke. We can take a break from the gift buying, home decorations, baking cookies and, like Mary, give ourselves a spiritual timeout. Perhaps we also need to take a deep breath and just ponder the wonder of it all.

How can we celebrate Christmas? We can tell others about the true reason for our celebration. We can take frequent times during the season to just stop and contemplate it all. And the third thing we can do to celebrate Christmas is to praise and worship God for the redeeming gift of His only Begotten Son. “Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.” Luke 2:20 The shepherds praised God for the birth of Jesus. At Christmas time, there is no other response more appropriate than raising your hands to heaven and crying out in praise to our Almighty Father for the gift of Jesus. Amen?

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