Friday, January 06, 2006

Do You Hear What I Hear?

“And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.” ~ Mark 9:24 (KJV)

I raise my hands, bow my head
I'm finding more and more truth in the words written in red
They tell me that there's more to life than just what I can see
Oh, I believe

I can't quote the book
The chapter or the verse
You can't tell me it all ends
In a slow ride in a hearse
You know I'm more and more convinced
The longer that I live
Yeah, this can't be
No, this can't be
No, this can't be all there is . . .

Believe ~ Recorded by Brooks and Dunn

Christmas is a time when we all take a little closer look at exactly what we believe and in Whom we believe.

This past week in our local paper, a citizen expressed her dismay over the fact that people were talking about Christmas being over already, when, according to her Christian beliefs, the twelve days of Christmas would not be over until January 5th. The writer stated that she felt compelled to make a witness to what she believed. “Love (Jesus Christ) came at Christmas and is not gone,” she wrote. “Love came at Christmas and will never go away.” She went on to say that it is wonderful to live in a country where she can hold these views and express them publicly.

The controversy over whether to say Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays was another issue which generated deep emotions and diverse opinions. My high school history teacher from Singapore had this to say on the subject: “Thanks for sending Merry Christmas greetings. If I get another “Happy Holidays” card I am gonna barf!! (And that is from a total unbeliever).”

More than anything, I think it is important for each of us to respect the differences in others – whether we agree with them or not. As author Naomi Patterson said in a recent column: “We’re all more alike than different. Where differences do arise, respect and protect them. Honor diverse gifts. There is no one to envy or idolize and no one to whom you should feel superior.

From the time God created the heavens and the earth, and later mankind (if you believe that He did, which I do), He has been the best example of this philosophy. God told Adam and Eve that they could enjoy the fruit of every tree in the Garden of Eden – except one. Being typical children, they disobeyed and did the very thing their Father told them not to do. The point I’m trying to make is that God could have built a barbed wire fence around the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. I mean, He was God, so He could have forced Adam and Eve to obey Him and do things His way. But God relinquished His right to control His creation from the very onset, because He doesn’t want anyone to be forced to follow Him, serve Him or love Him. God is all about free will and freedom of choice. He offers us His love, His gift of salvation and His promise of total forgiveness and an eternity in Heaven – but it is up to us whether we choose to accept His free gift.

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.” ~ Revelations 3:20 (NKJV)

In the past I have often shared stories I received from Larry Perry who lives in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee with his wife, Eloise. Larry is a Christian who always shows the utmost respect for people of all faiths, as evidenced by the Christmas newsletter he sent out this past year. (Larry's e-newsletter, "Letters from Larry," is sent to over 40 countries around the world.) His Christmas newsletter contained three parts; one was titled, “To All of our Christian Friends Around the World”, the second was titled, “To our many Jewish Friends around the world”, and the third was, “To our many Muslim Friends around the world.” In each of the parts he shared a story which explained the beliefs and celebrations of the three different religions. At the end, Larry and Eloise wished all of their friends a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and Happy Ramadan.

Now some might question Larry’s approach or disagree with it altogether, but I believe Larry is right on. As Christians, we are instructed by God to walk in love towards all of our brothers and sisters.

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” ~ I John 4:7-11 (NKJV)

My other friend, who is also named Larry, shared some wonderful quotes in the latest edition of his e-newsletter titled, “On the Singapore.” Here are two of those quotes:

“My idea of Christmas, whether old-fashioned or modern, is very simple: Loving others. Come to think of it, why do we have to wait for Christmas to do that?”

~ Bob Hope (1903-2003)

“Let us remember that the Christmas heart is a giving heart, a wide open heart that thinks of others first. The birth of the baby Jesus stands as the most significant event in all history, because it has meant the pouring into a sick world the healing medicine of love which has transformed all manner of hearts for almost two thousand years . . . .underneath all the bulging bundles is this beating Christmas heart.”

~ George Mathew Adams, Michigan newspaper columnist


I received this next Christmas letter from Shawn (one of Patricia’s dear friends and now one of mine), whose writing style seems poetic to me:

It is a bittersweet Christmas. Lucy is full of the magic of Christmas. I have been lax in my Christian duties of really explaining Christmas to her but she is on track now. She asked me, “Now Mama, exactly whose birthday is on Christmas?” So we talked about baby Jesus, who she insists on calling “she” no matter how many times I tell her Jesus is a boy. My boss gave her a nativity set that she loves to play with and then take the baby “she” Jesus out so she can take her on a sleigh ride. They get in the sled and fly up into the sky. We will be making a chocolate cake for the baby's birthday.

I really do miss Patricia right now. This is the age she was looking forward to teaching all of those traditions from your family like the songs and simple rituals for the holidays. Lucy would have eaten them up. She has a bit of Patricia's spirit in her. Her enthusiasm for other people reminds me daily of Patricia. She loves to say, “Hooray” for (whomever) and (their accomplishment).

It has been nice to receive you reflections. I am so glad to hear how well your son and his family have recovered from the hurricane, etc. Family is a great thing to have in years like this. I am glad to hear that you have had so much good to temper the not so good times this year.

We hope you have a wonderful holiday season and a really peaceful New Year!

Love, Shawn and Lucy

Yes, Christmas is also a time to remember the loved ones we have lost in the past year or years. As a friend of mine (who also lost her sister) wrote: “The years bring both sweet and sad.” Yet, during these times of reflection we are reminded of how precious life is, and how we should treasure each and every day as if it were our last. Most importantly, we are reminded to not only cherish those we love and who love us, but all people with whom we cross paths, because we are all God’s children and part of the same family. So let’s carry on the Christmas Spirit all throughout the coming year!

In closing, I’d like to share the following poem, which was sent to me by Patricia’s partner and my precious sister, Nikki:

The Work of Christmas
By Howard Thurman

When the song of angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:

to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the brothers,
to make music in the heart

“May the God of peace, who . . . brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing His will, and may He work in us what is pleasing to Him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”
~ Hebrews 13:20-21

Patricia enjoying the sunset