Christmas

Elizabeth’s Gift

Sometimes I think that if Elizabeth’s story had happened back in the Old Testament, we’d spend much more time on it than we do and be much more amazed by it than we are. Instead, we kind of tend to regard her as a footnote in the Christmas story, overshadowed by the story of Jesus’ incarnation.

And I’m sure Elizabeth is totally fine with that. Like her own son said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

But Elizabeth’s story is a rich gift to Christ’s birth narrative, adding wonder and awe to the divine beauty of the tale. It is also God’s gift to us as Christian women, giving us a sister in Christ to look up to and learn from.

In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.

Luke 1:5-7

Elizabeth was righteous before God. She walked blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. Like you and me, she wasn’t perfect. She still fell into sin. But because she loved the Lord, she repented, and strove to live her life to please Him.

But Elizabeth also knew sorrow. She and Zechariah had no child. She had been barren for all of her childbearing years, and now she was elderly – some scholars estimate at least 60 years old – and long past menopause.

If you or someone you know has ever experienced the heartbreak of infertility, you know just how painful that is. And in biblical times, culture added insult to injury in a lot of ways. It was assumed any infertility was a problem with the woman, when today we know that men can also be infertile.

Because children are a blessing from the Lord and the fruit of the womb is a reward, and because God sometimes closed the wombs of certain women in Scripture as a result of sin – it was often assumed that if you weren’t having children you were cursed by God, or your barrenness was some sort of punishment for sin.

And in addition to all of that, in that day and time, women were “low man on the totem pole” so to speak. They were regarded as less than men in practically every way- intelligence, abilities, worth, and so on. They couldn’t testify in court because their testimony wasn’t considered credible. And, maybe you’ve even heard of the daily prayer that Jewish men still say today, thanking God for not creating them a gentile…a slave…or a woman.

So, practically the only way women of that time could achieve a modicum of respect and status in society was by marrying well and by having sons. And, though she did marry well, Elizabeth didn’t have any children.

Try to imagine being a woman of Elizabeth’s time, having all of that on your shoulders, and having virtually no power to do anything about it.

Do you think you might be a little bitter toward God?

“Lord, my husband’s a priest! We can’t go around having people think you’ve cursed us.”

“We’ve been serving You all these years, and all we’ve asked for is a baby. You
owe us.”

“You’re not going to give me the one thing I want most in life? Forget it – there are plenty of other gods to worship. I’ll go serve one of them.”

But not Elizabeth. Elizabeth just kept getting up day after day, trusting the Lord, serving the Lord, obeying the Lord.

And let’s not forget, we know the rest of the story. We know God is going to miraculously open Elizabeth’s womb and she’ll be the mother of John the Baptist. We know she’s going to be one of the first people to learn the good news of the Messiah. We know she’s going to be celebrated and famous across the world once her story gets into Scripture.

Elizabeth didn’t know that. For all those years faithfully following and trusting the Lord, she didn’t know any of that. For all she knew, she was going to die childless and in obscurity, quickly to be forgotten even by those who knew her. And yet she still chose to walk faithfully with the Lord.

Elizabeth was faithful to God because of who God is, not for what she could get out of Him. She served God to get more of God, not to get the goodies.

But look what happens next…

Now while [Zechariah] was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense…And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense…the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.

Luke 1:8-9,11,13

Zechariah has the great honor of entering the temple and burning incense. Suddenly – a miracle! Gabriel, who stands in the very presence of God Himself, has brought the amazing news that Elizabeth – barren and past her time – is going to give birth to the forerunner of the Messiah.

And Zechariah doesn’t believe it.

But Elizabeth does

Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.

Luke 1:25

Elizabeth believed God.

In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”

Luke 1:39-45

The newly pregnant Mary comes for a visit. The Holy Spirit reveals to and through Elizabeth that the baby Mary is carrying is the Messiah. And, once again, in great humility, Elizabeth believes Him: “Who am I, that my Lord should come to me?” Elizabeth wondered.

Indeed – who are any of us, that our Lord should come to us?

Elizabeth did not seek out Jesus. He came to find her. So, we who were dead in our sins and trespasses did not seek Him. He came to us, to seek and to save that which was lost.

Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. And her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child. And they would have called him Zechariah after his father, but his mother answered, “No; he shall be called John.”

Luke 1:57-60

It’s a boy! What a joy-filled day it must have been. This wasn’t just any birth. It was God’s promise fulfilled. It was God’s mercy to Elizabeth, His blameless – yet not sinless – and undeserving child. It was God’s blessing to Elizabeth, His faithful servant. The same kind of mercy and blessings He shows us, His faithful, yet undeserving sons and daughters. The same way He fulfills His promises to us.

The time quickly came to circumcise and officially name the baby. Tradition dictated that he be named after Dad: Zechariah. But Elizabeth believed all that God had revealed about this baby to the point that she put her foot down, broke with tradition and insisted, along with her husband, that the baby be named John. It wasn’t about what she wanted. It wasn’t about what others thought was best. It was all about God, and what He wanted.

All of these unbelievable things happening to Elizabeth, yet Elizabeth believes God. Obeys God. Trusts God. She trusted and obeyed God all of those years when He said no, and she believed and obeyed Him after He said yes.

May we, as godly women, be daughters of Elizabeth: Believing God through the unbelievable. Trusting Him in times of uncertainty. Obeying Him in the face of opposition.

What a legacy this dear sister has left us.

What a gift.

Christmas

8 Christmas Tradition Do-Overs (and Do Over and Overs!)

Originally Published December 18, 201410712912_891059970934938_3725900191529207112_n

I love being one of the “older sisters” in the Christian blogosphere.  Reading about other writers’ young children brings back sweet memories of when mine were that little. It also gives me the opportunity to occasionally bring in the “been there, done that, here’s how I would go back and do it better if I could” perspective. And that’s what I’d like to share with you today.

I wish I had realized as a young mother that once you start a Christmas precedent, or fail to start one, it can be really hard to change later. Looking back over 20+ years, here are some Christmas traditions and precedents I would go back and change, and others I’m glad we started early and kept.

1.
I wish we had minimized gifts.

Instead of showering each child with several gifts, large and small, I think I would either do one “large” gift plus stockings (candy and dollar store type items), or two to three small to moderate gifts, plus stockings, per child. Not only does limiting the number and price of gifts cut down on the holiday “gimmes” so you can refocus Christmas on Christ, but there are a couple of practical reasons this can be helpful. First, if your family is still growing, you may end up with too many children (we have six) for multiple gifts to be financially feasible. Second, family finances aren’t foolproof. Your husband could lose his job. You could decide you want to be a stay at home mom instead of working. Anything could happen. If your kids are used to tons of gifts every year, a financial setback will make Christmas disappointing.

2.
I wish we had given more experiences and fewer material gifts.

We’ve all bemoaned the kids getting a toy they’ve BEGGED for for months only to play with it for a few days and tire of it. Not only that, but toys can take up a lot of space. And think back to your own childhood. What do you remember and appreciate more, the material gifts you received, or the memories of spending special time with your family? Plus, experiences can be spaced out over months and weeks and can be enjoyed all year long (and they don’t even have to be wrapped!). How about giving each child a calendar for the new year with things penciled in on certain dates? An afternoon at the skate park. A day trip to the aquarium. Lessons he wants to take. Mother-daughter mani-pedis. A family outing to a local festival. Making cookies together. It gives everyone something to look forward to.

3.
I wish we had done Advent. 

I’m a lifelong Southern Baptist, and, not to sound too old and codger-y, but, in my day, we really didn’t do Advent (a lot of SBC churches still don’t). I was in my 30’s before we began attending a church that even did Advent candles on the Sundays leading up to Christmas. And I was in my 40’s before I became aware of all the wonderful devotionals and worship activites available for families to enjoy together during the Christmas season. Nightly family worship is a great way to bring the focus of Christmas back to Christ.

4.
I wish we had “rescheduled” our December baby.

Don’t get me wrong here. I would still have my son, just in January, if possible, instead of December. Of course, pregnancies can be unpredictable, and babies are a blessing no matter when they arrive, but as anyone born between Thanksgiving and New Year’s can attest, birthdays around the holidays tend to get lost in the shuffle. It is extremely difficult to schedule a child’s birthday party in December and have anyone attend because everyone is already committed to Christmas parties, family activities, and traveling. December birthday presents and parties also add to the expense of the holidays.

5.
I’m glad I did a yearly Christmas newsletter.

I started doing this the first year we were married. While most folks write a little blurb about what each family member has been up to since last Christmas, my format is a bit different. I do twelve little blurbs, hitting our family highlights for each month of the past year. When I’m finished, I send them out with my Christmas cards. I also keep a copy and put it into my “newsletter notebook.” Now, we have a complete family history. My kids love reading back through them every year, and it has also been helpful to us for record-keeping and filling out forms (remembering which year we moved to a certain house or when a child sustained a particular injury, for example).

6.
I’m glad I didn’t do a “theme tree”.

I have seen some absolutely gorgeous Christmas trees. There’s a color scheme. All the ornaments match or coordinate. Maybe there’s a sports or regional or literary theme to it.

My tree kinda looks like a tornado hit a pre-school, made its way through a Hallmark store, and sucked up a souvenir shop before landing in my living room. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. There’s a memory attached to almost every ornament. The ones from my childhood. The ones we bought on our honeymoon and the time we went to Disney World. The ones the kids made in Sunday School. And all the children have certain ornaments that are “theirs,” (we mark them with their initials and the year) that they made or that were given to them. And one day, when they grow up and get married, one of their wedding presents will be a box containing all of “their” ornaments to hang on their own trees, so they can take some memories with them.

7.
I’m glad we have some family traditions
that are unique to our particular family.

There are some traditions that are common to lots of families, but it’s the ones that no other family on the planet does that can be extra special. For example, last year, after we got home from our annual family outing of picking out our tree, we sat around the table together and had hot chocolate. And chips and salsa. (I know. Weird, huh?) My 12 year old remembered this a whole year later and begged to do it again. It’s those little things that go the extra mile in binding you together and giving your family a unique identity.

8.
I’m glad we handled Santa Claus the way we did.

We decided before we had children that we would not lie to them about the existence or omniscience (he sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, he knows if you’ve been bad or good, etc.) of Santa Claus. The Bible says that lying is a sin, period. There’s no exception for jolly old elves who pass out toys (or for tooth fairies or Easter bunnies, for that matter). But there’s nothing wrong with the fun of Santa as long as he arrives on the scene without lies or claims to attributes only God possesses. So we sang Santa songs and told Santa stories, but on Christmas Eve, our children knew it was Mom and Dad filling the stockings. When they were very small, my husband or I would don a Santa hat and say something like: “You know how you like to play pretend? Well, mommies and daddies like to play pretend, too, especially at Christmas! Now it’s time for you to go to bed so we can pretend to be Santa Claus.” So far, no one is in therapy from us handling the Santa Claus story this way, plus there were no conspiracies with the older children to keep the secret from the younger ones, and no moments of devastation as each child grew up and found out the truth.


THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED AT SATISFACTION THROUGH CHRIST.

Well, that’s my list.
What are some things you’d like to do over
-or do over and over- at Christmas with your family?

Christmas, Holidays (Other)

Have Yourself an Awesome Little Advent 2020: 12 (Mostly FREE) Advent Devotionals, Activities, and Resources

Is your family getting ready for Advent? Loosely defined, Advent is the period of time leading up to Christmas when we commemorate Christ’s first coming and anticipate His second coming. And what better way to do so than by making Bible study and worship part of your family tradition? Here are some awesome Advent resources for young and old alike. Most of them are free, but the ones that aren’t, I’ve marked with a 💰.

P_20131113_122041-296x300

December Advent!– Here’s an advent calendar, craft, and devotional all rolled into one! Naomi’s Table is a women’s Bible study resource that I highly recommend for sound doctrine and right handling of God’s word. Have a listen to their daily Advent podcasts and make the Advent calendar that goes with them!

Rejoicing in Christ the Newborn King– “The family time of worship can be an opportunity to help reshape the thinking of our families regarding the true significance of Christmas…Each day [of this devotional] is meant to help you as a family not only read about these things, but discuss them together, and then unite your voices together in singing a great Christmas hymn. May it be used to help you better rejoice in our Lord Jesus Christ.” From Reglious Affections Ministries (click for more details, a sample from the book, and a list of the 25 hymns included)💰

Need a good Advent playlist? I’ve created one on YouTube. Your favorite Advent (not Christmas) song isn’t included? Leave a comment and I’ll add it if appropriate.

Advent Calendar in a Jar– What a cute idea for a gift or for yourself. Free printables and instructions for making an Advent calendar banner, with a Bible verse for each day. You can even use them as Scripture memory cards! (Kim seems like a sweet lady but don’t get your theology from her. Stick to her craft and decorating ideas.)

Hymns & Carols of Advent & Christmas“A collection of hymns and carols for Advent and Christmas. Great for Christmas caroling, family gatherings, or Christmas Eve Services…This is simply all of the Advent/Christmas hymns included in Hymns to the Living God.” You can purchase (💰) the print and Kindle versions here, or download, print, and copy the PDF version for free here.

The Jesse Tree– A charming precursor to the Advent calendar, the Jesse tree traces the story of Jesus from Creation to His birth. Using your Christmas tree or a crafted tree, hang an ornament each day that represents the Bible story for that day. This site has a free Jesse Tree tool kit with ideas for making your own Jesse Tree, the Scripture references for each day, and printable ornaments. (They also offer a family devotional and a individual devotional. If you’re considering using them, please do so carefully and discerningly. I read several of the family devotions and they seemed OK, but the Reformed Church in America {which sponsors this site} appears to have struggled with progressivism in their theology.)

The Special Wreath– “Teach a special child in your life about the significance of the Advent wreath. With a rhyming flow, children will learn the parts of the wreath and ultimately, that Christmas is not just about presents, but the best gift of all, Jesus Christ!”💰

DIY Advent Wreaths– Are you the crafty type? Make your own Advent wreath! From country, to classic, to kid-friendly, you’re sure to find one that’s a fit for your family. (These links are for craft instructions purposes only. Several of these sites are Catholic and otherwise non-Christian.)

Advent Sermon Series– You’ve loved the guest posts from my friend Pastor John Chester here on the blog. Now, here’s an Advent sermon series he preached a few years ago! Give a listen to Mary Knew, The Joy of the Messiah, The Humility of the Messiah, and The Mission of the Messiah. (You’ll need to scroll down the page a little.)

Advent Printables and Crafts– If you lean more liturgical (or even if you don’t), check out these Anglican-based resources for “Jesus Tree” ornaments, St. Nicholas Day treat bags, coloring pages, and more from The Homely Hours blog.

Visual Theology Advent Reading Calendar If you love Tim Challies’ Visual Theology prints and posters, you’ll be pleased to know he created one for Advent. With daily Scripture readings from December 1-24, this will be a lovely addition to your holiday decor. Print the 8.5″x11″ or 18″x24″ versions for free, or order the print (also comes in a coloring version).💰

25 Christmas Myths and What the Bible Says– Was Jesus Born on December 25? Did the angels really sing to the shepherds? And what about that inn keeper? In 25 Christmas Myths…, Gabriel Hughes tackles some of the folklore and false assumptions that have sprung up around the Christmas story and shares what the Bible really teaches. One lesson for each day December 1-25. Get a sneak peek below. Audio is more your thing? Gabe discussed myths 1-10 from the book on his podcast in 2018. 💰

What’s your favorite Advent resource?


I do not endorse anything on any of these sites that deviates from Scripture or conflicts with my beliefs as outlined in the “Welcome” or “Statement of Faith” tabs at the top of this page.
Christmas, Favorite Finds

Favorite Finds ~ December 11, 2018

Here are a few of my favorite recent online Christmas finds…

Christmas might be the easiest time of the year to get a foot in the door to share the gospel with unsaved friends, loved ones and strangers. That’s why I love this article by Allen Nelson over at Things Above Us called A Christmas Gift for You. You can share it around on your social media pages to help others understand what Christ did to save us. And if you’d like to use it as a devotion at a Christmas party, tuck it into your Christmas cards, use it as a bulletin insert at church, or something like that, you can contact Allen for permission to reprint it.

 

If you love Handel’s Messiah, check out Messiah: The Podcast Series Advent Calendar. “It took George Frideric Handel 24 days to complete the musical score of Messiah – the most famous oratorio ever written. This podcast advent calendar tells all the stories about the people, the places, the music, the drama and the gossip that is connected to the maiden performance in Dublin 275 years ago.” (I think this is more of a history website than a Christian website.)

 

Wonder why some Christmas songs are so ear-catchingly popular? Music nerds can tell you, and here’s one to do just that. Vox gives us Adam Ragusea explaining The Secret Chord that Makes Christmas Music Sound So Christmasy. 

 

And speaking of Christmas music…need some to listen to? Amazon has several Christmas songs and albums you can download for free! (Listen discerningly.) And if you’re shopping at Amazon, be sure to check out Amazon Smile and donate part of your purchase to the Christian ministry, organization, or church of your choice!

 

When Christians think “Christmas” we usually think Luke 2, and maybe Matthew 1-2. But…John? My friend and fellow LSU alum, Nicholas Maricle, shares this lovely article on the Incarnation: John 1, the Word, and Jesus over at his blog Thinking Theologically. Do yourself a favor and give him a follow!

 

Josh Buice has another awesome quiz for us at his blog, Delivered by Grace. Test your knowledge with: Christmas Quiz: How much do you know?

 

And last of all, an early Christmas present for me (thanks to reader and contributor, Laura!). Phil Johnson and Todd Friel discussed part of my article Women and False Teachers: Why Men Don’t Get It, and Why It’s Imperative That They Do on the December 10 episode of the Too Wretched for Radio podcast (around the 15:42 mark). I’ve mentioned that Todd was the first to introduce me to the idea of biblical discernment when I “accidentally stumbled across” the Wretched TV show one night while flipping through the channels. And I listen to Phil often, love his preaching, and have a great deal of respect for him on a number of different levels. So while this brief mention on a podcast that the majority of the world has never heard of wouldn’t mean much to most people, it was a real honor for me.

Christmas

7 “Stocking Stuffers”

I’m filling the stockings early, but no lumps of coal for my awesome readers! Here are some great little miscellaneous Christian goodies I’ve come across recently. Enjoy!

Crossway has a Bible reading challenge for the holiday season called Simply Read. It will take you through the books of Luke and Acts in 8 days.

Is your church perfect and problem-free? No? Then be sure to give this article a read. Maybe even print it out and stick it on the fridge or in your Bible. The Cripplegate’s When Your Church Disappoints by Eric Davis offers godly counsel on how to biblically think about and approach problems at your church. It was very helpful for me, and I hope it will be for you, too.

The Gospel Project wants to give you a Christmas present! A FREE e-book! “A Christmas Question is Charles Spurgeon’s famous Christmas-day sermon from Exeter Hall in 1859.”

Another FREEBIE? Why not? Beautiful Eulogy is offering their album Worthy for you to download at no cost. Rap isn’t really your thing? Mine either. Check out tracks 5 (a lovely instrumental), 9 (a fantastic devotional from Art Azurdia), and 11 (a slower paced spoken word piece).

Can Christian parents do Santa Claus with their children? My answer in yesterday’s edition of The Mailbag was, yes, as long as Santa keeps his sleigh parked inside biblical parameters. Pastor Josh Buice made a different decision for his children and explains Why My Family Doesn’t Do Santa.

Want to send Christmas cards with an eternal impact? “Each Gideon Christmas card you send this Christmas will provide a New Testament for someone in the world. At the same time, your card will share a message of faith, hope, and joy in Jesus with friends and loved ones.”