Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas!

They connect us, they ground us, 
they comfort us.

They can also distract us.

Why do we do the things we do?
If we get too caught up in the 
of it all we risk loosing sight
of the reasons behind those traditions.

Christmas is a fun, joyous time.
It has many traditions.
Some relate back to the true 
"reason for the season."
And some, it's a bit of a stretch.

Lory and I have traditions.
Our friendship is rooted in God.
It may be a stretch to find 
God in some of our traditions. 
(think Margarita Fridays)
But they all 
connect us,
ground us, 
and comfort us.

Thanks for being part of this tradition of ours.
Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

O Tannenbaum

Is there anything more Christmas than a Christmas tree?  Besides the bit of drudgery digging it all out of the crawl space, I love everything about it!  Especially since we got a pre-lit tree a couple of years ago.  For you purest who go out and cut your own tree, I envy you the adventure, but not January clean up.

I love hanging the ornaments on the tree.  Over the years, we have quite the collection.  We add a new ornament to commemorate the year, which gives me time for reflection.  There is a purple snowman, expertly colored by a certain grandboy, and there is a carousal pony made by my grandmother.  Some ornaments are bright and shiny.  Some are over half a century old, tired but true.  I remember with great fondness the ornaments that came from friends and family.  There are no random ornaments on my tree; each has a story, a connection, a bit of love.

The Christmas tree celebrates family and love.  Its branches display iconic Christmas, reminding us of the birth of a baby, born to save the world.  The baby's life is bookended with trees.

But the first one means nothing without the last.

Happy Birthday, Jesus!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015


Angels we have heard on high
sweetly singing or' the plains.

So, Angels and the Christmas story
are a no-brainer, and after Rudolph, 
I'm happy for a no-brainer!

We know that angels first heralded
the birth of our Savior, 
but from everything I've read, 
sweetly singing was probably not the 
most accurate description of their announcement. 
Angels are God's warriors.
Most people were VERY afraid when 
they encountered an angel.
Mike is of the opinion they probably
didn't even have wings.
Talk about dispelling all my former
beliefs of sweet cherubic babies
with smiles and wings!

God is full of surprises.
He chose a TEENAGER as a mother.
His son was born in a stable.
He announced the great news to the lowest of society.
He has an army without guns or wings.
He knew what He was sending His son down into,
and that His son would die a terrible death
at the hands of those He longed to save,
and yet He did send that sweet baby to us.

And the biggest surprise?
He did this all to bring a poor wretched sinner
like me closer to Him.

Illustration by Mary Holder Naegeli

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Don't Stand Under the Mistletoe. Really - Don't!

Have you found yourself standing under any mistletoe this year?  Nothing wrong with a stolen kiss or two!  I was expecting to find some explanation of this tradition like white for purity and green for the everlasting Father.  But alas, like many other traditions, kissing someone under the sprigs of the plant was transplanted from other sources, probably the Druids or the Norse.  Early Christians tried to outlaw the tradition.  When that was unsuccessful, others tried to welcome it with open arms.  One minister in England held a special Mistletoe service where parishioners could come to have their sins pardoned - with a kiss, I assume.
Image result for mistletoe images

There are two fun facts about this Christmas cupid, though. First, while the berries are poisonous to us, they are good for birds, animals, butterflies and bees.  Secondly, the word actually comes from Anglo Saxons:  "mistle" (meaning dung) and "tan" (meaning twig or stick).  It's pretty, poetic name hides its literal meaning: poo on a stick.  Think about that next time you kiss someone standing under it!

So far, I have done a miserable job of relating this tradition back to Christ.  And I fear I have gone too far flung to make the connection now, but I'll give it a try.  I was going to say let's skip fun fact #2, but maybe not.  Human history being what it is, calling us Mistletoe in the literal sense seems an accurate description.  Yet, God did indeed bend down and give us a kiss.  And not a quick peck on the cheek, either.  He lived and breathed and walked among us.  He cried with us, laughed with us and washed our feet.  His love transforms us, making the unmentionable beautiful and lovable, indeed.  

Mistletoe, what a lovely term and a beloved tradition.

Monday, December 21, 2015


While there are animals present in the Christmas story,
I'm not entirely sure how I am going to 
find the Christ in them, much less Rudolph.

I appreciate the fact that God chose to reveal 
Himself to the lowest of low in the shepherds.
But, even before they got there, the animals were present.

So, perhaps there is a thin thread there....

Rudolph was a tale about bullying
before we knew that term.
Christ came to all of us, but most especially,
I feel, the oppressed. 

Another thin thread....

A light on Rudolph's nose lit his way
and saved him from the bullies.
Christ is the light of the world and He saves 
us from satan.

Another thin thread.....

If I gather enough of these can I weave a 
"sellable" tale?

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Away in the Manger

Left to its own devices, the church tends to make the ugly beautiful (like the cross) and the mundane extraordinary (like the manger).  We are more comfortable with a shiny and sanitized Lord than the reality of the messes of life.  I count myself in that "we".

In 1223, St. Francis of Assisi is credited with the start of the tradition of the creche.  Moving the Christmas service outside to accommodate the crowds, he had a simple manger constructed and brought in cattle and a donkey.  So overcome was he with the humility of a King in the manger, that he preached with tears running down his cheeks.

It's probably time, don't you think, to look closely and see the hay mixed with chicken feathers and bits of rocks and mud.  It's time to feel the crude construction of a trough meant for an animal, not a newborn.  It's time hear the braying of the donkey and rustling of the animals as they settle in for the night.  It's time to smell, not the sweet baby scent or even the rustic scent of new hay, but rather, the stench of the assembled livestock.  I don't really want Jesus sleeping there or Mary and Joseph having to watch their step when they get up in the night to care for their child.

I like a tidy manger.  But I am, quite literally, eternally grateful that Jesus is a King of the messes, as well.  Especially the messes.  There is hope for me only because He isn't afraid to get His hands dirty - and He proved from His very first moments.  Apparently a stable is a perfect nursery after all.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Christmas Jammies

Shanna started it. 
These jammies killed it.
The guys retaliated with a motorcycle in my
 family room and leather jackets.
So now it's a chick thing.
And everyone is happy.

And I will leave you with this classic:
3 Wise Women would have:
Asked for directions.
Been there on time.
Cleaned the stall.
Delivered the baby.
Knit a blanket.
And left the family with a casserole.

And worn their matching jammies.


Friday, December 18, 2015

An Extra Gift Under the Tree

Starting with the day after the day of thankfulness (or even the same day thanks to retailers and online purveyors), the hunt is on for perfect Christmas gifts.  Personally, I'm always thankful when I have at least a generous portion done before Thanksgiving, but unfortunately that's mostly a pipe dream.  We knock ourselves looking out for the perfect gift - at the right price.  Something big and showy or something small and precious or something silly but thoughtful.

And once the somethings are determined and purchased, there is still the presentation to be considered:  bows and wrapping and finding the AWOL scissors and tape.  I'm too cheap to buy bags and won't be bothered with bows.  No one ever comments on my wrapping job - they are too polite to point out the obvious.  I just hope they like what's inside, which is, after all, the more permanent part.  Every year I promise myself to cut back, and it seems every year the only thing I cut back on is cutting back.  Sigh.

All the planning and rushing and efforts to make things perfect remind me of Jesus - not the babe in the manger, but the adult speaking to His friend, Martha.  He gently chided her for her harried preparation for company, while her sister sat at Jesus' feet, enjoying Christ's company and teachings. Luke 10:41-42

Maybe I need to put an extra gift per person on my list - that is, as I wrap their gift I will pray for the intended receiver - for their peace and blessing.  I'm pretty sure it would be a gift I would give myself as well.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Christmas Cookies

Lory and I know Christmas Cookies.
We aren't sure when the tradition began,
but we do agree is started in the old house,
so at least 15 years ago.

The baking and giving of
Christmas Cookies
is derived from the same set of circumstances
as those of ginger bread.
They were an extravagant gift.

Christ was God's most extravagant gift.

Most people I know bake their cookies
in community, it's not usually
a solo endeavor.
God created us to live in community.

So, I am left to ponder if
The Christ
is in the cookies
or the time together?

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

We Won't Go Until We Get Some.

Figgy puddingWhen Merry and I were discussing the theme for this year's Christmas blogs, we threw out Christmas traditions that we could comment on.  I said stockings, she said elves (she got that one).  I said caroling, she said pickle on the tree (she got that one).  I said Rudolph (she got stuck again), and she said figgy pudding.  When we drew topics, that lot fell to me.

Figgy pudding is a British equivalent of fruit cake, though without florescent/radiated fruit.  It does, however, get lit on fire, which is one of two reasons it is not recommended for minors.  The other would be the accelerant that makes it burn so brightly.  Apparently figgy pudding can be made in November and be expected not just to last until Christmas but actually improve with age as the brandy and rum penetrates the fruit and cake.

There is nothing Christ-like about figgy pudding, except maybe that the Puritans, in the name of Christ, ban it in the 1600s, probably because of the alcohol.  If we wanted to reach far enough (far-fetched, that is), we could call it a birthday cake for the baby, but that's just wrong.

If there is a connection, it's just that it's a joyous time of year - a time of celebration!  Dining together on high calorie desserts is just fun and it brings us together, and that's all good.  So, there.  I've never had nor even seen a real figgy pudding.  But if you want to make one, I'll bring matches and come celebrate with you!

We do, indeed, Wish You A Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Santa, Baby

For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever 
those who are being made holy.
Hebrews 10:13
Naughty or nice?
Santa will judge you.
Each year.
He's got a list.
You gotta earn your
"nice pass"
every year.

God has a list too.
It's called the Book Of Life.
He'll judge you, but only once.
All you have to do is make a choice.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Can't Catch Me, I'm the Gingerbread Man!

It's it odd that gingerbread is only made during the Christmas season?  It's not that flour and sugar and ginger are only harvested this time of year.  Very few cookies have a specific season, but gingerbread is one of them.  They are distinctly seasonal. Gingerbread houses could be decorated with grass and flowers for springtime celebration, but they aren't.  There is always snow on the rooftops of those houses.

Actually, there is a reason for that.  In the 1500s, the baking of gingerbread was restricted to guildsmen.  During the holidays, the regulations were relaxed and families could bake their own.  Thus, it became a holiday tradition.

A couple of times over the last week, I've caught myself wondering what it would be like if Christmas didn't come every year, but maybe every second or third instead.  It certainly would make early winter dreary in the off years.  I shutter at the thought.  But the older I get, the faster the years race by.  It seems we were just putting up a tree a month of so ago!  Gingerbread houses at my house require no baking. I get so wrapped up in wrapping, among other things, that I hardly notice how special things really are,

I wonder what I would most anticipate if I only got to have it rather than had to do it once a year. Hmmm, might be time to step back a few centuries and glory in the rare gifts afforded me only during this season.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Advent Calenders

They come in all shapes and sizes.
Some are a bit more obvious as to what
they refer.
But apparently 
Chuckie The Advent Santa
is wrong.
 But I digress.

Advent calendars are one of our more clear signs
of the true meaning of the season but even
they have gotten skewed over time.
As a child I remember just looking forward to
the Santa at the end and the BIG piece of chocolate.

I think I'll take this Christmas to be more deliberate
with Ava and Maddie as we open the Advent bags in my
window, and put the ornaments inside the bags
on the tree,
and they enjoy the little treat in each one,
that the true treat we await
is the
Christ Child!

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Untangling the Strands of Lights

There were a couple of years, well, maybe one - fifteen years ago, when we decorated with Christmas lights on our house.  The putting up part isn't so bad - find a nice day and just do it.  It's the taking down part I'm not fond of.  January isn't known for "nice" days.  Or at least what passes for nice in January is not the kind of weather I want to pry frozen strands of lights off the facade.

I am so grateful that others are the not as winter-phobic as I am - or if they are, they like Christmas lights more then they detest January.  Either way, I frequently take the long route home from work just to drive through the neighborhoods and view the lights.  I like the white twinklings ones and the colored racing ones and even the yards where it looks like the elves upchucked all over them.  From classy to tacky, I love Christmas lights!  They make me feel so Christmasy, even though I am still bah-humbug at actively participating in the electric fun.

It would be easy to say that the lights remind me of the light of the world born in Bethlehem.  Easy and kind of a cop out.  There are a multitude of lights and only one Christ child.  However, there were a multitude of the heavenly hosts singing Alleluia, announcing the greatest gift of all.

I wonder how many a multitude really is.  But if there was one angel for every light just in my neighborhood, and I think that would be a very conservative estimate - just think how their song would reverberate!  Now that would, indeed, be Joy to the World!

Friday, December 11, 2015

Ahhh, The Movies!

Christmas movies.
I love Christmas movies.
But I don't mean those made-for-TV kind.

My favorites are
National Lampoons Christmas vacation
followed closely by 
White Christmas.
But I have to get in at least one viewing of
The Grinch Who Stole Christmas (both versions)
Miracle On 34th Street (again, both versions).

In all of these, you would be hard pressed to find the

But you know where I find Him?
In the (sometimes) quiet time spent with 
people I love.
Hunkered down with blankets 
and warm (or warming) drinks (wink, wink).

CHRISTmas draws us together.
We seem to crave community stronger this time of year.
God created us to be in community.
God came down to earth to be with us.

I'm not entirely certain God approves of my taste
in Christmas movies, 
but I'm sure He is smiling, 
watching down as His children 
come together.
( And maybe shaking His head a little bit.)

Thursday, December 10, 2015

There they went, the Carolers...

I was going to say I have fond memories of caroling as a child - but I'm not sure that is accurate.  I definitely have memories of caroling - the leaders of the church youth group scheduled the event, complete with hot chocolate and cookies afterward - and my father was the pastor of the church.  So there you have it; I went caroling.  And with enough friends whose parents also thought it good for them, it really was an enjoyable time - a bunch of giggly, goofy, pre-teen to teen-aged girls and guys inflicting their vocal abilities on the public, one porch at a time.

When was the last time you had carolers show up on your doorstep?  It's kind of a vanishing tradition.  About 4 or 5 years ago I was at my bestie's house when a group of carolers greeted the opening door with song.  It spoke to me of Christmas, yes, but it whispered at least as much of childhood and innocence and simpler times.  Not that anyone would particularly want to hear my voice, but just sitting here now in robe and slippers, it makes me want to take Christmas to my neighbors (or torture them with it, depending on their degree of musicality).  What a rude alarm clock that would be!

It's not hard to find Christ in caroling - besides a round or two of Jingle Bells, the songs are mostly about Him.  Cold toes and noses attached to hearts intent on fun and spreading some Christmas cheer.  There is something of the very essence of Christmas in that act - a breaking into another's space for no other purpose than to spread joy - kind of like what the angels did for the shepherds.

Sigh, where is a flash mob when you need it?

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Kosher or Dill?

My husband's family is from Germany. 
I mean, his mother and father both 
born and mostly raised.
So when my sister came across an ornament
in the shape of a pickle and was told it was an old
German tradition she naturally got one for 
my family's tree.
Only problem was, 
German person I know has
heard of this tradition. 

Me thinks it was good salesmanship
on some salesman's part with
an over abundance of weird
pickle ornaments. 
But Gaye wasn't the only sucker, 
they sell TONS of these things!

So, how to connect a pickle, 
and the myth of a pickle at that!
to Christmas?

The story is a lie.
There's a lie woven into the Christmas story.
Herod was a liar, not a very good one, 
but a liar nonetheless.
He told the wise men that he 
would also like to worship the
Christ child.
Thankfully God intervened and had 
them travel home a different way.
Sorry 'bout ya, Herod.

God wins!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

They are Hung with Care - Sans Chimney

Our family has a thing about Christmas stockings, and by "our family", I suppose, I mean me.  My grandmother made my sock.  My mother made my sons' socks.  I have made them for my grandboys and girlies.  And so it goes.  Once made, I love to stuff them, too, with odd trinkets that express my love for the person named on the cuff.  We don't have a picturesque fireplace to decorate, but they are indeed hung with care, and that's Christmas enough!

The origin goes that a poor family was in desperate need of money.  Nicholas (prior to his sainthood) wanted to give the money anonymously, so he dropped a bag of gold down the chimney.  It landed in a stocking that had been hung by the fireplace to dry.  Sidebar:  if indeed he was able to make the gold come to rest in the sock, I believe it would have counted as a miracles needed for his sainthood.  The story, though, does highlight the tale of an extravagant gift breaking into the mundane and changing lives as a result:  soggy footwear and golden coins when the need was greatest.

Two thousand years ago, what was more ordinary than a cattle trough in a rural setting?  What more extravagant a gift can be given than a King setting aside his crown, humbling Himself to live among us and show His love?  And oh how that gift has changed/transformed lives though the millennia, mine included!

Chimney or not, gold coins or oranges, how much more Christmas can you get?

Monday, December 7, 2015

Ding Dong

They come out this time of year in sorts of 
and purposes.

 Jingle bells.
They herald the advent of that 
jolly, round guy.

The Salvation Army bells.
They herald the advent of the giving season.

 The bells at church.
They herald the advent of 
our Savior.

Bells ring out!
They are loud!
They can't be ignored!

The angels that first Christmas 
had many the same traits.

So much so that the shepherds first reaction was fear.
I don't think any of us could fathom
the thundering of the angels. 
But the next time that Salvation Army
bell ringing gets intense, 
let it give you pause to ponder the 
angles and the good news they brought.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Scratching my Noggin'

Made from milk, eggs and various types of liquor over the centuries, 
it was traditionally drunk from a wooden cup called a noggin.

There is much chatter on the internet about why it is around only at Christmas:
 - It's a warming drink for the winter 
(except Caribbean countries excel at their versions of the drink - 
and not to take the chill off in the winter months).
- Originally a drink for the masses, its ingredients became scarce and expensive, 
prompting it to became a special occasion drink - think Christmas.

Christ centered, it is not.
So how to make the connection...
Reach with me here as I make the attempt.

The child, too, had a humble beginning:
wooden manger - wooden cup.

Jesus warms my heart, thaws my indifference,
radiates warmth and refreshment.

Speaking of scarce and expensive, He is the one and only.
The most costly gift of the Father.

And here the connection breaks down completely:
He gave his life freely, not just for the holidays,
but also for other random dates February 3rd or August 20th
and every other one listed on the calendar -
any calendar, every calendar, even after
calendars cease to provide meaningful information.

Raise your cup of nog to the One worth celebrating!
Happy Birthday, Jesus!

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Elves, That's Right, ELVES

OK, so the premiss of this series
of blogs is to find the 
in Christmas symbols, etc.
 Not a lotta Christ there.

I'm thinking shepherds.
They were very low on the class totem pole.
They did hard work.
People would go out of their way to not notice them.

Elves are definitely Santa's flunkies.
They work hard.
They are short, easily overlooked.

There you have it!
See an elf, think of shepherds!

I love the way the shepherds play into the 
Christmas story.
I love that God chose the lowest of the low
to make His big announcement to
and then use those same overlooked people
to spread the good news, 
Our Savior is Born!

If God can use Shepherds, 
it gives me hope that He can use me as well. 
Christ is our Savior!

Friday, December 4, 2015

Holly Jolly

A Holly, Jolly Christmas...

Besides the obvious rhyming factor in the above phrase, there are other reasons to associate holly with Christmas.  The color, of course, shouts Christmas, as does everything red and green.  In fact, Christmas may owe it's color association to the holly plant.  Green is for the promise of new life in the spring and red for the blood of Christ crucified.

One Christmas tale tells that when the Christ child was born, holly berries were white.  Three decades later, the thorn of crowns that were pressed into Jesus' brow in His last hours on earth were from a holly tree.  
As His blood touched the berries, they were stained red.

The story itself makes about as much sense to me as flying reindeer and talking snowmen.  But then, reindeer and snowmen also speak to me of Christmas. I'll never look at holly again without remembering the Christ - not just the child, but the man, the Savior He was sent to be - 
the ultimate gift to the world.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Light Of The World

They are one of the no-brainer ones to me.

The single candles people light in their windows.

What started out as an Irish custom,
born in the time when it was against
the law for catholics to
practice their faith,
as a sign to any traveling priests 
that they had found a safe home.
It has become a sign of welcome.
Christ is welcome.

The candles in the Advent Wreath representing

Jesus is the light of the world.
From that glorious star Lory wrote about to 
this humble little flame.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Star Light, Star Bright

Let's start with an obvious sign of Christmas - the Star of Bethlehem.  The story is well known and depicted.  Three wise men see a star in the East and follow it.  They actually did get lost and ask for directions, which I find kind of funny considering all the jokes along those lines.  They stopped in Jerusalem to ask Herod for his opinion, which he gave for a very self-serving and diabolical reason of his own - but that's part of another story, so we will leave that for now.

When I get past the Sunday school picture of a star over a stable, I start to wonder.  Just how do you follow a star?  The sun is a star, right?  If I rise each morning and follow it to the East, I won't actually get that far before it's overhead and then behind me.  To actually follow that star, I will walk endlessly back and forth.  The rest of the heavenly stars "move" the same way though their relative distance makes it far less apparent to a casual observer.

The Bible makes it sound pretty matter of fact:  they saw the star, packed their bags, remembered to bring a gift and there they are.  Was star-following so common in those days that explanation wasn't even necessary?  Was it something that wise men did routinely - rich wise men, that is.  When was the last time you brought gold to a baby shower?

Back in the day, astronomy and astrology were one in the same.  Their study of the stars was a scientific calling- serious business not destined for an obscure column on the comics page of the daily paper.  Those famous, though unnamed kings, made a rigorous study of the movement of the night jewels using the zodiac as signpost and way of explanation. The heavens, then and now, for all their overwhelming vastness and solitude perform a well ordered dance.  Almost like Someone orchestrated it.  Hmmmm  And when you can direct a dance on that scale, why not show off a bit and use your handiwork as a birth announcement for your only Son?

There are several theories about what the actual star was:  a comet, super nova, conjunction of planets, or a mysterious fireball planted above a stable.  Of all those possibilities, the last seems the least compelling.  After all, if there was a "stable" light hovering over an outbuilding in Bethlehem, I think it would have attracted more than three travelers.  (The shepherds having received an entirely different invitation.)  Certainly the neighbors would have noticed as well, as would the un-neighborly, like Herod.  That king, for all his paranoia, seemed pretty unaware until the celestial event was pointed out to him by the visiting royalty.

I can't explain the star - not in this blog or through any lifetime writings or efforts, though I did find some interesting theories at  What I can do, though, it wonder at the stars.  How beautiful, how peaceful, how steady and reliable, yet so fluid and ever changing.  The One who created the heavens and the earth, the One who brought His son to earth heralded His gift with His heavenly handiwork.  I don't need to figure out how to follow a star.  I'll follow the Babe instead.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

A Little Red, White And Jesus

Done and done!

But just to expound a bit,
turned on it's end, it becomes a shepherd's hook. 
Shepherds in the field, 
and the Good Shepherd.

The white can represent Christ's purity
and the red, His blood.
That's where I want to sit a moment.

I really appreciate a moment when I can stop
and remember, truly appreciate,
that that little Christ babe
came to do big work.

There was a moment like that at church last week.
We sang a new-to-me song.

Wish that I was there
 on that silent night
when your tiny heart
started beating for mine.*

The red of Jesus' blood.
Coursing through that tiny heart.
Beating for me.
The blood that would be shed to set me free.

Jesus is the reason for so much more than the season.

*Jesus Is Alive, by Josh Wilson