“Happy Holidays!” – Sam’s Antics?

   white house christmas tree

“Happy Thanksgiving!” “Merry Christmas!” “Happy Hanukkah!” “Happy Quanza!” “Happy New Year!” “Happy Holidays!” We have embarked into the Winter Holiday Season in the United States. Traditionally speaking, this is a time of giving thanks and spending time with family and friends and having a vacation away from our usual “duties”. This is how it used to be. The more we advance in our knowledge of temporal things the more complicated the holidays become. Our Winter celebrations have become much more consumer driven and less and less family-focused times of peaceful rest, relaxation and renewal. It has also become a time when we do not know what to say. Do we dare say, “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Hanukkah.” Will people be offended if we simply say, “Happy Holidays!”? Will they think that we are atheists? I remember when President Obama referred to the White House Christmas Tree as a “Holiday Tree.” Some people were enraged and called him anti-Christian and accused “Uncle Sam” of being involved in a conspiracy to take away everything “Christian” from the American culture. In my humble personal opinion, this is not “Uncle Sam’s antics,” but simply semantics. Whenever I read or hear (on the news) about the lighting of the White House evergreen tree, it is referred to as the “White House Christmas Tree.” (This year’s White House Christmas Tree is an eighteen-and-a-half foot Douglass fir from Eastern Pennsylvania. It will be lit on December 3, 2013, at 5:00 p.m., in case you‘re interested.)

Before going any further, I want to mention that lighting up an evergreen tree was first a pagan ritual traced way back to the 1400’s when Vikings or people related to Vikings lit an evergreen tree on fire, possibly for warmth and to make light in the wintry darkness. Later on, people would bring evergreen trees or branches into their homes to remind themselves that some things were still growing and green, even in the dead of winter, and that their fields would soon be green once more. Christians adopted this idea of bringing evergreen trees indoors to symbolize God’s faithfulness, everlasting love and eternal life found in His One and Only Son Jesus Christ, who was born to them on Christmas Day. Sometime later, the evergreen trees were called “Christmas Trees” and were decorated and lit with candles, later Christmas lights, in honor of Christ’s birth. The lights represent the Saints as “the light of world” (Matthew 5:14-16). That is how the Christmas Tree tradition came to be, in a nutshell. So, if some people want to call them “Holiday Trees” I have no objection, as long I am free to call my tree a Christmas Tree.

What is a “holiday” anyway? This is how Dictionary.com defines “holiday“:

Noun
1. A day fixed by law or custom on which ordinary business is suspended in commemoration of some event or in honor of some person.
2. Any day exempt from work (distinguished from working day).
3. A time or period of exemption from any requirement, duty, assessment, etc.: New businesses may be granted a one-year holiday from taxes.
4. A religious feast day; holy day, especially any of several usually commemorative holy days observed in Judaism. (I would also include Christianity. From a Judeo-Christian perspective, “holy” means “set apart” so a holiday is a day “set apart” for God.)
5. Sometimes, holidays, Chiefly British – a period of cessation from work or one of recreation; vacation.

Thanksgiving fits definition #1. According to Wikipedia: Thanksgiving is celebrated on the forth Thursday in November and became an official Federal holiday in 1863, during the Civil War, by President Abraham Lincoln. President Lincoln proclaimed it as a national day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.” Ever since Lincoln‘s proclamation, Americans celebrate the First Thanksgiving Feast of the Pilgrims and Native “Americans” in 1621, by having a feast of their own with turkey and stuffing and all the fixings (and don’t forget the pumpkin pie!) and use it as a day to “count our many blessings” with family and friends (and don’t forget the FOOTBALL!).

manorha

Hanukkah fits definition #4. This year Hanukkah, one of the oldest Jewish holidays, started on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and will be celebrated for eight days. It is very fitting for Hanukkah and Thanksgiving to be celebrated together, because they are both are about being thankful to God. (According to the Hebrew Calendar, Hanukkah and Thanksgiving will be together again for 78,000 years!) Hanukkah is also known as the “Festival of Lights and Feast of Dedication.” As I noted, it is an eight-day Jewish holiday which celebrates the rededication of the (second) Holy Temple at the time of the Maccabean Revolt, in the second century BCE. Wikipedia states “The festival is observed by the kindling of lights of a unique candelabrum, the nine-branched Menorah or Hanukiah, one additional light each night of the holiday, progressing to eight on the final night. The typical Manorah consists of eight branches with an additional branch in the center. The extra light is the shamash and is given a distinct location, usually above or below the rest. The purpose of the shamash is to have a light available for practical use, as using the Hanukkah lights themselves for purposes other than publicizing or meditating on the Hanukkah is forbidden.” Hanukkah is a time to celebrate God’s provision and faithfulness to His people. As God made the very little amount of oil to stretch out to give light for eight days at the first Hanukkah, God continues to provide and remains faithful to His people today. I am sure food is involved and also playing a game with a spinning-dice-like toy called a dreidel is lots of fun, but this is all this Gentile knows about Hanukkah, except for one more thing: The Hanukkah Menorah cannot be called a “Holiday“ Menorah, because it comes from a rich Jewish Holy Day tradition.

dreidels

Then, there’s “Black Friday.” Which definition does “Black Friday” fit into? I guess it could fit into definition #1, if you changed it to read: “A day fixed by law or CUSTOM on which ordinary people suspend common sense and courteous decorum.” I do not know when the name “Black Friday” got started, but it is the day after Thanksgiving when normal, law abiding people go into a Christmas shopping frenzy, while department store owners hope that there will be a lot of buying, so that they will go from being in the “red” to being in the “black” – thus the name, “Black Friday.” As for me, I celebrate “Black and Gold Friday” and watch the matinee Bruins hockey game, at 1 p.m., and enjoy Thanksgiving leftovers. (The Bruins beat the N.Y. Rangers 3 to 2 B.T.W.) This year, there’s the added “pleasure” of having “Green Friday,” with the Celtics Basketball game at 7 p.m. and “Green and Yellow Friday” with the 117th playing of the “Civil War” football game between the Beavers (Oregon State) and the Ducks (Oregon U), also at 7 p.m. One of the many blessings I am thankful for is a DVR. Both the Celtics and Ducks won (my teams) and I heard after the Beavers verses Ducks game, that it was a back and forth and very exciting game. I’m afraid the tryptophan did it’s work and I slept through most of the college football game. But, at least I have the DVRed Celtics game to look forward to watching. (I will be watching it because I’m afraid they will not be winning many games this season. But, you never know…) “Black and Gold and Green and Green and Yellow Friday” after Thanksgiving is my idea of a holiday, according to definition #2: “any day of exemption from work (distinguished from working day).

quanza candles

Another relatively new holiday is Quanza. Ask.com describes it the way: “Quanza also written as Kwanzaa is a week long celebration held in the U.S. in honor of the universal African-American heritage and culture. It was created by Maulana Karenga of the U.S. organization in 1966. It is celebrated from December 26th to January 1st.” Quanza also uses candles in their celebration, with seven candles representing core principles: unity, creativity and faith. The holiday ends with a feast and the giving of gifts.

advent wreath

The last Holiday Season I want to share with you is the Season of Advent, which prepares Christians (people who believe in Jesus Christ as Messiah and trust Him for their salvation) to celebrate Christmas, Christ’s first coming to us as a baby, and the joyful anticipation of Christ’s Second Coming as the Lord of lords and King of kings. The Season of Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas and extends through Christmas Eve. Advent originated as a period of penance and of preparation for baptisms at Epiphany Sunday (the Sunday closest to January 6th). In the 6th century it was moved to the four weeks before Christmas. In the 9th and 10th centuries Advent’s meaning was broadened to include the expectation of the Second Coming of Christ (see Matthew 24, 25; Mark 13; Luke 12, 17, 21; John 14, 16). [This information comes from my church’s Deacons’ Manual.]

Christmas as a one day holiday fits into definition #1, since it is a “custom on which ordinary business is suspended…in honor of some person” who is Jesus Christ. I’m sure many of us would not mind taking the whole season of Advent off, but that is not always possible or practical. However, Christians have something to help them focus on what the Incarnation of Christ, “God with us” and His Second Coming means to us, for most of the days in the month of December. Out of all of my Christmas decorations, from the Christmas Tree to the garland and even my crèches (I have several for different rooms of my house) with all its tiny figures; they all have to wait. The first Christmas decoration that is put out on my dining room table is the Advent Wreath. Like the Menorah candles and the Quanza candles, the candles on the Advent Wreath have special meaning and purpose for Christians. Candles are lit each day and Scripture passages concerning Christ’s birth and His Second Coming are read, once in the morning and once in the evening. Prayers are said, after the Scripture reading, and Christmas Carols are sung. Just as the Hanukkah Menorah cannot be called a “Holiday Menorah,” the Advent Wreath cannot be called a “Holiday Wreath” because it has special religious significance. The Advent Wreath is not hung up, but laid down in a prominent place tin the house where the family is able to gather and spend special times of worship and praise.

There are five candles that make up the Advent Wreath, which is made up of evergreen branches arranged in a circle. The green circle symbolizes that God is eternal and He gives eternal life to all who believe in Him and trust Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins. The three purple candles represent Christ’s royalty, as well as our attitude of humility and repentance with which we anticipate His coming. The rose colored candle represents God’s love and faithfulness, as well as our joy at Christ’s coming. These four candle are place at the four “corners” of the wreath. The white candle in the center of the Advent Wreath is the Christ Candle and it symbolizes Christ’s holiness and perfection.

Throughout this Advent Season, I hope to share my thoughts and meditations concerning who Jesus is to me, what He has done for me and what He continues to do for me until He comes again. The first candle is lit on the first Sunday in Advent (this Sunday, 12/1/13) and will be lit each day of the first week, two candles for the second week, three candles for the third week, four candles for the fourth week, and all five candles will be lit on Christmas Eve. As each candle is lit and specific Scriptures are read and Carols sung, I pray for the Holy Spirit to illumine our minds and hearts to who Jesus really is and what He has done for all who believe in His Name. As the Advent Wreath becomes brighter and brighter as the days get closer and closer to Christmas and the celebration of Christ‘s birth and the anticipation of His Second Coming, my hope is for all of us to share in the immeasurable joy and infinite peace that comes from receiving God’s “Indescribable Gift!” (II Corinthians 9:15).

This Sunday is the First Sunday in Advent. We light the first purple candle on the Advent Wreath. This candle is known as the “Prophecy Candle.” It reminds us that Christ’s coming was revealed by God through the prophets hundreds of years before He was born.

baby jesus in manger

“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call Him Immanuel [God with us]” (Isaiah 7:14).

“This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit…an angel of the Lord appeared to [Joseph] in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call Him Immanuel’ – which means, ‘God with us’” (Matthew 1:18, 20b-23))

photo

“Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past He humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future He will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan -The people in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before You as people rejoicing at the harvest, as men rejoice when dividing the plunder. For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, You have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. Every warriors boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire. For to us a Child is born, to us a Son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over His kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this” (Isaiah 9:1-7).

shacking hands

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away’ He who is seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’” (Revelation 21:1-5a).

praying hands

Dear Lord Jesus,

I thank you for coming down from Your heavenly throne to be born as a helpless baby, to become one of us, yet you were “God with us.” You grew up as a man, in order to die for me and save me from my sins. How can I ever thank You for saving me and setting me free. I also know that You will come again and put an end to all sorrow and pain, all fighting and strife, all bigotry and injustice, all hardship and evil and death. You will make everything new! As I meditate on all Your great works, during this Advent Season, help me to grasp anew what Your Incarnation and Your Coming Again mean. Renew the joy of my salvation and help me spread Your joy to others by loving and caring for them as You always love and care for me. Thank you Jesus! Amen.

WORSHIP

Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus
(By Charles Wesley)

Come, Thou long-expected Jesus, Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us; Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation, Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear Desire of every nation, Joy of every longing heart.

Born Thy people to deliver, Born a Child, and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever, Now The gracious kingdom bring.
By Thine own eternal Spirit Rule in all our hearts alone;
By Thine own sufficient merit, Raise us to Thy glorious throne.

My next post will not be this long. Promise! This post was a long one because I believe it is a good thing to know about holidays of all kinds. It may help us get into an interesting dialogue and learn something new. And, who knows, the person may ask us to explain our holiday too.

Christmas Nativity

My dad telling me about the First Christmas

“Blessed is the Season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love.” – Hamilton Wright Mabie

What in the World Was Jesus Thinking?

JOHN THE BAPTIST

Did you ever ask this question out loud or think it to yourself? If I am honest with myself, I must admit, some of the things Jesus did were baffling to me the first time I thought about them from a worldly point of view. For example, if I wanted to start my own religion or movement or business, I would choose people who thought like me and were on the same page as I was, people with intelligence and know-how, people with excellent people skills and were well known and respected in the community. This is not the case with Jesus and His “disciple-picking” style.

Jesus' Baptism

First, Jesus chose people who were ruddy, gritty, down-to-earth fisherman. Peter and the sons of Zebedee, James and John were fishermen (Mark 1:16-20). As fishermen, I would imagine they were more comfortable with fish than they were with people, but Jesus chose these three to be in His inner circle (Mark 5:37-43 and Luke 28-36). Then, there was Andrew. Andrew was Peter’s brother and he occasional helped in the fishing business when he wasn’t following John the Baptist. Andrew was looking for the Messiah. When John the Baptist pointed to Jesus as “the Lamb of God,” Andrew stopped following John the Baptist and quickly turned to follow Jesus. It was Andrew who brought his brother Peter to the Lord. (John 1:35-42). Andrew had a childlike faith. He was the one who brought “a little boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish” to Jesus, which Jesus used to feed five thousand people (John 5:8-13).

Jesus and Peter

I wonder if Peter’s first reaction to Andrew’s excitement in finding Jesus was, “Oh no! Who are you taking me to this time? Why don’t you just come back and help with the family fishing business?” But, when Andrew brought Peter to Jesus, Peter knew that Jesus was the One he was secretly looking for (John 1:35-42). Peter knew Jesus was from God and exclaimed his unworthiness to be one of His disciples: “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” This was after Jesus instructed him and his companions to drop their fishing nets in shallow water and they proceeded to catch so many fish that their nets was tearing (Luke 5:5-8) While people, and possibly they themselves, saw Peter, James and John as scummy, rough-around-the-edges, smelly fishermen, Jesus saw them as “fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). Jesus saw them as men who would help Him change the world!

Jesus saving Peter

Of the first twelve disciples, we know the most about Peter because he was always putting his foot in his mouth and acting impulsively. For example, when Jesus asked the disciples who they thought He was, Peter was the first one to speak: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). Jesus praised him by saying, “Blessed are you Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by My Father in heaven“(Matthew 16:17). Jesus proceeded to explain how He was going to use Peter to build His Church (Matthew 16:18-20). However, moments later, when Jesus started talking about His death, Peter refused to listen and said, “Never, Lord! This will never happen to You” and Jesus had to rebuke Peter: “Get behind me Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men” (Matthew 1621-:23). And we all know when Peter asked Jesus to let him walk on water to where Jesus was on the water and how that turned out (Matthew 14:25-31).

Peter and Jesus on Beach

After Jesus resurrection, He and Peter had a private talk while walking along the beach. One of the things Jesus told Peter was how Peter was going to die. He said to Peter, “…‘I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.’ Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then He said to him, ‘Follow Me!’” (John 21:18-19). This time, Peter did not say, “Never, Lord!” Peter did ask what would happen to John (21:20-22), but Peter did not turn back from following Jesus. He followed Him to the very end of his life. Some Bible historians believe Peter requested to be crucified up-side-down because he felt unworthy to die in the same manner as Jesus died. Although it’s safe to say that none of us will be crucified up-side-down, if we live long enough, the aging process will take away our ability to live independently and we also will have “someone else dress [us] and lead us [in a wheelchair] where [we] do not want to go.” My prayer is for Jesus to help me, as I grow older, to keep on trusting Him and following Him by His grace, as Peter did. Peter said and did many crazy things, yet Jesus used him to build His Church and do many great things for God, especially when all of Jesus’ followers received the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-13). Some of the miraculous things Peter and the other disciples did are recorded in the Book of Acts.

Jesus named James and John “Sons of Thunder” (Mark 3:17). One might think the sons of Zebedee were big macho men, strong and ready to fight anyone at any time. Yet, these same men asked their mother to speak to Jesus for them: “She said, ‘Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at Your right and the other at Your left in Your kingdom.’” Jesus told her that she really did not know what that would entail. Then, Jesus got all the disciples together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (see Matthew 20:20-28). What in the world was Jesus thinking? How could a kingdom survive with a bunch of servant-leaders running it? It just didn’t make any earthly sense! But Jesus wasn’t talking about worldly things. He was talking about heavenly things – His Father’s way of doing things. Very little is known about James, the son of Zebedee, but we know that John, the Son of Zebedee got Jesus message. John wrote the Gospel of John and three Epistles, all of which talk about God’s love manifested in His one and only Son, and how His followers are to walk in Jesus’ love, by loving and serve one another.

Jesus and Peter

Second, along with the fishermen, Jesus called Philip to follow Him. Philip was from the same town of Bethsaida (John 1:44) and must have been friends with Andrew, Peter, James and John. Philip knew that Jesus was the One he was looking for. Philip’s faith in Jesus, along with all of Jesus’ disciples, was a work in progress. For example, before Jesus fed the five thousand, Philip said to Jesus, “Eight month’s wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!“(John 6:7). Even after three years with Jesus, Philip seemed to still need to grow in his faith because he had to ask Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” Jesus answered: “Don’t you know Me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? …Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in Me?” (John 14:8-10a). Even with Philip’s slowly developing faith, he was the one who brought Nathanael [or Bartholomew (Matthew 10:2-4)] to Jesus. Philip knew that Nathanael was searching for the Messiah. Nathanael was always sitting under a fig tree, reading the Scriptures. (John 1:45). Nathanael almost let his “head knowledge” get in the way of seeing who Jesus really was, but once Philip brought Jesus to Him and when he met Jesus face to face, he knew that Jesus was the One he was searching for (John 1:47-51). We last see Philip in the Book of Acts (8:26-40), sharing “the Good News about Jesus” to an Ethiopian and baptizing him and “traveling about, preaching the Gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.” How wonderful Philip’s faith in Jesus had grown!

Jesus also called Thomas to be one of His first twelve disciples (Matthew 10:2-4). “Thomas” means “Didymus” or “the Twin” (John 11:1`6), but we know him best by the nick name, “Doubting Thomas.” I imagine that Thomas sounded a little bit like Eeyore the donkey, with a monotone and somewhat whiny mumbling voice. He was the pessimist in the group. Just listen to Thomas say, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him” (John 11:16) and “Unless I see the nail marks in His hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe it” (John 20:25b). Thomas must have been the life of the party [not]! While most of us see the “Doubting Thomas”, Jesus saw the “Redeemed and Restored Thomas” and Jesus only remembers hearing him proclaim with a loud voice, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).

imagesCACWXBPF

Thirdly, there was Matthew. Matthew [or Levi] was a despised tax collector (Matthew 9:9-12 and Mark 2:13-17). I learned one Sunday, not so long ago, from my pastor’s sermon, that tax collectors were considered as traitors and thieves. They used the hated Roman government who invaded their land to line their own pockets and rob their own countrymen of their hard-earned wages. Why in the World would Jesus chose a tax collector if He wanted the Jews to follow Him? It just doesn’t make any earthly sense. Yet Jesus was not thinking in a worldly way. Jesus always did things for heaven’s sake and for His Father’s glory and praise. In Mark 2:13-16, it says that during Jesus’ dinner with Matthew, “many tax collectors and ‘sinners’ were eating with Him and His disciples, for there were many who followed Him.” When the Pharisees made their total disgust at Jesus eating with tax collectors and “sinners” known, Jesus told them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17).

Jesus chose another James, who was the “son of Alphaeus” and Thaddaeus and Simon the Zealot, all mentioned in Matthew 10:2-4 and Mark 3:16-19. They are not mentioned anywhere else in the New Testament, so nothing more is known about them. However, they are mentioned in “the Lamb’s Book of Life” and that counts infinitely more than any earthly fame. (Revelation 3:5).

Fourthly, there is another disciple, one of the twelve, who is infamously known in Scripture. Jesus chose His twelfth disciple to be “Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Him” (Matthew 10: 4 and Mark 3:19) . What in the world was Jesus thinking? Again, the answer is, Jesus was not thinking in a worldly sense. He always did everything for heaven’s sake and for the glory and praise of His Heavenly Father. Judas was in charge of the money for Jesus and the disciples (John 12:6 and 13:29) and because of the love of money and power, Judas Iscariot betrayed his Friend Jesus to die a horrific and excruciating painful death on the cross (Matthew 26:47-50; 27:32-50 and Mark 43-46; 15:21-37 and Luke 22:1-6, 47-54; 23:44-46 and John 19:16-37).

towel and basin

Jesus was not surprised at Judas’ betrayal. During the last Passover Supper Jesus was to eat with His disciples, the Gospel of John tells us that Jesus washes His disciples’ feet (John 13:1-1-5). John 13:1b says, “Having loved His own who were in the world, He now showed them the full extent of His love.” Jesus must have washed Judas’ feet. Jesus loved Judas as one of His own, yet Jesus knew Judas would betray Him. Jesus washed Judas’ feet, yet John tells us, “The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus (John 13:2). After washing His disciples’ feet, Jesus tells them, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. This is to fulfill the Scripture: ‘He who shares my bread has lifted up his heel against Me’” (John 13:14-18 and Psalm 41:9).

When we read Jesus’ prayer for His disciples before going to the cross, He prays this: “Holy Father, protect them by the power of Your Name – the Name You gave Me – so that they may be one as We are One. While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by the Name You gave Me. None has been lost except the one doomed for destruction, so that Scripture would be fulfilled“ (John 17:11b-12). This prophecy is found in Zechariah 11:12-13: “I told them, ‘If you think it best, give me my pay; but if not, keep it.’ So they paid me thirty pieces of silver. And the LORD said to me, ‘Throw it to the potter – the handsome price at which they priced Me!’ So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the LORD to the potter.” This is exactly what Judas did, as recorded in Matthew 27:3-10: “When Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver coins to the chief priests and the elders. ‘I have sinned,’ he said, ‘for I have betrayed innocent blood.’ ‘What is that to us?’ they replied. ‘That’s your responsibility.’ So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself. The chef priests picked up the coins and said, ‘It is against the law to put this into the treasury, since it is blood money.’ So they decided to use the money to buy a potters field as a burial for foreigners” (also see Jeremiah 19:1-13; 32:6-9).

Cross

Jesus came to die for the sins or the world, so that all who believed in Him would live with Him forever, for heaven’s sake and for the glory of God. It is humanly impossible to fathom how in the world Judas could be part of God’s plan to redeem this fallen world. We wonder when God will put an end to all the evil that we see around us.. Saint Augustine explained it this way: “God permits evil, so as to transform it into a greater good.” Though it is humanly impossible to comprehend and make sense of all of God’s plan, we can know, by faith, that this one thing is for certain: God loves us more than we can ever think or imagine: “He who did not spare His own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32).

glasses on Bible
“Yet it was the LORD’S will to crush Him and cause Him to suffer; and though the LORD makes His life a guilt offering, He sees His Offspring and prolongs His days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in His hand. After the suffering of His soul, He will see the light of life and be satisfied; by His knowledge My righteous Servant will justify many, and He will bear their iniquities. Therefore I will give Him a portion among the great, and He will divide the spoils with the strong, because He poured out His life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For He bore the sins of many, and made intercession for their transgressors” (Isaiah 53:10-12).
“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him” (John 3:16-17).

“This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all men – the testimony given in its proper time” (I Timothy 2:3-6).

“So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us a ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And He has committed to us the message of reconciliation” (II Corinthians 5:16-19).

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

“The LORD works out everything for His own ends – even the wicked for a day of disaster” (Proverbs 16:4).

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The cross of Jesus Christ means everything to all those who believe in Him. Paul writes, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those of us who are being saved it is the power of God” (I Corinthians 1:18). The cross of Christ is the power of God because that cross of Christ is empty and the tomb of Christ is unoccupied! Jesus has risen! Jesus has risen indeed! How do we know this? We know this because the women who were Jesus disciples told us so:

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“On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they wondering about this two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them…‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; He has risen! Remember what He told you, while He was with you…”The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.”’…When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense” (Luke 24:1-4,5b-11).

Jesus with Mary

What in the world was Jesus thinking, first appearing to women when He rose from the dead? Didn’t He know women had very little respect or clout in the Jewish world back then? Exactly! That’s exactly why Jesus chose to first show himself to the women after His resurrection. In the world women had no say, but women were just as important as men in Jesus’ eyes and for heaven’s sake and the glory and praise of God, Jesus, the Resurrected Christ, first appeared to His women followers who took care of His needs, in Galilee. (Mark 15:41). They were His disciples just as the men were His disciples. The men finally believed that Jesus had risen from the dead when He appeared to them, as recorded in Luke 24:36ff, as well as end of the other three Gospels – Matthew, Mark and John.

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Finally, what in the world was Jesus thinking when He picked me to follow Him? In John 15:16, Jesus says, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you to bear fruit – fruit that will last.” Why did He pick me? I have cerebral palsy. I have slurred speech, cannot control my body movements that well and cannot walk. I do have a Master’s Degree, but only worked for about six years because I have poor stamina. I am not very photogenic and I have very little computer savvy. (Can you hear the violin praying in the background?). But, Jesus picked me to have Him as my Savior and Lord. It makes no earthly sense, but He chose me for heaven’s sake and for the praise and glory of His Heavenly Father. Jesus also says, “As the Father loved Me, so have I loved you. Now remain in My love. If you obey My commandments, you will remain in My love, just as I have obeyed My Father’s commands and remain in His love. I have told you this so that My joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that He lay down His life for His friends. You are My friends if you do what I command…This is My command: Love each other” (John 15:9-14, 17). I believe, just as Jesus told this to His first disciples, He is telling this to me and to you and to everyone who believes in His Name. He chose us, simply because He loves us and it gives Him joy that we love Him and find our joy in Him by loving one another as He has loved us. During this Thanksgiving Season, I am forever thankful for Jesus’ love for me for heaven’s sake and for the glory and praise of His Heavenly Father.

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“Peace I leave you; My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).

“But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of the world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before Him. It is because of Him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us the wisdom of God – that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written, ‘Let him who boasts boast in the Lord’” (I Corinthians 1:27-31).

“Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it from me. But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (II Corinthians 12:8-9).

“But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:4-7).

THANK YOU FOR THE CROSS!
THANK YOU FOR THE CROSS!
THANK YOU FOR THE CROSS, LORD JESUS!

HAPPY THANKSGIVING ONE AND ALL!
Lydia

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(I used http://bibleseo.com/gospels/jesus-disciples-names-meaning-occupation for some of the information in this post. I highly recommend this website for Bible study information and research.)

Sharing Sox

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There is nothing like putting on a clean pair of socks, whether they are brand new or right out of the dryer. Fresh, clean, warm socks on a cold wintry day make me feel comfy and cozy all over. They are my socks and no one can have them. Anyone who has taken gym class or played a sport, or has a YMCA membership knows that it is not cool to share one’s socks or wear someone else’s socks. It is not only un-cool, it’s down right nasty!

This is not the case with New Englanders and their beloved “hanging (RED) SOX.” The RED SOX are meant to be shared from one generation to the next. How many stories have you heard about a father passing on his love for his beloved RED SOX to his son, as did his father before him and his grandfather before him? Many of these stories were told after the RED SOX won the 2004 World Series and broke the “eighty-six-year old curse of the Bambino.” I heard sons express their heartfelt feelings, “A wish my dad was alive to experience and share this joy with me!” Fathers also expressed their relief, “I almost didn’t wake up my son in the ninth inning because I didn’t want to scar him for life, but I’m so glad I did! We were able to share the RED SOX winning the World Series together AT LAST!”

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Everyone who is a “wicked big” RED SOX fan has their own unique story to tell. And now that we have experienced the RED SOX winning three World Series Championships, we have even more stories to tell about our beloved RED SOX and what their winning means to us. My RED SOX story is unique because, first of all, I’m a daughter and not a son. Secondly, I was the first person in the family who became a RED SOX fan. My fandom started in 1967, when the RED SOX won the American League Pennant, only to lose the World Series to the Cardinals. Thirdly, I passed on my love for baseball and the RED SOX to my mom, who was interested in everything I was interested in. My brother and sisters also became RED SOX fans, but they were not as fanatical (I prefer “loyal”) as I was. My dad, on the other hand, did not like baseball at all. He thought baseball players were paid far too much money and, as an ordinary “workman”, he worked harder than they ever did.

1967 was the year that began my long RED SOX journey filled with disappointment and heartache as the RED SOX lost year after year after year. Then in 1986, when I lived in a little town in New York, I invited Mets fans to come watch the sixth game of the World Series with me. I do not have to tell you what happened next. 1986 was the year I stopped watching baseball. I vowed that the RED SOX would never ever break my heart again.

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After living for a short time in the state of New York, the Lord brought me back to my home town in Massachusetts, where I became very involved with my church.  I lived alone for a long time, in a small apartment, in a town next to where my parents and my sister and her family lived. In the 1990’s my sister and her husband, who owned a two-family house, asked me if I would want to come live in the apartment below them, because their tenants were buying a home of their own and would be leaving soon. Of course I said YES. The Lord blessed me with a beautiful home, with space to have people over, and being close to my sister was an added bonus. In a few years, I decided to get housemates in the form of two kittens and all was going smoothly. I did not need baseball in my life. I was busy and happy and enjoying my independence.

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[My friend Pam and I with the ’04 and ’07 Trophies]

In 2001, the whole world changed on September 11th. A month earlier, my family’s world changed when my dad had a stroke and became severely disabled. He was the one caring for my mom who was already disabled. My sister and I took our parents to live in my apartment and we both took care of them. When our dad died in 2003, there was a big hole in each of our hearts, especially my mom‘s. During my lonely days as a child with a disability, baseball was my safety net. Baseball was where I found something to do when the neighborhood kids were riding their bikes and playing “dodge ball“. Baseball was something to read about and learn about. The RED SOX team was something I could belong to and root for as a fan. The RED SOX were people I could  think about, instead of thinking about myself. And the Lord would again use baseball and the RED SOX to help me deal with my grief by taking me out of my “lonely place” and give me something to cheer about. In 2003, at the gentle nudging of a good friend, I turned on the TV to the RED SOX game for the first time in decades, and I was hooked again. It’s like riding a bike – you never lose the ability to ride in the marathon that is baseball. Of course, the RED SOX lost that year, in another heartbreaker, but I vowed never to leave baseball or the RED SOX again, but just enjoy the ride.

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Baseball helped all of us, my mom and sister and me, to have something to look forward to at the end of the day. My mom could not stay up to watch the night games. She had a TV in her bedroom, but she preferred to just listen to my friends and me, as we cheered for the RED SOX. When it got to be too quiet, she would shout from her bedroom, next to the living room, “I don’t hear any noise out there. What’s going on? How are the RED SOX doing?” When a RED SOX player hit a homerun, my sister would stomp on the floor above us and my mom would say, “What’s happening? Who hit a homerun?” When my friends came over to watch a RED SOX game, before my sister helped her into bed, my mom would reassure all of us that we didn’t have to keep quiet. She loved hearing us having fun. We did not realize how much she was really into the RED SOX until the December Johnny Damon went to the “dark side” (Yankees). We were all having coffee after opening presents on Christmas morning, when my sister from Oregon called to wish everyone a “Merry Christmas.” We were all stunned when the phone was given to my mom and her first words were not “Merry Christmas”, but “Hey Sophie, did you hear what the stupid jerk did?” My nephew almost spit out his coffee!

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[Mom and grandson Luke Playing]

That was mom. She was always interested in what we were interested in. Every year, she wanted a calendar of bridges, because her youngest daughter is a civil engineer and worked on bridges. Her other daughter loved to cook, so mom was always the taste tester. Her son loved to fish and mom would always love to eat the fish he caught. And there was her oldest daughter, the crazy sports fan. Mom also became a crazy sports fan. That was mom, always interested in what her children were into, and that carrying over to being a grandmother and playing whatever her grandsons wanted to play.

Trophy w Mom and Jane

It was such a special blessing to share the 2004 RED SOX World Series victory with my mom and sister Jane. We three were able to see the ’04 Trophy at a nearby park. I’ll never forget this tiny little woman, in a wheelchair, with a RED SOX cap on her head and a big smile on her face, looking at the BIG World Series Trophy in front of her nose. She looked up at us and said, “It’s so big! I hope they get to keep it.”

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In 2007,  mom could no longer travel very much, but my nephew took a photo of the three of us, on our porch, in front of celebratory RED SOX World Series Champion banners which Jane made, along with Wally, the “sweep” broom, red gloves, and a RED SOX Mr. Potato Head. Celebrating the second RED SOX World Series Championship with our mom was “SO GOOD, SO GOOD, SO GOOD!”

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[Yes, that is a gargoyle in the top right corner]

In 2013, our beloved RED SOX have won a third World Series Victory in ten years. It is somewhat of a bitter-sweet time for Jane and me. Our loving mom Victoria went to be with the Lord in 2010. We are saddened by her absence and miss her smile and the “unique” ways she expressed herself. We also miss “the good” Damon, Jane’s sneazy-barky little Schnauzer. Jane got her Damon in 2004, the year he was born. Jane didn’t tell anyone, but she had a feeling the RED SOX would win the World Series in the last year of “the good” Damon’s life. It did happen.

the good Damon

There are other special reminders that happened during the 2013 World Series that are uniquely special to my sister and me. One of the RED SOX relief pitcher’s last name is Workman, and that reminded us of our dad. He was always proud of being a good workman. It was because of all his hard work and savings that we were able to care for our mom when he passed away. Also, the television broadcast would often show the sign for Ipswich Street. Ipswich was where our mom was born and she would often talk about it. Even though I am sad that our parents and Jane’s “shadow” Damon are not with us anymore, I am happy for all the pleasant memories we will always cherish together. I am also happy that, just as in 2004, my brother John and my friends Fran and Pam were with Jane and me (her husband banished her down to my house because she was too noisy. What up with that?) to share the pandemonium of another RED SOX WORLD SERIES VICTORY!!!

High School Graduation

Throughout my life, my parents and baseball have taught me many lessons that I am still learning. My dad taught me the value of hard work and “family first.” Both my dad and mom taught me about unconditional love and thinking of others before myself. Baseball and especially the RED SOX have taught me “You win some, you lose some,” but always know that “the joy of victory” is worth “the agony of defeat.” Love and pain go hand in hand and everything is used of God to mold us into the people he wants us to be. Instead of playing it safe and never getting too close or too attached or too involved, God wants me to step out in faith and embrace all of life and enjoy and be thankful for all of God’s lessons, as well His blessings. I want to be able to say, “”Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the Lord has taken away; may the Name of the LORD be praised” (Job 1:20b). And OH, What a ride!

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“Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share in your Master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25:21).

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us…And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:18, 28).

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no records of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails” (I Corinthians 13:4-8a).

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4).

“In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls…Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have a sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart” I Peter 1:6-9, 22),

“For this reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in you knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (II Peter 1:5-8).

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award me on that day – and not only me, but also all who have longed for His appearing” (II Timothy 4:7-8).

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[The Sunday after Halloween I gave out candy before Worship, Beard and all!]

As of this writing, there are about one hundred days before pitchers and catchers report to SPRING TRAINING. In the meantime, I have DVRed the four RED SOX wins, in the 2013 World Series and the Duck Boat Rolling Rally, to get me through baseball withdrawals. And, of course, I will now be better able to concentrate on Patriots Football and Bruins Hockey and pray for the Celtics. There are also college football and basketball that will get some of my attention. Did you notice how many sports are needed to replace the sport of BASEBALL? Anyway, I hope you will join me in celebrating the 2013 RED SOX WORLD CHAMPIONS for a little while longer, because we really don’t know when the next one will be. And here’s wishing that all your socks are fresh, warm, cozy and comfy all through the cold New England  winter months.

A “Wicked Big” RED SOX Fan,

Lydia