Have a Happy Advent

Several blog posts are in my mind at the moment, but haven’t made it onto the blog.  That’s not much use to you, sorry.  Hopefully after my daughter’s birthday party this Saturday there’ll be a post about that and other things coming your way.

In the meantime, I’d like to recommend this book to you: The One True Light by Tim Chester.  It’s available here.  I don’t have much time to tell you why it’s a good idea to get excited about Jesus this Christmas, but I will re-blog my post, Joy, from last year above this instead (or you can click on the link).  We are so blessed to have resources like this book to help us focus on Christ, the one true gift who truly satisfies.

I’m starting these advent readings now, because I’m pretty hopeless at reading the Bible on my own once a day 7 days a week (gasp!), so I wanted to give myself a head start.  I hope you find this or something similar a blessing to you this Christmas.

Live this Christmas

"I like your Christmas shoes" my 3 yr old friend told me.  I didn't admit I've been wearing them all year.
“I like your Christmas shoes” my 3 yr old friend told me. I didn’t admit I’ve been wearing them all year.

You’re busy and I’m busy so let’s keep this brief. The older my children have become, the more my Christmas has turned into a stereotype. Here I am, rushing from Nativity Play to Candlelit Carol service, waking in the night and pondering recipe ideas, and wondering where to hide yet another bag of Christmas prezzies.

This week:
– I decided to try making canapés for the first time – ha ha! I’m neither a 70’s housewife nor a wedding caterer, but I thought it would be fun. It was.
– I also decided to make Christmas cookies for my hairdresser and his assistant, since a) their mums are in far away countries and b) I thought it might cut through some of the intimidation I feel every time I go in. It did.
– Since it was my birthday, I also volunteered to make a giant, Christmassy birthday cake for our church’s Christmas party. Yum.

I decided to do all of these things in between Christmas fetes and Christmas parties and last minute shopping. And that’s OK. I had cheerful and loving motives. – but not entirely.

I had half an hour to myself last Sunday during a Nativity rehearsal, so I settled down in a nearby café with my Tim Keller book, King’s Cross. I’m up to the bit where he writes about humans deep down feeling inconsequential (or ‘unclean’), and all the ways they try to make up for that. There I was, innocently reading about how that affects Christian ministers, and I read something which unexpectedly had me weeping into my overpriced porridge:
You had assumed, ‘If people like me and say, ‘Oh, how much you help me,’ then God will like me and I will like myself, and then that sense of inconsequentiality… of uncleanness, will go away.’ But it doesn’t… I was reading Romans 1:17 in the following way “He who through faith is righteous shall live,” and I almost heard a voice saying, “Yes, and he who through preaching is righteous shall die every Sunday.”

Why did this affect me so much? Perhaps my man Timothy had put his finger on something. Or rather God was putting his finger on something. Maybe what I needed to hear was this:

“She who through baking and cooking and decorating the living room is righteous shall die every Christmas.”

On some level, no matter how many times I hear that my identity, my worth and my acceptable-ness are wonderfully found in Christ, I still want to prove myself. And Christmas is the season to prove yourself, isn’t it? I’m doing the Christmas dinner this year for the first time ever, and that’s an opportunity to bless my family. It’s also an opportunity to strive for airbrushed perfection of the supermarket magazines. But Eve Pollard made a good point in Good Housekeeping’s Christmas issue this year in her column about banning technology on Christmas day: ‘Professional food photographers spend hours making Christmas dinner look like something in an M&S advert. I don’t need some amateur Twitter-snapper broadcasting unappetizing snaps of my offerings to the world!’ (December 2014 issue, p. 61)

When I see Charlize Theron, Natalie Portman and the like on the side of a bus stop, I know that they’re airbrushed, crimped and possibly starved to ‘perfection’, and so it would be foolish and futile to aim to look anything like them. So why do I think my canapés are any different? Nigella’s Christmas book (where I find all, yes all of my Christmas recipes) is a useful tool, but I needn’t pretend I can make something that looks like her pictures. And that’s OK, because this Christmas I don’t have to prove myself. I don’t have to prove myself as a wife, mother, friend, sister or domestic goddess. I can’t make myself acceptable by baking or cooking or decorating the tree (we don’t actually have a tree). And I don’t need to.

So I hope you enjoy your Christmas, and most of all I hope you’ll be able to rejoice that Christ has made you clean; he’s made you acceptable; he’s given you value beyond your wildest dreams. Don’t measure yourself according to your own or others’ expectations. Measure yourself by this:

‘God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.’ 2 Corinthians 5:21.

 

Full of Grace and Truth

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The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14

Happy Advent everybody! How are you feeling?

The Christmas lights are twinkling, the Christmas markets are a-bustling, and the folks are queuing at Santa’s sparkly grotto. The festive season is in full flow. So, how’s it going in your house?

Do you ever feel like your children, the Christian ones, are “missing out” (again) at Christmas? Maybe not. But while my children’s friends are sitting on Santa’s lap for a photo, or getting queasy on advent chocolate before breakfast, my children are, well not doing that. On Christmas day, when other children are out riding their new bikes in the park and again, eating a lot of chocolate, my children will be sitting in church, possibly being shushed. Christmas has become so secular that, like Halloween, I sometimes feel like we’re not really joining in with it.

So I am taking my stand against this! We will celebrate Christmas, and we will do so in a spectacular way. Not just because I love tradition, and decorations, and the smell of something cinnamon-y baking (which I do, I do love those things!), but because (excuse me while I state the obvious) we have more reason to celebrate than anybody else this Christmas.

Last week we were looking in our Bible study group at 2 Samuel 9. Not the obvious passage to write about during a Christmas blog post but stick with me! David, King of Israel, summons the grandson of the previous king, and blesses him. He does it because he’d made a promise to a friend. He tells this grandson, who is called Mephibosheth, that he’ll protect him, restore his land to him, and he will treat him like a son.

What I was massively encouraged by is this: we have a King who is better than David, who takes us, rebellious as we are, and promises to protect us and provide for us forever. And God the Father adopts us as his children, to live with him in his house forever. Such mercy and surprising generosity! This is the God we celebrate, not just at Christmas but all year round. Christmas is just another chance to focus on one amazing part of the big rescue story. So let’s get our children excited about that.

Two years ago I was in a shop and my daughter took her shoes off. As I was asking her to put them back on, the assistant said ‘You’d better put them on, Santa’s coming soon.’ Miriam looked at her as if she’d just switched to speaking Swahili. What on earth could putting shoes on have to do with Santa? But I know it’s common for parents to use Santa as a reason to behave well and do as you’re told. Here are the two reasons why I don’t do that (sorry if this sounds harsh, I’m trying to be succinct and also I do have Santa issues; they’re not aimed at you):

  1. God is gracious. He does not treat us as our sins deserve. As Mephibosheth said to David, ‘Who am I, that you would notice a dead dog like me?’ You may not think of yourself as a dead dog, but dear Mephibosheth was right in thinking he had done nothing to deserve honour from the King. Similarly, we do not deserve honour, and yet the Lord our King showers us with gifts. Whether I’ve been naughty or nice (and of course I’ve been naughty), my Heavenly Father accepts me as his own and lavishes me with spiritual blessings.
  2. God is truthful. Of all the children who get told ‘You’d better be good or no presents,’ let’s face it, most of them end up with presents on Christmas day, either way. They’ve all been a mixture of naughty and nice, and (setting aside a few extreme cases) they all receive their gifts regardless. So I won’t use empty threats with my children because another word for an empty threat is a lie. It’s counterproductive (the kids do catch on sooner or later) and it’s not Kingdom-living. Just as David honoured his promise to Mephibosheth’s father Jonathan, so our Lord always keeps his promises. So I will try my hardest to keep mine.

This Christmas, rather than us all feeling that my children are somehow missing out, I want to show them how truly wonderful their God is. He always keeps his promises, and not just a little bit. He lavishes us with abundant grace, and brings about a rescue plan that we could never have dreamed of. He told his people it would happen, but who could have imagined how beautiful it would be when it did?

That’s why I recommend the Bible Overview Advent Calendar, which I can send you if you’d like it. There are loads of other brilliant resources out there too – let’s use them. In his book ‘Counterfeit Gods’, Tim Keller writes that idols cannot simply be removed, they must be displaced. Similarly, we can’t remove Santa from the Christmas scene our children are living in, but we can displace him with Jesus. Let’s elbow that big guy off his sleigh and plonk baby Jesus down in his place! Why would our children be interested in a grotto of sugar-highs when they know they can come to a 1st Century stable and find living water to satisfy their souls?

Can I encourage you to prioritise having a Biblical Christmas, even if it means compromising on gingerbread houses and shopping lists? I’m going to try. Join me!

After writing this, I watched this video which beautifully illustrates what I’m trying to say.

The ‘related links’ bit at the bottom is automatically generated, so here are some posts that actually link to this topic ANYTHING but that; Look down to the God in the Manger

Bible Overview Advent Calendar

Hello, last year I posted this advent calendar which Rachel (the ‘If only I could turn back time’ mum) created with her husband. If you’d like the file I can email it to you. It’s a great way to get your children excited about God’s super-duper rescue plan this Christmas.

Mum in Zone One

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Well isn’t this the most festive sight you ever did see?  No?

I know it’s doesn’t look great but please don’t be put off by the beige/white combo and the peeling paint which I’m trying unsuccessfully to hide!  It’s actually completely marvellous!

This is an advent calendar for young children, which my wonderful friends created and have kindly given to me.  Each day you turn over the relevant day to reveal a picture (see the second photo), look at a Bible story together, maybe do a song and colour in the picture.  Eventually your children will have built up their own colourful Bible overview!  Brilliant!

If you would like to do this with your children, I can email you the teaching guide and the sheets for each day.  You will need:  A functioning printer or access to one; some string (unless you choose to do it some other way –…

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