The Christmas Heart

 the christmas heart

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

~George Matthew Adams, from ‘The Christmas Heart’

27 Days of Christmas Music: Day 7, Relient K’s I Celebrate the Day

Relient K – I Celebrate the Day

I love a good, old-fashioned Christmas carol just about as much as anyone…perhaps even more so.  Traditions and customs, including songs, passed down from one generation to the next is in my opinion what makes Christmas time so very magical.

I love it when I hear my Grandma’s favorite Christmas song, Ave Maria, this time of year and one of my favorite decorations that hang on my tree is a Star of Bethlehem ornament that once hung on my great grandmother’s tree.  In honor of my other grandma, I put real cinnamon sticks in Alex’s hot cocoa just like my grandma used to do for me when I was little.

Even though I can still picture in my mind’s eye many of the ornaments I used to hang on my own mother’s tree as a little girl, I always love it when I hear a new Christmas song or create a new Christmas tradition with my own family.

One of my favorite modern Christmas songs is Relient K’s ‘I Celebrate the Day’, which has been in frequent rotation on my most played songs list lately.  Just the other day as my son Alex and I were driving along I-469 outside of Fort Wayne, Indiana, we were listening to this song when Alex simply said to me, “Mommy, what does this song mean?”

I looked in my rearview mirror at my little blonde haired, blue-eyed boy as he sat in his booster seat behind me.  I couldn’t help but notice how big he is getting, and how much is starting to look more like a boy and less like the little baby I once held in my arms.

I didn’t really know how to explain the song to him.

So, I simply said, “It’s a Christmas song.”

“How come they  aren’t singing about Mary and angels and the manger?” Alex asked astutely.

“Well, not all Christmas songs have to be about those things,” I explained.  “This song is more about why Jesus came at Christmas time.”

“Jesus was born so that we could live with Him in heaven one day,” Alex said quietly.

“That’s right,” I replied, smiling at Alex in the mirror.

His eyes met mine, and he said very directly, “Mommy, is it true what they sing?  That when Jesus opened his eyes on Christmas, he knew about me?”

“I believe that’s true,” I said.  “I think that’s the only reason why Jesus was able to do what He came to do:  because He knew each one of us, and loved us so much, that He was able to die for us,” I told Alex.

“Now that’s love,” said Alex.

“Indeed it is,” I replied.

“Merry Christmas, Mommy!” In the back seat of my car, Alex gave me a knowing smile.

“Merry Christmas, sweetheart,” I responded with tears in my eyes, realizing that I had a new Christmas traditon (and memory)…listening to “I Celebrate the Day” with my son, Alex.

 

“I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

John 10:10

I Celebrate the Day lyrics

by Relient K

And with this Christmas wish is missed
The point I could convey
If only I could find the words to say to let You know how much You’ve touched my life
Because here is where You’re finding me, in the exact same place as New Year’s eve
And from a lack of my persistency
We’re less than half as close as I want to be

And the first time
That You opened Your eyes did You realize that You would be my Savior
And the first breath that left Your lips
Did You know that it would change this world forever

And so this Christmas I’ll compare the things I felt in prior years
To what this midnight made so clear
That You have come to meet me here

To look back and think that
This baby would one day save me
In the hope that what You did
That you were born so I might live
To look back and think that
This baby would one day save me

And I, I celebrate the day
That You were born to die
So I could one day pray for You to save my life

27 Days of Christmas Music, Day 5: Mandisa’s Christmas Makes Me Cry

Mandisa

Matthew West – Christmas Makes Me Cry – feat. Mandisa

I’m going to be completely frank for the next few minutes.

For a lot of people out there, Christmas sucks.

Harsh as this may sound, you know as well as I do that it’s true.  We live in a completely broken, torn apart world.  Even while Psalm 47:8 plainly tells us, “God reigns over the nations; God is seated on his holy throne,” I’d be lying if I didn’t freely admit that most of the time it seems like the only thing reigning in this messed up world is our own brokenness.

You better believe Mandisa and Matthew West aren’t the only ones Christmas has the potential to make cry.

I’d be surprised if anyone, anywhere didn’t at one time or another feel pretty darn miserable at Christmas.

I know I hurt when I think about how much I miss my grandmothers at Christmas time.

My heart breaks when I think about the Christmas memories I didn’t get a chance to make with my little girl.

I turn into a floodgate of emotions when faced with Hallmark Commercials, photos of golden retriever puppies wearing Christmas bows, sappy romantic holiday movies and stories revealing the true meaning of Christmas this time of year.

Niagara Falls has nothing on me in these instances, that much is certain.

Tonight as I ponder the true meaning of all my Christmas tears, an unexpected thought pops into my mind.

No one has ever written a song called “Easter Makes Me Cry.”

For a brief moment, I wonder why this is the case?  I mean, all the holiday stuff that makes people cry at Christmas is still pretty applicable at Easter.  Come to think of it, the story of Easter comes right on the heels of Jesus spending three days being tortured, dying a horrific death, and taking a trip to hell for sins He never committed.

Shouldn’t we not just be crying at Easter over the atrocities committed against our Savior, but tearing out our hair and gnashing our teeth as well?

I mean, seriously, if we are crying at Christmas time over the sweet story about the birth of a little baby boy lying in manger, shouldn’t Easter be filled with a little more angst?

Of course not.

(Had you going there for a minute, though, didn’t I?!)

So why all the tears at Christmas and not Easter?

Perhaps my favorite line of lyrics in Christmas Makes Me Cry explains why our emotions are closer to the surface at Christmas time than any other time of the year:

I think of Mary and the virgin birth
And I’m amazed by how much God thinks we are worth
That He would send His only Son to die
And sometimes Christmas makes me cry

As I picture my precious Savior lying in that lowly manger, the joy I feel as I celebrate His birth is coupled with the full knowledge of what Christmas would one day cost Him.

Because of me.  (You, too!)

…I’m amazed by how much God thinks we are worth

That He would send His only Son to die

While I’ve shed many tears at Christmas time, I can’t stop my heart from rejoicing with the knowledge that our Savior’s story didn’t end at Christmas.

It didn’t end when He died, arms outstretched, for you and for me, on the cross at Calgary either.

The promise that was made to us on that Christmas night so long ago was fulfilled in its entirety on that blessed Easter morn when the angel triumphantly announced, “He is not here; for he has risen as he said he would.” (Matthew 28:6)

Because of Easter, because my Lord is risen indeed, I believe with unsurpassing confidence that one day the tears I’ve shed in the past will matter no more, and all the pain and brokenness and death of this world will pass away.

All that will remain is the joy I feel knowing that the price my Savior paid for me has set me free from all of my tears, all of my sadness, and all of my pain forevermore.

No one cries at Easter because Jesus is alive!  Hallelujah!  (And a very merry Christmas, too!)

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.

Revelation 21:4

27 Days of Christmas, Day 4: TobyMac’s This Christmas (Father to the Fatherless)

I had a so-traditional-it’s-crazy kind of upbringing as a child. My Mom, Sandy, left her job as an elementary school teacher to stay home with my brother, sister, and I in our rural Indiana farmhouse. My Dad, Rick, worked full-time at the local factory to provide for his family. Money was frequently tight, so our food budget was stretched by growing our own vegetables in the garden in the summer time for canning. My Dad was also an avid fisherman and hunter, so whatever he could catch or shoot would often times end up on the table for dinner.

A major part of my childhood was attending church with my family. We went to the church my Mom attended as a young girl, and the church my Grandma Bricker attended up until the time of her death in 2005. Unless I was on my own deathbed with an illness, I never missed a church service or Sunday School. I can maybe remember in 18 years missing 3 or 4 Sundays; one of those Sundays was due to the blizzard of 1978, so it was kind of unavoidable.

The older I became, however, the more I began to question why going to church was so important in the first place. I mean, I already had one father who was an expert in ruining all of my fun. Why did I really need another?

What it all boiled down to in my mind was that having a meaningful relationship with God was the equivalent of inviting another member of the Fun Police into my business.

I had it all figured out, and I didn’t need Him. I didn’t need the Dad I already had, either.

Or did I?

It actually wasn’t until I became a mother that I began to truly see just how important a father is in the life of a child. I began to reflect upon my relationship with my own fathers, both of them, as I observed the growing relationships between my young son and his earthly and heavenly fathers.

What I realize now, and have come to sincerely appreciate from the depths of my heart, is the fatherly love I have been blessed with my entire life.

Even when I ran away from this love, it never left me.

Even when I didn’t deserve it, I always, always, had the love of my fathers.

By their very presence in my life, my fathers showed me over and over again the true meaning of love and grace.

Doesn’t every one deserve to have the same?

In TobyMac’s song, This Christmas (Father of the Fatherless), he tells the story about a nine-year old orphan named Johnie, and how he came to find his fathers. A chorus in the song, in my opinion, is especially poignant, and one that we should remember not just at Christmas but all year-long:

Father of the fatherless

Be with your sons and daughters this Christmas, this Christmas

(You ain’t livin’ ’til you choose to give

Love and Joy and Peace to one of His)

Father let us not forget

The children who are all alone at Christmas, this Christmas

(You ain’t livin’ ’til you choose to give

Love and Joy and Peace to one of His)

With these lyrics in mind, I want to encourage you to look around you this Christmas time and ask yourself, ‘Who are the fatherless in my circle of influence?’

Maybe it’s the little neighbor girl from down the street riding the pink bicycle.

Maybe it’s the college student serving up your cappuccino at the local coffee hot spot in your town.

Maybe it’s the widow who just lost their spouse this past year that you see at the park while walking your dog, or maybe it’s the single father of three who coaches your daughter’s basketball team.

The fatherless come in all shapes and all sizes.

They are in every community, in every neighborhood, from the projects to the affluent.

They speak every language, from English and Spanish to Burmese and Swahili.

They come in a rainbow of assorted colors. Some have dark skin, some have light skin. Some may even have tattooed skin and blue hair.

Yet in spite of their differences, the one thing they all have in common is the fact that they each have a Father who loves them to the ends of the earth. He loves them so much He came to earth as a tiny baby, delivered in humblest of places, and lived His life for the express purpose of dying so that one day we all might spend eternity with Him in heaven.

I ask you, what could be a better gift to give this Christmas time than telling someone they have a Father who loves them like that?

It’s up to you this Christmas to share the good news of Jesus Christ with the fatherless.

Won’t you join me?

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

James 1:27

27 Days of Christmas Music, Day 3: for King & Country’s ‘Baby Boy’

baby boy

for King & Country – Baby Boy

If you told me all about your sorrows
I’d tell you about a cure
If you told me you can’t fight the battle
There’s a Baby Boy who won the war
The war was won by a Baby Boy

(Chorus) Alleluia, we can sing it
Alleluia, Heaven’s ringing
Alleluia!
Endless hope and endless joy started with a Baby Boy

Oh, before that silent night
No Savior and No Jesus Christ
The world cried out so desperately
And the Baby Boy was the reply,
Yes, Heaven’s reply was a baby boy

(Chorus)

See, the King is coming down
And He’s here without a crown
The Baby Boy without a bed
Giving life back to the dead
And hear the angels shout it out
As the people are coming down
Unexpected majesty
Alleluia, what a King

(Chorus x2)

When I was thinking about songs I wanted to include in my 27 Days of Christmas Music blog-a-thon, I had a list of simple criteria that each song needed to meet to be included in my list.  First and foremost, the song itself has to get at the heart of what Christmas is really about.  As much as I enjoy singing along to ‘Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer’ every year at Christmas time, you won’t find it on this compilation of music.  Second, the song has to be performed by artists/musicians who sing about the love that was born on Christmas all year-long, not just in the days between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  (My deepest apologies to Mariah Carey, who has some spectacular Christmas songs but was cut from the list based on this stipulation).  Third, I have to like both the song and the artists/musicians singing the song.  A lot.

Reading this list, it doesn’t really sound like it would be too complicated for me to come up with 27 songs, and maybe a couple of bonuses, for my blog-a-thon.  If I’m being honest, the first 5 songs I came up with were not that hard, and for King & Country’s Baby Boy soared to the top of my list.

If I continue to be honest, my liking of this song has nothing to do with my son, Alex.  It is not a very well-kept secret that Alex is a bona fide for King & Country fanatic, and, I may add, quite deservedly so.  As you listen to this song, I think you’ll understand what I mean.  To quote myself from a previous post when I first reviewed this song, “Baby Boy has all the elements of a classic Christmas song:  lyrics with vivid imagery, sweeping vocals, and of course, sleigh bells.”

Yet to me, this song touches me beyond the typical classic Christmas song.

As I re-read the lyrics to this song, I couldn’t help but think about holding my own baby boy some 6 years ago at his first Christmas Eve candlelight service.  Alex, at the tender age of 5 months, was fresh off his debut stage performance as baby Jesus in our church’s stage production of the Christmas Story.  Aside from probably being the biggest baby Jesus re-enactor ever at a whopping 20 pounds, I thought Alex gave what was perhaps that most spectacular re-enactment of the birth of Christ since Jesus himself was born.  (OK, so I may be a little biased…but he was pretty fantastic!)

Sitting in the back pew of my church gazing at the sweet face of my own baby boy as he slept peacefully in my arms, I was brought to tears thinking about another mother who once held her own sweet baby boy in a lowly stable on that first Christmas.  I wondered what Mary must have been thinking as she held the newborn baby Jesus in her arms, and kissed his sweet face for the first time.

I was thinking about the fact that the baby in her arms came so that the baby in my arms might one day truly live.

My thoughts began to wander, and I couldn’t help but wonder if Mary knew in those first moments with her newborn son that one day unprecedented pain would come for Him.  Unprecedented pain, followed by unprecedented joy on Easter morning.  Maybe Mary had an inkling of what was to come, but if I were to guess, I’d say it was pretty unlikely.

What I do know, however, is that Jesus’ holy Father knew.

He knew, and He chose to send His own beloved son as a human sacrifice completely out of His love for you and for me.

To paraphrase the words of for King & Country, Jesus came as the cure for our sorrows.  When we feel we can’t make it one more day and that our daily battles are too much for us to bear, we need only remember that a sweet little baby boy has already won the war.

In my own words, don’t let the life and sacrifice that sweet baby boy so freely gave be for naught in your life.  This Christmas, give your battles to Him and live freely under His grace.

He came for Christmas, but even more importantly, He came for what was accomplished on Easter.

“Endless hope and endless joy started with a Baby Boy”

~for King & Country

(You can view the official lyric video for ‘Baby Boy’ on my Pinterest Board, along with the videos from the first two days of my Christmas music blog-a-thon, by clicking here.  You can also listen to the song on Spotify by clicking the blue link at the top of this post.)

Super huge, don’t miss it side note:  If you live in Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, or even Illinois and are a fan of for King & Country, tonight is a night you’re not going to want to miss.  (And, if you’re not already a fan of for King & Country, I can guarantee you will be a fan after attending tonight’s performance.  for King & Country is the only group my son, the musical connoisseur Alex, heartily endorses!)  The Proof of Your Love Christmas Tour will be happening tonight at the lovely Grand Horizon Center in Elkhart, Indiana beginning at 7 pm.  Tickets are just $10 and available at the door.  For more information, visit the radio sponsor WFRN’s website by clicking here.

27 Days of Christmas Music: Jesus is Alive…

Jesus is Alive

Wish that I was there
On that Silent Night
When your tiny heart started beating for mine

I wish I could have seen
The Star in David’s town
When you turned a stable into Holy ground
I sing along, the angel’s song

Noel, Noel, Jesus is alive
Emanuel, hope is here tonight
So go and tell the world that death has died
‘Cause Jesus is alive, yeah Jesus is alive!

Written/Performed by Josh Wilson, on the 2012 album ‘Noel’

http://open.spotify.com/track/2yn5jZqkkHu7lQ7YE14N32

Jill Has a Beth Moment: The David/Michael Phelps Story

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What you are about to read is a true story about the funniest conversation I may have ever had with my friend Jill.  I love it when she says something ridiculously wrong.  It makes me feel like I’m not the only one who frequently opens their mouth only to insert a foot.

Setting:  A balmy afternoon in late November, inside Beth’s 2012 Honda Civic, while driving down Jefferson Boulevard in Fort Wayne.  The radio station WBCL is playing Christmas music in the background.  When the song ends, an announcer begins to speak.

Announcer:  Friends, please welcome David Phelps and his Christmas Tour to First Assembly of God here in Fort Wayne on Tuesday, December 18th for two shows beginning at…

Jill (looking out the window):  Do you have tickets for that?  That’s one concert I’d like to see!

Beth (sounding surprised):  Really?  No, I don’t have tickets for that one.  I’ll be in Minnesota that week.

Jill:  Too bad.  I’d like to go just to see if he wears all of his gold medals while he sings.

Beth:  What?

Jill:  I said I’d like to go to that concert just to see if he wears all of his gold medals while he sings.  Do you think he wears a Speedo during any part of the show?  I’d definitely go to see that, too!

Beth (very confused):  Jill, what on earth are you talking about?  What medals?  And why would he wear a Speedo during a Christmas concert?

Jill:  You mean you don’t know who David Phelps is?  He’s that famous Olympic Swimmer that won all the gold medals during the Olympics.  Apparently he sings during the off-season from swimming.

Beth (laughing hysterically, which causes her to drive erratically):  Jill, I think you’re thinking about Michael Phelps, the swimmer…not David Phelps, the Christian singer.

Jill (turning bright red and beginning to laugh):  You know, I thought it was a little unfair that God would create one person who could both swim like a fish and sing like an angel.

Beth:  You’re right, that would be totally unfair.

Jill:  Promise me you won’t write about this on your blog.

Beth:  This story is too good not to share on my blog!

So, for those of you may be confused like my friend Jill about the upcoming David Phelps concert at First Assembly here in Fort Wayne:  David Phelps and Michael Phelps are two completely different people.  If you show up to the concert hoping to see Michael wearing his Olympic Gold Medals and/or a Speedo, you’re going to be bitterly disappointed.  If you just want to catch a great Christmas show, however, you’ll most likely be pleased with what David Phelps has to offer.  For ticket information, click here.

One last thing, in case you were wondering:  Michael Phelps and David Phelps are not related, unless you count having the same Father in heaven and the same Uncle (Sam) in Washington, D.C.