Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Welcome to Christmas...

I can't believe my last blog entry was back in September! I'm sure I rate as one of the worst bloggers in human blogging history. After writing three sermons a week, newsletter articles for my church, and answering emails, my poor blog site gets terribly neglected. It took me so long to get back to here that we are jumping from Fall to Christmas!

Actually, in church parlance, it is the Advent Season as I write this. Advent is the "New Years" of the church liturgical calendar, and typically focuses on the predicted "return of Christ" to earth to bring about the fullness of God's Kingdom. All of the Scriptures we read during this season are apocalyptic in nature, having to do with "end time" things. Honestly, though, for most Christians, Advent becomes just the "countdown to Christmas." As a kid, I can remember reading through those little Advent calendars they gave us where you would open a little cardboard door each evening and read a little prayer or meditation. As the doors got fewer and fewer, Christmas got closer and closer. I guess we never grow tired of the excitement of the Christmas Season. Even though I have a seminary education and try to teach my congregations about the meaning of Advent, I still get pumped as we light the next Advent candle each week--Christmas is getting closer, even just around the corner! Nowadays, my personal excitement over Christmas is marked by three things: celebrating the birth of Jesus, who has really changed (and continues to change) my life; spending the season with my wonderful wife who really likes Christmas, too, and does a beautiful job decorating for the holiday; and remembering Christmases past with my children, who are both grown adults "out on their own." Christmas will always be a special time for the Sterlings, and I pray for you, too.

Typically, I would spend some time railing about the commercialism of the season and how the merchants now start promoting their Christmas goods about July, but I will not do that for it would be hypocritical. I like the stores at Christmas, and I like Christmas shopping, even though we really don't buy gifts in stores any more. Instead, for the past few years, we have purchased pigs and cows and goats through organizations like Heifer International and World Vision to send to developing nations where they will help poor villages. This year, we are also buying school supplies and recreational gear for these venues through World Vision, and we do this in honor of the people to whom we would normally give wrapped gifts. You see, none of us really needs anything anymore, and these people in developing nations do, so we think this is a better kind of gift giving. We also are "loaning" funds to budding entrepreneurs in the Third World through a great "micro credit" organization called Kiva.org. Check it out on the web.

The other reason I'm OK with the "commercialization" this year is that our economy needs stimulating, and people need jobs. If spending money can help, I'm ready to do my share!

I know that many Christians scream about "putting the Christ back in Christmas," and I know they have a point. But I'm not sure Christ ever left Christmas in the first place, nor do I believe we have the power to force him out of it. Wherever people are loving each other, buying gifts out of genuine affection and respect, attending worship services, singing the great hymns of Christmas, feeding the excitement of children, and--even if it is only once per year--are praying for peace on earth, goodwill toward all people, you will find Christ in the middle of it all. I believe Jesus has the power and the desire to change lives, even when his presence is not "obvious" or "verbalized" by a personal testimony. Christ is among us--that is what one of his names, Emmanuel, means. Jesus will be whom Jesus will be, and his work in the world goes on 24/7. Just because we "overly" celebrate his birthday, I don't believe it discourages him from touching lives.

This blog must end for now, but yunz need to keep the Spirit of Christmas alive in your hearts and the world! You and your family enjoy the season, now, and consider using the occasion to do some "random acts of kindness" for others, in the true Spirit of it. As Dickens said it so well through the character of a small child, "God bless us every one!" Shalom, people.

Dr. Jeff

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