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The Reason for the Season

by C.S. Elston

By now, most of us have heard that Jesus was more likely born in early fall than on December 25th and that many of the popular customs associated with Christmas actually pre-date the holiday and were probably adopted from winter solstice celebrations by pagan populations that later converted to Christianity. We also know that we’re supposed to be full of “Christmas cheer” for three or four weeks as winter settles in but, instead, find ourselves yelling at each other in parking lots, spending money on things we can’t afford and tackling strangers in the toy aisle at Walmart. Perhaps, this is another argument in favor of social distancing. 2020 aside, what exactly are we celebrating and why are we celebrating it?

When in doubt, take it back to the basics and refuse to get caught up in the minutia. Regardless of when Jesus was born, the miraculous thing is that the Word became flesh. What does that mean and why does it matter? One of my favorite authors, C.S. Lewis, put it this way:

“The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God.”

~ C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Let’s look closely at the specifics behind Lewis’ statement. And, to do so, let’s go straight to a modern translation of the original source material. The book of John begins by telling us this:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

~ John 1:1-5, English Standard Version

These five verses are packed with life-transforming information. First, they tell us that the Word was both with God and was God from the very beginning of everything. Second, they tell us that the Word is responsible for all of creation. Third, they tell us that the Word contains the life that is the light of humanity which is not overcome by darkness.

From the Garden of Eden to the moment of Jesus’ birth, humanity had proven over and over again that we could not overcome sin on our own. Left to our own devices, we were headed for death. We were headed for eternal darkness. We needed the life that is the light that would not be overcome. The light that is only in the Word. Later in that first chapter of John, God showed us mercy and gave us that light:

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

~ John 1:14, English Standard Version

Lewis stated the importance of this event for us with precision:

“The central miracle asserted by Christians is the Incarnation. They say that God became Man. Every other miracle prepares for this, or exhibits this, or results from this.”

~ C.S. Lewis, Miracles

The birth of Jesus Christ is the single most important event in all of human history. God became man. Feel the weight of that statement. The Creator became the Creation. The highest being in existence descended into a world he created perfect because it had since been infected by sin and he knew that the sacrifice he was making was the one and only way to redeem it, to redeem us. We needed . . . and still . . . We need Jesus!

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

~ John 3:16-17, English Standard Version

 

Our good friend, Lewis, put it this way:

“In the Christian story God descends to re-ascend. He comes down; down from the heights of absolute being into time and space, down into humanity . . . But He goes down to come up again and bring the ruined world up with Him . . . “

~ C.S. Lewis, Miracles

Praise his name! Fake tree, real tree, no tree . . . Who cares? All that really matters is that the miracle of Christmas is absolutely worth celebrating. The God of all creation loves us so much that he came down in order to take us back up with him, where he always intended us to be! And, even in a crowded shopping mall parking lot, the toy aisle at Walmart or, since it is 2020, surfing Amazon from your couch, the miracle and the meaning of Christmas should absolutely fill your heart with joy. It sure does mine.

And, it is with that joyous heart that I wish you all a very merry Christmas!

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Give Thanks

by C. S. Elston

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

1 Thessalonians 5:18 (ESV)

2020 has been a crazy, difficult year. Is there anyone on the planet who disagrees with that statement? I doubt it.

Still, I have so much to be thankful for: a roof over my head, food to eat, a car to drive, an educated background, friends and family that I love and who love me back (including the most amazing wife a guy could ever dream of,) and, most importantly (yes, even more so than that beautiful, gracious wife,) the hope of eternity with my Creator. A lot of that probably sounds like obvious stuff but, it’s good for the soul to express it anyway. The Bible instructs us to give thanks for many reasons, but I will briefly focus on two.

First, it honors and glorifies God.

“Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”

Revelation 4:11 (ESV)

Second, it puts our focus on the blessings in life and gives us a more positive outlook.

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

Philippians 4:8 (ESV)

Quite simply, giving thanks is a healthier way to live than the alternative.

“A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”

Proverbs 17:22 (ESV)

It’s important to remember these things as we head into what might be the most difficult Thanksgiving holiday we’ve ever experienced. With that in mind, please allow me to end this on a lighter note and one of my favorite subjects: food.

We all look forward to the turkey. Well, most of us do anyway. A lot of people look forward to the desert, too. Of course, you don’t have to pick just one item to look forward to about the greatest American meal of the year (yes, even 2020.) But, if I was forced to, mine would have to be a side dish. No, it’s not the cranberry sauce or even the mashed-potatoes and gravy. The latter is high on the list, however. My favorite would have to be my mom’s Sweet Potato Casserole. So, I got special permission to share the recipe. It’s so good, it just wouldn’t be fair to keep it to ourselves.

Ingredients

2 cups of mashed Princella canned Sweet Potatoes — drain the syrup before mashing

4 tablespoons of softened butter or margarine

2 eggs

1 cup of milk

1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

Dash of salt

2/3 cup of sugar

Directions (part one)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Combine above ingredients. Mix well. Place in greased casserole dish and bake for approximately half of an hour. Remove from oven.

Topping Ingredients

6 tablespoons of melted butter or margarine

1/2 cup of chopped nuts

1/2 cup of brown sugar

1 cup of flour

Directions (part two)

Combine topping ingredients. Mix well. Cover casserole with the topping mixture and place back in the oven for an additional 10-15 minutes. Remove and serve. This dish should take care of about 8 people. But, if you love it as much as my family does, you may have to drop that number to 6 . . . maybe even lower . . . I actually prefer this to most of the pies. Enjoy and have a happy Thanksgiving!

 

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A Cross In Your Car

by M. N. Kollar

 

Does having a cross in our car make you drive more Christian?

For me, it does and I’m about to tell you why.

First, let’s examine it from the vehicular perspective. When my husband drives my car, he always takes down the cross I have hanging from the rear-view mirror because it interferes his view of the road. He is a good bit taller than I am and it apparently hangs at just the right level to be a distraction for him. If you are going to have a cross in your car then it definitely needs to be somewhere that is not a distraction. Instead, it should be more of an interaction. I’ll explain…

There are times when I go over an extra bumpy patch in the road and the cross swings furiously. It can be a little much and it is at those times that I grab the cross to steady it. It took me a while to see the irony but, when I’m going over a very bumpy patch in life, I hang on to the cross of Christ and it steadies me. Now, the cross hanging from my rear-view has become a constant reminder that when I drive over those patches, it is extra important that I stay grounded and rooted in the Word so I can find calm and peace.

Let’s next take a look at the internal perspective. When you see the cross in your car it should be a reminder, but of what? Other than perhaps the aforementioned stabilization example, I think the answer to this question will be as varied and personal as everyone who ponders it. For some, it might just be a general reminder to drive like you would have others drive; let that person merge, leave that extra room… For some, it will be a constant prayer for intervention in a circumstance of pain in our lives. The silent sound that comes from us may be a song of praise for the favor we enjoy or a wail to Heaven for intercession. Either way, it takes that sound, that song, that wail away from the altar and into the world. That cross in your car can take your prayer show on the road.

Now, on to examining the external perspective. Do people have specific expectations about a person based around certain accouterments? Of course they do. Just think policeman, fireman, etc. You expect these people to be ready to assist when they are on duty and if you know someone is a public servant, even if they are off duty, then should a crisis arise, you would still look to them. This is the same thing with a Christian, except there is no off duty for us. It may not be a rushing river rescue but that kind word or that friendly smile may just be a life saver for someone.

Ever felt taken advantage of because of that cross hanging from the rear-view mirror? Yes. I have had that woman wave as she pulled out in front of me and I regrettably intoned “I wasn’t gonna let you in, lady.” For me, that kind of thinking usually just lasts a few seconds until I remember that she saw that cross and made certain assumptions about me. Those assumptions did not make me feel taken advantage of in the long run but instead, as my attitude transformed, made it clear to me that I was spreading the love and the Word. After all, despite my annoyance, I did wave back…with ALL of my fingers.

Give it a try. Put a cross in your car and see if you drive more Christian!

Please obey all traffic and safety rules but, on the off chance you are pulled over by one of the boys or girls in blue, then let me offer this scenario for your consideration:

“But officer, I keep my eye on Jesus and He keeps His eyes on the road. If I was going too fast then I guess you need to give the ticket to…yes…yes…I will take a breathalyzer…”