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Boxing Day: More about “Giving” than Receiving Punches.

December 29th, 2010 by stephanie

Most Americans are not familiar with Boxing Day. We see it on those office supply store produced calendars, but always wonder what it’s about. We think of a day where folks maybe get a chance to punch that annoying visitng family member and let out agressions. Or where office pools bet on who would win a slug fest in the conference room? Or, maybe not.

But there really is a Boxing Day. And for our friends in Australia and the British Isles, it’s been around since 1871 and it’s a pretty big deal. Banks close and stores have blow out sales with early morning busters just like we do during Christmas.

Christmas and Boxing Day are actually related. Apparently, servants had to work on Christmas Day. Then, as they prepared in the evening to leave, their masters would “box up” food and goodies to send with them as they headed out to meet up with their family and friends the next day.

Boxing Day is officially December 26 or a workday in the week following Christmas. And now you know. That nagging wondering of what that “box-in-the-calendar” holiday mystery is — has been solved. It’s more about the giving. And not the receiving of anything remotely like a punch in the face.
Just my thoughts,
S.

The Christmas Miracle You May Not Remember…

December 25th, 2010 by stephanie

300px-Washington_Crossing_the_Delaware_by_Emanuel_Leutze,_MMA-NYC,_1851

It was Christmas night. The year? 1776.

It was winter and visions of sugar plums most likely danced in their weary heads as they longed for the warmth of hearth and home far away. Many were in shredded clothes, and most without shoes in the midst of a winter gale of rain, sleet, ice and snow. The secret orders called for the men to muster near the river at midnight. The crossing, that would take all night, awaited them. They did not sleep. Fishermen, now soldiers, rowed back and forth all night long, in silence, ferrying soldiers to the other side. Awaiting them would be a nine mile march over frozen roads. But in the end. They were victorious. A surprise attack by this surly bunch on the thoroughbred Hessian army (who slept soundly due to having celebrated Christmas late into the night) led to a spectacular victory at Trenton, New Jersey, the following morning. Those were indeed times, as Thomas Paine would write, that ‘try men’s souls’.”

It is very difficult to imagine any man, let alone those soldiers committing body and mind to the utmost in those excruciatingly cold and exhausting conditions. What would possess those men to press on rather than run or retreat? Perhaps something deep in their souls. Maybe an amazing trust in, and loyalty to, their leader or, their acute awareness of the immense task they had undertaken for a new country. Committed to the end. With God’s blessing. They turned pain into purpose and they conquered.

Newt Gingrich in a holiday article shares “In a season that has become too commercialized and — worse yet — had much of its religious meaning driven from the public square, Washington’s Christmas crossing is a story that should be remembered and celebrated, this Christmas and every Christmas. Christmas is a time to celebrate the birth of Christ, to be with family and friends, and, I would add, to give thanks to God for those who endured so much on that Christmas night, 234 years ago.”

I couldn’t say it better myself. On this Christmas night, may we all pause and remember. I would bet, too, that those men had our Lord on their minds that night. And their hearts and bodies found strength in the prayers they breathed as they rowed or wondered how they could endure that next painful step. They knew their families were gathered around trees at home and in the morning would head off to church in celebration. The Spirit of Christ and Christmas was with surely them then, and that same Spirit is with us this season.

Whatever river you may need to cross in the days ahead, know that He is with you today and He will be with you tomorrow. You and I can and will endure. Thanks to His blessing, His Providence and the strength He sends our way. May we cross over and into victory.

Merry Christmas.

Stephanie

If There’d Been no Baby at Christmas…

December 25th, 2010 by stephanie

As my mother sat me down to lead us in our Christmas devotion this morning, I had no idea the thoughts that would soon flood my mind and my heart. She read the story of a clergyman who fell asleep in his study during one Christmas Day.

In his dream, he awoke and went out into the public streets only to find no Church spires, no glad tidings. No books about the Savior. Bibles he did find stopped at Malachi. He was asked to visit a weeping widow, and could offer her no comfort, as there was no gospel to read or present. He performed her funeral two days later, but no words of hope would be found. Just despair. No promise of forgiveness or heaven. Suddenly, the voices of his choir in the chapel aroused him from his dream. The sweet carols and melodies that rang out filled his heart with hope and joy. He lept from his chair ran from his study celebrating as he went that Christ had indeed come. There was joy for the world.

As my mother brought us to prayer with a closing hymn, my mind began to process this amazing thought. What if there had been no baby born in Bethlehem?White-House-Christmas-Tree,jpg

There would be no Salvation Army or it’s red-kettle bell ringers. No Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite. No Handel’s Messiah with its glorious Hallelujah chorus. No church spires or steeples or church bells that ring out in the crisp morning air. No Christmas cards or twinkling lights that sparkle from trees through frosted window panes or that illuminate homes at night. No Christmas tree at the White House or at Rockefeller center. No Rockettes Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall. No Santa at the end of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. No Christmas parades or Christmas sales. No Christmas gifts or Advent wreathes. No Nativity scenes or Christmas Movies. No It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street or Rudolf. No Christmas sweaters or my favorite artist’s Christmas album. No Santa hats and garlands that drape and deck the halls. No stockings hung by the Chimney with care. And no Charlie Brown Christmas special with Linus reading the wonderful story of Christmas from Luke chapter 2.

There’s so much more, and I know you’ve already thought of a few. Share them with me, won’t you? Let’s make our list together, and be amazed this Christmas. And oh, so grateful that when we awoke today, we awakened to the reality that Christ has come. Rejoice!

Come back tonight. There’s something more. Do you know what happened on Christmas night about 200 years ago?
C U back here soon…
S.

Santa Claus the Mideasterner…is coming to town.

December 19th, 2010 by stephanie

St. Nick a Mid Easterner?

Well, kind of. Some of you may remember the days when the land currently known as Turkey was called Asia Minor. That’s what we saw on our maps at least back when I was in school and what we learned in geography. But I certainly don’t remember my teachers telling me about the most famous “Turk” of all. Did you know St. Nicolas was a Catholic Bishop? Yep. It’s true.
susan-seals
The true story of Santa Claus begins with Nicholas, who was born about 300 years after Jesus in the village of Patara (on the southern coast of Turkey). His wealthy parents, who raised him to be a devout Christian, died in an epidemic while Nicholas was still young. Taking to heart Jesus’ words to “sell what you own and give the money to the poor,” Nicholas used his entire inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. Due to his sincerity, he was soon made the Bishop of Myra. Bishop Nicholas became known throughout the land for his generosity to those in need, his love for children, and his concern for sailors and ships. If you’re a sailor, you may recognize that he became the patron saint of said watery kind.

Stories of the saint have been handed down through time. One story tells of a poor man with three daughters. In those days a young woman’s father had to offer prospective husbands something of value—a dowry. The larger the dowry, the better the chance for a young woman to land a good husband. Without a dowry, a woman was unlikely to marry.

Without dowries, these girls, were destined to be sold into slavery. Mysteriously, on three different occasions, a bag of gold appeared in their home. The bags of gold, were supposedly tossed through an open window only to land in stockings or shoes left near the fire to dry. (Thus the custom of children hanging stockings or putting out shoes, eagerly awaiting gifts from Saint Nicholas. )*

If you’re into theology and stuff like that, you might find it interesting that under the Roman Emperor at that time (Diocletian), Christians like Bishop Nicholas suffered for their faith, were exiled and imprisoned. The prisons were so full of bishops, priests, and deacons, there was no room for the real criminals—murderers, thieves and robbers. An added tip for you Religious History buffs, after his release, it is said that Nicholas attended the Council of Nicaea in AD 325.

As you can see, the original Saint Nick is a bit of a far cry from the Americanized Santa we have managed to create and enjoy over the past 100 or so years. Nothing wrong with enjoying Santa if you ask me, but it never hurts to know “the rest of the story” as Paul Harvey used to say. It sure makes for some interesting Christmas party conversation to be sure.

🙂

Just my thoughts.

S.

*http://www.stnicholascenter.org/Brix?pageID=38

Advent finale: O Come, O Come Emmanuel.

December 13th, 2010 by stephanie

220px-Advent_wreathThe season of Anticipation is just about to hit a high note. This Sunday, we will light the final candle in the Advent wreath. But first…

One of the very first solos that I ever performed was at a Christmas pageant. And I was thrilled when I learned which hymn I would be singing: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.
It was tough! Let me tell you. If you haven’t heard it, the tune is in a minor key and I truly had my work cut out for me. But I was so excited, and the words meant so much to me (even at the age of 12!) that I made it through.

For those of you who are musically inclined: in case you didn’t know, the “Late Advent Weekdays”, December 17-24, mark the singing of the Great Advent ‘O antiphons‘. Now, you may not be familiar with those diddies, but you may recognize the hymn O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. And I have to tell you, it’s one of my all time faves.
But back to that fourth candle of ours.

It’s apparently known as the angels‘ candle, symbolizing the angels proclaiming Christ’s birth .

But there’s more. If you are enjoying this tradition, and are sad to see it coming to a close, I have a little surprise for you: there’s one more candle we can add and light together after this Sunday. I personally add a 5th candle in the center of my wreath. Let me tell you about it.

You can place a WHITE candle in the center of your wreath. I usually get the larger sized candle. It is the “Christ Candle”. It can be lit on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. 220px-Adventkranz_andrea

As you can see, there are a variety of ways to celebrate advent and the tradition of the wreath. You may not celebrate the same way as your neighbor, but that’s the beauty of it all. Simply find a wreath, add three purple candles, one pink and one white, and you are good to go for next year if you weren’t able to join us this year. (They’ll be on sale after the holidays if you want to find one now in prep for next year). 🙂

It’s been very special to share my annual tradition with YOU. For now, here’s to what has been, and is, and is to come.

One last thing. Be sure and read Luke chapter 2 on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day this year. Our family does, and believe me, there isn’t a dry eye in the place.

Merry, Merry Christmas my friend. I look forward to hearing from you about your ADVENT experience this year.

Stephanie

Advent: Light the 3rd Candle this Sunday.

December 8th, 2010 by stephanie

This Sunday has a name. It’s called Gaudete Sunday. Wow. $3 prize for whoever got that word right.
For those of you new to this blog, welcome. We’ve been taking a look at Advent (the season of anticiption) this month, with a few sidebars along the way.

If Advent is a bit new to you, here’s the deal. This coming Sunday, churches and homes around the world will light the third candle in the Advent wreath.

If you’re into colors and symbolism of the season, the last two candles that were lit during the past two Sundays, were purple. This week? It’s a rose colored candle. (Some churches just go with blue candles I hear.) The point is, this is the JOY candle.

But, back to Gaudete. You will find that it comes from the latin phrase
“Gaudete in Domino semper” – translation: Rejoice in the Lord always.
Thus our candle of Joy.
[You Marines caught that word Semper, at least? Semper Fi = Always Faithful.]

Anyway…in certain High Church environments, the priest will even change from his purple vestments of the past two weeks into rose colored ones. The church as a whole will move from a season of fasting and repentance into one of joy.

So, if you see any of these symbols or colors in wreaths this coming weekend, you will certainly feel more “in the know”. If anything, that will put a smile on your face. And if you have a moment, why not read Luke Chapter 2.

Rejoice!

Just my thoughts,
Stephanie

Dec. 7th. Know what happened on this day?

December 6th, 2010 by stephanie

Clue: the year was 1941…

I was remembering the other day that back when I was in high school, I used to jog around my neighborhood in order to keep in shape. My route usually took me past this one particular house with an RV (recreational vehicle) in the driveway that had a “Pearl Harbor Survivor” license plate. Try as I might, I never saw the resident of the home. One sunny day however, as I came plodding down the sidewalk, to my utter surprise, there was the veteran out washing the RV. My time had finally come.

Carefully approaching him, I pointed to the license plate and our conversation began. “We didn’t sleep for days. We worked with one hand, and ate and took care of personals with the other.” He recalled. I could see the memories flashing before his eyes as his face changed shape while he spoke. I was mesmerized. He’d been there. He knew. And I wanted to hear anything he would be willing to share.

If you don’t recall the significance of 12/7/41, let me refresh your memory. For you younger set, 9/11/01 was not the first time we’ve been attacked on American soil.

Men sleeping soundly aboard U.S. ships suddenly found themselves trying to make sense of what they soon realized were the sounds of alarms, bombs exploding, and gunfire. Dressing as they ran to General Quarters stations they would hear the now famous message, “Air raid Pearl Harbor. This is not drill.” Sadly, ammunition lockers were locked, aircraft parked wingtip to wingtip in the open to deter sabotage, guns sat unmanned. Men were ashore, on leave, resting. But those on board and able to assist fought and worked valiantly.

Those on duty in that sunny paradise never saw it coming. Rumor says a person or two had wind of the notion, but we as a nation, never acted on the data. The Japanese had called the secret mission that came in three successful waves, Hawaii Operation, Operation Z. The target? The United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Target date? the morning of December 7, 1941.

It was that surprise attack that ultimately threw our country into the very war we were trying to avoid: World War II. The enemy was strategic and deadly. 353 Japanese planes were launched from six aircraft carriers that day. They sank four U.S. Navy battleships while damaging four others. They also sank or damaged three cruisers, three destroyers, one minelayer, and 188 aircraft. When the toll was taken, the U.S. listed 2,402 killed and 1,282 wounded.

The Japanese only lost 29 aircraft, five midget submarines, and 65 servicemen killed or wounded. Only one Japanese sailor was captured.

Horrifically, many sailors trapped in the damaged and sinking ships would never be abstracted. Their banging to be heard by those nearby. Those longing, but unable to come to their rescue. A nightmare our servicemen hoped to forget. But veterans that were there, and those that diligently sat by their radios and read the papers will always remember. As may we. It took that tragedy to force us into a war that would inevitably bring down Hitler and his regime. In time, many others in another land would be freed. And in time, we would all celebrate. That, is something to remember.

I hope you will pause this day, to remember. And perhaps remind a family member or colleague of the significance of this day in our country’s very rich history. May we remember.

Sincerely,

S.

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