Advent 2020: Journey to Bethlehem

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
from ancient times.

Micah 5:2

We are on day 254 of 15 days to slow the spread.

Yesterday was the first Sunday of Advent. Churches around the world lit the first Advent candle and talked of hope and anticipation.

If there every was a year that we needed a little hope and anticipation, perhaps it is this one.

And yet, in the history of mankind, our present day struggles, as annoying as they are, are just a little more

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than frustrations.

Our house is all decorated for Christmas. For the first time ever, we had everything done before Thanksgiving. Well, everything except our Advent wreath which replaced the Thanksgiving centerpiece yesterday.

In anticipation of the schedule in the big red suit, I informed the family that if they wanted me to decorate, it had to happen early. As things turn out, my Santa schedule has been a bit delayed. But I’ll have some other challenging calendar items coming up, so this is still a good thing.

I’ve been enjoying falling asleep in the comfy chair watching a familiar holiday movie by the light of the tree.

In this Advent season, I am really trying to focus, or refocus on the true meaning of the season. It’s not the lights or the decorations or the presents. Those things are all grand and wonderful.

It’s about the journey to Bethlehem and what happened there.

I visited Bethlehem almost forty years ago. Actually twice in six months. The reason for back-to-back trips may or may not be in the book(s) and is not relevant to this story.

The first time there I was a bit taken back by the commercial nature of things I saw in Bethlehem. I suppose I was naive enough to think that it was going to be some magical, holy place.

Don’t get me wrong, it was a beautiful experience. It’s just that it was a reminder that often when God creates something beautiful, man puts his imprint on it and sometimes distort or even tarnish that beauty.

Let’s also say that it is true that on the second visit, I knew where I wanted to shop.

I digress.

I suppose I expected the Little Town of Bethlehem that I remembered singing about since I was a child.

It was just a reminder that many of our Christmas traditions are just that, and are not based so much on fact as sentimentality.

Years ago I painted a ceramic nativity set that still graces our home today. Let’s just say that it was before the first trip to Bethlehem. Let’s also say that, given the chance I might make different artistic choices. I mean,, what we have right now is sort of a bunch of white people in bathrobes…he was born at night, right?

You may or may not have a nativity scene in your home. Probably complete with the wise men who actually didn’t show up until about two years later.

I know, details.

But if it reminds you to thing about the birth of the Savior and God’s gift to mankind, then that’s okay.

Well, it’s okay unless you’re one of those people who take your Christmas decorations down on the 26th.

I’m amazed by the people who I see posting on Instagram that “it’s all packed away” before they enjoy their second Christmas ham sammich.

Christmas is not over on the 26th. You have to at least wait for Epiphany on January 6 to take things down.

This year is understandably different, but for us most years, the weeks leading up to Christmas have been filled with rehearsals and performances. We usually aren’t even able to enjoy the tree until after the present frenzy.

Truth is, in our house, we do well to have things down by the three-day weekend for MLK, Jr. Day. It used to be easier because I had a four-day weekend when included Lee-Jackson Day, but the General Assembly finally defeated the Confederacy and took away that holiday and replaced it with a holiday for Election Day. I’m okay with all of that except that I really enjoyed having four days off.

Again, I digress.

Truth is, we may or may not have our decorations down by that weekend.

When we were first placed under house arrest in March, one of our local radio hosts suggested that we all go out and put our Christmas lights back up to boost everyone’s spirits.

Honestly, if mine had been down for more than two weeks, I might have considered it.

If there ever was a year to extend the Christmas season, perhaps this is it.

As we begin our journey to Bethlehem, take some time to think about what it means.

We don’t have the trappings of the holiday parties with friends or dreaded work luncheons to stand in our way. Concerts and caroling are virtual.

What ever you’re anticipating or hoping for, take some time to sit by the tree, or festive decoration of your choice and remember the real reason for the Season.

And, unlike Joseph be sure to call ahead for reservations.

Photo by Waldemar Brandt on Unsplash


Blessed for Success

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

2 Corinthians 4:18

We are on day 249 of 15 days to slow the spread.

On Monday, I wrote about thankfulness with the rapid approaching of the official kickoff of the holiday season. Also known as Thanksgiving.

Truth is that I’ve been working on the Christmas season since about March when I started trying to figure out if and how I could portray Santa while under house arrest.

Truth also is that I thought that Monday’s post would be the last for the week, but I’ve got something to say.

That is different, however, from the upcoming celebration of Festivus in which we all shout “I’ve got a lot of problems with you people.”

That’s another holiday, another post, and another set of problems.

I’m struggling a little this week with the fact that I wanted to take off the whole week. I’ve got the time stored up. But someone scheduled a mid-day meeting on Tuesday.

For this we were not thankful.

But it’s Wednesday now and at the beginning of a five-day weekend.

For that, among other things, we are certainly most thankful.

It’s the end of the year and now we get to trade our COVID anxiety and our election anxiety for our festive holiday-of-your-choice anxiety.

Sure, the Thanksgiving memes out there remind us that “Stressed spelled backwards is desserts.”

Unless, of course, you’re stressed over weight management.

I suspect that, like I do, you have a lot of stuff going on.

Like I said the other day, I don’t mean to vaguebook, but in addition to trying to figure out the balancing of the day job, with the Santa job, and the theater job, and general busy-ness of the Christmas season, I’ve had some additional stress points added in recent weeks.

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Look, if I tell you everything now you’re not going to want to buy the book(s).

Here’s the thing. Something I’ve always known, but don’t think about often enough.

None of this is permanent.

Not the pandemic, not the election, not the holiday, and or other stress.

If you’re a believer in Jesus Christ, and it is His season after all, you understand that this world is not our home.

In other words, we’re not supposed to be too comfortable here.

Maybe the fact that there’s growing animosity towards Christians will actually be a good thing for the faith.

Toilet paper jokes aside, it’s been a crappy year.

But this, too, will pass.

It may pass like a kidney stone, but it will pass.

So in this season, I’m trying to focus on things that are permanent, things that are eternal.

There is nothing more eternal that the gift of the Christ child, foretold from the beginning.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

John 1:1-5 (NIV)

Every year we talk about making Christmas more simple, more meaningful. But the trappings and the gifts and the parties and the festivities all seem to just add to the levels of stress.

Much of that has been taken from us this year and we’re finding out that maybe it wasn’t all that important.

If it makes it a little easier to see the manger, then maybe it’s been worth it.

Photo by Mercedes Bosquet on Unsplash