THE HARD PART OF CHRISTMAS

Most of the Christmas story is touching, warm, and encouraging; but not all of it. There is a hard part of the Bible’s Christmas accounts.

The hard part isn’t Joseph’s intention to divorce Mary when he found out she was pregnant. We understand that; but when he learned the truth about her pregnancy he proceeded to marry her.

We are sorry there was no room in the inn in Bethlehem for the expectant parents, but that isn’t the hard part either. Things worked out in the cave, barn, or whatever it was — the feeding trough (manger) was just fine for baby Jesus’ first crib.

The first visitors to see the baby weren’t from the upper class, but neither is that the hard part. The lowly shepherds were elated to receive the angelic message. Not only that, after they visited the newborn baby they became the first believers to share the good news.

The hard part of Christmas is Matthew’s account of the later visit of the Magi and Herod’s response to their report of the birth a king. He was “disturbed” and lied telling them to let him know when they found the child so he could “go and worship him.”

Herod’s initial plan didn’t work because God intervened through a dream and the Magi did not return to him. Matthew 2:16 tells us, “ When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.” The infant Jesus was not killed because God also warned Joseph in a dream about Herod’s plan and they went to Egypt.

Jesus wasn’t killed, but the hard part of Christmas is that other boys in the area age two and younger were. We don’t know how many, but some historians report there were anywhere from 30 to 60 boys murdered. It’s not surprising that the least talked about part of the Christmas accounts is Herod’s order to kill all the baby boys two years of age and younger. Pastor John McCallum calls it “A Dark Story.”

I clearly remember speaking many years ago at a Christmas Eve service about this hard part of Christmas. I was chastised afterwards by one unhappy attendee about the subject matter of my talk. Why did I throw a wet blanket on the celebration and make people sad on Christmas Eve? My answer: it’s a hard part for sure, but it is a part of the story.

McCallum notes, “God sent his only Son to be born into a world like this, a world where kings abuse power, people are victimized, and children are murdered, a world where children suffer and parents weep for them, a world where Satan has a foothold and where evil appears to win as many battles as it loses and sometimes even more. This is what people cynically call the real world.”

Even this close to Christmas we might remind ourselves that although the baby Jesus wasn’t killed, the adult Jesus was. Of course, that is why he came: as the angel told Joseph, to save his people from their sins.

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HOME FOR CHRISTMAS

For most of us Christmas is the most sentimental of all the holidays. And that is largely  because of our association of Christmas with home and family. It is certainly the most sentimental for me. (It may surprise you, but I get emotional at the end of both Grease and Dirty Dancing every time I watch one of them!)

My favorite Christmas songs underscore the point. Every time I hear the Eagles’ version of “Please Come Home for Christmas” I get nostalgic. If possible, Christmas is “the time to be with the ones you love.” I don’t care who sings “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” it always gets to me. And last week I heard one about being home for the holidays by Kenny Loggins entitled “Celebrate Me Home.”

When I was in college (45 few years ago) I remember students asking one another “are you going home for Christmas?” Because the break was shorter not everyone went home for Thanksgiving, but pretty much everyone did for Christmas.

I lived just north of Cincinnati and it was easy for me to go home on holidays or for a weekend or for just an evening. But two years I did not go home for Christmas. One year I went to Florida with friends and another year to Florida and then to the Bahamas. Both trips were adventuresome and fun, but both times I missed being home for Christmas.

The 10 years Jan and I lived in the Philadelphia area we went back to Cincy every year for Christmas. During our 32 years in California we only went back for Christmas a couple of times, but in California we had our two children with us most of those years as well as “family” from our church.

Here are a four quotes that reflect the theme:

“Christmas is all about love, family and children. It doesn’t matter what we ear or what presents we get as long as the holidays are spent with loved one.”  Anonymous

“The best present on Christmas is spending some good time with family realizing the importance of love sharing things that give you real joy. So have fun with your family.”  Anonymous

“Christmas time is cherished family time; family time is sacred time.”  Anonymous

“The best of all gifts around any Christmas tree: the presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other.”  Burton Hillis

Christmas last year we had just moved and were living with our daughter and two grandsons. Our son, Rob, and his girlfriend, Jill, joined us. Even though we had just moved and did not have our own house, we were home for Christmas because we were together for Christmas.

This week Jan and I will celebrate our second Christmas in Amarillo and our first one in our own house. Only the two of us will be in town for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, but we’ll be home for Christmas because we will be together. And not only that, more family will be joining us Christmas night.

The reality is that not everyone can be or chooses to be home or with family for Christmas. And there are a variety of reasons why that is so. Whatever your situation or circumstances, I hope you have a meaningful and enjoyable Christmas.

Feel free to leave a comment below or send me an email (bobmmink@gmail.com) and/or share this post on Facebook or other social media.

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A YEAR LATER

This week marks one year since I loaded up my car, played golf the last time with three of my friends I had been playing with for years, and headed to Amarillo to join my wife who had left a week earlier. I had shed tears earlier in the morning when I left my son, but I was able to hold them off when I said good-by to my golfing partners until I got to the car and left the course.

My drive from Southern California to the Texas Panhandle was the longest and loneliest of my life. I checked into a Holiday Inn after 10 hours of driving, but it took a long time to finally go to sleep. The six hour drive the next day was a little easier, but my emotions were still up and down. The warm welcome from Jan, my daughter, our two grandsons, their dog, and our dog was comforting.

A year later I still miss a lot about Southern California. I miss our house and neighborhood of 32 years, I miss our many friends (especially those from Discovery Christian Church), I miss guest preaching (especially at New Day Christian Church and Westwood Hills Christian Church), I miss teaching at Hope International University and the wonderful people there, I miss the great variety of golf courses, and I miss In-N-Out Burger.

But we have adjusted and adapted to our new location and Amarillo is now our home. While I have made quite a few friends and enjoy our new house, we have not yet connected with people in our neighborhood. I regularly play golf with several guys—and year round even though it is often windy and is cold in the winter. I thoroughly enjoy my two part time jobs as the Bible teacher at Amarillo High School (dual credit with Amarillo College) and the Pastor to Senior Adults at Washington Avenue Christian Church. Jan and I both love our new church—the people and the staff. Not that there were not similar people in our previous places and churches, but we have met some wonderfully gracious and generous people in our new church and city.

The best and most fulfilling thing about our move last year is the opportunity and privilege to be near our daughter and fully engaged with our two grandsons. We enjoyed Christmas last year and both boys’ birthdays this year. On school days Jan picks up our three year from preschool and I pick up our second grader. A special bonus for me this past summer was being an assistant coach for our second grader’s baseball team.

Last year, the week before I left, my blog post was entitled A Bright Sadness. In that post I wrote “at this point I am hurting more thinking about what I am losing than what I am about to gain. Right now my bright sadness is sadder than it is bright. Soon, however, the brightness will outshine the sadness.” (You can read that post here https://bobmmink.com/2016/12/05/a-bright-sadness/)

One year later I am confident our move was the right decision. The brightness today does outshine the sadness of when we left California a year ago.

Please feel to leave a comment below (or email me at bobmmink@gmail.com) and/or share this post on Facebook or other social media.

 

 

 

FEAR THE LORD?

In my High School Bible class we recently concluded our survey of the five poetry and wisdom books in the Old Testament. Both Proverbs and Ecclesiastes give a foundational principle that can be confusing and has troubled some believers. Proverbs 1:7 declares “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge.” And Ecclesiastes 12:13 wraps up the book with “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments.”

Are we really supposed to fear God? That all depends on our relationship with him and our understanding of the challenge. What does it mean to fear the LORD?

I don’t think it means we should run from, avoid, or shrink away from him like we would a dangerous animal or situation. After all, he is our Creator and Heavenly Father and he loves us. He also is our friend, but he is not our pal or good buddy.

In my teaching the past few years I’ve been thinking and talking about the fear of the LORD quite a bit in trying to understand what it means and challenge my students. A couple of weeks ago I realized my proposals suggest an acrostic: ARWOL.

Fear of the LORD begins with an acknowledgement of his existence. You no doubt believe God is, but not everyone does. To fear the LORD we must acknowledge the LORD. But it is more than that.

To fear the LORD is also to respect him. By their words and actions, a lot of people who acknowledge God certainly don’t seem to respect him. To fear the LORD we must respect the LORD. But it is more than that.

To fear the LORD is to worship him. And by that I don’t mean simply going to church. Of course I think it means we go to church, but worship involves much more than just going to church. It goes beyond acknowledging and respecting him to honoring him for who he is. To fear LORD we must worship the LORD. But it is more than that.

To fear the LORD is to obey him. That’s part of what Ecclesiastes 12:13 is saying goes with fearing God. But it is not to intimate that if we fear the LORD we will perfectly obey him. We know that is not the case. We might say we try to obey him or we intend to obey him or our resolve is to obey him even though we are not always successful. But because we fear him it is our intention and goal to obey him. But it is more than just obey him.

Finally in my acrostic, to fear the LORD is to love him. You remember I’m sure Jesus’ answer to the question asked of him in Matthew 22:36 and 37 about the greatest commandment. He replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” My paraphrase: love God completely. To fear the LORD we must love the LORD. And to love the LORD is to acknowledge, respect, worship, and obey him.

I’m interested in what you think. Please feel free to leave a comment below (or email me at bobmmink@gmail.com) and/or share this post on Facebook or other social media.