Our youngest daughter and her husband are getting ready to move. It's a military lifestyle thing.Their three-year assignment is up and they're moving to a new location. Thousands of miles to travel. There are so many details to arrange and they're trying to prepare. All things we don't like at Christmas. I like my family around, lots of comfort food, and time to slow to a crawl. That's a perfect Christmas - savoring the moments and doing everything the way we've always done it. I think most of us want the familiar traditions of home and hearth for the holidays.
But the first Christmas was nothing like that. A very pregnant Mary was enduring an uncomfortable three or four day trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem. I can't imagine riding a donkey or walking 70 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem while nine months pregnant. She and Joseph were obeying orders from Caesar Augustus. A decree had gone out for people to return to their hometowns for a census and to pay taxes.
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. Luke 2:4
That wonderful night when Jesus was born, shepherds who were outside of Bethlehem received startling news from the sudden appearance of angels in the night sky. They were to leave their sheep and go see the long-awaited Messiah. The journey wasn't far, and they wasted no time in finding the lowly stable and the baby lying in swaddling clothes in the manger.
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. Luke 2:15-16
There were the Magi (the wise men) who had studied the Scriptures and were watching the skies for one very special star, which they found. Without hesitation they loaded up their camels and headed out to follow that star for probably over a year before they found Mary, Joseph, and the very young Jesus in Bethlehem. They weren't sure where they'd end up or how long it would take, but they came prepared with gifts for the King of Kings. They took a real step of faith.
...they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. Matthew 2:9
The one who made the longest trip of all was Jesus himself. He willingly left heaven's glory and became flesh and blood, man yet God --Emmanuel, God with Us. The Son of God humbled himself to walk in this world, showing us how to live, and laying down His life to save us from our sins.
Who,(Jesus) being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Philippians 2:6-8
None of these moves were about comfort or tradition. They were in fact downright uncomfortable, inconvenient, and even dangerous. But the common thread is obedience which ultimately displayed God's plan for the best move of all--the way to heaven to live with Him forever. When God is getting ready to do a great thing, He starts moving people. Each person who experienced the first Christmas had to step out of his or her comfort zone, trust God, and change locations.
Things to ponder as the New Year approaches.
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths. Proverbs 3:5-6
A Christmas short story for my faithful readers. Did you ever peek at the presents before Christmas? Here's one boy's misadventure about that very topic. It's family-friendly , so read to the kids.
The packages have been arriving in the mail almost everyday. There was one that came today from Grandpa and Grandma Harding that Mom whisked upstairs to her secret closet. We're not supposed to go anywhere near the secret closet starting the week of Thanksgiving. But it's not really a secret since my brother and sister and I know where it is. In the hallway between Mom and Dad's bedroom and my brother, Jerry's room is a closet with a special lock at the top of the door. I can't reach it and neither can Jerry or my sister, Darla. My hand can just brush the bottom of the deadbolt if I stand on tiptoes, but I'm not tall enough to pull it back. Not yet, but maybe next year.
I wish I could open that door to see what's really in there. Mom says peeking will ruin Christmas. What? How could knowing ahead of time ruin anything? If I don't get what I asked for...now that'll ruin Christmas morning for sure. There's this really great race car set that I've wanted forever. It wasn't under the tree last year, and I asked Dad for it again weeks ago. He got a funny look on his face and rubbed his whiskers like he was thinking it over. He gave me the same old answer. "We'll have to see what Santa brings you."
Santa? Do they think I'm dumb? The presents are already in the secret closet. Mom took some shopping bags upstairs last week. Nothing looked big enough for the box the race car set would be in though. I'm probably not getting it again. But, that's all I want. Why can't I have it? It isn't fair. Jerry and Darla got what they wanted last year. Jerry got a dumb dinosaur that roars and Darla got the Barbie Dream Castle--a hunk of ugly pink plastic. I got a robot. It was OK. Maybe it's time to come up with a plan to see if my Christmas is ruined or not.
Mom had Christmas music on and the house smelled like gingerbread--my favorite. There were already some frosted gingerbread men piled up on a her special cookie plate. She said "Donny, you can have two," so I grabbed them and sat in the big chair by our huge Christmas tree in the living room eating and thinking. Gingerbread cookies must be good for thinking because I came up with a plan to get into the closet right away. I'd have to keep Jerry and Darla from seeing me, otherwise they'd tell on me for sure. They were always following me around, except for right now. Where were they? I checked each room looking for them. Finally, I went back to the kitchen and asked Mom. She said they were at practice for the Christmas program at church. That's right--the Christmas play was next week. It was the first year I didn't have to go. The little kids Christmas program was for kids who were younger than nine. I was tired of being a shepherd anyway. I'd been one every year since I was three.
Then Mom said she was going outside to get the mail. She already had a jacket on. Here was my chance! Dashing up the stairs, I got the red wooden stool from the bathroom. Darla still stands on it to brush her teeth. It had to be tall enough. It was so easy! Why hadn't I thought of this before? I ran to my bedroom window to see if Mom was still outside. She was, and old Mrs. Gardener was talking to her. They'd be out there forever. Dad calls her Mrs. Gabby Gardener because she talks a lot. I can't ever understand what she's talking about. A lot of stuff about when she was a kid, I guess.
Well, anyway I shoved the stool in front of the secret closet door. The stool made me tall enough to slide the bolt back and then I was standing in front of piles of boxes and bags stuffed in between old coats hanging on a pole. There was a doll for Darla--it figured. I pulled a game out of a big bag. It looked kinda interesting. I pushed it back behind the coats. There was a bag with pajamas, and some candy. More girl stuff for Darla. Why did she get so much? Nothing--no race cars. Then I looked up. The two shelves above the rod where the coats hung had lots more boxes. There was the one that had come from Grandpa and Grandma. But that wasn't big enough. I put the stool inside the closet to get a better look. There was a bag--a really big bag with something really big in it on the top shelf. It could be the race car set. I stood on my tiptoes on the edge of the stool. If I could just reach the bag to look inside.
But then it happened. I tipped and grabbed the edge of the bag to catch my balance. The bag came crashing down on my head and I fell into the coats, knocking bags and boxes everywhere. I felt something trickle from my nose and when I swiped my finger under my nose, it was blood. My shirt sleeve took care of that problem. The bigger problem was the mess of packages that had tumbled into the hallway. The front door hadn't slammed, so I might still be OK. It's a good thing I'm nine and pretty strong because I got all those packages put back in the closet. I couldn't get the big bag on the top shelf though, so I shoved it behind the coats and shut the door ... very quietly.
Then I pushed the bolt through those little hoops and locked the door. The bad part was that my nose was still bleeding and I had to wipe it on my shirt again. I sat on my bed wishing that it would stop. Some Kleenex from the bathroom helped when I stuffed it up my nose. The front door opened--Mom was back in the house.
She called for me, but I couldn't go downstairs with blood on my shirt. So I answered that I was busy doing homework. Then she asked if I was sick. I hollered "no" and pulled off my shirt. I took another one out of the dresser drawer and hid the bloody one under the bed. Carefully, I pulled out the Kleenex. No blood. Good! But then, I remembered. Oh no! The stool was still in the hall. If she didn't come upstairs, I could sneak it back to the bathroom. Tiptoeing like a Ninja, I picked it up and put it back---everything was OK.
Then I realized, I'd never looked in the bag. It had been for nothing. How dumb! But I hadn't gotten caught. Maybe doing my homework was a good idea after all. And waiting for Christmas might be OK. Maybe a really smart thing, even if there wasn't any race car set.
Merry Christmas Readers! If you'd like access to more free short stories, become a Mystery Maven Society member by subscribing to my occasional newsletter.
P.S. Donny did get his race car set.
It's time to get the Christmas movies and TV specials DVDs out. Since Christmas is just four weeks away, we'd better get started. The stack of DVDs at Casa Wallace is about ready to go, but we might add something new. As bonafide Christmas junkies here's what our viewing will include this month.
1. A Christmas Story - We've already watched this one. A Wallace family tradition for over 20 years, we kick off the Christmas season by watching this 1980s classic on Thanksgiving night. We continue to laugh over "You'll shoot your eye out," "a major award," "I double-dog dare you," and "You used up all the glue on purpose. Then there's this little exchange between Ralphie and his mother after he said the worst word of all time:
Mother: All right. Now, are you ready to tell me where you heard that word?
Ralphie as Adult: [narrating] Now, I had heard that word at least ten times a day from my old man. He worked in profanity the way other artists might work in oils or clay. It was his true medium; a master. But, I chickened out and said the first name that came to mind.
This movie never fails to bring a smile and a good laugh. And if tradition holds, the USA network will run the movie continuously for 24 hours starting on Christmas Eve. My personal opinion is that if you can't crack a smile during this movie, then you're taking life way too seriously.
2. A Charlie Brown Christmas - Having been a kid when it first came out on television in the 60s, I love this animated story. The music by Vince Guaraldi is fabulous and I even have it on my iPod, so I can listen to it year-round. It never fails to bring a tear to my eye as the Christmas story is narrated by Linus. A must see every year. Charles Shultz was an absolute genius when he created this special.
3. It's a Wonderful Life - Yup, I cry when I watch this one too. I think it's entirely OK during the Christmas season to shed a few tears. It's the joy of the season that wells up inside and makes us feel good about what really matters - integrity, sacrifice, love, family, and a darn good ending. Frank Capra's low budget 1946 movie has become part of the American Christmas tradition. Get the DVD and watch it in front of a crackling fire, hot chocolate and tissues in hand. A stellar cast with James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, and Thomas Mitchell doesn't disappoint--ever. And if you've wondered how Bert and Ernie got their names on Sesame Street, you'll find the answer in this movie.
4. Scrooged - With the hilarious Bill Murray, this 1988 film is an adaptation of A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. Joining Bill are Karen Allen, John Fosythe, Carol Kane, John Murray, Robert Goulet, and many more excellent actors. Carol Kane is absolutely hysterical as the Ghost of Christmas Present. A movie that is a hoot.
5. How The Grinch Stole Christmas - Boris Karloff narrates the original and is the only one I'll watch. Another perfectly told story that needs no remakes or improvements. Who doesn't love Dr. Seuss's Max the dog as he struggles to haul the Grinch's sleigh? And as the Whos sing the strange, but compelling carol in the village square, you might actually join in. Thurl Ravenscroft provides the outstanding bass vocals on "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch." He was also Tony, the Tiger for Kellogg's Frosted Flakes. (free trivia)
6. National Lampoon's Family Christmas Vacation - We all want the perfect family Christmas and place such high expectations on ourselves and our families for the holiday. But, as Chevy Chase learns in this modern classic, the family stuff is a little overrated. Crazy relatives, snooty neighbors, a squirrel, a large Rottweiler, and a kidnapping by your wife's redneck cousin can almost ruin your life. Almost. It's a laugh out loud movie to lighten the stress of the holidays.
7. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer - I was and still am fascinated with the animation in this one, which went along with the Norelco TV ad (the electric shaver that zipped through the snow). You have to be of a certain age to remember that one. Burl Ives narrates and this is another production that cannot be improved upon. Amazing that three Christmas specials from the 1960s continue to have such popularity over 50 years later. The music is great in this one too. Isle of Misfit Toys, Silver and Gold, and Have a Holly, Jolly Christmas are part of the musical landscape.
8. Christmas with the Kranks - a movie based on the John Grisham novel, Skipping Christmas. Starring Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis, I firmly believe this would happen to my husband and me if we decided to forego Christmas. A 2004 film, this is the only one after the turn of the century that's been added to our pile. It's a good laugh, heartwarming, and worth viewing this December.
There are lots more movies that may get watched - White Christmas, Miracle on 34th Street, Holiday Inn, The Bishop's Wife, Home Alone, to name a few. What are your favorites?
Many of us will dig deep this Christmas season, writing checks, pushing coins into red buckets, and making online payments to charities before January 1. Americans are the most generous people in the world. Giving to charitable organizations in 2014 was recorded at more than $258 billion by Giving USA Foundation. It was 5.7% more than giving in 2013. That's a lotta dough.
We love to give, but we're also suckers for a "feel good" experience. The TV commercials that make us cry and tug at our heartstrings may not be the best places to send our money. And definitely not the ones who send us "free" gifts in the mail to make us feel guilty. I encourage you to take a serious look at what your favorite charities are doing with your hard-earned dollars after they get your check. There are great resources to find out what's happening with your donation. Here are two helpful links:
Visit your charity's website and find out if they post their financials and how much they spend to raise money. That's the real proof of the pudding. Organizations that spend a whopping 40% or more to raise more money are not a good value. That means a lot is spent on advertising, events, etc. and less is getting to those who need the help. If you can't find the information on their website, send them an email or give them a call. If the organization is unwilling to share those numbers, that's a red flag.
There are lots of great organizations that operate administrative and fundraising sides with 20% or less. Those are the ones I recommend you check into. Charity Navigator has information on the statistics if the organization is required to file a 990 with the IRS.
Giving is a serious responsibility and a matter of the heart. We must be sure that our gifts are thoughtful, generous, and done with the right attitude.
"You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.” 2 Corinthians 9:7 NLT
If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly. Romans 12:8 NLT
Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple. If you do,” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, “I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put me to the test! Malachi 3:10 NLT
Give generously, but give wisely. Don't be fooled by glitzy materials or guilt trips. Follow your heart to where you want to give, but find organizations that do it well. My personal top five are these:
1. My church
2. Africa Inland Mission
3. Samaritan's Purse
4. The Salvation Army (Local)
5. Care Net Pregnancy Center (Local)
Money isn't the only way to give, so do consider giving your time to your charity as well. I can tell you from experience, that's the most valuable gift many charities desperately need.
Be blessed and bless others this Christmas season.