Holiday Encouragement

Posted by  | Thursday, November 26, 2009  at 7:00 AM  
A few weekends ago, my church held an annual women's event titled "Holidays Fit for the King." The morning includes a speaker and practical seminars. This year the speaker was a good friend of mine, Jenn. I asked her permission to share the text of her message on POH. I love how she used Proverbs 17:1 - and I know you will be encouraged too! Happy Thanksgiving!

I know that ladies attend Holidays Fit for a King to be inspired and encouraged, and to find some new ideas to incorporate into your family’s traditions. I would love to also offer some inspiration and encouragement.

I am by no means an expert at decorating or crafting or hostessing, which is why I’m not teaching a seminar! But I am a daughter of the King we are here to honor, and I believe we have a sweet and divine appointment this morning. I am excited to share some things that God has put on my heart as I prepared for today.

I entitled my talk Simple Christmas because I believe with wisdom and guidance from scripture we can really strip away the unnecessary in our holidays and be more available for the Holy Spirit to work in us and through us as we seek to shine the light of Jesus a little brighter. .

I have been studying the book of Esther for a good part of this year, and I happened to be working through the next-to last chapter right after Sarah asked me to speak. I had been praying for God to show me what He wanted me to talk about, and when I read the following verses, I knew the Holy Spirit was up to something:

Esther 9:20-28: Mordecai recorded these events, and he sent letters to all the Jews throughout the provinces of King Xerxes, near and far, to have them celebrate annually the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the month of Adar as the time when the Jews got relief from their enemies, and as the month when their sorrow was turned into joy and their mourning into a day of celebration. He wrote them to observe the days as days of feasting and joy and giving presents of food to one another and gifts to the poor.

So the Jews agreed to continue the celebration they had begun, doing what Mordecai had written to them. For Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, the enemy of all the Jews, had plotted against the Jews to destroy them and had cast the pur (that is, the lot) for their ruin and destruction. But when the plot came to the king's attention, he issued written orders that the evil scheme Haman had devised against the Jews should come back onto his own head, and that he and his sons should be hanged on the gallows. (Therefore these days were called Purim, from the word pur .) Because of everything written in this letter and because of what they had seen and what had happened to them, the Jews took it upon themselves to establish the custom that they and their descendants and all who join them should without fail observe these two days every year, in the way prescribed and at the time appointed. These days should be remembered and observed in every generation by every family, and in every province and in every city. And these days of Purim should never cease to be celebrated by the Jews, nor should the memory of them die out among their descendants.

So this morning, I want to look at what Mordecai laid out for the Jews in why and how they should observe Purim, because I believe we can find some parallels and some inspiration for why and how we should observe Christmas.

The first thing Mordecai writes is for the Jews to “observe these days as the time when we got relief from our enemy, as the month when our sorrow was turned to joy and our mourning into dancing.”

I wonder what would happen- how would our Christmas be transformed, if we observed Jesus’ birth that way? We know that his conception and birth were fulfillments of OT prophecies. Jesus entering, as a baby, the world he created was simply amazing.

John 1:10-14: He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent,nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only,who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Jesus’ birth was necessary for scripture to be fulfilled, and also for us as Gentiles, or non-Jews, to have full access to God. This moment, when Jesus was born, is when He became Immanuel, God with us. Isaiah paints a glorious picture of Jesus being with us, and of how He would give us relief from our enemy:

Isaiah 9:1-7: Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan-
The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.
You have enlarged the nation
and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
as people rejoice at the harvest,
as men rejoice
when dividing the plunder.
For as in the day of Midian's defeat,
you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor.
Every warrior's boot used in battle
and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
will be fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David's throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty
will accomplish this.

I know I’m not the only one here who counts herself among the captives that Jesus has set free. I know there have been times in my life when Satan has had victory over me. But praise God, Satan’s victories were short-lived! I can say with certainty that the only reason I am standing before you today is because of the redeeming work Jesus has done in my life; because He gave me relief from my enemy.

Mordecai also reminds the Jews that their sorrow was turned to joy, and their mourning to dancing, or celebration as some translations say. Again, Isaiah prophecies as to how Jesus would accomplish this same thing for us:

Isaiah 61:1-3: The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,

because the LORD has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,

and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the LORD
for the display of his splendor.
We all have ashes- some of our own making, and some that were not of our choosing. Regardless of how they came to be, Jesus came to turn our ashes into a crown of beauty. I hope you can rest in that today, and rejoice in that today and in the days to come.
There is a song called Ten Thousand Angels by Caedmon’s Call, and part of the song says, “so lift up your heart now/ to this unfolding/ all that has been broken/ will be restored/ here runs deep waters/ for all who are thirsty/ love has come/ love has come for you.” Love came by way of a young girl in a filthy stable so He could redeem you and me and turn our sorrow and mourning into joy and dancing. I think that’s cause for a celebration!

So now that we have established why we are celebrating, let’s get to the party!
Mordecai tells the Jews there should be feasting and joy. The Message reads that Purim should be "a holiday for parties and fun and laughter." That to me sums up the time between Thanksgiving and New Years. I love all the food, and getting together with friends and family.
I have learned in my own life that there are two ways to ensure a happy holiday season for you, your family, and everyone who is blessed to come through your front door.

First of all, we have to cultivate an atmosphere of peace. There aren’t many things in life better than a peaceful home. No matter what’s happening outside that front door, our homes can be a refuge for our family and for our friends.

Proverbs 17:1 tells us “Better a dry crust with peace and quiet than a house full of feasting and strife.” Because the most beautiful cranberry-glazed turkey won’t be enough if there’s tension in your home.

The very first Thanksgiving that Tim and I were married, we hosted his parents. I had never been the hostess for a major holiday, so I was excited to have guests and to show off my cooking skills. I seriously made every side dish I had ever eaten, including sweet potato souffle and mashed potatoes with gravy. And I didn't want any help from anyone! So while I had an opportunity to set a peaceful tone for my home and my family, I instead set a tone of busy, busy, busy!

Several years ago I discovered that Fresh Market will make your whole turkey dinner for you, and wile I do love to cook, I know myself well enough to know that my kitchen perfectionism serves no one well. So now when we host, I can focus on making a fun dessert or two, and leave the heavy lifting to the pros. I know that’s not the right plan for everyone, but it works great for my family, and my husband especially loves having fewer dishes to clean up!
In addition to cultivating a peaceful home, we also need to cultivate hospitality. Being hospitable just means that you treat your guests warmly and generously. So that’s something we can all do, regardless of the size of our home or the breadth of our baking skills.
Proverbs 15:17 speaks to this: “Better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fattened calf with hatred.”

When Tim and I joined Providence, we were encouraged to be mentored by a couple who were further along in their marriage. The first time we went to our mentor couples' home, I felt a sense of peace and warmth as soon as we walked in the door. We then sat down to a meal of sloppy joes, canned green beans, and brownies from a mix. Many of us women would rather die than serve canned anything to guests, but I tell you that I have rarely had such an enjoyable meal. Our hostess made sure we were comfortable and at home, and she let the food take care of itself. On our second visit, she served Chinese takeout. The food was fine, but the hospitality and the fellowship were amazing!

I hope you are all encouraged to cultivate a peaceful and hospitable home, and a peaceful life wherever you go, which will make the feasting and the parties all the more joyful.
Finally, we come to one of my favorite parts of Christmas- gifts!
To wrap up his declaration, Mordecai encourages the Jews to give presents of food to one another and gifts to the poor. Earlier in the chapter it is noted that Purim was a day for giving presents to one another.

It is a running joke among my entire family that I love opening presents as much as, if not more than, the kids. What can I say, I’m sure it stems from my childhood, and when I took that 5 love languages test, gifts ranked high as my number one love language. So I come by it honest! I do love the thrill of opening a box and not knowing what’s inside. But even more, I love finding just the right gift for the people in my life. I love it. But given that our family does not have an unlimited supply of cash, I have learned to be creative and frugal with the gift-giving. So we try and focus on quality over quantity.

Being the foodie that I am, I love that Mordecai tells the Jews to give one another gifts of food. I think that food is a great gift to give, whether it is homemade goodies or a gift certificate to a much-loved restaurant (or coffee shop!). I have heard the Barefoot Contessa say that she only gives gifts that can be consumed in one sitting, and we like to do the same when possible.

So this year I encourage you to drown out the voices telling you that the more gifts the better, and instead focus on giving gifts that will have lasting meaning. This is a great time of year to use the gifts and talents God has given you to bless others- I mean, cooking is an obvious one. But there are less-obvious gifts that can be utilized this time of year.

Writing (hand-written letters)
Conversation (sitting with the elderly in nursing homes)
Photography and scrap booking, crafting… etc.
These all entail the sacrificial gift of time, which can mean more than any shirt you might pick up at a store.

And speaking for gifts, Mordecai specifically tells his audience to give gifts to the poor. But Mordecai was not unique in this command- Solomon admonishes us to care for the poor,

Proverbs 21:13: If you stop your ears to the cries of the poor,
your cries will go unheard, unanswered.

Proverbs 29:7: The righteous care about justice for the poor,
but the wicked have no such concern.
James does as well: Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?
So what does this look like during the holidays?

It does seem like the needs of the poor are magnified this time of year- the weather is colder, and many of them are on the streets. And everywhere you look, there are reminders of the commercial side of Christmas, which only serves to remind those who have little just how little they have. I can’t imagine being a parent who has to tell their children that there won’t be any presents for Christmas- how that must crush the soul of a mama and daddy who just want their children to have a happy Christmas.

I don’t believe it is merely a suggestion, but a command from the Holy Spirit that we care for the poor and the needy. And there are many in our community. There are the perpetually homeless. I will put a plug in here for a ministry dear to my heart- the Raleigh Rescue Mission. They have a program where you can adopt a man, woman or child who lives at the mission and buy gifts for them from a wish list. You can buy one thing they need, or everything. This is a wonderful way for a family, or a small group or just you to minister to a person who lives in your city.

There are also many who are not homeless but who are facing serious financial struggles due to job loss and other life circumstances. We have a wonderful program here at Providence called Hope for the Holidays that will minister to people in close proximity to our church who are facing tough times.

Regardless of where you live, there are ample opportunities for you to care for the poor and needy in your city.

I won’t preach to you about what you should do with your time and your money this holiday season, but I ask that you would pray diligently and ask God what he would have you do to minister to the least of these. I can say with absolute certainty that you will be blessed.

Isaiah tells us, “…if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.”

I do hope that this season we will all be deliberate in remembering why we celebrate Christmas, and that we have so much to be grateful for, even in the midst of trials.

If I can share one more story with you- last Thanksgiving and Christmas was especially sweet for my family. At Thanksgiving we had almost every member of my husband’s family around the table, and we also had our sweet baby girl, Charlotte. Charlotte was born with a heart defect, and she had open-heart surgery at three days old. She came through like a champ and we were so grateful to have her home for the holidays. We knew that she would be facing a second surgery sometime after Christmas, so we savored every minute of her first. I am happy to say that last Christmas was her first of many, and she is just one of many reasons I am thankful to my Savior.

I also want to encourage you as you prepare for the holidays- don’t let Satan steal your joy! It can be easy to feel bad because you haven’t done one thing or another. So you don’t have an Advent wreath? That is okay!

Thank you so, so much for allowing me to share with you today! Happy holidays!

1 comment:

Robin Baker said...

great post, very encouraging!

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