Tag Archive: Christmas


grinch

Christmas is coming!

For different people that means different things.

i like to start referring to myself as ‘The Grinch’ as Christmas approaches, but it’s not entirely true. Continue reading

At least be kind.

chr

Tis the season to be jolly, fa la la la la, la la, screw you!

Something like that, right?

Or maybe more appropriately, ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…’

Yesterday i commented on the Book of Faces how amazing it was to be reading through my newsfeed and just reading positive, grateful-sounding stuff. Heck, even a death message to mourn Joe Cocker was made to sound appreciative.

But then i also happened to be two-day-before Christmas shopping…

Pulled into a four-car-park full waterfront to go and pick up something that was only in the one store there [having been at another one all across town] and drove into this enclosed parking lot and decided to just wait in one spot until someone came. Managed to find a parking spot after not too long a wait, although also saw a big guy standing in another parking lot “booking” it for someone else? Rough translation – “I am better than you and deserve special treatment and to jump the line of people wanting to park.” i probably shouldn’t have shouted “Just drive him over” to the guy who got to the parking before his person did…

park

Then as i was leaving the parking lot i was behind another car who i assumed was also leaving as we were heading straight for the boom – a parking space opened up on the right of us and there was a car clearly waiting to go in and suddenly without warning or indication, as the car moved out of the space, this car in front of me just did a smooth little “Voop” [there is not other way to explain it, it was a Voop!] and the car that had been indicating was all like “WHAAT?” i left before i saw the conclusion of the girl from that car’s, ‘Uh excuse me but that was our space.”

But that’s it, right? All friendly and cheery and Christmassy until that moment we’re both reaching for the last bottle of [insert product sold in bottles] or you have three parents bearing down on that last Mauritius Barbie or Guardians of the Galaxy figurine, then it’s every WWE wrestler for themselves.

Maybe it’s just the leave-it-til-the-last-minute late people. Maybe the really nice ones shop early and are hiding out in their homes somewhere sipping on egg nog [i have no real idea what egg nog is, except that it likely contains some amount of egg, but the name has always scared me enough to largely keep my distance] being glad they are not a part of Christmas Max: Thunderdome or something.

But it’s not too late.

We have today, we have tomorrow. Presents still need to be bought. Last minute menu items to be acquired. Someone will have forgotten the [insert forgotten product] and someone else will be heading out for a few more bottles of [you know how this works – bottly thing].

You WILL find a parking space. You will get the thing you need. Or you won’t, but you’ll be fine.

Take a breath. Remember this is a great time to demonstrate loving your fellow man, woman, child and really slow old person driver. [As is every other day of the year to the exact same amount, funnily enough]

For a minute, imagine that other person is another version of you.

A slower, ruder, idiotic driver, pushy in, more aggressive version perhaps, but still…

And at least be kind.

kind

chr

In response to a piece i shared on Christmas, which among other things, invited readers to share some of their creative/revolutionary/others-focused ideas they had for celebrating Christmas, i was tweeted by Graham Heslop links to two articles, asking me to check them out.

i’m not going to lie, i wasn’t super enthusiastic, mostly because the idea of reading more articles feels a little bit like work. But Graham is someone i follow on the Twitterer [@avosquirrel] and generally like or agree with a bunch of stuff he has posted and so i went to take a look. And was pretty much blown away.  Thank you, Graham!

Short, simple and to the point and both well worth reading, especially the first one focusing on Incarnation which is a concept i completely love and a drawn towards.

The Christ Event and the True Christmas Spirit –  Graham Heslop

He quotes J.I. Packer as referring to the idea of Incarnation as  ‘the most profound and unfathomable depths of Christian revelation’: God took on human flesh and was born. The eternal Son, who was with the Father, through whom the world was created and by whom all life is sustained, became a man (John 1:1-4, 14).

One thing i really love about the idea of the Incarnation is the picture that it presents of this message of ours which is meant to be ‘Good News’ and yet which too often [thanks to our messiness] is not presented that way. But taking us back in reminding us that the Christmas message is that of God leaving the luxuries of heaven behind and revealing Himself to us, face to face.

He ends it by pointing us towards a ‘true meaning of Christmas type message’ where he highlights, the model of Christ we are called to imitate: continual and selfless pursuit of others’ interests.’

Christmas and Incarnation should be held hand in hand and this post by Graham really helped achieve that in simple yet dramatic form.

The Traditions of Men and our Forgotten King – Graham Heslop

This piece focuses on the tension that exists between human traditions and the Kingship of Jesus. I love how he sums it up:

When it came to the traditions of men Jesus was incensed by their obscuring effect; his fight was not against the Jews’ practices and cultural artifacts, but how those drew the Jewish people away from God. 

He reminds us that Jesus was pretty harsh with the religious leaders of the day and this quote from Mark 7 backs that up:

“You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition, making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down” (Mark 7:9, 13).

As we head into the Christmas season and a huge spotlight falls on our plans, our parties, our food, our presents, there is an ongoing refrain of ‘Me, me, me, me, me, me’ that can be heard and observed if you listen closely enough. Christmas gives us the ‘Get out of Jail Free’ card to justify any crazy, out of control spending we would not be happy with at any other time of the year.

Graham sums up this wrestling so clearly:

Tomorrow is the day in the Christian calendar when we remember the Son’s self-giving work, which began with the incarnation. Yet tomorrow is most likely already consumed by brightly adorned trees sheltering piles of presents, large family gatherings, and gluttonously sized meals – the traditions of men.

And draws mention to Jesus as ‘The Forgotten King’ and the desperate call that in the midst of all of the building up of momentum as we head towards Christmastime, we don’t lose sight of the One who all this is meant to be about… and the life and world transforming lifestyle He calls us to be living out.

Let’s not miss Christ this Christmas.

[For the piece i wrote inviting you to share your creative Christmas ideas with us all, click here]

[For an older piece i wrote on Keeping the Cross in Cross-mas, click here]

 

grinch

It’s true, i am the Grinch of all things Christmas.

Well, maybe not all things. But christmas carols in October? i literally count the success of my year [in one way] by how late in the year i manage to hear my first christmas carol [Disclaimer: This obviously excludes the Boney M version of ‘Drummer Boy’ and anyone who says otherwise is clearly lying through their teeth, or maybe their barumpumpum-bum]

But between all the ‘Put Christ back into X-mas’ and ‘Christmas is based on pagan festivals’ and ‘Jesus wasn’t even born on the 25th of December’ nonsense, Christmas to me typically has the potential [and the history] to become a big fat mess of commercialism and me-manship [that should so be a word!]

And so, in many ways, i have been more a ‘Bah, humbug’ kind of Christmas spectator than a fully invested enthusiast.

It is possible that the fact that so many of the traditional Christmas foods like mince pies [that is NOT mince in there] or Christmas cake [that is not cake – it is the result of an explosion in a raiSIN and evilness factory covered by icing that is not really icing to make you think it is cake] are so hideous to this squishy-fruit hating guy.

THE UGLY

chrwar

 

But Christmas does have a special power in the world. Possibly one of the most bizarre stories is of the First World War when the fighting was topped on Christmas day and soldiers crossed the lines to give small gifts to each other and even in at least one case apparently played a football match against the enemy. This to me personifies both the greatness and the ridiculousness of the season as the very next day hostilities were resumed and they went back to murdering each other.

THE BAD

chrbad

The downright ugliness of last minute Christmas shopping brawls. The insane excess when it comes to the kind of money we can ‘justify’ spending “because it’s Christmas” without feeling any kind of bad. And the aforementioned evil cake of fruitness. New excessive and unnecessary debt. Obligation. Loneliness. And more…

THE GOOD

In 2012, i put out a request for people to share some of the creative things they were going to be doing for Christmas and this blog post titled, ‘Christmas for the Masses’ was the result. A lot of people doing a lot of inspiring stuff.

That is when the Grinch in me gets chased down the street and told he is not welcome any more – when we lose a lot of the ME of what Christmas has been from growing up as a young child when it was ALL ABOUT THE PRESENTS to a realisation that it is so much more.

My parents were great at that, although i don’t think i ever picked up the lessons until later, because it was usually lost in the ‘this is affecting my present-opening’ moments. But on Christmas day, after the service, before we got home [and to my presents!] taking vases of flowers around to a number of old people who were going to be spending Christmas by themselves; or inviting people around after the service for coffee and evil Christmas mince pies; or having people who otherwise might spend Christmas by themselves over for our family Christmas eve meal. And so on.

My mom and i started a tradition a few years ago before i left for Americaland, when on Christmas day itself we would make up a whole bunch of sandwiches and buy juice boxes and bags and drive around handing them out to homeless people we found on the streets [fun fact: any time you are actually looking for homeless people on the street, they are the hardest people to find] and this grew to a number of people helping out with money or time and getting involved.

My beautiful wife Valerie [tbV] was the instigator of a number of special Christmas times overseas inviting in friends and strangers to share Christmas with us and creating beautiful traditions to help us celebrate or mourn things from the year that has passed and look for hope and share dreams for the year that is to come.

It is a great time to slow down and remember the Jesus story [whenever He was actually born], how it is announced with the words ‘For God so loved…’ and how Jesus echoed the words ‘You will be known by the love you have for each other’ later, just before He died, with the words, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ A reminder that our love for others is but a pale reflection of all the love He has already shown for us.

A reminder that ‘the love of Jesus’ is a much stronger force than ‘the spirit of Christmas’ and how it should inform and empower our lives and decisions every single day, not simply once a year. A reminder that the football match means nothing if the day before and the day after are filled with killing those you were playing against.

So Christmas itself is not good, bad or ugly. We make it that. Our choices and decisions over the next month determines how life-transforming or simply self-indulgent this year’s celebration will be. And i would love to hear again from you, the traditions and ideas and actions you plan to take this year to bring the YOU firmly into the middle of the season.

Who will you invite? What will you sacrifice? Where will your invitations be extended? What life and joy and hope and peace will you be in the middle of creating for those around you?

After all, Christmas has to be more than this:

jesuschr

[You may also enjoy my Open Letter to Brett Fish at Christmas post]

one of the worst things for me about Christmas is the excess.

when it comes to food i have a saying that goes, ‘Gluttony is its own reward’ and it’s true… and i need to be intentional before i sit down at a Christmas meal laden with yummy foods to calm down and have a decent meal but not go overboard. which is why Val and i have taken on a tradition both our families taught us to do, which involves inviting people who are likely to be by themselves to join us for a meal which we usually do on Christmas Eve.

but when it comes to gift-giving and spending money you often don’t have on things people often don’t want or need often [although not always] because of the feeling 0f compulsion [they are going to give me something so i have to get them something, or i am expected to get something for so and so] and that just makes me sad and irritated and bleargh.

but this post is not about that [trying to do more shining light and less pointing out poo in my life these days]

it is not even about this incredible video which really inspired me both by the incredibleness of a village in Malawi being able to obtain clean water for the first time ever [and how we can be a part of funding that] but more so just by the heart and life and community that exudes out of these people [who the majority of us blog-reading types would probably consider poor – although it looks like they have so much to offer us in terms of living well and appreciating each other].

this post is suggesting a gift idea that you might want to consider [especially, but not exclusively, if you are a married couple] giving to a couple you know to send them the message that you are cheering on their marriage [which let’s face it, is an institution under much stress and attack these days]

i don’t think i ever would have been thought such a thing if it hadn’t been done for us…

in our time at the Simple Way in Philadelphia, our schedule was pretty hectic [morning prayer at 8am then work from 9 to 5 then something on most evenings and in ‘our spare time’ the idea of connecting with the locals and building community on Potter Street] and we also lived in intentional community with 3 other people [and not the thickest of bedroom walls] in a house that was the centre hub of all the local action with food distributions and after school programs and community potluck meals and so time was a scarce commodity. also with people around all the time our bedroom was both a place of intimacy [remember those walls?]and conflict as it was the only place we really had to be alone – not the most conducive for growing healthy relationship.

and we were in the middle of a voyage of discovery as far as finances and living simply and a mindset that had just moved from South African rands [small] to Americanese Dollars and prices of things in dollars which seemed very daunting once we multipled them by 9, then 10, then 10 and a half…

[enter Lisa and Jacques, stage left]

now to set some context, Lisa’s parents are family friends of ours [who just happen to share the same last name as us but are not officially related although quite possibly more related than mere blood – they have played a huge and encouraging role in the life of our family] and at that point i had never even met Jacques and possibly seen Julie last ten years previously or something… this came out of nowhere.

dATEand i’m not sure if i am remembering this correctly, but i feel like it might have come as a once off gift and then was quickly followed by a note that said, ‘actually we are going to be doing this every month for the next year’ – but the point is this – they committed to giving us a gift of a date night once a month for a year.

 

such a powerful and surprising and effective and life-transforming gift

what was great about it was that it was money given to us to specifically ‘waste on ourselves’ – we don’t have to make any decisions on if or how we could spend it, because they had designated it to be spent for date nights and so once a month [and it was a generous amount so often stretched to more than once] we could head out and find some respite and space for us to just spoil ourselves and be able to date each other.

i don’t know that this is true for every couple, but i do know that we have found marriage to be hard. add into that mix moving city [and country] three times in the four years of being married and having to figure out and then live in the new transitions that life has dealt us and it has not always been easy to give each other the focus and love that we should. having a year’s worth of Date Nights from the Pieterse’s was an absolute gift.

so, if you are a couple who is doing alright financially, that might be one way in which you could really encourage another couple. maybe it is a young couple in their first year of marriage; maybe it is a couple who have just transitioned into a new place or season or work situation; maybe it can take the form of offering a night of babysitting to a couple with children so that they can get out for the night; maybe it is a couple you know who have been struggling a bit in their marriage and could maybe use a bit of a boost.

start by doing it as a once off. anonymously or with a note [i like the idea of identifying yourselves so that you can send the message of ‘we have your backs’ – ‘we are cheering you on’. and then possibly commit to doing it for a year or even just six months and let the couple know what your commitment is so they can be planning for it.

and if you decide to do this, i would so love to hear who you chose and how it goes…

christmastime approaches

bringing with it good cheer

peace and joy to all mankind…

or something like that

 

but who is this ‘all mankind’

this christmastime is bringing its good cheer to?

is it to all those who receive a bonus check

that will enable them to stockpile gifts their children want

but certainly don’t need?

is the cheer on tap for all those who will lie cursing

their overflowing bellies

having made the trip back for the overflowing plate of thirds

they promised they would not eat this year?

or for those returning gifts to the store the day after

in order to get a totally different thing they wanted

that nobody had the decency to think of getting them?

 

or could it perhaps be

that this christmastime

there is the opportunity

to get it right?

 

what would it look like I wonder

if instead of no rooming it in this inn

we decided rather to extend an invitation

to the young pregnant couple we just heard knocking at our door?

 

who might that couple look like to us?

who might that couple look like to me?

 

and who might be the ‘we’ we could invite

to be a part of this transformational Christmas delight?

might it be friends or family, a combination of the two?

might it look like members from my sports team of colleagues from my job?

what manner of creativity could I dig into,

to figure out who this year’s co-conspirators might be?

 

and I do say ‘this year’s’

 

because I am well aware

that if I could extend my personal reach

to look beyond myself,

gather up some fellow plotters of goodness

and throw the dinner to end all dinners

for someone or ones most unlikely

to be the recipients of this any other way…

that this would not be the last time I would choose to celebrate this way

 

and maybe, if I dug even deeper still and found a way for them to be involved

in preparing the food

or perhaps being a part of the entertainment for the evening

of sharing in both the creation and break down of the day

instead of simply sitting off to the side somewhere

as I casually toss a leftover coin from my purse into their hat

well then, who knows the possibilities?

 

awkward? possibly.

uncomfortable? likely so.

a bother to pull together? oh absolutely.

 

so if you’re wanting to receive what you have always gotten

if you’re wanting to achieve what you have always seen

the trick would be putting all of this out of your memory

making as if you’d never come across these words

uttering a silent curse at the one who brought them across your path

and putting it all down to guilt tactics

or condemnation

and “I don’t live in condemnation” you will say

quite loudly and quite often

so as to try convince yourself

of the very opposite you know to be the very Truth…

 

you are trying so desperately to hide from:

 

I was hungry

I was thirsty

I was naked or sick or imprisoned or alone

And you…

 

you turned up the merry Christmas tunes

and poured yourself another glass of wine

and said a lovely prayer of Thanksgiving to God

to thank Him for all the blessings He has showered upon you.

Merry Christmas!

And to all?

well, here we are – December 2 – WHEN DID THAT HAPPEN?

yup, somehow December snuck up on us all again and pretty soon it will be Christmas – you know the time to celebrate gluttony and spend time, energy and money on buying things for people that they don’t need or often even want? wait, that’s not sposed to be it, right?

it’s Christmas – the time of good will to all mankind and a whole lot of Fah La La La La’ing…

let me cut to the chase – what excites me every year about Christmas is the stories of people who get creative around this time to reach out to others – the lonely, the old, those in hospital, those living on the streets – whose Christmas is not likely to look anything like worshipping the Fat Elf of Gluttony – and making even the smallest amount of difference in their lives [although i see Love, Joy, Hope, Community and Acceptance as huge big-ass gifts]

Christmas

tbV and i are about to celebrate our 5th Christmas together and before we let it run away with us, we decided to be intentional about coming up with some of our own new traditions that will help this holiday feel special to us… and that got me thinking about how we collectively [as the bigger community of us] can help each other to make this the best Christmas possible for the aforementioned ‘least of these’ and others…

This is what i want to invite you into. If you already have a tradition of doing something for others on or around Christmas day, then i would love for you to share it in the comments section. If you have ever been the recipient of someone else reaching out and doing something meaningful and life-transforming for you on Christmas day i would love to hear those stories as well. But more importantly, the invitation is to sit with your friends and/or family and come up with one new tradition to start doing this Christmastime that will help make someone else’s Christmastime really special [especially someone who needs it more]

Will this mean inviting someone into your family meal? Or volunteering with a group of friends at a local shelter Christmas meal? Will it mean getting creative in gift-making? Or sitting down and writing a letter, note or card to someone who is likely to spend this time alone? Or are you going to really hit one out of the park by taking this kind of inspiration and turning it into something that the recipient will remember for a long long time?

So, in the comments section of this blog, i want you to share with us all the idea you have that you are going to do this Christmastime. Perhaps you want to draw some more inspiration from these amazing stories of families who got creative in raising their young children as world changers. But let us know what you’re going to do – and the hope is that as we share ideas, we will be inspired by other peoples’ ideas and try out some of these things together…

Who is in?

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