"What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!'"
December 10, 2008
Today is my husband's birthday, so I would like to begin by wishing him a "Happy Birthday." Jon, I hope that each year just keeps getting better and better for you. May your life continue to be blessed by God. As you follow your dreams, I want to always be by your side to encourage and cheer you on, and be there to celebrate each accomplishment with you. I love you.
From Thanksgiving until New Years each year, my life always seems to be hectic and full of activities. I'm sure that many of you feel the same way. The month of December seems to always fly by. I love Christmas, and it seems like I plan and decorate and am filled with excitement the whole month, then before I know it, it's come and gone. I anticipate opening gifts and can hardly wait, but then before I know it, it's all over with. Looking back it seems to have gone by so quickly, and I have to wait a whole year to do it all again.
This is a busy month for many of my family members as well. Three of my sisters are pastor's wives and are busy with Christmas programs and various parties and get-togethers. Then this month is full of family birthday's. One of my sisters has a birthday on the 6th, Jon's is on the 10th, a niece has hers on the 23rd, a brother-in-law on the 25th, a nephew on the 26th, and a wife and little boy of one of my nephews celebrate their birthdays together on the 28th.
I get caught up in all the Christmas festivities, and am like a little kid. I love to listen to Christmas music, look at all the decorations and lights, watch Christmas movies, make fudge and all the special goodies that I only make once a year, and shop for those special gifts. I plug the lights on my tree in first thing in the morning and turn them off last thing at night. At least one or two nights during the Christmas season I like to light the fireplace and turn all the lights off, except for the tree. It's very peaceful and relaxing. I get excited when we receive Christmas cards in the mail, and I run across the road every day as soon as I see the mailman, to see if perhaps we received a card. There is just something very special about this time of year that I thoroughly love.
I remember as a little girl, begging to open "just one Christmas present" early. I would see the gifts under the tree, and it seemed as if the time to open them would never come. I felt like I just couldn't wait. I would shake the box and try to guess what was inside.
Mama would always hide our gifts inside her bedroom closet until she wrapped them. Occasionally (well, actually every year) I would sneak into Daddy and Mama's bedroom and peek in the closet, trying to see what they had bought me. She would put quilts over the top of them and I would try to remember how the quilt was lying so that I could put it back exactly like I found it, hoping that I wouldn't be caught. Sometimes I would find my gift, and sometimes I wouldn't. And it really never bothered me that I knew ahead of time what I was getting. It was like a big exciting game for me. I would act excited when I opened it.
I remember a few special gifts that I didn't know about ahead of time, that really surprised me. One year my sister, Janie, bought me a new Bible for Christmas. It was a smaller size and the cover snapped closed, and my name was imprinted on the front. I used it until it was absolutely worn out and was falling apart, and I still have it today. It is very broken in and for some reason, I could find scriptures more easily in it. Even now, if I can't find a scripture that I'm looking for, I go back to that Bible and seem to be able to locate it.
Another year, my parents got me a sweater that I had found in a catalog and really wanted. Mama had told me that they weren't able to afford it and not to expect it. I was so surprised when I opened up my gift, and found a sweater that was almost exactly the same as the one that I had found in the catalog. I wore it for many, many years until it finally wore out. It seemed to stretch with me as I grew, and I certainly got a lot of wear out of it. That was probably one of my most favorite gifts that I ever received. Recently, I found a sweater made exactly like it, except this one didn't have the colored trim that mine had years ago. I couldn't resist buying it. I really like it and wear it all the time. I think it brings back a good memory, so has sentimental value to it.
Since Jon and I have been married, he's been able to surprise me a few times. I make him a list of suggestions, but occasionally he will come up with an idea on his own and catch me off guard. He's a little harder to surprise, since I don't always know what he's talking about when he tells me he wants some type of electronic, wrench, or computer gadget. But I have fun trying to come up little things to surprise him with.
I hang stockings for the two of us on the fireplace, and we buy stocking stuffers for each other. When we first got married, the big discussion was on whether to open our gifts on Christmas Eve night or on Christmas morning. When I was growing up, my family would always open our gifts on Christmas Eve night. Jon's family opened their on Christmas morning. We both wanted to stick with our traditions. It's still a debate every year, but we've mostly reached a compromise where we open our bigger gifts on Christmas Eve, then open our stockings on Christmas morning.
When I was growing up, Mama or someone would read the Christmas story from Luke and we would pray together before opening gifts. When my two oldest nephews were small, their mom had them memorize the Christmas story and they would say it for us.
I think my parents wanted to instill in us that although gifts are fun and special to receive and give, it is important to stop and remember the true meaning of why we celebrate Christmas each year. Christmas is not a secular holiday based on presents, parades, and parties; or at least that shouldn't be what it's all about. There would not be a Christmas, if it weren't for Christ.
God knew that mankind needed a Redeemer for their sins. So He chose to send His only Son to earth in human form. Jesus was born as a baby to Mary and Joseph, who was a carpenter. He went through all the stages of a baby and toddler; learning to walk, talk, feed Himself, etc. He grew into a child of school age and had to learn how to read and study. Jesus went through the teen years and young adulthood, and more than likely had to deal with acne and peer pressure. Even during His ministry, He spoke of how your own people will reject you and give you no honor. Because of this, He knows how we feel and the struggles that we each deal with. That's why we can talk to Him through prayer, and confide in Him and know that He truly cares and understands.
I wonder at times how God feels, when He sees how individuals choose to celebrate the birthday of His Son. Honestly, I think God wants us to enjoy ourselves and have fun and spend time with family and friends. I think when He sees us get excited and anticipate Christmas, it pleases Him. As long as we don't go into debt and stress ourselves out, I think He enjoys watching us shop and open gifts from one another. I believe that the pretty trees and lights and decorations that we delight in looking at, are just fine with Him. I somehow think that God takes pleasure in watching Christmas programs at the various churches, and chuckles at the mistakes that children often make in saying their lines.
But I wonder how He feels when so many use His Sons birthday as an excuse to get drunk or high. I wonder what God's thoughts are when He sees society trying to make this an entirely secular holiday, and doing their best to take Christ completely out of Christmas. I wonder if it breaks His heart when men and women never once acknowledge the true reason for Christmas, nor recognize His Son, Jesus. When no honor nor respect is given to His ultimate gift to mankind, does it make God regret that He had willingly given His Son to come to earth to die for our sins?
I think it is sad when people begin to dread Christmas and wish for it to hurry and get over with. Perhaps we've become so busy with functions and the obligatory gift giving to individuals at office parties or co-workers whom we don't particularly care about, that we've somehow missed the whole purpose of Christmas. People spend more money than they can afford, and become stressed because of that. Individuals have come to expect the "perfect" gifts, and are complaining and unhappy when they don't get what they want or asked for. Kids pout and throw a temper tantrum if they don't get that high dollar gift that they beg for, so parents do whatever they have to in order to buy it for them. Over the years, how have we become so spoiled?
We perhaps need to stop and reevaluate our celebrations, and prioritize what's really important. We need to focus on the true meaning of Christmas, and let all those other things fall into place behind Christ. If we do so, then the parties and all the gift buying would seem less important. They would add to our celebration of Christ's birth, instead of taking away from it and making us feel stressed and eager for Christmas to be over with.
We are truly a blessed people. God loves us so much and has given gifts to each of us, but it's our choice whether we reject or accept them. Here are a few gifts that He has for us:
"For the wages of sin is death, but the GIFT of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 6:23)
"For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the GIFT of God." (Ephesians 2:8)
"Every good GIFT and every perfect GIFT is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights...." (James 1:17)
"If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him." (Matthew 7:11)
During this Christmas season, get excited and enjoy yourself. But in the midst of your celebration, don't forget to stop and thank God for loving us enough to send Jesus to earth to live and die for our sins, so that we can have the gift of eternal life. Take a few moments of time and give God a heartfelt thanks. The greatest gift that we can ever receive is salvation. And the greatest gift that we can ever give to God in return is our lives. Stop and acknowledge Christ this Christmas season. It's a free gift that you can give to God. It will cost you nothing but a moment of your time. Isn't Jesus worth that?
Deuteronomy 16:11 says, "and thou shalt rejoice before Jehovah thy God, thou, and they son, and thy daughter, and thy man-servant, and thy maid-servant, and the Levite that is within thy gates, and the sojourner, and the fatherless, and the widow, that are in the midst of thee, in the place which Jehovah thy God shall choose, to cause His Name to dwell there." These instructions are about the seven day long Feast of Tabernacles. There are also instructions for the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Harvest, and the Feast of Ingathering. They have specific instructions on how to barbeque the meat, mostly dealing with the fat and with the blood.
Clearly, God enjoys having us celebrate. But when you read all the details, there is a lot of worshiping and sacrifices as part of the barbeque. Likewise, I like hearing about Christmas traditions that include reading Luke, praying, and generally remembering Christ at every stage. It helps keep us focused on what's most important. Then, we can dig into the turkey.
This is my very favorite fudge recipe. Granny Schwyhart was my brother-in-law, Jimmy's grandmother. She gave this recipe to my sister after she and Jimmy got married. When Jimmy and Janie lived away and were unable to come home for Christmas, Granny Schwyhart would make a batch of this fudge and send it to them. I'm looking forward to making this fudge in the next few days.
Granny Schwyhart's Fudge
1 can evaporated milk
4 1/2 cups sugar
Mix these two ingredients together in a sauce pan and bring to a boil; stirring occasionally. Boil for 6 minutes. Stir constantly after 4 1/2 minutes to keep from scorching.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl put:
2 (12 oz.) pkgs. Nestle Chocolate Chips
2 cups nuts (optional)
1 pint marshmallow cream
1 stick butter
1 tsp. Vanilla
Pour the boiling mixture over the ingredients in the bowl; stir until glossy. Pour into a buttered sheet pan.
*I like nuts in my fudge, and Jon doesn't, so I pour half of the mixture into a pan; add nuts and stir, then pour remaining mixture into a pan.
I began writing what I thought was a "family memory". I called one of my sisters to verify the information and she had no recollection of what I thought I remembered. So now I wonder -- is what I think is a memory really a memory and my sister just forgot, or am I confused and just dreamed this up? Neither or us really know.
This is what I think I remember: One year, Daddy and Mama bought a new portable record player. They had a lot of old records, mostly gospel quartets, but also a few others. Some nights before going to bed, Daddy would put a stack of records on and we'd lie in bed and listen to them as we fell asleep.
One memory that we do share, is Daddy and Mama buying the two of us a record, when we were young, that had the story of "Winkin, Blinkin and Nod" on it. The story had sound effects and music throughout it. Both of us listened to it so many times, that we had the whole thing memorized. We could speak the story, as well as sing all the songs. It has probably been over thirty years since I've heard it, but even now I can remember tidbits of the dialogue and a line or two of the songs.
My sister does remember that we had a record player (which she thought someone had given us), and our dad putting a stack of records on for us to listen to in the evenings. One thing that we share is the memory of our family spending time together. We were easily entertained. We grew up without a TV, so we listened to records or the radio, read books, gathered around the piano and sang, visited family and attended church to fill in our time. Whether or not we always remember things the same way is not so important as remembering how blessed we were as a family.
Today's a gift -- that's why it's called "the present". - unknown
Can you believe that we are in the final month of 2008? How quickly this year has gone by. As you make preparations for Christmas, don't become so busy that you forget Christ. It may be redundant, but Jesus is truly the reason for the season. And we must keep "Christ" in Christmas.
We love you!
Thank you so much for taking the time to read our newsletter. We appreciate you very much.
Loretta & Jon