Counting down to Christmas

On Sunday, the boys looked inside the first stocking on their Advent calendar line of ‘socks’ (as Andrew refers to it); they got a chocolate treat, and we decided that they can take it in turns to consume the contents of the day’s sock – odds for Andrew and evens for Joel. This is our way of counting down the days until Christmas, which will soon be here. I’ve always enjoyed Christmas, and since having children it has become exciting seeing it from a child’s perspective again. The boys love spending time with their grandparents, uncles and aunts, and they get to do a lot of this over Christmas. Of course presents feature quite a lot over the days that we spend with family, and it is lovely to see the genuine joy expressed as a toddler rips the paper off and excitedly looks to see what’s inside.

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Although all the celebrations are exciting in themselves, I also hope that my boys will come to understand the reason why we celebrate Christmas. Advent (from the Latin ‘adventus’ meaning ‘coming’) is a time when we as Christians often reflect on how Jesus, God’s son, came into this world as a baby. It was a very low-key event in earthly terms – his teenage mum from Nazereth (a small unassuming village back then) travelled heavily pregnant to Bethlehem to comply with the ruling Roman orders, and gave birth there in a shed of animals; only a few shepherds (who were fairly low in social status back then) heard about the birth immediately and visited soon after. Yet the reason why Jesus came meant that his birth was extraordinary, and certainly something that deserves a huge celebration over 2000 years later.

So why did Jesus come to Earth? The short answer is: because God loves us. Every week at our church, the kids all gather at the front before they go to their groups and we sing an action song together. This Sunday, the first in Advent, the song was a fantastic reminder of God’s love for everyone He’s made – here are the lyrics, and, if you can stand the slight cheesiness, a video of the tune and actions…

Some of us are big and tall
Some of us are very small
Some of us like pink and some like blue
Some of us like reading books
Some of us like feeding ducks
That’s because we’re different, me and you

But God loves everyone he’s made
God loves each of us, in a special way…

That’s you and you and you and you
And you and you and you and you
God loves you! God loves you!
That’s you and you and you and you
And you and you and you and you
We’re part of the big family of God!

Some of us have curly hair
Some of us have specs to wear
All of us have different families
Some of us are very loud
Some of us don’t make a sound
That’s because we’re different, you and me

But God loves everyone he’s made
God loves each of us, in a special way…

[© 2007 Song Solutions Daybreak, www.songsolutions.org, CCLI# 5100093]

…One of the points of this song is a very important one for children to pick up – to know they are loved no matter what they look like or what they enjoy doing, because in a world of bullying and peer pressure to conform to what is socially desirable, it’s easy to feel different and left out. And the point in this song that GOD loves everyone no matter who they are is the link back to the reason why Jesus came that first Christmas.

All the bad things, big or little, that we do, think and say in our lives separate us from God who is perfect. But God is not at all happy with that situation, because He loves us so much, and wants us to know Him as our loving Father. So God sent His only son Jesus into this world as a baby, who grew up and showed the people living in the Middle East at the time some signs of what God and Heaven are like, and then was crucified in order to take the punishment for all those bad things WE do on HIMself. But because God is greater than death, Jesus came back to life and beat death. It is through His death and rising again that anyone and everyone who believes in Jesus can know God in a close relationship and ultimately have everlasting life with Him in Heaven. It is through God’s love for us, the fact that He doesn’t want to be separated from us by bad things, that Jesus came.

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I have to admit that I’d like to spend more time this Advent reflecting on what Christmas means to me, because with two active boys to look after (one of whom doesn’t sleep beyond 4.30am most days or nap for long at a time), going out and doing all sorts of other stuff, and being somewhere on a continuum of tired to exhausted most of the time recently, I have found it hard to take any opportunity I have each day to sit quietly and pray (and not fall asleep!) So the fact that I have an Advent calendar right in front of me when I sit on the sofa will hopefully serve as a reminder to share my thoughts with Jesus daily, because it really is amazing when I do 🙂

 

 

 

 

Counting my blessings

Since I started blogging just over a year ago, I’ve come across lots of other mummy bloggers online through various things like the BritMums bloggers network and the Keep Britain Breastfeeding Scavenger Hunt. I wouldn’t say that I know them well, but I do feel a connection with them as we write about similar topics, giving our own individual takes on them, and I was pleased to meet quite a few in person, albeit briefly, when I attended the BritMums live 2012 conference, which allowed me to put face to avatar.

Being part of this community is mainly fun and encouraging as people share their snippets of life with a family. But along with the smooth comes the rough, and recently there have been some tragic losses of life, a blogger herself and babies both inside and outside the womb. Hearing of these awful events has made me feel so sad, even though I don’t know the people involved as well as I know my close friends offline, because I see how they are families just like us – ordinary people living ordinary lives – and it makes me realise that bad things can happen to anyone.

When such tragic events happen, it makes me step back from the busyness of daily life, the getting on with things regardless, where there is a danger of taking things for granted; it makes me count my blessings. I usually don’t mind the current night feeding that much, but this week I’ve positively delighted in the opportunity to hold my baby close. Often cheeky toddler antics wear me out, but this week I’ve savoured the moments watching his wide grin and listening to his giggles. Although as parents of two young children we don’t get to spend much time alone together, this week I’ve made sure that Daddy gets the recognition, appreciation and affection that he deserves, particularly after he came off his bike one evening on the way home from work (he escaped with only a minor gash to the chin, a grazed knee and a few bruises).

As a Christian, when I count my blessings, I thank God because I believe that they come from Him. The question of why such awful things happen in this world is a tough one, and I don’t claim to have a definitive answer on it. But I do know a few things that help me at times of pain, either my own or seeing others’: first, Jesus Himself went through great suffering when He died on the cross, so He knows what it is like to experience extreme physical and psychological pain; second, Jesus never said that following Him would be easy, or that it would involve no suffering – in the Gospel of John (chapter 16, verse 33) Jesus was recorded as saying that we will have trouble in this world – but the good news is that He also said to take heart because He has overcome the world, through His death and resurrection, and anyone who believes in Him will have everlasting life with Him in Heaven after life in this world; …which leads onto point three…. I believe what God said through the writings of John in the book of Revelation (chapter 21, verse 4) in the Bible that in Heaven there will be no more tears, crying or pain. For these reasons, I know that death is something I do not fear, although of course it is a natural human emotion to feel sad and mourn loss of life from this world, and that is absolutely fine to do.

Although I have not experienced such tragic loss on the scale of some bloggers and their families recently, I have found the song ‘Blessed be Your Name’ by Matt Redmann helpful, both when I’m going through a tough time and feeling very down and when things are going well and I’m happy. I’ve given the lyrics below and a video at the end. The words remind me that there will be times when I’m on ‘a road marked with suffering and ‘there’s pain in the offering’, as well as times when ‘the sun’s shining down on me’ and the world’s all as it should be’, and that my attitude towards God is the same throughout – praising Him – because He is constant, unchanging, always there for me no matter what life throws at me. The last few lines of lyrics as shown below remind me that God gives and God takes away, and although it’s hard for me to see the bigger picture, I trust that He has a plan and everything that happens throughout eternity fits into that. My time on Earth, however long that turns out to be, is a small drop in the large ocean of eternal life. It may seem hard to praise when there’s such a strong feeling of pain or sadness inside, and in my experience it really is, but it’s times when I’ve felt the lowest that I’ve drawn closest to God and He has helped me get through it.

I find to hard to know what to say to those who are going through such difficult to deal with times, but I know there’s one thing I can do for them, and that’s pray for them.

Blessed be Your Name – by Matt Redman

Blessed Be Your Name
In the land that is plentiful
Where Your streams of abundance flow
Blessed be Your name

Blessed Be Your name
When I’m found in the desert place
Though I walk through the wilderness
Blessed Be Your name

Every blessing You pour out
I’ll turn back to praise
When the darkness closes in, Lord
Still I will say

Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your name
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your glorious name

Blessed be Your name
When the sun’s shining down on me
When the world’s ‘all as it should be’
Blessed be Your name

Blessed be Your name
On the road marked with suffering
Though there’s pain in the offering
Blessed be Your name

Every blessing You pour out
I’ll turn back to praise
When the darkness closes in, Lord
Still I will say

Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your name
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your glorious name

You give and take away
You give and take away
My heart will choose to say
Lord, blessed be Your name

Light of the world

This winter I’ve been very aware of darkness. With an active toddler to entertain, I’ve noticed all too well the fact that on an overcast day it’s pitch black by not long after 4pm, so we can’t have a trip to the park or do any other outdoor activity after his afternoon nap which usually comes to an end around 3.30pm. Instead, as there are few groups on in afternoons, I’ve had to come up with indoor activities like baking, play dough, craft or (as a last resort) DVDs to keep him amused, and although he generally likes these, I can tell he’d rather be running off some energy outside. Roll on spring and its lighter evenings!

Apart from this annoying aspect of darkness for us at the moment, I do love to see Christmas lights twinkling in the streets, which you can only see when it’s dark; Andrew has noticed them too this year, shouting enthusiastically as he points out various shapes like stars and trees that he can see in lights as we walk home from the one afternoon group that we go to on Wednesdays. I also love open fires at this time of year, providing light and warmth on cold, dark winter’s evenings – not that we have one in our flat, but I love just thinking of that image.

For me the twinkling lights and image of an open fire are, when I stop and think about it, a reminder of what Christmas is all about. Jesus, the little baby who was born in Bethlehem to Mary and Joseph, grew up to become a man, who lived life as a human, just like you and me. But he wasn’t just an ordinary man, rather he was God’s son, sent to this world to die for us, to make up for all the wrong things we do. During His time here on Earth before His death and rising again, Jesus called himself various things when He was explaining to people who He was and why He was here – He made several statements starting with “I am….”, one of which was:

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” – John 8:12

The people He was talking to directly at the time would have been familiar with the writings of Isaiah, a prophet who told of Jesus’ birth long before it happened, who said this about Jesus coming into the world:

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned” – Isaiah 9:2.

So when Jesus said He was the light of the world, this would have reminded His listeners of the prophet’s writings about someone who would come to fulfil a very special role. But Jesus’ message of who He is was for “Whoever” – everyone, in all places and throughout history right up to now and the future, not just those he was speaking to about 2000 years ago.

The thought that I’ll always have a light guiding me through life’s darkest times is extremely comforting, and let’s face it, the world can be a dark place both literally and metaphorically. I’ve been through some dark patches personally, and even if it wasn’t an obvious light like a spotlight or headlamp at the time, I look back and can totally see God’s light shining into my life through other people and events, and that brought me out of the dark times.

It’s at Christmas that I’m most often reminded of this great promise that Jesus made about being the light of the world, which is why I thought I’d share this on Christmas Day. If you’d like to read more of the statements that Jesus made about Himself, then I’d recommend reading John’s Gospel, a book from the Bible (4th in the New Testament) – if you can’t easily get hold of a whole Bible, then you can read online at Bible Gateway, it’s not a very long book and would take maybe a few hours to read in total. You never know, it might just shed some new light on how you think of Jesus this Christmas.

Happy Christmas everyone! 🙂