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 🙂

 

 

 

 

From one love to another love

As it’s Valentine’s Day, I thought we’d go for a bit of a wander through my thoughts on ‘lurve’. I’ll start with love as we think of it on Valentine’s Day, and end on the most amazing love I know of, which is for everyone, not just those with a Valentine.

If you believe Wikipedia, Saint Valentine’s Day has traditionally been associated with lovers celebrating their love for each other since the Middle Ages. These days it seems to have become another one of those annual events that card shops, chocolate manufacturers and florists big up in order to sell their goods, handily situated between Christmas and Mothers’ Day.

Since Tom and I started ‘going out’ in 2004, we have always gone out for a meal together on or around 14th February, because we enjoy our food and for us it’s the perfect way to spend an evening together. The one exception was last year when we had a 2 week old baby – we got takeaway instead! I say ‘on or around’ because I think most years it’s actually been another evening close to the 14th, mainly because it’s so expensive to book a restaurant on the night itself, and we don’t feel as though we need to show/tell each other how much we love each other on one particular night of the year – we try to do that every day. It’s a good excuse to go on a ‘date’ though 😉 This year Tom has a surprise location planned for dinner tomorrow, and I’m not allowed to guess where. Andrew’s Godmum has kindly offered to babysit.

The kind of love we think about on Valentines Day is just one of various kinds of love. It’s the attraction felt between two people who are ‘in love’ (though of course Valentines is not just about existing couples but also those who want to tell the one they are attracted to just that). Somewhere in my linguistics-related past I remember learning that Greek is a language which has various words for different kinds of love, not like English which has to qualify which love is meant if the context isn’t clear (it usually is). But since my already jam-packed memory for linguistic info didn’t need to access this interesting insight about Greek semantics (or word meanings – I’m a sounds girl), it must have filed it in the hard to reach areas – yes, I’ve forgotten exactly what the words are. As my days of sitting in the University Library are long gone (not a bad thing), my research into this ‘love’ly topic can’t come from there; instead I choose Google. The top result in my search is of course Wikipedia, though scrolling further down I come across various sites and blogs that agree with it. And here’s what I find, summarised…

Eros

This is passionate or intimate love, often with a feeling of desire and longing. Though it does not necessarily have to be sexual, it applies to someone you love more than a friend, including dating relationships and marriage. It’s where we get the word ‘erotic’ from in English.

Philia

This is affectionate love or friendship, such as that between family, friends and within a community. In ancient Greek it could also be used for enjoyment of an activity, like we say, for example, ‘I love swimming’. It’s where we get the suffix (or word ending) -phile from in English, as in Francophile (someone who likes/loves all things French).

Storge

This means a natural affection, used mainly for family relationships, like the love that parents have for their children. It can also be used to mean ‘putting up with’ situations.

Agape

This started off in Ancient Greek as a general affection or deeper sense of love than eros which suggests more of an attraction. It was also used for the love parents have for their children, and that between a married couple. In the Bible, the writers of the New Testament, the part written (in Greek) since Jesus was born, used agape to mean unconditional and sacrificial love – the love that God shows towards us.

When I read about these different Greek words for love just now, I did recognise the word agape from more recent times in my life than eros, philia and storge (which I vaguely remember reading/hearing about at some point). It’s because the term Agape supper is used at church, to describe a meal that we sometimes eat together as a community of Christians (usually just before Easter on Maundy Thursday evening), to remind ourselves of God’s sacrificial and unconditional love for us. He showed this love by sending His only son, Jesus, to live on Earth, then die by being crucified on a Roman cross, to make up for all the things we do wrong that separate us from God. In this way Jesus showed the ultimate sacrificial love for us, taking all our wrongdoing on himself instead, to allow us to come close to God. Even when we mess up, again and again (I try not to, but I’m not perfect and still fall short of living a perfect life), God is always there, unconditionally loving us, ready to welcome us back with open arms and be close to Him again.

Now that I’m a parent, I understand what this kind of love feels like more than I did before Andrew came along. I know that I would do anything for him, even sacrifice my own life in order to save him if we were in such a situation; I can’t imagine not accepting him as my son, even if he did something really awful (though I guess at 1 year old I’m not going to be able to imagine that kind of thing yet anyway!) But, unlike me, God is perfect, and I have no doubt that He will welcome me back whatever I do, and I will say sorry to Him for messing up in whatever way, small or big, because I know what Jesus did for me by dying on the cross. As Christians we think of God as our Father (in heaven), and the kind of love that parents feel for their children is (out of the various kinds of love we can think of) probably the most like what He shows with agape.

I’d like to draw this wander through my thoughts on different kinds of love with some of my favourite verses from the Bible, because they remind me of how loving and perfect God is. First a selection of lines from one of the letters that a writer named John wrote to a community of early Christians:

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 John 4:9-10)

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. (1 John 4:16)

We love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19)

There are two things here that I find so amazing: 1) the very definition of love is ‘God’, and His character is ‘love’; 2) this love is not something that our actions initiated, it wasn’t anything we ‘did’, rather it was started by God and given to us.

Following on from ‘God is love’, here is a passage from a letter that a writer called Paul wrote to a community of early Christians:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails…. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:1-8, 13)

Again, there are two things here that I find so amazing: 1) the importance of love – without it even seemingly important talents or faith mean or are worth nothing; 2) perfect love has so many attractive and positive characteristics that I would love (!) to have (more patience and kindness, less envy, pride and anger would definitely go down well with me) – since ‘God is love’, we could re-write that list of characteristics with ‘God is patient, God is kind… etc.)

If you’d like to find out more about this agape love that I’ve talked about here, either contact me through the blog/twitter/facebook to ask me more, or why not find an Alpha course near you, where you can ask all sorts of questions about the Christian faith, like ‘Who is Jesus?’, ‘If there is a God, why does He allow suffering?’, and ‘What do I need to do to feel God’s love?’ After all this thinking about agape, I’d better get back to writing the card and wrapping the present for my Valentine. Have a ‘love’ly day everyone 🙂

A ‘love’ly little bit of craft

Just a quick craft project that I knocked up in about an hour all together. I’m taking a slight risk by putting this on the blog today that Tom will see it before tomorrow when he received it as a Valentine’s gift (but it’s pretty unlikely as he’s not really into blog reading except occasionally he has a look at mine).

We have several empty small clip frames that have been hanging around in my overcrowded boxes of ‘bits to do something with one day’. Tom, the minimalist, tries to persuade me to sort these out every now and then, but I usually avoid it. So I thought he would appreciate me actually doing something with one of them at least, and, even better, he gets the benefit, especially because he’s been asking for a recent photo of me for his desk at work.

Blank clip frame

I found some patterned papers with various heart designs on them in a magazine that I bought a few weeks ago. I cut various sizes of rectangles out of the different papers using pinking scissors to get a zig-zag edge.

Rectangles of heart-design papers cut with pinking scissors

Then I covered a piece of white paper the size of the frame with several strips of double sided tape.

Paper size of the frame with double-sided tape strips

Arranging the rectangles as I went, I stuck them down onto the tape until the paper was covered.

Paper covered in pretty patterns

I then cut some long thin strips of a red patterned paper, and made a border around the outside of the patchwork. A photo of me and Andrew (can’t find any of me on my own since he was born!) completed the frame, cut into a heart shape (as best I could to fit the picture – it’s a bit wonky!) to show more of the heart designs behind it than if I left it as a rectangle.

Finished frame - we love you Daddy!

I’ve seen some lovely Valentine’s craft ideas on a few blogs so far. Have you seen any good ideas for making gifts? Or do you prefer to buy a gift? I usually don’t have much time to make gifts these days, but I do like it when I get chance, because I can make it more personal. Coming up over the next couple of months, I’ll be sharing on the blog some birthday cards that I’ve made, but I need to wait until those birthdays have gone, or I’ll spoil the surprise 😉