Friday, December 08, 2006

Celebrating Emmanuel

Its beginning to look (and sound) a lot like Christmas at my house - probably at yours too :-D

We're finishing up the retooling of our SantaPenguin Christmas site. I'll announce here when it is up. That's the family 'we' - as Rebecca is doing most of the web design this time. All I've done -so far- is look up a few things and a bit of writing. My Mom has done a few new sketches for it. Anyway, Its looking great & we are very much looking forward to sharing it with you. :-D

We're a little distracted at the moment. A near relation has taken ill suddenly & just had emergency surgery. Praise God the procedure seems to have been a total success! We still await word on when we can come visit her in the hospital. Whenever we are called, this will take precedence over our other activities for a bit. But as we haven't been alerted yet, we've actually just been busy with the usual holiday fun.

Its amazing how much time it takes to complete all the little details that make our traditional family Christmas what it is. Makes December fly past like a fuel-injected rabbit! We don't do anything spectacular- but all those cards, small packets, baking plans, holiday 'emergencies' (I was SURE we had more brown sugar), getting the Christmas (& hubby 's bday) presents together, our site etc -swallow whole days at a gulp. Without a little effort the Earthly events and trappings could overshadow the spirit of Advent.

Got inspired by Sarah's blog to think about what my focus is at Christmas. She made some good points, about how all these 'little' things can make a Martha out of even the most Mary-style moms amongst us. Seriously though, with all I've been through of late, I am in no danger of forgetting Jesus even for half an hour no matter how many pretty lights I see or how many secular carols I hear on the radio.

Sarah asked herself if she loved the trappings of Christmas too much. As she said, the first Christmas was the simplicity of the creche - a messy baby & Mary, a protective Joseph, angels, shepherds and warm, smelly beasts - and yet it was the best Christmas ever! Maybe we should keep Christmas simple too? Make sure that when we give its when we are sure we are giving for the right reasons rather than a personal sense of benevolence?

These are good things to reflect upon.

& I know I also have to step back at times from what Christmas has become in this world and make sure I celebrate with Jesus.

I kinda like to think though, that Jesus enjoys our enjoying those lights and music and all, especially when we're thinking how glad we are He is the reason -when we make time to enjoy God with us- Emmanuel.

I don't mind the benevolence thing either, as I would love to be more like the One who gave us everything. I think that's what St Nicholas was trying to do with his own life. Besides, we learn to do most things right by just getting out there and practicing them.

Sarah had a cool meme too. Decided to fill it out and share. :)

Christmas Meme

1. Egg nog or hot chocolate? both, in moderation -but not at the same time :D

2. Does Santa wrap presents or just set them under the tree? Does any guy wrap his own presents? Honestly, if it wasn't for all the Mrs Clauses out there we'd have all gone to gift cards and lumps of coal long ago. lol

3. Colored lights or white? depends on the type and context. Ideally, I'd prefer dainty colorful lights, preferable the sort with a flower or star collar. Too bad I haven't been able to get that starburst style for awhile now. You only see them on spheres. What we actually use right now is just the house brand special strings. Except for the ornament ones in the hallway. :)

4. Do you hang mistletoe? nope. It got hung up in the forest all by itself. ;-)

5. When do you decorate for Christmas? Usually right after Thanksgiving. This year, I'm late to get the tree and garland and suchlike out. At least we have the new stuff out!

6. What is your favorite holiday dish, excluding dessert? We don't stick to one yearly menu, so this varies. We usually make a delicious roast of some sort (It'll be venison this year, thanks to the generosity of a friend), with homemade breads, yams or greenbeans, and a pie or two. Oh that's desserts.


What comes to mind (as a regular holiday - only, non-dessert treat), is my mother's special spinach/waterchestnut/yogurty dip that she makes to munch along with good crackers, a summer log, and some excellent cheeses. We usually don't have a regular lunch while opening the presents, you see. We just have some preprepared breakfast goody (quiche, muffins or cinnamon buns) and a good dinner.

7. Favorite holiday memory as a child? I think it was the Christmas my Mom surprised me with a 'Mrs Claus' robe & slipper set on Christmas Eve, and then I found she'd gotten me the Breyer's horses I'd wanted so badly the next morning, along with other presents. We drank hot chocolate and listened to Christmas carols while the lights twinkled on the tree. Everyone was actually happy that Christmas. It even snowed!

8. When and how, did you learn the truth about Santa? My Mom never kidded me about the Santa / Father Christmas thing.

b "What is your favorite Santa memory?" Learning that St Nicholas was real, and how he helped others. It is a wonderful thing to know that one bishop's determined generosity inspired so many others to do likewise. I am sure Jesus is proud of him yet!

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve? Usually we open stockings -or one present, if we don't have stockings up.

10. How do you decorate your Christmas tree? Homemade ornaments, penguins, cool Christian themed decorations, garland. Here is one of our trees from 2-3 years ago. I photoshopped the image for a card. (click for the large version)

11. Snow. Love it or hate it? Love it - as long as I can stay warm

12. Can you ice skate? I guess I still could. Haven't been ice skating in years!

I was okay on a pair of blades as a kid, but this sport requires an artificial rink in this climate (doesn't stay cold enough, long enough). The only one near us doesn't have much of a rep.

I imagine I'd be fairly amusing to watch zinging around the ice now! hehehe

13. Do you remember your favorite gift?
I remember which gift was my favorite most Christmases. I don't think it'd be politic to list them.

14. What is the most important thing about the holidays to you?
Celebrating being with Jesus & my family! :-D

15. What is your favorite holiday dessert? pumpkin bread? strawberry cheesecake? chocolate mousse? What will be this year's choice? I'll just have to wait and find out! ;)

16. What is your favorite holiday tradition? Planning to do the same good things again?

17. What tops your tree? A homemade angel sharing the good news :D

18. Which do you prefer, giving or receiving? both have pitfalls and highlights

~ Giving ~

The best fun in giving is the happiness it gives someone you care about. This depends very much on the goodwill of the recipients.

People often don't realize that, like many of the Beatitudes, Jesus' statement that 'it is more blessed to give than to receive' is even more counterintuitive than it seems at first blush.

Not only is it more fun - in a fleshly sense - to be remembered with goodies than to give up your own stuff, but you and your gift may well be rejected. Many folks are incredibly suspicious of unexpected generosity. Carnally-minded folks only give gifts to get an effect, so most Christian efforts to give freely, affectionately (trying to do as God Himself does) - whether individually done or as part of a missionary effort- are seen in through those mud-splattered glasses.

Its amazing even St Nicholas didn't get more guff in his own time for his continued efforts to bless those around him. [I read in one of those Saint's lives compendiums that he did run into some.]

~Receiving ~

I guess it helps to have had a wide assortment of friends & relations (rich & poor) to understand the range of pitfalls in receiving. One basic decision - unconditional gratitude for whatever the person gave without reference to intent- will avoid most of them, but this isn't so easy when you suspect an directed insult in the process. Maybe your family shows its favorites by who gets invited or what level of present is expected. Maybe your gift wasn't inline with normal expectations. Maybe you know you received far less than you gave. Some people are just very poor, or come from a different background - so what looked like a good present to them, wasn't exactly bowling you over. Sometimes you may suspect you have received a present just so someone can pose or otherwise use the fact they 'gave you something.' Basically, you may expect innumerable opportunities in your life where you will have to choose to receive well - or badly.

A wealthy relative I once knew made a point of picking presents that represented a reference to one or more 'cracks' they'd make in the year. If thanked, they'd tell me how cheap it was - compared with what they'd given another person in the room. I'd try to be nice about it anyway but sometimes the attitude did get under my hide.

Talking to God about it one afternoon, I believe I received an answer. He first asked me if I minded some of the dollar store presents I'd gotten from friends. Nope, not at all. Its hard to work in a lot extra people on a tight budget. I appreciated the thoughtfulness in what was chosen. Another also didn't choose well, but then they didn't have good taste to begin with - so again, no problem. How about when people reused a decent gift they had laying around? No, I understood that too. At least they were willing to share what they had to give! Did I mind handmade things? Of course not! In fact, I loved the effort this represented!
Such gifts have often represented a considerable affection, though they might not seem to reflect them well. I'd better understand, because I've been there. I always want to send good things to everyone, but what I've actually had available has varied widely from year to year.

Suddenly, the Holy Spirit opened my eyes to a simple reality. I had gladly accepted 'poor' gifts from friends & family who had done what they reasonably could - as coming from the wealth of love in their hearts. This 'successful' relation was scraping the bottom of the barrel there. Then I realized this was true of everyone who used Christmas (gifts) to treat others badly. They have no idea how bad off they are. Pray for them. Have compassion upon them, for they are miserable creatures indeed. Rejoice in whatever they are able to give, because it represents hope that they may one day accept the best present of all - Love, Himself.

I'm no better than they in and of myself. I love because Love came to fill me so full the overflow had to go somewhere! On my best days, I'm still just giving them my 'extra' from Jesus. I have nothing of myself worth sharing!

So, if I can't be happy about the thought someone sent me, I still look to celebrate Emmanuel's love. Share the moment with Him, and He will make such ashes and coal into beauty and diamonds that will last forever. Jesus came to share our poverty that we might share His richness.

I admit that I'm glad I don't have to see the relation I mentioned anymore, but in a way I benefitted from facing that trial too. I've reflected on these thoughts ever since the year I had the sense to really ask God about it all, and have since found it easier each year just to accept whatever people can stand to do. All I ask is that those who can show their goodwill in someway, please try.

That's all I really hope to see out of anyone.


Now in an Earthly sense, I think I can admit that I love to receive neat surprises. I also dearly love to hear I've made someone's day with what I was able to share. Either can do a lot to brighten my whole holiday, as I keep reflecting on the happy moment. When both happen (especially over and over), life is truly awesome!

19. What is your favorite Christmas song? I don't have just one favorite. Somedays I lean toward humorous hits like 'Grandma's Killer Fruitcake' and Veggietales' "He is Born, the Holy Child". Some evenings only traditional arrangments of hymns like "Adeste Fideles" & "We Three Kings" will do it for me. Sometimes we enjoy the folk versions of old tunes like "I Wonder as I Wander" & "
Un Flambeau, Jeanette, Isabella". Sometimes we even play the goofy radio favorites- "Holly, Jolly Christmas" and all that. You should see my Christmas playlists. They are lllooonnngg LOL

20. Candy canes. Yuck or yum? Candy canes are yummy when you've got a sore throat. I recommend bringing some along should you go caroling!

Now, if you'll excuse me, I am going to go eat some fresh, sweet cornbread & awesome scratch chili con carne (venison! But nobody we know ;)

& Thank God for all His good gifts :)

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