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Have you ever felt like you wanted to move forward, but every time you take a step you run into a brick wall? So you take a step in another direction, and there is another brick wall. You are surrounded by mile high brick walls everywhere you turn. That’s the way I’ve felt lately. It’s frustrating and discouraging. Sometimes I feel hopeless.

Because of a car accident I was in a couple of years ago, I function at a much lower level than I used to. There are things that I want to do, but I just can’t. One of the few things I didn’t have to give up on was book club—truly one of the greatest blessings in my life. On Monday, we had our annual Christmas brunch. As has become a bit of a tradition, our leader read a story while we passed around a gift according to directions given in the story. The gift would be given to the person who was holding it when the story ended. This year, that person was me. Among other fun, unique and beautiful things was a fairly large box. When I opened it and pulled out the first tissue wrapped item, I quickly realized that the contents were letters spelling the word HOPE. They are designed to hold candles and could be used as a centerpiece on a table or buffet. But for me, the beauty of this gift was the much-needed reminder from God that I could have hope.

Only a few hours later, I came across Isaiah 41:10. "Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand." These are words that God said to the Israelites, a people who weren’t sure if they could have hope. They had disappointed God with their rebellion and had been exiled because of it. How could they know that God had not given up on them? How could they be sure that God would not punish them further? The word God gave to reassure them also reassures us. If we are children of God, He is with us, He will strengthen and help us. He will uphold us because He is righteous. The whole reason for Christmas is that God sent Jesus to be God with us. Emmanuel. (Matthew 1:23) Through Jesus, God is keeping for us the same promise that He made to the Israelites in Isaiah 41:10. No matter what we are facing, we can turn to Him and find hope.

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While I was growing up, my mother used to send out hundreds of Christmas cards, and she would get hundreds back. I enjoyed looking through them, not only because all of our friends and family made a point of saying hello and catching us up on news at this time of year, but because I liked all the different pictures and verses on the cards too. There was such a wide variety. Some were winter scenes, others warm cozy rooms by the fire. Some were silly and some were spiritual. Some said Happy Holidays and others said Season’s Greetings. And of course, some said Merry Christmas! I don’t ever remember being offended, or someone else being offended, by any of them.

Then I grew up and got a job. One of my first jobs included operating the switchboard in a high school. Representatives of the Board of Education were asked not to say Merry Christmas when answering the phone, but to say Happy Holidays instead. The reason—a lot of our students were Jewish. So in order to avoid offending members of either faith, we would not choose one over the other in our greeting when we answered the phone. We were never told that we were forbidden to ever say the word Christmas again. No one minded if we said it to the people who celebrate that holiday. We were only asked to be sensitive to those who didn’t.

Somehow though, saying Merry Christmas has become a fight—either not being allowed to say it or being forced to say it. I feel as though I will offend my Christian friends, or they will question the depth of my devotion, if I say Happy Holidays or Season’s Greetings. These used to add a bit of variety and now they seem to indicate our religious status. It gets worse. Yesterday, on Facebook, one of my artist friends shared a post encouraging people to support their local artists this holiday season. I think that’s a very good idea any time of year, but one commenter left a tirade about denying Christmas. Then he left a second comment to say that he won’t support anyone who denies Christmas. Seriously? Anyone? Where do you buy your groceries or your gasoline or your clothes? The thing is that one should be able to use the words holiday season without someone assuming that they are denying Christmas. After all, there are a lot of holidays celebrated between November and January. And an artist should be able to sell her wares to anyone of any faith or no faith at all without her faith being called into question.

If you want people to know the reason for Christmas, try living your life in a way that shows Jesus. Be full of grace and mercy. And love. Read some of the accounts of Jesus in the Bible. He didn’t berate people into following Him. He gave them the opportunity to follow Him. Keep Christ in your heart and allow Him to shine out through you. I pray with the Apostle Paul “ that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, so that, because you have been rooted and grounded in love, you may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and thus to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:17-19)

Imagine that you live in a place where everyone not only likes you, but they have nothing but good to say to you or about you. Imagine that you have everything you need and much more besides. Imagine that all the problems you are facing now were gone. Jesus had things far better than we could imagine, and He left it all to come to Earth to face ridicule and persecution and torture. Why did He do that? For us. So that we could come into the presence of a holy God. So that we can enjoy the same privileges that Jesus has. That is the reason for Christmas.

This is my favourite carol. Merry Christmas everyone!

'Tis the season of cookie exchanges, and I'm listening to Christmas carols as I get ready for one. I have a lot of Christmas CDs, but this year I have a new one--The Heart of Christmas by Matthew West. There are some traditional Christmas songs on it, but also some that he has written. One of them is called "One Last Christmas" which is a sad story about the loss of a child. The parents however have turned it into a story of hope for others who are facing similar situations by raising money for the hospital that treated their son. We celebrate so many blessings at this time of year, whether consciously or unconsciously, that we really need to consider giving to those who are hurting or are less fortunate. Acts 20:35 reminds us that it is more blessed to give than to receive. Please listen to Matthew West's song and consider giving to St. Jude's or a hospital in your area or any other charity that helps people in need. You can purchase his CD at his website or, particularly if you are in Canada, by giving a donation to another worthy cause at FullCircleTV.com

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Fair Disclosure: I receive no payment of any kind for this recommendation.

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This being the Christmas season, we’ve been singing Christmas carols at church. And like all good contemporary churches, the words are put up on a screen at the front of the sanctuary. We don’t even have hymnals, so that isn’t an option. Occasionally there are typos on the screen, and I’ve come to accept that. After all, no one is perfect. There is one typo however, that comes up at Christmas time, that I’m sure the person typing thought was right. It is in the carol, Hark! The Herald Angels Sing! written by Charles Wesley in 1739. He wrote more than 6000 hymns in his lifetime, that were theologically sound and full of doctrine.

Interestingly, Charles Wesley didn’t take kindly to people changing the words of his hymns when they reprinted them. In one of his hymnals he wrote, “I beg leave to mention a thought which has been long upon my mind, and which I should long ago have inserted in the public papers, had I not been unwilling to stir up a nest of hornets. Many gentlemen have done my brother and me (though without naming us) the honour to reprint many of our hymns. Now they are perfectly welcome to do so, provided they reprint them just as they are. But I desire they would not attempt to mend them, for they are really not able. None of them is able to mend either the sense or the verse. Therefore, I must beg of them these two favours: either to let them stand just as they are, to take things for better or worse, or to add the true reading in the margin, or at the bottom of the page, that we many no longer be accountable either for the nonsense or the doggerel of other men.”

The verse I'm referring to goes like this:

Hail the heaven born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings,
Risen with healing in His wings.
Mild He lays His glory by,
Born that man no more may die.
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.

Hark! The Herald Angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Did you figure out what word I’m talking about? Sun. I’m sure that many of you thought that it should read Son, didn’t you? You certainly wouldn’t be alone. If you were to Google this carol, you would find that Son beats out Sun by a ratio of about two to one on lyrics websites. Son seems to be the more logical choice, since we are talking about the birth of the Son of God. I’ve actually had a pastor tell me that Sun is a typo. But it isn’t!

The term Sun of Righteousness comes from Malachi 4:2. It is part of a divine revelation from God concerning the Day of Judgement. (Malachi 1:1, Malachi 3:16-18, Malachi 4:1) A time is coming when evil will be abolished, and all the arrogant evildoers, those who chose not to believe in God, will be burned to ashes. But for those who respect God, for those who have accepted His gift of love, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in His wings. It is figurative language, with a parallel between the controlled burning of the furnace and the Sun. The burning furnace that will consume the wicked will bring destruction, but the Sun of Righteousness will bring warmth and healing. Like the centre of our own solar system, the Sun brings light and life.

Perhaps in these days of tolerating everyone’s beliefs, it makes people uncomfortable to talk about what will happen to those who will not accept Christ. I agree that it isn’t very pleasant to think about, but that does not mean that it won’t happen. God is a holy God, and the time will come when He will no longer tolerate those who do not trust in Him. He has made His existence and power very clear, (Romans 1:18-24) and He has given us the choice, but we must not kid ourselves about what the consequences of our choices will be. This is why the herald angels sang, “Glory to the newborn King!”