Simple lessons from the nativity scene

I shared with you last week that Thanksgiving was threatening to overwhelm me, but I was really in denial about what would come before the leftovers were even all gone. The “commercial” Christmas season has come roaring in, practically running down Thanksgiving in its wake. Not that it hasn’t been around since before Halloween, but this week has brought a new level of frantic Christmas messages.

Neighbors have lights and greenery and blow-up snowmen out on their lawns. I still have pumpkins on my front porch and feel a sense of camaraderie with others whose front porches are still decked out in Thanksgiving decor.

The catalogs are screaming with deadlines for shipping in time for Christmas. My inbox has became an unmanageable beast shouting about Cyber Monday deals and extended Cyber Week sales and last chances and one-day coupons and so much more that my head is spinning. Exactly when did Cyber Week become a thing anyway?

I got an email from a big crafts store yesterday with a list of one-day deals and a lead-in sentence that said: “This year, take the stress out of the holidays by simplifying your DIYs …” The sale was for ribbon and fake poinsettias that I could use to transform my normal (read: boring, blah, unacceptably plain) chairs into appropriately festive ones with perfect chair ties.

I thought to myself, “Hey – I know. I’ll make my holidays even less stressful by not going to the store and buying festive-chair-tie-making materials.” I also convinced myself I did not need “Celebrate It pre-lit entryway trees,” even if they, too, were marked down 60% for one day only.

By not jumping in the car yesterday, I saved a little piece of my sanity and 100% of the money I would have spent. I also solved the issue of my family exchanging glances behind my back, wondering when I started feeling the need to decorate perfectly good chairs when what I really need to do is just figure out how to bake a pie without filling the kitchen with smoke. (I admit that this is a recurring event in my kitchen.)

Whether I prepare and decorate and learn how to bake the perfect pie … or not, Christmas is coming. I want to get my heart right for it. I’m determined to find some quiet in this Advent season, to carve out some space for preparing for real Christmas. And I think the nativity scene is the perfect place to look.


These nativity shepherds look so calm and happy and relaxed. That’s how I’d like to be this Christmas.

I wrote a bit last Christmas about the nativity set my mother painted for me, and these are the shepherds from that set. Stop and look for a moment at their faces and what they have with them: a few of their animals, a water canteen, a musical instrument and some food. That’s all.

When they heard the angels singing of Christ’s birth, they didn’t rush around looking for ribbons and fake poinsettias to decorate their chairs. They rushed to the manger and brought only what they already had with them.

Friends, will you take a cue from the shepherds this week and drop what’s not important so you’ll have time and energy and joy for what is? Are you willing to set the Martha Stewart expectations aside and prepare your heart and home for the presence of Jesus?

Got a good tip for how to make the coming celebration a simpler one, less filled with stress? Please share it below!

The colors of Christmas: gold

Merry Christmas! I hope you’re enjoying time with your family and friends, as well as taking time to ponder the great gift of Christ’s birth and promise of His return.

Today, we continue the colors of Christmas series with gold, and there’s even a golden little brain teaser for you at the end of this post. I’ve got Burl Ives’ “Silver and Gold” going through my head, as I picture Yukon Cornelius failing time and again to find gold. (If “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” isn’t a must-see on your list of Christmas TV specials, then you probably won’t know who I’m talking about, but trust me, Yukon Cornelius is the worst gold prospector in the whole world.)

In the song Ives sings, he reminds us that the hunt for material gold isn’t the most important way to celebrate Christmas: “Silver and Gold, Silver and Gold/ Means so much more when I see/ Silver and Gold decorations on every Christmas tree.”

This gold star tops our Christmas tree

This gold star tops our Christmas tree

It’s hard to imagine Christmas without gold decorations, especially stars to remind us of the one that appeared over the manger in Bethlehem where Christ was born, the same star that led the wise men to Jesus.

So it’s only natural at Christmas to think of stars and halos and even a box full of gold given to Jesus in honor of his birth.

The baby Jesus is often depicted with a gold halo to signify his holiness.

The baby Jesus is often depicted with a gold halo to signify his holiness.

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Would your friends drop you through a roof?

I’m very blessed. I have friends who would drop me through a roof. Do you?

You may be confused about why I think having friends who would do that for/to me is a blessing. You may be wondering whether I have a radically different definition of friendship than you. Trust me: I don’t.

The pastor where we attended church this past Sunday asked us this very same question, although I think she used the word “lower” instead of “drop.” Her question was spurred by this passage in Mark’s gospel: Continue reading