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Sometimes the busyness of the holiday season can eat away at the enjoyment of celebrating it.
At times, I know that seems to be true for me, anyway.
There are a number of steps I take to try and help with that.
One is keeping traditions.
At our house, as I've shared before, we kick off the Christmas season the day after Thanksgiving by going to get our Christmas tree. A part of that is going to a tree farm where we can pick out, and cut, our own. If all goes well, another yearly activity occurs Christmas Eve by going around to see the Christmas lights. This year, we did make an early trip to the Elks National Home and Liberty Lake Park to take my aunt to see those, since she was in from Washington D.C. last week. She was duly impressed, and we appreciate so much those gifts to this community.
When I pastored in Kansas we had two Christmas Eve traditions that I always enjoyed. One was delivering Christmas cookies around our neighborhood. Our church would hold a Christmas treats sale the week before Christmas and we'd always make extra to put together plates to distribute to those living near the church. We'd take the plates around Christmas Eve afternoon to our neighbors and then meet back at the church for a simple Christmas Eve service. Usually that would consist of singing hymns, reading Scripture, lighting candles and celebrating communion. It was simple, but always meaningful.
Our church here will be holding a Sunday evening service on Dec. 23 with much of the same. If you don't have a Christmas service already picked out, I encourage you to check our church listings this week to see what all is available. There are many services planned by area churches.
Attending a church Christmas pageant is also a great way to prepare for Christmas. A lot of those pageants took place this past weekend ? such was the case at our church. We're thankful the weather held off in time for the children to put on the play that they'd been practicing for months. I imagine our church wasn't the only one lifting up prayers that the ice would stay away and the events could be held.
And they kids did a great job, as I'm sure those of you attending other pageants around the area discovered as well. Of course, when it comes to our church's pageant, I might be biased. My two youngest had speaking parts and solos in their pageant. But it's OK to be biased about those kinds of things. Every parent is.
A couple of other get-in-the-Christmas-spirit helps I've utilized this year have been listening to radio stations that play Christmas music and reading Christmas stories. There's something about hearing the traditional carols and some of the traditional songs, such as "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas" that just pull at those days-gone-by heart strings.
And I love Christmas stories of hope that are so often shared.
Over the years I've had several books devoted to just such events. As a pastor, I always liked to throw them in a sermon when appropriate. In the move from Kansas, I've misplaced a couple of those books that I used, so last week I went in search of a few more.
I found a couple and read one story that touched my heart. It was written by Sen. John McCain about a Christmas he shared with several other prisoners of war while being held in North Vietnam. McCain told of how these men, some very ill, gathered for their Christmas service, almost in defiance of the authorities who held them captive. They sang the traditional carols and McCain read some of the Christmas story from Scriptures he had copied down on a sheet of paper. He shared how a week earlier they had asked for a Bible and had been told none were available in all of Hanoi. A couple of days later, however, a guard brought a worn Bible to him and he was given just a brief few moments to copy down the Scriptures telling of Christ's birth.
McCain said their service came to a close with the singing of "Silent Night" by those gathered and he told of the tears running down the cheeks of these unshaven prisoners of war, ragged in appearance, but warmed-of-heart by the service.
The men then exchanged dog tags and IOUs for gifts, but it was The Gift that really mattered to them.
Even in that stench and hopelessness, imprisoned half a world away from home in North Vietnam, these men found hope in the account of that first Christmas miracle.
Here's hoping you and yours find that same hope ? and joy ? this Christmas season.