The First Christmas Eve Service and Why the Kitchen Ladies Were Sore Afraid.

In those days, Nixon was President, hair was ratted and lacquered to the heavens, and anti-bacterial products had never occurred to anyone. (Had not man just walking on the moon? Seriously, how much more could society realistically progress?) A pastor in a little red brick church decided to offer a Christmas Eve communion service.
And since this was an unprecedented event, worries abounded. ‘But so many will be out-of-town’ was one argument. Another pointed out the colds, flu, and the I-Think-I’m-Gonna-Die-So-I’ll-Plan-My-Funeral-on-the-Cold-Bathroom-Tile stomach viruses were wreaking havoc in the small town. ‘Is it really going to be worth the effort?’
Still, the pastor was compelled to try, if only for those few faithful that tend to show up whenever the doors are open.
A decree went out over the land, inviting all to worship on this glorious night of nights.
And lo, the pastor was amazed. For unto him a packed house lay before his eyes, one he could have never have imagined. Even faces looked down from the hardly used balcony. Hymns were sung, scripture read, and the Spirit danced among the open-hearts. Yes, the glory of the Lord shone all around them.
Up from the basement the kitchen ladies proclaimed, ‘There are not enough communion cups!’
‘Refill them.’
‘But we don’t have time to wash them!’
‘Refill them, anyway.’
‘But the flu…”
‘Refill them and let God handle it.’
And they were sore afraid.
Now, I don’t know if their hearts were as willing as Mary’s when she said, ‘let it be as you say.’ It’s highly doubtful, but they did as the pastor requested.
Communion was served, and the worship was a precious aroma filtering unto God in the glow of candlelight reflected in the reverent faces.
As time passed, talk circulated amongst the congregation, I’m sure generated by the curious, yet, concerned kitchen staff. ‘Did anyone at your house get sick after the service?’ and ‘You know I wasn’t feeling real great, but went the service anyway. Now I feel great.’ Eventually, after the census had been taken, not a report came back of illness. Yes, the Savior who had turned water into wine had covered a multitude of sins and highly infectious germs, making the tainted vessels pure as if washed in bleach water. Once again he had shown himself to those who were faithful to seek him.
Let us be like Magi, who said, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:2)

From our house to yours, may you have a very Merry Christmas as you welcome the Savior, Healer, Friend, Redeemer, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace……

Cliff and Kelly Long, Casey, Misty, Cole
Karsten, Robin, and Bren Burns

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‘Oh no! Dad’s Christmas Shopping at Dollar Tree, again!’

Groans erupt when our four adult children hear their father’s annual Santa pilgrimage is in motion.

“Just let him,” I say, while flashes of plastic flutes, Sponge Bob gloves, Old Maid cards, and marshmallow Santa’s from ghosts of Christmas’s past parade through their memories.

But woven in the moans of feigned despair, I always hear the twinkles of their hearts already warming in anticipation. They can never out guess what will be tucked in their stockings.  One thing they do know: when they empty them, their daddy’s love pours out full force with the goofy trinkets and candy.

You see, when the shopping event takes place, it signals that Christmas is truly coming.  Up to that moment, my husband growls about stores decking their halls before Halloween, and Christmas specials starting Thanksgiving Day—on TV and with pre-Black Friday deals.  Even as late as last week, he was belly aching about ‘all that Christmas music on my radio stations.  It’s too early.’

As much as I try, I can’t rush him with my plotting and planning.  Great ideas buzz and sizzle to fall on deaf ears.  He’s just not ready for them.

Then at an anticipated, but unexpected time, Cliff starts to piddle with a few strands of lights, stringing them along the porch until the Clark Griswold in him shines forth.  His eyes light, followed by ‘so, we goin’ to Wichita shopping this weekend?’  He turns into the biggest kid around and can hardly contain himself. Once the shopping bags clutter our living room floor, carols are allowed to drift in the background as he checks to make sure everyone is covered in the gift department.

But as with all good plans, the discouraging rumors of the I-think-I’m-gonna-die-flu spread like a rampant virus. Tragic newscasts and forecasted blizzards attempt to bury his joyous spirit.  Instead, he sees this as merely a sign that we are getting closer to the celebration.  In the wrappings of the wait, his enthusiasm increases until the Wow Factor moment when we worship God’s love revealed on Christmas Eve—his favorite service.  Then he quickly hustles us past folks trying to visit and out the door—after all, there are presents to unwrap and love to share.

This year, through him, God has faithfully answered my yearly prayer to reveal something new after half a century of Christmases.  When I was little, my spiritual highlight was Baby Jesus coming to us in a manger.  As I matured, Easter took on new significance when that baby willingly came to atone our sins and defeat death through the Resurrection.

But this year, I’m seeing another chapter added that deals with waiting and anticipation.  Could it be that through this yearly cycle, Christ is preparing our hearts for when He comes again?  You know, with a dazzling  display of lights and  the pizzaz of trumpet music, but at the same time will give us more peace than the traditional carols we cozy up in like our favorite snuggly blanket?

And do we allow ourselves to get distracted by the rumors of war, the gloom and doom of a world gone crazy, and disasters a plenty?  Or do we see them as sure-fire signs that we are getting one step closer to being in the 24/7 outpouring of Christ’s eternal presence?

Yes, I think there is something to this yearly unwrapping of the wait. May our hearts warm in anticipation as our Savior primes us for the long-awaited completion of his redeeming love.—The Ultimate Wow Factor.

“So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him” Matthew 24:44

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in god, trust also in me. In my Father’s house there are many rooms; if it were not so, I have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” John 14: 1-3

Cruising With Jesus and Why My Dad Would Have Scobbed My Knob

NativityDear Dad,

Confession time.  The only reason I’m doing this 34 years later is you are hampered by a broken neck, and I have a slight chance of out running you for once.

One of the reasons I am such a rule follower is I knew better than to tangle with you.  Due to the Great-Hang-Up-Your-Towel-Young-Lady-Incident-of-1964, you got your point across.  Nor, having my milk and cookies taken away in kindergarten, because Romy talked me into doing a big flairing ‘Amen’ to the God is Great prayer, I wasn’t to mess with God either.  I behaved in high school, and hid in the bushes at a Senior Party because I knew, I knew, I knew you’d find out and the crime would not be worth the fall-out.  I was the kid that always said, “But, we’ll get in trouble…”

To this day, I can’t remember whose idea it was, or even who all conspired in the plot.  Weird, since I have an uncanny memory of bygone days, but can’t remember where my cell phone is at this moment. Maybe it was due to the blinding flood of adrenaline of the most scandalous and adventurous thing we could cook up in my sleepy hometown of 706 folk.

We took Jesus cruising.

You know the one out of the Methodist Church nativity scene?  The really, really white one with the brown plastic curl on the top of his head?  But, we had good reason!

“He looked cold and bored,” and “Mary probably needs a break,” we rationalized.  Yes, we were ultra creative to be the first ones attempting this and sure no law against Jesus nappingon the books, still, in Protection, Kansas, this was destined to be a capital offense.

But, we were not the best criminals, for we could not keep Him to ourselves.  Oh no!  Someone found a flashlight, and as we dragged Broadway, He glowed his light that whole mile down and back to oncoming motorists.

And, Dad, it was worth it!

Yes, I know our motives were not pure, but I assure you we were reverent. How could we not be? We were riding up close and personal with the Holy—even in plastic form. Yes, there was something special that noordinary doll could replicate. We cradled and rocked him, afterwards tenderly laying Him back in the manger. Make no mistake; it was a defining event.

And we never did it again.

(Rest assured, being a student of your parenting, if I had caught wind that my little pagans had done something like this, I would have scobbed their knobs, too!  Can you imagine the buzz of coffee crowd at Don’s Café, if we’d gotten caught?)

Yep, that’s it.  I hope that new pacemaker handled the shock okay—maybe more so that I truly was a pretty good kid, if this is a big confession for me.

What amazes me about that crazy caper is God used it to do a little parenting of his own. He taught me that my purpose is not to keep Jesus in the manger. He doesn’t belong there anymore. Can you find a bible story where he scrunched back in it?  Me, either.

Through the years, unexpected reactions concerning Jesus have consistently landed in my lap, whether through truth I’ve shared on radio, in the everyday, and even on some of these blogposts.  And every day, opposition heats up even more.  Lately, I can’t believe the snarky comments because of my Star of David and the Cross necklace. Really.

But with each remark God tenderly opens a door for that person, even if it’s only a crack, so Christ’s light can burst through the angry darkness.

Dad, thanks for teaching me to be a rule-follower, but even more so, that Christ is worth the risk of getting into what the world sees as trouble, so someone else doesn’t miss out on this wonderful and eternal gift He freely gave.

To him, we were worth the cost.

Love ya, Dad~Kel

(My goodness, there are so many great verses I could use with this post.  Here is one of a whole Bible full!)

Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you.  Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. 1 Cor 15:58.

Angel Wings, A Cross, and a Skoal Can

treeTradition is a funny thing.  Some are started with much thought and intentionality–ones carrying the  hope ideals of great importance will be passed down through the ages.

Take the Christmas Tree.  Real, fake, or the Charlie Brown style, it’s a tradition that stands tall and proud with a halo of a thousand points of light–pointing us to the light of Christ.  One friend takes it a step further and keeps a life-sized old school ceramic Baby Jesus under the tree as a focal point for the eyes and hearts.

At our house, we have those that we cherish with all our hearts.  Three sets of  feather angel wings symbolize our babies we will meet the other side of heaven someday.  (We get that angels are angels and people are people and never the two shall mix, but this is the closest thing we could come up with.) When our psycho bird dog went hunting on our tree, retrieving one in his mouth, our hearts clenched in terror. Thankfully, it was gingerly removed, as was the dog to reside outdoors.

But our family’s personality tends to be more haphazard as does our accidental traditions.  Like the Gravy Cat, a ceramic creamer one of the kids put gravy in as a joke one year.  Because the hilarious reactions of having a cat puke on the mashed potatoes, it has been dragged out every one since–except the last time, no one seemed to notice it’s absence.  Shhh…some traditions are best left to run out their nine lives.

But others take on a spirit of their own. 30 years ago this Christmas, Cliff and I had our first Christmas together. A freshly cut (free) cedar tree stood like a tumbleweed with straggly octopus branches.  Twenty years of my folks’ one-ornament-a-year tradition had paid off, but the tree was still pretty sparse.

As a joke, Cliff took a silver-lidded Skoal can, put a ribbon on it, and hung it on the tree–to see if I would scream, of course.  I laughed, and it stayed.  After Christmas, I guess I packed it away with the others.  After all, Dec 1982 was stamped on the bottom of the thick cardboard tobacco container.

Today, it’s lid is tarnished, but it is quite honored among the silver and crystal ornaments, the gold ribbons, and sparkly white lights.  Perhaps those decorations sense they would not be here if not for this revered veteran.

And when the kids place it on the tree, for a sacred moment, one would almost swear to hearing a choir of monks singing in unison, and the lights shine a little brighter.

You see, through the years this can, carrying a surgeon’s general’s warning of death has been transformed into a symbol of love and faithfulness. As redneck as its roots, its purpose is holy…

..much like a feeding tough transformed to cradle a King.

..much like a form of execution became a literal crossroads for salvation, redemption, love, and extravagant grace.

There would be no Christmas without it.

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.  1 Corinthians 1:18

So have you looked at what your impromptu traditions have transformed into? What niggles your heart to be intentional about? Are their traditions that need to go the way of the gravy cat?

Photo credit: my own