Create Time To Focus

I’m sure many of you can agree with me in saying that the Christmas season is the happiest time of year. There just seems to be a little extra joy in the air around this time. People tend to be more cheerful throughout this season. I’m not suggesting that people aren’t cheerful all year round, but I think you get the picture. Here is a question I have been pondering – Why is there greater joy in this season? Perhaps more so than in other seasons? What is the true cause of our heightened cheer during Advent and Christmas?

The answers are varied. For some, it’s because we are getting ready for that homemade casserole at the family reunion that everybody loves. For others…

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The Lazy Genius

Within the last year, I’ve started listening to a podcast called The Lazy Genius with Kendra Adachi. Now bear with me, because I know that for most of us, the thought of being called “lazy” makes us shudder. The premise of her podcast is to help people, particularly moms of small children, “be a genius about the things that matter and lazy about the things that don’t.” In order to subscribe to her theory, you have to first understand that what matters to you and what matters to me very well may be different. For some of us, preparing a home cooked meal while hosting friends fills us with incredible joy, where for some, the idea of that sends them into a tailspin of anxiety. For some, maintaining a specific skincare routine keeps them ticking, while some have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about – and that’s okay!

Kendra often brings up the idea of “naming what matters.” This simply means identifying what is worth your time and energy and giving these things adequate space in your brain and schedule.

Last year’s Christmas season felt different in so many ways…

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Village of Hope

As a young child, I have fond memories of visiting relatives during the Christmas holidays in Southern Illinois. One of my aunts started a yearly tradition by taking me into town to see a miniature outdoor Christmas Village, each structure standing about four feet tall. The Village consisted of a couple of homes, a school, General Store, and a diner. But my favorite part of the village was the church. In the snow, the little white church warmly glowed from within; looking inviting and welcoming. Now these village buildings were too small to enter, but I remember so wanting to go into the church and sit and take in all of the Christmas splendor it had been adorned in…

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The Light Continues To Shine

Christmas Eve of 2009 was one that most Oklahomans won’t soon forget. That year we got one of the worst blizzards in our recent memory. Parts of Oklahoma City would get more than 10 inches of snow with wind gusts up to 60 miles per hour and snow drifts that were more than three feet tall. For an area that isn’t used to getting more than a dusting of snow, this was a big deal.

A state of emergency was declared, highways began to be shut down, cars were left abandoned all over the roads as they got stuck in the snow, and it quickly became obvious that this Christmas Eve would look different than any other in my life. We had always gone to Christmas Eve Candlelight Services at St. Luke’s. After worship, we would usually go to my grandparents’ house where we would have our traditional Christmas Eve dinner of chili and tamales followed by drinking apple cider while we opened Christmas presents.

As churches all around the area began to announce they would be closing and we realized we would not get to experience the Christmas Eve Candlelight Service that year, we went ahead and made the trip over to my grandparents’ house to have dinner and open gifts together. It was certainly a different Christmas Eve than we had anticipated, but in the end, it is one I look back on with fondness and one I will always remember.

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Luke 2:7-20

And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger. “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!” When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they saw it they made known the saying which had been told them concerning this child; and all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. – Luke 2:7-20

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Start At The Manger

Christmas is such a wonderful time of year. The holiday lights, decorations, festivals, activities, and of course, Christmas Eve Candlelight Services. Growing up, my dad was a pastor of Pentecostal Holiness churches and we did some Christmas activities at the church. We did not do all the things that take place at St. Luke’s during Advent, however in 1998, we made plans to do a large Christmas musical. This musical needed around 50 people to pull it off; children, youth, adults, choir, musicians, and tech team. For our church that was about half of our weekly attendance.

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The Gift of Peace

In 2018, I was privileged to travel with several members of St. Luke’s to Israel. Part of our pilgrimage took us into the wonderful town of Bethlehem. The beautiful community of Bethlehem is filled with historical wonders. It is the city of King David, and it is the birthplace of Jesus, our Lord. Today, the ancient is surrounded by the modern.

When we visited Bethlehem, we went to see the Church of the Nativity. This beautiful church is built on top of what is said to be the birthplace of Jesus of Nazareth. We went to the Nissan Brothers store in Bethlehem. This amazing place was filled with hand-crafted treasures, mostly made from olive wood. Their workshop was in their store, and it was so amazing to see the work being done. I brought home several things to help remember my experience.

As we explored the beautiful city of Bethlehem, I found one place where I could truly feel the presence of God. It was not in one of the beautiful, ancient churches. It was not in the busy streets and shops of Bethlehem, but in a field, just outside of the city…

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Slow Down, Reflect, and Renew

Advent is always a season of reflection for me. It is a time to take account of the year and all its good and bad. Last year, it was much easier to sit and reflect, feel gratitude for good health, and remember the true meaning of Christmas. Although the reason behind the slow pace of 2020 holidays was difficult in so many ways, it did show me the importance of checking in and making time to do so.

I have a big, Italian family and we typically have many events leading up to Christmas. It is busy, chaotic, and mostly fun. While I missed the gathering of extended family, I did find comfort in the calm and quiet…

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Sharing the Light of the World

The pandemic has certainly rocked our world. It brought unexpected change, loss, and fear into our lives. I love people and I love our congregation, so one of the personal losses I have felt during the pandemic was the loss of a sense of community with family, friends, and our family of faith. Advent is the season leading up to Christmas Day. It is a time set aside for the preparation of our hearts and minds to fully celebrate the birth of the Christ Child. Last year, as the season of Advent approached, we longed to find a way to help us all feel connected with one another, even though we were not together physically…

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The Bigger Picture of Christmas

When I first began thinking about our theme for Advent, “The Hope and Fears of All the Years,” I immediately remembered learning about the Gestalt Principle in Psychology 101. This principle basically says, “the whole is more than the sum of its parts.” Psychologists have studied this concept for more than 100 years.

Looking through this Gestaltic lens, we begin to understand how humans perceive patterns or configurations, not merely individual components. For example, we may see part of an image but our mind “fills in the blanks” so that we perceive how the entire image should look. A great illustration of this occurred in 2020 when we saw everyone in masks; despite not seeing their full face, we could (usually) figure out who the person was by their eyes, hair, and other features.

As we approach this Christmas season, I’m reminded how fragmented the holidays were in 2020…

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