Wednesday, November 27, 2013
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A special holiday devotional

Thanksgiving, Christmas and beyond

By Pastor Greg Wooten, Lincoln Church of the Nazarene

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[November 27, 2013]  I'm sitting in the quiet of the morning in the sanctuary. The low light gives a soft glow to the oranges, yellows and browns of the cornucopias now decorating the walls. They are put there to remind us that we are truly blessed. My heart breathes a quick prayer of thanksgiving, recounting a few of the good things in my life — my wife, my church, my family, my friends. Then I start thinking about the upcoming holiday — the Macy's parade, the travel, the football and, of course, the food. No doubt about it — I'm abundantly, richly blessed.

Unfortunately, when you lead a church, you often are living a month or three or more ahead of time. My mind jumps to Sunday evening, when the fall colors will be swept away and the halls will be decked in advance of Christmas. Yes, the work of decorating can be a pain, but I love the final product. I love seeing the color scheme change from the green of ordinary time to the royal blue of Advent. I love the greens and reds and golds of the tree and its assortment of adornments. I love the garlands, the lights and the bows. I love the scents of pine and cinnamon. I love the old music that we will dust off that is so tailor-made for the occasion we are preparing to celebrate — the birthday of the King! "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!"; "It Came Upon the Midnight Clear"; "Silent Night"; "O Little Town of Bethlehem" — I can hardly wait to join in singing these well-worn but dearly treasured carols with the precious souls that gather in this chapel every week. God didn't stay at a distance. He has come to us! We could not be more blessed!

But almost as quickly as my mind drifted into Christmas, it starts drifting out. Now I'm thinking about the days that follow. What's left of the things that grabbed our attention in the stores will end up bargain-priced at 50-60-70 percent off. The lights on everyone's houses will go dark, and the trees will be put away or put out to the curb. The same church I was just envisioning in full holiday regalia will be stripped bare, and the things that beautified it will be packed up and returned to their attic resting place until the season rolls around again. (There's the realist in me, rearing his ugly bald head again. I don't hate him, but he sure isn't the life of the party!) Everything just looks so plain when the holiday is gone. The fleeting moments of Christmas — moments when it seems like maybe the world isn't such a bad place after all — must yield again to the world's numbing humdrum, its dizzying pace, its terrifying wars, its unexplainable violence and its devastating acts of fallen nature. I feel a tear forming at thoughts of what the year ahead might bring.

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Fortunately, the Lord taps on my heart and gets my attention. He whispers: "Greg, son, don't sweat it. That's just the way things are for now. Seasons come and they go. At least for a little while this old world of Mine will be filled with light and beauty and hopeful words like ‘peace on earth' and ‘goodwill to men.' Some people who hardly give Me a passing thought all year long will at least hear My name and maybe contemplate, even for a little while, how much I love them. Just enjoy it while it lasts. Cherish the moments with your family. Savor the time you spend celebrating Me with your kids, your sisters and brothers. Treasure the memories of Christmas in years that have passed. But don't forget — the time will come when the seasons will end, and I'll make this place beautiful forever! We won't ever pack it away again, and peace on earth will be real and won't ever come to an end. Trust me. I've got this."

I recall it was such a moment as this that inspired Mr. Longfellow:

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep.
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on Earth, goodwill to men."

Thank you, Father God, for bringing life and hope to each of us through Jesus your Son, who has come to destroy the works of the one who takes great pleasure in stealing, killing and destroying. Give us hearts full of thanksgiving, peace beyond human understanding and goodwill to all as you have shown goodwill to us. Amen.

[By GREG WOOTEN, pastor of Lincoln Church of the Nazarene]

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