Archeologists believe they’ve found the tomb of Saint Nicholas underneath a Byzantine church in Turkey. The real Saint Nicholas lived between 270 and 343 AD. He inherited a lot of money that he gave away to the poor, and he was buried under a church that flooded in the Middle Ages. They built another church on top of the original church foundation, so his tomb wasn’t discovered until recently.
But here’s the thing. Over time St Nick, as in the real Saint Nicholas, has faded from memory. This may shock you, but the real St Nick didn’t live at the North Pole, and the generous guy had no reindeer. Had he never existed, Christmas might be a little different, but there would still be Christmas. Christmas doesn’t depend on St Nick, great though he was.
Christmas depends on Jesus.
But what if there had been no Jesus, no first Christmas?
If we had some kind of super-magnet that could remove all evidence of the life of Christ, what would change? There would be no Christmas of course, but also no AD dates, no Santa Fe or Santo de Cristo Mountains here in New Mexico; no Salvation Army bellringers, no Red Cross, no Samaritan’s Purse, no Presbyterian Hospital, no Harvard or Yale, and no churches. None of these would exist except for one man who never had much money, or an army, or a home.
But there was the first Christmas. Jesus was raised on the run and died a criminal at age 33 in a small city just five miles from where He was born. He was born in poverty and died washing the feet of the one who would betray Him. And we have found his tomb too. But His is empty.
Psalms 126:5 Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. (NIV)
Our Advent candles are Hope, Peace, Love, and Joy—and then on Christmas Eve we light the Christ Candle. How do you experience Christmas joy when you are battling cancer? Where is the peace? What happened to God’s love?
It’s a reminder to me this year that our hope, peace, love and joy don’t always come from our circumstances, but are only permanently found in Christ. I blogged before about our daughter Amanda being diagnosed with stage three cancer this summer.
Here is Amanda’s update in her own words–the family picture above.
Cancer Update –– Post-surgery and Month One of Chemo
I figured it was time for a life update since people have been asking. Yes, I was diagnosed in late June of this year with stage three melanoma. It was found in a spot on the top of my foot that went deeper and wider than we realized. When surgery was done, it turned out to have traveled to one out of the three lymph nodes in my upper thigh/groin area. I now have some awesome battle wounds, one of which is this great circle that would make an ironic sun tattoo later.
Since my surgery life has been… different. We have had to put our kids in school literally last minute, instead of homeschooling like I had been looking forward to for years. I had more days than I cared to admit of sitting on the shower floor to bathe because my leg and foot could not support my weight. I have had more spots taken off because they were “suspicious”, and the docs did not want to run the risk of leaving them on my body. I have had to learn how to slow down, spend days in bed, accept help, and even ask for it.
I started a targeted chemo treatment about a month ago. They call it targeted because my chancer had a genetic mutation (the cancer, not me). Because of this mutation, the chemo can target the cancer cells directly instead of all my cells, like most chemo. This means I should have lesser side effects, some still, just lesser. It’s taken some getting used to—I’m not one to take life slowly. At times it feels like this is God’s way of forcing me to learn patience.
But in all honestly, I know that He has a much greater purpose. I have seen my kids grow in leaps and bounds in the past few weeks – and in ways that they would never have if I had been functioning normally. I have seen God work and act far beyond what I expected. He has reached others through our little family, through my small illness, for His good and Glory, and I have only been “sick” for a few months. If all I have to do is take a “long nap” one day and be uncomfortable for a few weeks, maybe take some pills for a year for others to realize God’s goodness and mercy and plan and purpose for their life, then dang! Let’s go!
Anyways, the Franks Family is blessed. We appreciate your love and prayers, and we navigate through this year of chemo and scans – next is Dec 30.
God is good, all the Time.
My favorite book on this topic is The Moon is Always Round. It’s a kids book that is deep enough for all of us. The thesis is that God is good even when you can’t feel it, just as the moon is always round, even when you can’t see it. That’s good theology. Our souls expand through tough times, so that our fears, hard times, questions, and grief coexist with our developing hope, peace, love, and joy. As I write, I’m sick of Amanda’s sickness, disappointed at the lack of a fantastic miracle, and totally overjoyed that her faith and trust in the sovereignty of God is stronger than her dad’s.
If you are frantically looking for one more cheap gift this Christmas, you can pick up Bizarre Christmas Bible Stories at Barnes and Noble for $9.99. They want $12.82 at Amazon.
Christmas is a time of wonder. Maybe for you, it brings back memories of hot cocoa, decorating the tree, or caroling. I remember listening to Alec Guinness (of later Obi-Wan fame) in the part of Scrooge on a reel-to-reel recording. Dad recorded it on his new Wollensak recorder with a mic in front of our radio which was about the size of a 2-door Yaris. That was before I was born. I thought we had the only copy on the planet.
OK, so it’s not as rare as I thought, but listening to it each Christmas is still wonderful.
Christmas has a spirit of wonder because the real story is so unbelievably, inconceivably, wildly wonderful.
I’ve read there are over 365 names in the Bible referring to Jesus. Isaiah the prophet started with, “His name shall be called Wonderful…” Isa 9:6.
Here are my top seven Christmas wonders for 2022.
1: It’s a wonder the Old Testament got it right. Starting around 2000BC God revealed that the Blessing would come through the line of Abraham, the Jewish nation. Later Jacob is told that the Messiah would come through the tribe of Judah. Isaiah predicted He would come from the line of Jesse. Micah prophesied His birth in the tiny town of Bethlehem. Daniel foretold the timeline that the Wise Men may have been studying when they followed the star. And all of this was written 500 to 2000 years before Jesus was born. Those are wild, wonderful prophecies.
2: And while we are on prophecies, it’s a wonder that anyone would prophesy that “a virgin will conceive and give birth to a son.” You can claim to be a prophet and try to predict the outcome of an election or the sex of a child. That’s 50/50–at best. But a virgin will conceive? Not likely. Isaiah got that one right 700 years ahead of time. Inconceivably wonderful.
3: I wonder why the angel didn’t tell Joseph what was up with Mary before he planned to divorce her (Matthew 1). He must have been so upset, and disappointed, and just sick in the gut before he knew what was happening. It’s a wonderful story, his sticking by her not only then, but for the rest of his life. That’s a wonderful believer, a great husband, a worthy example.
4: It’s a wonder, too, that God came to shepherds, some of the most despised people of the time (Luke 2). In the caste system, they were the bottom of the barrel, so untrustworthy that they weren’t allowed to testify in court. The Jewish system wouldn’t even allow them on the temple grounds. So, God did better, bringing heaven to earth as the angels sang, and the Temple to lowly shepherds in the form of a baby. That’s wildly wonderful!
5: Two words in Luke chapter two are wonderful to me. The angels said to the shepherds, Lk 2:10 (NIV2011) “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
They could have said “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” But they said, “a Savior has been born to you.”
Two unnecessary words make all the difference. It’s unbelievable. Believe it.
6: It’s wonderful that God thought of the practical stuff. Sometimes God can seem distant, uncaring even. But the wise men didn’t show up by accident, they were part of God’s sovereign plan. The star was part of His plan. The gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh were part of His plan. God cares, and that’s wonderful.
Note: Reinaldo reminded me that according to Gary Larson of “Far Side” fame, unbeknownst to most historians and theologians, there was a fourth wise man who brought fruit cake, but he was summarily rejected by the other three Wise Men, Mary, Joseph, and which rejection was ratified by a screaming Baby Jesus.
7: But it’s the incarnation, God come to earth, in a stable, wrapped in a diaper, to rescue the likes of us. WOW. The real story is unbelievably, inconceivably, wildly wonderful. And think where we are today, 2000 years later:
It’s a wonder that King Herod, the ruler of Galilee, a friend of Julius Caesar, and rebuilder of the temple is a footnote to the story of a man who was born in a stable and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
It’s a wonder that a guy who never had an army or money or wrote a book, has mountains named after Him (e.g. Sangre de Cristo / Blood of Christ); in New Mexico USA, 7000 miles away and 2000 years later.
It’s a wonder that Christmas boxes travel around the world in the name of a man who never traveled far from home and died five miles from where He was born.
P.S. The photos that we use for this blog and slides tend to come from the online site Unsplash.com. They are free from Unsplash, and legal. The picture I used this week had a note under it from the photographer. I thought I’d share it with you.“I had just stopped by my parent’s house for a cup of coffee. While I sat at the dining room table enjoying the hot cup of Joe and letting it warm my cold bones. I started thinking about Christmas and that was when I spotted the nativity in the corner. My heart was overwhelmed as I thought of Jesus Christ coming down to be the savior of our world. The God of all creation humbled himself and became a child. What love, what deep, deep love!”–Ben White on Unsplash