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
Bizarre Christmas Bible Stories was first published by Heritage Builders Press, but right when it was to hit the stores, they went to publishing heaven. Or hell, I’m really not sure due to the president being in jail now. At any rate, it has sat in purgatory for a couple of years while I had to wait to make sure I had the right to publish it again.
This time I self-published it to make it as inexpensive as possible, as a result you can get it as cheaply as me. BUT–I’d just like to get it out there and I’m lousy at marketing. If you can leave a (nice) review, that can really help.
Before 3/4 ton pickups with Cummings diesel engines, there were Studebakers. They had no AC, broke down more often, came with no cup holders, and had limited ground clearance – but a man with a Studebaker was a man who could go anywhere and do most anything.
At least he thought he could.
It may be good that I have no memories of this vacation. Here is another picture of our studly Stude, this one hauling down a Christmas Tree from the mountains around Tucson. I’m sure all five of us kids were crammed in there with Mom and Dad. It’s amazing how many people a station wagon could hold before seat belts, shoulder straps, car seats, and air bags. I believe the average lifespan back in the 60s was 12.
My favorite Studebaker pic comes at the end of the blog. First I am pasting in our Christmas letter for those who missed it. Scroll past the letter if you have already read it.
Yeah, it’s late. You can’t rush perfection. Here is the mostly true update on the Cooley’s.
JoLynn is working full time for a few months or a few years for Presbyterian Hospital. She’s piloting a Patient
Advocate program at a new hospital. The job is assisting patients in pain and their families in crisis who are attempting to work through a maze of medical misunderstandings while hoping and praying for healing.
It really is a great ministry where Jo gets to help many people on some of their most difficult days.
She can have it. It’s easier to write Christmas letters.
Megan, Jon, and mighty Memphis live here in Albuquerque, and as of October 11 have Indigo Rose to keep them up at night. We appreciate their kindness in giving us our first granddaughter. Memphis is my cookie-making buddy. Indigo is my nap buddy – who often naps when I get to hold her. Lucky Indi even has a daily naptime! I’m jealous.
Amanda, Jake, Oliver, Emerson, and Harrison (or Oli, Emmy, and Harry as we call them), live in Marble Falls TX. Amanda runs Camp Peniel’s weekend camping program, and Jake works for Overhead Door in Austin. After 7 summers and hundreds of weekends there, I always thought I’d work for Peniel, but the opportunity got passed down to Amanda. Not that I’m jealous. They were able to come in for Christmas, and we had enough snow to take the boys sledding in the back yard – my Christmas highlight.
Yes, that means we have a new back yard. We moved last January to a smaller one-story house on a half-acre with an amazing view and a perfect little sled hill in back. It’s beautiful. JoLynn is a sledding goddess, so that was the real reason for the move. Our new address is: 2112 San Pablo Rd NE, Rio Rancho NM 87144.
Micah has been with Air Guard Intelligence for over six years, and went full-time with them a couple months ago. They paid him well to go back full time, so he is the one with the nice new red Miata. Not that I’m jealous. We’re not sure how his English degree helps him to blow things up. I guess you wouldn’t want to miscommunicate. He comes to church with Starbucks for his sister – it’s great to have even half the family with us for worship.
Caleb is three semesters short of graduating from Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. He spent the summer taking European Reformation classes in … Europe. Not that I’m jealous. He too was home for Christmas, so we had the entire clan here. It was great fun. A line by the bathroom door is such a good memory of old times.
Dan – Our new house is 20 years old, so it has plenty of fun projects to keep me out of trouble. I still enjoy a week or two in Haiti in the summer, and the church is rolling right along – the merger was a great move, the staff is terrific. The New City Catechism is our current study – great stuff. My sister Janice and I wrote a small stocking stuffer book, Bizarre Christmas Bible Stories, to hit store shelves in September 2019.
Mostly I’m just jealous of Indigo’s naps and Amanda’s camp and Micah’s Miata and Caleb’s summer and not at all of JoLynn’s job. God really has been gracious to us, and we are most grateful. My favorite verse for 2018 came from Ecclesiastes 12:13 in the Message.
Fear God. Do what he tells you. That’s it.
Dan for all
And my favorite for last. My dad the stud working on his Studebaker. Notice the lush Arizona grass. I believe the license plate says 64. I you have a spare Studebaker you want to sell, let me know. I’d love to surprise JoLynn with one for Valentines.
The Canadians have it right, and celebrate Thanksgiving on the second Monday of OCTOBER, as the Pilgrims intended. President Lincoln got many things right, but was allowed by God to make this one glaring error to prove to the world that even he wasn’t omniscient.
Now you know the truth. The stores have it right.
Besides, there just isn’t enough time to enjoy the season if all your shopping, decorating, family meals, traveling, college exams, parties, and Christmas movie watching have to be done in a few weeks. That’s no fun. Start today and enjoy a slow, mellow, long, shockingly long Christmas season, as Costco intended.
The music is better, so you can enjoy it longer
OK, it isn’t all better
music, Frosty the Snowman could gag a Shepherd. Still, after 10 months of Country divorces, Rap killings, Pop romance and Hillsongs oceans, aren’t you ready for a change?
It’s easier on the budget, so you can ret
ire 10 years early.
If you wait to shop till December, when you are also paying for travel and party gifts and eating out, you will still be paying it off in July. Buying now will help keep you out of debt, allowing you to retire years early. Maybe.
The life you save may be your own
How many kids are in danger of a tripping injury because they can’t find the way from the street to your house on Halloween? Could you be sued? GET THOSE CHRISTMAS LIGHTS UP NOW. Besides, better for kids to see an early Christmas tree than a pumpkin carved like a wormy skull with a spider crawling out.
The decorations are better, so let’s just go with Christmas and skip the rest.
Easter has pastel colors. Yuck. Halloween is black and orange, great if you work for UHaul. The best Thanksgiving table will have a centerpiece of plastic pilgrims standing around vegetables you can’t eat. But Christmas? Christmas is deep red, green, gold, nativity scenes, camels, and reindeer. How does a plastic pilgrim compete?
The food is best.
Thanksgiving has turkey. The reason we don’t eat it the rest of the year is that it isn’t that good. Christmas has eggnog, cookies, and Chex party mix. It’s no competition, really.
Because putting lights on your snow-covered roof on November 30 is foolish.
And the only thing worse is NOT having lights on your roof for Christmas. That’s just wrong.
If you are shopping early, Bizarre Christmas Bible Stories comes out in November.
My sister wrote the poem below about the wise men, such a fun kids poem I had to publish it. OH, she is also the girl in the picture, with my brother David and our parents, when they were living in France, before I was. She is a bit older now. So am I.
They plodded along between high camel humps
with food, clothes, and blankets rolled up into lumps.
Gold, myrrh, and frankincense jarred with each bump
as they twisted through mountains with bushes in clumps.
They lumbered along sitting high on the backs
of the beasts they were guiding and keeping on track.
Over-excited, they could not relax.
They were searching for Someone and would not turn back.
The light that first startled them was quite a sight.
It grew bigger and brighter than comets that night.
It must be a prophecy, what a delight!
It must be a new king. Those Wise Men were right.
They stopped at King Herod’s place, causing a stare.
Their questions upset him. He stifled a glare.
The Jews have a new king? You must find out WHERE!
In Bethlehem was the child. Wise Men went there.
Oh, how they honored Him. Oh how they praised.
And the joy that surrounded them lasted for days.
It lasted for years and it won’t go away.
Just listen to carolers singing today!
3 Christmas War Quotes from the Advent reading today. At church we gave away the Christianity Today Advent book, this one was written by Russell Moore. Excellent, but you be the judge…
He is bringing the story into focus from that first prophecy, when God tells the serpent after Adam and Eve eat the fruit; Ge 3:15 (ESV) I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring;he shall bruise your head,and you shall bruise his heel.” 3 QUOTES
1: The Virgin Birth is not simply a sweet Christmas story. . . The Virgin Birth is scary, because if we understand what is going on here, we will see that in the uterus of this little Nazarene virgin girl, God is declaring war.
2: God is saying to you exactly what God said in the Virgin Birth to the entire human race: You cannot fix this.
3: Perhaps what all of us need this holiday season is to cry out with gratitude to a God who fought our Enemy for us. Perhaps we need to say, “All I want for Christmas is a crushed snake skull.” That is the gospel.
So Micah and Dad had grand plans to get the Christmas letter out for Christmas this year. Micah started it, gave it to Dad, and next thing you know it was Christmas. So, in the grand Cooley tradition of late New Year’s letters, here we go.
Mama and Papa Cooley: After seven years of being portable, the church finally has a building! This is exciting for many reasons, not the least of which is that neither JO or Dan have to yell at their children to get up early to set up or stay late to tear down–which might be more exciting for Micah and Caleb than it is for anyone else. We merged with another church, oddly like what I’d assume a blended marriage to be like. So far, so good. JO is still working for Presbyterian Hospital as a Patient / Family Advocate. After 30+ years living with Dan, she knows how to keep stressed mental people content.
Megan and Jon: They had a baby, and we know it’s theirs because it likes to stay home, shuns people, and loves sleep. They are getting along very well, and it’s pretty much everything they could have hoped for. His name is Memphis, but everyone just calls him Muffins. Megan is working at Presbyterian Hospital when not with Memphis. Jon graduated with a degree in Communications from UNM in May, and continues to work in the sound industry. We thought there might be an opening taking over the DNC emails or Trump twitter accounts, but they are still waiting for the call. Whose loss?
Amanda and Jake: After a year of figuring out life with epilepsy, Amanda can drive again! This is yet another great thing for Caleb and Micah, as it means that they’re not chaperoning Amanda and her toddlers around. Emerson is now 2, Oliver 3, and they are a ton of fun when not breaking things. Also, Amanda is about to have another baby (July 2017), because you know, why not, it’s a new year. They also bought a house close to the new church with a great view for Balloon Fiesta.
Micah: graduated from UNM with a degree in English, then spent a summer at Camp Peniel, and then a couple months teaching English in Haiti. He decided not to retire in Port-au-Prince, and instead is on orders with the Air Guard for the next six months. After that, God knows. The saddest part of 2016 for Micah was when Dad borrowed his limited-edition Miata, only to be rear-ended by a drunk driver just a half-mile away and have the beautiful car totaled. We kept the gear-shift knob. Not much else was left.
andCaleb: finished at the community college, and is about to go to Moody Bible College in Chicago. His Christmas wish list was a coat, and mitts, and boots, and long underwear, and a hat, and…. Dan bribed his way to a Masters there in 2000, and Caleb’s grandma Cooley graduated from Moody in 1945, which was, I believe, a very good year.
Hoping and praying 2017 is a great year for you as well.
2017 thought: “Look for Christ and you will find him. And with him, everything else.” – CS Lewis