“I wish I knew what had happened to Ruth’s doll,” I lamented to my children a week before Christmas. Ruth, our adopted daughter, had so loved the brown Bitty Baby I’d bought when she’d arrived in Maine from a Ugandan children’s home, Welcome Home Ministries Africa. At the time, Ruth was 18 months old and couldn’t sit up, feed herself or speak. Having been abandoned at birth, she was staying in Topsham with friends, who’d volunteered to take care of her while she received therapy for cerebral palsy.
In just a few days, an estimated 2 billion people in 160 countries – including 90 percent of all Americans – will pause to celebrate what they consider the most important holiday of the year: Christmas. Yet, as wars rage and refugees flee, as stocks tumble and nations crumble, as glaciers melt and protesters march in city streets, what hope is there that the message of Christmas, a baby born to bring peace to the earth, is still relevant? Peace? What peace? You might ask. And does anyone still believe in a literal Jesus, anyway? Musician and preacher Ben Pierce tackles this question in his new book, Jesus in the Secular World (Steiger Press, 2018).
Last week, I questioned what people who don’t observe Christ’s birth are celebrating at Christmas. It’s no secret that we live in a largely secular culture. Here in Maine, we have among the lowest church attendance in the nation, with a mere 20 percent of folks plonking down on a pew each Sunday. So it stands to reason that some 80 percent of you might be wondering what exactly Christians are celebrating this time of year. I thought it’d be fun to consult the writers of our best-loved Christmas carols. No, not John Lennon, who hoped we’d have fun and forget our fears, but those early bastions of faith who penned lyrics based on Scripture. So this is Christmas:
“What do people who aren’t religious celebrate at Christmas?” a dear friend’s daughter recently asked her – or something along those lines. “Well, some people celebrate a religious Christmas and some people celebrate a secular Christmas,” she explained, describing a friend who celebrates the season by hosting friends and giving to others even though she doesn’t recognize the spiritual significance of the holiday.
How do we shine the light of Christ at Christmas? Tucked inside the familiar Bible story about the birth of Jesus are four key activities to help you celebrate Christ and share His light during Advent.
Week 1: Welcome the Weary (Luke 2:1-7)
Poor Mary. Tired and pregnant, she arrived in Joseph’s hometown after a long journey to find no welcome. There were no hotels at the time of Christ’s birth. No Holiday Inn. No Motel 6. Instead, travelers knocked on doors until someone let them in. But because all the houses in Bethlehem were full, Mary and Joseph likely found shelter in a cave used for animals. And in that dark and dirty dwelling, Mary welcomed her first-born son: Jesus, whose name means “God is salvation.”
My mother’s journals sat in a box in my garage. They covered 40 years – from soon after she chose to follow Jesus, on our Oregon farm, to living in Israel, Russia and Azerbaijan, working as a linguist and Bible translator. And before she died, she’d asked me to destroy them. “But Mom,” I’d protested, driving her home from one of her many doctor’s appointments during her final months with cancer. “Those are the stories of your life. They are a treasure.”