The Bells of Christmas- a Christmas devotional for Jan. 1, 2018

During the Twelve Days of Christmas, just as in the Advent season, I am going to reflect on a hymn or carol daily as part of my spiritual practices. I am not sure where all these reflections will take me, but in conversation with my spiritual director, I am going to leave room for both “the head stuff” and “the heart stuff.” Some days might be more of one or another. I invite you to join me, as together we make space to listen, and be present, to sense what God might be up to. 

Merry Eighth Day of Christmas, and Happy New Year! As 2018 begins on this frigid day here in Nebraska, I am hopeful as I look ahead to the year, and I am grateful as I look back on the past year. Today’s devotion will likely be more of a reflection of gratitude for the year that has ended, and one of hope for the new year that has just begun. To help with this, I have the waltz like flow of “The Bells of Christmas” ringing in my mind today.

The bells of Christmas chime once more; the heavenly guest is at the door.
He comes to earthly dwellings still with new year gifts of peace, good will.

As I write this, the bells and melodies from the bell tower next door are ringing because it is the top of the hour. It seems fitting. It’s a beautiful sunny and blue sky day. The ground is freshly white. But don’t let it fool you. The temperature outside is somewhere between -5 and -10 degrees, and the windchill makes it feel colder than -20. Even so, I am grateful for the reminder that the Twelve Days of Christmas do not end today. “The heavenly guest is at the door,” this day and everyday. And even on this cold week, it warms my heart a little to know that it will be Christmas still all week long. How might you celebrate the remaining Twelve Days?

This world, though wide and far outspread, could scarcely find for you a bed.
Your cradle was a manger stall, no pearl nor silk nor kingly hall.

There is a lesson in humility in the Christmas story, and this verse reminds me of it. God in Christ did not come into the world surrounded by gold and luxury. God in Christ came into the world as one of us, in the lowliest of lowly settings. God in Christ came into the world to a family about as low on the social ladder as possible. You can read into this reality, all you want to. But here’s what I think it might mean. God doesn’t care if or how we say “Merry Christmas.” God cares that we care and share God’s love with others. God doesn’t care about our priorities, our rankings, our wealth. God cares about us, because we are God’s children. God wants to be in relationship with us, and that means God will go all the way to and through life and death on the cross, resurrection and ascension, for us!

Now let us go with quiet mind, the swaddled babe with shepherds find, 
to gaze on him who gladdens them, the loveliest flower of Jesse’s stem.

I have never quite experienced the quiet that is possible on a beautiful winter day in rural Nebraska. It’s peaceful. It affords the opportunity for reflection, pondering, thinking, and discerning. It also has enabled the peace and opportunity to reflect each day like I have in Advent and Christmas, grateful for all of you.

Oh, join with me, in gladness sing, to keep our Christmas with our king,
until our song, from loving souls, like rushing mighty water rolls!

One of the things that I have seen on social media in the last 24 hours, have been people’s reflections on the past year with a list of “Seventeen things I continue to be grateful for from 2017.” With that in mind, here are my 17:

  1. A loving God who is with us and for us.
  2. A fabulous family who couldn’t be more excited for our family to grow, and more supportive of all that we are and all that we do.
  3. Fantastic friends who are brilliant talking partners, inspirational and encouraging in so many ways, great people to watch sports with and root on our teams alongside, and great companions to journey and learn together in life with.
  4. The best spouse ever who continues to make me better everyday, just for her vision, grace, and love in it.
  5. What I believe is one of the absolute best calls in all of the ELCA- to serve as the Director for Stewardship of the Nebraska Synod, and serve as a called Deacon of the church helping serve at the intersection of the church and the world.
  6. 20180101_153531
    Our newest nativity was a Christmas gift from dear congregational friends. It is another thing I am grateful for from 2017, and it’s pictured here next to our newest bell inside of an angel, one of my Grandma’s many that she has collected over the years.

    The loving and supportive community of Salem Lutheran and Fontanelle.

  7. The wonderful partners in ministry, and the larger community of the Nebraska Synod, and especially the awesome synod staff I serve alongside of and learn more from each and everyday.
  8. For you- thank you all for being a part of my community, and for pondering life’s big questions with me; and for serving in your many and various ways and vocations, in the way you meet the needs of your neighbor and also inspire me.
  9. For our loving cat, who also makes us laugh, but also is there to help cheer us up.
  10. For the gift of finally being able to take Allison on our honeymoon.
  11. For wonderful travels, trips, vacations, experiences and learning opportunities which always make life richer, and my daily life better.
  12. For watching my spouse’s sense of call continue to grow as Pastor, and watch the work of God in the Holy Spirit in her.
  13. For laughter.
  14. For humility in the face of a new chapter that is quickly coming, life as a parent.
  15. For all those who visited us in our new home here in Nebraska, and to the many who will come and spend time with us in the months and years ahead.
  16. For the treadmill that is downstairs, and the way its helping me be healthy.
  17. For the learning that, as each day comes and goes, I learn that I am always learning, and don’t ever have all the answers. And that I believe is a gift, to be a life-long learner.

O partriarchs’ Joy, O prophets’ Song, O Dayspring bright, awaited long.
O Son of Man, incarnate Word, great David’s Son, great David’s Lord:

As I am grateful for so much from the past year, I am also hopeful for much in the year ahead. Obviously there is the new born to come. I am also hopeful to learn and grow into being a parent. I am hopeful to continue to grow and learn in my role and call as a deacon and Director for Stewardship. I am excited for a big stewardship event coming up in the spring. And I am hopeful for many conversations, visits, and growing relationships with friends and family in the year ahead.

Come, Jesus, glorious heavenly guest, and keep your Christmas in our breast;
then David’s harp strings, hushed so long, shall swell our jubilee of song. 

There is much to be grateful and hopeful for. The past year might have been a hard one in the larger world, but I have to admit, in mine it was pretty great. I am hopeful that this coming year will be one of peace and collaboration in the larger world, and one of joy, growth, and love both in my world and the larger one that I am a part of. I hope it is all of this and more for you. Happy New Year again, and Merry Eighth Day of Christmas!


Credit/Reference: Nikolai F. S. Grundtvig, tr. Charles Porterfield Krauth, Carl C. N. Balle, “The Bells of Christmas,” found in Evangelical Lutheran Worship, (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2006), 298.

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