Wednesday, December 21, 2011

History of Christmas Lights

The people who sat in darkness saw a great light, / And upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death Light has dawned. Isaiah 9:2 & Matthew 4:16

It is not by accident that Christians celebrate the birth of Christ with lights. Since the moment angels appeared on Bethlehem hills announcing a Son was given to the world, lights piercing darkness have signified peace and joy and hope to a weary world.

The first celebration lights were probably simple oil lamps. We have no trustworthy records, but it is not beyond imagination that before candles or Christmas trees or cards or gift giving or even a day called “Christmas,” some early Christians remembered the birth of our Lord.

These would have been spontaneous, casual celebrations observed by individual families. As they remembered, it would be natural for them to watch a flickering oil lamp and think of the scripture promising when Messiah (Jesus) came, people who sit in darkness will see a great light.

Candles were in more or less common use by 800-900 AD and shortly after we find the first references to nativity scenes being placed in Christian houses of worship. These scenes would have glowed in the light of many candles. And--although the exact roots are lost in antiquity--it may have been roughly this time when Christmas began to be celebrated on a specific day.

Over time, being “Christian” became the socially acceptable norm and Christmas became a cultural event. Decorations were increasingly more common, expensive, complex and light-filled, causing some to feel the holiday had lost all true meaning. When Puritans took control of the English government in the mid 1600’s, lights, decorations and all other forms of celebration were banned. Christmas was to be no more.

Yet the celebration—with all its flaws—endured. When electric lights came on the scene in the late 1800’s they were almost immediately employed as part of Christmas. Lights proliferated until today when city streets and country lanes, windows, yards, rooftops and edges of buildings light up the night with twinkle and glow.

For myself, it would be easy to agree with the Puritans. I watch electronic reindeer nodding from store windows, see the crass commercialism and my heart fills with more sadness than holiday spirit. With the children grown and gone, some years I haven’t even put up a tree.

But this year, I think I have a better idea: I’ll dust off a string of colored lights, attach a little tinsel and a few ornaments to a tree, then turn out the lamps and remember. The light of the world has come. Regardless of how the world has perverted it, Christmas is real. It’s time to celebrate.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Sing! Your Refuge Stands!

Let all who take refuge in You be glad; let them ever sing for joy! Psalm 5:11 NKJV

The word "refuge" speaks of trouble, danger and threat. If nothing negative is happening, the place we dwell may be comfortable but it won't be a "refuge."

The dictionary calls a refuge "anything or anyone which has recourse for aid, relief or escape." When we find refuge, the bad thing is still be there but doesn't impact us any longer. It is outside and our refuge forces it to stay there.

No wonder David said those who find refuge in the Lord should be glad. Our singing should go on and on forever! What better source for long term safety and lasting security than the eternal God of the Universe with whom is no variable or shadow of turning (Jas. 1:17). He is rock solid and He stays that way.

Christians don't deny the reality of trials. Bad things do, indeed, touch our life just as they touch others. The difference comes when we lift up our eyes to an eternal perspective and like David see the "latter end" of things (Psa. 73). Only then do we begin to feel how real our refuge is and only then can we smile.

Jesus is our recourse for aid now and most Christians can point to specific times when that aid came through just in time. He is our relief and we often feel the release as He takes the burdens and removes the weight from our heart. He is our escape as pressures mount and He will provide the ultimate escape as we leave this planet for our sure and final home.

If your day lacks joy, remember a time when He changed your circumstance, provided relief or you felt freedom as you leaned on Him. And, if you are walking through a current storm, lift up your eyes to the eternal. Knowing Jesus is our ultimate refuge and has promised to get us home safely before the dark.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Sing a Merry Tune

David told the leaders of the Levites to appoint their brothers as singers to sing joyful songs, accompanied by musical instruments: lyres, harps and cymbals. I Chronicles 15:16

Did you know a human may well be the only thing in God’s creation that sings? I’ll admit that the point is arguable. It depends on exactly what you mean by “sing.” However, by all accounts our human experience of this phenomenon is unique. Birds chirp various tones, but they are bound to repeat these same tones and can never make up any other. Many animals express emotion by various vocalizations, but the purr of a cat or the bray of a lonely donkey can hardly be called music. Even angels are said to speak rather than sing out their praise (Luk. 2:13-14). God can sing (Zep. 3:17) and people sing, but the rest of creation? Not really.

Happiness, joy and celebration are closely tied to music. Before the temple was built, David set up a system where music would be flowing 24/7 (I Co. 9:33) as they sang day and night in the house of the Lord. And, in the early church (as today) music was a vital part of every gathering. They even sang to each other (Eph. 5:19) and no one seemed to bother with whether one could carry a tune.

Music is one of the few things that carries a double blessing. When we praise, it lifts the spirit of others and then ricochets to lift our own heart as well. Got a bad mood going and want to break the spell? Sing! It can be the fastest route to restoring joy and a positive attitude.