The Birthday Cake

“It’s just another day,” said Daddy as we were about to sing “Happy Birthday.”

No, Daddy, it’s not! I silently screamed. This is the day you were born. That makes it special. Why can’t you feel special? Mama’s showing you you are. She made you a cake.

When Mama made my birthday cake every year, I felt special. I had the same feeling about my brothers and sister when their turns came. Our mother had singled out each of us as being unique and important.

Our birthdays never came with presents. Daddy’s alcoholism stole that money. But we six children could count on a two-layer cake with buttercream frosting from Mama.

I wished my father, wrapped in alcoholic tantrums, did not say and do awful things to Mama. In spite of it all, every November 16 she would honor him on his birthday with a cake. In her heart she thought of him as special, and she wanted him to believe it of himself.

Eventually, it was for Daddy only that Mama made a birthday cake. Her children had gradually left home. Year after year, though, we all returned with our growing families for Christmas dinner. One of those Christmas nights, Mama started a new tradition.

“Come into the kitchen,” she called to her grandchildren. “We’re going to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to Jesus. I made Him a cake.”

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Christmas Peace Pursuit

A lifetime of Christmas peace hinges on how a child sees parents presenting the annual celebration. What happened in my formative years with the Christmas tree proves the point.

Daddy would start drinking the night he dragged through the front door what he bragged was the best-shaped tree in the lot. He had me believing nobody’s was better than ours, because his eyes could size up a flawless tree. True to his alcoholic personality, my father required that his selection be decorated to perfection. And he was the sole judge of what that looked like.

First, he would string the lights. He strung and restrung and restrung until the result pleased him.

Next, clutching a bottle of beer, he sat at his place on the sofa, where my brothers and I were already in line and knew not to say or do anything. We watched Mama, waiting silently beside the tree for Daddy to tell her where to hang the ornaments.

Before the boxes of glass balls were empty, Daddy demanded do-overs. “Mildred, put that green ball—not that one, the small one—next to the red one. No! The big red ball. Not there. Up higher. That’s too high.”

If Mama risked hanging anything without his instruction, my father erupted with “Mildred, you don’t know how to decorate a Christmas tree. Put that back in the box and get me another beer.”

Woe to my mother when a string of lights went out! In those days the lights were wired in a series. If one bulb stopping shining, the entire string shut down. It was a hit-and-miss ordeal for Mama as her fingers frantically screwed and unscrewed bulbs to find the bad one. My heart hurt wishing she would find it quickly so that Daddy would not keep shouting, “Haven’t you found it yet, Mildred? Stop that and get me another beer. Hurry up.”

As the tragedy neared its end, I saw Mama’s face staring out at us between the tree branches. Her cascading blond curls framed the pain-pierced blue eyes, the tears silently sliding down her cheeks, and the sealed lips.

That face, stamped on my early childhood memory, appeared every Christmas after I had children. Decorating the tree became drudgery for me, but I kept it to myself. Why say anything that would diminish the Christmas joy of my family?

One Christmastime I thought the other tree might short-circuit my haunting fear of the visitation. My father bought the other tree for my first Christmas. Without any ado it would appear on a table in the living room sometime before Christmas morning. Nothing about that tree had to be improved. It was perfect just the way it was. When it was plugged in and I looked at its shining candles, I felt peace amidst our family chaos.

The Christmases I came back home after I was grown, my eyes skipped around the living room until they located my first tree. Then came a stretch of years I didn’t see it. Thinking Mama wouldn’t mind because other decorations had trumped its space and it might bring me peace, I asked her for it. She answered, “Oh, I threw that out.”

After our children left the nest, I waited to decorate the tree until my husband was gone for a while. I wanted to choke off the least suggestion from him that might stir up my grief. If I had sole charge of assembling the branches, stringing the lights, and hanging the ornaments, maybe the meeting with my mother would not materialize. She came.

A few years later, I bought a 3-foot tree–half the size of what my father would buy. When that didn’t make a difference, I tried hanging only religious ornaments on the tree. Next I returned to a 6-foot tree but one that was prelit. Skipping my father’s first step of stringing lights didn’t keep the visual memory at bay either.

When I was seventy, I finally kept the longtime promise I had made to myself. I threw out the Christmas tree. Never again would there be branches for my mother’s sorrowful face. Then, using removable hooks, I hung ornaments of Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and the three Wise Men on bookcase shelves.

Three days before Christmas that year, I felt as if a magnet were pulling me to a local resale store. Unable to dismiss the tug, I drove there devoid of a desire to rummage through castoffs in the hope of finding a treasure.

Once I stepped in the shop, my legs walked me straight to a counter on which sat a ceramic Christmas tree studded with multicolored candles. “I just put that out,” the manager said over my shoulder. “If you want it, the box is in the back.”

Within an hour the vintage tree was glowing softly on a table in my living room. tree 2012My inner child of the past had peace that Christmas and ever since.

I give you peace, the kind of peace that only I can give. It isn’t like the peace that this world can give. So don’t be worried or afraid (John 14:27 CEV).

 

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Now what?

Last year you and I fervently believed in our cause and determined to carry it through. We passionately planned and prepared, convinced our motive was of the highest purity. The window of opportunity most likely would be open for four weeks tops. A mixture of our own ideas and ones we heard or read, the to-do list swelled like stuffing in a turkey until we knew we had to pick and choose. So individually we selected what we could do for the common goal of putting Christ in Christmas:

  • Have an Advent wreath.
  • Keep an Advent calendar.
  • Display a creche in the front yard.
  • Put “Happy Birthday, Jesus” decoration on the front door.
  • Set doorbell to play “Silent Night.”
  • Send religious Christmas cards.
  • Take the time to write “Christmas” instead of “Xmas.”
  • Display one or more nativity scenes in the house.
  • Hang Christ-themed ornaments on the Christmas tree.
  • Sing in a Christmas choir.
  • Participate in Operation Christmas Child.
  • Attend a performance of Handel’s “Messiah.”
  • Bake a birthday cake for Jesus.
  • Sing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus.
  • Say “Merry Christmas” to everyone everywhere.
  • Give to The Salvation Army.
  • Make chrismon ornaments.
  • Use mugs with “Jesus Is the Reason for the Season.”
  • Play music of sacred Christmas songs throughout the season.
  • Pass out gifts in a nursing facility.
  • Watch Christmas movies that have a Christian theme.
  • Join a community group to make Christmas baskets for the needy.
  • Include in prayers thankfulness for God’s greatest gift.
  • Go Christmas caroling.
  • Attend Christmas Eve and/or Christmas Day church service.
  • Give to Christmas offering for missionaries.
  • Invite a lonely person to Christmas dinner.
  • Read the Christmas story from Luke 2.
  • Keep a Christmas journal.

Some devout hearts did not allow the window of their Christmas fervor to close until they had observed Epiphany twelve days after December 25. But we all did what we could to saturate our Christmas season with Christ, and all of us share the fruit of satisfaction from having worked for Christmas. As we expectantly wait for the window to reopen this year, now what?

Now begins the work of Christmas.

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:

To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers,
To make music in the heart.
(“The Work of Christmas” by Howard Thurman)

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The Divine Sperm

Gabriel had delivered God’s message, but it could not be activated without Mary’s consent. From all the available virgins she was the one who had been chosen; yet she must be willing to submit. Nothing would be forced on her.

The social stigma would be inevitable in her small town. She could expect gossip, suspicion, shame, shunning, possibly stoning. And oh, the pain she would cause her family–her mother, her father–and her fiancé! But there were more lives than hers and theirs at stake.

Gathering up faith to accept the Divine offer with all its known and unknown risks, she gave the waiting Gabriel her answer.  “Then Mary said, Behold, I am the handmaiden of the Lord; let it be done to me according to what you have said. And the angel left her” (Luke 1:38 AMP). When Mary merged her will into God’s will, the power of the Holy Spirit impregnated her with the Son of God.

Three decades later one man’s worldview was revolutionized when the Son of God discussed supernatural birth with him. Nicodemus, a member of the highest legal, legislative, and judicial body of the Jews, was stunned when “Jesus answered him, I assure you, most solemnly I tell you, that unless a person is born again (anew, from above), he cannot ever see (know, be acquainted with, and experience) the kingdom of God” (John 3:3 AMP).

To Nicodemus, held captive by his inquiring mind as an Old Testament scholar, such an idea was absurd. But to the Son of God, it made perfect sense:  “What is born of [from] the flesh is flesh [of the physical is physical]; and what is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:3 AMP). This rebirth is a choice any individual who wants to become a legitimate child of God can make.

But to all who did receive Him,
He gave them the right to be children of God,
to those who believe in His name,
who were born,
not of blood,
or of the will of the flesh,
or of the will of man,
but of God.
(John 1:12-13 HCSB)

Did the highly educated and socially esteemed Nicodemus activate God’s promise of a new birth? If so, he could only do it with the key of faith. Did he decide to merge his will into God’s will? You be the judge:

After it was all over, Joseph (who came from Arimathaea and was a disciple of Jesus, though secretly for fear of the Jews) requested Pilate that he might take away Jesus’ body, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took his body down. Nicodemus also, the man who had come to him at the beginning by night, arrived bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. So they took his body and wound it round with linen strips with the spices, according to the Jewish custom of preparing a body for burial. In the place where he was crucified, there was a garden containing a new tomb in which nobody had yet been laid. Because it was the preparation day and because the tomb was conveniently near, they laid Jesus in this tomb.
(John 19:38-42 (Phillips)

Decision time comes at the moment we realize God has chosen us to be born again in a spiritual sense. Will we by faith merge our will into God’s will? If we give the consent for His seed to be implanted in our soul, God’s nature will germinate there and never die.

No one born (begotten) of God [deliberately, knowingly, and habitually] practices sin, for God’s nature abides in him [His principle of life, the divine sperm, remains permanently within him]; and he cannot practice sinning because he is born (begotten) of God. (1 John 3:9 AMP).

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