Those two seemingly innocuous words have created a great deal of controversy over the past several years. In our highly secularized society many people utter them without giving much thought to their meaning; but for those of us who know and understand the true connotation behind the greeting, it represents our heartfelt belief in God and genuine thankfulness to Him for the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ.
2009 has been a year of numerous challenges: high unemployment, housing foreclosures, business failures, and the bad economy make it difficult for many to feel merry. In spite of these difficulties, however, Christmas is the perfect time of year for us to walk in gladness of heart. Why? Read on!
The Bible, God's written word, teaches us of His love, His character and His desire for each of us to know Him personally; it also gives us His guidelines to live by. The lives of the men and women that have been recorded in this magnificent history, their trials and their triumphs, don't only inspire, they instruct.
As a fiction writer, I try to do the same: to inspire and to instruct. I often use my characters, and their life situations, to enlighten my readers in lessons that involve faith, hope, love, and trust which are sometimes more easily absorbed in a story than a sermon. My audience, typically more female than male, is diversified by age, ethnicity and economic standing. They are all, however, similar in one aspect: they have all been created by God for a purpose. But what purpose? And what does it have to do with Christmas?
Simply put, man was created for fellowship with God. We are earthen vessels uniquely designed by Him and regardless of shape, size, ethnicity or personality; He expects each of His creatures to walk in righteousness.
Unfortunately, sin entered the world through Adam, and the clay pots God created became damaged, disfigured and distorted. And while this was tragic, the good news is that God has been able to redeem and refashion those damaged clay pots—us—because of His wonderful Son, Jesus Christ.
Herein is our greatest reason to be merry at Christmas. Christmas isn't about Santa Claus, although I don't have a problem with the jolly old guy. And it certainly isn't about money; it isn't just a time to buy, or a time to sell. Christmas is about CHRIST, and His birth. The Son of God became man; He became a clay pot, just like us, so that we could be given a second-chance at a new life and become true vessels of righteousness and virtue. And while, in the world's economy, many consider virtue and righteousness to be old-fashioned and perhaps even a bit puritanical, in God's economy moral excellence is never out of date.
And since it is so easy for us to fall into the patterns established by worldly living, I would like take a few moments to explore the lives of those God singled out to teach us a little more about His ethics.
Using the Bible as a reference, I've examined the lives of several virtuous women we can learn from. Turning to the story of Elijah, in particular, I'd like to focus my attention on his life where it intersected with a woman who lived in the city of Zarephath, on the brink of starvation.
I love this story because it extols the virtue of faith. The woman of Zarephath and her small son were on the brink of starvation. Their provisions were gone, and they were left with nothing more than a little flour and a small vial of oil. The prophet asked her to use these ingredients to bake him a cake, while assuring her that God would provide for her and her son if she did. The woman trusted God in spite of her own intense needs and obeyed Elijah. And God rewarded her compliance by providing for her and her son during the long and severe famine. Her jar of flour never ran out and her oil never ceased to flow.
Elisha, the prophet that followed closely on the heels of Elijah, introduces us to another incredible woman of virtue; she also was challenged by a life-altering situation upon the death of her husband.
Job losses, the death of a spouse, or reduced wages, all may be contributors to indebtedness. In this biblical story, the husband of this woman died leaving her mired in debt. Her creditors, demanding payment when none could be made, insisted she sell her two sons into slavery to pay off her debt. She went to Elisha for counsel. I've paraphrased the story below.
"Do you have anything to sell," Elisha asked.
"Only a small vial of oil," the woman replied.
"Go to all your neighbors," he told her, "and borrow all the jars you can from them. Fill each using your vial of oil."
The woman listened and obeyed. She went to all her neighbors and borrowed all the earthen jars she could. When she arrived home, she took the small vial of oil and began to pour it into the empty borrowed vessels. Miraculously, the oil continued to flow as long as there were waiting, open and empty vessels. The woman then sold the oil and paid off her debts.
This woman of virtue demonstrated her great hope in God's deliverance. Regardless of her circumstances, she listened to the prophet, obeyed his voice and was rewarded. It was apparent that her dreams and visions for herself and her sons were limitless as evidenced in the multitude of empty vessels she sought to fill.
Traveling forward in time, I would like to take a look as a few New Testament women.
In Bethany, at the house of Simon the Leper, a woman came to see the Man of God, Jesus, who was having supper there. She brought with her an alabaster jar of sweet smelling spikenard. While Jesus reclined at the table, she broke the wax seal and released the fragrant oil; its luscious perfume filled the air. She poured out the costly ointment upon his head. Her sacrificial gift, probably her dowry for marriage, was a deep expression of the virtue of love; it won His approval and her lifelong commendation.
These three women, three different earthen vessels, expressed three different virtues (strengths). The first woman emptied her vessel in faith, believing and trusting that God would provide and deliver. The second woman emptied her vessel into other empty vessels in hope, expecting with confidence that God would fulfill her dreams of a brighter future. The third woman broke and emptied her vessel in sacrificial love, regardless of the cost, and poured out all that she had. In doing so, she found the censure of men but gained the approval of God.
These women were vessels of faith, hope and love. Today, we can learn to be like them. We can learn that obedience brings blessings; that while faith trusts, and hope expects, love must give its all. Every day we face new challenges and draw closer to eternity. There, faith will becomes vision, hope will take on possession and love will continue forever and ever, which is why it is the greatest of all three virtues.
Remember, to be vessels of virtue we need to be filled with the holiness of God; overflowing with the oil of His Holy Spirit. Only then are we able to pour into the empty vessels of mankind; those hungry for the bread of eternal life; those needing freedom from the slavery of sin; and most of all, those wanting to know the forgiveness and love of our Heavenly Father.
As Paul, the great Apostle to the Gentiles once wrote, "But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."
While I love the stories that surround these three women, I would like to introduce my readers to two women whose lives were resoundingly different: the woman from Samaria and the woman caught in the act of adultery. Their stories are both recorded in the gospel of John the Apostle.
The woman of Samaria was not unlike many women today who have lived through a series of either failed relationships or multiple marriages. In her discourse with Jesus, we learn that she had had five husbands, and was currently living with a man who was not her spouse. We know little about the woman caught in adultery except that she was caught in the act and brought to Jesus by religious men for judgment.
What makes these two individual stories so interesting? Through them, I believe we can learn a great deal about God and His dealings with damaged clay pots. Like these two women, we may be living virtueless lives, either unaware of our need to change, or too disheartened to attempt to do so.
The woman of Samaria was confronted with the truth of her situation by Jesus, as was the woman caught in adultery. He condemned neither; he simply spoke the truth into their lives, and allowed them the opportunity to accept it and be changed, or reject it and remain in their sin.
Jesus gives each of us the same opportunity. He calls sin what it is: SIN. He didn't judge either of these two women during their discourse because that wasn't His mission. Jesus came to earth to redeem mankind; to suffer and die for our sins; to open the gates of heaven. He will return one day though, and when He does He will come as Judge, to judge the living and the dead.
Herein is the reason why I believe Christmas should make us truly merry regardless of our personal circumstances. On Christmas day we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. It was His birth, His life, His sacrificial death and ultimate resurrection that made it possible for all sinners to be born again.
Five women, five stories of renewed lives built upon the virtues of faith, hope, love and trust. They trusted God! They listened, they obeyed and they were saved.
We, too, must listen and obey in order to be saved. We must hear the voice of the Savior as He speaks truth into our lives and tells us of our need to place our faith, hope, love and trust in Him. Jesus Christ is the reason we all have been offered a second-chance at a new life...a life that truly begins at Christmas if we will open ourselves and allow Him to be born into our hearts. If we do, we will utter those two beautiful words with respect and thanksgiving. God Bless and...
The woman of Zarephath- 1 Kings 17:8-16
The woman and Elisha — 2 Kings 4:1-7
The woman of Bethany — Matthew 26:1-13
The woman of Samaria — John 4:1-42
The woman caught in adultery — John 8:1-12
The Potter and the Clay — Isaiah 29:16; Isaiah 64:8; Jeremiah 18:1-11; Lamentations 4:2; Romans 9:19-24