Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from an Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal

Christmas (Yeldho Feast) Special

Volume 3 No. 184 December 23, 2013

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Jesus was born - Malankara World Journal
We wish you a Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year
TABLE OF CONTENTS
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1. Bible Readings for Christmas (December 25)

Bible Readings For Yeldo / Incarnation of our Lord (Christmas)

http://www.MalankaraWorld.com/Library/Lectionary/Lec_Christmas.htm

2. Sermons for Christmas (December 25)

Sermons for Christmas

http://www.Malankaraworld.com/Library/Sermons/Sermon-of-the-week_christmas.htm

3. Inspiration for Today: Bethlehem's Babe

Long ago, You looked down and gave the world its most prized possession. Bethlehem's babe, Jesus, born in a manger - what a humble, yet extraordinary beginning! Lord, my heart will be Your Bethlehem, where You can place Your throne. You're welcome in my home anytime. ...

4. Featured: Christmas Message from HH - The Patriarch

We are at the threshold of Christmas and New Year. With the Mother of God we should also proclaim, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior" (St. Luke 1:46, 47). God looked with favor the humility and gentleness of Blessed Mother Mary. From her, behold the Savior was born, with the same attributes of her, who declared in His public ministry, "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." (St. Matthew 11:29). Christmas is a time for all of us to learn from Our Lord, to learn the humility and gentleness of Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God, and to find comfort in Him, in a world of war and restlessness. ...

5. Solemnity of The Nativity of The Lord by Pope Benedict XVI

"God stoops down." This is a prophetic word. That night in Bethlehem, it took on a completely new meaning. God's stooping down became real in a way previously inconceivable. He stoops down - he himself comes down as a child to the lowly stable, the symbol of all humanity's neediness and forsakenness. God truly comes down. He becomes a child and puts himself in the state of complete dependence typical of a newborn child. The Creator who holds all things in his hands, on whom we all depend, makes himself small and in need of human love. God is in the stable. ..

6. God's Greatest Gift

In the Old Testament only one person once a year could come into the presence of God, and then only after elaborate washing rituals and sacrifices. But now God takes on flesh and people could walk right up to him and touch him, talk to him, interact with him face-to-face! And yet the vast majority of people who encountered Jesus during his earthly life had no idea they were encountering God with us.

At this point you may be thinking, "That's great for them, but Jesus is no longer walking the earth. How is God with us now that Jesus is gone?" Would you believe that there is something even better than Jesus dwelling WITH his people? ...

7. Disturbing Christmas: The Manger and the Horrors of the Cross

The days before Christmas can be a tiring season of preparation, planning, shopping, and wrapping. But I think as we prepare for the Christmas celebrations, dinners, travel, and gift giving, it's equally important that we pause and prepare our souls for Christmas.

During this time of year, it may be easy to forget that the bigger purpose behind Bethlehem was Calvary. But the purpose of the manger was realized in the horrors of the cross. The purpose of his birth was his death.

Or to put it more personally: Christmas is necessary because I am a sinner. The incarnation reminds us of our desperate condition before a holy God. ..

8. Prayer: The Messiah Was Born in Bethlehem

Syriac Orthodox Liturgy
Christmas - Evening Service
QOLO

9. A Love That Breathes, Bridges, and Brings Beauty

The story of Christmas - the story of the birth of Jesus - is the story of life, of hope, of freedom. The beautiful and mysterious intersection of humanity's depravity and Divinity's provision. A complex invasion of darkness by light. By love. By a love that breathes and bridges and brings beauty. ...

10. A Divine Birth Announcement

When God announced the birth of His Son, whom did He tell first? It seems likely that he would have started with Caesar Augustus. He could have sent the angel Gabriel to appear in Caesar's court and announce, "Check this out, buddy. You are not God! The Savior of the world has arrived!"

Or He might have had Gabriel appear to the religious leaders and say, "Wake up! The Messiah has been born! The One you talk about, the One you pray for - He is here!"

But that didn't happen. Instead, God first announced the birth of Jesus to shepherds. ...

11. The Low Road

Egyptians were scholars, not shepherds; they elevated the life of the mind, not the management of animals. And their attitude foreshadowed the upper classes in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus' birth. It was beneath the dignity of the Pharisees and Sadducees to dirty their hands and robes, wrangling sheep day and night. So why do you think God chose shepherds to receive the first announcement of the birth of His Son in Bethlehem? ...

12. Christmas Fears

I've been reading the first two chapters of the Gospel of Luke this month as I prepare my heart for Christmas. And I found something that surprised me. In the one hundred and thirty-two verses of those two chapters, an angel tells three different main characters to not be afraid.

He tells Zechariah not to fear because his prayer has been heard.

He tells Mary not to fear because God has a surprise for her (quite the understatement, don't you think?).

And he tells the shepherds not to fear because he's here to announce a great and joyful event.

I think I underestimate the part that fear plays in my life. ...

13. Why the Angels Worshiped at Christmas

Biblically speaking, angels were frightful creatures, not because they were ugly but because of the strangeness of an encounter with a heavenly being. The most common response, throughout the Bible, to such an encounter was fear. Nearly every episode resulted in the human falling prostrate before his visitor. Thus, we hear the frequent refrain, "Fear not." In the book of Revelation, the picture becomes more frightening as the angels of God's avenging wrath await release. Clearly, angels are not to be taken lightly. ...

14. The Unspeakable Gift

Long ago, there ruled in Persia a wise and good king. He loved his people. He wanted to know how they lived. He wanted to know about their hardships. Often he dressed in the clothes of a working man or a beggar, and went to the communities of the poor. No one whom he visited suspected that he was a wealthy, educated man, let alone their ruler. ...

15. Malankara World Advent and Christmas Supplements

To learn more about the spiritual significance of Christmas and Advent Season Malankara World has created special supplements so you can read all about them in depth. Click below to visit:

Malankara World Christmas Supplement
http://www.MalankaraWorld.com/Library/Seasonal/Christmas/Default.htm

Malankara World Advent Supplement
http://www.MalankaraWorld.com/Library/Seasonal/advent/Default.htm

We also invite you to read the Malankara World Journal Special on Christmas in 2012 (Issue 115). You can read it from our archives here:

Malankara World Journal Christmas Special - Issue 115 - December 23, 2012
http://www.MalankaraWorld.com/Newsletter/MWJ_115.htm

16. Family Special: Three Steps to Making the Most of Your Relationships During the Holidays

Even in the hustle and bustle of the holidays, it's important to remember that the real gifts we've been given boil down to our relationship with God and with others. Let's seek to make the most of our relationships this year and always. ..

17. Unexpected Gifts

My friend, so frequently this time of year we race from store to store, and from party to party, and we tear open present after present. But, isn't our motivation for giving often concern that the other person may bring us something and we don't want to be caught empty handed? ...

18. About Malankara World

Christmas (Yeldho Feast)
Bible Readings for Christmas (December 25)

Bible Readings For Yeldo / Incarnation of our Lord (Christmas)

Evening

By the fire-pit

Morning

Before Holy Qurbana

Holy Qurbana

Sermons for Christmas (December 25)
Features

Inspiration for Today: Bethlehem's Babe

by Rebecca Barlow Jordan

"Let's go to Bethlehem...."
So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph,
and the baby, who was lying in the manger.

- Luke 2:15-16

FROM THE FATHER'S HEART

My child, what a pity that I am still a babe in arms to so many. I was the prophesied babe born in the quiet, humble town of Bethlehem. Angels announced Me, and kings and shepherds revered me. Many still portray Me in a manger. I am no longer a baby, yet some refuse to make Me Lord in their hearts, to acknowledge that Bethlehem's babe is the Son of God who now sits at the right hand of the Father. Will you complete for them the rest of the story?

A GRATEFUL RESPONSE

Long ago, You looked down and gave the world its most prized possession. Bethlehem's babe, Jesus, born in a manger - what a humble, yet extraordinary beginning! Lord, my heart will be Your Bethlehem, where You can place Your throne. You're welcome in my home anytime.

SIMPLE TRUTH

Jesus makes room in our hearts for love.

©2002, Rebecca Barlow Jordan, Daily In Your Presence,
Used by Permission, All Rights Reserved

Featured: Christmas Message from HH - The Patriarch

by HH Ignatius Zakka I Iwas
Patriarch of Antioch and All the East
Supreme Head of the Universal Syrian Orthodox Church

[Editor's Note: Given below is the digitized message from the Patriarch. The original message can be read here.]

BY THE GRACE OF GOD
Ignatius Zakka I Iwas
Patriarch of Antioch and All the East
Supreme Head of the Universal Syrian Orthodox Church

No. E255/13 10-December-2013

Apostolic Benediction to our beloved Metropolitan His Eminence Mor Theethose Yeldho and to our beloved spiritual children- the Venerable Corepiscopos, the Esteemed Priests, the Reverend deacons and all the faithful of our Malankara Archdiocese in North America.

Inquiring your welfare we inform you the following:

We are at the threshold of Christmas and New Year. With the Mother of God we should also proclaim, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior" (St. Luke 1:46, 47). God looked with favor the humility and gentleness of Blessed Mother Mary. From her, behold the Savior was born, with the same attributes of her, who declared in His public ministry, "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." (St. Matthew 11:29). Christmas is a time for all of us to learn from Our Lord, to learn the humility and gentleness of Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God, and to find comfort in Him, in a world of war and restlessness.

  • Dearly beloved, how can you celebrate this Christmas and New Year with all the happiness when our beloved Archbishops Their Eminences Mor Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim and Mor Paulose Yazgi are abducted since last April and we lack any kind of true information about them?
  • Is it possible to celebrate Christmas by immersing in worldly enjoyments when twelve of the humble and saintly nuns of Ma'alula are kidnapped?
  • How will you welcome the New Year with gladness when thousands and thousands of your brothers and sisters in Syria including innocent children are brutally killed by the evil clutches of terrorism?
  • Isn't a time to recognize that going after name and fame or money and power is satanic when our brethren in Syria are living in fear and anxiety and expecting death at every moment?
  • Isn't it too late for us to stretch our helping hand to the victims of violence and to pray for world peace especially in the Middle East?

We exhort all of you to learn from Jesus Christ, who is the true embodiment of humility and poverty, in whom we find true comfort and celebrate Christmas meaningfully.

We are unable to express the pain in our heart for the innocent victims of terrorism and violence. Pray with humility and confidence that they may find solace in the Living Lord. Also beseech the intercession of all the martyrs and saints especially our Holy mother, who is ever-virgin, pure and spotless.

We, with pain in our heart for the wounded and with joy in Holy Spirit, wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. We extend our Apostolic Blessings to you. May the Grace of God be with you all.

Solemnity of The Nativity of The Lord

by Pope Benedict XVI

"Who is like the Lord our God, who is seated on high, who looks far down upon the heavens and the earth?"

This is what Israel sings in one of the Psalms (113 [112], 5ff.), praising God's grandeur as well as his loving closeness to humanity. God dwells on high, yet he stoops down to us… God is infinitely great, and far, far above us. This is our first experience of him. The distance seems infinite. The Creator of the universe, the one who guides all things, is very far from us: or so he seems at the beginning.

But then comes the surprising realization: The One who has no equal, who "is seated on high", looks down upon us. He stoops down. He sees us, and he sees me. God's looking down is much more than simply seeing from above. God's looking is active. The fact that he sees me, that he looks at me, transforms me and the world around me. The Psalm tells us this in the following verse: "He raises the poor from the dust…" In looking down, he raises me up, he takes me gently by the hand and helps me - me! - to rise from depths towards the heights.

"God stoops down". This is a prophetic word. That night in Bethlehem, it took on a completely new meaning. God's stooping down became real in a way previously inconceivable. He stoops down - he himself comes down size="3" size="3"as a child to the lowly stable, the symbol of all humanity's neediness and forsakenness. God truly comes down. He becomes a child and puts himself in the state of complete dependence typical of a newborn child. The Creator who holds all things in his hands, on whom we all depend, makes himself small and in need of human love. God is in the stable.

In the Old Testament the Temple was considered almost as God's footstool; the sacred ark was the place in which he was mysteriously present in the midst of men and women. Above the temple, hidden, stood the cloud of God's glory. Now it stands above the stable. God is in the cloud of the poverty of a homeless child: an impenetrable cloud, and yet - a cloud of glory! How, indeed, could his love for humanity, his solicitude for us, have appeared greater and more pure? The cloud of hiddenness, the cloud of the poverty of a child totally in need of love, is at the same time the cloud of glory. For nothing can be more sublime, nothing greater than the love which thus stoops down, descends, becomes dependent. The glory of the true God becomes visible when the eyes of our hearts are opened before the stable of Bethlehem.

Saint Luke's account of the Christmas story, tells us that God first raised the veil of his hiddenness to people of very lowly status, people who were looked down upon by society at large - to shepherds looking after their flocks in the fields around Bethlehem. Luke tells us that they were "keeping watch". This phrase reminds us of a central theme of Jesus' message, which insistently bids us to keep watch, even to the Agony in the Garden - the command to stay awake, to recognize the Lord's coming, and to be prepared. Here too the expression seems to imply more than simply being physically awake during the night hour. The shepherds were truly "watchful" people, with a lively sense of God and of his closeness. They were waiting for God, and were not resigned to his apparent remoteness from their everyday lives. To a watchful heart, the news of great joy can be proclaimed: for you this night the Saviour is born. Only a watchful heart is able to believe the message. Only a watchful heart can instill the courage to set out to find God in the form of a baby in a stable. Let us ask the Lord to help us, too, to become a "watchful" people.

Saint Luke tells us, moreover, that the shepherds themselves were "surrounded" by the glory of God, by the cloud of light. They found themselves caught up in the glory that shone around them. Enveloped by the holy cloud, they heard the angels' song of praise: "Glory to God in the highest heavens and peace on earth to people of his good will". And who are these people of his good will if not the poor, the watchful, the expectant, those who hope in God's goodness and seek him, looking to him from afar?

The Fathers of the Church offer a remarkable commentary on the song that the angels sang to greet the Redeemer. Until that moment - the Fathers say - the angels had known God in the grandeur of the universe, in the reason and the beauty of the cosmos that come from him and are a reflection of him. They had heard, so to speak, creation's silent song of praise and had transformed it into celestial music. But now something new had happened, something that astounded them. The One of whom the universe speaks, the God who sustains all things and bears them in his hands - he himself had entered into human history, he had become someone who acts and suffers within history. From the joyful amazement that this unimaginable event called forth, from God's new and further way of making himself known - say the Fathers - a new song was born, one verse of which the Christmas Gospel has preserved for us:

"Glory to God in the highest heavens and peace to his people on earth".

We might say that, following the structure of Hebrew poetry, the two halves of this double verse say essentially the same thing, but from a different perspective. God's glory is in the highest heavens, but his high state is now found in the stable - what was lowly has now become sublime. God's glory is on the earth, it is the glory of humility and love. And even more: the glory of God is peace. Wherever he is, there is peace. He is present wherever human beings do not attempt, apart from him, and even violently, to turn earth into heaven. He is with those of watchful hearts; with the humble an size="3" size="3"d those who meet him at the level of his own "height", the height of humility and love. To these people he gives his peace, so that through them, peace can enter this world.

The medieval theologian William of Saint Thierry once said that God - from the time of Adam - saw that his grandeur provoked resistance in man, that we felt limited in our own being and threatened in our freedom. Therefore God chose a new way. He became a child. He made himself dependent and weak, in need of our love. Now - this God who has become a child says to us - you can no longer fear me, you can only love me.

With these thoughts, we draw near this night to the child of Bethlehem - to the God who for our sake chose to become a child. In every child we see something of the Child of Bethlehem. Every child asks for our love. This night, then, let us think especially of those children who are denied the love of their parents. Let us think of those street children who do not have the blessing of a family home, of those children who are brutally exploited as soldiers and made instruments of violence, instead of messengers of reconciliation and peace. Let us think of those children who are victims of the industry of pornography and every other appalling form of abuse, and thus are traumatized in the depths of their soul. The Child of Bethlehem summons us once again to do everything in our power to put an end to the suffering of these children; to do everything possible to make the light of Bethlehem touch the heart of every man and woman. Only through the conversion of hearts, only through a change in the depths of our hearts can the cause of all this evil be overcome, only thus can the power of the evil one be defeated. Only if people change will the world change; and in order to change, people need the light that comes from God, the light which so unexpectedly entered into our night.

And speaking of the Child of Bethlehem, let us think also of the place named Bethlehem, of the land in which Jesus lived, and which he loved so deeply. And let us pray that peace will be established there, that hatred and violence will cease. Let us pray for mutual understanding, that hearts will be opened, so that borders can be opened. Let us pray that peace will descend there, the peace of which the angels sang that night.

In Psalm 96 [95], Israel, and the Church, praises God's grandeur manifested in creation. All creatures are called to join in this song of praise, and so the Psalm also contains the invitation:

"Let all the trees of the wood sing for joy before the Lord, for he comes" (v. 12ff.).

The Church reads this Psalm as a prophecy and also as a task. The coming of God to Bethlehem took place in silence. Only the shepherds keeping watch were, for a moment, surrounded by the light-filled radiance of his presence and could listen to something of that new song, born of the wonder and joy of the angels at God's coming. This silent coming of God's glory continues throughout the centuries. Wherever there is faith, wherever his word is proclaimed and heard, there God gathers people together and gives himself to them in his Body; he makes them his Body. God "comes". And in this way our hearts are awakened.

The new song of the angels becomes the song of all those who, throughout the centuries, sing ever anew of God's coming as a child - and rejoice deep in their hearts. And the trees of the wood go out to him and exult. The tree in Saint Peter's Square speaks of him, it wants to reflect his splendor and to say: Yes, he has come, and the trees of the wood acclaim him. The trees in the cities and in our homes should be something more than a festive custom: they point to the One who is the reason for our joy - the God who for our sake became a child.

In the end, this song of praise, at the deepest level, speaks of him who is the very tree of new-found life. Through faith in him we receive life. In the Sacrament of the Eucharist he gives himself to us - he gives us a life that reaches into eternity. At this hour we join in creation's song of praise, and our praise is at the same time a prayer:

Yes, Lord, help us to see something of the splendor of your glory. And grant peace on earth. Make us men and women of your peace.
Amen.

Source: Homily delivered at the Saint Peter's Basilica on 25 December 2008

God's Greatest Gift

by Matthew Harmon

Growing up as a kid, Christmas Eve was probably my favorite day of the year. That's because our family would open our gifts on Christmas Eve after we went to church. Because of that I often found it difficult to focus during the service as my thoughts wandered to what gifts were awaiting me when I got home. Would this finally be the year I get that remote control airplane? (It never happened). Maybe that's you right now. Perhaps you even have a specific gift in mind that you hope is waiting for you under the tree.

No matter what that gift may be, it pales in comparison to the many gifts that God has given to us. We are going to look at the greatest of those gifts, and we find that gift described in John 1:14.

In words that are probably familiar to us, John writes "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth." Tonight we are going to focus on the phrase "dwelt among us."

Here in this simple phrase we have mysteries so great that the angels desperately long to understand. In a nutshell, the greatest gift that God gives us is himself. But in order for us to understand the magnitude of what John is saying here, we need to step back and look at the larger story of the Bible.

God's Presence with His People in the Old Testament

When God created Adam and Eve, he placed them in Garden of Eden. He set aside the garden as the place on earth where he would be with Adam and Eve in a special sense. Genesis 3 even implies that it was customary for God to walk in the Garden with Adam and Eve. Imagine that for a minute: God himself walking with Adam and Eve! Seeing God face to face in all his beauty and glory was a regular thing for them.

All of that changed when they rebelled against God by listening to the serpent. It didn't take long for Adam and Eve to realize that they had made a disastrous mistake. Rather than feeling a sense of power and wisdom they experienced alienation - alienation from each other and even more importantly alienation from God. Instead of running TO God when the LORD came for his daily stroll through the Garden, they ran FROM him to hide from his presence.

When God finally confronts Adam and Eve about their sin, something very interesting happens. As the final aspect of his judgment on their sin, God banishes Adam and Eve from the Garden. Instead of being in the very presence of God they were exiled from God and sent away to live at a distance from God himself. God even placed cherubim, angelic beings, to prevent Adam and Eve from reentering the Garden. Because God is holy he could not allow sinful human beings into his presence.

From that point forward humanity remained at a distance from God. Occasionally God would appear to various individuals such as Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses. But when God redeemed the nation of Israel from their slavery in Egypt, he made a covenant with them. As part of that covenant God instructed Moses to build a tabernacle. The tabernacle was a portable tent that the Israelites would set up to meet with God. When they set the tent up, the Israelites surrounded it with a makeshift fence that enclosed an area that was 150 feet long by 75 feet wide. The tabernacle itself was 45 feet long, 15 feet wide, and 15 feet high. Inside the tent were two distinct sections. The first was called the Holy Place, where only the priests could enter and perform their priestly duties. But at the back of the tabernacle was a second section separated by a thick veil. This section was called the Holy of Holies or the Most Holy Place. Inside was the ark of the covenant, and it was here that God descended in the form of a cloud to meet with his people. But the catch was that only the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies, and only on one day a year - the Day of Atonement. Even then he had to go through elaborate washing rituals and sacrifices to be able to enter into the presence of God.

So on the one hand it is great that God dwells among his people, but this is a far cry from the way it was when Adam and Eve were in the Garden. They were able to walk with God and see him face to face. Now only one person - the high priest - could be in the very presence of God, and that only once a year! In fact, the average Israelite could not even enter the Holy Place; the closest he could get to the presence of God was in the courtyard outside of the tabernacle itself. The most he could hope for would be to see the cloud of God's presence descend into the tabernacle from a sizable distance. We are a long way from the Garden at this point.

Hundreds of years later King Solomon built a temple in Jerusalem as a more permanent place where God dwelt with his people. The structure was similar to the tabernacle only on a grander scale. It had the Holy Place that was covered in gold throughout, measuring 60 feet long by 30 feet wide by 45 feet high. Behind that was the Holy of Holies, which was a 30 foot cube where the ark of the covenant was placed between two golden cherubim. Just as with the tabernacle, only the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement. So again, although the temple was a magnificent building, God's presence remained accessible only to the high priest and that only once a year.

Eventually Solomon's temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. when the Jews are taken off into exile. Although they return 70 years later and rebuild a temple, it was a pale shadow of Solomon's temple. Indeed, those who had seen Solomon's temple and then were present when the foundation for the new temple was laid wept because it fell so far short of what they had remembered. However, by the time that Jesus was born some 500 years later, the temple had once again become an awe-inspiring structure, even surpassing the grandeur of Solomon's day. But there was one all-important difference - God's presence never filled the temple! For hundreds of years God's presence had remained absent from the temple.

The Word Tabernacled Among Us

With all of that background in place we can now look again at John 1:14 with fresh eyes. When John says that the Word, whom he earlier indicated was God himself, dwelled among us, he uses a very specific word. A literal translation would be "And the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us." Just as God dwelled among his people in the tabernacle and the temple in the Old Testament, now he has done something far greater. He has taken up residence among us by taking on flesh in the person of Jesus Christ to live among sinful humanity.

Think about it. In the Old Testament only one person once a year could come into the presence of God, and then only after elaborate washing rituals and sacrifices. But now God takes on flesh and people could walk right up to him and touch him, talk to him, interact with him face-to-face! And yet the vast majority of people who encountered Jesus during his earthly life had no idea they were encountering God with us.

At this point you may be thinking, "That's great for them, but Jesus is no longer walking the earth. How is God with us now that Jesus is gone?" Would you believe that there is something even better than Jesus dwelling WITH his people?

The Word Tabernacles in Us

Listen to how Jesus comforts his disciples about his departure from them in John 14:16-17

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you
forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it
neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be
in you.

Not only will the Holy Spirit dwell WITH his people; he will dwell IN them! Think about it. In the Old Testament only one person once a year could come into the presence of God, and then only after elaborate washing rituals and sacrifices. Then the Word became flesh and dwelled AMONG us. But Jesus says that after he departs to be with the Father he will send the Holy Spirit to be IN us. We have come a long way from the Garden of Eden!

But how is it possible that a perfectly holy God can dwell IN people who are by nature rebellious sinners? That is where the cross comes in. The Word becoming flesh by itself was not enough to reconcile us to God; instead it was necessary for the Word who had become flesh to live the life of perfect obedience that God demands of us and die a shameful death on the cross as the penalty for our sinful rebellion. Just as it was necessary for the high priest to offer sacrifices for sins to enter the presence of God, Jesus became our great high priest. And instead of offering the blood of bulls and goats, which could never actually take away sin, Jesus offered his own blood as the spotless Lamb of God. Through his death God opened the way for us to enter into his presence and for his presence to enter into us.

Conclusion

We began by talking about gifts. God's gift of himself to us is far better than anything waiting for you under that Christmas tree. But this gift is something that has to be received. God does not dwell in everyone. For those who remain lost in their sinful rebellion are still in exile, separated from God and under his judgment. So how do we know whether or not God dwells in us? Listen to what John says in his first letter:

By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.

When John speaks of confessing that Jesus is the Son of God, he does not mean simple intellectual agreement or saying certain words. Instead, he means trusting completely in who Jesus is and what he has done for our acceptance before a holy God. That kind of trust means turning away from our sin and treasuring Christ above all else in our lives.

Some of you have never trusted in Jesus Christ. Just like Adam and Eve you are cut off from God's presence and lost in your sin. But there is no need to remain there. God offers you the greatest gift imaginable: himself. He offers it to you freely even though it cost the life of his very own Son to do so. He invites you right now to turn away from your sinful rebellion and surrender to him by faith in his Son Jesus Christ. There is no greater gift you could receive this Christmas than God forgiving you of the sin that separates you from him and coming to dwell inside of you by his Holy Spirit.

For those of us who have already received God's greatest gift by trusting in the person and work of Jesus Christ, God is calling us to rediscover the wonder of that gift. That God would take up residence in our hearts is one of the great wonders imaginable. The God who spoke everything, including us, into existence has chosen to make us the place on earth where he dwells.

This Christmas, let's treasure God's greatest gift - the gift of himself to us in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Source: Today's Topical Bible Study

Disturbing Christmas: The Manger and the Horrors of the Cross

by C.J. Mahaney

The days before Christmas can be a tiring season of preparation, planning, shopping, and wrapping. But I think as we prepare for the Christmas celebrations, dinners, travel, and gift giving, it's equally important that we pause and prepare our souls for Christmas.

During this time of year, it may be easy to forget that the bigger purpose behind Bethlehem was Calvary. But the purpose of the manger was realized in the horrors of the cross. The purpose of his birth was his death.

Or to put it more personally: Christmas is necessary because I am a sinner. The incarnation reminds us of our desperate condition before a holy God.

Several years ago WORLD Magazine published a column by William H. Smith with the provocative title, "Christmas is disturbing: Any real understanding of the Christmas messages will disturb anyone" (Dec. 26, 1992).

In part, Smith wrote:

Many people who otherwise ignore God and the church have some religious feeling, or feel they ought to, at this time of the year. So they make their way to a church service or Christmas program. And when they go, they come away feeling vaguely warmed or at least better for having gone, but not disturbed.

Why aren't people disturbed by Christmas? One reason is our tendency to sanitize the birth narratives. We romanticize the story of Mary and Joseph rather than deal with the painful dilemma they faced when the Lord chose Mary to be the virgin who would conceive her child by the power of the Holy Spirit. We beautify the birth scene, not coming to terms with the stench of the stable, the poverty of the parents, the hostility of Herod. Don't miss my point. There is something truly comforting and warming about the Christmas story, but it comes from understanding the reality, not from denying it.

Most of us also have not come to terms with the baby in the manger. We sing, "Glory to the newborn King." But do we truly recognize that the baby lying in the manger is appointed by God to be the King, to be either the Savior or Judge of all people? He is a most threatening person.

Malachi foresaw his coming and said, "But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner's fire or a launderer's soap." As long as we can keep him in the manger, and feel the sentimental feelings we have for babies, Jesus doesn't disturb us. But once we understand that his coming means for every one of us either salvation or condemnation, he disturbs us deeply.

What should be just as disturbing is the awful work Christ had to do to accomplish the salvation of his people. Yet his very name, Jesus, testifies to us of that work.

That baby was born so that "he who had no sin" would become "sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." The baby's destiny from the moment of his conception was hell—hell in the place of sinners. When I look into the manger, I come away shaken as I realize again that he was born to pay the unbearable penalty for my sins.

That's the message of Christmas: God reconciled the world to himself through Christ, man's sin has alienated him from God, and man's reconciliation with God is possible only through faith in Christ…Christmas is disturbing.

Don't get me wrong--Christmas should be a wonderful celebration. Properly understood, the message of Christmas confronts before it comforts, it disturbs before it delights.

The purpose of Christ's birth was to live a sinless life, suffer as our substitute on the cross, satisfy the wrath of God, defeat death, and secure our forgiveness and salvation.

Christmas is about God the Father (the offended party) taking the initiative to send his only begotten son to offer his life as the atoning sacrifice for our sins, so that we might be forgiven for our many sins.

As Smith so fitly concludes his column:

Only those who have been profoundly disturbed to the point of deep repentance are able to receive the tidings of comfort, peace, and joy that Christmas proclaims.

Amen and Merry Christmas!

About The Author:

C.J. Mahaney is President of Sovereign Grace Ministries

Source: Christianity.com

Prayer: The Messiah Was Born in Bethlehem
Syriac Orthodox Liturgy
Christmas - Evening Service

QOLO

The Messiah was born in Bethlehem
And the Magi came from the east to honor him
The wise men inquired, "where was born this King
Whom we are seeking? Let us bow and worship him!"

The luminous star announced to those men:
In Bethlehem dwells the King who has been born
Behold this infant, He is the True Light
And He is the Lord, The Lord and God Almighty

They reached Bethlehem and found in the cave
The King who was born with Mary, the God-bearer
The hosts of angels were crying aloud:
"Holy, holy, holy is the Lord who is born."

He lay in the cave wrapped in swaddling clothes
The Lord of the worlds is fed with his mother's milk
The Ancient of Days is held as a child
O, come all gentiles let us bow and worship Him

O, how beautiful was the hymn sung there
By angels and men in the cave at Bethlehem
Mary marveled and Joseph was in awe
The Son was glorified Let us bow and worship Him

On this great feast of the Nativity
Of the Son of God, a hymn of wonder was sung
The angels cried out: "Glory be to God
And peace and good hope to the sons of men on earth!"

Watchers and angels along with shepherds
Sang praise to the Son who has been born in the cave
Let us give thanks on His Nativity
Let us worship Him who set us free from error

Source: Based on the original prose translation from Syriac by Fr. Dr. Baby Varghese. The prose was versified into hymn by Dn. Pradeep Hatcher.

A Love That Breathes, Bridges, and Brings Beauty

by Gwen Smith

Today's Truth

Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. (Luke 2:19, NIV)

Friend to Friend

The story of Christmas is familiar. Many of us can recite verses and sing choruses that recap the holy day without so much as a second thought. It is said that familiarity breeds contempt - so I wonder. I wonder and I search my heart.

When I sit and search, long enough to listen to God's still small voice, I grapple with the familiar and I groan for the fresh… and I wonder. Have I shopped, cleaned and baked away the season without being consumed by a fresh and compelling awe of my Savior? Have I decorated my home, but failed to focus my heart that is overflowing with arrogant, commercialized earthly distractions?

The story of Christmas - the story of the birth of Jesus - is the story of life, of hope, of freedom. The beautiful and mysterious intersection of humanity's depravity and Divinity's provision. A complex invasion of darkness by light. By love. By a love that breathes and bridges and brings beauty.

A LOVE THAT BREATHES

In the beginning, Love breathed life into the made-from-dust lungs of Adam. Life-giving love. The perfect and complete love of a holy, triune, eternal God who spoke words and created new galaxies - new wonders - new worshipers. All was made so that He might be glorified. We, however, made in His image, are different from all other creation in that we are made to know Him. Personally. To know Love. True, pure, white-as-snow love.

Then, stains of rebellion brought separation. Rebellion of God's plan - of His spoken word, of His will. Our wants and desires rose to rule - our own wills were done instead of God's: in the Garden… in my life… in yours.

Rebellion demands death (Romans 3:23); an eternal chasm separating man from God. Dark. Painful. Full of sting.

But God.

His love pursues with purifying power. This Love that came from heaven to earth, purposed to speak life to death through the incarnate Grace that was wrapped in swaddling clothes in a humble manger - in spite of our rebellion.

A LOVE THAT BRIDGES

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 1 John 4:9-10

We love because he first loved us. 1 John 4:19

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. John 3:16-18

A LOVE THAT BRINGS BEAUTY

Jesus came upon the no-vacancy scene in Bethlehem to annihilate death - so that we, who are hopeless without Him, could experience love, forgiveness and freedom. Full life. Abundant life. Beauty-from-ashes life.

Childhood gave way to manhood, and at the age of thirty, Jesus Christ made his love mission known.

Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." Luke 4:14-21

The story of Christmas is the story of Jesus. The story of captives being set free, of the blind gaining sight and of our stains of rebellion being washed white in his blood. The story of Christmas is the story of life.

Today, as we move and meander in the mundane, I pray that you would join me in being gripped by a fresh and compelling awe for this perfect Love that breathes, bridges and brings beauty to our brokenness.

Let's Pray

Holy LORD, incarnate Grace, You are beyond amazing! My heart is overwhelmed with gratitude for Your love. Help me to live in responsive awareness of Your grace.
In Jesus' name,
Amen.

Source: Girlfriends in God Devotional

A Divine Birth Announcement

by Greg Laurie

Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. . . . Then the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people."
- Luke 2:8, 10

If you are a parent, then you can remember the first people you called after you became one. You gave them the weight and length of the baby and the actual time when he or she was born. You shared the news with those who were closest to you.

When God announced the birth of His Son, whom did He tell first? It seems likely that he would have started with Caesar Augustus. He could have sent the angel Gabriel to appear in Caesar's court and announce, "Check this out, buddy. You are not God! The Savior of the world has arrived!"

Or He might have had Gabriel appear to the religious leaders and say, "Wake up! The Messiah has been born! The One you talk about, the One you pray for - He is here!"

But that didn't happen. Instead, God first announced the birth of Jesus to shepherds. We tend to romanticize the shepherds along with everyone else in the Christmas story, but we don't understand who they were. In this culture, shepherds lived at the bottom of the social ladder. Shepherds were so despised that their testimonies were not even allowed in a court of law. Shepherds did the work that no one else wanted to do. They worked hard, but they were perceived as unclean because they could not observe the ceremonial hand washings. They were the outcasts, the nobodies.

The only people less-regarded than shepherds were those who were suffering from leprosy. Yet God decided to announce His news to some shepherds in the fields as they kept watch over their flocks at night. This was the modus operandi of Jesus, from birth to death. He always appealed to the outcast, to the common, to the ordinary. And that should give hope to ordinary people like us.

Copyright ©2013 by Harvest Ministries. All Rights Reserved.

The Low Road

by Dr. David Jeremiah

When Bible teacher Warren Wiersbe was invited to speak at the graduation ceremony of a well-known seminary, he gave the budding pastors something to think about with this story: A promising college senior at an acclaimed Ivy League university was undergoing a battery of personality and aptitude tests offered by the career placement office at the school. He was from a blue-blood, aristocratic family who expected him to take the high road into the upper strata of society when he graduated.

He was on the edge of his seat as the counselor announced the results of his tests: "I have good news: Your tests are absolutely consistent and conclusive in their findings. Upon graduation, the ideal path for you to pursue is to become . . . a shepherd."

Lowliest of the Low

A shepherd? Just imagine the astonishment when a future member of the family looks at the family tree and sees among the doctors, lawyers, and judges …"shepherd."

In Biblical days, shepherds were considered to be the lowliest of the low in society. This is nowhere pictured more graphically than in the story of Jacob's family migrating from famine-starved Canaan to Egypt where their brother/prime minister, Joseph, ensured their survival by granting them land to live on. Joseph used his knowledge of Egyptian prejudice to secure his brothers and their families a place to live separated from Egyptian culture so that the descendants of Abraham might remain pure. Joseph told Pharaoh that his brothers were shepherds and had arrived in Egypt accompanied by their herds (Genesis 46:31-33).

Egyptians were scholars, not shepherds; they elevated the life of the mind, not the management of animals. And their attitude foreshadowed the upper classes in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus' birth. It was beneath the dignity of the Pharisees and Sadducees to dirty their hands and robes, wrangling sheep day and night. So why do you think God chose shepherds to receive the first announcement of the birth of His Son in Bethlehem?

God began the birth of Jesus on a low road; and that's why it led to the shepherds in Bethlehem. Jesus' parents, Joseph and Mary, were humble citizens of Nazareth - a carpenter and his teenage bride. The birth took place in Bethlehem, a lowly suburb of Jerusalem. Mary probably arrived in Bethlehem riding on a donkey, and gave birth to Jesus in the poorest of accommodations - a stable. Is it any surprise, then, that a group of shepherds were the first to hear of Jesus' birth?

Scripture tells us: "The Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7). That makes us ask, What did God see when he looked at the hearts of the Bethlehem shepherds that crisp, clear night two thousand years ago?

Here are four things I think God saw, and I think He is looking to see in our hearts this Christmas season:

1. Humility.

When God saw the shepherds' hearts, He saw hearts that weren't self-absorbed or puffed-up, but hearts that would be willing to receive a word from heaven.

2. Expectation.

Being Jews, these shepherds were well aware of the Old Testament promise of the coming of Messiah. While they didn't expect the Messiah's coming to be announced to them in the middle of a field in the middle of the night—they nonetheless knew the message when they heard it.

3. Obedience.

Reading the story in Luke 2, we find that the shepherds reacted immediately to the angels' announcement. They didn't discuss it . . . they appear not to have even left one of their number with the sheep . . . they didn't wait until morning. They responded immediately and went to find the Baby.

4. Generosity.

They didn't keep the good news to themselves. Instead, "They made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child" (Luke 2:17). God's goal with the Gospel of salvation is for every person to hear it and have the opportunity to respond. He found willing conduits of the Good News in a group of lowly shepherds.

This Christmas season, look in your mirror and see if the heart of a shepherd is beating within: humble, expectant, obedient, and generous.

About The Author:

Dr. Jeremiah is the founder and host of Turning Point for God.

Source: Turning Point

Christmas Fears

by Elisabeth K. Corcoran

I've been reading the first two chapters of the Gospel of Luke this month as I prepare my heart for Christmas. And I found something that surprised me. In the one hundred and thirty-two verses of those two chapters, an angel tells three different main characters to not be afraid.

He tells Zechariah not to fear because his prayer has been heard.

He tells Mary not to fear because God has a surprise for her (quite the understatement, don't you think?).

And he tells the shepherds not to fear because he's here to announce a great and joyful event.

I think I underestimate the part that fear plays in my life. I think I wrongly consider myself to not be a fearful person. But in essence, I think I fear quite a bit. What might happen tomorrow. What might not happen tomorrow. That I might have a sadness hover just under the surface of every experience for the rest of my life. That I might make hugely wrong decisions. That I might mess up my kids profoundly. That I might be missing what God's purpose is for me. You know, little things like that.

But what I'm seeing from Scripture as I look at Luke's account of the arrival of Jesus is the common theme of not fearing - of being told to not be afraid - as if it's something we supposedly can choose to do, because it must be.

My head knows every single thing about worry and fear that there is to know.

  • That it doesn't add even an hour to my life.
  • That it isn't this proactive barrier that will make the potential bad news easier to bear.
  • That it takes my mind off the present.
  • That it's basically saying I don't believe that there is a loving God guiding my life.

I know, I know, I know. I know all of these things. And, for the most part, these truths do make their way to my heart and reside there.

There is a reason, I'm sure, that Jesus says do not be afraid like a zillion times. I think it's because, in part, he knows our tendency to jump to fear as our default reaction. But I think it's also because he knows something that we keep failing to truly integrate into our lives.

That his Father, who is also my Father, really loves me. That our Father is not out to get us. That he's not coming up with wild schemes to mess with our heads and leave us feeling untended and abandoned. That anything that comes our way - and I really mean anything – has been lovingly sifted through his hand before it enters our lives.

Author Ann Voskamp says in her book 'One Thousand Gifts' that "all fear is but the notion that God's love ends." My life is proclaiming with each catch of my breath from worry that deep down I believe God's love for me can come to a stop. If only, in those slivers of moments, just between a worry emerging and my entire body responding to that worry I could remind myself that I John 4:8 says that God is love, which means he cannot stop being something that he fundamentally is, nor can he stop acting out of his character.

So today, this is how I'm choosing to prepare my heart for Christ. I will lay down my fears for this day. I will set aside my dread and place it in my Father's capable hands. I will ask Jesus to help me be courageous by way of resting my weary mind in the hopes that space will be cleared for sweeter, truer thoughts to fill my soul.

Come, Lord Jesus, and I will fear not. Amen.

"You have nothing to fear: God has a surprise for you." - Luke 1:30

About The Author:

Elisabeth K. Corcoran is the author of 'At the Corner of Broken & Love: Where God Meets Us in the Everyday'; 'One Girl, Third World: One Woman’s Journey into Social Justice'; 'He Is Just That Into You: Stories of a Faithful God who Pursues, Engages, and Has No Fear of Commitment'; 'In Search of Calm: Renewal for a Mother’s Heart'; and 'Calm in My Chaos: Encouragement for a Mom’s Weary Soul'. All these books can be purchased on Amazon.com in paperback or Kindle.

Why the Angels Worshiped at Christmas

by Dr. Peter Beck, Professor and Author

Ever see a frightening angel in a nativity scene? Me neither. They're always cute little kids or beautiful women (or really effeminate looking men). The same thing is true of the angels on most Christmas trees. That's just not right.

Biblically speaking, angels were frightful creatures, not because they were ugly but because of the strangeness of an encounter with a heavenly being. The most common response, throughout the Bible, to such an encounter was fear. Nearly every episode resulted in the human falling prostrate before his visitor. Thus, we hear the frequent refrain, "Fear not." In the book of Revelation, the picture becomes more frightening as the angels of God's avenging wrath await release. Clearly, angels are not to be taken lightly.

Such was the case when the angels visited a group of shepherds tending their flocks on the night of Jesus Christ's birth. Those shepherds trembled with fear. The angel said to them, "Fear not." Then, those messengers of God delivered the most amazing message. The Christ, the Messiah, had been born that very day. (Luke 2:8-14)

The response of the angels, the very messengers of the good news, is instructive this Christmas season. Upon delivering their message, they worshiped.

They worshiped Him because of who God is. "Glory to God," they exclaimed, "in the highest." He is not some little god to be pulled from the closet once a year. He is God in the highest. The Creator God. He is the one and true God and worthy of our worship not matter what else he may ever do for us. (v. 14a)

They worshiped Him because of what He had done. God has something great and marvelous. Rather than leaving us in our sins, He has sent his Son and with Him "peace on earth among men." The peace they proclaimed is not national peace as so many think today. The peace they announced is God's plan of peace between rebellious sinners and their Righteous King. (v. 14b)

They worshiped Him because of why He has done it. God did not have to send His Son. He would have been well within His rights to wipe the earthly slate clean and start over again with a righteous people. But, He didn't. God reached out in mercy to save. He did so because it pleased Him to do so. He sent His Son to save "those with whom He is pleased!" (v. 14c)

The right response to the Christmas story isn't "oh how cute" but "oh, how gracious." The first noel ought to drive us to our knees and lift our voices to God in gratitude. That's why Christ came.

As A. W. Tozer once remarked, "Jesus was born of a virgin, suffered under Pontius Pilate, died on the Cross, and rose from the grave to make worshipers out of rebels." Or, to quote the familiar Christmas carol: Hark! The herald angels sing, "Glory to the newborn King; peace on earth, and mercy mild; God and sinners reconciled."

About The Author:

Peter Beck (Ph.D. Southern Seminary) is assistant professor of religion at Charleston Southern University in Charleston, South Carolina. Dr. Beck also writes at his Website, Living to God.

Source: Christianity.com

The Unspeakable Gift
Long ago, there ruled in Persia a wise and good king. He loved his people. He wanted to know how they lived. He wanted to know about their hardships. Often he dressed in the clothes of a working man or a beggar, and went to the communities of the poor. No one whom he visited suspected that he was a wealthy, educated man, let alone their ruler.

One time he visited a very poor man who lived in a cellar. He ate the simple, spare food the poor man ate. He spoke cheerful, kind words to him. Then he left. Later he came back to visit the poor man again, this time dressed in his finest. "I am your king!" he said, and waited. He thought the man would surely ask for some gift or favor.

Instead, the poor man fell to his knees and said, "You left your palace and your glory to visit me in this dark, dreary place. You ate the course food I ate. You brought gladness to my heart! To others you have given your rich gifts. To me you have given yourself!"

The King of glory, the Lord Jesus Christ, gave Himself to you and me. The Bible calls Him "the unspeakable gift!"

-- Source Unknown

"Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle." Proverbs 23:5 NIV 

Malankara World Advent and Christmas Supplements

To learn more about the spiritual significance of Christmas and Advent Season Malankara World has created special supplements so you can read all about them in depth. Click below to visit:

Malankara World Christmas Supplement
http://www.MalankaraWorld.com/Library/Seasonal/Christmas/Default.htm

Malankara World Advent Supplement
http://www.MalankaraWorld.com/Library/Seasonal/advent/Default.htm

We also invite you to read the Malankara World Journal Special on Christmas in 2012 (Issue 115). You can read it from our archives here:

Malankara World Journal Christmas Special - Issue 115 - December 23, 2012
http://www.MalankaraWorld.com/Newsletter/MWJ_115.htm

Family Special: Three Steps to Making the Most of Your Relationships During the Holidays

by Debra Fileta

If you're anything like the average American family, this is likely what your Christmas to-do list looks like this time of year:

String up the lights
Decorate the tree
Finish the Christmas Shopping
Send out the Christmas Cards
Attend the company Christmas Party

And on, and on, and on. There's no denying that during the Christmas season, our calendars can be taken over by the fun of tradition and celebration. But in the hustle and bustle, sometimes it's easy to feel that we're getting spread too thin- finding ourselves doing more but enjoying less with each passing day.

But what if this holiday season, we were to focus more on being, rather than doing? What if, even in the midst of the tradition, we could still find an opportunity to make the most of the most important things we've been given: our relationships.

Whether with friends, family, spouses, parents, or children, the holidays can be a special time to rekindle meaningful relationships, if we take the time for it. In preparation of the holiday season, here are some suggestions for making the most of your relationships.

Focus on Who You Have in Your Life:

It's important to keep in mind that just as joyous as the holidays can be, for many people, they are a time of heartache and pain. They are an aching reminder of relationships that have been broken or loved ones that were lost or longings that have not yet been fulfilled. Sometimes, it's hard to connect when you are feeling hurt and alone. Making the most of our relationships during the holidays requires a shift in thinking that causes us to focus on the people God has placed in our lives here and now.

Time passes so quickly, and every year is one less year we'll have to invest in the ones we love. Rather than wishing for what could be, it's important to begin savor what actually is: the sleepless little baby in your arms, the kids running wildly around the house, the chaos of the teen years, the college students that have left an empty nest, the daughter you just led down the aisle, the aging parents who are growing frailer with each passing day. Through it's true that every season of life comes with its blessings and it's struggles, it's important to make the most of the blessings. This holiday season, be deliberate to be thankful for the people in your life.

Invest in Relationships, Not Things:

As a mom of two little children, I know how easy it can be to get caught up in the stuff of life. We buy into the lie that our children need more and more things to be happy and well-adjusted. We want to see the smiles on their faces as they open their gifts, eat their goodies, and dig into their stockings. While it's okay to enjoy these moments, we must not allow ourselves to be consumed by them.

We can get so caught up in the things that we can fail to remember that the real blessings in our lives are the relationships we've been given- our relationship with God, and our relationship with others. More than anything, the Holidays are about experiencing God's love; a God who loved us so much that He left His world to join us in ours. He reached down with His love and grace to connect with us, and to bring us a Savior. Making the most out of the holidays means that we take the time to relish in the love of God, and then allow it to overflow from our lives and into the lives of those around us. According to God's word, that's really what life comes down to: loving God, and loving others.

Rather than becoming consumed in things this time of year, let us take the opportunity to engage relationships. Let's focus more on being together, rather than giving things to one another; on loving each other with our actions and our words, not just with our money. Because at the end of the day, the greatest gift that we can really give is our love.

Aim for Quality, not Quantity:

If you're anything like me, the holidays are filled with family and friends. You may look at your calendar and feel that you are swamped with activities and people. But this year, I challenge you to take a look at the quality of your interactions with others, not just the quantity.

Sitting around the dinner table and spending time in the same house won't make the most of your relationships in and of themselves. It's easy to be together without really taking the time to interact at all. Quality interactions means being deliberate about using our time in a meaningful way. Seek to ask questions, to give encouragement, and to share your life with those around you. Unplug from your electronics, turn off the T.V, and engage in meaningful conversation. Play games, snuggle on the couch, chat by the fire, and tell stories. Say I love you, and let your words speak what is really in your heart. For this, is the greatest gift you can really give.

Even in the hustle and bustle of the holidays, it's important to remember that the real gifts we've been given boil down to our relationship with God and with others. Let's seek to make the most of our relationships this year and always.

About The Author:

Debra K. Fileta is a Licensed Professional Counselor specializing in Relationship and Marital issues. She is the author of the new book 'True Love Dates' (Zondervan, 2013), challenging young men and women to do dating in a way that is psychologically sound, emotionally healthy and spiritually grounded. Visit www.truelovedates.com.

Source: Live It Devotional

Unexpected Gifts

by John O'Leary, www.RisingAbove.com

"Sometimes it's not enough to know what things mean, sometimes you have to know what things don't mean." - Bob Dylan

Do you "get it"?

It was December 23 and I was doing my typical last minute shopping for family. Christmas music was playing, Santa was in the foyer and the mall was bustling.

While in line to check out, the woman in front of me turned around to witness an overmatched dad trying to corral his two young sons. She looked at me pleasantly and said, "Don't worry. In a couple of years they'll get it."

I smiled and looked at my wide-eyed little guys. Looked at their innocence, sweetness and unbridled energy. It was impossible to imagine being more on fire with hope and joy and life. I looked back at the woman, told her thank you, and offered, "Sometimes I think they actually get it better than the rest of us."

My friend, so frequently this time of year we race from store to store, and from party to party, and we tear open present after present. But, isn't our motivation for giving often concern that the other person may bring us something and we don't want to be caught empty handed?

So what does it mean to really 'get it' this season? Recently a friend shared a story that reveled to me the answer to this question.

Three years ago, Matt spent the majority of his Christmas Eve taking his father to an oncology appointment.

The news they received was not at all what they'd been hoping for.

As they left, Matt's father was feeling weak and asked if they could hold hands as they walked. Matt had not held his father's hand since he was a little boy, but this day they held hands to the car and the whole drive home.

Matt's father shared how proud he was of his son. He shared stories from various times in his life and how lucky he was to be his Dad. As they pulled into the driveway to join the family holiday celebration, his father squeezed his son's hand and said "I love you."

It was, Matt told me, the greatest Christmas gift he had ever received from his father.

My friend, so often the expectations of this season create stress and disappointment. Sometimes in focusing on the stuff, the food, the parties and presents we miss out on what we're really celebrating: the real joy, peace and love that are often born in the least likely of places.

This Christmas week, I challenge you to take pause to 'get it.' Take time to celebrate the amazing gifts of your life. Don't wait until next year to unwrap a present that arrived 2,000 years ago. It's the greatest you'll ever open: that regardless of what you encounter today or face tomorrow, there is reason to rejoice, celebrate and sing out. [Tweet this.]

I wish each of you a healthy and happy holiday, a very merry Christmas and a joy filled New Year. The best is yet to come.

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