It’s Still Christmas

Intermixed with the breezy autumn calls of “Happy Fall Y’all” and #PSLlove come the inevitable announcement of the first appearance of Christmas merchandise or music at [insert store of choice].

Everyone quickly agrees that this must be denounced and comments their own personal line in the sand for decorating for Christmas and/or listening to Christmas music.

Until 2020, that is. In 2020 we didn’t go into stores, so we couldn’t complain. Also, we’d been living Groundhog Day for several months by then and it seemed everyone was ready for a bit of cheer.

My Facebook feed filled with photos of homes decorated for Christmas on November 1st, complete with #sorrynotsorry.

Now that it’s January 5, I’ve been seeing a week of announcements that trees have been taken down and Christmas cleaned up. It’s a new year, on to new things.

Not here, though. It’s still Christmas at Prairie Elms.

For the past several years, we’ve chosen to celebrate Advent in a way that attempts to heighten anticipation.

I set up the Christmas tree on the first Sunday of Advent. And then we sit and wait with an unadorned tree for one whole week. The children ask, “Can’t we put on the lights? Please?” They know that they’re only yet seeing a glimmer of what the tree will become.

On the second Sunday of Advent, we load the tree with lights and plug them in. Beautiful. But we’ve barely enjoyed the lights before the children are begging, “Is it time for the ornaments yet?” No, no. We hold off on that for another week.

On Gaudete Sunday, at last we can enjoy the tree in its full splendor, loaded with ornaments.

The Prairie Elms Christmas Tree

Those couple of weeks of waiting offer opportunities for us to talk about how Israel waited year after year, decade after decade, century after century, millenia after millenia for the Promised Messiah. Like the slow revelation of our decorations, prophecies hinted at the Messiah who would come, whetting their appetites for the full revelation of the Coming One. And then, then – such a sweet revelation – Christ Incarnate.

But once the tree is up? We keep it up all Christmas long.

Through the first day of Christmas, the second day, the third day, the fourth, and on through the twelfth day of Christmas. We take our Christmas tree down on Epiphany, January 6, when Christmas (the liturgical season) is over.

So maybe you’ve moved on past Christmas into the new year (no shame in that!) – but we haven’t quite yet.

At Prairie Elms, it’s still Christmas.

The Incarnation: God become infant

** This post was copied from our Christmas letter this year – so don’t feel bad about skipping it if you’ve already read it. Otherwise, you are definitely obligated to read it in its entirety :-) **

It’s cliché to talk about how having children changes your view of God – but having a newborn this Advent season has definitely given me a whole new perspective on the Incarnation.

God became man. It’s a weighty thought any time – but this Advent, I’m struck with the reality that God became infant.

Part of being a human is having physical and psychological needs – a need for food and clothing and shelter, for comfort and companionship. And part of being a human newborn is having no way of fulfilling those needs by oneself – and only one way of expressing those needs to others. An infant cries.

As Tirzah Mae squalls in her bed or on a blanket or in my arms, I contemplate that Jesus – God Himself – cried. And as I run through the list of possible causes of Tirzah Mae’s distress, I contemplate that Jesus had an earthly mother who was just as clueless as I, who struggled to meet the needs of her newborn. I contemplate how the Creator of the Universe became dependent on His creation. What humiliation! And for what cause?

Philippians 2:6-8 tells us why Jesus came: “…though he was in the form of God, [He] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

Jesus had all the needs humans have save one. Everything my Tirzah Mae needs, He needed – except one thing. Tirzah Mae, perfect though she may seem, was born sinful, under the wrath of God. Jesus was not. He had no need to be saved from the wrath of God because He didn’t deserve the wrath of God. Yet Jesus Christ came, bore the humiliation of being a human infant so that He could go to the cross – so that He could bear the wrath Tirzah Mae and I deserve. I can feed and clothe and comfort my Tirzah Mae, but I can never save her. Yet Jesus – Jesus came as a little infant like her so that He could save her.

Clich̩ though it may be, as I reflect on and care for my wonderful early Christmas gift, I am reminded of the greatest Christmas gift of all Рand I am thankful that God became infant in Jesus Christ, that God became sin in Jesus Christ, that God bore the penalty of my sin in Jesus Christ, and that in Jesus Christ my greatest need is met.

I pray this Christmas that we all may come to know the great salvation for which Jesus humiliated Himself.

A Christmas Announcement

Our family Christmas last night was enjoyable, but the last gift absolutely stole the show.

In a box labeled “From the Menter family to the Menter family”, we found two cards and several “Grandma” and “Grandpa” baby bibs. It was my brother and his wife’s way of announcing that they’re pregnant.

Baby J. Mentner will be making his arrival somewhere around the middle of July.

They’re not finding out Baby’s sex, but Debbie and I just KNOW it’s going to be a boy. (Grace reads over my shoulder and says “And me!”) Daniel, of course, is obstinate and insists it’s a girl–and that she’ll be the cutest girl in the whole world.

The pre-wedding plan said something about having the first kid somewhere around January 2012–but I’m glad they re-thought that plan and decided to start a bit earlier. Since they anticipate moving elsewhere for Dan’s Ph.D. program sometime in 2012, this gives Auntie Rebekah a bit more time to spoil the little one!

Yep. This announcement definitely stole the show.

And NOBODY is complaining!

Ugly Christmas Sweater Day

My workplace has been having a mini-spirit week in this week leading up to Christmas. Today is Ugly Christmas Sweater Day.

I hate ugly Christmas Sweater Days.


Because I love ugly Christmas sweaters.

I’d wear them everyday if I could and still be a professional.

Wearing them on “Ugly Christmas Sweater day” makes me seem complicit in the “make fun of themed sweaters” trend. Which I’m totally not into.

But I like to wear my Christmas sweaters–so I’m wearing one today.

Ugly Christmas Sweater

But please, if you want to make fun of Christmas sweaters–do so behind my back. I happen to like them.

**Please forgive the remarkably poor quality of the picture above. I didn’t have time to make sure I got a good one.**

Preparing for Christmas

Come the second week of December and my boxes still aren’t unpacked, my self still not settled into the House of Dreams.

Moving while working isn’t easy.

Maybe I’d be tempted to skip Christmas decorating this year. After all, I’ll be going back to Lincoln to celebrate Christmas with my family anyway.

But I couldn’t do that.

Christmas provides the impetus to finish my unpacking, to get the main rooms ready.

Christmas in the House of Dreams

Stick a tree in the corner next to the piano.

Christmas in the House of Dreams

Lights around the window and a mini-tree on the end table.

Christmas in the House of Dreams

Anna winds lights along the staircase.

Christmas in the House of Dreams

Christmas balls and lights among my crystal on a bookcase.

Christmas in the House of Dreams

An advent wreath on the table.

Christmas in the House of Dreams

The House of Dreams is ready for Christmas (except for those empty boxes and miscellany still hanging out in the dining room.)

I finished the last “emptying” of the living room and dining room last night.

Two more rooms moved in–and two ready for Christmas. Yippee!

And now, to show off my Christmas tree and its homemade skirt in a bit more detail…
Christmas tree
Christmas in the House of Dreams

Please forgive my vanity, but I’m pretty proud of our little (big) House of Dreams.

Flashback: Christmas PresentsCh

It’s been an age since I’ve participated in a Flashback Friday. But now I’m back, and back just in time for the last Friday before Christmas. At least, for the last Friday before OUR Christmas.

Flashback Friday buttonToday Linda asks… When did you open Christmas presents when you were growing up? Christmas Eve or Christmas Day? If you traveled, did your parents take the gifts, or did you open them early or late? … Did you have stockings? What was generally in those? Were gifts simple and practical or more extravagant? Did you give presents to your parents and siblings? Were they homemade or purchased? If purchased, did you pay with your own money or did your parents pay? What are memories of special gifts you received?…

My family celebrates Christmas on Christmas Eve–and we’d open our gifts after the Christmas Eve candlelight service at church.

I suppose we were a rather modest family–we certainly never received hundred-dollar gifts like some people might have. But still, we generally had a nice selection of gifts–a few practical gifts, a couple toys, and the little doo-dads we kids bought each other with the dollar Mom and Dad gave us to use to buy gifts for each sibling.

Nevertheless, my favorite Christmas present ever came the year Mom and Dad didn’t have money to buy any extras.

I’m not sure what the deal was that year–maybe a car or a large appliance broke down and needed to be replaced–but money was tight. I was just developing a money awareness, and for whatever reason, I remember peaking into Mom’s checkbook after she’d written her tithe check at the end of December. I was shocked to see that the balance in her and Daddy’s checking account was $7!

With little money to purchase presents, Mom used her ingenuity to make us gifts. A picture book for Danny made with fabric and fabric paints–a story about when we go to Grandma and Grandpa’s farm. Little teepees of doweling, fabric, and more fabric paint fit perfectly with Lincoln logs and cowboys and Indians.

But the best Christmas present of all was that year when there wasn’t any extra cash. That year, Mom made us a tent.

She made it out of fabric scraps in her favorite colors of rust and tan and pumpkin and mustard and olive green. Pieces leftover from skirts or dresses she’d made herself. Pieces she’d intended for outfits for herself but had sacrificed to make our tent. Pieces obtained from family or friends. She pieced the pieces together into an enormous tent that fit over the school room table. Windows on three sides had flaps that could be rolled up and tied. The fourth side had a door that could likewise be rolled and tied.

But the crowning glory was the flag. A Tinkertoy and dowel invention poked through a grommet in the top, holding taut the peaked top. And atop the dowel flew a flag.

We spent many a day in that tent. It was a pioneer’s covered wagon, a princess’s castle, an Indian’s teepee, an adventurer’s tent. It was a house, a store, a library.

As each of us children has grown and become more financially independent, our gifts have grown in size and cost. But none of the many gifts we’ve exchanged since that day have been able to match the enjoyment we gained from that one.

Just goes to show that money isn’t everything.

Hear other people’s Christmas memories at Mocha with Linda’s Flashback Friday Meme