The Most Miraculous Time of the Year

I don’t know about y’all, but I love Christmas – the cold weather, the sweaters, scarves, boots, and most of all, the cheesy Christmas movies, which are so alluring to me. It isn’t called the most wonderful time of the year for nothing. The atmosphere is full of happiness and love. Families come together to celebrate and exchange gifts while roasting chestnuts on a fire. Hot cocoa and apple cider are the choice beverages of the season. But despite all the many glorious things that Christmas brings, perhaps the most important aspect of this season is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.

Sometime around the 25th of December way back when (most experts think He was born in spring) two expecting parents in the Middle East, Joseph and Mary, sought shelter for the evening. They had ventured to Bethlehem, Israel, the place of Joseph’s birth, for the census required by Caesar. Having found none who would take them in, they were forced to rest in a stable. That night, it came time for Mary to have her baby. In the midst of the livestock and hay, a beautiful baby boy was born, and they called him Jesus. This was the baby promised to them by the Angel Gabriel. Little did Jesus or his parents know the amazing things that he would do in his life.[1]

In a cave elsewhere, shepherds were protecting their flocks. An angel of the Lord came and spoke to them declaring that the wondrous birth that had just occurred. They began their trek to marvel and praise God for the little baby. Likewise, three wise men saw the Star of David appear in the sky and came to bring gifts to the newborn. Gold, frankincense, and myrrh were presented to the “king of the Jews.” It was a marvelous sight: Mary and Joseph bent around a manger holding Jesus, livestock stood and slept around them, and shepherds, wise men, and angels praised God.

Most people have heard this story time and time again, but I think we often forget the magnitude of hope that this story brings. I go to a Christian school, I work in a strong Christian atmosphere, I am involved with a Christian sorority, and I serve on Wednesdays with the youth at my church. I am surrounded by Christianity and Jesus on a daily basis. Sometimes, I get a little numb to Christian topics as a whole, so when I hear the Christmas story, it goes in one ear and out the other. But when I really look and dissect the story, it is quite extraordinary. Jesus is the Son of God. He did not have to come to earth in the form of a baby; He could have simply appeared in His true form. Yet He came as a lowly baby to identify with man. If He did not come to earth as an infant, He could not have lived a fully perfect life as a human, and then He could not have died a wrongful death on the cross. This birth was required in order for Jesus to be unlawfully crucified, buried, and raised on the third day to conquer sin and death. In order for us to be reconciled to the Father in Heaven, someone had to die. But this someone had to be blameless, which was only credible through the Son of God.

What a miraculous story it is. When we think about it, it is actually very beautiful. I am comforted by the fact that, through Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection, I can now come boldly to the throne of God and worship at His feet. Let us not forget the weight and necessity of the Christmas story. When we walk past nativity scenes, let’s not allow our eyes to glaze over and simply keep on our way. But let’s ponder the significance that is the birth of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world.

[1] See Luke 1: 26-2:20 and Matthew 1:18-2:12

Written by Maddison

Image credit

A Bedtime Story: How the UWC Came to Be StanNation

Once upon a time, there was a colorful, crowded room deep in the underground of a university learning center. It was often noisy in that place: people strolled by the door chatting and laughing loudly, the elevator ran up and down between the floors with clanking and groaning and wheezing, snack and drink machines constantly clinked and whooshed, and sometimes the Scantron machine sounded like a machine gun in this hidden place buried in the cavernous basement often referred to as “the dungeon.” Those who worked in this windowless room were definitely the best of best; these workers were chosen for their love of reading and writing, and they all carried GPAs which proved their attachment to things academic. These fine folk, however, had a competitive spirit. And they loved all things Christmas because it not only designated their Savior’s birth, it also gave them an opportunity to plan and scheme and keep secrets. The story of StanNation actually begins with those very traits: a love of Christmas, planning, scheming, and keeping secrets.

At the time of this strange christening, there was a Student Coordinator named Carrie, who was something of a legend. Her name was known far and wide as the APA expert, and she coached minions in the intricacies of that format. She also had the chutzpah to consult with her boss on the tone and direction of that ogre’s papers. Nevertheless, she smiled more and was kinder than anyone who had ever graced the dungeon before. But she carried an evil secret deep within her heart: Carrie was miffed, angry, outraged even that her office had worked crazily every single year and had yet to win the annual Christmas decorating contest. Never mind that they enjoyed the effort. Put aside how much they relished the outcome. To heck with the acclamations they received from visitors. She wanted the coveted prize: a pizza party. And she would have it! She would.

That fateful Friday afternoon 29 October 2010, at 4:55 p.m. sharp, she sent out the missive:

 

TOP SECRET!!!

Hello, comrades. …  Here in the UWC, we love Christmas. We have put forth a valiant decorating effort every year, receiving an honorable mention twice. But this year… we are going for number ONE. That’s right. We will join the ranks of Babe Ruth, Michael Phelps, and George Washington.

Here’s the plan, Stan… (PS… everyone’s code name is Stan when talking about this project)

We are going to make a gingerbread village. We have plans. BIG plans. … We will come sneak into the UWC and build. If we build it, they will come. The judges, that is. And they will be blown away by our mad skills and lovely tastes in decoration. Oh, and we will offer them gingerbread men to eat. (Bribing works wonders.) SO… come join us in decorating/dominating. …

Yours truly,

Stan

 

From that day forward, all the staff was known as Stan. In fact, one follow-up email was quite funny. See for yourself:

 

Christmas decorating, which shall henceforth be referred to as “quilt-making” for the purpose of secrecy, shall commence at 4 pm this Sunday. Be there.

Stan’s father will be coming to help with construction of our “quilt-making.” There will be hammers, staple-guns, and other cool power tools, so you guys will have fun. Girls too. I like power tools. But I REALLY like gingerbread and candy.

I get goose bumps when I think about how awesome our dungeon is going to look.

Have a great Thanksgiving! See you on Sunday for the quilt-making. Oh, we’re going to dinner afterwards too. We can just call dinner “dinner.” I don’t think we have to be too secretive about that. I mean, every office probably eats dinner, whether individually or collectively. Let me know if you hear of any breach of security, though, and we can adapt as needed.

Yours truly,

Stan.

PS- This is not Truett. This is Stan. My computer has momentarily been commandeered by Stan, so I commandeered Truett’s (oh, I mean Stan’s) computer.

 

Clearly confusion ensued. Still, decorating commenced, continued, and indeed, was quite successful. Or so they thought.

Sadly, the Stans still did not win the 2010 Christmas decorating contest. The staff was perturbed that the winners dominated by bringing forth Jerusalem with live animals and a newborn baby. They were sorely disappointed when they went to see the winning office, and there was nothing left but an empty manger, straw on the floor, and a construction-paper Jerusalem on the walls. Yet, they were gracious, congratulating the winners warmly even as they vowed to win next year.

Woefully, 2011 brought them only second place. They vowed that 2012 would be their year. They would surely win. But perhaps the fly in the ointment was the fact that each and every team member was called Stan. Nobody knew who was who. And that, my friends, was a problem. They bumbled around: everybody answering or nobody answering queries and responding to suggestions. It was like the fifteen stooges were in the office as they attempted to plan and decorate. Once more, other offices attained the coveted prize. And the UWC staff declared that somehow, the Stans would find a way to communicate and win.

To that end, Carrie instructed each Stan adapt his or her name by adding Stan to a portion of his or her given moniker: she became HamilStan. Others became Briggstan, VannaStan, Stanlee, Stanison, and so forth until all were individuals again.  Still, it was another year before the UWC grabbed the treasure they so craved. In 2013, they celebrated with the grand reward: a pizza party. They laughed, they high-fived, they ate, they drank, they made very merry. And they won again in 2015! Hooray for knowing who is who when decorating is under way.

That, my friends, is the legacy of Carrie. All UWC staff will henceforth be known as Stan, and the tiny, bright nation in the dark cavern will forever be StanNation.

The end.

Written by Ka

Image credit: Ka Riley

The Twelve Activities of Christmas

It’s a week until Christmas. I can still feel the chill of the cold outside even with the heater on, so I tug the blanket higher around my shoulders. My hands curl around my mug of hot chocolate, warming my frigid fingers with the heat it emits. Strains of Michael Bublé’s “Cold December Night” play softly from the other room. There’s a fire cackling in the hearth, the only source of light in the room, and the tinsel glitters in the darkness.

Christmas became a nationally recognized holiday in 1870. Every year since then, several million trees are cut and find their way into American homes. Billions of dollars are spent on toys and gifts. Airports are packed with eager passengers on their way back to visit family. Only one day a year can send the entire country into such a frenzy. These frantic preparations for Christmas can easily become overwhelming, tainting an otherwise joyful holiday. In fact, many people struggle to find a way to find a way to relax during the mad holiday rush.

To make this year’s Christmas just a little more special and a little less hectic, here are twelve things (“On the twelfth day of Christmas . . .”) to do this Christmas season:

  1. Stop by the Writing Center. Whether it’s to get help for a mini-term paper or just to say “hi,” we’d love to see you drop by! Come see the decorations in the office and talk with the staff. And pick up a helpful handout while you’re at it!
  2. Read the nativity story in the book of Luke. Chapters one and two describe the account of Jesus’ birth and the amazing miracle the shepherds encountered with the angels. As you read it, be sure to take time to reflect on the real reason for Christmas.
  3. Go see some Christmas lights. Every year, fewer and fewer people take the time to put up Christmas lights. Or there’s that neighbor who never takes them down. One of the joys of Christmas is the collective festive spirit that can be felt anywhere. Some cities hold a Christmas tree lighting ceremony. Other places string up lights on City Hall. Find the closest location and go see the lights. That, or go find a rich neighborhood full of people who pay for their lights to be put up for them.
  4. Bake something and deliver it to neighbors. Try your hand at baking and decorating sugar cookies, eggnog cheesecake, or chocolate swirl pumpkin pie. Make sure to spread the Christmas spirit by gifting some to your neighbors. If you don’t know what to bake, then find a recipe online. Because let’s be honest: most of my Pinterest account is dedicated to food recipes anyway.
  5. Give to a charity. It’s easy to forget those in need when our families are gathered for Christmas. Try donating to the Angel Tree Christmas program or the Salvation Army. Or give of your time by serving in a soup kitchen or volunteering at a homeless shelter. It’s the season of giving, so why not? Bless someone for Christmas.
  6. Send a Christmas card to a soldier overseas. Spending Christmas away from family in a foreign country must be one of the most disheartening experiences. Send a Christmas card to our brave service members scattered across the globe and thank them for their sacrifice.
  7. Make a Christmas ornament. The things we make by hand are the ones that are the most special. Buy some inexpensive supplies from Michael’s and make some personalized ornaments. Use them to decorate your own tree or send them to relatives as Christmas gifts or stocking stuffers.
  8. Watch Elf. Without a doubt, we can all agree that it’s the best Christmas movie ever made. What’s funnier than watching Will Ferrell run around New York City in a Christmas elf costume? Not to mention it has some of the greatest insults ever, second only to Shakespeare: “Cotton-headed ninny muggins!”
  9. Go Christmas caroling. Caroling has become something of a forgotten art. Fewer and fewer people go door-to-door to sing for neighbors, and I think it’s a sad decline of a longstanding Christmas tradition. Start a group with friends or gather some people at church. Bundle up, bring your best singing voice, and hit the streets!
  10. Bring Christmas treats to a retirement home or a hospital. Some people can’t go home for Christmas, but you can bring Christmas to them! If possible, spend some time talking with them and leave them with some tasty cookies. Spending time with them could be the best gift they receive for Christmas.
  11. Go see The Nutcracker ballet at a performance hall. The Nutcracker has become a staple of Christmas along with the Radio City Rockettes and A Charlie Brown Christmas. Many people go see the ballet every year to immerse themselves in Christmas magic. Both children and adults alike can appreciate both the graceful dances and beautiful music.
  12. Start a new family tradition. Spend a day in the kitchen baking with the family. Open one present on Christmas Eve. Have an evening making s’mores in the fire pit. It doesn’t matter what it is; big or small, just pick something you can do every year. Maybe a hundred years from now, your family will still be observing the same tradition!

Luke 2:10-11 “And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.’”

Written by Jenna