Notes from Jan

A Bumper Sticker, Bethlehem and Being Mangers

December 17, 2023

Stuck in traffic made the bumper sticker easy to read. “France called. They want their statue back.” What?! Oh, I get it. Sometime after our relatives came through Ellis Island, too many of us preferred signs stating, “KEEP OUT” instead of “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

But we also have opinions about other places, people and their borders. It feels so un-Christmas-like. Wars. Governments and politicians that don’t seem to get it. I know, “It’s complicated.” And yet..It’s why we need to know the wonder-FULL Christmas story .

Why? Because it’s not just for December, when stores blast “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, everywhere I go.” You know, when nothing looks like Christ’s the heart of Christmas, except for occasional nativity scenes in some store windows or outdoor displays. But we’ve prettied it up, removed the fear component and the stable’s stench. But as for the NO VACANCY sign, too many of us aren’t willing to risk flipping it to WELCOME.

O Little Town of Bethlehem, you grew up and we hardly know you.

Times change but not our need for Christmas. God’s Christmas Gift to us, not the commercial version . We need the one that slips into the cracks in our lives, to nourish the hungers of our hearts. We need the Christmas that gets why we’re scared. And no one gets that better than God. Remember, God sent angels to speak to quaking shepherds and still speaks to us who shiver in our shoes, “Fear not…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 Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”(Luke 2: 10-11, KJV)

And that’s what we need most of all, a Saviour. You, I and them. We are desperate for Good news swaddled, wrapped like a Gift, about the size of a loaf of bread. Manna from heaven. Jesus. And now and then among songs about Frosty, Rudolph and Santa coming to town, we crave lyrics to help us put the Holy back into the HOLIdays. Something like, JOY to the World, O Come, All Ye Faithful, or Silent Night. And while it sure doesn’t feel or look like “All is calm. All is bright.” It can be calmer and brighter in and through us.

Well, sometimes I wonder if when someone hears, “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas,” they think of you or me? Calm in the midst of chaos. Light in the darkness, Faithful still, Joy in the world. How? Because Jesus is at home in us. We’re like the manger in Bethlehem, where the Saviour dwells. And like long ago to anyone outside that sacred stable, the world was the same fearful, hopeless place. But God was at work then. And God’s at work now like the song says, “How silently, how silently, the wondrous Gift is given.”

Perhaps and, hopefully, even through us.

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  • Reply Valerie mccoy December 17, 2023 at 1:20 pm


    “…and with fear and trembling heart,
    ponder nothing earthly minded…”

    (I think this is from a Lenten hymn, no?
    But it sure fits between “The Holly &
    The Ivy.”

    • Reply Jan Carlberg December 17, 2023 at 3:44 pm

      Thank, dear Valerie, for these lyrics. I’m still too connected to my Baptist roots to know from memory the lyrics from Lenten hymns but this sure sounds like one. Grateful for both traditions and good lyrics. And for you.

  • Reply Dale December 17, 2023 at 1:59 pm

    Thanks Jan. I actually see very little likeness between Christmas as celebrated and Christ-mas as occurring in history. This is the grinch in me as there is no gift, I can give ANYONE that will either compare with the gift of God’s Son or remind them of His presence in our lives. In fact, FOR ME, to say (not you, but others) we give gifts because of the gift of Jesus is to dumb down His gift and to artificially elevate whatever gift I might give. I clearly had a bad lunch, breakfast, or BOTH but it will start looking like Christmas when I forgive the person who bought me the stripped pajamas last year.
    Love you dear sister. Dale

    • Reply Jan Carlberg December 17, 2023 at 4:04 pm

      Can you hear my laughting from California? Those pajamas sound like prison garb. Well, we’re to be aware of and care about those who are in prison, so maybe the pajamas serve as a visual aide, if nothing else. And yes, I agree with you, my friend Dale, that we’re on shaky ground to say we give Christmas gifts solely because God gave us the gift of Jesus. However, true generosity of spirit is from God but most of what we do, probably falls under the category of quid pro quo, to gain favor with someone or, at best, to show our love and gratitude in a tangible way. You and I are old enough to realize, what even the Grinch eventually learned, that the best gifts and Christmas, “don’t come from a store.”

  • Reply Maggie Wallem Rowe December 18, 2023 at 11:19 am

    The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Him, aren’t they? The lyrics to our classic hymns of the Incarnation mean more to me now than they ever did. And yes, joy TO the world and joy IN the world.

    Merry Christmas, dear Jan!

    • Reply Jan Carlberg December 18, 2023 at 5:45 pm

      Thanks, dear Maggie. Yes, you’re one of th eones who JOY comes through. It comes through your writing, your dramatic presentations and how you live your life. Thank you for your example. It matters. YOU matter. Tusen Takk.

  • Reply Wendy December 18, 2023 at 4:28 pm

    Amen! <3

    • Reply Jan Carlberg December 18, 2023 at 5:46 pm

      And JOY to and through you and Steve, dear Wendy.

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