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Light in the Darkness

I’m usually an optimistic person, but lately it’s become more and more difficult for me to muster optimism as I read the newspaper or watch the evening news. Even my Facebook and Twitter feeds are not immune to the avalanche of bad news. Headlines and links are posted in real time as the events occur—the worse the news, the quicker the post. Frankly, it can just plain wear me down.

Still, no matter how dark our world becomes, regardless of the crisis, hope glimmers and grows at Christmas. In fact, our gloomy world seems to glow the whole month of December.

The rest of the year the world is a dark place, and getting darker each day. Hopelessness feeds on current events, broken relationships, and pervasive immorality. But this isn’t a new phenomenon. Before the birth of Christ, the world had sunk into the darkness of despair. Immorality and idolatry infiltrated almost every area of civilization. Even in Israel, the religious leaders had made an idol of their rituals, substituting unrelenting legalism for a relationship with the true God.

Then, over the skies of Bethlehem, angels broke through the darkness of hopelessness and bathed a group of shepherds in a great light. A heavenly host praised God and proclaimed hope: “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10–11, NASB).

The angels’ message declared the arrival of God’s Son, the One who would identify Himself as the Light of the World. God had not forgotten His people. In the fullness of time He broke into our dark world and shone the light of hope and restoration.

As I decorate my house with Christmas lights, the twinkling lights remind me there is no darkness that cannot be dispelled by the light of God’s presence. As I sing familiar Christmas carols, I remember that the Light of the World was heralded by angels. And as I decorate my Christmas tree, I welcome the assurance that even the darkest sin was paid for when God’s Son hung on a different kind of tree.

So how are you using your words and your writing to cast light in a dark world? As the moon reflects the sun, are you using your writing to reflect the Light of the World?

Your words and mine can bring hope to the hopeless and dispel the darkness. Let’s commit to using our words to draw others to the Light of the World this Christmas—for His glory!

*  *  *

Ava Pennington is a writer, Bible teacher, and speaker. Her book, Daily Reflections on the Names of God: A Devotional, is endorsed by Precepts founder Kay Arthur. She has also written numerous articles for magazines such as Clubhouse, Today’s Christian Woman, Power for Living, and Called. In addition to her writing, Ava teaches a weekly Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) class of 300 women. She is a passionate speaker and teacher and delights in challenging audiences with the truth of God’s word in relevant, enjoyable presentations. Ava and Russ have been married for 40 years and live in southeast Florida.

For more information, visit her at www.AvaWrites.com.

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Showing Christmas Using the Five Senses

Show; don’t tell.

We hear it all the time. Don’t tell the reader, show the reader. Draw readers into your story. Make it easy for them to feel as if they’re in the middle of whatever you’re writing.

Prompted by a recent series of blog posts on the Hartline Literary Agency website, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to use the five senses in my writing, especially during this Christmas season.

See Christmas

How do you write about what you see during the Christmas season? Do you describe twinkling lights, brightly colored wrapping paper, and lush garland greenery? Hmmm . . . a bit clichéd.

Consider a fresh approach. Have you noticed how homes respond to the earlier twilight? One by one, their lights flick on until entire blocks glow with inviting cheer. Regardless of your mood, you can’t help but smile at each building. They’re dressed as if ready to attend a royal ball . . . some in gaudy costumes reminiscent of Cinderella’s gauche step-sisters, and others looking as elegant as if Cinderella herself might appear at the front door.

But did you also notice the longing in the face of a single mom as she checks the price tag on a bicycle at Walmart before she walks away, shoulders slumped?

Hear Christmas

What do you hear during the Christmas season? Sleigh bells? Singing carolers? The crunch of snow under booted feet? Once again, a bit clichéd.

Listen more closely. Do you hear smothered giggles and whispers as siblings plan the gift they’ll make for their mom? Or the crackling of pine cones consumed by flames in the fireplace? How about the crescendo of a choir as the Hallelujah Chorus swells to fill the church and draws us to join the angels in praise?

But did you also hear the wistfulness in the voice of a new widow as she wishes you Merry Christmas even though she’s feeling anything but merry?

Smell Christmas

Do you write about the smells of pine trees in living rooms and chestnuts roasting in kitchens? Too easy!

Instead, close your eyes and recall the scents of your childhood. The aroma of cinnamon sticks stirring apple cider. Orange peel and cloves simmering in a potpourri on the stove. Move beyond the obvious!

Taste Christmas

What tastes of Christmas do you include in your descriptions? Peppermint candy canes? Gingerbread?

How about the smooth heat of hot chocolate as it coats your tongue and warms your throat? Or a creamy sip of eggnog? Maybe you remember the tartness of mashed cranberries alongside slices of Mom’s tender Christmas turkey.

Touch Christmas

Finally, what comes to mind when you think about the sense of touch relating to Christmas? You could write about cold, wet snow. Then again, so does everyone else.

Think again. How about the feel of a stolen kiss under the mistletoe? Or how your hand slides along the smooth surface of a package covered in glossy wrapping paper? Perhaps you thought of the velvety white trim on the costume worn by the mall Santa. And we can’t forget the various textures combined on the ugly Christmas sweater your grandmother bought you last year.

Challenge yourself this holiday season. Move beyond the usual descriptions to release fresh descriptions that will hold your readers’ attention!

What Christmas examples can you add to this post?

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Christmas Reflections—Benefits of Christian Writing

10871324_sFor me, this has been one of my best Christmases ever, though you probably wouldn’t have guessed it:

  • My daughter’s family lives in North Carolina, and they spent Christmas with her husband’s family again, where there are plenty of children of all ages for the grandchildren to play with.
  • Our unofficially adopted daughter who lives nearby had toddlers with the flu, so we were encouraged not to come for a visit.
  • We couldn’t afford afford to travel to New York or Tennessee to be with my husband’s family or my own brothers and sisters.
  • We never accomplished getting a Christmas tree up in our home again this year.
  • The above situations aren’t all that unique to me. Click here to see what I posted in Christian Children’s Authors three years ago.

On the upside, we had other things going for us this year:

  • We enjoyed singing in two different Christmas concerts this year. Our own church choir is exceptional, and it’s such a privilege to sing in it—even more so considering the small rural community we live in. The other choir was made up of two church choirs that joined forces and sang in both churches on two Sunday evenings in a row. It was a blessing to enjoy that fellowship with Christians in other churches.
  • We’re trying to prepare property in the country to build a home on, and we were given the free use of a “Bobcat” (mini-Caterpillar) for a couple weeks recently to help clear areas on the property and make a circular driveway. Our tiny cabin-in-the-making provided a rustic getaway for us, and that’s where we spent Christmas Day.
  • The weather was beautiful.

But the big difference in this year’s Christmas apart from that of earlier years came from the object of my focus—the baby Jesus Christ and the message of the first Christmas.

I can’t exactly take credit for setting out to make Him the total focus over the past few weeks. This was the byproduct of a blogging series I took on early in December for my Bible Bites 4 Teens blog. My goal was to write a series of posts that would encourage teens to focus on Christ this Christmas.

I used the arrangement of my children’s book The First Christmas along with the illustrations but tried to delve a little deeper for a teen audience. This pushed me to re-read and explore the various passages as well as explore what others had written about the various events. So these events were continually on my mind as I wrote one post after another.

I tried to time publishing each post to spread the posts out at the beginning, giving a sense of time passing, and closer together at the time of the birth of Christ and the shepherds’ visit. Then the last posts about the wise men are spread out again to convey the time it took for them to travel from a distant country. The last posts still haven’t published, and some still haven’t been written.

I’ve never felt so primed to feel the presence of God, Emmanuel, God with us . . . who left His home in Heaven to squeeze His full personhood into a tiny baby that had to be fed and cared for by a human mother and stepfather.

Glory!

And the angels came to tell the lowly shepherds that nobody else valued.

Hosanna!

And the heavens opened up with legions of angels praising God!

Alleluia!

And then there was Mary and Joseph and Baby Jesus, wide-eyed with wonder. What would it be like to be the earthly parents of this little baby who was God Himself?

Waiting…
and wondering…
       for thirty more years before Christ would begin His ministry.

*** 

Janice D. Green is the author of The First ChristmasShe has a passion for reaching youth with the hope that’s available to them in God’s Word. Remembering her own youth and the mistakes she made in her past has added much fuel to her passion. She wished she had understood better what the Bible had to offer during those trying years, and hopes to share these insights with teens through her blog, Bible Bites 4 Teens.

Janice has over twenty years of experience in the public school system and has always treasured the relationships she developed with her students. She often found herself defending one or more students who were being picked on in one way or another; she discovered that defending them bonded her more closely with all her students.

Front cover RGB (300)

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Hopes and Fears

The Christmas season is filled with hope . . . and for many of us, with fears too.

One Christmas hymn in particular speaks to my writer’s hopes and fears.

“O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”

Hopes and fears. We writers can be an insecure bunch anyway, but as we approach a new year, all our writing hopes and fears push to the fore.

Hope

What do you hope for in your writing life?

  • New contracts?
  • New contacts?
  • An editor who likes your completed manuscript just as it is?
  • A book on the ECPA bestseller list?

What do you fear?

  • That your last contract is your last contract?
  • That you won’t ever connect with your dream editor?
  • That your completed manuscript will bleed edits on every line?
  • That your sales won’t rise above a trickle?

Rather than ask what you hope for or what you fear, the better question to ask is, To whom do you belong? The answer is found in the third stanza of this hymn:

“How silently, how silently, the wondrous Gift is giv’n;
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His Heav’n.
No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.”

Jesus is the Christ—the Messiah—the Anointed One, who was born to die. Because of what He did, we have the opportunity and privilege of belonging to the sovereign God of creation. And if we belong to Him, then how can we not trust Him for all our hopes and fears?

Our writing is not our own. We don’t do it for ourselves. We do it for the glory of the One who gave us this gift. The fifth stanza says it all:

“O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel!”

Emmanuel. God with us. Lord over us and Lord with us. He is with us when . . .

We’re staring at a blank computer screen, desperate for words that don’t come.

We’re sitting with an editor at a conference, tripping over our tongues.

    We hit the send button on that finished manuscript.

Our book sales are stellar . . . or in the basement.

Trust the One you belong to. As the new year begins, give Him your hopes and your fears. Your words and your books. Your contracts and your sales results. Do it, knowing that the God who sent His Son to die for you is the same One who gave you the gift of words, and who will use that gift for His glory. If you do, no matter what happens, 2016 will be a terrific year.

***

Ava Pennington is a writer, Bible teacher, and speaker. Her newest book, Daily Reflections on the Names of God: A Devotional, is endorsed by Precepts founder Kay Arthur. She has also written numerous articles for magazines such as Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse, Today’s Christian Woman, Power for Living, and CalledIn addition, Ava teaches a weekly Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) class. She is a passionate speaker and teacher and delights in challenging audiences with the truth of God’s Word in relevant, enjoyable presentations. For more information, visit her at www.AvaWrites.com.