Christmas Matters by Betsy Iler

This article appeared in Lake Magazine’s December 2020 issue.

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Last year at this time, Lake Martin’s Katy Shelton called her childhood friend Anna Nash with a book idea for the two of them to write.

“I was reading one of the parables in Luke’s Gospel, and I didn’t know what it meant. So I called my wise friend, Anna, and said, ‘Hey, do you want to write a book about these parables and bring them down to our level?” Shelton explained.

The two grew up together in Birmingham. They attended Briarwood Christian School and went to church together. They roomed together at Auburn and kept in touch through Christmas cards after they both married and moved away. But they reconnected at a college reunion and began to collaborate through Beacon People, a non-profit that connects people with opportunities to make an impact.

“I needed an editor,” Nash said.

Through Beacon People, Shelton and Nash worked together on a number of projects, including Nash’s book and study workshop, pathFinder, A Journey Towards Purpose, so it was perfectly natural that Shelton would suggest a book project to Nash.

“She said ‘no, absolutely not,’” Shelton continued. “She said she was not qualified to write that book.”

“I didn’t go to seminary; I’m not a theologian. Other people have written about the parables in Luke’s Gospel, people who are more qualified than I am,” Nash said. “Katy said, ‘I am going to give you 24 hours. Pray about it and call me tomorrow.’”

The next morning, Nash opened her Bible to the first chapter of Luke and prayed for revelation and direction.

“The idea of Luke being 24 chapters stuck with us, and we came up with the idea for a devotional to read while we’re getting ready for Christmas,” Nash said.

Christmas Matters, How the Birth of Jesus Makes a Difference Every Day is a work from a fresh perspective.

“The challenge was to look more deeply into it and see the character of Jesus. Luke talks about it in his Gospel as a Christ-follower, so we were trying to see it through Luke’s eyes, how he perceived Jesus,” Nash said.

Each day’s reading is captioned as a single word that captures Luke’s directives, Nash said. “Anticipate,” “Receive” and “Proclaim” start the 24-day series that leads readers through one chapter of the gospel each day. “Heal,” “Hunger,” “Retreat,” “Hope,” “Wrestle” and finally, “Triumph” encourage readers to adopt the character of Christ.

“We are made in God’s image. It says that a lot in the Bible,” Nash said. “A lot of people in this culture would say they are believers. They have a general understanding of the Bible and what it says about Jesus, but I think, unfortunately, we can get to a place where Christianity becomes more religious and less relational.

“My passion was to look at Luke and the narrative of Jesus life and speak about that in terms that weren’t Christian cliché. That we might see Christmas from a different angle.”

The writers tried to step away from their Presbyterian upbringing to be influenced more in this case by their personal relationships with Jesus than by the theology behind their religious education and study.

“I’m basically a sinner that loves the Lord and wants other people to know,” said Shelton, who shared the writing of each devotional chapter with Nash and picked up the slack when COVID-19 hit.

“Anna and her husband own a coffee shop in Birmingham, and when COVID-19 came along, they had to develop a new business model. They didn’t close; they changed how they served their customers, but for a while there, she couldn’t work on the book,” Shelton said.

“I work in the office at UAB Medicine Russell Medical Cancer Center in Alexander City and live on Lake Martin, and I took a furlough when the pandemic hit. Anna got busier, and I got a vacation at the lake.”

Shelton traded her editor’s hat for that of writer on this project, but having edited Nash’s writing for more than three years, the chapters flow easily, as Nash poured her heart onto the pages, and Shelton turned the discussions into chapters.

“She knows my voice very well,” Nash said.

Working together on this project added more depth and dimension to their lifelong friendship, as the collaboration required the gifts that each of them brought to it.

“You know sometimes when you are using the gifts that God gave you, you’re in your zone. I had a lot of moments like that with Katy in this writing process. I think you are most inspiring to others when you feel inspired in your own heart, and we felt that with each other,” said Nash.

The chapter captions took on new meaning as the environment of the pandemic became routine life.

“We couldn’t market this book like it was Joy to the World, the Lord Has Come. The words of Christmas – peace, comfort, joy and hope – these are words that are on Christmas cards, but this year, these words mean something completely different to all of us. This year, we know what it actually feels like to not have peace,” Nash explained. “We need a promise, something we can stand on, and that’s why Christmas matters. If we have hope for tomorrow, things will be different for today.”

Published by SCWC Books, Christmas Matters, How the Birth of Jesus Makes a Difference Every Day is available for pre-order through Amazon and can be read on Kindle, smartphone, tablet, laptop or computer. The writers will offer a PDF format of the book for printing at home, priced at $7.99. A companion website, christmasmattersbook.com, is already live. Nash and Shelton hope the hard copy will be available for Christmas 2021.

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Christmas Matters is now available on Amazon.

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