Merry Christmas! Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery

I wish for you and yours a special time of wonder remembering God’s love for us and showing His love to each other.

Come behold the wondrous mystery
In the dawning of the King
He the theme of heaven’s praises
Robed in frail humanity

In our longing, in our darkness
Now the light of life has come
Look to Christ, who condescended
Took on flesh to ransom us

From “Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery” by Matt Papa, Matt Boswell, Michael Bleecker

Laudable Linkage

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I’m waaaay behind on my blog reading. But I wanted to go ahead and share the ones concerning Christmas before it was all over.

We Need a Little Christmas! I love both meanings of this post by Lesley.

This Is Not How I Thought My Story Would Go, HT to Diane Heeney. Good applications drawn from Mary’s life.

We Wait in Darkness: Some Thoughts for Advent. “In Advent, we wait in the darkness. But we do not, I am convinced, wait hopelessly. For while we wait, we can tend the flame. The stories each of our homes are telling can be ones that lend flesh to truth, goodness, and beauty, so that the waiting we do can tend the flame of the Gospel flickering inside our hearts.”

Goodnight Till Then. Those of you who know Tim Challies know that his college-age son died suddenly and unexpectedly a few weeks ago. Also from Tim: When All Seems to Be Gain, Plan for Loss.

Do You Ever Wonder? Lessons Learned from Rebecca. Both Rebekah and Sarah manipulated events instead of trusting God’s promises. We all leave a string of failures in our wake, but thank God He redeems them.

Looking for Joy? Abide. “In addressing His disciples hours before His arrest, Jesus tells them over and over to abide, to remain, to dwell in Him. He knows that they’re worried about what life will look like without Him, so He gives them these instructions for a specific reason: “that [their] joy may be full” (John 15:11).”

On Benedictions, Part 1: He Who Is Able. “This passage doesn’t promise that we’ll never stumble into sin. But it does promise that God’s grace can enable us to persevere to the end—to stand before his throne still blameless, still washed by the blood of Christ, still cleansed from the sin in which we all too readily engaged.”

Assurance in an Age of Cancel Culture, HT to Challies. These days of being so easily “cancelled” when the culture at large doesn’t like what we say can make us fearful of speaking out. “This article is an outpouring of my inner war with ‘cancel culture’ and fear of man. These Biblical truths are weapons of warfare for me in the middle of my fight with ‘cancel culture.’”

Meatloaf Ministry. If you’ve ever been part of a church food ministry or any behind-the-scenes ministry, this will bless you.

Social Justice in Our Divided Age. Not everyone means the same thing by that term, which causes confusion and even hard feelings at times. I thought this was a good explanation.

Happy Saturday!

Laudable Linkage

A collection of good reading online

Here are some great reads found this week, the first few Christmas-related.

Christmas Is for Dark Times, HT to Challies. “For many, 2020 has been a dark year – physically, emotionally, mentally, financially. People have lost their loved ones, their jobs, their security and their health. Does this mean Christmas should be cancelled? No. The real Christmas happens in the darkness.”

3 Ways to Have Less Stress at Christmas. We can all use less stress, especially this time of year. I love Stacey’s tips.

An Advent Mindset: Mary’s Prayer. Sarah brought out some aspects of Mary’s prayer that I had not considered before.

A Simple Strategy for Meditating in God’s Word, HT to Challies. “God speaks to you directly through His Word. He directs your heart as you read it and meditate on it. Here is a simple strategy that can help you to feed on God’s Word directly.”

Can a Difficult Marriage Change? Sarah shares from 20 years of experience.

The Biggest Threat Faced by the Church, HT to Challies. “What is the biggest threat faced by the church today? Many in the U.S. seem to think the answer is government tyranny. Tyranny is always a danger, but tyranny is not the biggest threat faced by the church in the U.S. or any other nation.”

All Moms Need to Do Is Remain, HT to the Story Warren. “But moms already have so much work to do, and our relationship with God is often put on the backburner. Well-meaning friends, family, and podcast hosts may tell you that it’s okay, busy moms just don’t have time to meet with God. People think they are letting you off the hook, but it makes remaining with God seem impossible (or at least improbable).”

Are Masks a Conscience Issue? HT to Challies. “I’m not qualified to offer a defining medical word on masks, but I want to offer some thoughts on the implications for Christians who refuse to wear a mask because they say it violates their conscience.”

And finally, a fun look at different kinds of Christmas shoppers, HT to Steve Laube:

Happy Saturday!

Laudable Linkage

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Are you enjoying the last few days of visiting with family, as we are? Or chasing end-of-year sales or gearing up to go back to work on Monday? If you have some leisure, these recent online finds have much good to share. Maybe one or two will pique your interest.

A few related to Christmas:

Handel’s—and Jennens’s—“Messiah“, HT to Challies. I didn’t know that Handel only wrote the music, not the words to his famous oratorio, “The Messiah.” Here’s a look at the man who wrote the libretto and why he did.

An Idaho boy married the girl he sent an Operation Christmas Child Shoebox to, HT to Laura. Sweet story!

Competing with Christmas? I like this idea of leveraging the “fun” aspects of the season rather than seeing them as a competition for the spiritual side.

Wise Men: Gentiles Who Sought the Savior. I enjoyed this look at the Magi, the reminder that salvation has always been available to Gentiles, and the contrast between the reaction of Jews and Gentiles at Christ’s birth. I was particularly intrigued by the “bookends” Chris pointed out in the gospels. For instance, myrrh was a gift brought to Jesus at His birth and ointment was poured on Him not long before His death; He was called the King of the Jews by the wise men but not called that again until the crucifixion. I had known those as separate facts but never thought of them as bookends.

When Love Is Hard to Give, and Harder to Receive.

A Weary Mom Rejoices. When the world seems too much, it’s good to rest in the only One who can do anything about it.

That Might Preach, But…it might be not accurate, or the main message of the text. HT to Challies. “In our desire to make Scripture ‘preachable’ we import uncertain meanings into the text, while ignoring glorious truths that are actually there.”

A Fragrant Offering, HT to Challies. “It is through our willingness to bear the sufferings of others that people will see Christ. As we do, we become a pleasing aroma to God and the ones we love. The prevailing aroma of Christ pours forth in and through us.”

Still Looking for That Better Country, HT to Challies. Really interesting perspective from a missionary living in a country she’s not a citizen of, comparing that to our living in the world yet being a citizen of heaven, warning herself against the settling-down that can take place as she comes to her own country.

To Serve God in Heaven Will Be a Great Reward, HT to Challies. I’ve often wondered about that phrase concerning serving God in heaven. “Service is a reward, not a punishment. This idea is foreign to people who dislike their work and only put up with it until retirement. We think that faithful work should be rewarded by a vacation for the rest of our lives. But God offers us something very different…”

‘Advertising breaks your spirit’: the French cities trying to ban public adverts, HT once again to Challies. Yes! I can’t condone public vandalism in the name of stopping advertisements, but I agree with pushing back against being assaulted by advertising in every nook and cranny.

And finally, interesting footage of a seagull who stole someone’s GoPro. I’m amazed the owner got it back!

Happy Saturday!

A Perfect Christmas

(Photo courtesy of Bev Lloyd-Roberts at the stock.xchng.)

Most of us have a vision in our minds of the perfect Christmas: family gathered around, a clean and sparkling house, a beautifully adorned Christmas tree with piles of lovingly chosen presents underneath, a feast for the eyes and the table, scents of roasting turkey or ham, pumpkin pies, apple cider, everyone marvelously getting along like the end of a made-for-TV movie.

But what if that’s not reality this year?

What if one member is in prison? Or the hospital? Or overseas or across the country? Or in heaven?

What if a lost job or a major medical expense has led to a depleted bank account and bare cupboards?

What if grief overshadows joy?

Is Christmas then ruined?

Let’s go back to that first Christmas.

Mary and Joseph away from home in a strange city. They did not have a beautifully decorated house: they did not even have a hotel room. The only scents of the season were those of nearby animals. Mary, as a young, first-time mother, did not have the blessing of a modern hospital and sanitary conditions, a skilled nursing staff and childbirth training. Giving birth was painful and messy. If Joseph was her lone attendant, he would have been out of his element helping a woman deliver a baby. Perhaps he was dismayed or frustrated that he could not provide better for her in her moment of need. And after the blessed relief of a healthy child safely born, there was little acknowledgment of this Child. The shepherds, Simeon and Anna, and, later on, the wise men rejoiced in who He was. But soon the young parents would face the danger of a king bent on killing the Child in their care. Mary’s reputation would suffer as many thought her Child was illegitimate. The ominous promise hung over her head that a sword would pierce through Mary’s own soul.

What did Mary and Joseph have then, that lonely, uncomfortable, smelly night? They had the Child of promise. A Child whom they were told to name Jesus, which means “Jehovah saves.” His very name is a promise. He would reconcile them to God by taking care of their greatest need: He would “save His people from their sins.” They had the realization that this Child was the long-awaited and longed-for Messiah, the King, the Son of the Highest. What cause for joy and wonder! They had no idea how it would all work out. But they had the promise, and because of the promise, they had hope.

It’s certainly not wrong to enjoy a decorated tree, presents, wonderful food, and family gathered. But we can celebrate Christmas even all of those elements are missing or less than ideal. We can celebrate in our own hearts and with those around us that same promise, that same hope. Like Mary, we can treasure these things and ponder them in our hearts. Like the shepherds, we can make “known the saying that had been told them concerning this child” and go back to daily lifeglorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them” (Luke 2: 17-20). If all we have is faith in Jesus’ fulfillment of the hope and promise of that first Christmas, we are blessed indeed.

(Revised from the archives)

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Global Blogging, Senior Salon, Hearth and Soul,
Happy Now, InstaEncouragement, Anchored Abode, Grace and Truth, Faith on Fire)

God With Us

Our church is reading through Matthew this month. Luke’s account of Christ’s birth is more detailed than Matthew’s compact version. But one thing that stands out to me in Matthew’s telling is at the end of chapter one.

After reassuring Joseph that Mary is still pure and her pregnancy is of the Holy Spirit, the angel says: “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Then Matthew adds this comment:

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).

Jesus was to be the baby’s name, but He would also be called Immanuel. The prophecy Matthew quoted was from Isaiah 7:14, written around 700 years before Matthew’s book.

We often zip by that phrase to get to the next part of the narrative. But the fact that God is with us is so significant, I want to ponder it for a moment.

God was with His people in full fellowship and harmony in the garden of Eden. But then they sinned and were sent out of the garden. Sin separates from God. He is always omnipresent, everywhere at all times. But that complete, harmonious fellowship was broken. He made a way for people to be reconciled to Him through Christ, but Jesus’ sacrifice would not take place for thousands of years. People in the OT looked ahead to what God would do to redeem them. People in the NT and our day look back.

God told Isaac: “I am the God of Abraham your father. Fear not, for I am with you and will bless you” (Genesis 26:3).

Israel became God’s chosen people, known especially because their God was with them. He was not a block of wood or brass set up in a tent. He was a Spirit who led and protected them. After one of Israel’s most grievous sins in the wilderness, before they came to the promised land, God sent them on ahead with Moses. God promised to make the way for them into Canaan, but He would not go with them “lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.” Moses pleaded:

 Moses said to the Lord, “See, you say to me, ‘Bring up this people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’ Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.”

And [God] said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

And he said to him, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?” (Exodus 33:1-16).

Have you ever felt like Moses? “Don’t send me if You’re not going with me. I can’t go forward without You.”

Before Moses died, he assured the people, “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you. (Deuteronomy 31:6).

When Moses died and Joshua was appointed to take Israel on to the promised land, God reassured him, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).

The psalmist rejoiced, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. . . The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress” (Psalm 46:1, 4, 11).

David declared, “I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. . . You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:8,11).

The prophets, who so often had to point out the people’s sins, also reminded them that God had nor forsaken them and was with them. “Then Haggai, the messenger of the LORD, spoke by the commission of the LORD to the people saying, ‘I am with you,’ declares the LORD. . . all you people of the land take courage,’ declares the LORD, ‘and work; for I am with you,’ declares the LORD of hosts” (Haggai 1:13; 2:4).

Through Isaiah, God promised His people: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you” (Isaiah 43:2). Notice He didn’t say “if” you pass through water and through fire. He said “when.” Trouble’s going to come. But God is with us in it. Earlier Isaiah had quoted God, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. . . For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, ‘Fear not, I am the one who helps you'” (Isaiah 43:10,13).

When Jesus took on flesh, He was with His people in a physical way. Before He ascended back to heaven, He promised them, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

Those verses we often lean on in anxiety in Philippians 4 are predicated by “The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”(Philippians 4:5b-7).

We can trust God for our provision. “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’” (Hebrews 13:5).

At the end of life, if we know Him, we can rest in the fact that “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff,  they comfort me”( Psalm 23:4). Then we’ll be “absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord” once again in full fellowship unhindered by a sin nature (2 Corinthians 5:8).

An old song said God is watching us from a distance. No, He is very close. “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13). Because Jesus was God’s Son, born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, died on the cross for our sins, and rose again, we can be forgiven, redeemed, close to Him. In overcoming and need, in anxiety and danger, in everyday life and our walk with God, and finally in death, we can rest and rejoice in the fact that God is with us.

For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones. (Isaiah 57:15).

Immanuel

Written by C. H. Spurgeon at the age of 18

When once I mourned a load of sin;
When conscience felt a wound within;
When all my works were thrown away;
When on my knees I knelt to pray,
Then, blissful hour, remembered well,
I learned Thy love, Immanuel.

When storms of sorrow toss my soul;
When waves of care around me roll;
When comforts sink, when joys shall flee;
When hopeless griefs shall gape for me,
One word the tempest’s rage shall quell–
That word, Thy name, Immanuel.

When for the truth I suffer shame;
When foes pour scandal on my name;
When cruel taunts and jeers abound;
When “Bulls of Bashan” gird me round,
Secure within Thy tower I’ll dwell–
That tower, Thy grace, Immanuel.

When hell enraged lifts up her roar;
When Satan stops my path before;
When fiends rejoice and wait my end;
When legioned hosts their arrows send,
Fear not, my soul, but hurl at hell
Thy battle-cry, Immanuel.

When down the hill of life I go;
When o’er my feet death’s waters flow;
When in the deep’ning flood I sink;
When friends stand weeping on the brink,
I’ll mingle with my last farewell
Thy lovely name, Immanuel.

When tears are banished from mine eye;
When fairer worlds than these are nigh;
When heaven shall fill my ravished sight;
When I shall bathe in sweet delight,
One joy all joys shall far excel,
To see Thy face, Immanuel.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Global Blogging, Senior Salon, Hearth and Soul, Purposeful Faith, Happy Now, InstaEncouragement, Anchored Abode,
Worth Beyond Rubies, Recharge Wednesday, Let’s Have Coffee,
Faith on Fire, Grace and Truth)

Musings Of A Tired Mummy

 

Laudable Linkage

Here’s my latest round-up of noteworthy reads:

Lies That Keep Women from the Word: Busyness Is Not the Problem, HT to True Woman. “Imagine if you thought that in order for a green bean to nourish you, you had to eat it in a calm place with nice lighting and no kids. What if a shower cleaned you only when you had a journal on hand to write about it? Or what if toothpaste worked only in Instagrammable moments?” Silly, yet we do the same thing with Bible reading. Good stuff here.

A Different Kind of Christmas List. Doing all the things leaves us exhausted. Choose the ones that mean the most to you and your family.

The Christmas Rush. From the first Christmas to now, people rush by the most important aspect of Christmas.

Someone Needs to See You Suffer Well. “Don’t assume your suffering is a detour. Suffering may hinder or even halt a hundred things in our lives, but God loves to use our griefs to magnify our small visions of him. And suffering makes the gospel run with a pace unknown in prosperity.”

Some Kids Barely Survive Christmas: Celebrating the Son with Special Needs. “Special needs can isolate families. When a child’s sensitivities preclude even a routine trip to the grocery store, the usual avenues of fellowship — birthday parties, baby showers, church-wide dinners — become unfeasible. But love and fellowship from other believers, offered without judgment, can provide parents a cool cup of water as they labor through arid terrain.”

The Humility of the Given Self. Wise words on sacrifice and humility in motherhood, but applicable to all of us who are task-oriented.

Why Did God Give My Kids a Sick Mom? HT to True Woman. “For mothers struggling with chronic pain, fatigue, physical or mental illness, our inabilities can be soul-crushing. . . . We want our kids to see us smile, even though it’s hard. . . . Whether or not you’ve struggled with significant illness, we all have seasons when we worry we don’t have enough to give to our children. And we can all be encouraged that God has good purposes for us and our children in every season.”

From Girl Power Strong to the Right Kind of Strong. HT to True Woman. “The Bible’s concept of weak and strong doesn’t line up with culture’s. This is especially the case when it comes to ideas about womanhood.”

And for a Christmas smile:

Happy Saturday!

Book Review: The Christmas Heirloom

Christmas Heirloom The Christmas Heirloom: Four Holiday Novellas of Love through the Generations by Karen Witemeyer, Kristi Ann Hunter, and Becky Wade follows a family brooch handed down through generations.

“A Legacy of Love” by Kristi Ann Hunter takes place in 1827 England. Sarah Gooding came about her job as a lady’s companion in an unusual way, and she and her employer have a close relationship. Sarah is attracted to her employer’s grandson, but their different stations in life would prohibit anything more than friendship between them. Yet they do come to each other’s attention in protecting Lady Densbury’s interests, and she’s unconventional enough to help their relationship along. She bequeaths Sarah a brooch that had been given to her by her husband when they first married.

“Gift of the Heart” by Karen Witemeyer takes place several generations later in 1890. Ruth Fulbright is a young widow starting a new chapter in life with her daughter. They travel several miles via stage coach to a new job as a cook in Hope Springs, TX. She carries her heirloom brooch in an bag embroidered with her initials plus those of its three owners before her. Not having quite enough money for accommodations, she proposes giving the brooch as collateral to her landlord until she can earn enough to buy it back. Normally he would not accept such an arrangement, but she does not take no as an answer, and he sees how much it means to her. He has been almost a recluse since an injury and disfigurement of his arm in his youth changed his mother’s perception of him. He thinks everyone must feel about his handicap the same as she did. But Ruth’s bright spirit draws him out.

In “A Shot at Love” by Sarah Loudin Thomas, Fleeta’s parents have passed away, and she lives with an aunt and uncle in Bethel, West Virginia in 1958. Her main interest in life is guns: known as a crack shot, she also loves building them and carving designs into them. Her hope is to have her own gun store. Fleeta’s aunt brings out the brooch and tells Fleeta about it, saying her mother had wanted her to have it “when the time was right for [her] to find true love.” Fleeta doesn’t have much interest in love. Grief for her father hastened her mother’s demise, and other women seem to be held back by the romantic relationships in their lives. But then a stranger comes to town, a friend of a friend, who is just as good a shot and has just as much an interest in guns as she does. And he’s not put off by her unconventional femininity.

“Because of You” by Becky Wade tales place in modern-day Merryweather, Washington. Maddie Winslow had a crush on Leo Donnelly, but Leo married her friend, Olivia. But Olivia has passed away, leaving behind a young son as well as a grieving husband. Maddie still loves Leo but feels loyalty to Olivia places him “off limits.” Maddie and Leo are paired together for their church’s “Mission Christmas,” in which the different participants work together to help a family without means during the holidays. Maddie comes across the brooch while looking in the attic for items for a fund-raising rummage sale. She asks her mother about it and learns the story. Thankfully someone’s family history research reveals the brooch’s past. Leo had had no thoughts of loving again, but as he gets to know Maddie, he begins to think his heart can love again. The only thing I didn’t like about this one was multiple mentions of going to bars and drinking alcohol. I know Christians have a variety of opinions these days as to what exactly is acceptable in the realm of drinking, but I’d rather it was not “pushed” as normal. Having had an alcoholic father and visited a few bars before my salvation, to me, alcohol is part of the old life. There are any number of other places the folks in the story could have met.

There’s some mention of the brooch bringing its owners love, but the authors dispel the notion of it as something of a good luck charm, saying rather than love comes from God’s leading and provision.

This was a sweet, clean, enjoyable holiday read.

(Sharing with Literary Musing Monday, Carole’s Books You Loved)

Laudable Linkage

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I wanted to share these before we get too far away from Christmas since many of these posts relate to it.

Desperation, a Speech, and a Sick Child: Dickens and “A Christmas Carol.” What spurred the writing of Dickens’ most famous Christmas work.

What We Lose if We Ditch the Virgin Birth, HT to Challies.

One part of the Biblical Christmas story that often gets passed over is the murder of male babies in an effort to exterminate Christ. Two articles discerning truth from that horrendous occurrence are The Forgotten Part of the Christmas Story, HT to Challies, and From the Manger to the Cross: Mourning the Slaughter of the Holy Innocents.

Why Modern Christians Should Obey the Ten Commandments, HT to Challies.

ProLife Speaker Ryan Bomberger Publicly Discredited for Making Wheaton College Students and Professors Feel “Unsafe,” HT to Challies: “There is a right to free speech, but not a right to hear only what you want to hear.” “Our society and our colleges are under no obligation to protect frail and vulnerable college students from the discomforts of hearing what they don’t agree with. In my opinion, thin-skinned intellectualism has no place on college campuses. We need to encourage students to learn how to articulate their own ideas, not to try to shut down others from articulating theirs.”

Teach Your Teen How to Read the Bible.

There are usually lots of posts about Bible reading plans at the end of December and beginning of January. Lisa has created a 2-year Bible Reading Plan that I think is really good. I found the “Bible in a year” plans a little too rushed and pressured, so 2 years gives you a little more breathing room. It’s good to have both overview reading, to keep the big picture in mind and to read all of God’s inspired Word, and to do some more intense study on smaller bits as well. Lisa’s plan leaves room for both.

Giving Up Our Rights, HT to Challies. “Consider the formula: Giving up rights = Gospel advancement. Rights are those preferences and freedoms we enjoy as Christians related to what we eat, drink, and enjoy and even some things that we are owed or deserve.”

And, finally, this rang true for me, especially not knowing the day!

Found at Pinterest, apparently from the Letterfolk Instagram account.

Happy last Saturday of 2018!