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Monday, December 28, 2020

Christmas and Good Friday

Subtitle: The Cradle and The Cross

Good Friday, of course, is the Friday before Easter when we commemorate the crucifixion: the death of Christ for our sins.

Often preachers have mentioned that we can see the cross in the cradle. It seems that artists have pictured the manger scene with a cross foreshadowing in the background, and if memory hasn't failed me yet, I believe there was a song about the same tree being used for the manger and for the cross. 

However, this thought came to me because, in this year (2020), Christmas fell on a Friday.

To me, that makes it a "Good Friday."

The world has pretty much learned to celebrate Christmas, sometimes to the point of moving the Christ child from the center to the periphery. Then Easter comes and again we dress up in finery, maybe even go to church again and eat candy eggs and chocolate bunnies. But Good Friday...

We have to realize there would be no Easter, definitely no cross, without Christmas. On this "Good Friday" of Christmas, God became man, Immanuel - "God with us." It was His coming as one of us that showed us God's love. It was His dwelling among us that showed us how we could and should live.

It was His death, on that other Good Friday, that gave redemption from our sin.

Yes, as much as the world doesn't want to think about it, those two wonderful events are intimately bound together. The cradle and the cross; Christmas and Good Friday. Two blessed, glorious days for those who trust Jesus as Savior and Lord. Thanks be to God for His great Gift!

When I survey that holy Child,
There in a manger, God, yet man,
See as He lies so meek and mild,
Born thus to die for all my sin.

When I survey the wondrous cross,
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

[Isaac Watt's deserves credit for the great hymn, "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross." I'll take all the blame for the imitation in that first stanza above.]

Blessings for a wonderful Christmas season!

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Celebration vs Introspection

I grew up a Baptist. I'm still a Baptist. We didn't know about Advent. All we knew was that Christmas was a celebration of Christ's birth. We missed something in the process...

For many years, I've been concerned about how the church has allowed the world to give us guidance. And how we deal with Christmas is one of those areas.

Although the shopping season has gotten earlier and earlier, when I was growing up, Christmas arrived when Santa Claus waved at us from the end of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade.

After that it was a flurry of activity as we decorated, shopped for presents, attended parties, and prepared for Christmas music at church. Then, on Christmas was over. The food was consumed, the presents were open, and the garbage can was full.

One day I learned that the broader church throughout history had observed something called Advent.

Advent means coming, and to the church there is a dual understanding. While we prepare for the observance of Christ's first coming, we recognize that we are also preparing for His second coming.

Now, I had noticed something along the way, and it wasn't in church. I watched the Walton's Christmas movie. Perhaps you did too. Did you notice that they didn't even cut the tree down or decorate it until Christmas Eve? What?

In the history of the church, Advent has not been, nor is it, a time of celebration. Advent is a time of contemplation and introspection. In the time of Christ, the Jewish world was subject to the troubles of their times including being under the heavy hand of the Roman Empire and their vassal kings. They longed for the Messiah to come to set them free from their bondage. They were certainly not celebrating.

Today, in much the same way, we should take time to contemplate the world we are living in and the need for Christ's love and compassion in our relationships. It's a time for introspection as we examine ourselves and our relationship to Christ whose birth we are preparing to celebrate. Do our lives reflect Emmanuel, God with us?

Too often, as has been stated by others, we save our introspection until after Christmas when we contemplate how we're going to pay the bills.

But, then comes Christmas Day. Now, let's party! The promised One came to set us free from our sin. He came to give us abundant life. He even died that we could have eternal life. It's time to celebrate. You realize that Christmas doesn't end on the 25th. No, no, no! The church has set aside 12 days to celebrate.

What? You thought the 12 days of Christmas were leading up to Christmas? Too many do. No, the Twelve Days of Christmas start on Christmas Day. Even the song talks about gift giving on each of the 12 days. Of course, the greatest gift was on Day One - the Partridge in a Pear Tree - Christ the One and Only Savior of the World! Whoop, whoop! Are you ready to celebrate yet?

Now, I'm not going tell you to stop your parties and Christmas music. No, but I would encourage each of us to ponder, much as Jesus' mother, Mary, did, in our hearts the meaning of Christ's coming to the world and the implications it has for us. Perhaps we need time for introspection.

Then, when Christmas arrives, we might be ready to truly celebrate.

O come, Desire of nations, bind
All peoples in one heart and mind;
Bid envy, strife, and quarrels cease;
Fill the whole world with heaven's peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel!


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Thursday, December 17, 2020

Christmas at the Cemetery

Well, that's not what most people are thinking about at this time of year!


Although the season is wrapped up in jolly holly and smiling faces, we often hear of the number of people who feel a deep sense of loss, especially those who have recently lost a loved one. In ministry, we learn that there is much sickness and death in the interval between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Then, there is the depression that weighs down on so many.

Photo by Alex Dugquem from Pexels

A few years ago, I was privileged to officiate, just before Christmas, at the funeral service of a dear, sweet lady. It was a graveside service.

Much of what I shared were the wonderful things that I had learned or knew about her, interspersed with scripture passages that related to those thoughts.

However, as we drew to the end of the service and the reading of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, my favorite passage of encouragement at this time of grief and sadness, I swept my hands out and called attention to all of the graves around us.

"For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus...For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first."

As we looked around, we were reminded that Jesus came to show us that death is not the end; the cemetery is not our final destination. Because of that child born in Bethlehem, who grew up to be the One who died on the cross for our sins, and who rose from the dead, those who know Him as Savior and Lord have hope in eternal life.

Christmas at the cemetery? Think about it.

The cemetery can be a perfect place to celebrate Christmas.

"Come, Thou long-expected Jesus,
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release;
Let us find our rest in Thee."


Tuesday, December 15, 2020

There Is Peace

Several years ago, I was scheduled to lead a group to the Holy Land, when a major flare up of tension happened. The company I was traveling with postponed all trips. In order to keep those postponed trips scheduled, they chose to take current trip hosts and potential hosts on a one-week trip to show that travel could be done safely.

In the course of the trip, we arrived in Bethlehem at the Church of the Nativity, a church built to commemorate the birth of Christ.

Now perhaps you think of the stable where Jesus was born as being more like a barn, a wooden structure. I don't want to mess with your Christmas thoughts too much, but it's most likely that Jesus was born in a cave. In a land with more rocks than trees, Bethlehem has it's share of caves. In fact, the Church of the Nativity is built over a cave or series of caves.

In one of the caves is the "birthplace of Jesus." Here's a picture of the supposed site highly decorated.

After going with the tour to view this area of the cave, our group entered another section of the caves. It was here, near where Jesus was born, in the town of his birth, that our group sang, "O Little Town of Bethlehem."

In the midst of a crisis in the Holy Land, we sang,

"Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light."

It could be conflict in our world. In our country. In our streets.

We talk about peace. We talk about peace between countries and peace between neighbors. We talk about coming to peace with our inner demons.

But true peace is more than the absence or ceasing of conflict.

Peace is a quiet assurance that allows us to deal with any circumstance because our confidence is not found in ourselves or in others. We have confidence in the One who said to the wind and waves, "Peace, be still." The One who said, "Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful." (John 14:27)

May we find peace in relationship to the Prince of Peace.

This Sunday is the fourth Sunday in Advent and we light the candle of peace.

"O come to us, abide with us, Our Lord Immanuel!"


Saturday, December 12, 2020

There Is Joy

"Rejoice always" (1 Thessalonians 5:16 NASB)

It ranks right up there with these other challenging passages:
     "In everything give thanks." (1 Thessalonians 5:18 KJV)
     "Giving thanks always for all things." (Ephesians 5:20 KJV)

Just last night at my house, we had a semi-major disaster (I won't tell you what it was because it could be embarrassing since it was caused by human error). We had to stop everything else we were doing to deal with the issue that erupted to change our evening plans. In fact, we are still dealing with the aftermath and I anticipate it will continue to impact us for days to come.

So, how am I supposed to "rejoice"?

Well, the first thing we must do is separate the terms "happy" and "joy." They are not the same thing.

I am definitely not happy about the disaster at my house. Joy on the other hand is not predicated on circumstances. Joy is a characteristic of our inner being, our soul, that is impacted by the relationship we have with Christ. With Christ, we can have hope, love, peace, and joy. (Oooo! Sounds like advent!)

This Sunday, the third Sunday in Advent is about Joy. The French term Gaudette is often used to name this Sunday. I's the Latin word for Rejoice. The most visible symbol of this day is the pink or rose candle in the Advent Wreath.

We find joy in knowing that Christ has come, that Christ is present with us - even in the midst of the trials of our times, and that Christ will come again!

Together we sing, "Joy to the world, the Lord is come!"


PS: for more on "Joy to the World," the carol that wasn't a carol see my YouTube video.

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Christmas and Music

Like bread and butter, Christmas and music just go together.

Growing up in church there were the Christmas carols and Christmas plays or pageants with music.

On the radio, the Christmas songs; on the television, the Christmas shows filled with music.

Everybody and their little sister who made music had to make a Christmas album or do a Christmas show. Still do it seems.

So, with no  further ado, I'll share with you some of the Christmas music that has impacted me. There will be links to some of them which you are not required to click on, but if you do, please note that if you make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Of course, for my generation and perhaps more there was Alvin and the Chipmunks. Love 'em or hate 'em, they are a part of our Christmas heritage.

Earlier generations brought us Bing Crosby and the other crooners. My wife still loves and listens to this music. She says she may have been born in the wrong generation, but then she remembers that she wouldn't have met me if she had been born back then.

Last week I mentioned the Charlie Brown Christmas show and it's music. Definitely a staple for many of us. (Click here to read that post.)

In seminary, I was introduced to Handel's Messiah. Although much bigger than just Christmas, the Christmas portion and a few selections from other portions of this great work are often featured at Christmas. For some, it's not Christmas until they've heard or sung "Hallelujah" - that amazing chorus from Messiah.

Then, too, there were classical musicals like Amahl and the Night Visitors that I was introduced to as well.

Of course, many loved the music of Karen Carpenter and her brother, Richard (what a great name!!). I have a Christmas CD of theirs. Many were introduced to Chip Davis and Mannheim Steamroller - with their wonderfully diverse Christmas pieces although most people only  hear the synth driven songs that the radio plays every year.

Then, I was introduced to TSO, Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Most people only know them for "Carol of the Bells - Christmas Eve/Sarajevo" [from Christmas Eve and Other Stories] or "Christmas Canon Rocks," [from The Lost Christmas Eve] but each year they do a massive concert tour where they present a story such as "The Lost Christmas Eve" in story telling and a rock-driven Christmas tunes - including traditional carols. Strangely enough the most moving rendition of "O Holy Night" for me is a guitar solo by TSO. For me, a church musician of all things, Christmas is not complete unless I've listened to some of their music.

I also love a CD that I have called, Light Jazz Christmas Eve. The light jazz touches on these traditional Christmas songs are just so cool! (That's still a good word for jazz, right?)

And for some easy listening Christmas background music, I really like a set of CD's that I got many years ago called The Heart of Christmas. This set includes a classical guitar album (fabulous)and one with jazz piano (nice!). There are 2 others, but these are my favorites.

Finally, and I know I'm leaving out so many, many more of my own favorites - I have only barely touched on the Christmas Carol hymns since I wanted to give you a glimpse of some of the rest of my musical world and influences - but, for me, every year I have to hear a song that I was introduced to a few years ago. I don't even remember where I got the CD, but I love, love, love it. If nothing else, go immediately to YouTube and listen to The 12 Days of Christmas by Straight No Chaser [YouTube link or purchase the album]. It is funny and incredible. (Strangely enough it introduced me to the fantastic band Toto.) BTW: I enjoyed listening again while getting the Youtube link for you!!

Yes, Christmas and music. Know that the carols about Christ are where I live and breath, but my life is enhanced by all of the other Christmas music that helps us celebrate the birth of a Savior who was born to save us from our sins.

Be blessed!!


PS: What Christmas songs have impacted your life and your celebration? Let me know in the Comments below.

Friday, December 4, 2020

There Is Love

This coming Sunday, December 6, 2020, is the second Sunday in Advent.

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." John 3:16

Some choose other themes, but I like for this Sunday to be the Sunday of Love. Usually, this Sunday focuses on John the Baptist. He was the forerunner, the one who came before the Christ proclaiming His coming.

Although the Baptist tradition I grew up in did not even mention Advent, I've felt it significant that the Week of Prayer for Foreign Missions always seemed to include this Sunday.

Think about it: John the Baptist telling the good news of a Savior and missionaries around the world proclaiming the love of God through Christ Jesus, His Son.

John the Baptist...

On my Facebook page, I just posted a look at the Christmas Carol, "Away in a Manger" (you can view that here: A look at Away in a Manger) and matched the simple, profound scripture I quoted above, John 3:16, with this simple, beloved carol.

As we contemplate the coming of Christ this Sunday, let's remember His great love for us and our responsibility to share that love with those around us.

Love. Missions. Advent!!


PS: A pastor I worked with, Dr. Michael Helms, wrote a fabulous devotional book for the Advent season. It's called Finding Our Way with the Magi: a Daily Guide Through the Season of Advent. I wanted to give you the opportunity to have a copy. If you purchase after clicking this link, at no additional cost to you, I'll receive a small commission, but here's a link to the book Finding Our Way with the Magi (a Kindle version is also available here).

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Christmas and Charlie Brown

It's been a staple of Christmas for a long time.

Every year, it was must see tv - A Charlie Brown Christmas. Once again we commiserate with Charlie Brown as he deals with Lucy and with getting the "wrong" tree.

But, always, there's the show stopper when Linus steps to center stage and recites the Christmas story. Have you noticed how his security blanket drops to the floor while he tells this story? There is security in Christ, that cannot be found in any other way.

Of course, today, we don't have to concern ourselves with the tv schedule anymore. We just purchase the DVD and we're good to go whenever our family is ready to relive the story of redemption.

Yes, the story of redemption!

Charlie Brown, the loser, like all of us, is unable to do the right thing. For us, it's sin that weighs us down, that keeps us from being all that God wants us to be.

But God... let me repeat that, but God in His mercy, love and grace sent His Son Jesus in the form of a human baby - the Christmas story, and through His death we receive pardon for our sin. The "wrong tree" is reborn into a beautiful tree. Our lives become new. "Joy to the World" is ours because of His great gift.

So dig it out, look it up, pull out that copy and watch A Charlie Brown Christmas again.

Just in case you don't have these, here are some links to a DVD of A Charlie Brown Christmas so you can watch it. to the music CD from the show so you can listen to the wonderful songs by Vince Guaraldi, and for the pianists, links to an easy version and a not-so-easy version. (I will let you know that if you click on these links and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.)

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The Popular Hymnal

The Popular Hymnal is another of my hymnals from the publisher, Robert H. Coleman. For some reason this name strikes me as being a...