Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Truth of Christmas

Dear Friends,

One of my favorite Christmas stories is about  a 14 year old boy by the name of William Spurling. William was big for his age and some said that mentally, he was a little slow. But he was kind-hearted, a good friend to all and he was well-liked by the other kids and their parents.

When it came time for the church Christmas program to be presented, William wanted to be a shepherd, but the teacher decided that he would make a better innkeeper since he was so big. Even though William had a gentle personality, he physically fit the role of the big, mean innkeeper.

William worked hard to learn his lines and to act like the gruff innkeeper. Finally it was Christmas Eve and time for the Nativity performance. When Mary and Joseph came to the inn and knocked on the door, William  opened it right on cue. He said gruffly, “There is no place for you to stay! There is no room at the inn!” 

Joseph said, “But my wife is tired and she is expecting a baby tonight. Isn't there just a small room where we could rest?”

Once again, William said, with roughness in his voice, “You'll have to find a place somewhere else! There is no room in the inn!” Once more Joseph pleaded for someplace for them to stay the night. 

Then there was a loooong pause. William got a panicked look on his face and soon everyone knew that he’d forgotten his next line. An embarrassed silence engulfed the church. Then from behind the manger set came the voice of the Sunday school teacher prompting the innkeeper. “No, be gone! Be gone!” William was now nervous and a little flustered. He was able to say the line but he had slipped out of character and lost the harshness of the innkeeper.

“Be gone” was Mary and Joseph’s cue to leave and they both turned to do so with sad and troubled expressions on their faces. That was when William Spurling forgot that he was playing a role in a Christmas Pageant. “No! Wait a minute!” he blurted out. “You can stay in my room and I’ll sleep in the stable...”

Mary and Joseph were now speechless. The Sunday school teacher thought the performance was ruined and put her head in her hands. In the stunned silence, the pastor got up and slowly walked to the front of the church. “What you just heard,” he said with a smile, “is the real truth of Christmas and the message of the Gospel.”
God incarnate. God the Son took on human flesh to take our place on the cross so that we can go instead to our heavenly home. 

The birth of Jesus is God’s perfect gift to us. Not just the gift of the Baby, but the offer of for-giveness and salvation. And then God steps back to see what we’re going to do with His gift.

Sadly, many reject Jesus and His gift of salvation and in doing so they reject God. And then there are “Christians” who have accepted the gift but do so with indifference. Their apathetic faith makes no room for the presence of God in their lives. To those, Jesus would say “ honor me with your lips but your hearts are far from me and you worship me in vain..” (Matt 15:8-9)

But many receive God’s gift of Jesus with hearts filled with great joy and thanksgiving. Their Christian spirituality is a lived experience and an authentic expression of their faith. 

Your gift this year is lying in a manger.. and God is waiting to see how you will receive it...

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Don't Let The Grinch Steal Your Christmas

Dear Friends,

The Grinch ain’t stealing MY Christmas!!  How The Grinch Stole Christmas is a Dr. Seuss book turned into a family movie. The Grinch steals all the Christmas presents and decorations from the village of Whoville in order to ruin Christmas for the Whos. To the Grinch’s surprise, instead of the people crying that their gifts were stolen, they are holding hands and singing! The Grinch discovered the true spirit of Christmas is family love and the joy that we have within each one of us. The real meaning of Christmas is revealed to be the goodness of each person and their love for others. Really? That’s what Christmas means? It’s not about the birth of Jesus?

Maybe a more accurate title of the book and movie would be How The Grinch Stole Christmas From Christians! Christmas comes from “Christ Mass” – meaning a mass or a service celebrating the birth of Christ. But for those who love the celebration of Christmas and are offended by Christ, the Grinch has become an acceptable symbolic substitute. We see Grinches on greeting cards, in retail store displays and in mailers.

Decades ago, people worked hard to make large plywood cut outs of the Nativity that they handpainted and dis-played in front of their house. But we seldom see Nativity scenes to-day. We see front yards with huge inflatable Grinches, Santas and snowmen. We see red and green lighted Grinches clinging to an LED lighted wire tree to convey the “true” meaning of Christmas.

The symbol of Christmas in America is still the Nativity. But the “grinches” in today’s society who are trying to secularize Christmas, have adopted the Grinch as a symbol of their redefined American “holiday.” And is it just me or does the Grinch look evil and demonic? Do I see little green horns? Hmmm. So let me understand this. Some retailers, liberal politicians and educators want to redefine Christmas and replace Christ with something that looks like a demon?

But the Grinch ain’t going to steal my Christmas! I love it when I go places during Advent with the girl I hang out with. Every time a clerk wishes us “Happy Holidays,” she will always immediately respond with “Merry Christmas.”  And each time she has done so, there was a look of relief on the clerk’s face and they said “Merry Christmas” back to her.

According to a Gallup poll, 96% of the people in America celebrate Christmas. Among the four percent who don't are Jewish, Muslim or Atheists and it’s only the Atheists who have become highly offended by the mention of Christ and Christmas. And all over America, Christians are being told they must say “Happy Holidays” in order to avoid accidently offending an Atheist? If Christians in America are becoming too timid and too fearful to wish each other a “Merry Christmas” is that why a smile is beginning to appear on the Grinch’s face?

Don’t let the Grinch steal YOUR Christmas! America celebrates Christmas. Every time you wish someone “Merry Christmas,” you are giving them permission to say it out loud themselves. Be bold and daring. Be a rebel. Go tell someone “Merry Christmas” today!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

God With Us

Dear Friends,

We don't need seminary or years of Bible College. We don't need stacks of religious books. We don't need to ask a Bible scholar. All we need in order to understand the “Theology of Christmas” is found in a little story by an anonymous author...

It was Christmas Eve and the family was preparing to go to church for the annual midnight service. The father of the household declined as usual saying that he would feel like a hypocrite. He told his family that he just could not make sense of the idea that God became a man. He said he would relax by the fire until their return.
Settling down in his easy chair, he began to read his newspaper. It had already begun to snow quite heavily. Suddenly he heard unusual thumps on the living room window. He thought someone was throwing snowballs and he went to the front door to investigate. He discovered that a flock of birds had become disoriented in the storm and were trying to find shelter through the lighted window. He immediately realized that the birds could not fly in the heavy snow and unless they found shelter, they would soon freeze to death.
Thinking about how he could help them, he thought of the barn where the children kept their pony. Returning to the house, he put on his heavy overcoat and snow boots. He made his way to the barn, threw open the wide door, and turned on the light. He tried to shoo them through the open door but they scattered in fear. He thought, “Food will bring them in” and returned to the house for some bread crumbs. He sprinkled a path of crumbs to the barn, but the birds were too confused to follow it. The snow was now sticking to the birds and beginning to weigh them down. He could think of no way to convince the birds to enter the warmth and safety of the old barn. He realized that in spite of his best efforts, the flock was doomed to die in the storm. “They think I am a strange creature,” he thought. “They won't follow me because they don't understand I am trying to save their lives. Oh, if I could only become a bird for a few minutes,” he thought. “Then I could make them understand...”
Just then the church bells began to ring out their glorious tidings of Christmas. As the man listened, he dropped to his knees in the middle of the snow storm and looking up said, “Father, I now understand why You did it.”

Christmas celebrates a point in time when the ancient  prophesies were fulfilled and God chose to manifest Himself in a human form. “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” (Matt. 1:23)

God came to earth so that He could be with us in the human form of His Son Jesus Christ. “Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.” (Col 1:15) When we look at the Son, we see the Father who cannot be seen. It was the Son, Jesus Christ, who came down to earth to lead us up to Heaven.

Why did God go to all this trouble? Because of His love for you! “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) And, that's all the theology we’ll ever need to know!  Amen?