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    CHRISTMAS

    Consider Again Christmas

    When Pope Julius I authorized December 25 to be celebrated as the birthday of Jesus in A.D. 353, who would have ever thought that it would become what it is today.

    When Professor Charles Follen lit candles on the first Christmas tree in America in 1832, who would have ever thought that the decorations would become as elaborate as they are today.

    It is a long time since 1832, longer still from 353, longer still from that dark night brightened by a special star in which Jesus the king was born. Yet, as we approach December 25 again, it gives us yet another opportunity to pause, and in the midst of all the excitement and elaborate decorations and expensive commercialization which surround Christmas today, to consider again the event of Christmas and the person whose birth we celebrate.

    Brian L. Harbour, James W. Cox, The Minister's Manual: 1994, San Fransico: Harper Collins, 1993, p. 254.


    There is a stage in a child's life at which it cannot separate the religious from the merely festal character of Christmas or Easter. I have been told of a very small and very devout boy who was heard murmuring to himself on Easter morning a poem of his own composition which began 'Chocolate eggs and Jesus risen.' This seems to me, for his age, both admirable poetry and admirable piety. But of course the time will soon come when such a child can no longer effortlessly and spontaneously enjoy that unity. He will become able to distinguish the spiritual from the ritual and festal aspect of Easter; chocolate eggs will no longer seem sacramental. And once he has distinguished he must put one or the other first. If he puts the spiritual first he can still taste something of Easter in the chocolate eggs; if he puts the eggs first they will soon be no more than any other sweetmeat. They will have taken on an independent, and therefore a soon withering, life.

    C. S. Lewis


    Recovery of Christmas' Meaning

    In New York's Hayden Planetarium a special Christmas holiday show was enhanced by an added feature. A giant lollipop tree was projected onto the planetarium dome, surrounded by a horizon filled with brilliantly colored toys which came to life and cavorted to the tune of "Jingle Bells." At the climax a huge figure of Santa Claus faded out in a snow storm, and the star of Bethlehem broke through into a sky that produced exactly the Palestine sky on the night of the nativity. The designer of this show may not realize that he dramatically staged the supreme Christmas message our world needs to understand: The recovery of the lost meaning of Christmas. This is not said in any criticism of Santa Claus; the effect must have delighted the hearts of all the children who saw it, without doing violence to their love of Bethlehem. But for adults it is a tragic loss to substitute "Jingle Bells" for "Hark! the Herald Angels Sing," and a lollipop tree for the manger of Bethlehem. The instinct is right to fade out these things in the light of the Christmas star. It is about God's incarnation that the angels sing--God with us.

    Robert E. Luccock in James W. Cox, The Minister's Manual: 1994, San Fransico: Harper Collins, 1993, p. 218.


    Taking Christmas to Heart

    A popular play and movie this time of year, one I always enjoy watching is A Christmas Carol. There is one scene that has always fascinated me. The Ghost of Christmas Past has just paid a very discomforting visit to Ebenezer Scrooge. Clearly the old miser is shaken by the entire ordeal. But when he awakens from his sleep does he take the message to heart. No, he simply dismisses it by saying: Bah, humbug, it wasn't real.

    "Just a bit of last nights undigested beef," he says to himself, "There is more gravy about you than the grave." A vision to be taken to heart or simple indigestion. You tell me.

    Brett Blair, Sermon Illustrations, 1999.


    Meaning of Christmas - Materialism

    A television interviewer was walking streets of Tokyo at Christmas time. Much as in America, Christmas shopping is a big commercial success in Japan. The interviewer stopped one young woman on the sidewalk, and asked, "What is the meaning of Christmas?"

    Laughing, she responded, "I don't know. Is that the day that Jesus died?"

    There was some truth in her answer.

    Donald Deffner, Seasonal Illustrations, San Jose: Resource, 1992, p. 16.


    Heavenly Peace

    A little boy and girl were singing their favorite Christmas carol in church the Sunday before Christmas. The boy concluded "Silent Night" with the words, "Sleep in heavenly beans." "No," his sister corrected, "not beans, peas."

    Michael P. Green, Illustrations for Biblical Preaching, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993, p. 57.


    The mystery of the humanity of Christ, that He sunk Himself into our flesh, is beyond all human understanding. 

    Martin Luther, Table Talk.


    Take the year 1809. The international scene was tumultuous. Napoleon was sweeping through Austria; blood was flowing freely. Nobody then cared about babies. But the world was overlooking some terribly significant births.

    For example, William Gladstone was born that year. He was destined to become one of England's finest statesman. That same year, Alfred Tennyson was born to an obscure minister and his wife. The child would one day greatly affect the literary world in a marked manner. On the American continent, Oliver Wendell Holmes was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts. And not far away in Boston, Edgar Allan Poe began his eventful, albeit tragic, life. It was also in that same year that a physician named Darwin and his wife named their child Charles Robert. And that same year produced the cries of a newborn infant in a rugged log cabin in Hardin County, Kentucky. The baby's name? Abraham Lincoln.

    If there had been news broadcasts at that time, I'm certain these words would have been heard: "The destiny of the world is being shaped on an Austrian battlefield today." But history was actually being shaped in the cradles of England and America. Similarly, everyone thought taxation was the big news--when Jesus was born. But a young Jewish woman cradled the biggest news of all: the birth of the Savior.    

    Adapted from Charles Swindoll.


    To avoid offending anybody, the school dropped religion altogether and started singing about the weather. At my son's school, they now hold the winter program in February and sing increasingly non-memorable songs such as "Winter Wonderland," "Frosty the Snowman" and--this is a real song--"Suzy Snowflake," all of which is pretty funny because we live in Miami. A visitor from another planet would assume that the children belonged to the Church of Meteorology. 

    Dave Barry in his "Notes on Western Civilization", Chicago Tribune Magazine, July 28, 1991.


    To perceive Christmas through its wrappings becomes more difficult with every year. 

    E. B. White, The Second Tree from the Corner.


    If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent us an educator; If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us a scientist; If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist; If our greatest need had been pleasure, God would have sent us an entertainer; But our greatest need was forgiveness, so God sent us a Savior.

    Source Unknown.


    In December 1903, after many attempts, the Wright brothers were successful in getting their "flying machine" off the ground. Thrilled, they telegraphed this message to their sister Katherine: "We have actually flown 120 feet. Will be home for Christmas." Katherine hurried to the editor of the local newspaper and showed him the message. He glanced at it and said, "How nice. The boys will be home for Christmas." He totally missed the big news--man had flown! 

    Daily Bread, December 23, 1991.


    Two women who were having lunch in an elegant hotel were approached by a mutual friend who asked the occasion for the meal. One lady replied, "We are celebrating the birth of my baby boy." "But where is he?" inquired the friend. "Oh," said the mother, "you didn't think I'd bring him, did you?" What a picture of the way the world treats Jesus at Christmas.

    Source Unknown.


    Christ was content with a stable when he was born so that we could have a mansion when we die.

    Source Unknown.


    Pastor Clifford S. Stewart of Louisville, Kentucky, sent his parents a microwave oven one Christmas. Here's how he recalls the experience: "They were excited that now they, too, could be a part of the instant generation. When Dad unpacked the microwave and plugged it in, literally within seconds, the microwave transformed two smiles into frown! Even after reading the directions, they couldn't make it work. "Two days later, my mother was playing bridge with a friend and confessed her inability to get that microwave oven even to boil water. 'To get this darn thing to work,' she exclaimed, 'I really don't need better directions; I just needed my son to come along with the gift!'" When God gave the gift of salvation, he didn't send a booklet of complicated instructions for us to figure out; he sent his Son.

    Source Unknown.


    Long ago, there ruled in Persia a wise and good king. He loved his people. He wanted to know how they lived. He wanted to know about their hardships. Often he dressed in the clothes of a working man or a beggar, and went to the homes of the poor. No one whom he visited thought that he was their ruler. One time he visited a very poor man who lived in a cellar. He ate the coarse food the poor man ate. He spoke cheerful, kind words to him. Then he left. Later he visited the poor man again and disclosed his identity by saying, "I am your king!" The king thought the man would surely ask for some gift or favor, but he didn't. Instead he said, "You left your palace and your glory to visit me in this dark, dreary place. You ate the course food I ate. You brought gladness to my heart! To others you have given your rich gifts. To me you have given yourself!" The King of glory, the Lord Jesus Christ, gave himself to you and me. The Bible calls Him, "the unspeakable gift!"

    Source Unknown.


    Sermon Endings

    In Support of a Sentimental Christmas - Getting Rid of the Bah Humbugs.

    Many years ago the Puritans thought that they were ruining Christmas with all their pagan rituals. They especially objected to the fact that the holiday usually came on a week day, therefore distracting people, they thought, from the Lord's Day of Sunday. But they did more than annually complain about it as we do. They took action and got rid of Christmas altogether. In Puritan settlements across 17th century America a law was passed outlawing the celebration of Christmas. The market place was ordered to stay open for business as though it were no special occasion and all violators were prosecuted. It was against the law to make plum pudding on December 25th. The celebration was not referred to as Yuletide but as fooltide.

    So we want to reform Christmas and clean it up do we? Well, is this how far we want to go? Do we really want to be rid of it altogether. Then will Christmas, as the Puritans thought, be saved from us and our sinful ways. So what if we spend $40 billion annually on presents. Can you think of a better way of spending all that money than on gifts of love. And most of them are just that. And so what is all the lights and tinsel does create a fairy tale setting that soon disappears as does the so called Christmas spirit. At least it lets us know, if only for a brief time, what life can be like if we only try.

    So let the message ring out this day, not that we are destroying this holy day, but rather, that we can never destroy this day. Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be for all generations. For unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a savior who is Christ the Lord.

    Sermon Illustrations, 1999.


    Lengthy Illustrations

    Hopelessness - For a Sermon on Mary

    The message of Christmas is that God intrudes upon the weak and the vulnerable, and this is precisely the message that we so often miss. God does not come to that part of that part of us that swaggers through life, confident in our self sufficiency. God leaves his treasure in the broken fragmented places of our life. God comes to us in those rare moments when we are able to transcend our own selfishness long enough to really care about another human being.

    On the wall of the museum of the concentration camp at Dachau is a large and moving photograph of a mother and her little girl standing in line of a gas chamber. The child, who is walking in front of her mother, does not know where she is going. The mother, who walks behind, does know, but is helpless to stop the tragedy. In her helplessness she performs the only act of love left to her. She places her hands over he child's eyes so she will at least not see the horror to come. When people come into the museum they do not whisk by this photo hurriedly. They pause. They almost feel the pain. And deep inside I think that they are all saying: "O God, don't let that be all that there is."

    God's hears those prayers and it is in just such situations of hopelessness and helplessness that his almighty power is born. It is there that God leaves his treasure. In Mary and in all of us, as Christ is born anew within.

    Sermon Illustrations, 1999.


    What have you heard and Seen this Christmas?

    Oh, you say, had I been there at Bethlehem that night I would have seen. I would have understood. I would have known it was the Christ child. Would you? There is one way of knowing:

    Ask yourself what you have seen and heard this Christmas Season.

    • When you watched the 6:00 news did you see chaos and strife, or did you see sheep without a shepherd.
    • When you went out to do your shopping did you see only hordes of people in the stores, or did you notice the worried expressions on some of their faces--worried because they are facing this Christmas without employment or enough money and they don't know how they are going to make ends meet.

    What did you hear this Christmas?

    • Did you hear only the blast of music and carols, or did you hear the silent sighs of the lonely and the bereaved who may be dreading Christmas because it accentuates their loneliness.
    • And in the midst of the sounds of honking horns and people arguing over parking places, did you hear faint sounds of laughter coming from Asbury Church missions projects because you furnished food and toys for families and children.

    You see, so often what you see and what you hear is not dependent upon the event but upon you. If you did in fact hear the cry from the lonely, the laughter of poor children, if you saw the sheep without a shepherd, then, and only then, might you have noticed the events that took place in Bethlehem that night. If you lacked that spiritual seeing and hearing then you probably would have been with the 99% who were present but who saw or heard nothing out of the ordinary.

    In the end perhaps one of our carols words it best: No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin. Where meek souls shall receive him still, the dear Christ enters in. Amen.

    Brett Blair, Sermon Illustrations, 1999.


    NEWS

    Judge Throws Out Suit Against Christmas Holiday

    CINCINNATI, Ohio - Ruling that Christmas is celebrated by non-Christians as well as Christians, a judge in December 1999 threw out a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of observing Dec. 25 as a federal holiday. U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott said in her dismissal of the lawsuit that just as Christians observe Christmas as a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, non-Christians celebrate the occasion to welcome the arrival of Santa Claus.

    Therefore, she said, Christmas cannot be regarded as a holiday that establishes one religious faith above all others in violation of the demand for a separation of church and state enshrined in the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment.

    The judge used some original poetic verse to make her point, writing:

    "Whatever the reason,
    constitutional or other,
    Christmas is not,
    an act of Big Brother."

    Richard Ganulin, 48, a lawyer who filed the suit, said he would appeal the dismissal to the Cincinnati-based U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals on grounds that the judge did not treat the issue with the "strict scrutiny" it deserved.

    "She never said what she really meant when she implied that Christmas should be considered as a secular holiday as much as a religious occasion," said Ganulin, who is a member of the city of Cincinnati legal staff but filed the suit last August as an individual.

    Ganulin said he realized he had "a long row to hoe" in his quest to end the federal observance of Christmas as a holiday, but expressed hope that the case ultimately would be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

    A Washington-based organization of U.S. Christian employees was granted its request to be added to the lawsuit as a defendant along with the U.S. government.

    11.51 p.m. ET (0451 GMT) December 6, 1999 By Bob Weston - Reuters News.


    Commentary & Devotional

    "Without God's explanatory word, God's redemptive action could not be recognized for what it was. The clearest revelation of God (the incarnation) is nevertheless the most opaque to man. 

    J. I. Packer, New Bible Commentary, p. 15.


    Repentance

    The glory and strangeness of Christmas point in a side-door way to the mess we are in. Indirectly, this season whispers to us about the "out of focus world" in which we live. It is not easy to explain the mess we are in. Many have tried. Few, if any, have succeeded. In his book, The Coming Faith, Carlyle Marney suggests that humankind "is the most savage of the beasts"—that our bite is poisonous, our hands are clubs, our feet are weapons.

    According to Marney, "nothing in nature is so well equipped for hating or hurting" as we are. Confuse us, and we lash out at anything. Crowd us, and we kill, rob, destroy. Deprive us and we retaliate. Impoverish us, and we
    burn villas in the night. Enslave us, and we revolt. Pamper us, and we may poison you. Hire us, and we may hate both you and the work. Love us too possessively, and we are never weaned. Deny us too early, and we never learn to love. Put us in cities, and all our animal nature comes out with perversions of every good thing. Mr. Marney clearly has a pessimistic view of human nature.

    Marney, it seems to me, is partially correct, but there is also great good in humankind. Our bite is also sometimes sweet; our hands can also offer a caring touch; our feet may be helpers. Nothing in nature is so well equipped for loving and healing as we are. Confuse us and we often run for community; crowd us and we usually seek solutions. Deprive us, and we organize for a better tomorrow. Impoverish us, and we bargain collectively. Enslave us, and many of us will practice nonviolence. Pamper us, and we may instead seek strength. Hire us, and we usually work hard. Love us, and we are fulfilled. Deny us, and we seek. Put us in cities, and we try to enjoy life.

    Society is a great composite picture of our power to harm. Society is also a great composite picture of our ability to do good. Art, culture, philosophy, order, and religion have all been used to tame the tiger within us. They have been used as expressions of the common good. We have tried many ways to tame the beast and express the good: the Ten Commandments of Moses, the great code of Hammurabi, Assyrian codes, Egyptian codes. Hindu laws, Oriental Yin-Yang, the corpus of Roman law, Stoic philosophy, the Greek notion of people—all these were attempts to tame the savagery within or to make a statement about what is meet and right. As noble as these thoughts were, none of these civilizers civilized.

    Something more is needed if we are to come out of the wilderness we are in. That something more is spoken of by John the Baptist...the way out of the mess we are in is the way of repentance.

    Joe E. Pennel, Jr., The Whisper of Christmas, The Upper Room, 1984, pp.35ff.


    Statistics & Research

    The "fear nots" in the infancy narratives:

    1.  The "fear not" of salvation: "And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings...which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:10,11).
    2. The "fear not" of the humanly impossible: "Fear not, Mary:... the Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee:...For with God nothing shall be impossible" (Luke 1:30, 35, 37).
    3. The "fear not" of unanswered prayer: "Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John" (Luke 1:13).
    4. The "fear not" of immediate obedience: "Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife:...Then Joseph ...did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him" (Matthew 1:20,24).

    NPS.


    In his book, Science Speaks, Peter Stoner applies the modern science of probability to just eight prophecies regarding Christ. He says, "The chance that any man might have ...fulfilled all eight prophecies is one in 10 to the 17th. That would be 1 in 100,000,000,000,000,000." (one hundred quadrillion) Stoner suggests that "we take 10 to the 17th silver dollars and lay them on the face of Texas. They will cover all of the state 2 feet deep. Now mark one of these silver dollars and stir the whole mass thoroughly... Blindfold a man and tell him he can travel as far as he wishes, but he must pick up [that one marked silver dollar.] What chance would he have of getting the right one?" Stoner concludes, "Just the same chance that the prophets would have had of writing those eight prophecies and having them all come true in any one man,...providing they wrote them in their own wisdom."

    Peter Stoner, Science Speaks.


    Some gifts you can give this Christmas are beyond monetary value: Mend a quarrel, dismiss suspicion, tell someone, "I love you." Give something away--anonymously. Forgive someone who has treated you wrong. Turn away wrath with a soft answer. Visit someone in a nursing home. Apologize if you were wrong. Be especially kind to someone with whom you work. Give as God gave to you in Christ, without obligation, or announcement, or reservation, or hypocrisy. 

    Charles Swindoll, Growing Strong, pp. 400-1.


    Americans used 28,497,464 rolls and sheets of wrapping paper, 16,826,362 packages of tags and bows, 372,430,684 greeting cards, and 35,200,000 Christmas trees during the 1989 Christmas season.

    Garbage Magazine, quoted in Signs of the Times, 12-1991, p. 7.


    When was Jesus born? No, not on December 25. Though Christians had adopted that date by A.D. 336, Christ was born "when shepherds watched their flocks by night." In other words, most likely in the spring. And no, He wasn't born in the year A.D. 1. The Bible tells us that Herod the Great ruled Palestine when Jesus was born, and Herod died in 4 B.C.--so Jesus had to have been born not long before that. Blame Dionysiuys Exiguus for this one--he's the sixth century monk who came up with the idea of splitting history into A.D. and B.C. He just chose the wrong date to do so, that's all. 

    Signs of the Times, Dec, 1991, p. 6.


    Poems

    Twas much,
    that man was
    made like God before,
    But that God should
    be like man
    much more.

    John Donne.


    Praise God for Christmas.

    Praise Him for the incarnation,
    for the word made flesh.
    I will not sing of shepherds
    watching flocks on frosty nights,
    or angel choristers.
    I will not sing of a stable bare in Bethlehem,
    or lowing oxen,
    wise men trailing star with gold,
    frankincense, and myrrh.
    Tonight I will sing praise to the Father
    who stood on heaven's threshold
    and said farewell to his Son
    as he stepped across the stars
    to Bethlehem and Jerusalem.
    And I will sing praise to the infinite, eternal Son,
    who became most finite, a baby
    who would one day be executed for my crime.
    Praise him in the heavens,
    Praise him in the stable,
    Praise him in my heart.

    Joseph Bayly.


    Ah, dearest Jesus, holy Child,
    Make thee a bed, soft, undefiled,
    Within my heart, that it may be
    A quiet chamber kept for Thee.
    My heart for very joy doth leap,
    My lips no more can silence keep,
    I too must sing, with joyful tongue,
    That sweetest ancient cradle song,
    Glory to God in highest heaven,
    Who unto man His Son hath given
    While angels sing with pious mirth.
    A glad new year to all the earth.

    Martin Luther.


    Can This Be Christmas

    What's all this hectic rush and worry?
    Where go these crowds who run and curry?
    Why all the lights -- the Christmas trees?
    The jolly "fat man," tell me please!

    Why, don't you know? This is the day
    For parties and for fun and play;
    Why this is Christmas!

    So this is Christmas, do you say?
    But where is Christ this Christmas day?
    Has He been lost among the throng?
    His voice drowned out by empty song?

    No. He's not here -- you'll find Him where
    Some humble soul now kneels in prayer,
    Who knows the Christ of Christmas.

    But see the many aimless thousands
    Who gather on this Christmas Day,
    Whose hearts have never yet been opened,
    Or said to Him, "Come in to stay."

    In countless homes the candles burning,
    In countless hearts expectant yearning
    For gifts and presents, food and fun,
    And laughter till the day is done.

    But not a tear of grief or sorrow
    For Him so poor He had to borrow
    A crib, a colt, a boat, a bed
    Where He could lay His weary head.

    I'm tired of all this empty celebration,
    Of feasting, drinking, recreation;
    I'll go instead to Calvary.

    And there I'll kneel with those who know
    The meaning of that manger low,
    And find the Christ -- this Christmas.

    I leap by faith across the years
    To that great day when He appears
    The second time, to rule and reign,
    To end all sorrow, death, and pain.

    In endless bliss we then shall dwell
    With Him who saved our souls from hell,
    And worship Christ -- not Christmas!

    M. R. DeHaan, M.D.  Founder, Radio Bible Class.


    The Christ-child lay on Mary's lap,
    His hair was like a light.
    (O weary, weary is the world,
    But here is all aright.)

    The Christ-child lay on Mary's breast,
    His hair was like a star.
    (O stern and cunning are the kings,
    But here the true hearts are.)

    The Christ-child lay on Mary's heart,
    His hair was like a fire.
    (O weary, weary is the world,
    But here the world's desire.)

    The Christ-child stood at Mary's knee,
    His hair was like a crown.
    And all the flowers looked up at Him,
    And all the stars looked down.

    G. K. Chesterton in The Wild Knight.