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.
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.
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.
Christ was content with a stable when he was born so that we could have a mansion when
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.
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!"
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.
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,
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.
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
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.
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:
- 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).
- 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).
- 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).
- 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).
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
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.
that man was
made like God before,
But that God should
be like man
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.
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.
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.