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Favorite children’s Christmas books: “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”

HowTheGrinchStoleChristmas  In my list of favorite children’s Christmas books, I have to include the classic book that I loved when I was a child, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, by Dr. Seuss. This beloved book has been made into a popular cartoon TV show, that includes the song, “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.” In recent years, a live-action movie was also made, but I still prefer the cartoon that follows the book word-for-word. It is hard to improve on the whimsical rhyme of Dr. Seuss.

Most readers already know the story, of how the Grinch couldn’t stand the noise that all the “Who’s down in Whoville” made on Christmas morning. So he decided to steal all of their toys on Christmas Eve. What he never anticipated was that they would still sing on Christmas morning without any presents at all. I love the climactic lines:

“It came without ribbons! It came without tags!/ It came without packages, boxes or bags!”/ And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore. / Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!/ “Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store./ Maybe Christmas… perhaps… means a little bit more!”

The changed heart of the Grinch has put the word “Grinch” next to “Scrooge” in the Christmas vocabulary of the English language. Every child deserves a chance to hear a parent or grandparent read it to him or her directly from the book, and follow it with a heartfelt discussion about the real meaning of Christmas.

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Favorite children’s Christmas books: “Cajun Night Before Christmas”

CajunNightBeforeChristmas   Continuing my series of reviews of favorite children’s Christmas books, today’s selection is Cajun Night Before Christmas, by “Trosclair,” edited by Howard Jacobs.

Imagine the famous poem, “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” told in the dialect of south Louisiana, with St. Nicholas gliding across the bayou, with “eight alligator a pullin’ a skiff.” Of course, the alligators have French names:

“Ha, Gaston! Ha, Tiboy! Ha, Pierre an’ Alcee’! Gee, Ninette! Gee, Suzette! Celeste an Renee’!”

I have read this story aloud to my family and to children in public schools over the years, and it always produces loud laughter, even among those who aren’t familiar with the Cajun culture. There have been many imitations of this book, such as the Cowboy Night Before Christmas and the Redneck Night Before Christmas. But none have surpassed the originality and pure fun of Cajun Night Before Christmas.

The book is available in many book stores and at amazon.com here.

Favorite children’s Christmas books: “Alabaster’s Song” by Max Lucado

AlabastersSong    Parents often look for great books to share with their children at Christmas. For the next few days, I will share what I consider to be four of the best children’s Christmas books.

One of my favorites is Alabaster’s Song: Christmas through the Eyes of an Angel by Max Lucado. It tells the story of a boy who believes he hears the angel on the Christmas tree singing. Then miraculously, the gap-toothed angel appears by the boy’s bedside, a boy like him, and tells him what it was like to sing to baby Jesus. Children of all ages will enjoy this book, but parents, watch out, because you may get a lump in your own throat at the way the story ends.

The book can be found in many Christian book stores, and on Amazon.com here.

Guest blog post: Expressing Sympathy During the Holidays

Suzie_Kolber_Obits (Below is a guest blog by Suzie Kolber on the subject of how to express sympathy during the holidays, which can be a difficult time for those who have recently lost a loved one. Suzie is a writer at ObituariesHelp.org. The site is a complete guide for someone seeking help for writing words of condolences, sympathy messages, condolence letters and funeral planning resources.)

The holidays can be such a fun, exciting time for most people. However, for those who have recently lost a family member or close friend, it can be a difficult, painful time. Everywhere they look, something reminds them of prior holidays spent with that person.

Depression is a common problem during this season for people who have lost their loved ones. If the anniversary of the death or the person’s birthday falls during this time, it can make the brightest days seem dark.

Avoidance

Many bereaved people tend to avoid others during this time. They don’t socialize or go out because they see the festivities as another painful reminder of their loss. On the other hand, friends and family members may tend to avoid the bereaved person because they don’t know what to say. It feels awkward to be around them and try to hide their natural excitement for the season.

While it is natural to want to avoid the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, the isolation only contributes more to the feelings of depression and loneliness. Family members and friends need to be aware of this and continue interacting with their grieving loved one.

What To Say

It’s normal to want to avoid someone when you don’t know what to say to them. However, your support and sympathy is needed, especially when someone suffers such a loss around the holiday season. The following tips will help you offer the comfort that is needed.

  • Offer assistance for the person who still has to organize the holiday celebration even though they are grieving. For instance, someone may have lost a spouse but has children who want to celebrate. They may need help with cleaning, cooking or even shopping.
  • Invite someone to your home for the holidays, especially if you are having a low-key celebration. This allows them to get out without being overwhelmed by the activities.
  • Invite the loved one to volunteer with you. Doing something like creating gift baskets for soldiers can help a person feel useful and remind them that they are not alone. Others may be missing loved ones for different reasons.
  • Be willing to talk about the deceased. Your job may be as simple as listening as the person relives fond memories. While you may think it would bring sadness to talk about the person who is gone, it can actually be helpful. The person is thinking about them anyway; talking provides healing.

If the person lives far away and you can’t visit during the holiday season, it is appropriate to send a flower or gift basket. You don’t need to wish them “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas.” Instead, include a card that says that you are thinking of them. Just this reminder and a few lovely flowers can brighten their day.

Anytime is a bad time to lose a loved one. Suffering the loss during the holidays makes the pain even more severe for many. Reach out to those people and they will appreciate the comfort that you provide.

Finding Christ in our Christmas gifts

ChristmasGiftBoxCopyright 2013 by Bob Rogers

At Christmas, people all over the world exchange gifts. The Gallup Poll estimates that each American will personally spend about $740 this Christmas on Christmas gifts. (Source: http://www.gallup.com/poll/166226/consumers-holiday-spending-intentions-remain-modest.aspx). American Research Group estimates that each American spends $801. (Source: http://americanresearchgroup.com/holiday/)

   Research says that on Black Friday 2013, Americans spent $12.3 billion in stores and nearly $2 billion online. Source: http://www.slideshare.net/WishpondTechnologiesLtd/black-friday-2013-results-1). Hundreds of billions of dollars more will be spent during the entire Christmas season.

   Children look for Santa Claus to bring them gifts. According to a survey on Today.com, 67% of American families will give each of their children at four gifts or more for Christmas. So most American children get more gifts for Christmas than Jesus got on His own birthday! Many children are so excited about getting gifts that they forget that the holiday is to celebrate Jesus’ birth.

   In America, exchanging gifts at Christmas has become gluttonous, excessive and wasteful. How did get so far away from the original idea? Let’s work our way backwards to where this all came from, and see if we can’t also get back to where we should be.

I.                  The tradition of gifts from Santa Claus

    Santa Claus as we know him today originated here in America, particularly in New York.

   The tradition of Santa Claus comes primarily from the poem by Clement C. Moore, a seminary professor in New York City. The poem was originally called, “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” but most of us know it by the first line, “’Twas the Night Before Christmas.” It was published in 1823 and had a great impact on the tradition of Santa Claus. It is from this poem that people get the idea of a jolly elf with a big belly coming on Christmas Eve with reindeer and bringing gifts for children. Yet even this poem never calls him Santa Claus, but instead it calls him St. Nicholas. New York, where Clement C. Moore lived, was first settled by the Dutch, who used the term Sinterklaas, to refer to St. Nicholas, and Sinterklaas came to be pronounced Santa Claus in English. But who was St. Nicholas?

   Nicholas was a real person who was a Christian bishop in the 4th century. He was born in A.D. 270, and died on December 6, A.D. 343. Nicholas grew up in a wealthy home in Myra, part of modern-day Turkey. He became bishop of Myra and was known as a conservative, Bible-believing bishop, with a reputation for secret gift-giving and caring for children. One legend said that he often put coins in the shoes of people in need. The most famous legend about Nicholas was that a poor man had three daughters but could not afford a proper dowry for their wedding. This meant that they would remain unmarried and probably, in absence of any other possible employment, would have to become prostitutes. Hearing of the girls’ plight, Nicholas decided to help them, but being too modest to help the family in public (or to save them the humiliation of accepting charity), he went to the house under the cover of night and threw three purses (one for each daughter) filled with gold coins through the window opening into the house.

   One version of the legend has him throwing one purse for three consecutive nights. Another has him throwing the purses over a period of three years, each time the night before one of the daughters comes of age. Invariably, the third time the father lies in wait, trying to discover the identity of their benefactor. In one version the father confronts the saint, only to have Saint Nicholas say it is not him he should thank, but God alone. In another version, Nicholas learns of the poor man’s plan and drops the third bag down the chimney instead; a variant holds that the daughter had washed her stockings that evening and hung them over the embers to dry, and that the bag of gold fell into the stocking. (Sources: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas#Gift_giving,   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Nicholas

   You can quickly see how these legends developed over the centuries into the legend of a character who brings gifts in secret, sometimes in stockings or down a chimney. He is known by many names in many countries, including Father Christmas, Père Noël in French, and Sinterklaas in Dutch.

   Because the real St. Nicholas died on December 6, in many nations he is remembered on that day with the giving of gifts. But during the Protestant Reformation, many Protestants changed the gift-giver to the Christ child, which is Christkindl in German, and changed the date from December 6 to Christmas Eve. The German Christkindl got corrupted to Kris Kringle in English, and the Dutch Sinterklaas got corrupted to Santa Claus in English.

   But we need to go further back than St. Nicolas to understand gift-giving at Christmas. Nicholas was a Christian bishop, and we need to go back to the Bible to see where he learned to give gifts.

II.               The tradition of gifts from the wise men

   Many traditions have grown up about the wise men who came to bring gifts to Jesus. The popular Christmas carol, “We Three Kings of Orient Are,” has led people to believe that there were three wise men, and that they were kings. Tradition has even given the three kings names: Melchior from Persia, Caspar from India, Balthasar from Arabia. (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biblical_Magi)

   How much of this is really in the Bible?

   Matthew’s Gospel tells us that after Jesus was born in Bethlehem, that wise men came from the East, following a star to find the newborn Messiah, the king of the Jews. It does not say there were three of them, it only says they brought three gifts. There could have been twelve of them, for all we know.

   The word translated “wise men” in Matthew 2:1 is magi. It is a Persian word that described priests of the Zoroastrian religion who foretold the future by studying the stars. The word magi was first used by Darius the Mede, who is considered from the people group known today as the Kurds. Kurds today still celebrate certain Zoroastrian practices, especially the Zoroastrian New Year that they call Newroz. Thus instead of kings from India, Persia and Arabia, the wise men were very likely Zoroastrian priests and astrologers from the Medes, or modern-day Kurds.

    Now let’s look at Matthew 2:11. It says, “Entering the house, they saw the child with Mary His mother, and falling on their knees, they worshiped Him. Then they opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”

    This happened many months after Jesus’ birth, so they now live in a house, not in a stable, and Jesus is a child, not a baby. Joseph is not mentioned, probably because he was away at work. But what is most important for us is to notice what the wise men did. If we will pay close attention to what they did, we will get our Christmas gift-giving back in balance. They did two things. First, they fell on their knees and worshiped Jesus. Second, they presented Him with treasures.

   Notice that their first gift was their worship. There is no greater gift that you or I can give Jesus than to give him our worship. The poet Christina Rosetti wrote,

“What can I give Him? Poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb. If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part. Yet what can I give Him, Give Him my heart.”

   This was the first gift of the wise men, the gift of their hearts. The apostle Paul writes about the Christians in Macedonia in 2 Corinthians 8, who gave offerings even though they were poor. Yet Paul says in 2 Corinthians 8:5 that they first gave themselves to the Lord, even before they gave their financial gifts.

   Notice that their second gift was their treasures: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. There are many traditional symbols associated with these three gifts. Gold was considered one of the most precious medals in ancient times just as it is today. Job 28:15 talks about wisdom being so valuable that not even gold could be exchanged for it. King Solomon’s court was full of gold. Gold is often associated with Jesus as king. Frankincense is an incense that was used to burn before the Lord in the altar, according to Exodus 30:35-36. Thus frankincense is associated with prayer and worship. Myrrh is a valuable perfume. Myrrh was used as a beauty treatment, but John 19:39 says that the women used myrrh to anoint Jesus’ body for burial, and thus myrrh was associated with Jesus coming to die on the cross for our sins.

III.           How to find Christ in our giving

   So how do we find Christ in our Christmas gifts? Our journey backwards to the root of our traditions should give us some answers.

   First, we should give ourselves to Christ in worship.

   The wise men first gave of themselves in worship, and then gave their treasures to Christ. This should remind us that Christmas is about giving, not getting gifts. It is not about us receiving gifts, but about us giving to celebrate Christ. The most important gift of all is our worship to Christ. A Christian who is too busy exchanging presents at Christmas to give Jesus his presence in worship is guilty of idolatry! The wise men came to Jesus, and fell on their knees before Him. So should we.

   Second, we should give Christ our treasures.

   This should also remind us that our gifts should have a purpose. While there are many legends about the purpose of the gold, frankincense and myrrh, the reality is that soon after this, Joseph and Mary had to flee from the murderous intentions of King Herod, and the rich gifts from the wise men must have been very practical and useful to them in financing their trip. Genesis 37:25 mentions traders on a caravan of camels who were carrying perfumes and incense. The fact is that all three gifts were easy to transport, valuable and easy to sell on the open market. The gifts were not wasteful; they had a useful purpose.

   If we truly treasure Jesus Christ, if we are truly grateful for Him coming to safe us, then we will want to give gifts to glorify Jesus Christ. This can include gifts to people in need, and gifts to share the gospel of Jesus Christ.

   What would happen if just half of our church members would just give 10% of their spending to missions to share the gospel?

   Last year, Southern Baptists gave $149.3 million to the international missions offering.

If just half of Southern Baptists gave just 10% of the average Christmas spending to missions, we would give $592 million dollars to missions. Instead, Southern Baptists only gave 25% of that amount.

   Third, we should not teach our children to be greedy and materialistic. Many children think that Santa Claus has an unlimited supply to give them anything they want, which encourages greed and selfishness. Parents need to resist the culture’s materialism in the way they give gifts to their kids.   As a mentioned in the beginning of this sermon, most American children get four or more gifts at Christmas, yet Jesus only received three. Many parents are saying that it’s time that they take a lesson from the wise men, and in honor of Jesus, they give their children three gifts. By giving your children three gifts, you remind them of Jesus’ three gifts. Some families do it this way: something they want, something they need and something to read. Others choose something they want, something they need, and something to wear. Other families give a “gold” present, and “frankincense” present, and a “myrrh” present. The “gold” present is something a child would want and treasure. The “frankincense” present is used in worship and spiritual life, such as a Bible, and the “myrrh” present is something for the body, like clothing or shoes. Many families allow a fourth present, as the child gets to pick a gift to give away to somebody else in need.(Source:http://t.co/ckwo8WQcvZ)

   Fourth, we should exchange gifts to express our love.

   As long as we honor Christ at Christmas, there is nothing wrong with exchanging gifts with our family and friends, as well. After all, giving and receiving gifts are an expression of love. Gary Chapman, in his bestseller, The Five Love Languages, says that people feel love in five major ways: words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service, and physical touch. Although people have a primary love language, most people feel loved when they receive all five of those. Chapman points out that a gift does not have to be expensive to express love. It’s more important that the gift is thoughtful.

   My sister, Nancy, is the best gift-giver I know. I have always noticed how thoughtful she is in selecting gifts for others. So I called her up and asked for her advice, and here is what she told me:

   Nancy said, “I think about what that person would enjoy. It depends on who the person is.  I ask, would it appeal to that person, not to me. So I ask myself, how would they react when they open this gift? Like a person who loves cats, I might think they would like a cat figurine, but then I think about how this person does not collect items and so even though they like cats, they don’t collect figurines. So I don’t just think about it just a minute. I give it some time and thought.

   “When it comes to gift giving, the magic thing is not the dollar value. It’s showing the other person that you care about them and value them by thinking about what they would like. It’s about the receiver, the care and thought. One year when I had no money, I baked cookies and put them in plastic bags and put handwritten notes with the cookies, and it went over fine, because I tried to personalize it. A lot of times, a card you make yourself or a blank card that you write a note in, means even more.”

   “What you will discover when you start putting time and thought into your gift-giving, is that gift-giving will become more enjoyable for you. You will look forward to seeing how the other person reacts and how they know that you showed that you care by selecting something just for them. After all, giving gifts is an expression of our love, and if we love someone, we will put some thought into what we give them.”

 A young man wanted to get a special Christmas gift for his father, who lived far away. He looked for something unique that would show how much he valued his father. So he got an exotic parakeet. It could speak five different languages and it could sing “The Yellow Rose of Texas” standing on one leg.

   He spent $10,000 on the bird and had it shipped this unusual bird to his father. On Christmas Day, he called his father. He couldn’t wait to hear what his Dad thought of his gift. He said, “Dad, did you get my gift?” His father said, “I certainly did, son.” The man said, “Well, Dad how did you like it?” His dad replied, “Oh, it was delicious!”

   He said, “But Dad, that was a special bird that could speak five different languages and even sing while standing on one leg! I can’t believe you ate him!” His father replied, “If he could speak five different languages, I can’t believe he didn’t say something before I ate him!” (Adapted from Tony Evans’ Book of Illustrations, p. 117-118.)

   God sent the greatest gift at all at Christmas when He sent His Son to save us. But many of us have missed the point, like the man who ate the parakeet. But before we criticize those who miss the point, let’s ask ourselves a question: “Why don’t we say something?” After all, how are they going to know about the real gift of Christmas if we don’t tell them?

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Finding Christ in our Christmas songs

?????????????????Copyright 2013 by Bob Rogers

 What is the most popular Christmas song in America? Billboard magazine’s list of the top ten Christmas songs of 2012 is probably our best source. This is not based on opinion, but is based on airplay on the radio, sales, and online streaming. Here is the list (Source: http://wgna.com/the-most-popular-christmas-songs-of-2012/):

10. Last Christmas- Wham!

9. Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24)- Trans-Siberian Orchestra

8. It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year- Andy Williams

7. White Christmas- Bing Crosby

6. Jingle Bell Rock- Bobby Helms

5. A Holly Jolly Christmas- Burl Ives

4. Feliz Navidad- Jose Feliciano

3. The Christmas Song (Chestnuts)- Nat King Cole

2. Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree- Brenda Lee

1. All I Want For Christmas Is You- Mariah Carey

   Did you notice who is completely missing from the top ten? Jesus! Christ is not only not in the top 10 songs, he’s not even mentioned in the rest of the top 20.

   In a world that sings about Christmas without Christ, God is calling the church of Jesus Christ back to the tradition of Christmas carols.

 

I.                  The history of Christmas carols

 

  While many Americans sing about Santa, chestnuts and a white Christmas, Christians all over the world have sung about the birth of Jesus Christ for centuries. As early as the fourth century, Ambrose, the archbishop of Milan, wrote a hymn for Christmas to teach that God truly became a man, in response to heretics who denied Jesus’ incarnation.

   Singing Christmas carols was popularized by St. Francis of Assisi during the Middle Ages in Europe, and was also encouraged by the Protestant Reformers, such as Martin Luther. As early as the 15th century, groups of singers would go from house to house in England and sing Christmas carols. Christmas carols in English first appear in a 1426 work of John Awdlay, chaplain from Shropshire, who lists twenty five “caroles of Cristemas”, probably sung by groups of “wassailers,” who went from house to house and enjoyed “wassail,” ale, or apple cider, and other desserts given to them at each home. Thus we get the line, “here we go a wassailing among the leaves so green,” and since the homes often fed the carolers, we also get the line, “bring out the figgy pudding, we won’t go until we get some.” It was only later that carols begun to be sung in church, and to be specifically associated with Christmas.

  Two of the oldest Christmas carols still sung today are “O Come, all ye faithful,” which was originally written in the 13th century, and “Good Christian Men, Rejoice” which was first composed in the 14th century.

   Perhaps the three most popular Christmas carols in English are “Joy to the World,” “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” and “Silent Night.” The first two were sung in the American colonies even before the United States was a nation, but the third one came from Austria.

    “Joy to the World” was written by Isaac Watts in 1719. It is based on Psalm 98, and its tune comes from one of the songs in Handel’s Messiah. Originally this song was intended to refer to Jesus’ Second Coming, but it has come to be associated mostly with His first coming at Christmas.

   “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” was written by the great Methodist founder Charles Wesley in 1739, and the words were revised by the great evangelist of the Great Awakening, George Whitefield. A hundred years later, the classical composer Felix Mendelssohn composed the tune that is popular today when people sing “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.”

   “Silent Night” was originally written in German and first sung on Christmas Eve, 1818, at St. Nicholas Church in the village of Oberndorf, near Salzburg, Austria. The organist, Franz Gruber, discovered that the organ wasn’t working at the church. The priest, Joseph Mohr, had composed the words in German to “Silent Night” two years before. So he shared it with Gruber, who composed the tune to be sung by guitar. When Karl Mauracher came to repair the organ, he heard the story of how the song was composed in an emergency and sung without the organ, and Mauracher spread the song everywhere that he went. The song came to America by German-speaking congregations. Originally the words were “Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht.” The English words we sing today were translated by John Freeman Young. “Silent Night” has been translated into 140 languages. (Sources: Wikipedia and Companion to Baptist Hymnal by William Reynolds.)

   I wish we had time to talk about many other popular Christmas carols like “O Holy Night,” including some newer songs like “Mary Did You Know?” Many families bake a birthday cake and sing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus on Christmas morning, which is a wonderful way to teach the true meaning of Christmas to children. Which brings us back to the original story itself, because the first Christmas carols are found in the Bible itself.

 

II.               The songs of the first Christmas

 

    Really, singing Christmas carols goes all the way back to the first Christmas, because Luke’s Gospel records four different songs as he gives the Christmas story. Let’s look at the lessons we get from these original Christmas carols.

 

A  Mary’s song says that Christ came to love the forgotten  (Luke 1:46-55)

   When Mary was told that she would be the mother of the Messiah, she broke out into a song of praise, found in Luke 1:46-55. It is often called “The Magnificat” because she began, “My soul magnifies the Lord…”

   The song emphasizes how God has remembered the forgotten and lifts up the lowly. In verse 48-49 she sings with amazement that God chose her, a simple girl from Nazareth: “He has looked with favor on the humble condition of His slave. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed.” And notice what she sings in verse 52: “He has toppled the mighty from their thrones and exalted the lowly.”

   Mary’s song reminds us that in Christ, God remembers the forgotten. Mary was a poor girl, and Jesus was born in a feeding trough. The song should remind us to stop and give a donation to the Salvation Army when we go shopping, to help Toys for Tots, and share with Operation Christmas Child and Backpacks for Appalachia. The Christmas child shoe boxes and backpacks are a wonderful way to share Jesus with the poor at Christmas.

 

B.  Zechariah’s song says that Christ came to save us (Luke 1:67-79)

 

Not only was Jesus’ birth a miracle, but the birth of John the Baptist, who was the forerunner of Christ, was also a miracle, because his parents were way too old to be having children. Yet an angel appeared to Zechariah to tell him that his wife Elizabeth would have a child in her old age. When John the Baptist was born to them, Zechariah broke out into a song of praise. It is found in Luke 1:67-79.

Zechariah’s song emphasizes that Christ came to save us. Luke 1:68-69 says, “Praise the Lord, the God of Israel, because He has visited and provided redemption for His people. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of David.” In the Bible, a horn was a symbol of strength. The Messiah was to come from the family line of King David. So Zechariah was singing about the same thing his son would prophesy when John the Baptist saw Jesus, and John proclaimed, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).

   Zechariah’s song reminds us that Christ came to save us from sin.

C.     The angel’s song says that Christ came to give us peace (Luke 2:13-14)

   When the angel announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds, he was suddenly surrounded by a great angel choir that sang the best-known of the songs that first Christmas. We read it in Luke 2:13-14. It is called “Gloria in Excelsis Deo” because it begins with the words, “Glory to God in the highest.”

   The angel’s song spoke about Christ, the Prince of Peace, coming to bring us peace. Most of us know this song from the King James Version, which says, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, Good will towards men.” Many of us react to that like the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who wrote the words to “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” during the Civil War. He wrote,

And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

   The good news is that the most reliable ancient manuscripts do not say what the KJV says. That is why the HCSB translates it, “peace on earth to people He favors!” You see, Jesus’ coming is not a general guarantee that everybody will have peace. The more accurate translation does not say peace to all men, but peace to people He favors. That is, peace is available to those who receive God’s grace, or favor, through faith in Christ. As Romans 5:1 says, “Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” On Christmas Eve, 1914, during World War I, the British, French and German armies laid down their arms and visited with one another in peace, and they all sang “Silent Night” in their own languages, as they all knew the song. The message about the Prince of Peace made all the difference, even in the midst of war.

   Have you found the peace of Christ? The angel’s song reminds us that Christ came to give us peace, a peace we receive by faith in Him.

 

D.     Simeon’s song says that to keep Christmas with us, we must share it (Luke 2:29-32)

 

   There is one more Christmas song in Luke’s Gospel. Officially, it was after Christmas, since it happened a few days later. A lot of people get the post-Christmas blues after Christmas is over. They get kind of sad, taking down the Christmas tree and putting away the decorations. And we rarely sing Christmas carols after Christmas Day. But Simeon did.

   A few days after Jesus was born, Mary and Joseph took Jesus to Jerusalem to dedicate Him to the Lord in the temple. There they met a prophet named Simeon, who had been waiting all of his life for the Messiah to come and save His people. Luke 2:26 says it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he saw the Messiah. When he saw Jesus with Mary and Joseph, Simeon took Him in his arms and sang the fourth Christmas carol. In that song, Simeon reminded us that to keep Christmas with us, we must share it. We read the song in Luke 2:29-32.

   Simeon sang, “For my eyes have seen Your salvation. You have prepared it in the presence of all peoples—a light for revelation to the Gentiles and glory to Your people Israel.”

   Simeon knew that the salvation that is offered in Jesus Christ was prepared for “all peoples,” both Gentiles and Jews, and he wanted everybody to know that the baby Jesus that he was holding in his arms was the Savior.

   Simeon’s song reminds us, to keep Christmas all year long, keep on sharing the good news.

 Christmas carols that celebrate Jesus may not be in the top 20, but people still recognize the songs and enjoy hearing them this season of the year, which is all the more reason for us to play carols in our homes and cars and places we work. It’s a simple way to share the good news.

    And how we need to renew the tradition of going Christmas caroling! I have a suspicion that if Zechariah and Simeon and Mary were with us today, they would be going door-to-door caroling, with some shepherds right behind them and angels overhead.

   Years ago, a small group of carolers went door-to-door in a wealthy neighborhood of Beverly Hills, California. They rang a doorbell, and the man of the house answered, all in a hurry. He said, “Look, I appreciate the sentiment, but I really don’t have time for this. The house is a mess and we’re trying to get out the door to go shopping. Come by some other day.” As he shut the door, Bing Crosby and his family said, “Okay,” and left.

    God sent His Son at Christmas. Don’t be so busy you miss the song.

If you see a video ad below this past, please be aware that I have no control over these ads, and that I do not necessarily endorse the product.

Advice on gift-giving from the best one I know

Copyright by Bob Rogers

“Entering the house, they saw the child with Mary His mother, and falling on their knees, they worshiped Him. Then they opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” Matthew 2:11, HCSB

Advice from a great gift-giver
NancyRogers

   My sister, Nancy Rogers, is the best gift-giver I know. I have always noticed how thoughtful she is in selecting gifts for others. So I called her up and asked for her advice, and here is what she told me:

   Nancy said, “I think about what that person would enjoy. It depends on who the person is. If they have similar tastes to me, or a woman my age, then I ask myself if I would like that. Then, I ask, would it appeal to that person, not to me. So I ask myself, how would they react when they open this gift? Like a person who loves cats, I might think they would like a cat figurine, but then I think about how this person does not collect items and so even though they like cats, they don’t collect figurines. So I give it some time and thought. I learn about the person. The gift may not be that expensive, but it doesn’t matter; what matters is that I was thinking about his or her interests, because you can’t buy affection.”

What about giving money and gift cards?

   What about giving money and gift cards? Nancy said, “I think giving cash and gift cards can be just fine. I have a goddaughter who lives on a tight budget. For her, money is very helpful to do something for herself. So I gave her $50 for her birthday. She wrote me a note and said she went and got her hair done, and nails done, something she would not have spent on her tight budget. If I had given her a pair of earrings that cost the same amount of money, it would mean less to her. If had given money to my boss who makes more money than me, it would not have meant as much to him. If my friend listens to music all of the time and likes to get music on his iPod from iTunes, and I give him an iTunes gift card. But doing so, I’m saying that I’m thinking about him because he will download music with it.

   “When it comes to gift giving, the magic thing is not the dollar value. It’s showing the other person that you care about them and value them by thinking about what they would like. It’s about the receiver, the care and thought. One year when I had no money, I baked cookies and put them in plastic bags and put handwritten notes with the cookies, and it went over fine, because I tried to personalize it. A lot of times, a card you make yourself or a blank card that you write a note in, means even more.”

Special advice for men giving to women

   Does she have any advice for men buying for their girlfriend or wife? “When a man is buying for a woman, I have two pieces of advice. Number one, ask the best friend and listen to what she says. The best friend knows! Tell her the budget range, and she will give you the best suggestion, hands down. Number two, when in doubt, give her jewelry! Women will buy inexpensive costume jewelry for themselves, but a lot of women won’t buy nice jewelry for themselves. But you need to know the style and taste your woman has in jewelry. Does she wear silver or gold? Are her ears pierced? You may even want to take the best friend with you to help you pick it out. If you buy expensive gold earrings for a woman who wears silver jewelry and does not have pierced ears, you have shown that you do not care enough about her to learn what she likes, even though you spent a lot of money.

The extra benefit of gift-giving

   “What you will discover when you start putting time and thought into your gift-giving, is that gift-giving will become more enjoyable for you. You will look forward to seeing how the other person reacts and how they know that you showed that you care by selecting something just for them. After all, giving gifts is an expression of our love, and if we love someone, we will put some thought into what we give them.”

If you see a video ad below this post, please be aware that I have no control over these ads, and I do not necessarily endorse the product.

Finding Christ in Our Christmas Lights

KeaganLights12.13.2013Copyright 2013 by Bob Rogers

Houses all over my neighborhood are covered with outdoor Christmas lights, but what does it have to do with the birth of Jesus Christ? Let’s go back and look at where we got the tradition of Christmas lights.

I. Origins of Christmas lights

For centuries, Christmas lights meant lighting candles.

The tradition of putting up Christmas lights began with putting candles on Christmas trees. Christmas trees originated in Germany by the 16th century, from several different traditions. Some Germans actually burned an evergreen tree in the town square and danced around it. There is a popular legend that Martin Luther, the German Protestant reformer, began the tradition of putting candles on Christmas trees. The legend says that one crisp Christmas Eve, about the year 1500, he was walking through snow-covered woods and was struck by the beauty of a group of small evergreens. Their branches, dusted with snow, shimmered in the moonlight. When he got home, he set up a little fir tree indoors so he could share this story with his children. He decorated it with candles, which he lighted in honor of Christ’s birth. (Accessed on the Internet on December 5, 2013 at: http://www.christmas-tree.com/where.html).

Whether or not this is true, we know that the Advent wreath was invented in 1839 by Johann Henrich Wichern, a Protestant pastor who worked with the urban poor in Germany. The children would ask every day if Christmas had arrived, so Wichern built a ring with evergreen and candles to candles to light the 24 days in December before Christmas, and large candles to mark the Sundays. Later this was simplified to four candles for the four Sundays, and a Christ candle in the middle for Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. The custom of lighting an Advent candle did not spread to America until a century later, in the 1930s. (Accessed on the Internet December 4, 2013 at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Advent_wreath).

II. Modern Christmas light traditions

On December 22, 1882, Edward H. Johnson, vice president of the Edison Electric Light Company, displayed his Christmas tree with 80 red, white and blue electric lights bulbs the size of walnuts, at his home on Fifth Avenue in New York City. This was the first time a Christmas tree had been illuminated with electric lights, but the idea spread quickly. Three years later, the White House Christmas tree was covered with electric lights. By the early 19th century, it became popular to put lights on buildings, not just on Christmas trees. In the 1960s, with the construction of so many subdivisions in American communities, it became the custom in American neighborhoods for many families to cover their houses with lights. This custom has spread around the world, and is particularly popular in Japan. (Accessed on the Internet on December 4, 2013 at: http://en.wikipedia.org./wiki/Christmas_lights).

As I mentioned at the beginning of this message, Christmas lights cover waterfronts, caverns, skyscrapers and shopping centers today. Some even use synchronized timers to have their lights flash to music.

Yet while many American homes are covered with Christmas lights, many of the families who live inside never go to church. Christmas lights are popular in Japan, but a very few Japanese are Christians. So what do Christmas lights have to do with Jesus Christ and His birth? Actually, it has everything to do with Christmas!

III. The light of Christ

The Bible uses light as a symbol for Christ in both the Old Testament and New Testament.

In Numbers 24:17, the prophet Balaam said, “A star will come from Jacob, and a scepter will arise from Israel.”

The prophet Isaiah said, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD shines over you… Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your radiance…Caravans of camels will cover your land… They will carry gold and frankincense and proclaim the praises of the LORD.” (Isaiah 60:1, 3, 6).

The Gospel of Matthew shows how these prophecies pointed to the coming of Jesus as the Messiah: “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea in the days of King Herod, wise men from the east arrived unexpected in Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.’” (Matthew 2:1-2)

Perhaps the eastern star-gazers had been studying the Hebrews scriptures. Perhaps they read Balaam’s prophecy in Numbers 24:17 that a star would come in Israel. We don’t know what star they saw. Astronomers say that there was a convergence of Mars, Jupiter and Saturn in 7-6 B.C., and a Comet in 5 B.C. Since our calendars are off a few years, we now know that Jesus was born about 4-6 years earlier than 1 A.D., so it is possible that they saw one of these astronomical events. Yet God could well have produced a supernatural light. According to Matthew 2:9, the star moved and then stopped moving. “After hearing the king, they went on their way. And there it was—the star they had seen in the east! It led them until it came and stopped over the place where the child was.”

Perhaps the wise men read Isaiah’s prophecy that nations would come to his light and caravans of camels would bring gold and frankincense to praise the Lord. For look at what it says in Matthew 2:11, “Entering the house, they saw the child with Mary His mother, and falling on their knees, they worshiped Him. Then they opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”

Matthew’s gospel shows us how Jesus fulfilled the prophecy and is represented by the light. John’s gospel makes the application to you and me. John 1:4-5 says, “Life was in Him, and that life was the light of men. That light shines in the darkness, yet the darkness did not overcome it.”

Let’s take a closer look at this, because every line in these two verses is expanded on later in the Gospel of John.

John 1:4a says, “Life was in Him.” John 5:26 says, “For just as the Father has life in Himself, so also He has granted to the Son to have life in Himself.” Jesus, the Messiah, has something powerful within Himself: life. He is able to give abundant life and eternal life to His followers.

John 1:4b says, “and that life was the light of men.” John 1:5a continues, “That light shines in the darkness.” We read in John 8:12, “Then Jesus spoke to them again: ‘I am the light of the world. Anyone who follows Me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” Do you see how John 8:12 explains John 1:4-5? If you want to have real, abundant, eternal life, you need to come out of the darkness of sin and this evil world, and come to the light of Jesus Christ.

Now look at John 1:5b: “yet the darkness did not overcome it.” The Message says, “the darkness couldn’t put it out.” The NLT translates, “the darkness can never extinguish it.” In John 12:35 we read, “Jesus answered, ‘The light will be with you only a little longer. Walk while you have the light so that darkness doesn’t overtake you.’” The word translated “overtake” in John 12:35 is the same Greek word translated “overcome” in John 1:5.

So what does this all mean? It means that there is a great spiritual battle between the forces of darkness and the forces of light. Jesus warns that darkness can overtake you. You and I can be consumed with evil and sin and defeated. But Jesus is the light of the world. And if we come to His light, the darkness can never put it out. In Matthew 5:14, Jesus said, “You are the light of the world.” Jesus calls us to shine His light to a dark world that does not know Him.

Let me tell you the tale of two sons. It is a true tale. Both families have given me permission to tell their stories.

Mitch and Amy Ambrose are members of First Baptist Church of Rincon. Their son, Joshua, was two years old when he got sick, but he loved Christmas lights. He had several surgeries that next year. When he was almost three years old, he was going to have to go to the hospital for brain surgery. It was the middle of November. He asked if they were going to have a Christmas tree with lights on it. They said yes, and Amy they put the tree up in the middle of November, and put lights on it the day before they went to the hospital, so he got to see the lights. The morning after the brain surgery, he had a seizure and lost consciousness, which left him totally physically disabled. He couldn’t respond to his family at all, so the doctors labeled him as blind. But when he was about eight years old, he was lying on his play mat on the floor, and the Christmas tree was up with the lights on. When Mitch and Amy came home from Wednesday night church, Josh had crawled up under the tree, trying to get closer to the light, unknown to the caregiver. To this day, Josh still loves to come to church and see the Christmas lights.

Nick and Brenda Revette are my brother-in-law and sister-in-law. Their son, our nephew Brian, was two and a half years old, about the same age as Josh, also right before Christmas. Brian was struck with spinal meningitis, and almost died. He survived, but was left blind. He wanted to see the Christmas tree, but he couldn’t see it that year, because he was blind. He was afraid of the dark. He would say, “dark is bad.” But people continued to pray for Brian, just as people prayed for Josh. A few months after Christmas, Brian remarked that he saw a horse on the TV, and they realized that his eyesight was coming back. The next year, Brian got to see the light on the Christmas tree again.

Both of these young men, Josh Ambrose and Brian Revette, are now in their 20s. Josh still cannot speak. Brian can see, but he continues to have seizures and is limited in his activities. But the thing they have in common is that they have both wanted to see the Christmas lights, and they both did. Josh saw the lights right before his stroke. Brian saw the lights after he recovered from his stroke. Jesus said in Revelation 22:16, “I am the Bright and Morning Star.” And because a star stood over Bethlehem, and because Jesus came as the light of the world, one day both of these young men will see Jesus face to face in the brilliance of all His glory in heaven.

Yet there remain billions of people who have yet to see the true light of Christmas.

It is interesting that almost every nation celebrates Christmas, even nations that are not Christian. The Japanese, for example, love the lights and music of Christmas. Post-modern Europe, which is largely post-Christian and has forgotten Christ, still loves to celebrate Christmas.

The 6.8 billion people in the world are ethnically grouped into 11,626 people groups. Of these people groups, some 3,352 people groups have no one who is spreading the gospel among them. No churches, no missionaries, no gospel.

The nations are waiting. The light has dawned at Bethlehem. As we put up our Christmas lights, let’s make sure that we share the light of Christ with the nations. Their eternal destiny depends on it.

When I asked Brian’s mother, my sister-in-law Brenda, to share how she feels about Christmas lights, she said, “God was not in the dark. God was in the light. God sent us His light, the light of the world that first Christmas. God’s miracles are great. When you look at the Christmas lights, remember the true light!”

If you see a video ad below this post, please understand that I have no control over these ads, and that I do not necessarily endorse the product.

Finding Christ in the Christmas tree

ChristmasOrnamentCross

Article copyright by Bob Rogers

All over the world, people are putting up Christmas trees this time of the year.
In southern California, a 90-foot Christmas tree was erected at the Fashion Island shopping center in Newport Beach, covered with strobe lights and Disney-themed music for the thousands of shoppers. (Emily Foxhall, “90-foot Christmas tree arrives at Newport Beach’s Fashion Island,” Los Angeles Times, November 8, 2013.)

   All over the world, people are putting up Christmas trees for the holiday. But what does this have to do with the birth of Jesus? Is it just a pagan practice, or can we find Christ in the Christmas tree?

  

I.                  The origins of the Christmas tree

 

   Where did the tradition of the Christmas tree come from?

   There are many different stories, since ancient peoples have made use of trees and even worshipped them. One of my favorite stories is of St. Boniface, the missionary to the Germans in the 8th century. Boniface told them about Jesus Christ, but they worshipped a great oak tree. So Boniface boldly went to the oak with an axe and began to chop it down. They were ready to kill him, when a great wind came and blew the tree down. After that, the Germans converted to Christianity in large numbers.

    Some legends tell that St. Boniface later decorated a fir tree to represent Jesus instead of their pagan gods. It is uncertain whether this is true.

   During the Middle Ages, there was a popular medieval play in western Germany about Adam and Eve and a “paradise tree,” which was a fir tree hung with apples, that represented the Garden of Eden. Germans set up paradise trees in their homes on December 24, the feast day of Adam and Eve. They hung wafers on it, representing the bread of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, and then later they hang cookies, and often put candles, symbols of Christ as the light. (“Christmas tree.” Encyclopaedia Britannica. Encyclopeaedia Britannica Ultimate Reference Suite. Chicago: Encylopaedia Britannica, 2012.)

   Meanwhile, in the 15th and 16th century in Latvia, Estonia and northern Germany, there was a tradition of bringing an evergreen tree to the town square on Chritmas Eve, dancing around it, and letting it burn. Eventually people in Germany began to light a tree on Christmas Eve with candles. Lutheran tradition says that the Protestant reformer Martin Luther helped popularize the lighting of an evergreen tree at Christmas all over Germany.

 

II.               Modern Christmas tree traditions

 

    Germany settlers brought the Christmas tree to North America as early as the 17th century.

     Prince Albert of Germany, the husband of Queen Victoria of England, introduced the Christmas tree into England in the early 19th century. By the 19th century, Christmas trees were popular all over the world. In Victorian England, trees were decorated with toys and small gifts, candles and candy. Blown-glass ornaments became popular in the 1870s. By 1890, strings of electric tree lights became popular to hang on trees. In the 1960s, artificial Christmas trees made out of aluminum became popular, but these were soon replaced by artificial trees that look realistic.

   Many families still enjoy going together to get their own real Christmas tree. John and Pam Carper’s family have a tradition for the past five or six years, of traveling to a North Carolina Christmas tree farm, to cut a Fraser fir to bring back to Georgia for Christmas. James & Kerri Gilyard also have a tradition of getting a real tree, which they do right after Thanksgiving. Their tradition is to put on the lights first, then the ornaments, with the memorable and breakable ones up higher. Last of all, they put an angel on top.

   Many families will choose a special ornament for each member of the family. We have an ornament for each child on the year that they were born. Kevin & Sharon Kendall choose a special ornament each year for each child in the family. They enjoy looking at the ornaments to see what dates they got each ornament.

   That brings us back to our question. As nice as these traditions are, what if anything does a Christmas tree have to do with the birth of Jesus? Let’s open our Bibles and see.

 

III.           God’s Christmas tree

 

  1. Israel was symbolized by a tree (Isaiah 5; Ezekiel 17; Daniel 4:10-12)

 

   In ancient Israel, a tree symbolized God’s people Israel. Isaiah 5 gives a parable of a vineyard that was planted but failed to produce good fruit, and so it is torn down. Isaiah says, “For the vineyard of the Lord of Hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah, the plant He delighted in.” (Isaiah 5:7, HCSB).

   Ezekiel 17 gives another parable comparing Israel to a tree, saying God will plant a sprig on a mountain. “I will plant it on Israel’s high mountain so that it may bear branches, produce fruit, and become a majestic cedar… Then all the trees of the field will know that I am Yahweh.”

    Thus Psalm 1:3 speaks of the righteous man as like a tree planted by water, and in Matthew 3:10, John the Baptists says every tree that doesn’t produce is cut down.

   Daniel 4 tells how God used a vision of a tree to warn King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon to beware of his pride. He told about a tree that reached to the sky, but it was cut down, and Daniel said, “That tree is you, the king.” (Daniel 4:22).

   So a tree often symbolized Israel, although it could also symbolize the life of others.

 

  1. Christ is symbolized by a tree of life (Isaiah 11:1-10) and a tree of death (1 Peter 2:24)

 

   So if we stay with the symbolism of life in a tree, notice what we read in the prophecy of Isaiah 11: “Then a shoot will grow from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit… On that day the root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples. The nations will seek Him, and His resting place will be glorious.” (Isaiah 11:1, 10, HCSB).

   Jesse was the name of the father of King David, so this passage is referring to the Messiah who would be a descendant of David. Notice the description of the Messiah in verses 2 and following:

   “The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him—

   A Spirit of wisdom and understanding,

   A Spirit of counsel and strength,

   A Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord…”

   From the beginning to the end of the Bible, we read of a tree of life. In the Garden of Eden, Genesis 2:9 speaks of a tree of life, and in Revelation 22:2 we read that in heaven, “The tree of life was on both sides of the river, bearing 12 kinds of fruit, producing its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations…”

   Jesus is symbolized by this tree of life, for Christ gives us life. And how? Because he is also represented by a tree of death by his death on the cross!

   Crucifixion was so horrible it was illegal to crucify a Roman citizen, and Jews saw it as a curse. Deuteronomy 21:23 says that anybody executed on a tree is cursed, and Galatians 3:13 repeats this. So when Jesus was nailed to the cross, which of course was made from a tree, the Jews thought He was cursed.

   Yet look what we read in 1 Peter 2:24: “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that, having died to sins, we might live for righteousness, for you have been healed by His wounds.”

   Thus the tree of life became the tree of death so that by faith in Christ, we could enjoy life.

   The best Christmas gift was not under a tree, but hung upon a tree, the tree of Calvary.

 

   In 1957, Frances Kipps Spencer at Ascension Lutheran Church in Danville, Virginia, came up with the idea of the Chrismon tree. She wanted a way to display a Christmas tree in her church that had Christian symbols, instead of gaudy, bright lights. So she covered the tree with monogrammed letters, and other Christian symbols, such as the cross, fish, crown, etc. Today, many churches display a “Chrismon tree,” which is a Christmas tree that only has Christian symbols on it.

   Why don’t we have our own traditions to see and show Christ in the Christmas tree? Put an angel or a star on the top. Display a manger scene under the tree. Put a nail on a ribbon, and hang it on the tree to remember the tree upon which Jesus was nailed. Make a Chrismon tree full of Christian symbols. When your family, friends and neighbors see your tree, you can share the meaning of the symbols.

   But there is something even more important than what we do with our Christmas trees. That is what we do with our lives. Let us show Christ in a Christmas tree traditions, but even more, let us show Christ in the way we carry the cross of Christ in our daily lives.

If you see a video ad below this post, please understand that I have no control over these ads, and that I do not necessarily endorse the product.

Guest blog: “Remembering your loved ones at Christmas”

SONY DSC Below are some suggestions from Ed Ike, licensed professional counselor who does counseling for First Baptist Church, Rincon, Georgia. To contact Ed for counseling, you may call him at 912-658-2767.

The grief process is always very difficult and especially so during the holidays. Even the smallest memories will bring about a flood of painful thoughts and feelings. Sometimes we don’t know what to do or how to deal with these thoughts or the empty place on Christmas Day. Here are a few helpful suggestions:
Wrap a favorite keepsake or framed picture of your loved one, and give it as a gift to another grieving family member.
Create a special ornament with the name of your loved one and hang it on your Christmas tree.
Decorate a candle and light it at meal time in memory of your loved one.
Make a donation to a favorite charity in the person’s honor. Create a scholarship to keep the memory of the loved one alive and announce it at a holiday gathering of family and friends.
Purchase a Christmas book, perhaps a favorite of your loved one, and donate it to your local library or school. Ask the librarian to place a label in the front cover in memory of your loved one.
Bring your loved one’s favorite food to share at Christmas dinner. Mention their name in the blessing over the food.
Encourage grieving children to draw pictures and create gifts inspired by their memories of the one who died, to give to other family members.
Decorate and hang a cut-out star in your home, write on the star your hopes and dreams for the future. Thinking about tomorrow is part of the healing.
Once you have remembered your loved one, make sure you remember yourself. Take care of your needs. Be gentle. Do what you can and no more and no less.

Some simple gift suggestions for Christmas

Copyright 2012 by Bob Rogers

A lady didn’t have time to purchase gifts for her circle of friends, so she rushed to the store and bought a box of pretty Christmas cards, and mailed them without even reading the message inside. When she finally had time to relax on New Year’s, she picked up one of the unused cards and to her horror she read the message she had sent: “This Christmas card is just to say, a little gift is on the way!”
In all of our rushing around this Christmas season, let’s not forget the little gift, the baby Jesus, whom God sent to become the big gift for our eternal life. And let’s ask ourselves what gifts we are giving this Christmas. May I suggest a few?
The gift of time. Spend time doing things that matter– with your family, in worship, and in personal reflection.
The gift of love. Look people in the eye, give them a hug, truly listen to what they are saying. Show them they are important to you.
The gift of the gospel. Share the real meaning of Christmas with your Christmas decorations, using a nativity scene, a lighted cross, and so on.  Ask a friend or co-worker, “What does Christmas mean to you?” and after they answer, tell them what it means to you.
The gift of money. Yes, money, but not like you may think. After all, it’s not your birthday or my birthday, it’s Jesus’ birthday. So why not spend at least as much money in honor of Jesus as we do on our own family members? Share generously with the missions offering to spread the gospel to those who have never heard. Share generously with people in need. And don’t forget your tithes to your own church, to continue the ministries that focus on the real reason for the season.
The gift of song. Christmas is a time for singing and rejoicing! Surround yourself with Christmas carols, and share it with everybody you meet. Go Christmas caroling in your neighborhood and share fresh-baked cookies with an invitation to our Christmas Eve service. This is one time of the year when the whole world likes to hear songs about Jesus, so spread the joy! Like the wise men who gave gold, frankincense and myrrh, what gifts can you and I bring Jesus?

The Colors of Christmas

(Copyright 2011 by Bob Rogers)

My family loves to ride around town and look at Christmas lights a few days before Christmas. Everybody enjoys seeing the colorful decorations this season of the year. At church, I see men wearing colorful ties, and ladies with colorful tops.
Although red and green are the primary colors of Christmas, with a little imagination we can see the Christmas story in every color.

GREEN. Green is the color of the fields where the shepherds watched their flocks by night (Luke 2:8). Green is also the color of evergreen trees that remind us of the “everlasting life” offered through the gift of God’s Son (John 3:16). Green reminds us of money, that we either spend wastefully, or use wisely to help those in need and support missions so that those who have never heard of Christ may know the real meaning of Christmas.

RED. Poinsettia plants are popular at Christmas, with their bright red leaves. Sadly, red can also symbolize spending more money than we have on gifts, and getting into debt! Red should remind us of the events of the Bible: the blood of the innocent children of Bethlehem slaughtered by King Herod in an evil attempt to stop the birth of Christ (Matthew 2:16-18), and the blood of Christ Himself shed for our salvation on the cross (1 Peter 1:18-19).

BROWN. The manger and the hay remind us of Jesus’ humility (Luke 2:7), whereas the myrrh, the most expensive of the gifts of the Magi (Matthew 2:11), remind us that he is for both rich and poor. So brown can remind us that Jesus came for all people.

YELLOW. Frankincense, one of the gifts of the Magi (Matthew 2:11), was a yellow incense used in prayer, a reminder to spend time in worship and meditation on the real meaning of Christmas, just as Mary “treasure these things in her heart” (Luke 2:19).
Yellow is also a symbol of cowardice, a warning to Christians not to miss this opportunity to share our faith at this time when the whole world is thinking about Christmas. We should be like the shepherds, who told everybody what they saw (Luke 2:17).

PURPLE. Purple is the color of royalty, reminding us of the Magi and of King Herod. While the Magi, or wise men, were probably not actually kings, it is likely that they served in the court of a king. What a contrast between the Magi and Herod! The former followed Jesus; the latter tried to kill Him. Purple can remind us of the choice every person must make to follow Jesus or not.
Purple also reminds us of Jesus Himself, who came the first time to save, but will come back to reign as “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Revelation 19:16). Every person will one day bow the knee before Him as king (Philippians 2:10).

BLACK. Black points to the night sky where the angels appeared to the shepherds to announce the Messiah’s birth (Luke 2:8-9).
Black may also remind us of the depression many people suffer at Christmas, especially those who are alone and those who have suffered a loss of a loved one since last Christmas.
Black can also remind us of the darkness of our sin, if we are without a Savior (John 3:19).

WHITE. The star in the east, the angels in the sky, and the strips of cloth wrapped around the Christ child are all represented by the color white. White is also a symbol of our cleansing from sin through faith in Jesus (Isaiah 1:18).

GOLD. The gift of gold from the Magi reminds us that Christmas is a season of gift giving (Matthew 2:11), and that God has given us the greatest gift in Jesus.
Finally, gold points us to our future in heaven. If we walk by faith now, we will walk the streets of gold then (Revelation 21:21).

After I shared these “colors of Christmas” at my church in Georgia, a Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket fan got into a discussion with a Georgia Bulldog fan. The University of Georgia fan said I had his team colors of black and red. The Georgia Tech fan replied that I also mentioned his team colors of white and gold. The Bulldog fan replied, but what about your color blue?
Actually, Elvis Presley made “blue Christmas” famous with his song by that name, didn’t he? He sang about how “I’ll have a blue Christmas without you.” Yet blue is one color we want to avoid at Christmas. If someone decorates their home in every color of Christmas, but does not have Christ in their heart, they have a blue Christmas. Yes, Jesus, I’ll have a blue Christmas if it is without You!
The antidote for a blue Christmas is a green Christmas. If I have Jesus in my heart, it is evergreen with the promise of His eternal life.
So may your Christmas be colorful and bright, and especially full of green this Christmas night!

Is it Kings or Magi?

A couple of years ago, my late friend and dear deacon, Mark Callaway, called up to ask, “Brother Bob, is it Kings or Magi?” A lot of people ask that, so I’m repeating the answer I gave Mark that day:
Mark, it was magi. Although the popular Christmas carol says, “We Three Kings Orient Are,” Matthew 2:1 says “magi,” or “wise men,” came from the east, following the star to the newborn Christ child. The term “magi” comes from a Persian word for wise men who studied the stars. The association with kings comes from Messianic passages like Isaiah 60:3, 6: “Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your radiance…They will carry gold and frankincense and proclaim the praises of the Lord.”
By the way, although Matthew 2:11 lists three gifts, scripture does not explicitly say there were three magi. I still love the traditional carol. Somehow, “We half dozen wise men from Persia are,” just doesn’t flow as well.

Coffee, memory loss and Christmas

I was glad to read recently that drinking coffee can help your short-term memory loss. You see, I’m a forgetful, coffee-drinking preacher.

   Having a bad memory is not good when you are a minister. When I was pastor of Union Baptist Church in Roxie, Mississippi, our treasurer had a car wreck. I went to see her, and before leaving, I offered to pray for her. As I began the prayer, I suddenly remembered that I had forgotten her name! The church only had about 35 people attend each Sunday, so it wasn’t like I had a lot of names to recall. Anyway, being the sophisticated young professional that I was, I blurted out, “What’s your name?” She told me with a sad voice it was “Jean,” and then I prayed aloud for God to heal Jean, and silently I prayed for God to get me out of there alive.
My pastor friend in New Orleans, Joe McKeever, tells how he was asked to visit a member’s sister in the hospital and pray for her. Forgetting her name, his prayer sounded strange: “Please bless this dear brother’s sister, Father.”

That reminds me of a forgetful moment I had when I lived in New Orleans. I was driving home from church. To my surprise, a New Orleans cop turned on his blue lights and pulled me over. As soon as I stopped, he got on his loudspeaker and announced loudly enough for the whole city to hear, “There’s a book on your car.” I got out, and saw that my black leather
Bible was sitting on the roof of the car, just above the driver’s seat. Apparently I left it there after church when I was talking to somebody. The Bible was open and its pages were in disarray, and the Sunday bulletin was gone, but at least my Bible didn’t fall off the car. It would be hard to explain to my Bible professor why I trampled the Word of God with my tires.
Red-faced, I retrieved the Bible, and the policeman smiled and drove away.

All of this reminds me (you see, the coffee-drinking is helping my memory already!) of how many people get forgetful at Christmas. Folks put up their holiday decorations and do their holiday shopping and send holiday cards with “Season’s Greetings,” and attend holiday parties and holiday parades. But they forget what the holiday is about.

This Christmas, don’t forget to Whom we pray. His name is Jesus. This Christmas, don’t forget the Book. It’s called the Bible, and it has good news for you, that a Savior, Christ the Lord, was born in Bethlehem. May I make a suggestion? This Christmas, before you open any presents, curl up with a hot cup of coffee, open the Good Book to the Gospel of Luke, chapter 2, and read the story to your family. You may find yourself saying, “Ah, I remember.”

Why do Christians celebrate Christmas on December 25?

People often ask me why Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus on December 25. Actually, some Christians celebrate it on January 6, which I personally like because it’s my birthday. But I digress.
Nobody knows for certain how December 25 (and January 6) came to be the dates to celebrate Christmas. The most commonly accepted theory is that the dates were chosen, perhaps by Emperor Constantine, to divert attention from pagan holidays on the same days. Emperor Aurelian had established a winter solstice festival on December 25, A.D. 274, apparently dedicating a temple to the sun god on that date. The birthday of the Persian god Mithras, associated with light and truth, was on December 25. Egyptians celebrated the birthday of the god Aion on January 6.
Some writers believe the day was chosen because it was nine months after the month and day of Jesus’ death, and Christians wanted to celebrate his conception on the same date as his death. Why the difference in December 25 and January 6? In the East, the Jewish date of 14 Nisan, the date of Christ’s crucifixion, was thought to be on April 6, but in the West, it was thought to be on March 25. If this theory is correct, then the date may have been chosen without any connection to pagan celebrations.
One thing that is certain is that the earliest Christians did not celebrate Christmas as we know it today. The Gospels say nothing about the date of Christ’s birth. It seems unlikely the shepherds would be outdoors watching the flocks at night in the winter (Luke 2:8). In the year A.D. 243, the church father Cyprian theorized that Christ’s birth should be celebrated on March 28, the spring equinox, for “on that day on which the sun was made on the same day was Christ born.” The oldest reference to Christmas occurs in a Roman church calendar in A.D. 354. By A.D. 376, the Roman bishop was requiring churches to celebrate Jesus’ birth on December 25, but eventually Eastern Christians celebrated Christ’s birth on January 6, as many still do to this day.