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The Presidents Club

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The Surest Defense Against Evil

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The Triumph of Grace

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Contemplating God’s Sovereignty

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How Should We Then Live?

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Not a Timid Christianity

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Finishing the Race

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Because the Time is Near

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Revelation Song (YouTube)

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Where The Wind Blows

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Doing Great Things

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Recognizing a False Prophet

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The Power of Forgiveness

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Created for Relationships

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The Only Way I Know

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Faith: The Misunderstood Doctrine

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Our True Home Address

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‘Tis the Season . . . for L-O-V-E

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The Paris Terrorist Attack and the Problem of Evil

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Cherry Picking 101

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Love Sweet Love

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So Goes The Culture

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Idols of the Heart

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Divisions Are Not Always Bad

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The Resurrection of Jesus Christ

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Christmas is Coming

Christmas is literally right around the corner, and no doubt many a last minute shopper is scurrying about purchasing last minute presents. I consider myself fortunate to not be one of them this year. 🙂 However, since the final hours before Christmas are quickly approaching, I thought I would share some Christmas cheer before Christmas morning arrives.

One of the oldest and most common Christmas poems titled “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” was written back in 1822 by Clement C. Moore (1779-1863), and it tells the story of Santa’s arrival on Christmas Eve at a typical American household. The original poem is available at this link. A year ago I posted a parody of “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” in a blog post titled, A Bit of Christmas Cheer,” and I thought I’d repost that version along with a Christian version of the poem following after it. Here is the version from last year’s blog post:

’Twas The Night Before Christmas
Legal Version

Whereas, on or about the night prior to Christmas, there did occur at a certain improved piece of real property (hereinafter “the House”) a general lack of stirring by all creatures therein, including, but not limited to, a mouse.

A variety of foot apparel, e.g. stocking, socks, etc., had been affixed by and around the chimney in said House in the hope and/or belief that St. Nick a/k/a/ St. Nicholas a/k/a/ Santa Claus (hereinafter “Claus”) would arrive at sometime thereafter.

The minor residents, i.e. the children, of the aforementioned House, were located in their individual beds and were engaged in nocturnal hallucinations, i.e. dreams, wherein vision of confectionery treats, including, but not limited to, candies, nuts and/or sugar plums, did dance, cavort and otherwise appear in said dreams.

Whereupon the party of the first part (sometimes hereinafter referred to as “I”), being the joint-owner in fee simple of the House with the party of the second part (hereinafter “Mamma”), and said Mamma had retired for a sustained period of sleep.

At such time, the parties were clad in various forms of headgear, e.g. kerchief and cap. Suddenly, and without prior notice or warning, there did occur upon the unimproved real property adjacent and appurtenant to said House, i.e. the lawn, a certain disruption of unknown nature, cause and/or circumstance.

The party of the first part did immediately rush to a window in the House to investigate the cause of such disturbance. At that time, the party of the first part did observe, with some degree of wonder and/or disbelief, a miniature sleigh (hereinafter the “Vehicle”) being pulled and/or drawn very rapidly through the air by approximately eight (8) reindeer.

The driver of the Vehicle appeared to be and in fact was, the previously referenced Claus. Said Claus was providing specific direction, instruction and guidance to the approximately eight (8) reindeer and specifically identified the animal co-conspirators by name: Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donder and Blitzen (hereinafter the “Deer”). Upon information and belief, it is further asserted that an additional co-conspirator named Rudolph may have been involved.

The party of the first part witnessed Claus, the Vehicle and the Deer intentionally and willfully trespass upon the roofs of several residences located adjacent to and in the vicinity of the House, and noted that the Vehicle was heavily laden with packages, toys and other items of unknown origin or nature.’

Suddenly, without prior invitation or permission, either express or implied, the Vehicle arrived at the House, and Claus entered said House via the chimney. Said Claus was clad in a red fur suit, which was partially covered with residue from the chimney, and he carried a large sack containing a portion of the aforementioned packages, toys, and other unknown items.

He was smoking what appeared to be tobacco in a small pipe in blatant violation of local ordinances and health regulations. Claus did not speak, but immediately began to fill the stocking of the minor children, which hung adjacent to the chimney, with toys and other small gifts. (Said items did not, however, constitute “gifts” to said minor pursuant to the applicable provisions of the U.S. Tax Code.)

Upon completion of such task, Claus touched the side of his nose and flew, rose and/or ascended up the chimney of the House to the roof where the Vehicle and Deer waited and/or served as “lookouts.” Claus immediately departed for an unknown destination. However, prior to the departure of the Vehicle, Deer and Claus from said House, the party of the first part did hear Claus state and/or exclaim:

“Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!”

Or words to that effect. (Quote source here.)

Now that you’ve had a bit of laughter, I also found a version of the poem written from a Christian perspective (quote source here):

’Twas The Night Before Christmas
Christian Version

‘Twas the first night of Christmas a long time ago,
The hillside was peaceful, the moon was aglow.
The world couldn’t know from what happened before,
That men would remember this night evermore.

The sheep on the hillside—their days journey over,
Were dreaming sweet dreams of a field full of clover.
The shepherds were watchful while guarding their flock,
The earth was their pillow, the stars were their clock.

Then all of a sudden, they jumped at the sight
Of the sky all a blaze with a heavenly light.
They huddled in fear, then they started to rise
As the lightening-like flash tore open the skies.

The heavens were split by the silvery ray,
The dark disappeared and the night became day.
And lo, at the end of the rainbow of light
Appeared then an angel to banish their fright.

The angel brought news of a birth in a manger
And bade them to hasten to welcome the stranger.
For Mary had just given birth to a boy
Whose coming would bring so much comfort and joy.

A choir of angels looked down from the sky
And heavenly voices were heard from on high:
Peace be on earth and good will to all men.
The Savior has come on this night, Amen.

The heavenly angels then faded from sight,
The sky once again turned from day to night.
The shepherds all quietly rose from the ground,
And hurried to go where the child would be found.

As they reached Bethlehem and the inn was in sight
From the barn came a trickle of half-hidden light.
It led like a path to a soft little bed
And shone very tenderly on a child’s head.

The child in the manger was sleeping so sound,
His eyes were still closed, as the shepherds stood round.
From that instant of grace on that night long ago
Thousands of years would be warmed by the glow.

Guided by light from a bright shining star
Came a pilgrimage led of three kings from afar.
They were dressed in the finest of satins and lace,
Their complexions were that of an Orient race.

The three wealthy kings were wise men and proud,
But they went to the Christ child and solemnly bowed.
They came bearing treasures of incense and gold
To that sweet little child, still not very old.

The star in the sky twinkled down from above,
The world was awakened to kindness and love.
The past was forgotten, the future was bright,
And the spirit of Christmas was born on that night.
(Quote source here.)

And with that being said (or rather, written), may the world be awakened to kindness and love with the past forgotten and the future bright, and . . .

Merry Christmas to all . . .

And to all . . .

A Good Night! ! ! !

YouTube Video: “Carol of the Bells” by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here
Photo #3 credit here
Photo #4 credit here
Photo #5 credit here

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The Reason Behind The Season

In the past three weeks I’ve written blog posts on Advent including The Three Relationships of Peace” and  Gratitude and Wonder”; and on the background of the song The Twelve Days of Christmas”; and on Celebrating Hanukkah,” so it seems appropriate that I finish up this series of Yuletide blog posts with the actual reason behind the season–the birth of Jesus Christ–which Christians worldwide will celebrate on December 25th. The following account of the birth of Jesus Christ is taken from Luke 2:1-40 (ESV):

The Birth of Jesus Christ

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

The Shepherds and the Angels

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.  And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest,
    and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

Jesus Presented at the Temple

And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
    according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation
     that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,

    and for glory to your people Israel.”

And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.

The Return to Nazareth

And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.

The story of the birth of Jesus Christ is a story that is universally known. In answer to the question, What is the true meaning of Christmas?” GotQuestions.org gives us a very concise answer:

The true meaning of Christmas is love. John 3:16-17 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” The true meaning of Christmas is the celebration of this incredible act of love.

The real Christmas story is the story of God’s becoming a human being in the Person of Jesus Christ. Why did God do such a thing? Because He loves us! Why was Christmas necessary? Because we needed a Savior! Why does God love us so much? Because He is love itself (1 John 4:8). Why do we celebrate Christmas each year? Out of gratitude for what God did for us, we remember His birth by giving each other gifts, worshiping Him, and being especially conscious of the poor and less fortunate.

The true meaning of Christmas is love. God loved His own and provided a way—the only Way—for us to spend eternity with Him. He gave His only Son to take our punishment for our sins. He paid the price in full, and we are free from condemnation when we accept that free gift of love. “But God demonstrated His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). (Quote source here.)

Granted, this is the Christian story of Christmas–it’s about the birth of Jesus Christ. However, in recent years at least from a media perspective there has been a downplaying of the Christian story of Christmas. Some have called it “The War on Christmas.” One year ago on December 19, 2016 an article was published in The New York Times that tackled the issue. It is titled, How the War on Christmas Controversy Got Started,” by Liam Stack, who covers breaking news and social and political issues for the New York Times express desk. He is also an Arabic speaker, and he worked for seven years as a Middle East correspondent covering authoritarianism and revolution in the Arab world. Stack writes:

It’s that time of year again, folks. It’s time for the War on Christmas.

What is that, you may ask? The short answer: a sometimes histrionic yuletide debate over whether the United States is a country that respects Christianity.

For the longer answer, keep reading.

The idea of a “War on Christmas” has turned things like holiday greetings and decorations into potentially divisive political statements. People who believe Christmas is under attack point to inclusive phrases like “Happy Holidays” as (liberal) insults to Christianity.

For over a decade, these debates have taken place mainly on conservative talk radio and cable programs. But this year they also burst onto a much grander stage: the presidential election.

At a rally in Wisconsin last week, Donald J. Trump stood in front of a line of Christmas trees and repeated a campaign-trail staple.

“When I started 18 months ago, I told my first crowd in Wisconsin that we are going to come back here some day and we are going to say ‘Merry Christmas’ again,” he said. “Merry Christmas. So, Merry Christmas everyone. Happy New Year, but Merry Christmas.”

Christmas is a federal holiday celebrated widely by the country’s Christian majority. So where did the idea that it is threatened come from?

What is the “War on Christmas”?

The most organized attack on Christmas came from the Puritans, who banned celebrations of the holiday in the 17th century because it did not accord with their interpretation of the Bible.

Fast forward 400 years, and the idea of a plot against Christmas gained wide publicity when Fox News promoted a 2005 book by a radio host, John Gibson, that alleged liberal antagonism toward the holiday, according to Dan Cassino, a professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University.

Mr. Gibson said in an interview that he was “amazed” by the uproar his book caused.

He said it primarily focused on an issue that rarely happens anymore: educators and local officials banning nonreligious symbols like Santa Claus or Christmas trees out of a mistaken belief that displaying them violated the Constitution.

Mr. Gibson said the book had taken on a life of its own over the years — and that it had never dwelled on the political implications of “Happy Holidays.”

He attributed the firestorm to two things: The book’s take-no-prisoners title (“The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought”) and the Fox News host Bill O’Reilly.

“It wasn’t really me. I think it was more Bill, to tell you the truth,” he said. “When Bill made it an issue, it went mega”. . . .

Mr. O’Reilly returned to the War on Christmas this year [December 2016–see article at this link], but his tone has been triumphant.

“That culture war issue ignited and we won,” he said last Tuesday, later adding, “Donald Trump is on the case.”

Is this a real thing?

There is no evidence of an organized attack on Christmas in the United States.

The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, the executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said the annual uproar is based on “stories that only sometimes even contain a grain of truth and often are completely false.” He has spent years pushing back against it.

“This politicizing of the whole issue is mind-boggling to me,” Mr. Lynn said, “and it has been for well over a decade.”

He added, “They see this as some kind of a politically correct effort, but I see it as reasonable to not use Christmas references as just an accommodation of the reality of America”. . . .

What does the “war” look like in practice?

Many conservative groups have rallied to defend Christmas, lobbying for decorations in public schools or town halls. One group, the American Family Association based in Tupelo, Miss., publishes a “Naughty and Nice” list every year to castigate companies it believes are “censoring ‘Christmas.’ ”

“There are secular forces in our country that hate Christmas because the word itself is a reminder of Jesus Christ,” the group said on its website. “They want to eradicate anything that reminds Americans of Christianity”. . . .

“Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays”?

The greeting “Happy Holidays” has been in use as a Christmas greeting for more than 100 years. But it has grown in popularity in recent decades as people have tried to be inclusive and sensitive to those of other faiths and the nonreligious.

The controversy appears to have shifted opinion about the proper greeting. Mr. Cassino wrote in the Harvard Business Review this month that the number of people who said they preferred to hear “Happy Holidays” has decreased sharply in the last 10 years, from 41 percent to 25 percent. “Merry Christmas” remained popular. Indeed, President Obama, a Christian, has frequently uttered the phrase.

It should be noted that Jews, Muslims and others who do not celebrate Christmas often say they are not offended by a hearty “Merry Christmas.”

So perhaps there is hope for peace on earth, or at least cable television. (Quote source here.)

A more lengthy article with lots of links for those interested in the 2017 version of “The War on Christmas” is available on Bloomberg View, published on December 13, 2017, and titled, To the Christmas Barricades, Candy Canes in Hand–The state of the War on Christmas: The movies are too sweet, but Silicon Valley is too judgmental,” by Stephen L. Carter, a Bloomberg View columnist and a professor of law at Yale University. Carter states in the second paragraph of his article (full article available at this link):

Is there a “war on Christmas”? Surely it’s a matter of perspective. A story last year in the New York Times [and yes, he is referencing the article posted above] discussed the history of the idea, but got it only partly right. The piece skipped from the banning of Christmas celebrations by 17th-century Puritans to the 2005 publication of talk-show host John Gibson’s polemic, “The War on Christmas.” That’s a lot of history omitted, and it’s history that matters. But I’ve tacked that subject in this space before; for now, I’ll simply recommend that those who want to learn the holiday’s true and somewhat surprising history should read “The Battle for Christmas,” by the excellent Stephen Nissenbaum. (Quote source and entire article is available at this link.)

GotQuestions.org gives us some advice on how Christians can respond to this “War on Christmas”:

Many people perceive a modern-day “war on Christmas” being waged in the public square. Those who believe in the reality of a war on Christmas see a concerted effort to eliminate the word “Christmas” from public discourse. Stories confirming a war on Christmas seem to be coming more frequently: a grade-school choir sings “We Wish You a Happy Holiday” instead of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” for their “Winter Concert.” A library invites “holiday displays” from the community provided the displays have no religious connotation—the stable may have animals in it, but no people. And major shopping chains forbid their employees from wishing anyone a “Merry Christmas.” It is possible to do all one’s Christmas shopping and never see or hear the word “Christmas” in the stores.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with saying “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings.” But if someone says “Happy Holidays” for the sole purpose of not saying “Merry Christmas,” then we are right to question what’s going on. Is there truly be a cultural “war on Christmas?” “Why is the word “Christmas” censored?” we wonder as we wander through the malls. Why do some public schools celebrate everything from Kwanzaa to Labafana the Christmas witch, and ban the Nativity, all in the name of “inclusion” and “tolerance”?

One reason put forward by those seeking to avoid the word “Christmas” is that it offends non-Christians. But, according to a recent Gallup poll, only 3 percent of adults in America say it bothers them when a store makes specific reference to Christmas. This fact gives the “war on Christmas” a more sinister twist. The exclusion of Christmas is less about sensitivity and more about censorship. Expunging all mention of Christmas from society is not really a way to “adapt” to a more diverse culture but a way to engineer a more secular culture.

Many times, the arguments against Christmas programs and displays are couched in political terms, but the bias against Christmas goes much deeper than that. The war on Christmas is primarily a spiritual battle, not a political one.

How should Christians respond to the war on Christmas and the ubiquitous use of “Happy Holidays” to the exclusion of “Merry Christmas”? Here are some suggestions:

1) Celebrate Christmas! War on Christmas or not, let the joy of the season show in your life. Teach your family the significance of Jesus’ birth and make the Christmas traditions meaningful in your home.

2) Wish others a Merry Christmas. When confronted with a “Happy Holidays,” get specific and wish the greeter a “Merry Christmas!” You may be surprised at how many respond in kind. Even if you are met with resistance, don’t let it dampen your cheer. In Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” Ebenezer Scrooge wages a personal war on Christmas, and his nephew feels the brunt of his uncle’s attacks year after year, but it doesn’t stop him from wishing his humbug of an uncle a Merry Christmas and inviting Scrooge to Christmas dinner.

3) Speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). The Christmas season is a wonderful opportunity to share Christ’s love and the gospel message. He is the reason for the season!

4) Pray for those in positions of power (1 Timothy 2:1–3). Pray for wisdom. Pray for revival so that Christmas, instead of being “offensive,” would be honored by all. May we each be a peaceful warrior in the cultural war on Christmas. (Quote source here.)

“May we each be a peaceful warrior in the cultural war on Christmas.” And that is very wise advice during this Christmas season . . . .

Glory to God in the highest . . .

And on earth peace . . .

Goodwill toward men . . . . (Luke 2:14, NKJV)

YouTube Video: “O Holy Night/Ave Maria” featuring Lexi Walker – The Piano Guys:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here
Photo #3 credit here

Celebrating Hanukkah

Today starting at sundown marks the beginning of the first day of the eight days of Hanukkah (Chanukah)–December 12-20, 2017. Hanukkah is one of the more recognizable celebrations of Jewish tradition and is not religious in nature. Rather, Hanukkah celebrates a nation’s heroes and the miracle they experienced. It recognizes the efforts of a group of freedom fighters known as the Maccabees. Here is a brief history of Hanukkah from Chabad.org:

Some 2100 years ago the Land of Israel came under the rule of the Syrian-Greek emperor Antiochus, who issued a series of decrees designed to force his Hellenistic ideology and rituals upon the Jewish people. He outlawed the study of Torah [the first five books of the Old Testament] and the observance of its commands, and defiled the Holy Temple in Jerusalem with Greek idols.

A small, vastly outnumbered band of Jews waged battle against the mighty Greek armies, and drove them out of the land. When they reclaimed the Holy Temple, on the 25th of Kislev, they wished to light the Temple’s menorah (candelabrum), only to discover that the Greeks had contaminated virtually all of the oil. All that remained was one cruse of pure oil, enough to last one night–and it would take eight days to procure new, pure oil.

Miraculously, the one-day supply of oil lasted eight days and nights, and the holiday of Chanukah [Hanukkah] was established.

To commemorate and publicize these miracles, we light the Chanukah menorah (also known as “chanukiah”) on each of the eight nights of Chanukah. This year, we start lighting the menorah on Tuesday night after nightfall, December 12, 2017 (quote source here).

So who, exactly, is this small, vastly outnumbered band of Jews who waged a battle against the mighty Greek armies and drove them out of the land? They are the freedom fighters known as the Maccabees. The following information on the Maccabees is provided from an article titled, The Maccabees: The Jewish Freedom Fighters,” on Chabad.org:

The Maccabees were a band of Jewish freedom fighters who freed Judea from the Syrian-Greek occupiers during the Second Temple period. The word Maccabee is an acronym for the Hebrew words that mean “Who is like You among all powers, G-d.” Led by Judah the Maccabee and his four brothers, they trounced the Greek interlopers and restored the Holy Temple in Jerusalem to the service of G-d. Their victory is celebrated during the holiday of Chanukah.

The Background

More than 2,000 years ago there was a period of time when the Land of Israel was part of the Syrian-Greek Empire, ruled by the dynasty of the Seleucids. In 174 BCE (3586), Antiochus IV ruled the region. He was called Epiphanes, meaning “the gods’ beloved,” but people called him Epimanes (“madman”), a title more suited to the character of this harsh and cruel king.

Wanting to unify his kingdom through common religion and culture, Antiochus tried to root out the individualism of the Jews by suppressing the practice of all Jewish law. He also meddled in the affairs of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, installing idol-worshipping High Priests who paid him handsome tributes.

At that time, Antiochus was also engaged in a successful war against Egypt. But messengers from Rome arrived and commanded him to stop the war, and he had to yield. Meanwhile, in Jerusalem, a rumor spread that a serious accident had befallen Antiochus. Thinking that he was dead, the people rebelled against Menelaus, the corrupt High Priest, who then fled together with his friends.

Antiochus returned from Egypt enraged by Roman interference with his ambitions. When he heard what had taken place in Jerusalem, he ordered his army to fall upon the Jews. Thousands of Jews were killed. Antiochus then enacted a series of harsh decrees: Jewish worship was forbidden, and the scrolls of the Law were confiscated and burned. Sabbath rest, circumcision and the dietary laws were prohibited under penalty of death. Many brave Jews refused, preferring death.

One day, the henchmen of Antiochus arrived in the village of Modiin where Mattityahu, a respected and elderly priest, lived. The Syrian officer built an altar in the marketplace of the village and demanded that Mattityahu offer sacrifices to the Greek gods. Mattityahu replied, “I, my sons and my brothers are determined to remain loyal to the covenant that our G-d made with our ancestors!”

Thereupon, a Hellenized Jew approached the altar to offer a sacrifice. Mattityahu grabbed his sword and killed him, and his sons and friends fell upon the Syrian officers and men. They killed many of them and chased the rest away. They then destroyed the altar.

Mattityahu knew that Antiochus would be enraged when he heard what had happened, and would certainly send troops to punish him and his followers. And so, Mattityahu and his sons and friends fled to the hills of Judea.

Judah the Maccabee Strikes Back

All loyal and courageous Jews joined them. They formed legions, and from time to time they left their hiding places to fall upon enemy detachments and outposts, and to destroy the pagan altars that were built by order of Antiochus.

Before his death, Mattityahu called his sons together and urged them to continue to fight in defense of G-d’s Torah. He asked them to follow the counsel of their brother Shimon the Wise, and their leader in warfare was to be their brother Judah the Strong, or Judah the Maccabee.

The Maccabees won battle after battle, including one in which they fended off an army of more than 40,000 men.

Then the Maccabees returned to Jerusalem to liberate it. They entered the Temple and cleared it of the idols placed there by the Syrian vandals. Judah and his followers built a new altar, which he dedicated on the twenty-fifth of the month of Kislev, in the year 139 BCE (3622).

Since the golden Menorah had been stolen by the Syrians, the Maccabees now made one of cheaper metal. When they wanted to light it, they found only a small cruse of pure olive oil bearing the seal of the High Priest Yochanan. It was sufficient to create light for only one day. By a miracle of G-d, it continued to burn for eight days, until new oil was available. That miracle proved that G-d had again taken His people under His protection. In memory of this, our sages appointed these eight days as a holiday of annual thanksgiving and lighting candles.

The Maccabees Rule Judea

The Maccabees and their descendants took the throne of Judea for themselves. This was a problem because they were priests, descendants of Aaron. Their job was to serve in the Holy Temple and guide the people in spiritual matters. It was the place of the descendants of King David, from the tribe of Judah, who were supposed to sit on the royal throne. Indeed, it did not take long until the monarchy of Judea was dragged down into a series of unending power grabs and bloody intrigue, with king after king trying to imitate the very same Greeks their ancestors had ousted from the land.

Yet, for all their shortcomings, the Maccabees leave us with an empowering message that resonates in all times and all places: Never cower in the face of tyranny. Do your part, trust in G-d, and success is sure to come. (Quote source here.)

In an article published today on The Independent,” titled Hanukkah 2017: What is the meaning behind this Jewish festival and why is it sometimes called Chanukah?” by Dina Rickman, head of social and trending content at The Independent,” she states:

They say every major Jewish holiday can be summed up by the following quote: “They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat.”

In the case of Hanukkah, the story is that of the Maccabees, a guerrilla army of Jewish rebels based in Israel who revolted against the Seleucid Greek King Antiochus who had–as the saying goes–tried to kill us.

The exact historical truth of the religious version of events is disputed, but we do know that King Antiochus and the Maccabees existed. What is less established is whether the miracle described in the Hanukkah story really happened.

Jewish people are taught that the oppressed Maccabees somehow defeated Antiochus’ mighty troops and reclaimed the Temple in Jerusalem. To celebrate, they attempted a ritual lighting of a seven-pronged Menorah candle–but they only had enough oil to last one day. Miraculously, the oil lasted a full eight days, giving Jews enough time to procure new oil. This is why Hanukkah is known as the festival of lights.

Around 2,000 years on, Jewish people celebrate Hanukkah by lighting their Menorah every night for eight days–with the crucial difference being that modern Menorahs–also known as Hanukkiahs–have eight prongs with a large prong, known as a shamash, in the middle. The shamash is used to light one extra candle each night for the eight days. Observing in public is a key part of celebrating the festival. Jewish people are encouraged to place the Menorah in the front window of their home, and some organisations have organised public Menorah lightings.

Now for the most important part, the food. The story of Hanukkah is about oil, so it’s traditional to eat fried goods such as potato latke pancakes or doughnuts.

Because the festival normally falls in December (although there are no guarantees with the Jewish lunisolar calendar), Hanukkah is often known as Jewish Christmas. While gift giving doesn’t have any religious significance on Hanukkah, a tradition has developed to give presents during the festival – normally one for every night–possibly because of where it falls in the calendar.

In 2017 the celebration begins on December 12 and ends on December 20.

Here are five facts you may not know about the festival:

1. Hanukkah is the only Jewish holiday not mentioned in the Hebrew Bible

Unlike other major Jewish holidays, Hanukkah is not mentioned in the Hebrew Bible.

2. Hanukkah means eating doughnuts

To commemorate the miracle of the burning lamp, Jews customarily eat foods fried in oil and this means doughnuts.

​3. Chocolate coins

Chocolate coins or gelt (Yiddish for money) wrapped in gold and silver are exchanged at Hanukkah.

4. Spinning the Dreidel

Gelt is also used in a game played with a spinning top called a dreidel at Hanukkah.

Players sit in a circle and put a chocolate coin in the middle. Each person takes a turn at spinning the cube-shaped dreidel, which has a Hebrew letter on each side.

5. Exchanging gifts

Traditionally Jews only exchanged gifts on Purim, a Jewish holiday commemorating the time when the Jewish people living in Persia were saved from extermination by a young woman called Esther.

However, when Christmas became more prominent in the late 19th century and the Christian holiday’s consumerism grew, the Jewish custom shifted in imitation of Christmas.

To find out more [on each of the five items listed above], click here (Article/quote source here.)

In another take on Hanukkah, a December 12, 2012 guest commentary published in Forbes titled, Hanukkah’s ‘Don’t Tread On Me’ Message Is Universal In Its Appeal,” by Eric Rosenberg, journalist and former national correspondent for Hearst Newspapers, former senior vice president at Ogilvy Washington, and currently principal at EMR Content + Communications Inc., as well as adjunct faculty at Johns Hopkins University, Rosenberg provides an interesting perspective on Hanukkah:

The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, which is celebrated this week, is compelling for Jews and non-Jews alike because of its clarion call to religious liberty. Anyone remotely versed in American political thought will recognize the spirit of the Hanukkah story, with its “don’t tread on me” quest to worship as one chooses without fear of retribution, in the language of the U.S. Constitution.

Jews and gentiles alike have been persecuted for their religious beliefs. No single demographic has the market cornered on religious persecution. But to Jews, who for nearly two millennia lacked that freedom, they feel a special connection between the Hanukkah story and America’s guarantees of religious freedom.

For Jews, a straight line can be drawn from the Hanukkah experience of the second century BC to the eloquent expressions of religious freedom of the Founding Fathers, many of whom as learned Christian gentlemen of their era were versed in Hebrew and the Jewish canon.

It is an undeniable truth, James Madison wrote, that “that religion or the duty which we owe to our Creator and the Manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence.”

No citizen, wrote John Adams, “shall be hurt, molested, or restrained, in his person, liberty, or estate, for worshiping God in the manner most agreeable to the dictates of his own conscience; or for his religious profession or sentiments; provided he doth not disturb the public peace, or obstruct others in their religious worship.”

George Washington, as the newly installed first U.S. president, wrote the Touro Synagogue in Newport, RI, assuring congregants that the new nation would be unlike Europe with its widespread religious intolerance and state religion.

“May the children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while everyone shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid,” he wrote.

That’s not to say the founders had the Hanukkah story in mind when they created the United States. Of course they didn’t. Rather, like the Passover story, the Hanukkah story has a universality that any good revolutionary would find instructive.

In the second century BC the ancient Jews were overrun by the Assyrians, a Greek proxy in the ancient Middle East. As part of the Assyrian conquest, the Temple in Jerusalem, the centerpiece of Jewish worship, was turned into a Greek temple where Jews were further humiliated and forced to eat pig meat and worship Greek idols.

A group of Jews called the Maccabees led an underdog revolt, defeated the Assyrians, and cleared out the Temple of the offensive materials. When the time came to rededicate the Temple for Jewish worship, only one day’s worth of ritual lamp oil was available. The oil, however, burned bright for eight days, enough time to have additional ritual oil made. Thus the second miracle of Hanukkah, the first being that the ancient Jews defeated the numerically and military superior Assyrians, who had the backing of powerful allies.

The Hanukkah story is all the more a paean to religious liberty for the details left off the sanitized version taught to children for generations. For example, the Maccabees were not religious liberals. Modern scholarship has likened them to an ancient Taliban-like band of zealots who had no time for religious tolerance themselves unless it hewed to their own brand of old-time religion.

What’s more, the Maccabees, being pragmatic in search of allies to blunt Greek influence in their country and ensure their power base, sent out diplomatic feelers to an up-and-coming power, the emerging leviathan of the Roman state.

The Maccabee delegation dispatched to Rome met with the top leaders in an attempt to secure their support. “It was natural to solicit the sympathy and support of the great new power in the west,” the scholar Cecil Roth wrote in his “History of the Jews in Italy.”

But it was a fateful decision for the Maccabees with dreadful consequences for religious freedom. As ironies go, it was huge. The people who fought for religious freedom were inviting into their midst the very opposite.

Over time, as the Maccabee reign descended into civil war, Roman legions marched on Jerusalem in support of their clients and they never left. In the year 70 AD, after years of revolt from the locals, the Romans destroyed the Temple the Greeks had temporarily occupied, decimated the population, enslaved what was left, and thoroughly obliterated the Jewish world’s epicenter, thus robbing the Jews of the guarantee of religious freedom–until the founding of the United States.

The lesson of Hanukkah and what came after is a poignant one. And it is probably best summed up in a quote sometimes attributed to another Founding Father, Thomas Jefferson. “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.” (Quote source here.)

With that in mind, as we celebrate Hanukkah, let us remember the key message of the Maccabees as freedom fighters as stated at the end of the second article of this post, which is to . . .

Never cower in the face of tyranny . . .

Do your part and trust in God . . .

And success is sure to come . . . .

YouTube Video: “Candlelight – Hanukkah” by The Maccabeats:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here
Photo #3 credit here
Photo #4 credit here

The Twelve Days of Christmas

Most of us are very familiar with the song, The Twelve Days of Christmas,” starting with “a partridge in a pear tree,” and ending with “12 drummers drumming” (YouTube video of the song available here), but I have to be honest in that I have never really looked into the background or history of the tradition, so I decided to take a look. And here is what I found out.

First off, it doesn’t start twelve days before Christmas as some might think it does. It actually starts on Christmas Day, December 25th, and goes to the Epiphany celebrated on January 6th:

The 12 days of Christmas, in fact, are the days from December 25th, celebrated as the birth of Jesus Christ, to the Epiphany, celebrated on January 6th as the day when the manifestation of Christ’s glory was realized. Some exchange gifts on each of the 12 days instead of only on Christmas day. (Quote source here.)

In an article titled, The Hidden Meaning of the Twelve Days of Christmas,” published on December 14, 2011 (the author’s name is not mentioned), I found the following information:

The Twelve Days of Christmas was created in England during a time of religious persecution when Catholicism was outlawed in the 16th to 18th centuries. The song, “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” was written as a kind of secret catechism that could be sung in public without fear of arrest – a learning or memory aid to Christians in fact. Each verse refers to a teaching of church doctrine — with the partridge being Christ who died on a tree and the “True Love” being God the Father, who gave us all gifts. The twelve days of Christmas are the twelve days between Christmas Day, Dec. 25th, the birth of Jesus, and the Epiphany, Jan. 6th, the day Christians celebrate the arrival of the Magi (Wise Men) and the revelation of Christ as the light of the world.

Each element in the song is a code word for religious truth:

1. The partridge in a pear tree is Jesus.
2. The two turtledoves are the Old and New Testaments.
3. Three French hens stand for faith, hope and love.
4. The four calling birds are the four Gospels.
5. The five gold rings recall the Hebrew Torah (Law), or the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament.
6. The six geese a-laying stand for the six days of creation.
7. The seven swans a-swimming represent the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.
8. The eight maids a-milking are the eight Beatitudes.
9. Nine ladies dancing are the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit.
10. The ten lords a-leaping are the Ten Commandments.
11. Eleven pipers piping represent the eleven faithful Apostles.
12. Twelve drummers drumming symbolize the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostles Creed.

Merry Christmas! (Quote source here.)

The following information is taken from an article titled, The Twelve Days of Christmas,” by Dennis Bratcher, Webmaster, General Editor, and the Executive Director of CRI/Voice Institute:

The Twelve Days of Christmas is probably the most misunderstood part of the church year among Christians who are not part of liturgical church traditions. Contrary to much popular belief, these are not the twelve days before Christmas, but in most of the Western Church are the twelve days from Christmas until the beginning of Epiphany  (January 6th; the 12 days count from December 25th until January 5th). In some traditions, the first day of Christmas begins on the evening of December 25th with the following day considered the First Day of Christmas (December 26th). In these traditions, the twelve days begin December 26 and include Epiphany on January 6.

The origin and counting of the Twelve Days is complicated, and is related to differences in calendars, church traditions, and ways to observe this holy day in various cultures (see Christmas). In the Western church, Epiphany is usually celebrated as the time the Wise Men or Magi arrived to present gifts to the young Jesus (Matt. 2:1-12). Traditionally there were three Magi, probably from the fact of three gifts, even though the biblical narrative never says how many Magi came. In some cultures, especially Hispanic and Latin American culture, January 6th is observed as Three Kings Day, or simply the Day of the Kings (Span: la Fiesta de Reyes,el Dia de los Tres Reyes, el Dia de los Reyes Magos; Dutch: Driekoningendag). Even though December 25th is celebrated as Christmas in these cultures, January 6th is often the day for giving gifts. In some places it is traditional to give Christmas gifts for each of the Twelve Days of Christmas. Since Eastern Orthodox traditions use a different religious calendar, they celebrate Christmas on January 7th and observe Epiphany or Theophany on January 19th.

By the 16th century, some European and Scandinavian cultures had combined the Twelve Days of Christmas with (sometimes pagan) festivals celebrating the changing of the year. These were usually associated with driving away evil spirits for the start of the new year.

The Twelfth Night is January 5th, the last day of the Christmas Season before Epiphany (January 6th). In some church traditions, January 5th is considered the eleventh Day of Christmas, while the evening of January 5th is still counted as the Twelfth Night, the beginning of the Twelfth day of Christmas the following day. Twelfth Night often included feasting along with the removal of Christmas decorations. Many European celebrations of Twelfth Night included a King’s Cake, remembering the visit of the Three Magi, and ale or wine (a King’s Cake is part of the observance of Mardi Gras in French Catholic culture of the Southern USA). In some cultures, the King’s Cake was part of the celebration of the day of Epiphany.

The popular song “The Twelve Days of Christmas” is usually seen as simply a nonsense song for children with secular origins. However, some have suggested that it is a song of Christian instruction, perhaps dating to the 16th century religious wars in England, with hidden references to the basic teachings of the Christian Faith. They contend that it was a mnemonic device to teach the catechism to youngsters. The “true love” mentioned in the song is not an earthly suitor, but refers to God Himself. The “me” who receives the presents refers to every baptized person who is part of the Christian Faith. Each of the “days” represents some aspect of the Christian Faith that was important for children to learn.

However, many have questioned the historical accuracy of this origin of the song The Twelve Days of Christmas.  While some have tried to debunk this as an “urban myth” out of personal agendas, others have tried to deal with this account of the song’s origin in the name of historical accuracy (see Snopes on The 12 Days of Christmas). There is little “hard” evidence available either way. Some church historians affirm this account as basically accurate, while others point out apparent historical and logical discrepancies.

The reality is that the “evidence” for both perspectives is mostly in logical deduction and probabilities.  Lack of positive evidence does not automatically provide negative evidence. On the other hand, logical deduction and probability do not provide proof either. One internet site devoted to debunking hoaxes and legends says that, “there is no substantive evidence to demonstrate that the song ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ was created or used as a secret means of preserving tenets of the Catholic faith, or that this claim is anything but a fanciful modern day speculation…”. Yet, there is no “substantive evidence” that will disprove it either.

The view of the song as a secret catechism is most likely legendary or anecdotal. Without corroboration and in the absence of “substantive evidence,” we probably should not take overly rigid positions from either perspective. It is all too easy to turn the song into a crusade for personal opinions. That would do more to violate the spirit of Christmas than the song is worth. So, for the sake of historical accuracy, we need to acknowledge the likelihood that the song had secular origins.

However, on another level, this should not prevent us from using the song in celebration of Christmas. Many of the symbols of Christianity were not originally religious, including even the present date of Christmas, but were appropriated from contemporary culture by the Christian Faith as vehicles of worship and proclamation. Perhaps, when all is said and done, historical accuracy, as important as that might be on one level, is not really the point. Perhaps more important is that Christians can celebrate their rich heritage, and God’s grace, through one more avenue during the Advent and Christmas seasons.  Now, when they hear what they once thought was only a secular “nonsense song,” they will be reminded in one more way of the grace of God working in transforming ways in their lives and in our world. After all, is that not the meaning of Christmas anyway? (Quote source here.)

And now for a bit of fun trivia regarding “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” published in Business Insider on November 24, 2017, in an article titled, Here’s the True Cost of the Twelves Days of Christmas,” by Akin Oyedele, Senior Markets Reporter:

  • Every year, PNC calculates the real-world prices of all the gifts in the “12 Days of Christmas” carol. 
  • Their so-called Christmas Price Index rose 0.6% this year, driven by higher costs of pear trees, more demand for gold rings, and higher wages for Lords-a-leaping.  
  • While it’s frivolous, PNC’s index mirrors some of the underlying trends in the US economy. 

A partridge in a pear tree and all the other 11 gifts would set you back $34,558.65 this year.

That’s slightly more expensive than last year, according to PNC’s annual index of the 12 Days of Christmas. 

For 34 years running, PNC has set out to calculate the costs of every item in the carol to create a Christmas Price Index. It’s more frivolous, but not that different from the government’s consumer price index that tracks the costs of everyday items. PNC’s sources include retailers, poultries, and dance companies. 

The CPI (from PNC) increased by 0.6% year-on-year, led by higher costs for pear trees and increased demand for gold rings. Indeed, the precious metal has had a good year like many other financial assets, gaining about 11%. 

In addition, the index was driven up by higher wages for 10 Lords-a-leaping. PNC recorded a 2% increase to $5,618.90 for this gig. Perhaps all the clamor for higher minimum wages and a tightening labor market helped.

Some workers, however, saw no compensation growth, much like the federal minimum wage, which has stayed unchanged since 2009. They included the eight maids-a-milking and nine ladies dancing. 

PNC also calculates a core-CPI. They exclude unpredictable swan prices instead of food and energy costs like the Department of Labor does. The core index rose 0.9% and would cost about $21,000 excluding swans-a-swimming. 

The chart below shows how the “12 Days of Christmas” gifts have evolved over the years.

A full infographic is available over at PNC »

One final article back on a more serious note that I found on Bible.org titled, The Twelve Days of Christmas: A Christmas Song for All Year Long,” by Timothy J. Ralston, Professor of Pastoral Ministries at Dallas Theological Seminary, states the following:

“On the first day of Christmas my true love…” When I was young it was a cute Christmas song. Getting all those gifts in right order at breakneck speed was the annual challenge. (I rarely succeeded. But then no one else did either.)

Then I grew older (and more spiritually intense). It became another secular mockery of sacred themes. It joined my collection of Yuletide debris discarded in an attic steamer trunk. Recently rummaging through my memories I found the chest with its song inside just as I’d left it.

I think I was wrong. I’ve missed a most wonderful gift, wrapped and given to me by those who followed Jesus before me.

Who wrote it? No one knows. But it’s been around for a long time. Although I couldn’t speak to its author, I could start with two facts. First, the twelve days are the period between the differing celebrations of Christmas—December 25 (in the Western church) and January 6 (in the Eastern church).

Second, people living when it was written commonly wrote, painted, and thought using symbols to express what they meant. All those birds and people are probably much more than they seem. (It certainly isn’t a coded list of significant biblical numbers. That probably confuses it with a similar song called “In Those Twelve Days”.) So I started looking. Here’s what I found.

In the Middle Ages birds were symbols of a human being, the soul, and each bird had specific associations. But the birds in the song had interesting Christian connections.

  • The partridge was always associated with Jesus’ birth. More than that, so was the pear tree. So the song begins with a double-image of the Nativity!
  • Since I’m thinking of Jesus’ birth, “two turtle doves” brought to mind Jesus’ presentation at Mary’s purification (Luke 2:21-24) and the Spirit’s descent upon him after his baptism at the start of his public ministry (Luke 3:21-22).
  • “French hens,” symbols of self-sacrifice and care, are reminiscent of Jesus’ role as the Good Shepherd to his own while he was among them.
  • “Calling birds”? One author suggested it might originally be “colley birds,” that is, blackbirds. (Unfortunately I haven’t found anything on their symbolism
yet.)
  • Since it’s Christmas, the “five gold rings” aren’t jewelry. Instead they remind us of golden ring-necked pheasants that were often associated with Nativity scenes (as can be seen in Fra Angelico’s Nativity) as well as a royalty (suggesting Jesus’ Messianic role) and the promise of life that rises from the ashes of death.
  • “Geese” (whether white or gray) symbolized spiritual vigilance, avoidance of worldly pleasures, wholehearted devotion to Godly obedience. Sounds like Jesus again.
  • “Seven swans” bring the opening series to a climax. Swans, always associated with royalty and prophecy, were thought to know the hour of their death and announce their death with a great cry (“swan song”), thereby earning them an enduring association with Christ’s work on the cross. Then add the biblical nuance of seven suggesting a completed work, and the connection to the cross is complete.

Boy, this was really interesting! If I’d lived 500 years ago, singing the first seven verses could be a powerful reminder of my Savior, his life and work.

As anyone who sings this song knows, from here on you gotta hold on to your dentures! Momentum gathers with the last five gifts – all people. Lowly “milk maids” at work give way to dancing “ladies” and “lords” in ever-increasing displays of joy, followed by an orchestra of “pipers” and “drummers” to support the chorus, and rehearsed at a speed that carries me along in its grand celebration. What a wonderful way to celebrate the coming of our Savior!

Then I got out my calculator. How many gifts were there? If one arrives on the first day, three on the second, six on the third, 
by the last day there’s a grand total of 364 gifts. That’s one for every day of the year!

Now at last I understood. “My True Love” was no mere earthly lover but my Heavenly Father. The gift of His Son was sufficient for every day of my year.

The irony? Everybody, even my fellow Christians, think it’s only a secular song. They even enjoy the lusty singing of its parodies – like “The Twelve Days After Christmas – to mock at the corruption of the holiday. They don’t understand why I can’t laugh and sing it with them anymore. As Laurence Stookey, Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church (Nashville: Abingdon, 1996), p. 177, notes: “Misinterpretations and secularization of this old text in the recent revival of its use probably reveal more about our loss of theological awareness that we care to admit.”

No, I don’t expect to hear The Twelve Days of Christmas in a Sunday worship service this season. That’s not where it was created or where it belongs. Instead listen for my voice some July afternoon, ringing out from a hot car or crowded street corner, celebrating the profound work of our Savior and the joy of his presence that fills my heart every day of the year! (Quote source here.)

I hope you’ve enjoyed this short journey into the history of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” I learned a lot, too. And may it give new meaning to an old and familiar song at this time of year.

On the first day of Christmas . . .

My True Love gave to me . . .

A Partridge in a pear tree (Jesus) . . . .

YouTube Video: “Carol of the Bells” (for 12 cellos) – The Piano Guys:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here
Photo #3 credit here
Photo #4 credit here

There Will Be No End

wonderful-counselor-mighty-god-everlasting-father-prince-of-peace

What is the true message of Christmas?
Isaiah 9:6-7 says it all . . .

For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government
Will be upon His shoulder.

And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor,
Mighty God, 
Everlasting Father,
Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of
His government and peace

There will be no end,
Upon the throne of David
And over His kingdom,

To order it and establish it
With judgment and justice

From that time forward
Even forever.

The zeal of the Lord of hosts
Will perform this.

~Isaiah 9:6-7 NKJV

Merry Christmas . . .

To One . . .

And ALL . . . .

YouTube Video: “Hallelujah” by Mannheim Steamroller:

Photo credit here

A Reminder for Christmas

Nativity-Merry-ChristmasI published this blog post on December 25, 2015 under the title of Christmas and the Christian Faith.” As I reread it this evening I decided to reblog it again for this year. Here is the entire contents of that blog post.

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I ran across the following article this morning on a Public Domain” website titled, Recognizing the Importance of Christmas and the Christian Faith” by Steven Arnold King (source here). It is actually a speech given by the Honorable Steve King of Iowa in the House of Representatives on Tuesday, December 11, 2007.

It’s significance cannot be underestimated. Here is the text of that speech (quote source here):

RECOGNIZING THE IMPORTANCE OF CHRISTMAS AND THE CHRISTIAN FAITH

SPEECH OF
HON. STEVE KING
OF IOWA
IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
Tuesday, December 11, 2007

manger cross kingMr. KING of Iowa: Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by thanking the Ranking Member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, the gentlewoman from Florida, Ms. Ros-Lehtinen, for her support and help in getting this important measure to the House floor for a vote.

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to address the House today to discuss the importance and relevance of Christmas, the Christian holiday celebrating the birth of our savior Jesus Christ.

As this resolution notes, there are approximately 225 million Christians in the United States, making Christianity the religion of over three-fourths of the American population. Beyond that, there are approximately 2 billion Christians throughout the world, making Christianity the largest religion in the world and the religion of about one-third of the world population.

And yet, Mr. Speaker, in recent decades there have been some who have undertaken efforts to diminish the significance of this great religion, and these efforts are no more apparent than during this time of Christmas.

It is not hard to look out over this great country of ours and find those who, for one reason or another, have engaged in a highly-politicized and highly-publicized crusade to rid the public square of any reference to the religious underpinnings of the Christmas holiday. These are individuals who have subscribed to a radical interpretation of our Constitution’s free exercise and establishment clauses and have sought to impose their secular views and beliefs on the nation as a whole.

In many respects, it is this ongoing effort to bring about the secularization of Christmas–and all of our everyday lives for that matter–that motivated me to bring this resolution before the House today.

Regardless of how others may define it, Mr. Speaker, Christmas is a religious holiday. It is the day on which Christians–those who identify themselves as believers in the salvation from sin offered to them through the death and resurrection of their savior, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and who, out of gratitude for the gift of salvation, commit themselves to living their lives in accordance with the teachings of the Holy Bible–celebrate the birth of their savior. For Christians, the birth of Jesus is cause for great celebration. As the Son of God, Jesus was sent to earth, by our Heavenly Father, to become a human being, live a sinless life, be crucified on a cross for our sins, and rise from the dead three days later. The purpose of this, as you well know, Mr. Speaker, was to save sinners from eternal death–the price to be paid for their sin.

And so, Mr. Speaker, the birth of Christ, as celebrated by Christians on Christmas is a truly important and significant day because it is celebrated as a recognition of God’s redemption, mercy and Grace.

The importance of Christmas, however, does not end with the tenets of Christianity. Because Christmas is one of the most important holidays on the Christian calendar, I believe that its annual passage should serve as an opportunity for all Americans, Christian or not, religious or not, to recognize the important role played by Christianity in the formation of our nation and in the founding of our civilization.

It is no coincidence, Mr. Speaker, that courthouses throughout this country proudly display the Ten Commandments. It is no accident that, in this very chamber, it is the face of Moses, the human author of those divinely dictated commandments, that looks down upon you, keeping close watch on all that transpires in this chamber. Mr. Speaker the framework of our laws and the fabric of our society is heavily dependent upon the maxims of Christianity, and I believe that as we Christians begin our annual celebration of the birth of our savior, the one from whom Christianity derives its name, it is wholly appropriate for us, as a nation and as members of this House, to take the time to acknowledge the contributions that the Christian religion has made to our country and our way of life.

Mr. Speaker, I think we all can agree that virtually any American, whether Christian, atheist, agnostic, or otherwise, when confronted with the fact that he has in some way wronged his neighbor, will rightly respond in one universal way–knock on his door, confess to him, repent, and ask for forgiveness. The neighbor would then forgive them as Christ has taught us. True and simple as this may seem, it is important to ask why we as Americans naturally react in such a way. The answer of course is that in this “conditioned behavior” we see very clearly the positive effect that Christianity has had on the development of our country and culture.

There are few places in the United States–if any–that you can visit where the laws “do not steal” and “do not murder” do not apply. Likewise, there are few households in this great country in which moral character is developed in young children without the invocation of the ninth and tenth amendments regarding lying and coveting that which belongs to others.

Mr. Speaker, we as Americans live in a moral society and in a country that is governed by moral laws. While many of these laws obviously cannot be found in any explicit sense within the pages of the Holy Bible, when we survey the content of that book–the document that outlines how it is the Christians are to live their lives here on earth–we do find much in the way of foundational principles that has come to guide not just the development of our laws, but also the foundation of our nation.

It was from the Bible and the example of Jesus that Pilgrims first established government on this continent, from which the Founders outlined the political thought that shaped our nation, and by which Congress first intended to educate our children. Furthermore, as the scholar David Barton and others have tirelessly pointed out, it was from the Bible that early American leaders derived concepts like private ownership, the free-enterprise system, an industrious work ethic, and workfare rather than welfare. As a result, the life and teachings of Jesus Christ have permeated every aspect of life in America. He has shaped our culture and transformed every great leader to rise from our population. As a testament to this, each of our American Presidents has acknowledged God’s hand on this Christian nation that is the United States. If there never had been a Jesus Christ, there would never have been an America.

In an address to the nation President Truman once said that, “In love, which is the very essence of the message of the Prince of Peace, the world would find a solution for all its ills. I do not believe there is one problem in this country or in the world today which could not be settled if approached through the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount. The poets’ dream, the lesson of priest and patriarch and the prophets’ vision of a new heaven and a new earth, all are summed up in the message delivered in the Judean hills beside the Sea of Galilee. Would that the world would accept that message in this time of its greatest need!”

Luke 2v13-14He went on to say that, “This is a solemn hour. In the stillness of the Eve of the Nativity when the hopes of mankind hang on the peace that was offered to the world nineteen centuries ago, it is but natural, while we survey our destiny, that we give thought also to our past–to some of the things which have gone into the making of our Nation.”

In 1940, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt said of Christmas, “it is well for all humanity to remind itself that while this is in its name a Christian celebration, it is participated in reverently and happily by hundreds of millions of people who are members of other religions, or belong actively to no church at all. The reason is not far to seek. It is because the spirit of unselfish service personified by the life and the teachings of Christ makes appeal to the inner conscience and hope of every man and every woman in every part of the earth.”

President Eisenhower called the nation to reflect during his remarks at the lighting of the Nation’s Christmas Tree on December 15, 1957 when he said, “In a few days we shall all celebrate the birth of His Holiness on earth. We shall recreate in our minds, once more, the ancient coming of that Spirit who remains alive for millions in our time. We shall acknowledge the Kingdom of a Child in a world of men.”

He went on to say, “That Child–we should remember–grew into manhood Himself, preached and moved men in many walks of life, and died in agony. But His death–so the Christian faith tells us–was not the end. For Him, and for millions of men and women ever since, it marked a time of triumph–when the spirit of life triumphed over death. So–if this Christmas season in a time of war is to have real meaning to us, it must celebrate more than the birth of a Baby.”

During his Radio Address to the Nation on Christmas Eve, 1983 President Reagan pointed out that “It’s been said that all the kings who ever reigned, that all the parliaments that ever sat have not done as much to advance the cause of peace on Earth and good will to men as the man from Galilee, Jesus of Nazareth.” [YouTube Video of speech is available here. Length of video: 5:10]

As the words of these great men–these revered and honored presidents of the United States of America have clearly demonstrated, it is not a stretch to say that the precepts and principles of Jesus have so completely permeated the culture of this nation that even an American atheist would be hard pressed to separate his worldview from the impact of the first Christmas.

Though we are not all Christians, Mr. Speaker, we are all Americans. By virtue of that simple fact, I will again reiterate my belief that it is not only appropriate but, more importantly, is necessary during this special time of year to remember not only the birth of Jesus Christ, the savior of the world, but also to recognize the important impact that the Christian faith has had on the foundation and development of our society, our nation, and our civilization. (Quote source here.)

Joy to the world, the Lord is come. . .

Let Earth receive. . .

Her King. . .

YouTube Video: “Joy to the World” sung by Whitney Houston:

In case you’re interested, here’s the YouTube Video of President Reagan’s Radio Address to the Nation on Christmas Eve 1983 referenced in the speech above:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here
Photo #3 credit here

Christmas and the Christian Faith

Nativity-Merry-ChristmasI ran across the following article this morning on a Public Domain” website titled, Recognizing the Importance of Christmas and the Christian Faith” by Steven Arnold King (source here). It is actually a speech given by the Honorable Steve King of Iowa in the House of Representatives on Tuesday, December 11, 2007.

It’s significance cannot be underestimated. Here is the text of that speech (quote source here):

RECOGNIZING THE IMPORTANCE OF CHRISTMAS AND THE CHRISTIAN FAITH

SPEECH OF
HON. STEVE KING
OF IOWA
IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
Tuesday, December 11, 2007

manger cross kingMr. KING of Iowa: Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by thanking the Ranking Member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, the gentlewoman from Florida, Ms. Ros-Lehtinen, for her support and help in getting this important measure to the House floor for a vote.

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to address the House today to discuss the importance and relevance of Christmas, the Christian holiday celebrating the birth of our savior Jesus Christ.

As this resolution notes, there are approximately 225 million Christians in the United States, making Christianity the religion of over three-fourths of the American population. Beyond that, there are approximately 2 billion Christians throughout the world, making Christianity the largest religion in the world and the religion of about one-third of the world population.

And yet, Mr. Speaker, in recent decades there have been some who have undertaken efforts to diminish the significance of this great religion, and these efforts are no more apparent than during this time of Christmas.

It is not hard to look out over this great country of ours and find those who, for one reason or another, have engaged in a highly-politicized and highly-publicized crusade to rid the public square of any reference to the religious underpinnings of the Christmas holiday. These are individuals who have subscribed to a radical interpretation of our Constitution’s free exercise and establishment clauses and have sought to impose their secular views and beliefs on the nation as a whole.

In many respects, it is this ongoing effort to bring about the secularization of Christmas–and all of our everyday lives for that matter–that motivated me to bring this resolution before the House today.

Regardless of how others may define it, Mr. Speaker, Christmas is a religious holiday. It is the day on which Christians–those who identify themselves as believers in the salvation from sin offered to them through the death and resurrection of their savior, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and who, out of gratitude for the gift of salvation, commit themselves to living their lives in accordance with the teachings of the Holy Bible–celebrate the birth of their savior. For Christians, the birth of Jesus is cause for great celebration. As the Son of God, Jesus was sent to earth, by our Heavenly Father, to become a human being, live a sinless life, be crucified on a cross for our sins, and rise from the dead three days later. The purpose of this, as you well know, Mr. Speaker, was to save sinners from eternal death–the price to be paid for their sin.

And so, Mr. Speaker, the birth of Christ, as celebrated by Christians on Christmas is a truly important and significant day because it is celebrated as a recognition of God’s redemption, mercy and Grace.

The importance of Christmas, however, does not end with the tenets of Christianity. Because Christmas is one of the most important holidays on the Christian calendar, I believe that its annual passage should serve as an opportunity for all Americans, Christian or not, religious or not, to recognize the important role played by Christianity in the formation of our nation and in the founding of our civilization.

It is no coincidence, Mr. Speaker, that courthouses throughout this country proudly display the Ten Commandments. It is no accident that, in this very chamber, it is the face of Moses, the human author of those divinely dictated commandments, that looks down upon you, keeping close watch on all that transpires in this chamber. Mr. Speaker the framework of our laws and the fabric of our society is heavily dependent upon the maxims of Christianity, and I believe that as we Christians begin our annual celebration of the birth of our savior, the one from whom Christianity derives its name, it is wholly appropriate for us, as a nation and as members of this House, to take the time to acknowledge the contributions that the Christian religion has made to our country and our way of life.

Mr. Speaker, I think we all can agree that virtually any American, whether Christian, atheist, agnostic, or otherwise, when confronted with the fact that he has in some way wronged his neighbor, will rightly respond in one universal way–knock on his door, confess to him, repent, and ask for forgiveness. The neighbor would then forgive them as Christ has taught us. True and simple as this may seem, it is important to ask why we as Americans naturally react in such a way. The answer of course is that in this “conditioned behavior” we see very clearly the positive effect that Christianity has had on the development of our country and culture.

There are few places in the United States–if any–that you can visit where the laws “do not steal” and “do not murder” do not apply. Likewise, there are few households in this great country in which moral character is developed in young children without the invocation of the ninth and tenth amendments regarding lying and coveting that which belongs to others.

Mr. Speaker, we as Americans live in a moral society and in a country that is governed by moral laws. While many of these laws obviously cannot be found in any explicit sense within the pages of the Holy Bible, when we survey the content of that book–the document that outlines how it is the Christians are to live their lives here on earth–we do find much in the way of foundational principles that has come to guide not just the development of our laws, but also the foundation of our nation.

It was from the Bible and the example of Jesus that Pilgrims first established government on this continent, from which the Founders outlined the political thought that shaped our nation, and by which Congress first intended to educate our children. Furthermore, as the scholar David Barton and others have tirelessly pointed out, it was from the Bible that early American leaders derived concepts like private ownership, the free-enterprise system, an industrious work ethic, and workfare rather than welfare. As a result, the life and teachings of Jesus Christ have permeated every aspect of life in America. He has shaped our culture and transformed every great leader to rise from our population. As a testament to this, each of our American Presidents has acknowledged God’s hand on this Christian nation that is the United States. If there never had been a Jesus Christ, there would never have been an America.

In an address to the nation President Truman once said that, “In love, which is the very essence of the message of the Prince of Peace, the world would find a solution for all its ills. I do not believe there is one problem in this country or in the world today which could not be settled if approached through the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount. The poets’ dream, the lesson of priest and patriarch and the prophets’ vision of a new heaven and a new earth, all are summed up in the message delivered in the Judean hills beside the Sea of Galilee. Would that the world would accept that message in this time of its greatest need!”

Luke 2v13-14He went on to say that, “This is a solemn hour. In the stillness of the Eve of the Nativity when the hopes of mankind hang on the peace that was offered to the world nineteen centuries ago, it is but natural, while we survey our destiny, that we give thought also to our past–to some of the things which have gone into the making of our Nation.”

In 1940, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt said of Christmas, “it is well for all humanity to remind itself that while this is in its name a Christian celebration, it is participated in reverently and happily by hundreds of millions of people who are members of other religions, or belong actively to no church at all. The reason is not far to seek. It is because the spirit of unselfish service personified by the life and the teachings of Christ makes appeal to the inner conscience and hope of every man and every woman in every part of the earth.”

President Eisenhower called the nation to reflect during his remarks at the lighting of the Nation’s Christmas Tree on December 15, 1957 when he said, “In a few days we shall all celebrate the birth of His Holiness on earth. We shall recreate in our minds, once more, the ancient coming of that Spirit who remains alive for millions in our time. We shall acknowledge the Kingdom of a Child in a world of men.”

He went on to say, “That Child–we should remember–grew into manhood Himself, preached and moved men in many walks of life, and died in agony. But His death–so the Christian faith tells us–was not the end. For Him, and for millions of men and women ever since, it marked a time of triumph–when the spirit of life triumphed over death. So–if this Christmas season in a time of war is to have real meaning to us, it must celebrate more than the birth of a Baby.”

During his Radio Address to the Nation on Christmas Eve, 1983 President Reagan pointed out that “It’s been said that all the kings who ever reigned, that all the parliaments that ever sat have not done as much to advance the cause of peace on Earth and good will to men as the man from Galilee, Jesus of Nazareth.” [YouTube Video of speech is available here. Length of video: 5:10]

As the words of these great men–these revered and honored presidents of the United States of America have clearly demonstrated, it is not a stretch to say that the precepts and principles of Jesus have so completely permeated the culture of this nation that even an American atheist would be hard pressed to separate his worldview from the impact of the first Christmas.

Though we are not all Christians, Mr. Speaker, we are all Americans. By virtue of that simple fact, I will again reiterate my belief that it is not only appropriate but, more importantly, is necessary during this special time of year to remember not only the birth of Jesus Christ, the savior of the world, but also to recognize the important impact that the Christian faith has had on the foundation and development of our society, our nation, and our civilization. (Quote source here.)

Joy to the world, the Lord is come. . .

Let Earth receive. . .

Her King. . .

YouTube Video: “Joy to the World” sung by Whitney Houston:

In case you’re interested, here’s the YouTube Video of President Reagan’s Radio Address to the Nation on Christmas Eve 1983 referenced in the speech above:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here
Photo #3 credit here

The Perfect Gift for Christmas

giftHere’s a reblogged Christmas post of mine from 2013 that’s good to go for this year, too. Enjoy! And Merry Christmas!!!!!

The Perfect Gift for Christmas (or Anytime)

"Simeon's Moment" by Ron DiCianniChristmas is definitely in the air, whether you live in a cold and snow-filled place or a warm, sunny, tropical location like I do in Florida. And, it’s only ten days away now. The hustle and bustle of buying gifts is everywhere, but at least the agony won’t hit until sometime in January with that first credit card bill that keeps on giving for several months into the new year.

Christmas is one of my favorite times of the year whether I spend it alone or with others. I love walking into stores and heading for the area filled with Christmas decorations, or driving around and looking at all the houses festively decorated. Here in America Christmas is highly commercialized and, unfortunately, the true meaning of Christmas gets lost in the shuffle of Santa Claus and Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer, and gift-giving, and parties, and that frantic search for the “perfect gift” for everyone on our list. Yet the real gift of Christmas won’t bring a headache in the mail in January or any other time of the year, and this most perfect gift has no bill attached yet it cost God everything when He sent His only Son as a baby to this earth. And it is this very Gift that Simeon waited a lifetime to see at the time of Jesus Christ’s birth (Luke 2:25-35):

Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.”

The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

Luke 2 contains that first Christmas story of the birth of Jesus Christ and the account of Simeon who was in the temple at the time of the purification rites required for all firstborn males by the Law of Moses, and he saw with his own eyes God’s plan of salvation when Jesus was presented. “When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord’), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: ‘a pair of doves or two young pigeons’” (Luke 2:22-24). And at that point Simeon told his mother, Mary, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too” (vv. 34-35). Simeon spoke of the cross that was in Jesus’ future.

The cross of Jesus Christ–“a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength” (I Corinthians 1:23-25). Let’s read the surrounding verses in I Corinthians 1:18-31:

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things— and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

The greatest giftGod’s plan of salvation, born in a manger, dying on a cross, and resurrected to give us (those who believe) eternal life–“a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” Stripping away all the commercialism and festivities of this time of the year–the story of Jesus Christ is the real message of Christmas.

The most perfect gift available in this world is available at anytime, in any place, and not just at Christmas. A Pharisee named Nicodemus found it in John 3 in his conversation with Jesus, succinct in three verses (John 3:16-18):

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

In the hustle and bustle and frenetic activities that accompany Christmas every year, let’s not forget the real reason for Christmas–the reason the Prophet Isaiah foretold thousands of years ago when he said in Isaiah 9:6-7:

For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of His government and peace
There will be no end,
Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,
To order it and establish it with judgment and justice
From that time forward, even forever.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.

“Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end.” Jesus stated in Revelation 22:12-13, “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” And the invitation is given in verse 17, “The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.”

“The free gift of the water of life” . . .

Available now, this Christmas, and at anytime . . .

Don’t miss it . . . .

YouTube Video: “Mary Did You Know?” sung by Kenny Rogers and Wynonna Judd:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

‘Tis the Season . . . for L-O-V-E

Tis-the-seasonRight before Christmas two years ago I wrote a blog post titled, No Greater Love.” The message is a good one to remember, especially at this time of year, so instead of coming up with something new, I’m posting something old–from two years ago.

No Greater Love

305398_429242660480779_383150247_nMost folks are familiar I Corinthians 13 as it is considered to be the greatest chapter on love found in the entire Bible. However, the verses we most often quote are verses 4-7 and you’ll no doubt recognize them right away–“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy. It does not boast. It is not proud. It is not rude. It is not self-seeking . . .” etc. They are spoken many times in marriage ceremonies. However, we have a tendency to skip over the first three verses which state (I Corinthians 13:1-3 MSG):

If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.

If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.

If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.

Think about those words for a moment. If we say, believe, or do anything–ANYTHING–without doing it from a heart of love, it means nothing. Nothing! And we are bankrupt. Bankrupt! Without love, what we say means nothing, what we believe (or say we believe) means nothing, what we do means nothing.

Those are serious words. They give me pause for thought. It gives a whole new meaning and weight to the words that follow in those most familiar verses that we quote so often . . .

“Love is patient” (So just how patience are we? Do we get impatient waiting in a fast food line because the line isn’t moving fast enough?)

“Love is kind” (How often do we show kindness to those we don’t know or know well–for example, the homeless, the hurting, or even the clerk who was rude to us or someone we’ve heard some gossip about?)

“It does not envy” (Who or what are we jealous of, and who or what do we envy and why?)

“It does not boast, it is not proud” (How often do we seek acknowledgement from others or boast about something we have accomplished, hoping to look good in the eyes of others in order to elevate ourselves?)

“It is not rude” (How do we respond to someone who is rude to us? Are we rude back? What’s your first reaction to someone who cuts you off in traffic?)

“It is not self-seeking” (How did we feel when someone else got that promotion we thought we deserved? And how did we treat them afterward? When we think about money or material possessions, is it primarily to serve ourselves or to also help others?)

“It is not easily angered” (Are we quick to react in anger when something doesn’t go our way? Are we easily offended? Are we quick to judge?)

“It keeps no record of wrongs” (This is a very tough one. Do we have a tendency to constantly nurse grudges against those who have offended us, whether they are aware of it or not?)

“Love does not delight in evil” (Evil takes many forms. Do we take delight–in secret or with others–when someone–especially those we aren’t fond of or are jealous of–falls or fails in some way, privately or publicly? Do we gossip about others behind their backs? That is delighting in evil.)

“Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (Do we protect others and not just family and friends but those who are helpless–widows, orphans, the homeless, the less fortunate among us? Or do we just protect ourselves and look the other way? What about trust, hope, and persevering during hard times instead of complaining?)

Love is action and not just words we say to each other without doing anything that proves it out. If we “talk it” but don’t “walk it” it means nothing. Read those first three verses above again and let them sink in . . . really sink in.

Here are a few action steps to think about to start living out this life of love if we are really serious about it:

(1) When someone tells us about a need they have, instead of just saying, “I’m praying for you,” and walking away, see if there is something we can actually do to help them is some tangible way, and then do it. It could be as simple as giving them a hug or inviting them to lunch, or giving them a $20 bill if they just lost their job (that happened to me after I lost my job and I can’t tell you how much it meant to me–not so much because of the money but because I knew it was a real sacrifice for the person who gave it to me and it was her way of showing me how much she cared about the situation I was in). Show genuine concern for the person and what they are going through.

(2) Start putting ourselves in the other person’s shoes. For example, if a clerk is rude to you, don’t automatically be rude back or grumble under your breath. Instead, say something kind. After all, you have no idea what that clerk has gone through that caused him or her to be rude. His bank might have just foreclosed on his house or her husband might have just lost his job or asked for a divorce. Don’t just react to the rudeness, but act with kindness.

(3) Work is usually a hotbed area where little love or kindness is shown. Many folks are constantly “looking out for #1,” and gossiping behind other’s backs. Stay away from the gossip. Do the best job you can for your employer, even when someone else gets the promotion you expected to get or the boss is nasty to the bone. And congratulate that person who got the promotion over you (and do it with sincerity). God is still in control, even in the worst of situations. You never know what is going on “behind the scenes.” And God may have spared you from something worse that you can’t see or understand. Or He has something better in store for you down the road.

(4) Don’t always be self-seeking. Think about others and how you can help them. Be “other” focused. And don’t gossip.

Well, you get the idea . . . . Love, real love, is always focused on others and not just on ourselves. By doing that one thing (focusing on others) the rest of the list will start to take care of itself. We will be more patient, and we will be more kind; we won’t envy, and we won’t boast about how great we are by seeking the attention and accolades of others. We won’t always be “looking out for #1″ (which is pride in it’s ugliest form). We’ll stop being rude and self-seeking; our anger will start to dissipate and be replaced with “a peace that passes all understanding” (Phil. 4:7) towards others and ourselves; We won’t delight in evil anymore (like gossip) but genuinely care about those we don’t know or understand (and without judging them, too).

If we want this world to be a kinder place, we can’t wait for others to do it. It starts with us.The next time you’re tempted to react negatively to a negative situation, which could be in the next few minutes, stop before you react and think about what is really going on. It’s not easy as we’ve been so used to reacting to situations instantly (and sometimes with great regret later on–we’ve all been there). Instead, count to ten internally (and say a quick prayer for God’s help). If someone just cut you off in traffic, instead of flipping them the finger or swearing at them in your car, say a quick prayer of thanks that you didn’t get in a bad accident, and pray for them, too.

Christmas is just a few days away. The very best gift we can give anyone (family, friends, or complete strangers) is genuine love. And it starts with us (and no, we don’t wait for them to love us first–we could be waiting forever if that is the case). In fact, genuine, authentic love started with Jesus Christ. He is our example. He laid down his very life for us on the cross at Calvary. How can we not extend that same love to others if we truly follow Him? After all, in John 15:12-14 Jesus said, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.”

And here’s the gift I want to leave with you this Christmas from the Apostle Paul in Phil. 4:8-9 (MSG):

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.

And let’s start living life . . .

As if everything is a miracle . . . .

YouTube Video: “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher,” sung by Rod Stewart on his 2009 CD, “Soulbook.”

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 
credit here

The Perfect Gift for Christmas (or Anytime)

"Simeon's Moment" by Ron DiCianni

“Simeon’s Moment” by Ron DiCianni

Christmas is definitely in the air, whether you live in a cold and snow-filled place or a warm, sunny, tropical location like I do in Florida. And, it’s only ten days away now. The hustle and bustle of buying gifts is everywhere, but at least the agony won’t hit until sometime in January with that first credit card bill that keeps on giving for several months into the new year.

Christmas is one of my favorite times of the year whether I spend it alone or with others. I love walking into stores and heading for the area filled with Christmas decorations, or driving around and looking at all the houses festively decorated. Here in America Christmas is highly commercialized and, unfortunately, the true meaning of Christmas gets lost in the shuffle of Santa Claus and Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer, and gift-giving, and parties, and that frantic search for the “perfect gift” for everyone on our list. Yet the real gift of Christmas won’t bring a headache in the mail in January or any other time of the year, and this most perfect gift has no bill attached yet it cost God everything when He sent His only Son as a baby to this earth. And it is this very Gift that Simeon waited a lifetime to see at the time of Jesus Christ’s birth (Luke 2:25-35):

Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.”

The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

Luke 2 contains that first Christmas story of the birth of Jesus Christ and the account of Simeon who was in the temple at the time of the purification rites required for all firstborn males by the Law of Moses, and he saw with his own eyes God’s plan of salvation when Jesus was presented. “When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord’), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: ‘a pair of doves or two young pigeons’” (Luke 2:22-24). And at that point Simeon told his mother, Mary, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too” (vv. 34-35). Simeon spoke of the cross that was in Jesus’ future.

The cross of Jesus Christ–“a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength” (I Corinthians 1:23-25). Let’s read the surrounding verses in I Corinthians 1:18-31:

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things— and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

The greatest giftGod’s plan of salvation, born in a manger, dying on a cross, and resurrected to give us (those who believe) eternal life–“a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” Stripping away all the commercialism and festivities of this time of the year–the story of Jesus Christ is the real message of Christmas.

The most perfect gift available in this world is available at anytime, in any place, and not just at Christmas. A Pharisee named Nicodemus found it in John 3 in his conversation with Jesus, succinct in three verses (John 3:16-18):

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

In the hustle and bustle and frenetic activities that accompany Christmas every year, let’s not forget the real reason for Christmas–the reason the Prophet Isaiah foretold thousands of years ago when he said in Isaiah 9:6-7:

For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of His government and peace
There will be no end,
Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,
To order it and establish it with judgment and justice
From that time forward, even forever.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.

“Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end.” Jesus stated in Revelation 22:12-13, “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” And the invitation is given in verse 17, “The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.”

“The free gift of the water of life” . . .

Available now, this Christmas, and at anytime . . .

Don’t miss it . . . .

YouTube Video: “Mary Did You Know?” sung by Kenny Rogers and Wynonna Judd:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

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