Friday, December 26, 2014

"Christmas Every Day!"

When I ask people, “How was your Christmas?” they often reply, “it was nice, but to tell you the truth, I am glad it’s over!” I think many of us know exactly what they mean.

Have you ever wondered, however, what it might be like to try and keep Christmas every day of the year? Henry Van Dyke, the versatile Presbyterian minister, lecturer, and writer who in 1896 wrote the Christmas fantasy, “The Other Wise Man”, also wrote “Keeping Christmas”. Here is a taste of what he wrote:

“There is a better thing than the observance of Christmas day, and that is, keeping Christmas.
Are you willing…
·       To forget what you have done for other people, and to remember what other people have done for you;
·       To ignore what the world owes you, and to think what you owe the world;
·       To see that men and women are just as real as you are, and to try to look behind their faces to their hearts, hungry for joy;
·       To close your book of complaints against the management of the universe, and look around you for a place where you can sow a few seeds of happiness.
·       To stop asking how much your friends love you, and ask yourself whether you love them enough?

Are you willing to do these things, if so, then you can keep Christmas, and if you can keep it for a day, why not always?”

Soon all the sights and sounds of Christmas will be packed away for another year. Yet, the purest and best part of Christmas celebrations can be kept alive every day. Alive in me and alive in you.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Lighting Candles

I know of no time more than Christmas when the world takes on the soft and gentle glow of candles.   There are lots of stories and traditions associated with Christmas candles.

 We are told that Martin Luther is credited with starting the tradition of placing tapers on Christmas trees. Over time, and probably due to too many trees igniting in flames, strings of lights replaced candles.

In certain lands, it is the custom to place candles in windows to guide the Christ Child or weary travelers to shelter. The Irish would place candles in the window, and then would leave the doors open to attract the Holy family searching for lodging on the way to Bethlehem. In Ireland, only girls named Mary had the privilege to put out the candles in the church on Christmas Eve. In the Scandinavian countries, the mother always lighted the candle on Christmas Eve.

At Sardis, we light the Advent Wreath candles every service to remind us of the approaching birth of the Christ Child.

So it is that in the Christian tradition, the use of candles is a reflection of Christ, who is the Light of the World. Each Christmas I remind myself of a Howard Thurman poem on candles.

Candles of joy, despite all sadness,
Candles of hope, where despair keeps watch.
Candles of courage for fears ever present,
Candles of peace for tempest-tossed days,
Candles of grace to ease heavy burdens,
Candles of love to inspire all my living,
Candles that will burn all the year long.

Each time we light a candle, or see a candle, it should remind us of Jesus, who alone is the light that shines in the darkness and the darkness of this world will never overcome Him. Don’t forget to light some candles this Christmas. Better yet, come to our Christmas Eve services and light your own candle in the company of believers.

Monday, December 15, 2014

"The Cost of Christmas"

The annual PNC Wealth ManagementChristmas Price Index calculated that if you purchased all of the items, or gifts, every time they are mentioned in the song, “The Twelve Days of Christmas”, it would cost you a whopping $116,000. My first reaction is that someone has too much time on their hands to sit around and tally the cost.
 You can still get a partridge for $20 but a pear tree will run you $188 and the twelve drummers drumming depends upon availability of the local percussionists in your area.

Another national organization estimated that the average American family plans to spend $861 this year. Of course, that is what they intend to spend, but how can you pass up a great door buster or online promotional?

 There is another cost associated with Christmas that is often overlooked. It is the cost of love.  The Gospel of John says it best, “For God so loved the world that gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him, shall not perish but have everlasting life.”   

I don’t know what it will cost you to celebrate Christmas, but I know what it cost God, his only son. No wonder the Bible calls it an “indescribable gift”. It’s not only hard to describe, but also hard to believe. But, it’s true. God so loved you and me that he sent his son, born as a babe in Bethlehem. It is something to think about every time we see Jesus lying in the manger. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

"So this is Christmas?!"

Each year since I arrived at Sardis, I have had the pleasure of spending a Sunday morning during Advent with our wonderful confirmation students and their parents. It has become a tradition for me to administer a “Christmas Quiz” that I found in a Youth Idea Book. The quiz tests our knowledge of what really happened at Christmas. In all these years, no one has ever recorded a perfect score. 

Let me give you a few examples from the quiz, so you can test your knowledge.

1. As long as Christmas has been celebrated, it has been on December 25th.  (true or false)

2. Joseph was from:   a. Bethlehem  b. Jerusalem  c. Nazareth

3. How did Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem?  a. donkey  b. walked  c. who knows?

4. What did the innkeeper tell Mary and Joseph?
a. “There is no room in the inn”  b. “ I have a stable  you can use”  c. neither a nor b

5. What is a manger?   a. stable  b. hay storage bin  c. feeding trough

6. Which animals does the Bible say were present at Jesus’ birth? 
a. cows, sheep, goats  b. sheep and cows only  c. neither a or b

7. Who saw the “star in the sky”?    a. shepherds  b. Three Kings  c. neither a or b

8. How many angels spoke to the shepherds?   a. one  b. three  c. a multitude

9 How many wise men came to see Jesus?  (put in correct number)

10. Where did the wise men find the baby Jesus?   a. manger  b. stable  c. house

11. Who told Mary and Joseph to go to Bethlehem?  a. the angel  b. Herod  c. Caesar Augustus

12. Where in the Bible do we find the Christmas story?  (name the Gospel writers who include the story of Christmas)

Each year, after taking the quiz, it dawns on the confirmation students and their parents that much of our Christmas knowledge comes from Hallmark Cards, Christmas carols, and church plays and pageants, but not from the Bible. So, just in case you missed a question or two why not take some time this Advent and read the real story of Christmas, which we can only find in the Bible.  I suggest Matthew 1:18 through 2:12 and Luke 2:1-20.

Here are the answers, just in case you might be wondering:
1. False.  Not until the 4th Century did it settle on the 25th of December.
2. A    Bethlehem.
3. C    No one knows, the Bible never says a word about how they traveled.
4. C   The innkeeper did not say a word to Mary and Joseph.
5. C    A feeding trough.
6. C   No one Knows, the Bible never says a word about the animals in the stable.
7. C  The Bible says wise men, not kings.
8. A  One angel spoke, the multitude of heavenly host said praises afterward.
9. You should have left blank.  The Bible does not say how many.
10. C  In a house.
11. C  The Emperor Augustus.
12. Only Matthew and Luke.

May we all experience anew this year the joy of Christmas at the birth of our Savior!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Advent Quiz is Back!

No sooner do you clear and clean up the dishes from Thanksgiving Day dinner and everyone’s thoughts are now in full Christmas mode.   Same thing happens in church.

This past Sunday we lit the first of our candles in our Advent wreath.  I thought I might offer this little Advent Quiz again this year to see if you've learned anything from last year. 

Take Tom's Advent Quiz and let us know your score!

1. The word ADVENT comes from Latin and means what?
a. To cook
b. To come
c. To rest
d. To sing

2. The liturgical color for Advent is what?
a. Purple or violet
b. Green
c. Red
d. Red and green

3. The observance of Advent probably started in:
a. 1492
b. The 6th century
c. The 1st century BC
d. 1776

4. Who was it who said, “Prepare Ye the way of the Lord’?

a. Santa Claus
b. The Heavenly Host
c. John the Baptist
d. Home Depot

5. The “mood” of Advent is:

a. Hectic
b. Stressful
c. Repentance and Reflection
d. Full of holiday cheer

Long ago,  the exhortation of John the Baptist was to “prepare” for the coming of the Lord.   How are you and your family preparing for the birth of Christ?   What preparations are we making to welcome His coming into our hearts?    How might prayer, quiet time, reading Luke’s story of Christmas, and attending worship help you reflect and prepare yourself spiritually for the greatest gift of all?

Quiz Answer Key: B, A, B, C, C

Friday, November 21, 2014

"Gobble, Gobble"

The other day I Googled, “Little known Facts about Thanksgiving.”   I was overwhelmed with how much I did not know about Thanksgiving.  

Here are just a few items that caught my eye:

  • The famous pilgrim celebration at Plymouth Colony in 1621 is traditionally regarded as the first American Thanksgiving.  However, there are actually 12 claims to where the “first” Thanksgiving took place: two in Texas, two in Florida, one in Maine, two in Virginia, and five in Massachusetts.
  •   President Jefferson called a federal Thanksgiving proclamation “the most ridiculous idea ever conceived.”
  • Now a Thanksgiving dinner staple, cranberries were actually used by Native Americans to treat arrow wounds and to dye clothes.
  •  Thanksgiving Day became an annual national holiday upon a proclamation issued by President Abraham Lincoln at the height of the Civil War in November 1863. It was set as the last Thursday in November. 
  • Thanksgiving football games began with Yale versus Princeton in 1876. Princeton lost!
  • Baby turkeys are called poults. Only male turkeys gobble and therefore are called gobblers. 
  • Sarah Josepha Hale, who tirelessly worked to establish Thanksgiving as a national holiday, also was the first person to advocate women as teachers in public schools, the first to advocate day nurseries to assist working mothers, and the first to propose public play grounds. She also wrote the poem, "Mary Had a Little Lamb”.
When Sarah Hale championed the cause of Thanksgiving to President Lincoln, one of her goals was that it would “awaken” in us “a love of home and country, of thankfulness to God, and peace between brethren.” Those still sound like worthy goals to me.
There are no perfect families in American, but that is OK; we still love our families, warts and all.  We love this land, not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but still an amazing place to live in this beautiful world. Thank you for home and country.

The pilgrims came to this land to worship God as they pleased and not have any state or king impose on them whom they must worship. The separation of church and state still carries a lot of wisdom.  Thank you for religious freedom.

Learning to live peacefully as brothers and sisters is never an easy task, but always worthy of our highest effort. Appreciating and respecting diversity and difference are as critical today as when the Pilgrims and Natives sat down together years ago. Thank you for differences.

If we ever took the time to think about all the people and things for which we are thankful, they would far outnumber our complaints. As one wise person wrote, the most perfect prayer in all the world is simply, “Thank you, Lord.” Hope you have a great Thanksgiving Day.