Sunday, December 25, 2011


His parents were hungry, weary travelers…peasants…living under a corrupt government. He was born in a stable…a grotto…to a teenage mother. There was no medical care…not even a midwife. The birth announcement was made to shepherds.

And we call this the Christmas Miracle?

Yes, a miracle indeed: God has visited us in the person of Jesus.

But he came in humility. He worked through a devout, obedient couple. He connected with the poor and oppressed.

Claim the miracle this Christmas!

In our weakness…in our spiritual poverty…with a measure of trust and fidelity…God is present in our lives! Amen.

Top: Fresco by Botticelli, Florence, 1476

Merry Christmas!

I appreciate the cultural warriors who want to “put Christ back into Christmas.” Still, it makes me a bit uncomfortable. Christian pugilism doesn’t seem appropriate to the season.

For my part, I have tried to be more intentional with a hearty, sincere Merry Christmas greeting rather than an acculturated Happy Holidays.

It’s impossible to remove the Christian underpinnings of this season. Dr. Joel Heck, in a Christmas devotional* entitled “Bring Religion into Everything” points out that the word holiday comes from holy day, and Santa Claus is named for a fourth century Christian bishop. An excerpt from Heck’s writing:

St. Paul invites us to do whatever we do for the glory of God.

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. (1st Corinthians 10:31)

In order to do that, we have to bring religion into everything. To bring the Christian religion into everything, we have to bring Christ into everything. Let’s not be quiet about it. Let’s bring the Christmas spirit into all our giving, all our shopping, and all our serving. Let’s realize that all our eating and drinking, all our Christmas parties, and all our worshipping is from God and for God. He gives us the fixings, and then he comes to the party. Let’s notice his presence and celebrate it.

To that I offer another Amen! If we truly allow Jesus into every facet of our lives, popular culture will be unable to detach Christ from Christmas.

* - A Grand Miracle, Joel Heck

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve

Despite his generosity, Santa’s gifts won’t satisfy completely.

Despite his glowing red nose, Rudolph won’t light the way adequately.

But there is a gift that offers contentment, and there is a light for sufficient guidance:
Jesus Christ, God’s gift to mankind for peace and illumination.

Thanks be to God - for Jesus the Christ.

Nativity scene by Federico Brandani, The Oratory of San Giuseppe (early 16th century), Urbino, Italy; photo: Melissa Habel

Sunday, December 18, 2011


Church attendance will peak this week. Christmas brings families together and draws them to church - as Jesus draws near.

…just maybe, we will learn not to seek so much to be different for a season, but seek to be different for a lifetime. (Macrina Wiederkehr)

Now, let’s try a little Latin:

Adeste Fideles
Venite Adoremus Dominum

The grand worship at Christmastime reminds me of body surfing. (A distant memory.) Catch a wave at the right moment or position and you’re swept along in exhilarating fashion. That happens to me in church during corporate worship. It’s not something you can do solo. It requires an ocean of celebrants, choir, musicians and fellow believers. In the liturgy, in the music, in the architecture of the church, I ride a spiritual wave…swept along in exhilarating fashion.

I hope that happens to you this Christmas. May your worship soar. Gloria in excelsis Deo! Let's pray:

We give thanks, Eternal God, for Jesus, with this memorable line from the Christmas carol:

Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today!
(O Little Town of Bethlehem)

That is the Christmas story: Jesus removes the barrier of sin between man and God, and we have fellowship with God. Not a vague sense of God, but a rapport with God.

We give thanks, Dear Father, for Immanuel, for “God with us.” As Jesus said to Phillip:

Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.
(John 14:9)

That is the Christmas story: We see the love, the compassion, the mercy, the seeking heart, the purity of God. In Jesus we see what God is like and what God means for us to be. (William Barclay)

Thanks be to God - for Jesus. Amen.

Adeste Fideles: Come, faithful ones (O come all ye faithful)
Venite adoremus Dominum: Come, let us adore the Lord
Gloria in excelsis Deo: Glory to God in the highest

Sunday, December 11, 2011


St. Nicholas - Russian fresco - Patron Saint of Children

Dear God,

The Christmas gifts are piling up at my house. It’s an embarrassment of riches, but our largesse pales by comparison to your generosity. “You can’t out-give God.” John 3:16 sums that up:

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.

From the wonder of the Nativity to the miracle of Easter, you dispatched your Son to our broken, temporal domain. He offers us peace and eternal life. well as a multitude of divine gifts:

Guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Forgiveness. Contentment. Joy.

Lord, I pray for time during this Christmas season to carefully unwrap each of those gifts, to ponder their significance, to fully consider my salvation, that I may join in Mary’s canticle:

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. (Luke 1:47)

Thanks be to God, Amen.

St. Nicholas relief - Amsterdam

St. Nicholas had a reputation for secret gift-giving and became the model for Santa Claus, whose English name comes from the Dutch language.

Sunday, December 4, 2011


The season of Advent encompasses the past, our present and future. It is enveloped in expectancy, preparation and hope.

The Past: It’s as though we are members of Mary’s extended family, following her through the last four weeks of her pregnancy. There’s a sense of anticipation, a need to prepare, to get ready…to prepare head and heart.

The Present: Our Messiah arrived two thousand years ago, but Emanuel (“God with us”) is very much a present tense Savior - to save us from the broken parts of ourselves and the warped places of this planet, to save us for a relationship with our Creator.

The Future: As we assert during the Eucharist, “Christ will come again.” The things mentioned above are a work in progress - unfinished business - but a time will come when the brokenness is gone, when all is whole and perfect. The ultimate Christian hope. Yes, we are saved - saved for eternity!

Advent is a time to reflect on God’s global yet personal intervention that began with Mary and Joseph, to reflect on his intentions for and involvement in our lives today, to reflect on the wholeness of “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
(Matthew 6:10, NIV)

My Christmas Bible study begins with John the Baptist’s proclamation: “Change your life. God’s Kingdom is here.” (Matthew 3:2, The Message) Yes, that's a challenge, but it is very, very good news as well!

The Nativity ~ Gerard van Honthorst ~ 1622

Lord, I’m like a kid at Christmas. I want an Advent filled with Alleluias and angels “singing sweetly o’er the plain.” But I always encounter a few dark days. Stress at work. Family drama. What happened to the joy?

Maybe it’s part of the Advent protocol: We have to face the darkness before we can appreciate the Light of the World.
(Ann Weems, Kneeling in Bethlehem)

Indeed, Mark’s Gospel begins with John the Baptist, a voice crying in our wilderness:

“Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.” And so John came…preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. (Mark 1:3-4)

We have to face our flaws and failings before Christmas can come...face our need for a Savior before he can be born in our hearts. I heard a great sermon line: You have to wash your hands before you can hold the baby. *

So, Father, I wash my hands, confess my sin, profess my need of a Savior - and with gratitude and joy - I await the baby’s birth! Amen.

* - The Rev. Dr. Scott Black Johnston, Trinity Presbyterian Church, Atlanta, GA,