Category Archives: Holiday

What God wants to do in you, and through you in the new year

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A 2018 Resolution that every Follower of Jesus should have says Cal Thomas

IT’S NEW YEAR RESOLUTION TIME.

 

         FOR THE SERIOUS FOLLOWER OF JESUS OF NAZARETH, LET’S RESOLVE TO PLACE LESS EMPHASIS ON THE KINGDOM OF THIS WORLD AND MORE ON THE KINGDOM AND KING NOT OF THIS WORLD?

         HERE’S A RESOLUTION ALL OF US SHOULD ATTEMPT TO KEEP: IN 2018, I WILL BECOME MORE OBEDIENT TO THE COMMANDS OF JESUS.

( Billy’s thoughts – The above is part of a radio commentary Cal Thomas did today. Read the whole column here or listen to the audio.)

Nebraska Christmas card sent back since 1941 ( forget email )

DANNEBROG, Neb. (AP) — For three quarters of a century, the same Christmas card featuring a Scottish man in a kilt has made its way through the mail either to or from a Nebraska woman.

The Kearney Hub reports that it began in 1941, when Lois Margaret Frandsen of Dannebrog sent the card to her cousin and life-long friend Janice “Neicie” Hansen, who was living with her husband at a Washington State military base at the time.

In 1942, Hansen sent it back to Frandsen. The next year, Frandsen sent it back to Hansen.

 

And so it has gone, every year since the early days of World War II, despite Hansen’s death in 2009. Her daughter is now the recipient.

 

“Why did I keep sending it?” Frandsen, 94, asked. “We had a heck of a lot of fun together. That card traveled a lot of miles. I would keep it in the China hutch so it wouldn’t get lost.”

( Read the rest of this Story.)

Finding peace during the holidays

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Things You May Not Know About Christmas

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BreakPoint: The Enduring Power of “A Christmas Carol” Hope, Redemption, Story

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“Ebeneeeeezer!” Today on BreakPoint, I’m going to talk about Charles Dickens’ great classic work“A Christmas Carol.”

One hundred and seventy-four years ago, a British writer was horrified at the conditions under which children were made to labor in tin mines. He decided to write a pamphlet exposing these conditions. His intended title: “An Appeal to the People of England on Behalf of the Poor Man’s Child.”

Thank heavens the writer changed his mind. Instead of a pamphlet, he decided to write a novel making the same points. It’s filled with colorful characters—including an old man who goes about snarling “Bah, Humbug!”

Those two little words instantly reveal what book I’m talking about: “A Christmas Carol,” by the immortal Charles Dickens. The book has never been out of print—and it illustrates why telling a good story is often the best way to communicate our beliefs.

Why does “A Christmas Carol” still resonate today? For the answer, I went to my friend Gina Dalfonzo, editor of Dickensblog. She told me “A Christmas Carol “is a book that “has everything: great sorrow and great joy, corruption and redemption, poverty and pain, hope and love.” And “it expresses the deep belief that even the worst person can change for the better.”

“A Christmas Carol” is not merely a magnificent story, and its message is not confined to a “social gospel” teaching: Dickens points directly to Christ throughout. For example, Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, suggests that perhaps nothing about Christmas can be “apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin.”

And Tiny Tim expresses the hope that when people saw his lameness, “It might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk and blind men see.” This is, Gina points out, “a wonderful example of the biblical idea of God’s strength being made perfect in our weakness.”

Dickens’ classic shoots down the idea—prevalent in some Christian circles—that reading novels is a waste of time. They seem to forget that Jesus Himself was a master storyteller. For instance, He didn’t just say, “Come to the aid of those who need help.” Instead, He told a vivid story about a Samaritan who rescues a wounded man.

Chuck Colson once said that when it came to learning moral lessons, he was “much more impressed by profound works of fiction than by abstract theological discourses.” Scenes from some of the greatest stories ever told, he said, “have etched moral truths deeply into my soul. Their characters and lessons are so vivid I can’t forget them.”

And that is likely why so many of us will never forget the moral truths told through Ebenezer Scrooge, Fezziwig, Tiny Tim, and all the other memorable characters that populate Dickens’ great Victorian tale. It’s why we reject pamphlets that say, “Be nice to the needy” in favor of a good strong character bellowing, “Are there no prisons? [Are there no] workhouses?” Or the ghost of Scrooge’s partner, Jacob Marley, howling, “Mankind was my business!”

Dickens’ Christmas classic is more popular than ever. There’s a new film about how he came to write “A Christmas Carol,” called “The Man Who Invented Christmas.” And a writer named Samantha Silva has just published a novel titled “Mr. Dickens and His Carol.”

I do hope you’ll take time out to read, or re-read, the original, or read it aloud to your family. Who knows what great good may come of it?

And so I end this piece by saying—and you probably knew it was coming—“God bless us, everyone.”

 

The Enduring Power of “A Christmas Carol”: Hope, Redemption, Story

As Eric mentions, a good story has the power to bring moral truths alive for daily life, and Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” is a great example of that. Get the book for yourself or for a friend–it’s available at the online bookstore. And check out Gina Dalfonzo’s Dickensblog for more on the timeless works of this famous British author.

 

O Holy Night

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This is Christmas week, and so I thought we might reflect on the hymn, “O Holy Night” by John Dwight.

“O holy night! The stars are brightly shining. It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth. Long lay the world in sin and error pining, Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.”

Jesus came into the world to save us and so we feel valuable and our soul feels its worth. Perhaps the most quoted verse in the Bible is John 3:16. It tells us that Jesus came because “God so loved the world.” He came so that our souls would feel their worth to God.

( More ) 

O Little Town of Bethlehem and Calvary go together

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This is Christmas week, and I thought it might be worthwhile to spend a moment to reflect on the words to the hymn, O Little Town of Bethlehem. It was written in 1867 by Phillips Brooks (an Episcopal pastor from Philadelphia). He had been in Israel two years earlier and had celebrated Christmas in Bethlehem. He wrote this song to reflect on what the night of the birth of Jesus might have been like.

O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie! Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by. Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light; The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

While the streets of our cities are quiet on Christmas day, most likely that day was just like any other day for the people in Bethlehem. But as evening came, the town grew quiet and something remarkable took place.

In the second verse the hymn says, “While mortals sleep, the angels keep their watch of wondering love.” This is just like today. Our world goes about its business, usually oblivious to the spiritual realities around it.

( Read the rest of this commentary, here. ) 

The Joy of Anticipation

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Advent has been buried under a pile of twinkle lights, plastic reindeer, and the Grinch. Here’s why.

Once upon a time there was a little girl who wanted it to be Christmas every day of the year. A fairy granted her wish: every day, for a whole year, it would be Christmas Day.

And what that little girl learned in this funny story by William Dean Howells, is that you really can have too much of a good thing—way too much.

The little girl had a wonderful Christmas, filled with presents and turkey and plum pudding. And the next day, it was Christmas again! The gifts, the turkey dinner, and all the rest of it. After a few months, the little girl, seeing “those great ugly lumpy stockings dangling at the fireplace, and the disgusting presents . . . burst out crying.”

By then, writes Howells, “people didn’t carry presents around nicely any more. They flung them over the fence, or through the window.”

Joseph Bottum relates this amusing tale in his book, “The Christmas Plains,” drawing a parallel between the story and the way we celebrate Christmas today.

Even before Thanksgiving, Christmas songs blare from our radios; catalogs arrive even earlier. Department store Christmas trees often go up right after Halloween. After weeks of carols and cookies and parties, Bottum notes, Christmas “arrives as an afterthought: not the fulfillment, but only the end, of the long yule season…”

In effect, we are celebrating Christmas every day, just like the little girl in the story. And many of us get just as sick of this daily “Christmas” as she did, although we don’t fling gifts at people, I hope.

Now how on earth did this happen? Well, as Bottum notes, “every secularized holiday tends to lose, in public contexts, the meaning it holds in the religious calendar.”

Advent—the traditional lead-up to Christmas—has vanished, culturally speaking. Its disappearance has left “a hole, from Thanksgiving on, that can be filled only with fiercer, madder, and wilder attempts to anticipate Christmas,” Bottum writes.

Sadly, he’s right. If we want to celebrate Christmas properly—with “disciplined anticipation” as Bottum puts it–perhaps we need to cut back on all the secular celebrations (if we possibly can—they won’t go without a fight), and make the observance of the days of Advent front and center in our celebrations.

Advent “proclaims an advent—time before, looking forward—and it lacks meaning without Christmas” at the end of it, Bottum explains. Christmas, “in turn, lacks meaning without the penitential season of advent to go before it.”

This is why Advent celebrations, both at home and in churches, focus on scriptures that anticipate the coming of Christ.

In Micah, we read, “But you, O Bethlehem . . . from you SHALL come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel…”

And in Matthew, Joseph is told that Mary “WILL bear a son, and you SHALL call his name Jesus . . .”

Things like Advent calendars and crèches that remain empty until Christmas Eve “give a shape to the anticipation of the season,” says Bottum. And “a season of contrition and sacrifice prepares us to understand and feel something about just how great the gift is when at last the day itself arrives.”

Why not try an Advent devotional to guide you, such as ones by Tim Keller and John Piper? Or check out John Stonestreet’s “He Has Come” talks at the BreakPoint podcast. Make an Advent wreath with your children. And take time every evening to gather your family around, light the Advent candles, read the scriptures, pray, and sing some Christmas hymns that anticipate the coming of Christ.

And then when Christmas Day does arrive, we can greet it, not with a sense of relief that the Christmas “season” is almost over, but with joy for the great gift of Christ.

 

(This commentary originally aired December 7, 2016.)

 

 

Too Much Christmas, too Little Advent?: The Joy of Anticipation

Eric has presented some great suggestions to help re-focus us on the season of Advent. Click on the links below for resources to help in the observance of Advent and for teaching and reading materials during this special time of year.

 

Resources

The Christmas Plains

  • Joseph Bottum | Image Publisher | October 2012
The Dawning of Indestructible Joy: Daily Readings for Advent

  • John Piper | Crossway Publishing | August 2014
Hidden Christmas

  • Timothy Keller | Penguin Random Publishing| October 2016

A Date of Infamy

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Today is December 7 – a day that President Roosevelt said would be “a date which will live in infamy.” On that fateful morning of December 7, 1941, America was attacked without warning. More than 2,400 Americans died and 1,100 were wounded. Our country was changed forever. This attack led us into war, and the citizens of America responded with courage and resolve. So it may be well to reflect on what took place and how we today must also rise to the occasion of the attacks on America by Islamic extremists.

Today is known as National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day. It is a day when we honor the lives lost in that attack on Pearl Harbor and also honor the veterans of World War II. But it can also be a day in which we pay tribute to the men and woman who are currently serving in the armed forces in an effort to promote freedom and justice around the world.

( Read the rest of this spot-on commentary. )