Every year about 1500 volunteers gather on December 24that Building 910 on Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs. They arrive fifteen minutes before the start of their two hour shift to receive instructions and then move to one of four conference rooms where phone lines are set up. During eleven shifts, over 134,000 calls and over 6500 emails will come in from all over the world, (mostly the U.S. and Canada), from children and adults who want to know where Santa Claus is.
In the fall of 1977, I struggled mightily to get my Calculus grade from an F to a D. Worn out from a heavy academic load, I looked forward to flying to Idaho to spend the holidays with my girlfriend and my favorite aunt and uncle. Just weeks before leaving, I received a “Dear John” letter from Julie, graciously letting me know that she was seeing someone in California and wanted to break up. On top of that bad news, this was the last year that West Point had final exams after the holidays meaning I had much studying to do over the last two weeks of December. My heart was heavy and my mind was not on math. When I returned to New York I scored the lowest in the entire class on the Calculus exam, failed the course, and had to go to summer school.
On the day before Christmas, many get ready with last minute actions for tomorrow. For some it is a trip to the grocery store to buy baking ingredients. Others trek to the mall to find that elusive gift for someone special. This is a day of preparation and especially for children, one of anticipation.
On December 8th, Stephen celebrated his eighteenth birthday. I was in Colorado Springs and missed the big day. As I chatted with him on the phone, he shared about how his school would not allow him or his friends to use the words, “Merry Christmas” for an upcoming drama presentation. The reason the teacher gave him was that the school did not want to offend anyone.
Coffee Cottage is a popular coffee shop near George Fox University. One of their favorite draws for students is the free wireless service. Often I come in to find many tables occupied with folks writing papers or working projects on their laptops. But unless a person knew that wireless was free and available, they could work on their computer and have no idea they could access internet connection capability simply by asking for the password.
Tonight we sat in church and celebrated with hundreds a Christmas Eve service. There was good music and message and the proverbial ending replete with candles lit and singing Silent Night. Then we went home. I thought about how easy it is to be joyful when no one is shooting at you and the most treacherous aspect of the holidays is negotiating icy-snowy roads. How different it is for my friends in India, Kenya and Nigeria who have experienced the sudden upheaval of violence, barely escaping the hate of those who despise Christians.
Genesis 29:35--And she conceived again, gave birth to a son, and said, “This time I will praise the Lord.” Therefore she named him Judah. Then Leah stopped having children.
Leah was not the favored wife of Jacob. He was in love with Rachel and only married Leah through her father’s deception. Imagine how it must have felt for this woman to compete with her sister for her spouse’s affection. Yet, when God saw the plight of this unloved woman, He opened her womb. She bore Jacob six sons! The fourth son she named Judah, which is derived from the Hebrew word yadah,meaning praise.
William did an amazing thing this past Christmas. The eleven-year old son of Cindy and David carefully selected each Christmas gift for his parents and his older brother, Walt. The dynamics of this family are not unusual. The oldest son has close ties to his dad while the youngest is close to his mother. That is why William’s gift was so special. William desired to have a better relationship with his father. So he wrote David a touching letter that pointed out his own understanding of why their relationship was weak. Then he mentioned his desire to be close to his father. Inside the letter was $10 William gave to his dad to purchase a fishing pole so they could go spend time together as father and son—fishing.
I spent an hour and a half trying to travel two miles after an ice-storm struck Portland and stranded Christmas shoppers. Storms have an amazing ability to put things into perspective. What fragile creatures we truly are! In a power outage, people quit arguing over the appropriateness of “Happy Holidays” versus “Merry Christmas” and start thinking about staying warm. Buying presents takes a back seat to getting home without skidding off the road. Lights of every color some blinking some just brilliant, trees gaily decorated with trinkets and memorabilia, they are all nice. But they won’t keep me alive. Then it hit me, the real meaning of Christmas is LIFE! In the gathering storm, can we see that our survival is what God is after and not our need to enjoy His Son in diapers? Can we recognize that our happiness came at a horrific cost—a holy ransom!
A small crowd of perhaps a hundred gathered for the tree lighting. Four strands of multicolored lights ran up the 40-foot fir. The air was festive and the mood light. Christmas songs were sung off-key while boys and girls eyes roved frantically for Santa. One after another dignitaries walked forward and gave their remarks. Then the emcee asked the Chaplain to give the blessing.
December 25 began as a time of pagan celebration. The pagans knew that at this point in their calendar the shortest day and longest night had passed, that little by little the sun would rise higher and remain longer in the sky, bringing with it the promise of spring. The Emperor Aurelian (A.D. 270-275) capitalized upon the heathen worship of the sun and, in the year A.D. 274, officially declared December 25 as the birthday of the Unconquered Sun (dies natalis solis invicti).
“Merry Christmas!” she says as he picks up his bags. Her store seems to explode with activity as people rush to buy gifts. Jingle bells lag behind the more familiar ka-ching of cash registers. What bells toll in Venezuela where the wail of families looking for loved ones lost to torrential storms . . . Some are blessed and some are beaten as holidays descend upon a changing world.
Luke 2:13,14--Suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to people He favors!
We come to the time of year when Christians around the world celebrate the incredible birth of Christ. For many it is a time of giving gifts—a holiday ritual recognizing the second greatest gift of all time. What manner of love for those of His image--yet deeply flawed, possessed God to send His Son to be conceived a baby? What marvelous humility flowed from our omnipotent Lord that His Son should bypass the greatest of human protocols to be born in a smelly stable? Like the wisemen who followed the star, we trace the life and ministry of Jesus, joyful that His holy journey liberated us from the dungeon of sin. But there is so much more to His story, so much more to who He is.
It’s amazing what an angel will do. She sat on the low wooden bench and watched as the people passed by her. Her faded yellow dress did not match the orange socks pulled just below her knees. Tangled hair and a face unmarked by soap whispered her motherless fate. She held in one hand a beanie baby—a three legged dog, while in the other she clutched a mystery bag of who knows what treasure. Her feet lightly swung as if to some hidden melody. One shoe revealed a severed heel that if she walked would have flapped to its own rap. The other shoe no longer had lace long enough to tie a bow.
Matthew 2:9,10--After hearing the king, they went on their way. And there it was—the star they had seen in the east! It led them until it came and stopped above the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed beyond measure.