Archive for the ‘Christmas’ Category

 In the 4th century (300’s AD),  a man named Nicholas, wanted to serve God with his whole heart. His family was wealthy, but he didn’t want to live like a rich man. He wanted to help poor people, and help people come to know Jesus Christ.  Nicholas was born in a Greek town called Pantara.  When he grew up, he became a pastor in a Myra.  The area where he lived is now known as the country of  Turkey.  Nicholas love to worship Jesus. He spent his entire life helping the people in his church come to an understanding of why Jesus came to earth.

 One story of his generosity and caring for people helps us to understand what kind of person he was. There was a family in his village with three daughters.  They were very happy, and welcomed Nicholas, their pastor, into their home on a regular basis.  The father was a nobleman, and many times  sought Nicholas’ advice for decisions he needed to make.  One day, the nobleman’s wife became sick and died.  The man and his daughters were hard hit with grief. In fact,  the nobleman stopped asking Nicholas for advice, and began making impulsive and selfish decisions.   Soon, all his money was gone.  As the years went by,  he lost his large mansion.  He and his daughters had  to work in the fields to find food, and their home became  a small cottage. 

Now, in that day, young women could only marry if their parents could supply a dowry for them.  A dowry was a  sum of money that would help a newly married couple  not have to work so hard to make ends meet, and be able to get to know each other during the first year.  Well, the nobleman  no longer had any money; and no dowries for any of his three girls.  One night, Pastor Nicholas was invited for dinner.  He spoke to the  father, and offered to supply dowries for each of his daughters, out of his own pocket.

 “No,” replied the father stubbornly.

 “God will take care of us.”  Nicholas noticed during dinner, that  the girls had apparently done their laundry that day.  Stockings  had been hung by the fire to dry. That night,  the young pastor  climbed up on the roof of the house, and dropped three small bags of gold down the chimney.  As the story goes, God directed the  money – one bag into each girl’s stocking.  In the morning, the girls were surprised and overjoyed.  God had truly taken care of them!

 As news spread of Nicholas’ generosity, everyone in the village began  hanging their stockings by the fireplace at night, hoping  Nicholas would drop a gift down the chimney!  

Nicholas died in 340AD. His body was buried in Myra, but in 1087  Italian sailors purportedly stole his remains and removed them to  Bari, Italy, greatly increasing St. Nicholas’ popularity throughout  Europe.  His kindness and reputation for generosity gave rise to  claims he that he could perform miracles and devotion to him increased. St. Nicholas became the patron saint of Russia, where he was known by his red cape, flowing white beard, and bishop’s mitre.  Thousands of churches across Europe were dedicated to him and sometime around the 12th century an official church  holiday was created in his honor. The Feast of St. Nicholas was celebrated December 6 and the day was marked by gift-giving and charity. After the Reformation, European followers of St. Nicholas dwindled, but the stories were kept alive in Holland where the Dutch spelling of his name Sint Nikolaas was eventually transformed to Sinterklaas. Dutch children would leave their wooden shoes by the fireplace, and Sinterklaas would reward good children by placing treats in their shoes. Dutch colonists brought brought this tradition with them to America in the 17th century and here the Anglican name of Santa Claus emerged.

In 1822 Clement C. Moore composed the poem A Visit From Saint Nicholas, published as The Night Before Christmas as a gift for his children. In it, he portrays Santa Claus:

He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly,
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

Other countries feature different gift-bearers for the Christmas or Advent season: La Befana in Italy ~ The Three Kings in Spain, Puerto Rico, and Mexico ~ Christkindl or the Christ Child in Switzerland and Austria ~ Father Christmas in England ~ and Pere Noël, Father Christmas or the Christ Child in France. Still, the figure of Santa Claus as a jolly, benevolent, plump man in a red suit described in Moore’s poem remains with us today and is recognized by children and adults alike around the world.

In our home, we have a small cross-stitched picture we hang in the entryway at this time each year.  It is a picture of Santa Claus, hat in hand, at his knees at the side of the Christ-Child in the manger.  How simple it would be to resolve the debate over the Santa Claus symbol, if we all would just consider that picture in our celebrations……  For example, have you ever stopped to consider that in depicting Santa Claus, or Father Christmas, we have actually reproduced an emblem of the True and Living God?   He rides the wind in his chariot (Psalm 104:3);  He never sleeps, but keeps watch over us (Psalm 121:3-4);  He rewards the obedient (good) and disregards the disobedient (Deuteronomy 28); He gives gifts from above and shows no partiality (James 1:17); He tells us to ask Him for what we need (James 4:2); He will come in the “middle of the night” (I Thess. 5:2);  He keeps His promises (II Peter 3:9).

Why would we censure people from seeking this figure this time of year?  Why not enlarge who he really represents? Especially, dressed in the symbolic colors of red and white!! Blessings!

Remember:  There are many Santa Claus

figures out there this time of year.

The real Santa Claus

was/is the gift-giver who

loves and obeys Jesus first.

(c)2011 dcg/atg. Duplication without permission prohibited.  Thank you for your integrity.


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Did you know that the original Christmas gifts when given were  placed in a treasure box, or inside a vessel?   Paper was invented in China in 105AD, and since that day, gifts were wrapped. The method and procedure for making paper was kept secret by the Chinese for several centuries.  However, by 800AD, the process was known in Egypt.  Then, knowledge of the process spread to Europe, where the first paper mill began production in 1085.

In 1509, during the reign of Henry VIII in England, wallpaper was invented. For a short time, gifts were wrapped in wallpaper, but it cracked or tore when folded. By the early 1900’s, gifts were wrapped in plain brown paper, or tissue, and tied with cord or string. A reference to this practice is found in Richard Rodgers song lyrics for “My Favorite Things:”  “brown paper packages tied up with string; these are a few of my favorite things.”  Printed tissue paper in varied designs was also used.

In Kansas City, MO, a man named Joyce C. Hall owned a stationery store, selling his own card designs.  Hall is known for being the founder of the greeting card industry, but is also credited with the “invention” of present-day gift wrap.  Hallmark’s launch of printed gift wrap actually happened by accident.  Just before Christmas in 1917, the Hal Brothers’  store had sold out of the white, red and green tissue and one holly pattern for customers to use to wrap holiday packages. So, in an effort to help customers, Rollie Hall, Joyce’s brother, had an idea.  Why not bring some of the envelope lining papers from France, and sell them for 10 cents a sheet?  That year, they sold out quickly.  The next year, the sheets were offered 3 for 25 cents.  Again they sold out.  Soon, Hallmark began manufacturing their own wrapping paper; the first product they made as a departure from greeting cards.

In the 1930s, the brothers introduced Hall Sheen ribbon, which sticks to itself when licked like a stamp.  It is still the company’s most popular ribbon, even now. In 1970, they introduced jumbo plastic gift bags, and paper gift bags with hands in 1987.  Curling cascade ribbon was invented in 1994.  Today Hallmark is the leader of the giftwrap industry, in addition to greeting cards, and unique gift items.

“I never saw anything accepted so quickly,” J.C. Hall said in his autobiography, When You Care Enough. “We didn’t realize it then, but for all practical purposes, an entire new industry had been born. In fact, the decorative gift-wrapping business was born the day Rollie placed the French envelope linings on top of our showcase. Soon gift-wrapping paper became the first product we made that was a departure from greeting cards.”

When I wrap gifts, I am reminded of the Charles Wesley’s words in “Hark the Herald Angels Sing:” veiled in the flesh the Godhead see, hail the incarnate Deity.”  When someone receives a gift, they might remember temporarily how it was wrapped, but they will remember forever the gift inside. It is the gift that remains.  When we receive the gift of Life in Jesus, the outer trappings of image and status fall away, and His Life begins a transformation process with us.  The Holy Spirit changes our values, and our methods of relating to others. He calls us to growth.  He calls us to discipleship.  It is His Life that remains – for eternity.  And, in the process, we experience the Kingdom of God – Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Gentleness,  Long-Suffering and Self Control.

In essence, the Incarnation happens all over again.  Jesus comes to live His life in us — We become the Manger.

People may forget us, but they will remember forever what God does through our lives.  Blessings!

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Why do we give gifts at Christmastime? After all, for years, our children told us it was the best part of Christmas!  I’m sure most children feel that way—the anticipation, the excitement, the WAITING! What would it be like to observe Christmas Day, and NOT exchange gifts?  And yet, that is exactly what the early church did.

Originally, gifts were exchanged on different days, based on cultural traditions. For example, in the past, some countries have given gifts to each other in honor of Nicholas of Pantara, the pastor who became known as St. Nicholas, or Sinter Klaas. These gifts were usually gifts or acts done in secret to help those in need. Other countries waited until January 6th to give gifts to those they love.  These gifts were given in honor of the treasures given to Jesus by the wise men, or Magi, who came from the East (China, India, or other lands, undisclosed in the Scriptures).  In the Catholic church, January 6th was set as the day to remember the wise men who followed the star to Bethlehem to find the Christ Child; otherwise known as “The Epiphany,” meaning “The Manifestation, or Appearance.” Historically, the feast celebrated on this day observed three events:

1)      The appearance of Jesus as Who He is – God come in human form, recognized by the Magi.

2)      The disclosure of Jesus as Who He is – God who works miracles and brings all things together for good for those who believe, recognized by the servants of the house and his disciples at Cana, when He changed water to wine (His first miracle- John 2 ; Romans 8:28)

3)      Heaven’s endorsement of Jesus as Who He is – The manifestation of God on earth, recognized at his baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist.

In the first five centuries, the early church celebrated the Resurrection of Jesus in conjunction with Jewish Passover.  Next to that celebration, the most important became the Feast of the Wise Men.  Both holy days were remembered with prayer and fasting prior, and feasting and rejoicing on the day.  On the Day of the Feast of the Wise Men, many people were baptized, or even re-baptized, to renew their commitment to Christ during an age when the Church was just learning her identity. Also, during this feast day, the doorways of believers’ homes were sprinkled with water, as a symbol of the inner cleansing that occurs when a person gives all they have, and are becoming, to Jesus Christ in surrender. Over time, it became a practice to write over the doorposts of those homes, “C+B+M,” which meant  “Christ blesses this house (Christus bendicat mansionem).” Since the three gifts of the wise men were also remembered on that same day, someone decided to remember the Latin blessing with three initials – CBM.  Over time, these initials were given names – Caspar, Balthasar, and Melchior. The names stuck, and so did the concept that there were three kings who came to the house in Bethlehem.  In actuality, there was a company of more than 50, who traveled in caravan for two years or more to arrive in Israel, led by the “star.”

After the Reformation, as the Protestant Church moved away from the more formal liturgies of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, the concept of gift giving remained.  The quandary became, “when do we give gifts if we don’t celebrate the Feast of the Wise Men?”  For a time, the twelve days between December 25th and January 6th were known as “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”  Gifts were given on each day, similar to the practice of Jewish Festival of Lights, or Chanukah, also celebrated at this time of year.  During the years when this was a widespread practice, it was a small reach to teach those in learning that the Incarnation, (the indwelling of Christ in human form), marks the beginning place of growth and discipleship for believers. Subsequently, then, came the second lesson: Our life on earth is a journey, through which we follow the Light we receive, and in the end, we offer all of our treasures to the One Who came to rescue us.

During the Middle Ages, the feast of Christmastide, became more universal, incorporating the practice of gift giving to honor and remember the Gift of Life in Jesus, even by those who did not yet know Him.  By the mid-1800’s, the general practice of giving gifts to loved ones on Christmas Day, as well as the custom of secretly giving to help those in need, had melded into the celebrations on one day rather than twelve – Christmas Day.  In America, many writers of fictional works have added to the Christmas culture, shaping our celebrations and adding other aspects to the holiday.

For me, the key to giving gifts at Christmas, is not about what day I give them; nor is it about keeping up with traditions.  For me, gift giving at Christmastime, and any other time of year, keeps my heart open and filled with gratitude.  When the Season becomes a dry practice, or feels like a chore, I have to remind myself to step back and consider:  Why am I doing this?

And then it comes:  An Epiphany – Because Jesus gave, and I want to be like Him.

 (C)2011 atg/dcg.  Duplication prohibited without permission.  Thank you for your integrity.

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Did you ever hear the story about the new bride who went to cook a potroast? As she placed the meat into the roasting pan, she cut the end off of one side.  “Why do I do that?” she wondered. “I don’t understand.”  So she called her mother.  “Mom, why do we cut the end off the potroast?”

Her mother thought for a moment.  “I don’t know,” she replied. “I have just always done it that way. My mom did it too. Call grandma and ask her.”

So the new bride called her grandmother.  “Grandma, why do we cut the end off the potroast?” The answer was a moment of silence, broken by a small giggle.  “You’re still doing that?” the grandmother asked.

“Yes, I was making a potroast, and I wondered why we cut the end off of it.  Mom did it, and that’s how she taught me to do it.  Do you know why?”

The grandmother’s giggle had become a chuckle. “My pan was too small, and we couldn’t afford a larger one.  So, I cut the end off the roast to make it fit.”

Sometimes in the midst of years of liturgy, the original intent behind certain traditional practices can be lost.  When that happens, all that remains is an empty practice.  When this happens, valuable history and lessons learned can be lost forever.  By the same token, when we do something without realizing why — our actions have no meaning except to just repetitively copy what has “always been done,” without enjoyment or meaning. In fact, we can attach wrong meanings and symbolisms to events just because we are wrongly taught.

 Over the next few days, I want to try to post the results of some of my research of the history of the Christmas Season…. I have already posted some of these on my facebook site, but will try to enlarge them in this space, as time allows.

Many times, in the midst of the stresses of the Holiday (or holy day) Season, we can allow ourselves to become “squeezed.”  In so doing, we forget to teach our children the why’s of what we do — passing the baton of honoring the past; lessons learned; joys rekindled — After all, the purpose of celebrating; any celebrating; is to call to mind something we are giving thanks for.  For instance, when God instructed His people to remember Feast Days, it was for the purpose of teaching the present generation the lessonslearned by their elders. In saying this, let me include here that our celebrations of Advent, and Christmas, and any holiday, are to provide a learning environment for the next generation….. We hear it all the time, “Christmas is about the kids.”  Even in our remembrances of those who have less than we do this Season, we consider the children of families, and what they need or want this time of year…. Without those shiny eyes of wonder, many of us just stop celebrating — “It’s too much work,” we say.

Advent, which means “Waiting,” was originally designed by church leaders to help followers of Jesus Christ prepare their hearts for the coming of a New Beginning (otherwise known as the New Year).  In the earliest days, it was a time of prayer and fasting, which began on November 11th, on the Feast of St. Andrew.   Advent is traditionally the season when the church begins celebrating the manifestation of the Only Living God come to earth in human form.  Even today, in the most Orthodox of churches, the follower of Christ is asked to assess the state of their living practices and their heart in light of the Return of Christ.  As a New Year approached, believers asked themselves:  What healing and cleansing was needed to enable a more intimate spiritual experience with Christ as they moved into the New Year?  In the Middle Ages, families would enact a play depicting the choice of Adam and Eve in Eden to sin; which ended with the prophecy of a coming Savior who would rescue the world form the inevitable death their choice had ushered into the planet.

Many statements have been made about whether December is the actual month when Jesus was born.  Some historians believe Jesus was born in the spring in Israel — However, the temple flocks were moved to Bethlehem in the fall of the year, and these were the sheep tended by shepherds at night; lambs being raised for sacrifice.  Records indicate that Caesar Augustus mandated the census to be taken in late October.. so those who oppose the holiday are correct…. The problem however, is that many who hold this opinion have ceased to celebrate the coming of Christ at all.  Christmas is about the Incarnation – it doesn’t realy matter WHEN we celebrate.. the point of what we pass on to the next generation is THAT the Incarnation is WORTH CELEBRATING!

For example, this is the only time of the year when I can walk into a grocery store and hear the name of Jesus sung over the airwaves. Even in environments who are “politically correct” the rest of the year, we hear lyrics from traditional carols — “Glory to the newborn King,” “Christ the everlasting Lord,” “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see,”  just to name a few lines we all know and recognize. 

As we approach the actual Christmas Day, let me challenge you to consider what your children are learning about Jesus this time of year — everywhere we look, there are opportunities to share the gospel…. How will you be “Jesus with skin on” to those around you during these weeks and days?

 More to come. Blessings!

(c)2011 dcg/atg.  Duplication without permission prohibited.  Thank you for your integrity.

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