Posted tagged ‘christmas’

Joy to the World: a non-Christmas Christmas Carol

December 9, 2016

Dr. Steven J. Callis


                JOY TO THE WORLD, THE LORD IS COME; LET EARTH RECEIVE HER KING!  This exuberant song of praise and celebration is arguably the best known and most loved of all the traditional Christmas carols.  It seems almost a travesty to exclude it from any Christian Christmas program, especially one which is musical in nature.

                Listen closely to the lyrics the next time you sing it or hear it.  Have you ever noticed that this great song mentions nothing of the baby Jesus?  There are no references to angels, shepherds, wise men, or the Bethlehem star.  I made a quick survey of the Christmas songs in our church hymnal, and this is the only one that says nothing specifically about the Christmas story!

                Silent Night, O Holy Night, The First Noel, Away in a Manger, O Come all Ye Faithful, and even the less often sung, all declare the supporting characters and events of the birth of Christ.  However, in the festive Joy to the World, we sing only about Jesus the King and declare His victory over sin, bringing joy to those who heed His voice.

                The great hymn writer Isaac Watts composed the lyrics of this song in 1719.  The fact making it such a unique Christmas carol is that it was not written about Christmas at all!  It was a song, not about the first Advent of Christ, but about His second Advent; the Second Coming.  The original title was “The Messiah’s Coming and Kingdom,” Watts’ interpretation of Psalm 98. 

                In 1741 George Frederick Handel composed the music, and over a century later Lowell Mason wrote an arrangement that has stood the test of time.  Information on when and why the song became connected with Christmas is scarce.  However, the lyrics truly do ring out the message of the true meaning of Christmas.

                Advent is not only a time of anticipating the coming of Christ as Savior, but also a reminder that believers and followers of Christ live in hope and expectation of Jesus’ second – and final – coming to redeem His bride, the Church.  Just as people awaited the coming of the Messiah over 2000 years ago, so we wait with expectation today for His return.

                And so we will be presented with several opportunities this Christmas season to sing with magnificent jubilation this song of triumph as we prepare to celebrate the birth of our Savior and declare our faith that He is coming again.  May you find true joy in Him this Christmas; a joy the world cannot take away.       


Martians, Earthquakes, and Reality

December 2, 2016

Dr. Steven J. Callis 

                Maybe it should have been broadcast on April Fool’s Day rather than as a Halloween episode.  News reports of an alien invasion by Martians were aired in 1938 titled, “War of the Worlds,” based on the H.G. Wells 1898 novel by the same title.  A radio drama directed and narrated by Orson Welles, it is said to have caused a mass panic, though some historians claim that “mass” is too strong a word because of the relatively small size of the radio audience.

                A similar event occurred in 1990, and the man at center stage was Iben Browning.  This report, however, was not a hoax or a drama program, but a genuine prediction of a major earthquake that was to transpire in the Mississippi Valley.

                With a doctoral degree in zoology, Browning worked in several scientific fields, including bio-engineering and “artificial intelligence”  – I will refrain from an attempt at humorous zingers here and let you insert your own. 

He eventually focused his interest and research on long-term weather forecasting and climate changes.  His prediction of a major earthquake caused considerable concern across the Midwest part of the country as residents and agencies prepared for a significant natural disaster that never came.  Experts examined his data and determined that his methodology was of a non-scientific character.

                Wikipedia describes him as being most notable for having made various failed predictions of disasters involving climate, volcanoes, and earthquakes, including the collapse of our government in 1992.  He wrote four books and held 90 patents.

                Since the first century, there have been approximately 175 official predictions of the end of the world; Armageddon, The Apocalypse, the second coming of Christ, and other similar terms of identification.  Nine of the predicted dates are still in the future. 

I appreciate the interest in the topic, and trust that the primary motivation is to prepare the general population for this climactic event.  However, speaking as the second person of the Godhead, Jesus declared that no one but the Father knows the time of the second Advent.  The repeated warning of the New Testament is to always be ready; be prepared and watchful, for it could happen at any moment.

Some people keep an emergency kit on hand in order to be prepared for crises such as power outages and water contamination.  The kit may include matches, batteries, flashlights, bottled water, non-perishable foods, and a battery powered radio.  They do not awaken each morning imagining that they will need the kit that day, but they are prepared if tragedy strikes.

Spiritual readiness works that way.  There is an awareness that Christ could return today, and we can live prepared for Him if it happens.  And it is that readiness which gives us purpose and mission to live each day with Him at the center of all we are and all we do.

Celebration of the first Advent, the birth of our Savior, is a reminder and an opportunity to prepare our hearts, evaluate the arrangement of our life’s priorities, and receive the coming of Christ.  Find a place of worship in your community this Christmas season and weekly hear the old but relevant story of God dwelling among us in the person of Jesus Christ.

Not Just Any Tree will Do

December 14, 2015

Not Just Any Tree Will Do – by Dr. Steven J. Callis

Selecting the right tree for Christmas is as important as selecting the right turkey for Thanksgiving, and I am ‘thankful’ that we do not settle for artificial turkeys that reappear annually! That reminds me, I guess it is time to take our tree down from the attic and get it decorated.

My dad loved Christmas – and trees. As a child we rarely had a “live” tree. I remember one year in particular when my dad decided to think outside the box, so to speak. That year he sprayed fake snow over the entire tree, completely covering it, and then added various sized hot pink ornament balls. The finishing touch was our old color wheel. It was different, indeed!

For our very first Christmas my wife and I drove out to Uncle Campbell and Aunt Maxie’s place to look for a tree on their property. We lived in a small apartment and finding the right tree was a challenge. The one we chose was beautiful – in front. The back of the tree was no longer among the living. However, strategically placed in a corner of our living room, one would hardly notice the flaw.

While there are stories that the Christmas tree has pagan roots (pardon the pun), the tradition of decorating trees at Christmas has always been a distinctly Christian tradition. The modern Christmas tree evolved from two Christian traditions in Germany in the sixteenth century. One was a “paradise tree” which was adorned with apples as a reminder of the tree of life in the Garden of Eden. The other was a triangular shelf holding nativity figurines and decorated with a star representing the star of Bethlehem. Eventually, these two symbols merged into the present Christmas tree tradition.

Of course, Thanksgiving is not all about the turkey, and Christmas is not all about the tree. We know that JESUS is the reason for the season. My family begins Christmas morning sitting in front of the tree, beautifully wrapped presents beneath it, and we read the Bible Christmas story and pray for our family, friends, church, community, and world.

In a way, our Christmas tree serves as a kind of altar where we lay our gifts before the Christchild and marvel in His Presence. The tree stands as a reminder of the One who is Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace.


December 19, 2014

Dr. Steven J. Callis

Christmas Shoes; a song released in 2000 by Christian artist, New Song.

Christmas Shoes; a Donna VanLiere novel published in 2002 by St. Martin’s Press.

Christmas Shoes; a made-for-TV movie that aired in 2002 on CBS.

Perhaps you are familiar with the story line these releases have in common, a heart-rending tale of a young boy who wants to purchase a pair of expensive shoes for his terminally ill mother so she will look beautiful when she meets Jesus. Explaining to the cashier the reason for his purchase, the boy realized that he did not have enough money.  A man standing in line behind the boy was stirred in his heart with the “true meaning of Christmas,” and paid for the balance of the purchase.

My Christmas Shoes story is different from that version.  My shoes were handmade by my grandmother.  In fact, she knitted a pair for each of her grandchildren that year.  MawMaw and PawPaw lived a simple life on a meager budget, but there was no doubt at all that they loved their grandkids.  We spent many fun days at their house.

Well, I opened my simply-wrapped Christmas present to find my knitted slippers; a lovely shade of pink with a single pink button on top of the toe.  I wish I could have seen the facial expression of this ten year old kid when he laid his eyes on those shoes!  My mom and dad understood my embarrassment, but not enough to release me from the obligatory trying on of the slippers.

MawMaw always wore this innocent and unassuming smile on her face.  I dared not look over at her for fear that I might hurt her feelings, but I am certain she was adorned with that grin of personal joy and satisfaction.  Even now, I feel somewhat ashamed that it would be the only time I ever wore those shoes.

Some of you are aware from previous writings how much I love my Dad.  Well, I loved his mom and dad, too.  We cousins laugh as we reminisce from time to time about MawMaw’s sugarless fudge (it only happened once that she forgot an important ingredient), or the Christmas she gave us all silly putty – we were teenagers – and other funny incidents.

I also remember her yummy treats, her teaching me to loom a potholder, her hugs and kisses on the cheek, letting us sleep over at their house, letting me feed her parakeet, her Bible reading and praying, and her funeral at age 103.  It is a little too late now, but I wish I had those Christmas Shoes to wear on Christmas morning.  However, I am glad to have my favorite memories of this precious lady, and the Christian heritage that she effectively passed on to her children and grandchildren.  Have a blessed Christmas!

Home for Christmas

December 10, 2014

Dr. Steven J. Callis

Walter Kent composed the music for the Kim Gannon lyrics, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” Bing Crosby was the first to record the song in 1943, and the single eventually reached #3 on the song charts. In December 1944, the Crosby recording was released by the U.S. War Department, and it touched the lives and hearts of America, soldiers and civilians alike.

The music composition easily fits that era and the solemn, somber spirit of the days during WWII. Longing to be home with family was a dream that many soldiers would merely have to dream, knowing that it would not be a reality that year. Saying “thank you” hardly seems adequate for those individuals who, then and now, will not be gathering around the Christmas tree with family this year, but instead are putting their lives on the line for “the folks back home,” but we offer a prayerful thanks, nonetheless.

I realize how blessed I was (and am) to be heading home for Christmas. If I had composed the music for that song, it would have included a banjo, guitars, fiddles, drums, harmonicas – – it would have been an up-tempo celebration of excitement. Even as a father with young children, I felt giddy deep inside as the car drew near enough to hear the Christmas carols of my favorite radio station from my home town.

Nostalgic feelings would flood my mind as we entered familiar territory, with landscapes and buildings and highways that once were my stomping grounds. It felt good to be home, sometimes finding the opportunity to reconnect with friends from the past.

Mom and Dad are in heaven now. Our children have grown and are out on their own. Two of the three never lived in Douglasville with us, so the only giddy they might feel at all is in seeing their parents. As for me? Well, I am a home-body. I like sleeping in my own bed, enjoying the freedom to raid the fridge and cabinets, relaxing in my recliner, watching Christmas programming on television; I like being home.

And with these necessary and expected changes over the years, I still get those giddy feelings inside. However, these days they are not centered so much around familiar places and precious memories. No, they come about as we near the town where our children live, or as their anticipated arrival time in our driveway approaches. Either way, that is when my childhood memories are replaced by memories of their childhoods, and in my heart I am still rocking them to sleep, reading stories to them, riding bikes, going to school plays, attending music recitals, and cheering for them at ball games.

I have grown into the reality that home truly is where the heart is. Wherever we choose to gather with them this year, I know I’ll be home. Let those giddy feelings begin!

Mystery Beneath the Tree

December 4, 2014

Dr. Steven J. Callis

I was a victim at the age of 7, and that incident is forever etched in my mind.  The first present beneath the tree that year was a long cylinder tube so beautifully wrapped, decorated with ribbons and bows at each end, and the tag had MY name on it!  I picked it up and held it when no one was looking, and something inside rolled from one end to the other as I tilted the package.

It taunted me night and day, even as a few other presents appeared alongside.  What could it possibly be?  My excitement and curiosity seemed to make the days pass even slower as I anticipated opening that one gift above all the rest.

I do not remember it being a family tradition, but that year my brothers and I were allowed to open one present on Christmas Eve before we went to bed.  No one was surprised to see me select that uniquely shaped present which I tilted a couple more times before tearing the paper to dispel the suspense.  I looked in the tube and saw a small object at the opposite end, and then gently let it roll towards me until it landed in the palm of my hand – –  a walnut!

A walnut!!!  Since that time, I have opened many “gag” gifts at Christmas.  My brothers and I reached the point that we felt slighted and unloved if Dad did not wrap at least one such gift for each of us every year.  It is one aspect of Christmas that we all miss since Dad died.  Of course, we still carry on the tradition in our own families, but my Dad was the master.

By the way, for those of you who are deeply concerned about the horribly culpable action on this poor, innocent 7 year old boy, they allowed me to open a consolation present.  I loved my new book from the Hardy Boys series

At some point Dad began to blame Santa by writing his name on the tags of those special gifts.  On an occasion or two, the “gag” was that the gag gift from Santa was not a gag at all, but something nice and useful.  We just never knew what to expect from Dad’s creative mind.

Yes, I was a victim.  A victim of my Dad’s love and sense of humor.  He loved the Christmas season: the decorating, the buying and wrapping, the lights and lawns and school pageants and church programs and foods and treats and sounds…and he instilled that love in his children.

Above all, he made certain we understood that Jesus, the Reason for the season, is not a gag at all.  He is joy, love, and life; the real thing.  He’s always available, always on time, and exactly what we need.  No returns or exchanges necessary.  He is, indeed, the greatest gift of all.

Too Much Christmas

November 18, 2014

Dr. Steven J. Callis

Edward Pola and George Wyle declared it to be the most wonderful time of the year.  Bon Jovi wishes every day could be like Christmas.  It truly is a fun and festive season of the year, one that tends to melt hearts and bring out the goodness and generosity of people.

It is exciting to be part of the drama that unfolds as Christmas Day approaches.  As I child, the few days between school letting out and the arrival of Santa seemed like weeks or even months!  In my family the area beneath the Christmas tree was barren most of the two weeks it was displayed before the Big Day, and quite sparse even on Christmas Eve.  Then Christmas morning arrived, and the number of presents had doubled or tripled overnight.  Oh, how exciting!

Some of you like to complete your Christmas shopping early, maybe as soon as January!  For the most part, however, John Q Public begins thinking about Christmas coincidentally with the stores and media, which seems to come earlier every year.  There is some indication that we go directly from Halloween to Christmas, and Thanksgiving barely receives an honorable mention anymore.

Some radio stations are already introducing Christmas music in their programming, and stores have been displaying trees and decorations for a few weeks.  They want us to be certain that we do not miss this most wonderful time of the year!

Not meaning to be critical, my apprehension is not so much with the commercialism or whatever motivates our stores and stations and town streets to begin the Christmas season in October or November.  Rather, I am concerned that people may become weary of the sounds and sights and aromas and bustle and sales ads, to the point that before it ever arrives they simply want it to be over.  Too much Christmas can make us numb to the true joy and meaning of the season, when the actual time arrives to celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

The oversaturation of Christmas hype can easily rob us of the peace and joy we find in the truest reason for the season.  Therefore, I will choose to slow down and take it in bit by bit, to the degree that my mind and heart can receive it with meaning, appreciation, and adoration.  I will not allow too much Christmas to spoil my appetite for the real Spirit of Christmas Day.  I hope you will join me.