Posted tagged ‘christmas’

It Just Would Not Be Christmas Without Him

December 29, 2017

Dr. Steven J. Callis

 

These recent weeks have been filled with shopping, seasonal music, pageants, programs, Christmas goodies, cantatas, lights, trees, decorations, special parties and meals.  Thinking about family traditions of the season, complete this thought:  “It just would not be Christmas without…”

Presents.  Based on the time we spend shopping and wrapping, and the register in the checkbook, this is a huge part of the Christmas celebration.  At some point in life we make the transition to finding more pleasure in the giving than in the receiving.  Either way, the gift exchange is crucial.

Music.  Christmas songs have a way of lifting our spirits and putting a smile on our faces.  From the sentimental “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” to the hilarity of “Santa Looked a Lot Like Daddy,” song writers have collectively expressed the desires of our hearts and the merriment of the season.

Christmas Tree.  For most of us, Christmas morning is centered around the tree, covered with lights and ornaments and special decorations.  Beautifully wrapped presents find their place beneath it.  Until that time, we enjoy moments of gazing at the twinkling lights in anticipation of what is to come.  Such as it was, even Charlie Brown just had to have a tree.

Foods and sweets.  I remember my grandmother’s annual baking of her Christmas divinity and her delicious chocolate fudge; what a treat.  Will you enjoy the traditional Christmas ham again this year?  My choice never reaches the table, but those Italian Christmas trees always sound good to me (pepperoni pizza slices!)

My dad always enjoyed giving ‘gag’ gifts at Christmas, and blaming it on “St. Nick” or “The Jolly Fat Guy,” or “Santa.”  We have tried to continue the tradition, but Christmas somehow is not quite the same without my dad and his pranks.  Oh, how he loved the Christmas season!

In reality, however, it is Christmas even though dad is no longer with us.  Believe it or not, we can have Christmas without the music, and the presents, and the festive decorations, and the goodies, and the gags.  The reason it is Christmas is because Jesus was born.  God chose to lay aside His “God-ness” and take the form of a servant, teaching mankind how to love.

He still comes into our crowded, frustrated, confused, world that is bent towards egotistical living, selfish motives, and ungodly intentions.  He still chooses to live right in the midst of the messes and crises and fears of your life, guiding your steps and thoughts to the extent that you allow Him to do so.

I remember times of my childhood that we would tear open the gifts in a matter of only a few minutes, and then I would sit back and briefly experience the empty feeling that comes when I realized that the anticipation far outweighed the gifting.  I did not realize at such a young age the reason for such a let down, and I quickly ignored it ands began playing with the presents and calling friends on the phone to see what they received for Christmas.  Looking back, however, I know the reason for the emptiness: there is one place in each of us that only Jesus can fill.

Far too many people will awaken on Christmas morning and attempt to have Christmas without Jesus.  They may find temporary satisfaction, and a passing form of happiness; but He is the one who makes Christmas real.  In Christ is lasting joy and peace.  It just would not be Christmas without Him!

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Longing for a Silent Night

December 15, 2017

by Dr. Steven J. Callis

I love to sing the carol, though I am uncertain as to the accuracy of the title.  Nothing about the night itself was holy; except that God chose that time to enter the world with the ultimate solution to the sin and degradation that had disrupted the peace it was created to enjoy.  He brought holy to the ordinary.  The real questionable word in the title is that first word: Silent.

First, Scripture tells us that the town of Bethlehem was filled to overflowing with people.  It was toe-to-heal traffic walking through the marketplace.  There were no vacancies to be found in any of the hotels.  Crowds of people scurrying here and there will make noise!

Add to that the reason they were there in the first place.  As we might imagine, many people were disgruntled at the necessity of travel and a government-mandated enrollment.  Rome was the political center of the world at that time, and the ‘census’ was ordered, in part, to force universal allegiance to Emperor Augustus.  People traveled long distances to fulfill this decree; a pleasure trip it was not.

Mary and Joseph found a resting place in a dwelling meant for animals.  Animals are sometimes noisy, and often smelly.  This certainly was not the ideal atmosphere for bringing a baby into the world.  Further, most of our Christmas hymns highlight the role of the angels announcing the birth of the Christ; at one point, a multitude of angels, singing loud and strong in grand celebration.

No, God probably did not enter the world on a silent night.  In fact, it makes more sense that the One bringing peace to the world would do so at a time when peace was absent.  He came to a world in need of something it could not find or produce on its own.

People who are famous in the public eye have lived under the proverbial microscope for centuries, so it is nothing new.  With the significant and rapid development of our technological world, however, I cannot remember in my lifetime when nearly every action and every statement made by influential people – including those on both sides of the political aisle – is judged, criticized, and protested in a public, widespread forum.  Our society has become more selfish, spoiled, and vocal when they are not rewarded, which leads to a divided, restless, frustrated nation.  We are in a mess, and levels of tolerance are quickly diminishing.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow voiced our perplexity in the third stanza of his poem, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day:  “And in despair I bowed my head.  ‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said, ‘for hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men.’ ”

But the next stanza rings out with hope, “Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; the wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, good will to men.”

No, our world is not silent.  It is still a dark place much of the time.  There is sadness, fear, pain, and loneliness.  Just as God’s pure love could shine brightly on that first Christmas night, so He continues to come into our darkness, bringing peace and joy for all people.  No matter who you are, or where you have been, or what you have done, God’s redeeming grace is available for you.  Jesus, our Savior, the Prince of Peace, is born.

Things to Do while You Wait

December 11, 2017

by Dr. Steven J. Callis

WAIT! …So, how did you do?  Generally speaking, our society performs poorly when it comes to waiting.  During the summers of my college days, most of the correspondence with my girlfriend (the lady I eventually married!) was by written letter; addressed, stamped, and mailed via USPS.  By the time it reached her two or three days later, any news it contained was past news!

The amazing development of electronic mail made it possible to for people communicate more quickly.  Then along came cell phones and text messaging, and e-mail became the new snail mail!  If we do not receive a response to our text within a couple of minutes, we become antsy.  We do not like to wait!

Nevertheless, we are forced do it several times everyday.  Shopping lines, traffic lights, health facilities, restaurants, medical test results, television commercials that interrupt our favorite shows…as much time as we spend waiting, one would think we might be better at it than we are.

In fact, it has been estimated that the average person spends seven years of life waiting!  Can you imagine that?  So, what do you do while you wait?

Many people go to their trusty, handy cell phone.  In a doctor’s office waiting room this morning I noticed that more than one half of those waiting for their name to be called were using their electronic devices.  Were they playing games, sending messages, or maybe searching the internet?

I often take something with me to read, but today I decided to leaf through a magazine that was provided by the doctor’s office.  I have never really looked closely at a People’s Magazine, so this was an opportunity to do so.  After several pages I realized that I was already familiar with most of the information I was seeing.  I glanced back at the cover and saw the date:  December 4, 2007!

And most of us have waited patiently (or not!) at a green traffic light for the person in front of us to look up and see that the red light had changed. It causes me to wonder if the field of chiropractic will become much more lucrative and in demand in the near future because of how much time we spend looking down or hunched over peering into that small handheld screen.

The Christmas season – Advent – is a time of anticipation, of expectant waiting for the coming of Christ.  It is a time to prepare for the spiritual side of the vastly celebrated holiday.  It is a time that we seek to draw closer to Jesus and invite Him to draw nearer to us.

At the birth of Jesus that first Christmas, the religious world had been waiting for 800 years from the time it was prophesied that Messiah would come.  We can understand, then, why Magi would travel nearly 1,000 miles to worship the newborn King, shepherds would leave their posts, and angels would joyfully declare, “Glory to God in the highest…peace to all people.”  The waiting was over.

God still comes to His creation.  No, not as a baby; but He chooses to be involved in the lives of humankind.  Those who seek Him find that He comes every day to make Himself known, to extend His mercy and grace, and to express His love.

This is Advent.  What will you do while you wait?  Certainly you will do some shopping and gift wrapping and eating – but will you take time to truly seek the God of our salvation?  Will you endeavor to make room for Him in the busyness of the season?  Will you notice it when He comes to you?

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.

CHRISTMAS SHOES

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!