Your Christmas Eve message

A pastor’s Christmas Eve message will have a flavor all its own. Because of the relaxed nature of the evening, the sermon is often directed toward the child in all of us. Hence, the following….

My friend Annette loves to pass along to me her assignments.  Her Mississippi church frequently invites her to give a talk on this or that, and she messages for my take on that subject. She uses nothing I do verbatim, but I suspect some of my responses provokes creative ideas in her.

Some of the most interesting pieces on our website were instigated by Annette.

The other day her message said, “I have to explain the Christmas story to children ages 4-11 in my church. Help!”

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Now, take Christmas. That’s certainly not how I would have done it.

(With tongue firmly planted in cheek, let us rethink this greatest of all stories.)

What was the Lord thinking, doing Christmas the way He did?

A Baby is born to an unwed couple after a long, arduous journey.  The cradle is a feeding trough in a stable in Bethlehem.  Welcoming committees of shepherds and foreigners show up. A murderous king sends his soldiers to slaughter babies. The young family flees to Egypt.

And thus Jesus arrives on the scene.

Admit it.  You would not have done Christmas that way.  It’s not just me.

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Christmas Wondering

“In the same region, shepherds were staying out in the fields and keeping watch at night over their flock.  Suddenly, an angel of the Lord stood before them….” (Luke 2:8ff.)

I wonder a lot about that first Christmas.

I wonder about the shepherds Luke told us about, the men tending their sheep throughout the night in the field outside Bethlehem.

What a magical moment this must have been for them.  I wonder what that was like.

As a farm boy, I can imagine myself outside in that field with them. I’ve kept the calves and cattle, the pigs and the mules and horses. I could keep sheep. It’s basically unskilled labor, we’re told. My pastor said last Sunday that shepherds in Judea ranked on the social scale one notch above lepers.  I could be a shepherd.  What would that have been like that night?

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The report from Bethlehem: A shepherd signs in

“Now there were in the same country shepherds abiding in their fields by night….” (Luke 2)

(Herewith we present a report from the youngest shepherd of that fateful night in the field outside Bethlehem, with the occasional editor’s remark in italics.)

I was not supposed to work that night, it being a school night. My friend Elihu asked me to fill in for him.  Now, my father is not real thrilled with me hanging out with some of these characters who work night shifts with the sheep.  Shepherding is the ultimate unskilled labor and only those who can’t do anything else–or hesitate to show their faces in public in the day–need apply.

But Father knows I’m a good student and agreed that we could use the money.

Anyway, that’s how it happened that I had the most amazing experience of my young life.

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Something for everyone in the Christmas story

“Now, the birth of Jesus came about in this way….” (Matthew 1:18).

Do you like a true-life adventure story?  This one is the best. It’s found in only four chapters in the Bible: Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2.

You like genealogies?  Then check out the birth narratives about our Lord Jesus. See Matthew 1:1-14 and also Luke 3:21-38.

You like mysteries?  Try to figure out how those two lists of ancestors works out for the lineage of Jesus.  If you finally give up, then (and only then) go to a commentary written by a Bible-believing scholar. Your church library probably has several.

You are a history student?  Then check out Luke 2:1-3 where “the beloved physician” gives the historical setting for the birth of our Lord. Then, move up one chapter and see how Luke does the same thing for the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry some three decades later.

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The Christmas some guys got together and did a man-thing.

“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the King, wise men from the east arrived unexpectedly in Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him'” (Matthew 2:1-2).

Only men would have done what the Magi did. Only a group of buddies, men friends all on the same page, all of them sharing the same drives and curiosities and interests, only such a band of brothers would have gone to such lengths simply to see a Baby.

It’s a man thing.

If that sounds condescending to the women in the audience, I apologize, but it’s the truth.  Women talk about this all the time, how men do crazy things, disregarding the risk, seemingly not caring about the trouble they are causing everyone around them.

Women laugh about the typical male-epitaph which reads, “Hey, what do we have to lose?” or “Hey, guys–watch this.”

First, why did they do it?

The greatest puzzle of the Magi story to me is not the star they followed (was it a comet or an unusual alignment of stars or something never seen before?), not their origin (were they from Persia? or somewhere else?), and not even the religious significance (did this really fulfill Numbers 24:17? were they astrologers? what does it mean?), but simply why they did what they did.

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My worst Christmas sermon

I was 21, a college senior, engaged, and had been called into the ministry.  But so far, no opportunities to preach had opened up.  After all, I was attending a Methodist college and planning to be a Baptist pastor. Not exactly standard preparation.

Then, Rock Creek Baptist Church outside Double Springs, Alabama, called. Well, actually, Pastor Everett Wilson called.  My brother Ron was his Sunday School superintendent and no doubt had put a bug in his ear.

After Margaret and I spent the night at my folks’ farmhouse, on Sunday morning we drove to Rock Creek, arriving in time for Sunday School. (Hey, no one had told me the preacher did not have to attend Sunday School!)

We sat in with the young people, which was our custom at West End Church in Birmingham and it seemed the thing to do. What I did not count on, however, was my presence intimidating the teacher. So, she took the easy way out.

She asked me to teach.

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The other reason I believe so strongly

“Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descendant of David, according to my gospel….” (II Timothy 2:8)

Asking thoughtful believers why they are so dadburn confident of the truth of Jesus Christ will result in a hundred different answers.

My pastor says for him, it’s the Lord’s resurrection. It’s as historically verifiable as anything in ancient times and perhaps more. And if Jesus rose, then He’s still alive and how good is that!

In a recent blog here, I said that to me the scriptures “fit” and  just “feel right,” providing the number one assurance for this country boy. I recognize the arbitrary and subjective nature of that, but there it is.

Other reasons believers give range from the archaeological evidence to the miracles they’ve experienced or their grandma’s testimony.

But there’s something else that looms large in my mind, a fact that dominates almost everything else.

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All I want for Christmas

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son….”

A few years back, the minister of music and I decided to try something different on the last Sunday night before Christmas. We had done all the pageants and children’s musicals and there was nothing more that just “had” to be done. So, Ken and I came up with the idea of a “homespun Christmas,” where anyone who wished could come to the microphone and sing a Christmas carol.

After all, what could happen other than a few tone-deaf members grating on our ears? Hey, it was a Sunday night. What did we have to lose?

We ended up with an irregular collection of performances. A dad and his son sang a duet that hit the occasional correct note, but they were charming and everyone loved it.  A family sang harmony and blessed the crowd. There were solos and a little karaoke-type stuff. But one number in particular was unforgettable.

Someone in our congregation had put out the word that “just anyone” could come and sing. So they did.  No one knew those two teenage girls. I think they came from the other side of the metro area, maybe 25 miles away.  Their short dresses indicated they were not regulars in our church or possibly in anybody’s church.

They sang a rather seductive version of “All I want for Christmas is you” that would not have been out of place in a smoky barroom. (Anyone unfamiliar with the song will have no trouble finding it on youtube.)

Brother Ken sat there wondering what act could best follow this and what he should say about this song.

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Joy to the World!

“I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be to all the people….” (Luke 2)

God is a God of great joy.

There is great joy in God’s presence. (Psalm 16:11)

That joy has a name: Jesus Christ.

Wherever Jesus Christ is honored, joy is the dominant element in the atmosphere. (Acts 8:8 and 15:3)

When Jesus Christ enters a life, that person is filled with joy.

Joy is the flag flown from the castle of your heart to show the King is in residence.

Joy is something other than happiness, for that quality depends on happenings.  The joy of the Lord is of a higher quality and superior to all others.

The joy of the Lord is the strength of His people.  (Nehemiah 8:10)

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