A Celebration of Christ’s Birth


A hushed anticipation of Christ’s birth settled over the sanctuary as we entered.  The stained glass windows appeared muted without the day’s sunlight to shine through them.  The lanterns hanging from the rafters cast a diffused glow over the assemblage, not quite illuminating the entire room.  The majesty of the moment held me in transfixed anticipation.

Soon, the chords of the first Christmas hymn rang forth
(select each song to share in this experience):

O come, o come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel...

Midst the reading of the story of Christ’s birth, we sang the songs related to each part of His coming:

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.  (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

Luke 2:1-7

Away in a Manger,
no crib for a bed…

O Little Town of Bethlehem
How still we see thee lie

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Luke 2:8-14

The first noel, the angels did say
Was to certain poor shepherds in fields way they lay…
(Be sure to click play with this link)

Hark the herald, angels sing
Glory to the newborn king…

Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet, And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel. Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also. When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.

Matthew 2:1-12

Joy to the world, the Lord has come,
Let earth receive her king!

And finally, as the joy and reverence and awe crescendoed in the night, ushers turned down the sanctuary lights, leaving the minister at the front of the church holding one lit candle representing Christ who came to be the Light of the world.  Two ushers came forth and each drew light from the one, and row by row, Christ’s light passed from person to person.  From candle to candle.

The beauty of the candlelight drew us deeper in the reverence and awe of the birth of  Christ.  We sang:

Silent night, Holy night,
All is calm, all is bright
Round you virgin, mother and child
Holy infant, so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace.

We sang all of the verses, the glow of the candle flames dancing in the breath of our hymn.

At the end, the minister told us to:  “Go in peace and spread the great tidings that Jesus Christ was born.”

We exited, a profound hush settled over us.

This is how I spent my Christmas Eve’s as a child.  The candlelight service at my church grounded me in the truth of the season.  For a time, I forgot Santa Claus and the gifts under the tree.  The holiness of this service held me in its splendor well into the evening.


As you go into the night, remember:

Peace on earth and great joy to men!

Christ is born!

Note:  I Do NOT own the copyrights to any of these songs.
Thank you to all who have posted links to these beloved hymns.
Please support their work.

If you only watch one clip, watch the one for The First Noel.

Apologies for any ads that appear in the video links.
I tried to use links without them.


Houses Divided at Christmas

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Many people suffer from depression during the Christmas season. Some are experiencing their first Christmas after a loved one has died. Others worry about the family dynamic on Christmas day–Will Uncle Ralph pick a fight?  Will Cousin Sarah get drunk? For others, the limitations of getting everyone together can create stress and disappointment.

Anyone who’s divorced with children knows the heartache of Christmas. Where will the children be? How do we divide up the time? As the children grow up, marry, and start their own families, it becomes even harder. Which family will they spend Christmas with? Who will we have to leave out? Add to this married children of divorce who have married a child of divorce, and the problem is staggering.

Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three… Luke 12:51-52

Even though these verses don’t refer to this specific situation, this is another example of why divorce is not God’s plan. We are facing it, ourselves. After many years of Christmases with most of our family gathered together, we’ve hit an interesting crossroads. One child is saving her money to come home for a wedding in April, instead. The others are headed to various family members’ homes, just not ours. Aging parents can’t make the trip.

I know Christmas is not about who is where. It’s about the birth of Christ, and the world’s awareness of God’s gift of salvation. It’s a time of blessings.

But it’s also a time when families gather together.

So, we will be trying out new traditions this year. New ways of approaching the day. On the plus side, we won’t have to rush to get dressed and get the turkey in the oven before family arrives. We can take it slower. And we will see most everyone over the next week. We get a prolonged Christmas.

Someone you know is facing a Christmas alone or separated from loved ones. Reach out to them, share with them your lives, and, most importantly, share the story of Jesus and the hope he brings.


A Lesson From World War I: Christmas in July

lovecloudSometime ago, a dear friend and former pastor of mine, Carl Lancaster, added a “musings” addendum to our church’s prayer list.  He’s been emailing the prayer list to our members for many years now, and I enjoy the times he adds his own thoughts after the prayer requests.  Although this muse from him was based on the upcoming Christmas season, what he says is apropos to us today.  I have slightly edited it to make it current, but otherwise it appears as Carl wrote it.

A little over 100 years ago, Christmas of 1914, World War I had been underway for 5 months.  The Germans were fighting the British, the Belgians and the French.  They were fighting in trenches that were not that far apart.  It had rained a lot so there was mud everywhere. It turned bitterly cold where they were fighting in Belgium and France. In all the mud and the cold it was a miserable existence for everybody.

On Christmas Eve the Germans began singing, “Stille Nacht’ (Silent Night).  The allies applauded noisily and yelled, “more!, more!”  They then took turns singing Christmas Carols and the allies moved on to sing the German anthem and the Germans sang the British anthem.  After they had peeped out of their trenches without getting shot at they began meeting each other on the land between the trenches.  They traded food, tobacco, buttons from their uniforms and other souvenirs.  They discussed the best way to deal with the body lice and the rats and showed each other pictures of their families.  In many areas no shots were fired that night, Christmas day or the day after.  When the commanders heard about this they were irate and forbade any further fraternization with threats of court martial if anyone disobeyed.  Yet it was reported that in some areas soldiers continued to shoot over the heads of the opposing army as late as February!  They had come to recognize their common humanity and consequently had no desire to kill each other!

I have lived through World War II, the Cuban Crisis, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, two Iraq Wars and the Afghanistan War.  However, throughout my life at no other time have I ever heard so much hatred expressed against others even including against others within our own country.  At no time, have I ever know of so many people in so many parts of the world being so intent on destroying, in the most brutal way possible, their fellow human beings!
We remember and celebrate the Prince of Peace in our lives, so isn’t it time for us to declare a truce, a cease fire and to promote peace and goodwill rather than enmity and hate?  It seems pretty evident from the Bible that God does not want those who wear the name of his son to promote strife, enmity and hatred!  Rather He wants love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self control practiced and promoted!
I challenge you to resolve to do what you can to avoid anything that would promote enmity or hate toward any person or any segment of
humanity. I further challenge you to resolve not to give audience to, encourage or listen to anyone who promotes enmity or hatred toward anyone, whether it is toward a political party, a race, a nationality or a religion. God doesn’t expect us or want us to agree with everybody.  Rather he wants us, not by enmity and hatred, but by our love and goodwill to change them for the better even including our enemies!  Our very nature gives us the same message. There is no inner peace or joy for the person whose heart is filled with hatred!
NOTE: I, myself, take responsibility for all these remarks.  No one asked me to write them.  I am not writing them to point a finger at anyone.  I was moved when I read again the story of that cease-fire at Christmas 1914!  I am concerned with all the hatred that being voiced in our own country.  If Christian people don’t do anything to promote love and goodwill, then who will????
Carl Lancaster is one of the wisest men I know. I’ve always respected him, and, for that reason, over twenty years ago, Bruce and I asked him to officiate our marriage. I’ve never know a man who understands people as well as he does.