Welcome to the December Archive. You are welcome to read the entire archive, or find a topic on the list below that is of interest to you. Just click the link, and you will be taken directly to the day it was written. Enjoy, and may you know God's peace as you read His Word.
    You are welcome to use these writings or pass them on. All we ask is that in all things you remember the Author and give Him the glory, and remember this vessel which He has used to bring them to you. Peggy Hoppes











Living God


Living Water


















Scripture quotes taken from the American Standard Version

A WORD FOR TODAY, December 2003

December 1, 2003

Czechoslovakia  Music plays a very important role all over the world during Christmas celebrations. Caroling in the streets, choral services at church and singing around the fireplace is the one way Christians throughout time and space have found to join together in worship and praise of the God who loves so much as to give His Son for the sake of the world. We all have our favorite Christmas carols that we enjoy hearing - both religious and all the other fun songs that have come out of the season.

One old time favorite is the song about Good King Wenceslas. This song is based on the real life of a king of Bohemia, located in what is now known as Czechoslovakia. As the story is told, King Wenceslas was a kind and good man, a believer in Christ our Lord. His mother despised his faith and his brother killed him because of it. He is the patron saint of Czechoslovakia. In the song we hear the story of an act of kindness by the king. He saw a poor man trying to locate wood for his small hearth in the dead of winter. The king gathered a feast and traveled through a blizzard to feed the hungry man. When his page became cold, the king told him to follow in his footsteps, for there he would find the way easier. The page found warmth in his master's footprints and was able to go on. Thus we hear the message of Christ, when we follow in Christ's footsteps, we find blessings we cannot imagine.

"Be ye therefore imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, even as Christ also loved you, and gave himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for an odor of a sweet smell." Ephesians 5:1-2 (ASV)

Wenceslas lived in the 10th century, in a castle that was near Prague. Though the castle is long gone, there is a tree that was supposedly planted on the day of his birth and watered with his bath water. He was young when he became duke, so his mother ruled as his regent. She refused to give up her power, hated Christians and persecuted them. She was overthrown, but Wenceslas always struggled against those who were displeased by his desire to share his Christian faith. He only ruled five years and was murdered in 929.

The Christmas celebration in Czechoslovakia is a quiet and peaceful time with the activities revolving around church activities. Families attend a Pasterka, a midnight mass on Christmas Eve to welcome the Christ child. They fast for a day and then feast on cod roe soup. The Christmas celebration lasts for three days. The young girls practice one unusual tradition; they put cherry twigs in water on December 4th. If the twig blooms before Christmas, the girl will be married in the next year. St. Nicholas, known in Czechoslovakia as Svaty Mikalas, visits the homes of good boys and girls. He comes to earth by climbing down a golden rope with an angel and the devil. Bad children receive switches from the devil. They come on St. Nicholas Day, which is December 6.


December 2, 2003

Iran  Gift giving is a tradition is many countries. Though the traditions behind that practice differs from country to country – some give presents around St. Nicholas day, others around twelfth night. The folk tales about those who bring the gifts are diverse. The saint is credited in some countries, a character such as Santa Claus in others. There are also stories about angels and witches. Even the three kings or wise men deliver gifts to some children. Most of these traditions have revolved around the story found in Luke about the magi who visited the baby Jesus in the stable. They brought gifts; so many Christmas celebrations include gift giving.

The wise men are believed to have come from Persia, modern day Iran. The gifts they brought had great significance for the newborn child, prophetic in its defining Jesus as both King and Priest, and giving the holy family enough to survive their escape to Egypt. Their gifts of gold, myrrh and frankincense were the first and many Christians have followed their example over the years by giving to others. It is interesting to note that though this is the origin of so many traditions, the Christians of Iran do not give presents for Christmas. The children do receive new clothes for the holiday and take great joy in wearing them.

The main tradition for Iranian Christians is a time of fasting. In the early days of the Church, Advent was used as a period of repentance and preparation for entrance into the fellowship of believers. Baptisms were held on Christmas Eve. The Christmas fast, called the “Little Fast” begins on December 1 and lasts until December 24. The “Big Fast” takes place through Lent. They people eat no animal products – meat, eggs, milk or cheese. The people gather together very early, at dawn, on Christmas morning to receive communion and then the celebrate the “Little Feast.” To break their fast they eat a feast of a chicken stew called harasa.

“Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may be seen of men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have received their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thy head, and wash thy face; that thou be not seen of men to fast, but of thy Father who is in secret: and thy Father, who seeth in secret, shall recompense thee.” Matthew 6:16-18 (ASV)

It may seem odd to those of us that center so much of our holiday celebrations around food, that others would choose to fast through this time of waiting and wonder. Yet, the world in which the Iranian Christians live is so different from life in much of the world. They are few in number; perhaps only 1% of the population in Iran is Christian. As we can see in the biblical stories from that region, fasting is often used for times of waiting, in preparation for what is to come. For the Iranian Christians, the month long fast helps them to focus their hearts and minds of the coming of their Lord in the manger in Bethlehem. It is a time of excitement and expectation that culminates in the worship of Christ Jesus on Christmas Day.


December 3, 2003

New Guinea  Writers use conflict to draw you in, make you interested and pull you along so that you will listen to their story. This is true of any type of writing – children’s books, television, movies and even comic strips. Sometimes the conflict is light and humorous. At other times it includes anger, violence and danger. Without some sort of conflict, the story is boring and the viewer quickly loses interest. In drama, particularly of the political or action genre, the conflict is often caused by some event surrounding the child of a lead character – the president’s daughter is kidnapped, a bomb harms the agent’s son. This gives the hero the motivation he or she needs to fight the bad guys and win.

In ancient days and some not so ancient times, children were used for political and military purposes. Many marriages were made in an effort to unite kingdoms and enlarge borders. Infant daughters were promised to much older heirs to a throne and reared to be queen of that country. In other places, children were offered in sacrifice to a god or for the sake of a political alliance. Many treaties were built on the promise of a ‘peace child,’ a youngster from a clan or a kingdom given to another to guarantee peace between the two people. The peace child was given to the neighboring clan with the promise that nothing would happen to the youngster. If harm came to the child at any time, the treaty was broken and the people could take revenge for the life of the child. Usually, both sides would offer children, hostilities would return when they were grown until a new treaty could be made.

New Guinea is a country whose people mostly live in small villages. There was often bitter fighting between people from neighboring villages over some aspect of their lives – water rights, borders, or property protection. The chiefs would often exchange their infant sons to keep the peace between their villages. These children were like adopted sons, cared for by their adopted families. If not, the fighting would begin again. A Canadian missionary used this practice when sharing the Gospel with the native people of New Guinea. He told them of God’s Son, who was sent as the peace child.

“For he is our peace, who made both one, and brake down the middle wall of partition, having abolished in the flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; that he might create in himself of the two one new man, so making peace; and might reconcile them both in one body unto God through the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: and he came and preached peace to you that were far off, and peace to them that were nigh: for through him we both have our access in one Spirit unto the Father.” Ephesians 2:14-18 (ASV)

The people in New Guinea focus on Christ as the peace child in their Christmas celebrations. He came to break down the walls between people, offering grace and peace to all those who hear His voice and joining them into one body. When the people heard the story of Christ, the Prince of Peace, they became Christians and began spreading the word of the most wonderful – and lasting – peace child they would ever know.


December 4, 2003

Denmark  There may be no other place that celebrates Christmas with such joy and love as in Denmark. Since Denmark is located so far to the north, the days are extremely short and darkness covers the land. But the Danes do not let it get them down, they cover everything with candles to overcome the darkness – so many that the Danes burn more candles per capita than any other country in the world. Even more than the beauty of the lights is the joy that comes from hospitality and fellowship with family and friends. They put a light in the window as an invitation to passersby, so that they will know they are welcome to come and enjoy the good things of Christmas with that family.

Their Christmas trees, which are decorated on Christmas Eve and lighted after dinner, are piled high with gifts because they give something to everyone, not just immediate family. If visitors come to visit, they are welcomed with the smells of cookies and cakes, which are always available. They believe that if someone leaves their home at Christmas without being fed, the visitor will take Yule spirit away with them. So, the kitchen is a place of constant activity as more good things are prepared for any guests that may come along. A recipe given by a Danish housewife might yield three to four hundred cookies!

People are not the only ones who enjoy the hospitality of the Danish people. On Christmas Eve, dishes of seeds are set outside the door for the birds. They even leave a treat for mischievous elves that live in the barns or in the attics of their homes. This treat, rice pudding with cinnamon called grod, is the most important part of the Christmas meal. This pudding is the first thing they eat, and there is an almond hidden in one portion. The person who finds the almond receives a special reward, usually a treat of marzipan. A portion of the grod is left for the Julnisse, the mischievous elf so that he will not play too many jokes on the family and will watch the household for the next year. The idea of Santa Claus came to Denmark in the 20th century and since that time the Julnisse have helped Santa deliver toys to the children. The Christmas celebration begins on Christmas Eve and continues until the day after Christmas, homes often filled with people, food, singing and joy. Those without families are invited to the homes of friends, so no one is left alone during the festivities. It is indeed a time to love one’s neighbor.

“And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and made trial of him, saying, Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? And he said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou? And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself. And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live. But he, desiring to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbor? Jesus made answer and said, A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho; and he fell among robbers, who both stripped him and beat him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance a certain priest was going down that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And in like manner a Levite also, when he came to the place, and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he was moved with compassion, and came to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring on them oil and wine; and he set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow he took out two shillings, and gave them to the host, and said, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, I, when I come back again, will repay thee. Which of these three, thinkest thou, proved neighbor unto him that fell among the robbers? And he said, He that showed mercy on him. And Jesus said unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.” Luke 10:25-37 (ASV)

For the Danish people, Christmas is a time for sharing their blessings with their neighbors. All are welcome and all are given good things so that they are not sent out into the world wanting. Even the Christmas tree in Copenhagen brings together neighbors, as it is given to the city by its neighbor Norway. The Mayor lights the tree during the first week of Advent, and the celebration begins as the people prepare for this most important holiday in Denmark. Companies close every Friday so that employees can gather for lunch with friends and the shops close at noon on Christmas Eve so that everyone can finish preparing for the celebration. It is truly a joyous time, light not only by the light of so many candles, but also with the love of people.


December 5, 2003

Philippines  We may think that the Christmas season begins too early in the United States, but it is nothing compared to the Philippines. Since it is the only Asian nation that has chosen Christianity for its official religion, the coming of the Christ child is a major focus. The signs of Christmas are visible in September; Christmas songs are even played in the stores and on the radio. One of the most played songs is Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” which is odd for a country that is in the midst of summer during the holiday season, but perhaps they love it because they will only know a white Christmas in their dreams.

Christmas begins on December 16 at a midnight mass where the story of Christ is read. At the end of the reading, a star slides down a wire to stop above the nativity, just like the star that led the wise men to Jesus. For the next nine days, Christmas is celebrated with the firing of fireworks and the display of parols, which are star lanterns. On Christmas Eve a couple is chosen to perform the Panunuluyan pageant, acting out the search of Mary and Joseph for a place to spend the night. The couple, dressed in costume, walks from home to home, singing a traditional song asking the owner of the home for lodging. They are turned away with song. The people follow the holy couple on their journey. Just before midnight, Mary and Joseph end up in the parish church where they find a manger. A baby is laid in the manger to represent the Christ child and the people celebrate Misa de Gallo, a midnight worship filled with praise and celebration. After the service, everyone goes home for a huge meal.

Christmas in the Philippines is a “festival of lights.” Parols are hung in the windows; they represent the star the wise men followed to Jesus’ manger. These lanterns are often homemade, and some towns hold contests to find the most beautiful. Most children at some point in their life tries to make a parol, and some families hand down their expertise from one generation to the next. They begin building the parols in July, when bamboo is cut to form the star shaped lantern, which is covered with different types of paper, foil, lace, tassels and pompoms. To the people who hang the lanterns, they are a sign of hope and faith.

“So then, my beloved, even as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who worketh in you both to will and to work, for his good pleasure.
    Do all things without murmurings and questionings: that ye may become blameless and harmless, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom ye are seen as lights in the world, holding forth the word of life; that I may have whereof to glory in the day of Christ, that I did not run in vain neither labor in vain. Yea, and if I am offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all: and in the same manner do ye also joy, and rejoice with me.” Philippians 2:12-18 (ASV)

The wise men followed a star, which led them to the Savior of the world, the source of hope and faith for all the people. The people of the Philippines have seen the same star and have come to know and love the Lord Jesus Christ with such a fervent faith that they celebrate His birth for months. The parols light the ways in the streets during this festive season, and the people rejoice with grandeur and pageantry. It is probably not easy being a lone Christian nation in the midst of a region that has long rejected the Gospel, but the Philippinos act as stars shining in the darkness as they rejoice over the saving grace of God that came in the flesh of a tiny baby born in a manger so long ago.


December 6, 2003

Belgium  The churches of Belgium, and many homes, display ornate handmade nativity sets throughout the Christmas season. Some of these nativities have been around for hundreds of years, passed on from generation to generation. Nativity plays are popular events, often performed in sixteenth century costumes, the same type of clothing that would have been worn when the tradition began. In some villages, three men are chosen to portray the journey of the wise men to Bethlehem. They go caroling from door to door, receiving gifts of food. Since the food is eaten immediately, men are as likely to be chosen for their size as for their singing ability.

Though December 25 has become the accepted day to celebrate the Nativity of Christ for most Christians, many countries focus their celebration on some of the other feasts and festivals of this season. Today is St. Nicholas Day, a remembrance of the saint who was known for his generosity. He was the Bishop of Myra, born of a wealthy family but orphaned early in his life. One story about his life claims that he threw a bag full of gold through the window of the home of a young girl to be used for a dowry and after that he provided dowries for many other girls. He was also known for being a lifesaver. He saved the lives of three innocent young men who were about to be executed and is credited with saving sailors from a storm.

The festival of St. Nicholas has always focused on the children. During the middle ages, a boy was chosen on December 6 to be the “Boy Bishop,” a title he held until Holy Innocent’s Day on the 28th of December. For many countries, Christmas gift giving is done on St. Nicholas Day. In Belgium, St. Nicholas (in the French speaking parts of the country he is called Pere Noel) visits on December 4th to find out which children have been good and which children have been bad. He returns on December 6th, finding the shoes of the children set on the fireplace filled with vegetables for his horse. The food is eaten and replaced with candies or small toys for the good boys and girls, sticks for the bad. The saint rides a white horse, or for some a donkey, and wears his bishop’s robes.

“Ye offspring of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. The good man out of his good treasure bringeth forth good things: and the evil man out of his evil treasure bringeth forth evil things. And I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.” Matthew 12:34-37 (ASV)

One of the difficulties with the gift giving traditions surrounding St. Nicholas, Pere Noel or Santa Claus and all their many forms, is the focus of a reward for good behavior. In Christian faith, we know there is nothing we can do to be good enough for the gifts of God, that we receive His love, mercy and forgiveness by His grace, not our works. I love that the gift giving traditions in many countries are not directly related to the birth of Christ, but are celebrated on another day for other reasons. Then the children will not connect goodness with their faith in Christ.

The stories of St. Nicholas and the others provide excellent role models for the children. These traditions often help to mold the children to be kind and generous, to hold their tongues when they would rather be mean and angry. When children see lovingkindness portrayed in those they respect, they develop into people who are loving and kind. They learn through the saints that good fruit does not earn them the mercy of God, but that the mercy of God gives them the faith to live as He has called them to live.


December 7, 2003

Egypt  Egypt is another Middle Eastern country that is heavily populated with non-Christians who would not celebrate Christmas, but there are enough Christians to consider their Christmas traditions. Since they are Orthodox, following the Coptic calendar, they celebrate Christmas on a different day. Though at one time the Coptic Christmas date and the Roman Christmas date lined up, over the years the calendars have deviated. Now they celebrate on January 7th. Egyptian Christians fast from all animal products beginning November 25 through January 6th, breaking their fast with a meal of boiled meat, rice and special sweet breads called kahk they share with others on Christmas Day. Services are said in Coptic, the ancient Egyptian language.

New Year’s Eve is celebrated according to the standard calendar used world wide, on December 31. Egyptian Christians hold a special service they call “Self Evaluation Eve.” They stand in front of God and confess their sins from the last year, promising to do serve God for the rest of their life. They pray, asking for forgiveness in candlelight, and then ask God to bless the beginning of the New Year with His goodness. Christmas is celebrated just a few days later, so is seen as a time of new beginnings. Every Christian attends worship on Christmas Eve with an entirely new set of clothing. If they are unable to afford a new outfit, they are given one by the church or by some community service organization.

“I will greatly rejoice in Jehovah, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with a garland, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels. For as the earth bringeth forth its bud, and as the garden causeth the things that are sown in it to spring forth; so the Lord Jehovah will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations.” Isaiah 61:10-11 (ASV)

Every Christmas tradition has reason and purpose related to the faith and to the birth of Jesus Christ. Though there are some major differences between the time and ways countries celebrate, one thing remains the same throughout the land – Jesus Christ is the center of the celebration. The Egyptians have similar traditions as many other countries – they decorate with trees and figurines. They sing songs of joy throughout the season. They make special food and gather to share love and faith with other believers.

Most Christians around the world also wear new clothes for the Christmas celebration, but few put such a heavy focus on having an entirely new outfit. Since the birth of Christ falls so near the New Year, the new clothes are reminiscent of the day when Christ will clothe us all in a new garment, a robe of righteousness that comes from Him. In Christ the old is gone and we are clothed with salvation.


December 8, 2003

Poland  There are those who question Christmas traditions because they seem to have nothing to do with the birth of Christ. Take, for example, the beliefs surrounding Santa Claus in the United States. What does flying reindeer or the North Pole have to do with the Savior of the world? It may not be at all related, but such mysteries are not unique to the United States. Superstition and magic has long been a part of the holiday celebration.

This was particularly true in Poland, though many of the superstitions have been lost over the years except in the rural areas of the nation. Many of these practices involve fortune telling, based on the belief that Christmas is a very special, almost magical time of year. From this we get the old adage “As Christmas goes, so goes the rest of the year.” If there is no snow on Christmas, it is said that Easter will be covered in white – “If the Christmas tree sinks in water, the egg rolls on ice.” A cloudless Christmas Eve will bring plenty of eggs from the chickens – “Stars that shine bright on Christmas Eve will make hens lay plenty of eggs”. A woman as the first to enter into the house on Christmas Eve indicates a bad omen – all the heifers born that year will be female. It is a good sign when men enter first. The lights are turned off after the meal and as the candle is extinguished everyone watches for the direction of the smoke. Toward a window is a sign of a plentiful harvest, toward a door means a death in the family, toward the stove means someone will get married.

The young girls have many beliefs relating to the possibility of marriage. On Christmas Eve they grind poppy seeds in the hopes of a quick marriage. When they go out of the house after dinner, they listen for a dog to bark. The sound indicates from which direction her husband will come. They eavesdrop on their neighbor’s conversations. If they hear the word “Go” they will get married in the coming year. If they hear “Sit” they will be maidens for a long time. On the way to midnight mass, they blindfold one another and touch the fence posts. What they feel will indicate the type of man they will marry. Before bed, the girls wash their face without drying. The towel is placed on the end of the bed and she will dream of her future husband.

As in every other country, there are traditions that revolve around food. The Polish people fast for twenty four hours before they begin the celebration. At dusk they go outside to watch for the first star in the sky. As soon as it appears, they go in to a hearty meal of many courses. The begin first with a wafer called an “oplatek.” It is almost transparent with some Christian symbol such as the nativity imprinted on the front. It is broken and shared with everyone at the table. They crumble the wafer in their food and eat it with the meal as a symbol of their unity. Many of these wafers are sent in Christmas cards, particularly to those who are far from home. The sender breaks off a small piece of the wafer to show that the loved one is with them in spirit if not in body. No one is invited to dinner on Christmas Eve; it is a time for immediate family only. An extra place is set at the table for the baby Jesus, however. If someone arrives at the door in need of a meal, they are welcomed and seated in His seat.

“Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee hungry, and fed thee? or athirst, and gave thee drink? And when saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? And when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of these my brethren, even these least, ye did it unto me.” Matthew 25:37-40 (ASV)

Though Christmas is definitely a time for family, it is a time when the unexpected seems to happen. Christ comes, not only in the manger, but also in the needs of those around us. Though the Polish people have some unusual traditions that seem to have nothing to do with the spirit of Christmas, it is that very spirit that makes the evening seem so magical and a special time to sense the future.

There are many more traditions from the Polish people, including Christmas Crèches that the children use to tell the story of Christ with puppets and singing, special Polish Christmas carols, the “Starman” who brings gifts to the children. These are all a part of the special joy that comes from the celebration of the birth of our Savior at this time of unity and peace.


December 9, 2003

Spain  Christmas lasts a long time in Spain, beginning on December 8th and lasting until January 6th. It is a festive and joyous time, with many of the traditions you can see all over the world. They have Christmas trees, elaborate Nativity scenes, Christmas markets and plenty of worship opportunities. The markets are filled with good things – pomegranates of Andalusia, Valencia oranges, and Arragonese apples along with walnuts and chestnuts from Gallicia. There are also flowers, marzipan candies, baked goods, candles, decorations and handcrafted Christmas gifts. Choirs sing while people shop.

Gift giving happens on King’s Day, January 6th when it is believed the three kings offered their gifts to the baby Jesus. The children put their shoes on the doorstep filled with hay or straw. Over night the three kings fill the shoes with good things. Balthazar, the king who rides a donkey, is a favorite among Spanish children because they believe he is the one who fills the shoes. Throughout the Christmas season, the three kings are seen around town – at hospitals and orphanages – to spread Christmas cheer. Another unique tradition in Spain is swinging. Special swings are hung in the courtyards. Since it is the time of the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, they swing to encourage the sun. They also build bonfires and jump over them, believing that it will ward off disease in the coming year.

Many countries begin the main Christmas celebration with a special mass late in the evening on Christmas Eve. They follow this service with a huge feast that goes well into the night. In Spain, it is called “Noche Buena” or “the Good Night.” They party until dawn, eating and singing around nativities and Christmas trees. They say, “Esta noche es Noche-Buena, Y no es noche de dormir,” which means, “This is the Good Night, therefore it is not meant for sleep.”

The patron saint of Spain is the Virgin Mary, so the Christmas celebration begins on December 8th which is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. At the cathedral in Seville, a group of boys dance a special dance called “los Seises,” the dance of six. It has changed a bit over the years and now features ten costumed boys dancing together with precise movements. The Feast of the Immaculate Conception recalls when Mary learned she would bear the Son of God and received the seed by the power of the Holy Spirit.

“Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. And he came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee. But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this might be. And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favor with God. And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. 34 And Mary said unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee: wherefore also the holy thing which is begotten shall be called the Son of God. And behold, Elisabeth thy kinswoman, she also hath conceived a son in her old age; and this is the sixth month with her that was called barren. For no word from God shall be void of power. And Mary said, Behold, the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.” Luke 1:26-38 (ASV)

There is so much about Christmas that is almost hard to believe, none more so than the Virgin birth. How is it that God would select this young girl to bear the flesh of the Savior? God’s ways are higher and greater than our ways; it is beyond our scope to fully understand His purpose and His plan. Yet, one of the most incredible things about Christmas is that it is a time of the miraculous, a time to believe in what cannot be. The Savior Immanuel, God with us, is born in Bethlehem. No wonder it is such a time of joy.


December 10, 2003

Lebanon  As in so many of the countries that celebrate Christmas, Lebanon has many traditions that are similar to others. They fast for forty days, have Christmas markets, decorate with lights and feast on good food and fellowship with family and friends. Papa Noel leaves candies for the children in the red stockings they hang by the chimney. They gather around bonfires, sharing songs and stories. The bonfire is a chance to renew and restore friendships. Dancers perform a dance called the Dabkeh, in which boys and girls do intricate footwork to special music while holding hands in a half circle. The most important meal of the season is at noon on Christmas day and is a time when the entire family gathers to eat chicken with rice and Kubbeh (crushed wheat with meat, onions, salt and pepper made into a paste). Cookies and pastries to satisfy the sweet tooth follow the meal.

Two more unique traditions include a pudding and seeds. A special pudding called Mughly is made in homes where there is a newborn child, particularly a boy. The Mughly is shared with everyone who comes to visit. About two weeks before Christmas, children plant seeds that will grow and decorate the nativity. The seeds, from fast growing plants such as wheat, lentils, beans and chickpeas, are placed on cotton that is in small bowls. They water the seeds daily and they grow to be about six inches. Just before Christmas the plants are placed near the tree or the nativity, which is cave-like rather than a wooden stable. The plants remind us that our God is the living God. The nativity is decorated with figures made out of cut brown paper, and a star is hung over the scene.

“How amiable are thy tabernacles, O Jehovah of hosts! My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of Jehovah; My heart and my flesh cry out unto the living God. Yea, the sparrow hath found her a house, And the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, Even thine altars, O Jehovah of hosts, My King, and my God. Blessed are they that dwell in thy house: They will be still praising thee. Selah Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee; In whose heart are the highways to Zion. Passing through the valley of Weeping they make it a place of springs; Yea, the early rain covereth it with blessings. They go from strength to strength; Every one of them appeareth before God in Zion.
    O Jehovah God of hosts, hear my prayer; Give ear, O God of Jacob. Selah Behold, O God our shield, And look upon the face of thine anointed. For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand. I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, Than to dwell in the tents of wickedness. For Jehovah God is a sun and a shield: Jehovah will give grace and glory; No good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly. O Jehovah of hosts, Blessed is the man that trusteth in thee.” Psalm 84 (ASV)

Christmas is such a joyous season everywhere. The food, the fellowship and the traditions all bring people together to rejoice over the incredible gift of God’s Son who was born in that manger so long ago. Some traditions may seem meaningless, but there is always something that shows the heart of Christmas, such as the planting of seeds. Christians honor and worship the Living God who comes to us personally, saves us from our sin and gives us eternal life in Christ. The food, the singing, the dancing and gifts are all wonderful, but Christmas is far more than that. The celebrations plant seeds of faith in the hearts of those who do not yet believe as they watch Christians trusting in their God. Perhaps by the next Christmas Day, those seeds will have been watered by the living water and will have grown into hearts that love and worship the Living God.


December 11, 2003

Bangladesh  Though the population of Christians in Bangladesh is less than ½ of one percent of the entire population, Christmas is still a popular holiday. It is a national holiday and the people enjoy many of the same festive activities as found in other countries – Christmas carols, plays, sweet treats, family times and religious services. Bengalis put a great deal of time and attention into preparing their homes for the holiday. About a week before Christmas, they clean inside and outside their homes. They re-plaster the outside walls, first with a layer of cow dung and then a layer of clay. These fresh, smooth walls are covered with paintings of flowers or nativities and Christmas greetings. The boys are in charge of making paper decorations of flowers and leaves for the front door. The way is lit with oil lamps that are hung on banana trees and kept burning all night during Christmas week. Colorful crosses made of bamboo with candles inside are hung from poles and placed on the tops of trees.

These decorations make a sort of gateway for visitors to enter the home. They do the same for the churches, but even more elaborately. Banana trees are cut down and posted along the pathway to the church. They are bent to meet in the middle, making an archway under which the parishioners walk. Bamboo poles with holes are filled with oil, placed on top of the banana trees and lit to light the way. It makes the way very bright. Christians worship at midnight and morning masses to celebrate the birth of Christ. The churches are often so full, that communion by the only priest in the parish takes hours to complete.

“Jesus therefore said unto them again, Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep. All that came before me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door; by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and go out, and shall find pasture. The thief cometh not, but that he may steal, and kill, and destroy: I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly.” John 10:7-10 (ASV)

The Bengalis go to so much trouble to make the entrances into their homes and their churches a very welcoming feature of their celebration. It must be a beautiful site – fresh plastered houses with paintings, cut paper and candles. It would certainly make any visitors feel welcome. Christmas is when we celebrate the coming of God’s mercy in flesh, the birth of Jesus Christ. He said He is the gate, the gate into salvation and eternal life.

Fellowship with those they love is an important part of the traditions. They groups of people who do volunteer work in the villages have special get-togethers called “baithaks” where they share stores and eat sweets and cakes. Elders are greeted in a special way. The younger person takes the right hand of the older, touches it to their forehead and then gives it a kiss. The older person responds, “Ishawrer Aashirbad” (May God's blessings be on you).


December 12, 2003

Greece  Until recently, the Greek celebration of Christmas was a very quiet affair, more spiritual in nature with none of the glitz that is often found in other countries. Yet, that seems to be changing as more traditions from other countries come into use in Greece. The largest Christmas tree in Europe can now be found in Constitution Square in Athens. Lights are strung over every street in the major cities and many Christians decorate their homes with Christmas trees. Some things are the same. Children go from house to house singing ‘kalanda’ or Christmas carols while playing triangles and drums. They are rewarded with treats or money. Food plays a major role. The feast includes roast pig and 'christopsomo' or ‘Christ bread.’ The Christ bread is sweet, shaped and decorated to indicate the family business. It is served with figs or nuts and honey. Since St. Nicholas is an important saint in Greece – the patron saint of sailors – he also plays a role in the Christmas celebration. Gifts are given to the children on St. Nicholas Day.

There is another gift-giving saint in Greece. His name is St. Basil and he is the Greek equivalent of Santa Claus. St. Basil’s Day is January 1st. He comes to the homes through the chimney, so they leave a log in the fireplace for him to step on as he comes into the home. It is interesting that he would come through the chimney since the Greeks keep a fire burning continuously between Christmas and Epiphany to ward off mischievous gnomes called Kallikantzaroi. Though they are not dangerous, they are said to visit only for the twelve days of Christmas causing mischief – putting out the fire, riding on people’s backs, braiding horse’s tails and souring the milk. The hearth fire is believed to keep them away.

Another way to deal with the Kallikantzaroi is one of the most popular Greek traditions. In nearly every home you will find a shallow wooden bowl of water. Strung across the top is a wire, which holds a wooden cross, wrapped with basil. The water in the bowl keeps the basil fresh and is used to bless the house every day. Someone, usually the mother, takes the cross and basil and sprinkles water in every room of the house during the twelve days of Christmas. St. Basil is also associated with water. On St. Basil’s Day, all the pitchers in the house are emptied and refilled with fresh water called “St. Basil’s water.” The renewal of waters ritual is often accompanied by offerings to the ‘naiads,’ spirits of springs and fountains.

“Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, from within him shall flow rivers of living water. But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believed on him were to receive: for the Spirit was not yet given; because Jesus was not yet glorified. Some of the multitude therefore, when they heard these words, said, This is of a truth the prophet. Others said, This is the Christ. But some said, What, doth the Christ come out of Galilee? Hath not the scripture said that the Christ cometh of the seed of David, and from Bethlehem, the village where David was? So there arose a division in the multitude because of him. And some of them would have taken him; but no man laid hands on him.” John 7:37-44 (ASV)

It is amazing how many of the Christmas traditions have seemingly unchristian roots, such as the renewing of water ceremony. That probably goes back to ancient times, long before Christ even walked the earth. Yet, there is a health benefit to changing the water. Harmful bacteria can form even in water when the jars are let to stand too long. By changing the water regularly, they ensure their supply is fresh and clean. While there may be no real, visible benefit from the blessing of the rooms, we can see Christ in these actions and give them to Him. When we look at these traditions, we are reminded of the imperfection of the things of this world and can look toward the One who is perfect. Jesus Christ is the living water.


December 13, 2003

Sweden  Children often ask, “How can Santa Claus take presents to all the children all over the world in one night?” While it is still an impossible task, even if Santa were only visiting one or two countries, he does not visit the entire world. It has been fascinating to see the different characters that have revolved around the gift-giving traditions. In Sweden, the Christmas Eve visitor is a gnome-like creature named a Jultomten. It is believed that the Jultomten live in the barn or under the floor boards of the house and take care of the animals and the family throughout the year.

The main Christmas meal is usually ham, pickled pigs feet, lutfisk, or dried codfish, and many different kinds of sweets. There is also a special rice porridge with a hidden almond. The lucky person to find the almond will be married that year. They decorate the Christmas tree, which is put up only a day or two before Christmas, with candles, apples, Swedish flags, glass balls, tinsel and straw ornaments shaped like animals. The tree is displayed until January 13, Knut’s Day. The Christmas festival was established a thousand years ago when King Canute ruled. He decided that they would celebrate from December 13 through January 13. On that final day, boys dress up as “Old Knut” and play practical jokes. The tree is taken down and all edible decorations are consumed. The tree is thrown into the snow with a promise to be reunited the next year.

December 13th is another special day for the Swedes, St. Lucia Day. Lucia was a Sicilian Christian virgin who lived during the fourth century. Christians were persecuted for their faith. Lucia took food to the Christians who were hiding in underground tunnels. To light her way, she wore a crown of candles on her head. She was eventually arrested and martyred. No one really knows how the story of St. Lucia came to Sweden, but she is honored with a very special day. There has been a celebration that goes back to earlier days. On that morning, the eldest daughter in the home, dressed in white with a wreath of candles on her head, takes coffee, ginger cookies and buns to every member of her family in their rooms. While she is delivering her goodies, the family sings Lucia carols, songs of thankfulness and hope. December 13 is believed to be the darkest night of the year, so a festival with lights brings hope.

“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and fill up on my part that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the church; whereof I was made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which was given me to you-ward, to fulfil the word of God, even the mystery which hath been hid for ages and generations: but now hath it been manifested to his saints, to whom God was pleased to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: whom we proclaim, admonishing every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ; whereunto I labor also, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily.” Colossians 1:24-29 (ASV)

St. Lucia brought hope to the Christians who were hiding from persecution. She brought hope, not only with the food she shared, but also with her willingness to risk her own life for the sake of others. We wait anxiously through the darkness of Advent for the coming of the true light, Jesus Christ our Lord. The hope we have is because He willingly gave Himself for us, overcame sin and death and was raised to new life so that we might have the hope of eternal life. We celebrate Christ, not only with the tinsel and glitter, but especially with prayer and scripture so that we will draw closer and deeper into His heart. In this way we manifest the word of God that has been given to us in Christ Jesus, ready for His coming in the manger as well as in glory.


December 14, 2003

Wales  Christmas in Wales looks very much like it does in other parts of the world, especially the rest of Great Britain. Holly and mistletoe, stockings and exploding Christmas crackers are all part of the celebration. They decorate with evergreens and stockings. They eat massive feasts of turkey and plum pudding. Yet, there are some traditions that go back to the old days that still make a Welsh Christmas unique.

A favorite treat at Christmastime in Wales is taffy. Brown sugar and butter makes this sticky and sweet delight. It is boiled and then pulled until it is shiny. Taffy pulling takes a group effort. Several people stretch the mixture and then squoosh it back together over and over again. They stretch, squoosh, stretch, squoosh, stretch and squoosh until the taffy is cool, smooth and delicious.

Another uniquely Welsh tradition is the Mari Llwyd. One villager is selected each year to portray this character. The person rides around the village covered in white carrying a horse’s skull on a stick. He tries to ‘bite’ the other villagers with the horse head, and if he catches them they have to pay a fine. He travels with mummers, brightly costumed characters that perform pantomime to entertain the people.

The most important part of a Welsh Christmas is the singing. Every town and village has a trained choir that practices throughout the year to perform at special events. Each year, a new carol is written and adopted by the entire country to be used at Christmastime. The words of the new carol are given to every town and they hold a contest to pick the best tune for the words, which is judged at a national competition. The new carol is added to the great body of music that has been created over the thousand years since they began the tradition. In some places in Wales, the choir begins their rounds very early on Christmas day, caroling throughout the streets to wake the villagers for the Plygain, the main Christmas service that begins at 4 o’clock a.m. and lasts until sunrise.

“How long, O Jehovah? wilt thou forget me for ever? How long wilt thou hide thy face from me? How long shall I take counsel in my soul, Having sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall mine enemy be exalted over me? Consider and answer me, O Jehovah my God: Lighten mine eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death; Lest mine enemy say, I have prevailed against him; Lest mine adversaries rejoice when I am moved. But I have trusted in thy lovingkindness; My heart shall rejoice in thy salvation. I will sing unto Jehovah, Because he hath dealt bountifully with me.” Psalm 13 (ASV)

Despite the festive atmosphere of Christmas around the world, it can be a difficult time for many people. It is even harder in the Northern Hemisphere where it is dark, damp and cold throughout the season. The lack of sunlight has a very real, physical affect on the people and many suffer from depression. Add to it the difficulties of life – financial troubles, broken relationships and insecurity about the future – and it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking there is no hope, peace or joy to be found. Yet, during Advent we watch and wait because we who live after Christ know there is hope. We know it is found in Him and the salvation He brought to the world that night long ago in the manger. So, to overcome the pain, the worry, the doubt and fear we sing. We sing Christmas carols to praise God for His great and glorious gift of Jesus Christ. We sing songs to remember the hope, peace and joy He brings. We sing to thank God for His blessings and by rejoicing in His goodness we remember that Christ has overcome the darkness with His light.


December 15, 2003

Ethiopia  It has been difficult finding information about Christmas in Africa. There are few sites that have any information, and the little they have is brief and nothing unusual. Most pages lumped all the African nations together. I suppose the lack of information might be because most of the Christians are rather new, converted by missionaries in the last hundred or so years. They probably follow the same traditions that were taken by the missionaries. It certainly is not from a lack of Christians. Though there are other religions throughout Africa, there are many who have heard the Gospel and worship the one true and living God. In today’s world, some Africans are going on mission trips to places that have long been Christian to renew and relight the spark of Christ in the hearts of those who have seemingly lost what they once held dear.

The Ethiopian Christians do not ignore Christmas, but it is not the most important holiday for them. They do not give many gifts, and if they do it is usually clothing. They celebrate according to the Julian calendar, so Christmas falls on January 6th, just like the Coptic Church. Though much of African is fairly recently converted, Ethiopia has been Christian since 330 A.D. They fast for forty days then they attend a special Mass on Christmas morning. Everyone wears white and they each get a candle as they enter into the sanctuary. They walk around the church three times, and then stand for the entire service, since there are no seats inside. They stand in concentric circles, with the men and women separated. The choir stands outside the circle to sing. Sometimes the service lasts three hours.

Following the service, they gather together to eat. The meal is usually shared with other families, outdoors since it is warm. They eat chicken stew with injera bread, which is like a pancake. They use the injera bread to dip out the stew for eating. Christmas Day is also a time for sports. The youth play the game of “Genna” which is much like hockey. Legend has it that the angels were playing genna when the angels came to tell them about the birth of the baby Jesus. A leader of the community attends the game and a prize is given for the winner.

“Know ye not that they that run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? Even so run; that ye may attain. And every man that striveth in the games exerciseth self-control in all things. Now they do it to receive a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, as not uncertainly; so fight I, as not beating the air: but I buffet my body, and bring it into bondage: lest by any means, after that I have preached to others, I myself should be rejected.” 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (ASV)

Playing sports is not unusual as a Christmas Day activity. Many families in other countries gather to enjoy some sort of activity. We all know that the reason for Christ’s coming is not a game, it is very serious business to the God we worship, for He knew that Christ was the only way we could be saved. Now, we live in His righteousness, in His glory, always moving toward a great and wonderful prize – eternal life. Paul lived in a culture where sport was very important, the Romans played many games. He used the example of preparing and working toward the goal, but also reminded them that the prize is greater than anything they can get by winning a race. Though the Ethiopian youth have a great deal of fun playing their genna on Christmas Day, it is not until after they have worshipped the King. We can certainly enjoy this season of Advent and Christmas, but let us never forget that for which we wait.


December 16, 2003

Venezuela  The people in Venezuela are mostly Roman Catholic, so the celebration revolves heavily around the Mass and family, but Venezuela is made of many diverse cultures so it is a rich and wonderful time in that country. The Christmas season begins on December 16th, when families begin to display their presebres, which means manger. The nativity scenes are often quite ornate with landscapes of mountains and valleys, rivers and seas. Some presebres include rather unusual items – model trains are mixed with the traditional animals and stable, cartoon characters stand with the wise men to honor the child. The Baby Jesus is not added to the presebres until Christmas Eve at midnight. Margarita, a Caribbean island, has a live presebre. On Christmas Eve the townspeople have a procession to take a baby to lay in the manger.

Beginning on December 16th, the people attend an early morning mass called Misa de Aguinaldo every day until Christmas. In Caracas, the roads are closed until 8 A.M. so that people can go to church safely. The people get to church by roller-skating through the streets. Before bed, children tie strings on to their big toes and put the strings out of the window. If a roller-skater sees a string still hanging as they roll by, they pull on the string to get that sleepyhead out of bed.

“Owe no man anything, save to love one another: for he that loveth his neighbor hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not covet, and if there be any other commandment, it is summed up in this word, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbor: love therefore is the fulfilment of the law.
    And this, knowing the season, that already it is time for you to awake out of sleep: for now is salvation nearer to us than when we first believed. The night is far spent, and the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. Let us walk becomingly, as in the day; not in revelling and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and jealousy. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.” Romans 13:8-14 (ASV)

The main Christmas celebration takes place on Christmas Eve. They attend the Misa de Gallo at midnight and then return home for a feast. The main dish is called hallacas. It is a mixture of corn flour dough filled with chicken, beef or pork, olives, raisins, eggs and spices wrapped in plantain leaves. Each region has a unique mixture, so families make hundreds of these treats to share with family and friends. They also serve pan de “jamón,” which is a long bread filled with cooked ham and raisins. The “dulce de lechoza” is a dessert made of green papaya and brown sugar, slowly cooked for hours and served cold. Ponche crema is a beverage that is served, either with alcohol or not.

The Baby Jesus brings presents to children on Christmas Eve, and they are opened after dinner. The official celebration of the holiday ends on January 6th, the Day of the Reyes Magos – the day of the three wise kings. The children receive more toys and candy on that day. They leave straw in their shoes beside their beds for the camels and wake hoping it will be replaced by goodies. If they find a black smudge on their face, they know that Balthasar kissed them while they slept.


December 17, 2003

India  The Christian population of India is relatively small compared to other religions, so Christmas is not widely celebrated. The Christians celebrate as in other countries – with worship, family and plenty of fun. Since so many other countries have influenced India, the people use traditions from all over the world. There is some gift giving. Father Christmas delivers packages while traveling in a horse and cart, though Santa also appears in the stores to entertain the children. Caroling is an important part of the celebration for many people. Households keep plenty of homemade treats to share when visitors pass by singing the wonderful songs of Christ’s birth. The head of each household gives gifts to the children and the servants. The servants return the gift with a lemon, a symbol of high esteem, to wish the master a long life of prosperity. Baksheesh, or coins, are given to the poor.

Christmas is a brilliantly colored holiday. Bright red poinsettias, tropical plants such as mango leaves and candles are used to decorate homes and churches. Nativity scenes are displayed in every window in Bombay, families take great pride in making a beautiful presentation. Children wear colorful dresses to perform native dances. Though there are some evergreens, most people decorate mango or banana trees as their Christmas tree. In many places around India, small clay pots with oil are lit and put on flat rooftops or walls. These lamps make the home twinkle with light and draw the attention of passers-by. When non-Christians see these lamps they ask what they mean, giving the people a chance to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

“Ye are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a lamp, and put it under the bushel, but on the stand; and it shineth unto all that are in the house. Even so let your light shine before men; that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16 (ASV)

Christians often get lost in the hustle and bustle of the holiday in countries where Christmas is widely celebrated. Since so many people decorate their homes with lights and tinsel, since everyone is busy preparing sweet treats and good food, since the stores are packed with people searching for the perfect gift, it is hard to know which people are really celebrating the birth of Christ. We try to keep the focus on Jesus, enjoying advent scripture readings and other traditions that build up to the joy of Christmas, yet those practices are often hidden from the world. I doubt that a stranger would see much different about my life while I am out shopping or celebrating that would make them ask me about Jesus.

In a place like India, where believers are few and far between, it is much easier to notice something different about their lives – to see the light of Christ that shines. The lighted lamps set them apart from the others, leaving room for questions and opportunities for evangelism. It makes me wonder how we, those of us in countries where Christmas is celebrated by so many, can set ourselves apart so that our traditions will shine the light that draws people into the heart of the season.


December 18, 2003

Portugal  Most of the holiday traditions in Portugal are similar to those in Spain. Since most of the Christians are Roman Catholic, the celebration centers around the midnight mass on Christmas Eve called “Missa do Galo.” The family enjoys a meal of boiled dry codfish with potatoes and Portuguese sprouts. On Christmas Day they feast on roast chicken, lamb or turkey and traditional desserts. They have one treat which is a very rich fruitcake with crystallized fruit and nuts in the shape of a wreath.

In the country, homes are only decorated on the inside. The most important display is the nativity scene. Baby Jesus is added after mass. In the big city, such as Lisbon, the storefronts and streets are decorated. Father Christmas delivers gifts to the children. Though the gift-giver does not wear the red suit associated with Santa Claus, some children think he is the one who brings the gifts. Others think it is the baby Jesus. Gifts are also given on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the Feast of the Holy Innocents and Three Kings Day.

A Yule log is burned in the fireplace on Christmas Day. The ashes and charred remains from this log are saved throughout the year. They are sprinkled in the fireplace during a thunderstorm to ward off lightning strikes, because it is believed no lightning will strike near the Yule log. Crumbs are scattered on the hearth for the souls of the dead. At one time seeds were scattered in the hopes that the dead would return at harvest with the fruits and grains from the other world. On Christmas morning, a feast called the consoda is eaten with places set for the souls of the dead. They are welcomed and fed with the hopes that they will bring good fortune to the family throughout the year.

“But Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as angels in heaven. 31 But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. And when the multitudes heard it, they were astonished at his teaching.” Matthew 22:29-33 (ASV)

It may seem strange to invite the dead to Christmas celebration, and yet it is a reminder that in Christ we never really die. Though we are not running around like ghosts, some superstition to be appeased or bribed for good fortune, we are not dead as might be understood in myth and legend. It is for this eternal life that we hope, it is for this reason that Christ came at all. God is the God of the living, and the living include all those who believe.


December 19, 2003

Italy  Just yesterday I was listening to a conversation between some Christians and pagans. They were discussing the pagan roots of many Christmas traditions. As we have seen through this Advent journey, there are many aspects of Christmas around the world that goes back much farther than to the birth of Christ. In many cases, Christians used the traditions with which they were familiar and dedicated them to God to help spread the Gospel message to those still in darkness.

The festival of Saturnalia, the winter solstice celebration, came from Roman pagan traditions. Since we do not have the exact date of Christ’s birth, the church decided to celebrate the Nativity at the same time. Even today the Christmas commemoration in Italy is marked in conjunction with the pagan festival of the birth of the sun. The Italian word for Christmas, “Natale,” means “birthday.” The streets are brightly decorated and the Italian people follow other familiar traditions. Zampognari or bagpipers appear out of the mountains to play in the markets and squares. The feasting consists of many delicious dishes, but the sweets are especially wonderful. Nuts and honey are main ingredients in many of the treats, believed to bring luck and sweetness to the coming year.

Though there are non-Christian practices among the Italians celebrating the birth of Christ, they still focus on that great event. The Nativity scenes that appear in homes and churches all over the world were begun in Italy. St. Francis of Assisi asked Giovanni Vellita to create a scene to use in church. St. Francis conducted the mass in front of it, inspiring awe and devotion. Since then, people have worked hard to create the most beautiful scenes. The scenes include the stable with the holy family and the animals, particularly the ox and the ass who are believed to have kept the Christ child warm with their breath. The scene includes grottos, hills, trees, lakes and rivers. Figures are added daily of the people visiting the child – shepherds, wise men, and ordinary folk from the village such as a laundress, baker or blacksmith. Some scenes include local heroes, zampognari and other characters. Baby Jesus is added on Christmas Eve. In the midst of celebration that does not always seem Christian, Christ is still the center.

“For though I was free from all men, I brought myself under bondage to all, that I might gain the more. And to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, not being myself under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; to them that are without law, as without law, not being without law to God, but under law to Christ, that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might gain the weak: I am become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some. And I do all things for the gospel's sake, that I may be a joint partaker thereof.” 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 (ASV)

The gift-giver in Italy is La Befana. The story is told that La Befana was busy cleaning her house for the coming of the Christ child when she was interrupted by the wise men on their journey to Bethlehem. They asked for hospitality, but she sent them away. When she realized that the wise men were going to see Jesus, she went to find them but was too late. She now travels the countryside looking for the baby, leaving gifts at all the houses with children just in case He is there. La Befana is described as an old woman, a crone or a witch and she visits on the eve of Epiphany, which is Three Kings Day.

Though we are in the world, in Christ we are no longer of the world. All around us, every day not just at Christmastime, we face the traditions and practices of a world that does not know God. Ultimately, most of what we do has some roots that go farther back than we can even imagine. Growing plants, hunting for food, building shelters, wearing clothing – these things all began before the world knew God, and they’ve been around since long before Jesus was born. Many of these things also have ancient religious understanding. We cannot reject everything because it may have some significance to the faith of another person. However, as Christians we are to dedicate everything we do, everything we think, everything we say to the Lord God Almighty, that it might be used for His glory. Though the date of Christmas itself is unknown, we have taken that day to thank God for bringing Jesus Christ into the world as a human baby to live and die for our sakes.


December 20, 2003

Iraq  Christian families gather together on Christmas Eve to read the story of Christ by candlelight. They follow the reading with a bonfire of thorns in the courtyard. They sing together as the bushes burn. If the thorns burn to ashes, it is a sign of good luck in the coming year. On Christmas Day another bonfire is lit, this one in the churchyard to welcome everyone to worship. The bishop leads everyone into the church carrying the baby Jesus on a red pillow. After the service, the bishop touches one person and speaks a blessing of peace. That person touches the next person who touches the next until every person has received the touch of peace.

“Behold, Jehovah's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: but your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, so that he will not hear. For your hands are defiled with blood, and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies, your tongue muttereth wickedness. None sueth in righteousness, and none pleadeth in truth: they trust in vanity, and speak lies; they conceive mischief, and bring forth iniquity. They hatch adders' eggs, and weave the spider's web: he that eateth of their eggs dieth; and that which is crushed breaketh out into a viper. Their webs shall not become garments, neither shall they cover themselves with their works: their works are works of iniquity, and the act of violence is in their hands. Their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed innocent blood: their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity; desolation and destruction are in their paths. The way of peace they know not; and there is no justice in their goings: they have made them crooked paths; whosoever goeth therein doth not know peace.” Isaiah 59:1-8 (ASV)

It is hard to imagine any sort of peace found in a place like Iraq even at this time of year. Fear, violence and hatred are a part of their daily lives. Yet, the peace we know in Christ Jesus is a different kind of peace. War exists not only in Iraq, but also everywhere that there is separation between peoples, even in America. The battles we fight might be different; the weapons create different harm. No matter how much we cry out for peace, there is none to be found in this world.

The Christmas celebration in Iraq is very simple, but they know where to find the true peace – in Jesus Christ our Lord. The story of Jesus brings hope in a world where there is no hope. The light of the candles and the bonfire shine the light of Christ into the darkness of this world. The fire overcomes the thorn bush, representative of the crown of thorns worn on Christ’s head at His crucifixion. The thorns pierced His head by the suffering and humiliation they represent did not win. Christ overcame it all for our sake. In Iraq, they understand that peace is not found on the streets, but in the hearts of those who believe in the only one who can bring it, the child in the manger to be born in Bethlehem. The Christians of Iraq share the love of Christ and touch of peace that passes all human understanding as the celebrate that birth that changed the world.


December 21, 2003

Mexico  Christmas in Mexico is a festive and colorful time with parties, plays, singing and treats for weeks before the actual day. Many people take the two weeks before Christmas as a holiday and all government offices are closed. As in other countries, Mexicans decorate with nativity scenes, attend worship services, and eat special breads. The Rosca de Reyes is a big oval wreath shaped egg bread with dried fruit and sugar as decoration. A baby Jesus figurine is baked right into the bread. Unlike other countries, the winner does not get a prize for finding the figurine. Instead, they become the godparents of the baby Jesus and have to throw a party on February 2nd, which is “El dia de la Candelaria” or the day of the Candle or Light. It is a day of purification, the day when all the Christmas decorations are put away.

Beginning on December 16, children re-enact the posada. This tradition represents the journey of Mary and Joseph as they searched for a place to stay in Bethlehem. Children dress like the holy couple, angels, shepherds and shepherdesses. The holy pilgrimage travels from house to house asking for a place to stay. The people in the first and second homes send them away, but they find room at the third where they are invited to enter. Inside the home the children are treated to the nativity story, often done as a play. The evening includes prayer and singing. After the story the children smash piñatas which are filled with nuts, fruit and sometimes candy. The Santos Pereguinos, the holy pilgrims, re-create the journey each night until Christmas, stopping at a different house each night.

In Mexico, poinsettias are very common, often growing like weeds on the side of the road. Legend tells of a poor boy that took some of the stems to the church as a gift for the baby Jesus. He had nothing to give the Christ child so he picked some of the plants from the side of the road. The other boys made fun of him, but when he set them beside the manger, a beautiful red star shaped flower appeared at the top of the branches. Poinsettias are not quite what they seem. We think of the red as the flower, but they are brightly colored leaves. The flower is the tiny yellow florets in the middle. The plant grows like a weed but they were believed to have healing properties – good for heart troubles and skin infections. Today they are cultivated and come in a beautiful array of colors.

“And he answered and said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that which he hath. Therefore speak I to them in parables; because seeing they see not, and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And unto them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall in no wise understand; And seeing ye shall see, and shall in no wise perceive: For this people's heart is waxed gross, And their ears are dull of hearing, And their eyes they have closed; Lest haply they should perceive with their eyes, And hear with their ears, And understand with their heart, And should turn again, And I should heal them. But blessed are your eyes, for they see; and your ears, for they hear. For verily I say unto you, that many prophets and righteous men desired to see the things which ye see, and saw them not; and to hear the things which ye hear, and heard them not.” Matthew 13:11-17 (ASV)

The children act out the journey of Mary and Joseph, having fun while learning the Christmas story. The poinsettia plant is beautiful but its life is fleeting with leaves dropping soon after Christmas. Who would have thought this plant, which is considered a weed by many in Mexico, could hold healing power? As we look at these Christmas traditions, and even at the Christmas story itself, it is amazing to see how God can use even the foolish games of children and a baby born in a manger to bring healing and peace to the world.


December 22, 2003

Australia  Our images of Christmas often include snow covered streets and horse-drawn carriages. Families spend time around the fireplace with hot cups of cocoa, cider or mulled wine. Santa wears a heavy fur coat to keep warm on his travels around the world. If you look at your Christmas cards, you are likely to see a variety of snow covered buildings or trees, snowmen in white fields or snowflakes dancing on the cover. According to many of the traditional stories that we love, Christmas means cold.

Yet, there is no way you could say that Christmas is cold in Australia. December 25th marks the beginning of the summer vacation for students, with the days leading up to the holiday filled with final exams and graduation. They are ready to head to the waves to swim and surf the months away until school begins again. It must seem odd for the Australians to see pictures of snow on their Christmas cards, but since many have ties to other places, they still enjoy the traditions of their homelands. They are from all over Europe, America, the Middle East and the Far East. Each person brings a part of his or her heritage to the celebration. Christmas cards still have pictures of snow even though there is never a flake of snow to be seen.

There are some differences, however. Santa is usually pictured in a Victorian swimming suit, one of those long striped suits that make us laugh today. Christmas Day is not spent around a fire, but on the beach. They might go swimming, have water gun fights or play cricket. Decorations include native animals – koala bears and kangaroos rather than reindeer and polar bears. They have outdoor concerts by candlelight to sing Christmas carols. The Australians brought along their native foods – turkeys and Christmas pudding are as available as cold cuts and seafood. A favorite dessert is vanilla ice cream with nuts, fruit and chocolate bits mixed in. They put the mixture into a pudding bowl to mould it – just like would be used for an English pudding.

“But him that is weak in faith receive ye, yet not for decision of scruples. One man hath faith to eat all things: but he that is weak eateth herbs. Let not him that eateth set at nought him that eateth not; and let not him that eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. Who art thou that judgest the servant of another? to his own lord he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be made to stand; for the Lord hath power to make him stand. One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let each man be fully assured in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord: and he that eateth, eateth unto the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, unto the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks. For none of us liveth to himself, and none dieth to himself. For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; or whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord's.” Romans 14:1-8 (ASV)

We do love our Christmas traditions and I know many people who would have a great deal of difficulty celebrating if things were so different as they are in Australia. Even many of the traditions that we’ve seen from northern countries where snow, tinsel and pudding are the fare of the day are not acceptable to those who have some very specific ideas about what it means to celebrate the holiday. The Australians, though they celebrate at the beach with fun and frolic in the surf still have Christ as the center of the festivities. Jesus is the reason for the season no matter what customs are followed for the day.


December 23, 2003

Germany  Since immigrants imported most of the Christmas traditions in America over the years, much of what we take for granted had their beginnings in countries from the United Kingdom and Western Europe. The delicious food, wonderful music and beautiful decorations we enjoy were brought to this country by our ancestors and are part of the incredible melting pot culture of our nation and our world. Some of those traditions have become popular all over the world – Christmas trees, Santa Claus, “Silent Night” and chocolate chip cookies are available almost everywhere during the holidays.

One of the most popular traditions that came from Germany is, of course, the Tannenbaum or Christmas tree. Though the actual origins of this practice are disputed, there is little doubt that the first indoor trees came from Germany. One story credits St. Boniface, an English missionary, with the original Christian use of the fir tree. The story is told that Boniface climbed a mountain where there was an oak tree the pagans revered to chop it down. The pagans were sure lightning would strike Boniface if he tried to harm their sacred tree, but when his ax barely touched it, the tree broke into quarters and fell down. Boniface built a church on that spot and many pagans became Christian. The saint used the evergreen tree, with its triangular shape, to teach about the Trinity. The tree came to be known as “God’s tree.” By the twelfth century, Christians had begun hanging the tops of evergreens from their ceilings in celebration of Christ’s birth. The evergreen is also used because it is always green, a symbol of hope in the midst of the cold, dark winter nights.

Martin Luther is credited with the first decorated tree. It is said that he took a small tree into his home and put candles on the branches to recreate the stars twinkling through the trees on a winter night. The Christmas tree was once known as “the Paradise Tree,” a reminder of the good blessings found in the Garden of Eden. The decorations included food items like gingerbread cookies and paper flowers. In the nineteenth century, hand blown glass ornaments became popular and are still one of my favorite parts of the German holiday traditions. In many homes, a glass pickle is hidden in the branches of the tree. The first child to find the pickle on Christmas morning is rewarded with a special treat.

Ascribe unto Jehovah, ye kindreds of the peoples, ascribe unto Jehovah glory and strength. Ascribe unto Jehovah the glory due unto his name: bring an offering, and come into his courts. Oh worship Jehovah in holy array: tremble before him, all the earth.
    Say among the nations, Jehovah reigneth: The world also is established that it cannot be moved: He will judge the peoples with equity. Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof; let the field exult, and all that is therein; then shall all the trees of the wood sing for joy before Jehovah; for he cometh, for he cometh to judge the earth: He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with his truth.” Psalm 96:7-13 (ASV)

There is a legend in Germany that says that the rivers turn to wine, animals speak to each other, tree blossoms bear fruit, gems are found in the mountains and church bells can be heard ringing from the bottom of the sea, but only the pure in heart can see the magic of this special day. Though there really is no magic, there is certainly something very special about Christmas – even the trees speak out praise to God. Jesus once told the temple leaders that if they quieted all the people, all of creation would sing out for joy. It seems to be especially true at Christmastime when we enjoy the beautiful evergreens that so lovingly grace our homes.


December 24, 2003

Austria  Christmas in Austria is much like that in Germany, with Christmas trees, special worship services and sweets to satisfy any hungry stomach. The gift-giver is the “Kristkindl” a golden haired cherub who symbolizes baby Jesus. The Christ child is believed to come down from heaven on Christmas Eve to decorate Christmas trees. Village squares are filled with booths selling beautiful Christmas ornaments and delicious treats. The churches are decorated with evergreens, candles and a marvelous crèche. December 5th is known as Krampus Day. The Krampus is an evil looking character, something like a devil, with bulging eyes and a long red tongue. The Krampus usually wears an ugly fur and is decked out in cowbells and rattling chains, making a great deal of noise as he moves. On Krampus Day, children and adults go to the village to throw snowballs and make fun of the Krampus. It is a time of fun and laughter, and a reminder to the children to be good for St. Nicholas who comes on December 6th.

One of the most important aspects of Christmas in Austria is the music. During Advent, special concerts are held to share the wonderful music that has be created in this country. As the home of Wolfgang Mozart, Anton Bruckner, Johann Strauss and Franz Schubert, there is plenty of music to share. Contemporary and traditional Christmas music is shared everywhere from the marketplaces to castles, fortresses, city halls, cruise boats and chapels in tiny Alpine villages.

Of course, it is hard to forget that one of the most beloved Christmas songs came from Austria. “Silent Night” was written when it seemed as though there would be no Christmas Eve for St. Nicholas Church in Oberndorf, Austria. In 1818, as the priest prepared for the evening worship, he discovered that the organ was not working. How could they have a service without music? Franz Mohr, the young priest, wrote the words to this beautiful carol and Franz Gruber composed the music on a guitar. To this day, “Silent Night” is not heard in Austria until Christmas Eve, and then it is repeated every hour. It is known as the “song heard ‘round the world” since it has been translated into hundreds of languages and is sung everywhere at Christmastime.

“Sing, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel; be glad and rejoice with all the heart, O daughter of Jerusalem. Jehovah hath taken away thy judgments, he hath cast out thine enemy: the King of Israel, even Jehovah, is in the midst of thee; thou shalt not fear evil any more. In that day it shall be said to Jerusalem, Fear thou not; O Zion, let not thy hands be slack. Jehovah thy God is in the midst of thee, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love; he will joy over thee with singing.” Zephaniah 3:14-17 (ASV)

Music has always been an important part of all Christian worship, as we join in one voice to rejoice over the blessings of God and sing His praises along with the angels in heaven. There are few songs that generate the same emotion as “Silent Night.” In the dark of the night, as we long for the coming of the One who would be born the Light of the world, the simple words and turn of this beloved song fills our heart with a deep understanding of the wonderful gift from God. The Advent season has been a hustle and bustle of preparation and parties, family and festivities. Yet, on Christmas Eve we can sing “Silent Night” and put aside the chaos of Christmas for just a moment to remember what it really means. Christ the Savior is born this night, born to bring us hope, peace and forgiveness, born to bring light into the darkness of our lives. May we never forget that in the midst of the noise of the holiday, the first Christmas was a silent night when only a few knew of the great event that was happening in a stable in Bethlehem.


December 25, 2003

Nativity  Throughout Advent, we have been looking into Christmas traditions around the world. It has been interesting to do the research for these many countries. The difficult part of this study has been finding the most accurate information. There are many different websites that offer some perspective about the holiday. They do not all agree about what Christmas is like in these many countries. I have had to pick through the information and put together what I felt was the most correct portrayal of the celebration.

I have been bothered by some of the traditions. Some of the practices are so unusual, so seemingly un-Christian. Most of all, I cannot imagine Christmas without Christ. I was a bit dismayed to come across some writings that had no reference to Jesus. For many, even in Christian countries, Christmas has become nothing more than a secular holiday. Yet, how can they talk about what they do not know? All we can do is keep Christ as the focus in our own celebrations and hope that His light will shine to those who have not heard.

We have not been studying these traditions to judge the traditions of other people, but to find God in the midst of the darkness. The hope we have is in knowing that God can make good and wonderful things happen even when things seem far from Him. So on this day, however we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, let us focus on His story, and hear once again about the nativity of God’s own Son.

The Story of our Savior’s Birth
The Light, Genesis 1:1-5
The Fall, Genesis 3:8-15
The Promise, Genesis 22:15-18
The Prophecy, Isaiah 9:2-7
The Place, Micah 5:2-5
The Mother, Luke 1:26-38
Magnificat, Mary’s Song, Luke 1:46-55
The Birth, Luke 2:1-7
The Proclamation, Luke 2:8-16
The Mystery, John 1:1-14

On this Christmas Day, as we enjoy our own traditions, let us give thanks to God for the greatest gift of all, His Son our Savior Jesus Christ. We have seen the God in the most unusual places, in the most incredible situations. To Him is the glory forever and every. Hallelujah! Our Christmas wish, from our house to yours, is that you will have a blessed and bright Christmas Day. Thanks be to God.


December 26, 2003

No WORD posted.


December 27, 2003

No WORD posted.


December 28, 2003

Children  We have received the most unusual Christmas gift. About two weeks ago, we learned that we will have yet another move. This time we will be moving to San Antonio, Texas. We usually have plenty of time to prepare for a move to a new base, sometimes as much as six months. This move will be quite different. We have had some leeway about the timing of this move, so after some difficult deliberations, we have decided to be there the first week of February. It has been somewhat hard making plans because we have so many things to consider, not the least of which are the children.

It would be so easy if it were just Bruce and I. We have many friends and responsibilities here in Arkansas and it will be difficult to leave, but our friendships need not end because of the differences and the responsibilities can easily be taken over by others. With no home to sell, no jobs to quit, we could move tomorrow and manage. But it is more difficult with the children. Where will they go to school? Will they be able to a new school with little or no effects on their grades and learning? Will they adjust to new surroundings and find new friendships? We are sure they will do fine, they have adapted just fine whenever we have moved before, but we have had more time to prepare. We are taking into account all of their needs as we make decisions, giving them a chance to add their own input. We can’t give them everything, and would not even try because pandering to their every desire would not be healthy. We simply want this move to go well for us all, and will do whatever we can to make it happen.

Unfortunately, many children lead a much more difficult life. Children have no power, no authority. They trust with innocence and faith that those who have charge of their well-being will care for their needs – emotional, physical and intellectual. Many caregivers are not so concerned with the needs of the children; some are even cruel and violent. Too many children suffer from neglect, beatings and every kind of abuse. Children are starving while parents are satisfied. Children die every day because those who have the power and authority act out in selfish and self-centered ways. Things have not changed over the millennia, even in Jesus’ day children suffered at the hands of adults who did not care if a child lived or died.

“Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the Wise-men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the male children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the borders thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had exactly learned of the Wise-men. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet, saying, A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children; And she would not be comforted, because they are not.” Matthew 2:16-18 (ASV)

Our children are not thrilled about this move; they will miss their friends and the life we have built here in Arkansas. However, they are excited about the possibilities of tomorrow and they know we will consider their needs every step along the way. This is not the case for some children. To many adults, children are nothing more than an inconvenience, even an obstacle, for their own needs and desires. Herod was so threatened by the promise of a Savior that he was willing to kill many children in Bethlehem. Most situations are certainly not that grave, but even today we are grieved by the many children suffering pain and death at the hands of authority figures that do not care about their needs. Whether it is the parent who abuses or the government that does not provide necessary support to the families, it is the child who suffers most.

Today is the day in the church year we remember the children that were killed at the hands of Herod’s soldiers. The Holy Innocents suffered a horrible death – too many children died on that day for no good reason. Jesus did not come to topple Herod from his throne, but to save Herod from himself. Instead of worshipping the young King born in Bethlehem, Herod destroyed many lives. Unfortunately, things have not changed much in two thousand years. Children are still the ones who suffer most at the hands of those who will do anything to make things well for themselves, rather than turning to worship the One who can really make things right.


December 29, 2003

Cigarettes  Most people come to know the Lord Jesus Christ in simple, quiet ways. Many are taken to church as children and grow up learning the Bible stories in Sunday school. Some marry a Christian and tag along until they too come to love Jesus. Some stumble upon a church or a Christian at a difficult time in their lives and decide that it couldn’t hurt to try to find some comfort and peace through this thing called faith.

Though they are no more saved than the person who grows up knowing Jesus, the most exciting testimonies are those who come from people who have had incredible conversion experiences. Sometimes these folk become evangelists, sharing their amazing encounter with God with others in the hopes that they will hear the Gospel and be saved. We have heard these stories – people on the brink of death who see or hear Jesus, men or women who have led lives desperately seeking fulfillment in all the wrong things who suddenly know that Christ can fill the whole in their heart.

Jacob Koshy was one that came to know Jesus in that way. While living in Singapore, his obsession with success drove him, but it led him to a life of gambling and drug abuse. He eventually ended up in prison, a center that would not allow him to even have cigarettes. He smuggled in some tobacco and used the pages of a Gideon Bible to roll is cigarettes. One evening he fell asleep while smoking and the cigarette went out. When we awoke, he noticed the words, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” on the paper and asked for a new bible to read the story. It was the story of Paul’s conversion.

“But Saul, yet breathing threatening and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, and asked of him letters to Damascus unto the synagogues, that if he found any that were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. And as he journeyed, it came to pass that he drew nigh unto Damascus: and suddenly there shone round about him a light out of heaven: and he fell upon the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And he said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: but rise, and enter into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do. And the men that journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing the voice, but beholding no man. And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw nothing; and they led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and did neither eat nor drink.” Acts 9:1-10 (ASV)

As Jacob read Paul’s story, he suddenly realized that if God could save a man like Saul, then He could help him too. He knelt beside his bed to pray, asking Jesus to change him, too. He could not stop crying, but his pain was washed away with every tear. He stopped wasting his life in pursuit of all the wrong things, married a Christian woman and became a missionary in the Far East. When he tells his story, he says, “Who would have believed that I could find the truth by smoking the Word of God?” God comes to us in the most unusual circumstances, always looking into the depths of our hearts and our every day experiences for the change to bring change. Our experiences may not be so dramatic, but God is always at work in our lives and hearts to bring us closer to Him for His Glory. Thanks be to God.


December 30, 2003

Trifle  It was Thanksgiving Day and the “Friends” were up to their usual antics. Monica was cooking dinner, in control as always. Ross and Monica’s parents were visiting to enjoy the holiday with their kids. They all ended up in a verbal battle about past indiscretions. The boys were anxious for the evening to be over because there were a bunch of pretty girls having a party they wanted to attend. The one difference between this episode and the other Thanksgiving shows was that Monica allowed Rachel to prepare the dessert. She decided to make an authentic English trifle. Throughout the show we watched Rachel carefully follow the recipe, but eventually everyone realizes that she has made a terrible mistake. The pages of her recipe book were stuck together. Halfway through cooking, she started making Shepherd’s pie.

Her friends discovered the problem well before she realized it was wrong. It seemed strange to add hamburger and potatoes to a dessert, but she just figured it was a bizarre English thing. Nobody wanted to hurt her feelings, and they all wanted to get the evening over with, so they allowed her to continue and then ate the concoction. Well, they went into other rooms and discarded the trifle with funny excuses. Eventually she discovered the problem and felt bad that she ruined the meal for everyone. If only she had looked twice when things got strange, she might have realized her mistake and made a lovely trifle.

Yet, we should not completely reject things that seem strange at first. We are quick to reject the idea that God is talking to us, especially when the words we hear are not what we expect. Yesterday, Saul was stopped in his tracks when he had an encounter with the Living Lord, the Lord who he had been persecuting by destroying the disciples. After the encounter, Paul was told to go to Damascus and wait. In the meantime, God addressed a disciple named Ananias.

“Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and the Lord said unto him in a vision, Ananias. And he said, Behold, I am here, Lord. And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go to the street which is called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas for one named Saul, a man of Tarsus: for behold, he prayeth; and he hath seen a man named Ananias coming in, and laying his hands on him, that he might receive his sight. But Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard from many of this man, how much evil he did to thy saints at Jerusalem: and here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call upon thy name. But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles and kings, and the children of Israel: for I will show him how many things he must suffer for my name's sake. And Ananias departed, and entered into the house; and laying his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, who appeared unto thee in the way which thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mayest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Spirit. And straightway there fell from his eyes as it were scales, and he received his sight; and he arose and was baptized; and he took food and was strengthened.” Acts 9:10-19a (ASV)

Imagine what it must have seemed like for Ananias. Saul had been destroying Christians, even unto death. Why would God choose such a harmful person to do His work when there were plenty of faithful Christians? Yet, God certainly did have a plan for Paul. Ananias went forth in faith, knowing that God knows best. He wondered about it all, not taking the voice he heard for granted. When things were exactly as God said they would be, Ananias did exactly what God commanded and a new disciple was made. Thanks be to God.


December 31, 2003

No WORD posted.