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




New Guinea





























Scripture on this page taken from the World English Bible which belongs to the public domain.

A WORD FOR TODAY, December 2022

Christ is the reason for the season, and the world waits expectantly through Advent for the coming of the King. In every country, people are preparing for feasts and festivals, they are decorating and baking according to their own traditions. It can be a very busy time for everyone. Instead of my normal devotions for the next twenty-five days, I will be editing and rerunning a series on Christmas traditions from many nations around the world that I originally wrote in 2003. As we journey through Advent with our brothers and sisters who are walking this journey with us, let us give to God our own traditions and live them for Him.

December 1, 2022


“Be therefore imitators of God, as beloved children. Walk in love, even as Christ also loved us and gave himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling fragrance.” Ephesians 5:1-2, WEB

Music plays a very important role all over the world during Christmas celebrations. Christians carol in the streets, there are choral services at church and singing around the fireplace. When we join together in song, we worship and praise 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.

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, 2022


“Moreover when you fast, don’t be like the hypocrites, with sad faces. For they disfigure their faces that they may be seen by men to be fasting. Most certainly I tell you, they have received their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you are not seen by men to be fasting, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6:16-18, WEB

Gift giving is a tradition is many countries, though the practice differs from place to place. Some give presents around St. Nicholas day, some at Christmas, and others around twelfth night. The folk tales about those who bring the gifts are also 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 in some countries, just like 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. Their gifts of gold, myrrh, and frankincense were significant symbols for Jesus the King and Priest, prophetic of the life of Jesus. The gifts also helped the Holy Family financially so they could escape to Egypt. These were the first Christmas gifts and many Christians have followed their example. 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 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.

It may seem odd to those of us who 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 many of us live. They are few in number; recent reports suggest 1.5% 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, 2022

New Guinea

“For he is our peace, who made both one, and broke down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in his flesh the hostility, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man of the two, making peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, having killed the hostility through it. He came and preached peace to you who were far off and to those who were near. For through him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father.” Ephesians 2:14-18, WEB

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. There is even some sort of conflict in those Christmas romances that are so popular these days. The story is boring without it and the viewer 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 such as the president’s daughter being kidnapped, a bomb harming an 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 would take revenge for their life. Usually both sides offered children, and 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 like 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.

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, 2022


“Behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested him, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? How do you read it?’ He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’ He said to him, ‘You have answered correctly. Do this, and you will live.’ But he, desiring to justify himself, asked Jesus, ‘Who is my neighbor?’ Jesus answered, ‘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. By chance a certain priest was going down that way. When he saw him, he passed by on the other side. In the same way a Levite also, when he came to the place, and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he traveled, came where he was. When he saw him, he was moved with compassion, came to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. He set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the host, and said to him, “Take care of him. Whatever you spend beyond that, I will repay you when I return.” Now which of these three do you think seemed to be a neighbor to him who fell among the robbers?’ He said, ‘He who showed mercy on him.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’” Luke 10:25-37, WEB

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 Julenisse, 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 Julenisse have helped Santa deliver toys to the children. The Christmas celebration begins on Christmas Eve and continues until the day after Christmas. Homes are 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.

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, lit not only by the light of so many candles, but also with the love of people.


December 5, 2022

Philippines “So then, my beloved, even as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who works in you both to will and to work, for his good pleasure. Do all things without complaining and arguing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without defect in the middle of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you are seen as lights in the world, holding up the word of life, that I may have something to boast in the day of Christ, that I didn’t run in vain nor labor in vain. Yes, and if I am poured out on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice, and rejoice with you all. In the same way, you also rejoice, and rejoice with me.” Philippians 2:12-18, WEB

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. They are a sign of hope and faith to those who hang them.

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 Filipinos 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, 2022


“You offspring of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. 35 The good man out of his good treasure[a] brings out good things, and the evil man out of his evil treasure brings out evil things. 36 I tell you that every idle word that men speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. 37 For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” Matthew 12:34-37, WEB

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 that he provided dowries for many other girls. He was also known for being a lifesaver. He is said to have 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 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 then 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 a donkey and wears his bishop’s robes.

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, 2022


“I will greatly rejoice in Yahweh! My soul will be joyful in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation. He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the earth produces its bud, and as the garden causes the things that are sown in it to spring up, so the Lord Yahweh will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.” Isaiah 61:10-11, WEB

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 worldwide, 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.

Christmas tradition have reason and purpose related to the faith of Christians 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 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, 2022


“Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? When did we see you as a stranger and take you in, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ The King will answer them, ‘Most certainly I tell you, because you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ Matthew 25:37-40, WEB

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 have 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 that all the cows 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. They go out of the house after dinner and 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. They blindfold one another and touch the fence posts on the way to midnight mass. What they feel will indicate the type of man they will marry. The girls wash their face before bed 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 into a hearty meal of many courses. They 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.

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, 2022


“Now in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man whose name was Joseph, of David’s house. The virgin’s name was Mary. Having come in, the angel said to her, ‘Rejoice, you highly favored one! The Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women!’ But when she saw him, she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered what kind of salutation this might be. The angel said to her, ‘Don’t be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and give birth to a son, and shall name him “Jesus.” He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever. There will be no end to his Kingdom.” Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, seeing I am a virgin?’ The angel answered her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore also the holy one who is born from you will be called the Son of God. Behold, Elizabeth your relative also has conceived a son in her old age; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For nothing spoken by God is impossible.’ Mary said, ‘Behold, the servant of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.” Luke 1:26-38, WEB

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 like pomegranates of Andalusia, Valencia oranges, and Aragonese apples along with walnuts and chestnuts from Galicia. 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. Overnight 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.

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, 2022


“How lovely are your dwellings, Yahweh of Armies! My soul longs, and even faints for the courts of Yahweh. My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. Yes, the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young, near your altars, Yahweh of Armies, my King, and my God. Blessed are those who dwell in your house. They are always praising you. Selah. Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on a pilgrimage. Passing through the valley of Weeping, they make it a place of springs. Yes, the autumn rain covers it with blessings. They go from strength to strength. Every one of them appears before God in Zion. Yahweh, God of Armies, hear my prayer. Listen, God of Jacob. Selah. Behold, God our shield, look at the face of your anointed. For a day in your courts is better than a thousand. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness. For Yahweh God is a sun and a shield. Yahweh will give grace and glory. He withholds no good thing from those who walk blamelessly. Yahweh of Armies, blessed is the man who trusts in you.” Psalm 84, WEB

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 Meghly is made in homes where there is a newborn child, particularly a boy. The Meghly 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 the plants 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.

Christmas is 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 the 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, 2022


“Jesus therefore said to them again, ‘Most certainly, I tell you, I am the sheep’s door. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep didn’t listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters in by me, he will be saved, and will go in and go out, and will find pasture. The thief only comes to steal, kill, and destroy. I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly.” John 10:7-10, WEB

Though the population of Christians in Bangladesh is less than 1/2 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 like 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.

The Bengalis go to so much trouble to make the entrances into their homes and their churches a very welcoming feature of their celebration that it must be a beautiful site that would make any visitors feel welcome. Jesus said He is the gate, the gate into salvation and eternal life. At Christmas we celebrate His coming as God’s mercy in flesh.

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


December 12, 2022


“Now on the last and greatest day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, ‘If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink! He who believes in me, as the Scripture has said, from within him will flow rivers of living water.’ But he said this about the Spirit, which those believing in him were to receive. For the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus wasn’t yet glorified. Many of the multitude therefore, when they heard these words, said, “This is truly the prophet.” Others said, “This is the Christ.” But some said, “What, does the Christ come out of Galilee? Hasn’t the Scripture said that the Christ comes of the offspring of David, and from Bethlehem, the village where David was?” So a division arose in the multitude because of him. Some of them would have arrested him, but no one laid hands on him.” John 7:37-44, WEB

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. Children go from house to house singing “kalanda” or Christmas carols while playing triangles and drums. They are rewarded with treats or money. The Christmas 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 as 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 like 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 which is January 2nd, 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,” the spirits of springs and fountains.

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, 2022


“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 assembly, of which I was made a servant according to the stewardship of God which was given me toward you to fulfill the word of God, the mystery which has been hidden for ages and generations. But now it has been revealed to his saints, to whom God was pleased to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. We proclaim him, admonishing every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus; for which I also labor, striving according to his working, which works in me mightily.” Colossians 1:24-29, WEB

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 floorboards 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 (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, from much earlier times. On the morning of St. Lucia Day, 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 13th is believed to be the darkest night of the year, so a festival with lights brings hope.

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, 2022


“How long, Yahweh? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart every day? How long shall my enemy triumph over me? Behold, and answer me, Yahweh, my God. Give light to my eyes, lest I sleep in death; lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed against him;” lest my adversaries rejoice when I fall. But I trust in your loving kindness. My heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to Yahweh, because he has been good to me..” Psalm 13, WEB

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.

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 effect on the people, and many suffer from depression. Add to it the difficulties of life like 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 in 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, 2022


“Don’t you know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run like that, that you may win. Every man who strives in the games exercises self-control in all things. Now they do it to receive a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible. I therefore run like that, not aimlessly. I fight like that, not beating the air, but I beat my body and bring it into submission, lest by any means, after I have preached to others, I myself should be rejected.” 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, WEB

It is difficult finding information about Christmas in Africa. The few sites have little, and what they have is 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 Africa 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 like hockey. Legend has it that the shepherds 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.

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, 2022


“Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and whatever other commandments there are, are all summed up in this saying, namely, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love doesn’t harm a neighbor. Love therefore is the fulfillment of the law. Do this, knowing the time, that it is already time for you to awaken out of sleep, for salvation is now nearer to us than when we first believed. The night is far gone, and the day is near. Let’s therefore throw off the deeds of darkness, and let’s put on the armor of light. Let’s walk properly, as in the day; not in reveling and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and lustful acts, and not in strife and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, for its lusts.” Romans 13:8-14, WEB

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. Families begin to display their presebres, which means manger, on December 16th, which is the start of the season. The nativity scenes are often quite ornate with landscapes of mountains and valleys, rivers and seas. Some presebres include 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.

Also on December 16th, the people begin to 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.

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 “jamon,” 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 which is 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, 2022


“You are the light of the world. A city located on a hill can’t be hidden. Neither do you light a lamp and put it under a measuring basket, but on a stand; and it shines to all who 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, WEB

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.

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, 2022


“But Jesus answered them, ‘You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like God’s angels in heaven. But concerning the resurrection of the dead, haven’t you read that which was spoken to 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.’ When the multitudes heard it, they were astonished at his teaching.” Matthew 22:29-33, WEB

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 hope 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 hope that they will bring good fortune to the family throughout the year.

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, 2022


I once listened to a conversation during which some Christians and pagans were discussing the pagan roots of many Christmas traditions. As we have seen through this Advent journey, there are aspects of Christmas around the world that go 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 which is 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. 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 first displayed 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 created 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 scenes include 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.

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, 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 are things that 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.

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 20, 2022


“Behold, Yahweh’s hand is not shortened, that it can’t save; nor his ear dull, that it can’t hear. But your iniquities have separated you and your God, and your sins have hidden 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 mutters wickedness. No one sues in righteousness, and no one pleads in truth. They trust in vanity, and speak lies. They conceive mischief, and give birth to iniquity. They hatch adders’ eggs, and weave the spider’s web. He who eats of their eggs dies; and that which is crushed breaks out into a viper. Their webs won’t become garments. They won’t cover themselves with their works. Their works are works of iniquity, and acts of violence are in their hands. Their feet run to evil, and they hurry to shed innocent blood. Their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity. Desolation and destruction are in their paths. They don’t know the way of peace; and there is no justice in their ways. They have made crooked paths for themselves; whoever goes in them doesn’t know peace.” Isaiah 59:1-8, WEB

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.

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, 2022


“He answered them, ‘To you it is given to know the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven, but it is not given to them. For whoever has, to him will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever doesn’t have, from him will be taken away even that which he has. Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they don’t see, and hearing, they don’t hear, neither do they understand. In them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says, ‘By hearing you will hear, and will in no way understand; seeing you will see, and will in no way perceive; for this people’s heart has grown callous, their ears are dull of hearing, and they have closed their eyes; or else perhaps they might perceive with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their heart,and would turn again, and I would heal them.’ But blessed are your eyes, for they see; and your ears, for they hear. For most certainly I tell you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see the things which you see, and didn’t see them; and to hear the things which you hear, and didn’t hear them.’” Matthew 13:11-17, WEB

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.

Children re-enact the posada between December 16th and 24th. 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.

Poinsettias are very common in Mexico, 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.

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? It is amazing as we look at these Christmas traditions, and even at the Christmas story itself, 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, 2022


“Now accept one who is weak in faith, but not for disputes over opinions. One man has faith to eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. Don’t let him who eats despise him who doesn’t eat. Don’t let him who doesn’t eat judge him who eats, for God has accepted him. Who are you who judge another’s servant? To his own lord he stands or falls. Yes, he will be made to stand, for God has power to make him stand. One man esteems one day as more important. Another esteems every day alike. Let each man be fully assured in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks. He who doesn’t eat, to the Lord he doesn’t eat, and gives God thanks. For none of us lives to himself, and none dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord. Or if we die, we die to the Lord. If therefore we live or die, we are the Lord’s.” Romans 14:1-8, WEB

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 like koala bears and kangaroos rather than reindeer and polar bears. They have outdoor concerts by candlelight to sing Christmas carols. Favorite foods of their native lands like ham and turkey are served as cold cuts, and they serve seafood. The favorite dessert is like a Christmas pudding, with a vanilla ice cream with nuts, fruit, and chocolate bits mixture that is put into a bowl to mold it, just like in England.

We love our Christmas traditions and I know many people who would have a hard time celebrating if things were so different like 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, 2022


“Ascribe to Yahweh, you families of nations, ascribe to Yahweh glory and strength. Ascribe to Yahweh the glory due to his name. Bring an offering, and come into his courts. Worship Yahweh in holy array. Tremble before him, all the earth. Say among the nations, ‘Yahweh reigns.’ The world is also established. It can’t be moved. He will judge the peoples with equity. Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice. Let the sea roar, and its fullness! Let the field and all that is in it exult! Then all the trees of the woods shall sing for joy before Yahweh; for he comes, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, the peoples with his truth.” Psalm 96:7-13, WEB

We take so many of our Christmas traditions in America for granted without realizing how many of them had their beginnings in Western Europe, brought to the United States by immigrants. 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. We have seen that many of these traditions have been adopted all over the world. 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 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 to chop down an oak tree the pagans revered. 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 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.

There is a legend in Germany that says on Christmas 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. 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, 2022


“Sing, daughter of Zion! Shout, Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, daughter of Jerusalem. 15 Yahweh has taken away your judgments. He has thrown out your enemy. The King of Israel, Yahweh, is among you. You will not be afraid of evil any more. 16 In that day, it will be said to Jerusalem, “Don’t be afraid, Zion. Don’t let your hands be weak.” 17 Yahweh, your God, is among you, a mighty one who will save. He will rejoice over you with joy. He will calm you in his love. He will rejoice over you with singing.” Zephaniah 3:14-17, WEB

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 “Christkindl,” 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 visits 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 was created in the country. Austria was the home of Wolfgang Mozart, Anton Bruckner, Johann Strauss and Franz Schubert, so there is plenty of music to share. Contemporary and traditional Christmas music is shared everywhere from the marketplaces to the castles, fortresses, city halls, cruise boats, and chapels in tiny Alpine villages.

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 Christmas.

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 tune 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, 2022


Throughout Advent, we have been looking into Christmas traditions from around the world. It has been interesting to do the research for these many countries. It was sometimes difficult to find the 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 best portrayal of each celebration.

I confess that I have been bothered by some of the traditions; some are so unusual, 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 little 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 way other people celebrate 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, as we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, we will 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 ever. Hallelujah! Our Christmas wish, from our house to yours, is that you will have a blessed and bright Christmas Day.


December 26, 2022

“My steps have held fast to your paths. My feet have not slipped.” Psalm 17:5, WEB

The party is over according to the world; some people will have their trees on the curb as soon as possible. This is not true everywhere; in England December 26th is a holiday called Boxing Day. The Boxing Day tradition goes back about eight hundred years; it was a time when the alms boxes located in churches were opened to distribute the gifts to the poor. It has also been traditional for the large landowners to give their servants the day off to spend with their families, with gifts of food from the family’s Christmas dinner to share.

This is what we hear about in the favorite Christmas carol: “Good King Wenceslas looked out on the feast of Stephen when the snow lay round about deep and crisp and even. Brightly shone the moon that night though the frost was cruel when a poor man came in sight gath’ring winter fuel.” The song goes on to tell the story of the king gathering good things to give to the poor man he saw out his window that night. His servant was concerned about the harsh weather, but the king told him to follow closely in his footsteps. “In his master’s steps he trod, where the snow lay dinted; heat was in the very sod which the Saint had printed.” The servant found comfort following in his master’s footprints. It happened on St. Stephen’s Day, December 26th.

Stephen was the first Christian martyr; his story is found in Acts chapters six and seven. In the early days of the church, the apostles tried to take care of all the work that needed to be done in the growing fellowship of believers. They studied and taught the scriptures and the stories of Jesus, and they took care of those in need. They realized that it was impossible for them to do everything; they knew they needed help if they were going to be able to focus on preaching the Word to the world. They chose seven deacons to do the tasks of administration, the business of the church. Stephen was one of those seven.

Stephen wasn’t just a servant, however. He was a man of God who also did works of great wonder and spoke with the grace of God. He was seized by the authorities because they opposed the spread of “the Way” as Christianity was called in the beginning. They claimed that Stephen spoke blasphemy and persuaded some men to testify against him. Based on lies, Stephen was found guilty and was sentenced to death by stoning. Stephen stood firm on God’s grace despite the persecution. “All who sat in the council, fastening their eyes on him, saw his face like it was the face of an angel.” (Acts 6:15, WEB)

Stephen gave the most eloquent speech, laying out before them the story of God’s love. He reminded them of the works of God’s power in the life of Israel and the promises of God that still lay before them. Then he placed the one whom they crucified in the midst of the story, showing them that everything was fulfilled in Jesus Christ. He showed them how they missed the Messiah, and how they betrayed the God they claimed to love. They stoned him for his words, but even while Stephen received such brutality, he knew the peace of God. He prayed for Jesus to receive his spirit and fell on his knees to ask for forgiveness for the ones who were killing him.

The days following Christmas are filled with aspects of God’s story that do not make sense to us. After a month of waiting and preparation and celebrations filled with love and laughter, the stories for this week are not joyful. How could God allow a faithful servant like Steven to die such a horrific death? Imagine being stoned? It is not a quick and easy passing; it was a form of capital punishment by which a crowd throws stones at the person until they died of blunt trauma, they would suffer incredible pain as they were buried under stones. If they were lucky, the person being stoned would die when pushed into the hole. It is interesting that the first time we meet Paul, who was then called Saul, was at the stoning of Steven. Paul’s life ended in a similar way.

We also remember the Holy Innocents this week, on December 28th. They were the children massacred in Bethlehem at the hands of Herod. We prefer to believe in a God who is loving and kind; any stories of death and destruction is difficult for us to juxtapose with our understanding. We have a hard time believing that the God who sent us the baby in the manger could possibly allow the death of all the children in Bethlehem. Though we are to remember these two horrific moments, in the midst of it all we are called to praise.

Unfortunately, the spirit of Christmas is a fleeting feeling. The party is over. We were very generous in the days leading up to Christmas, but our pockets are feeling much thinner today. The joy of the holidays is overcome by the concerns of the world. The generosity of the season is bound up by credit card debt. Those who were faithful to attend worship services will take a break until Easter because they did their duty through December. Even many Christians have had enough of Jesus for the moment. He is a reason to celebrate in December but that is the extent of their faith. They try to put Jesus in a box, but He shouldn’t be forgotten now that the season is over.

The baby born on Christmas calls us to a life like that of Stephen. His gracious generosity and faithful service made life better for many in his world. He not only met their physical needs; he met their spiritual needs by sharing the Gospel. He also pointed out the failure of those who claimed to be worshipping God but were focusing on their own power and position. It was a risky venture to follow Jesus; in the end he was stoned. The servant to Good King Wenceslas risked frostbite and death following his master into the woods. Yet, we are reminded that the Master does not call us to His work without providing everything we need. We might suffer, but in following His footsteps, we will be blessed.

How will we face the world today? Will we pack Jesus away with the ornaments and tinsel, just like the rest of the world, or will we remember His mercy every morning? For many people the discipline of daily reading through Advent was a new experience. Will it end now that Christmas is over, or will we all try to find the time to continue the habit that God has helped us build this season?

As Christians we do have to move past the manger and the child that is born and look toward the Lord Jesus who shed his blood for our sake. Yet, I pray that the sweet spirit of Christmas - the joy, the generosity and the faith - will remain strong in each of you as you face the world from this day forward. Jesus is with us as much today as He was in that manger so many years ago, and He is leading us today, calling us to serve others with grace and mercy no matter the risks.


December 27, 2022

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35, WEB

Everyone has a favorite Gospel. My mother loved the book of Luke. I think it had to do with his perspective as a scientist that accepted the miraculous. Other people like Matthew’s historic view. Yet others prefer the journalistic storytelling of Mark. My favorite is John. John’s Gospel is different than the other three. He doesn’t follow a timeline, instead he designed his Gospel from a thematic point of view. There are layers of symbolism from obvious pictures of God’s grace to a much deeper understanding of the story of love.

The word love is central to all John’s writings. As a matter of fact, nearly one third of all instances of the word is found in the five books written by John. He uses it far more often than any of the other Gospel writers. One of the most beloved and quoted scriptures comes from John, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” Most people can see just “John 3:16” on a placard in the end zone of a football field and know exactly what it means. It makes sense since John was the Beloved Disciple, a close friend of Jesus and the one Jesus chose to care for His mother.

One story about St. John tells of an encounter with a huntsman. He was an elderly man and was found holding and petting a tame partridge which were common pets in that time. The huntsman asked John why he was occupying himself with such a trivial pastime. John asked, “What is in your hand?” The huntsman said, “A bow.” John then asked him, “Why do you not carry it always bent?” “Because,” said the huntsman, “in that case it would lose its strength, and would be useless when required for shooting, from too continuous strain.” John replied, “Then, do not let this simple and brief relaxation of mine perplex you, since without it the spirit would flag from unremitted strain, and fail when the call of duty came.” John worked diligently for the Gospel, but he knew the importance of rest.

The best story comes from when John was old and feeble; it is said his senses were becoming numbed and he wanted to be taken into the presence of the gathered congregation. As entered, he said these words, “Little children, love one another!” And when asked why he always said this, and only this, his answer was, “It is the command of the Lord, and if this only were done, enough were done.” If only we would love one another. John uses that phrase more than anyone else; it was so important to him that it became the center of his life.

Today we celebrate the life of St. John the Apostle and Evangelist. He was the writer of the Gospel, three letters and the Book of Revelation. John did not die a martyr’s death, but in his life we see the faithfulness of a man who patiently endured persecution from those who did not know Jesus. John offers to us, through all his writings, an invitation to an intimate and eternal relationship with the God who loves us. John, who was the youngest of the apostles, knew that relationship in a very real way. He dwelled in the presence of God when Jesus was with them and then for the rest of his life. I think that’s why I like his writings so much.

Jesus had a sacrificial love for us. He loves us so much that He died for our sake. He loves us so much He went to the cross to reconcile us with our Father and ensure our place in God’s eternal kingdom. Jesus told His disciples that they could not follow Him where He was going because none of them could die on the cross for the sake of the whole world. However, most of them were martyred in His name. They could not go with Him at that moment, for Jesus had to complete the work of the cross before they could go on to do the work of the kingdom in this world. He left them for a moment, but they were never alone. They had each other. It seems odd that He would call loving one another something new, since God always intended His people to love. Yet, this new love is deeper. It is a sacrificial love, just as Christ was willing to love us through the cross. This kind of love radiates from our lives, marking us before as disciples of Christ. It will probably not lead to martyrdom like so many of those first disciples. We might just have a life like St. John, living to old age with God using every act of love in our lives for His glory.


December 28, 2022

Scriptures for January 1, 2023
First Sunday after Christmas Day: 1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26; Psalm 148; Colossians 3:12-17; Luke 2:41-52
Holy Name of Jesus: Numbers 6:22-27; Psalm 8; Galatians 4:4-7 or Philippians 2:5-11; Luke 2:15-21
New Year’s Day: Ecclesiastes 3:1-13; Psalm 8; Revelation 21:1-6a; Matthew 25:31-46

“When eight days were fulfilled for the circumcision of the child, his name was called Jesus, which was given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” Luke 2:21, WEB

We have so many choices of focus for next Sunday’s worship. Do we stick with the lessons for the First Sunday after Christmas which continues the story of the Nativity week which is less than idyllic peace and joy. Life is chaotic, even for the Son of God. We can use the texts for the Circumcision and Name of Jesus. This focus helps us to remember that Jesus’ name means something. There are even texts that celebrate the coming of a new year, which remind us that the old passes away giving room to something new. (I have included the text assignments for all three above.)

The Name of Jesus happens on a Sunday only as often as Christmas happens on a Sunday, which is follows a pattern. The next time it will happen is in eleven years, then six years after that, then five years, then another six years, and then back to eleven. Also, since I spent most of this month writing about so many secular celebrations of Jesus, it would be good to look at the ancient celebration of Him more closely. We’ll look at the New Year for the rest of this week.

Names matter. I have done data processing for a charitable organization in San Antonio. It was an enlightening experience as I have watched name trends over the years. Some parents try to get creative, and they use normal names with unusual spellings. A surprising number of people named their child Abcde (pronounced Absidee.) Some people use their children's names to make a statement, political or otherwise like Destiny or Justice. We’ve seen celebrities use names like Apple, Banjo, Diezel and Brooklyn and bizarre such as Moon Unit or Moxie CrimeFighter. I recall an episode of “Seinfeld” when George was determined to name his not yet conceived son Seven.

When I was pregnant with my daughter Victoria, I was absolutely certain that she was a boy. Bruce and I had decided that he would name any boy children and I would name the girls. Since I believed that I was carrying a boy, I didn’t think I needed to worry about coming up with a name. About a week before she was born, Bruce said, “Honey, this really might be a girl. You should have a name prepared just in case.” I said, “Fine” and blurted out “Victoria.” Even though I had not spent much time thinking about it, I had been through all the books and for some reason that name was on the tip of my tongue. I don’t regret the decision and I don’t think Victoria minds, either. Though we have used the nickname “Vicki” over the years, as an adult she has generally referred to herself as Victoria.

Names often play an important role in stories. In the Shakespeare play “Romeo and Juliet” it was their name and family relationships that kept them apart. Juliet cries out “‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy; thou art thyself, though not a Montague. What’s Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot, nor arm, nor face, nor any other part belonging to a man. O, be some other name! What’s in a name? that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet...”

There was nothing particularly special about the way Bruce and I chose our kids’ names or the way we gave them their names. We didn’t go through a ritual or wait a period of time. We picked a name, wrote it on the paper and began calling them by those names. We may have solemnly announced their names to those who were nearby, and we sent notices to our friends and family announcing their births, but we didn’t follow any age old traditions in choosing or giving their names, as happens in many societies.

Some traditions use family names, especially those of deceased loved ones to keep their memory alive through the generations. Others honor the living by naming children after relatives or friends. Many cultures wait a few days to have a naming ceremony, often at seven days, with special food and rituals. In China, they have eggs died red to symbolize new life and good luck. Other traditions use rice and saffron in the ceremony. Some traditions use fake names in the beginning, to ward off or fool evil spirits. In some places the baby’s name is given when he or she is thought to be able to hear, and it is whispered in their ear first. Some families provide a sacrifice as an offering of thankfulness for the baby. In one Native American culture, the baby sleeps with an ear of corn for a month and then the corn is rubbed on its skin while the baby is facing the rising sun and is named at the moment the first rays hit.

Some of the rituals and traditions sound so odd to us because we are used to naming our children whatever we want. We go through baby books and listen to trends; we make up our own names, using creative juxtapositions of letters from other names or words. Some celebrities have become infamous for their odd names for their children. In some societies, however, the parents did not even have a choice. The names are given by elders or masters. In others, the expectation is to give names that will help the child rise in stature or succeed in their world. Names mean something, which is why we try to give our children the right name.

Though names these days do not seem quite as important as in days of old, we do set aside one day a year to consider the name above all other names: Jesus. The Gospel lesson does not focus only on Jesus’ name; as a matter of fact, the naming of Jesus takes only one verse in Luke.

It is interesting that the Gospel lesson for the Name of Jesus is about the visit from the shepherds that had been visited by a host of angels who gave them good news. “A child has been born.” They did not sit around and wait to hear more or think about what had happened. They hurried off to find the child lying in a manger, just as was promised. When they found the child, they told His mother everything they had seen. She marveled at their story.

Can you imagine? She was a young virgin, without husband, and yet she was pregnant with the Son of God. She knew this because she'd been visited by an angel. She gave birth in a place with a manger, taken there by Joseph her betrothed that accepted her despite her condition. He accepted the child because an angel had visited them. Then, after the birth, she was visited by the shepherds. This was all too unbelievable, but Mary believed. She listened and treasured all of these things in her heart.

Mary and Joseph did not have to read through dozens of baby name books or think about which family members to honor by using their name. When they were visited by God’s messengers, they were both told His name is Jesus. His naming happened as it should with all good Jewish boys, at His circumcision. Jesus would have been dedicated to the Lord on the eighth day, circumcised according to the traditions of the Jews. According to Luke 2:21 He was named Jesus that day; He was given the name that had been told to Mary and Joseph before He was born.

The Gospel lesson for the first Sunday after Christmas shows how Mary and Joseph followed all the traditions according to the Law of Moses. Forty days after Jesus was born Mary had to go to the Temple to be purified. They offered the proper sacrifices, but the visit was something special; it was the fulfillment of more promises. While at the Temple, Mary, Joseph and Jesus met two people who were awaiting the arrival of the Messiah. They knew, without a doubt, that they had seen Him in flesh. Simeon, an old man who was righteous and devout, was promised by the Holy Spirit that he would see the Messiah before he died. The moment he saw Jesus, Simeon cried, “Now you are releasing your servant, Master, according to your word, in peace; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared before the face of all peoples; a light for revelation to the nations, and the glory of your people Israel.”

What a marvelous promise fulfilled in a baby! And yet, we are reminded that with the promise of salvation came great pain and suffering. Simeon blessed the family but turned to Mary and told her the truth. “Your soul will be pierced.” Salvation would come at a price, and Mary among all people would feel the pain in a very real way.

The other person that Mary, Joseph, and Jesus met that day was an older woman, a prophetess named Anna, who had been living in the Temple for many years. She worshipped, fasted, and prayed constantly. At the moment Anna saw Jesus, she knew that God’s promises were fulfilled in Him. She began to praise God and tell everyone that the Redeemer they were waiting for had arrived. Isn’t it amazing that these two people, Simeon and Anna, seemed to live to an old age for one very specific purpose: to praise God for Jesus. Mary and Joseph marveled. They marveled? They were amazed? I suppose that could be true, but I have to wonder what it means that they were amazed? Was it surprising to hear these things about their son? How could that be? After all, they both were met by angels who told them all these things. They knew going into this parenthood that Jesus was special. They knew He came from God. They knew He was the promised one. How could they be amazed by the words of Simeon and Anna?

Mary and Joseph continued to be amazed at what was happening to them, even though they had knowledge about Jesus and His future. Throughout the Nativity story they experienced the faithfulness of God in new, miraculous ways. As we read the story about Mary and Joseph, their response helps us to realize that no matter how well we know God and understand the scriptures, we should still view God as surprising every day.

Jesus truly was an extraordinary child. Miraculous, even. Why take the time to celebrate His name?

Isn’t what Shakespeare wrote true? Wouldn’t Jesus by any other name still have been the salvation, the redemption, the promised child of God? Though it is not always so in this day and age, names in the Bible did have purpose. Often the name itself has some special meaning. Other names are given to define a purpose or characteristic. God is given dozens of names in the scriptures: Creator, Almighty God, Father, the Lord our Righteousness, “I AM.” Jesus is identified by certain names, like the Light of the World, Savior, Redeemer, the Son of God. Even the Holy Spirit has special names: the Counselor and Comforter.

We see this also in the names God gave to the people in the Old Testament. Abraham meant “the father of many.” Isaac’s name comes from a root that means “to laugh.” Jacob meant “supplanter.” When Jacob’s name was changed to Israel, God changed their relationship. The new name meant “God contends” and in changing the name of Jacob, God established that though we struggle against God, we are to cling to Him.

In the Old Testament, people were made part of Israel through a blessing; God’s name was spoken over the people. “‘Yahweh bless you, and keep you. Yahweh make his face to shine on you, and be gracious to you. Yahweh lift up his face toward you, and give you peace.’ So they shall put my name on the children of Israel; and I will bless them.” They are blessed by the name of God.

In Psalm 8, God’s name is exalted. “Yahweh, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens!” The psalmist then prophesied about Jesus, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have ordained; what is man, that you think of him? What is the son of man, that you care for him? For you have made him a little lower than the angels, and crowned him with glory and honor.” This text reminds us of God’s special bond with humankind, but also points to the One who would be crowned our King in a most unusual way.

God’s name is excellent, but the Old Testament scriptures promised that the day would come when a new name would bring salvation. It is not the name of another god, but a new name for God. He would be Immanuel, the God in flesh who dwells among us. The name of Jesus is important because Jesus means Savior. This Savior was born in flesh to dwell with us, to die for us, and to be raised to new life for our sake. Jesus Christ was born a King, but it was on the cross that He was crowned and glorified.

I saw a meme this morning that began by showing how few went to see Jesus when He came the first time, but then showed that the whole world we see Jesus when He comes again. Paul wrote to the Philippians that the name of Jesus is the name above all other names, that at His name every knee will bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord. It is His name we take when we are baptized, we become Christians by faith in His name. His name is written on our hearts and on our heads. In His name we are adopted and made heirs of the Kingdom of God. And then as Christians we bear His name into all the world that all those who hear might be blessed and become heirs with us to the promises of God.

We are called to be like Simeon and Anna. We’ve been created with one sole purpose: to praise God for Jesus. Oh, we have other work to do. We are called to use our gifts and share the Gospel. We are called to be disciples and to share our resources with our neighbors. We are called to be just and generous and faithful. We are called to live as Christ in this world and to invite others into His presence.

The days on the church calendar following the Nativity of Jesus were chaotic. We remember the martyrdom of Stephen, the persecution of John, and the massacre of the Innocents. We don’t understand why men like Stephen and babies had to die or why any Christian should suffer. God does not mind our questions. He joins us in our tears. He mourns with us that the world is full of evil. But instead of choosing to live a life in which we take matters into our own hands, we are called to live a life of praise and thanksgiving. We can face the possibility of suffering with the knowledge that God has indeed heard our cry and saved us. He sent Jesus Christ, not only to model a godly life but also to bring us the hope that only comes through death and resurrection. His purpose for coming was first and foremost to die. That’s why He was named Jesus.

Jesus lived an amazing life. He walked in the world with power and authority, granting healing and forgiveness to those who believed. He lived as a model for us today, so that we might follow and life the godly life. All of this is pointless, though, without the cross. On that cross He set us free from all that has us bound in this world so that we can be all that we were created to be. We can’t walk holy without forgiveness. We can’t live godly without grace. We are called by that grace to speak the Gospel to our enemies, telling the story of Christ no matter what suffering we may face. Despite the persecution we might face, we are called to tell the story of God’s love and sacrifice to the world.

It is easy for us to get caught up in the cares of the world, even those that really have no value. Think about the cares of Mary and Joseph, yet they were able to be amazed by the most extraordinary circumstances around the birth of their baby boy.

There are situations in life that need our attention, that need to be resolved with hard work. Most of the things we worry about are really pointless. They can be dealt with simply and quickly if only we would let go. I suppose what it really takes is putting everything in perspective. Can our worry change the situation? Can it make a difference to someone else? Will the world be a better place because of how we dealt with the situation? Most often the answer to these questions is no. Most often we would do well to let go and move on to more fruitful work. Most often we would do more to turn to God and ask Him to remove the worry so that we can accomplish something that will really make a difference in the world. That’s what Mary and Joseph did when the were obedient to God.

Our little troubles are really insignificant when we consider the amazing things God has done. He created the entire world and everything in it. He redeemed all of mankind by the blood of Christ. He brought salvation to our lives in the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus. He ordained His people to service and promised to do even greater things through His Church.

The world around us might be chaotic. We might suffer for a moment. We might have difficult work to do in this world. But no matter what we face, we believe in the God of the heavens and the earth and His Son whose name is Jesus. If only we would spend some time each day just praising God, singing songs of adoration and admiration like we hear in today’s psalm, we might realize more quickly how inconsequential our troubles really are and how extraordinary the life our God has given to us really is.


December 29, 2022

“I will give you thanks with my whole heart. Before the gods, I will sing praises to you. I will bow down toward your holy temple, and give thanks to your Name for your loving kindness and for your truth; for you have exalted your Name and your Word above all. In the day that I called, you answered me. You encouraged me with strength in my soul. All the kings of the earth will give you thanks, Yahweh, for they have heard the words of your mouth. Yes, they will sing of the ways of Yahweh, for Yahweh’s glory is great! For though Yahweh is high, yet he looks after the lowly; but he knows the proud from afar. Though I walk in the middle of trouble, you will revive me. You will stretch out your hand against the wrath of my enemies. Your right hand will save me. Yahweh will fulfill that which concerns me. Your loving kindness, Yahweh, endures forever. Don’t forsake the works of your own hands.Psalm 138, ASV

Every year at this time, everyone focuses on the year that is passing. What were the top news stories? What are the top ten movies and music for the year? It wasn’t a great year with foreign wars and economic instability, but we also got a closer look at the universe with the James Webb telescope. I can’t say that it was a good year, but I can’t say it was a bad year, either. I usually have friends who start posting about how they hope the new year is a better year because the last one was terrible. I don’t see so much of that this year, so perhaps they are seeing it as I am. It was just another year.

As I think about my little corner of the world, I’m not sure I can think of much good news. People I love have dealt with health issues, broken relationships, and financial difficulties. Friends have dealt with personal losses like the death of someone they love; I have lost several people important in my life. There has been much about which to pray. This is life, isn’t it? Even if we are looking forward to the new year in the hope that things will be better, it is likely we’ll have more bad news and the lists that are created next year will be just as bad.

Those reports of the top news stories for the past year can be a very depressing five minutes. They seem to focus on all the bad news, the violence and the heartache. There is no good in death and disaster, but somehow the major story of the year seems to include struggles. What we don't hear in those news reports, however, is the good that came out of the bad. We don’t hear the stories of those who responded the minute that disaster struck. We don’t hear about the people who donated funds to help the victims of some natural catastrophe. We don’t hear about those who volunteer their time to help those who are suffering. We might hear about them as a sidenote, but those stories aren’t important enough to be listed in the top ten of the year.

I once read an article about something that we can do in the new year. Someone suggested that we write down something good every day and place it in a jar. Then, when we get to the end of the year, we can go back and read three hundred and sixty-five bits of good news. It will still be important to remember the major stories of the year because we learn from the past even if it is filled with foreign wars and economic instability, death and disaster, but at least we’ll have something to make us smile and a reason to hope for more good news in the next new year.

See, it is all about our attitude and our focus. We must know what is happening in our world, but can we see the good along with the bad? Can we remember that every natural disaster brings out the goodness of people who are willing to give their time and their resources to help others who are in need? Can we remember that for every bad thing that happens to those we love, there are many willing to kneel before God in prayer? Can we remember that while the news reports stories that are depressing, there are a million reasons for us to be thankful every day?

The new year is a time to adjust something in our lives. We are thinking about resolutions, ways to be healthier and more responsible. Perhaps one of the best resolutions would be to find the silver linings in the bad news. Even better would be for us to be the silver lining in the life of someone experiencing the bad. We can find the way to insert good into the bad. We can share God’s grace in ways that might never be remembered, but will make a very real difference. God has a way of making good news come out of bad, after all, He saved us by the death of His own Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Through us, the world can be a better place, even as death and disaster reigns around us.

I like the line, “Yahweh will fulfill that which concerns me.” That’s a great thought going into the new year. It seems impossible that another year has come and gone, and many of us have been left dazed, wondering where the time has gone. How do you feel at the end of this year? Was 2022 good or not so good? Has anything changed in your world? Has anything changed about the way you see the world around you? On Saturday night the calendar will change from one year to the next, but will the days look any different?

Think about your life a year ago. Perhaps everything was the same then as it is now: same home, family, job, and church. Are you still really the same person? I hope not. If we are not constantly moving forward, learning, growing and maturing, we are stagnant. If we stay the same, we might as well be dead. But what is different? Are you happy about the changes? We might automatically think about things in term of jobs and success, but there are aspects of our life that are more important. Have you grown closer to God, more gracious to your neighbors? Are you a better Christian than you were a year ago?

According to our calendar we are on the verge of a brand new year, but let’s end this one with praise and thanksgiving to God for the good and the bad out of which He has made good come. Whatever this year was and whatever the new year promises, God is in the midst of all of it, fulfilling His promises and transforming the world by His grace.


December 30, 2022

“Brothers, I don’t regard myself as yet having taken hold, but one thing I do: forgetting the things which are behind, and stretching forward to the things which are before, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, think this way. If in anything you think otherwise, God will also reveal that to you. Nevertheless, to the extent that we have already attained, let’s walk by the same rule. Let’s be of the same mind.” Philippians 3:13-16, WEB

Out with the old and in with the new! Yesterday we considered the year that has past, both the good and the bad. There is good reason to remember the past, to recognize the things about ourselves, as individuals and a community, that should be changed so that we will be the best we can be in the coming year. I like remembering the stories of the previous year because we can learn from our failures and celebrate our successes; we all made mistakes and there are always things that we can do better.

I also like looking into the future because there are so many things that we can do now that we’ve learned the lessons of the past. So, at this time of year we look to the past, but we also look toward the future. What will the new year hold? What changes do I need to make? What goals do I have in mind? Many people are thinking about the changes to make in our lives.

Have you made a list of resolutions? The truth is that many resolutions that are made at the end of one year rarely make it past the first month of the new year, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. We all have things in our life we should try to do better. I need to be healthier. I need to watch my finances. I need to commit to my projects and finish what I’ve started. I need to stop wasting so much time on things that do not matter. These are all worthy goals for the new year. Maybe your list looks similar.

No matter how much we want to change, we have to remember that moving from one year to another does not make us a new person. A clean calendar does not indicate a new life. It takes work. It takes commitment. We need to take just one step at a time, always moving forward even when we fail. See, we will probably forget to do something on our list one day soon, and then we will give up. “I can’t do this!” But if we fail today, we can try again tomorrow. It always gets easier if we keep moving forward.

It is also easier if we look to other to help. Do you have a friend who is also trying to get healthy? Perhaps you can walk together on a regular basis. There are people who can help you organize your finances. By posting daily updates on social media, others can encourage you in your goals. Groups or classes with people of similar interests can keep you accountable and help spur your projects toward the finish line. We need to remember to accept all the input from others; sometimes we need to be pushed, to hear where we are going wrong, so that we can go in the right direction. We like positive feedback, but negative comments given kindly is more valuable than baseless praise. Find a partner who will be honest with you and listen. And remember to take one day at a time.

They say that yesterday is past, tomorrow is the future, but today is a gift, that’s why it is called the present. We begin to change today and move forward one day at a time. We can remember the past and look to the future, but now is all we have. So, as we prepare for the coming of a new year, let’s keep in mind that this moment is what really matters. Our life is lived now. Our opportunities are in front of our nose. Our memories and hopes are great, but the present is truly a gift. We only need what we have right now to move from yesterday to tomorrow. So instead of wallowing in the memories or wishing for something new, let’s take today for what it is, embrace the opportunities, and do what we can to make our lives better, remembering that God is with us always. Embrace the now and praise God for His grace that helps us daily to become what He has created and redeemed us to be, which is just what our resolutions should be meant to do, right?