Posted tagged ‘advent candle’

The Why’s of Christmas

December 16, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      December 16, 2018

                              

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem it changed things!

When Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol in 1843 it REALLY changed things! That’s not meant to say Dickens was more important than Jesus, but rather to make a point about what we have done to Christmas.

Before the British author wrote the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, Christmas was not viewed as a major holiday. In fact, in the early part of the 1800’s very few American Protestants celebrated Christmas because it was seen as being “too Catholic!” 

Dickens’ tale of greed turned to generosity brought a different spirit and perspective to the season. It helped that he was already a recognized author with novels like Oliver Twist, and The Old Curiosity Shop. 

Christmas now dominates our calendars. I asked the children during a recent Sunday morning worship what they knew about the Season of Advent. One boy’s response was “Isn’t that when we do a calendar where a piece of chocolate pops out for each day?”

Yes…and it’s also the season that has become populated with other yearly sweets…like fruitcake, fudge, and candy canes. It’s the time of the year when our mailbox gets product advertisements for almond toffee candy, over-priced pears and apples, and popcorn in a tin! 

I know…I know, I’m sounding like a “Bah! Humbug” withered old man who doesn’t wasn’t to part with his nickels and dimes. Actually, I love Christmas! I love it even more now that I’m not a full-time pastor. I can now actually enjoy the season and meditate on its message, as opposed to planning extra services, and taking care of all the church-related extra details.

Sometimes, in all our busyness about the business we forgot to think about the why’s of what we’re doing. Celebrating the Christ-child becomes a short-term sermon series…and then we move on. Christmas is seen as an emphasis, complete with decorated sanctuaries, children’s programs, and star-shaped cookies (There’s that sweet thing again!). 

But the coming of Immanuel was a foretold event that was meant to change things forever. It signaled God’s love for his created, and reconciliation then and now. That has been, and should always be, the why of the event.

Charles Dickens raised the popularity of Christmas by writing a story about a man who was visited by three ghosts, who MADE him see his past, his present, and what was yet to be. In essence, it had nothing to do with the birth of Jesus but rather of personal revelation of how one man’s deeds and misdeeds affected others. 

It’s a great story, but not THE story. Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol in six weeks. God has been and still is writing the story of grace, forgiveness, and new life.

The Changing of Advent (Holiday) Traditions

December 13, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          December 13, 2017

                            

Last Christmas Eve was a strange time for me. It was the first time in 38 years that I was not involved in the leadership of a Christmas Eve worship service. Having retired from pastoral ministry at the end of 2015 I had to shift from leading to being one of the ones being led.

It’s okay! I survived, and enjoyed the worship gathering at First Baptist Church in Colorado Springs that evening. It just felt weird, like the first time you wear silk pajamas!

Advent and Christmas are punctuated with traditions. Last Sunday we sang Christmas carols in worship. Christmas music is about as traditional as you can get, although the Starbucks I’m sitting in right now is playing their “holiday tracks.” Bah humbug!

In the secularizing of our culture the traditions’ scale has been shifting in recent years. Although Christmas Eve is the most heavily attended worship service of the year, when people think of traditions between Thanksgiving and Christmas they are likely to put 5 A.M. Black Friday shopping trips, office holiday parties, watching The Christmas Story movie or It’s A Wonderful Life, fruitcake, and ugly sweater contests as their traditions this time of the year.

Advent calendars used to be a tradition in many families, counting down the days until Christmas. Advent is a season of waiting and expectation but we are no longer a culture that waits very well!

Wrapped gifts used to be symbolic of the gifts being brought to the Christ-child. Now gift cards in an envelope will be the biggest sellers this season. We’re unsure of what to give someone so we get extra fuel points at the grocery store by simply buying a Best Buy gift card and letting the receiver figure out what they want. Our giving has taken on an element of what we get out of it!

The number of people sending Christmas cards, another tradition, is dropping as Facebook has made things easier and cheaper…and who wants to wait in line at the post office anyway?

The tradition of Christmas Eve services has changed also. It used to be that going to one’s church on Christmas Eve was a time of worship and reuniting. Kids who had grown up in the church were back in town. Old friends were back. It was a gathering of community that had become tradition. In recent years families look for a service that fits their time schedule. Mega-churches with five or six service times become the place to go so that people can get on with what else needs to be done.

Things change, that’s how it is! I just wish more people would first think of “O, Come All Ye Faithful!” when they consider a Christmas song rather than “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas.”

Simple Gifts That Run Deep

December 23, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            December 23, 2015

                                        

Each Christmas for the past…I don’t know…fifteen years Carol and I have said that we aren’t going to buy Christmas gifts for one another…and we do! Each Christmas I search for something special that I think she would enjoy. She has a bit of her mom in her; her mom who would give gift suggestions to her children such as a new spatula…or a used paperback mystery from the public library cast-off pile.

Each Christmas I try to be sneaky and hide a few present that I’ve purchased for Carol. Unfortunately, my memory of where I hid them is not spot on. I’m still missing something I bought for her three Christmases ago. It’s hiding someplace in the house. I don’t even remember what it was I got for her, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t edible.

Each Christmas our trash cans get filled with wrapping paper and packaging contents. Grandkids commence to dancing with toy boxes, while our grown-up children discover twenty dollar bills in wrapped empty boxes of Triscuits and Cheerios.

But the gifts that mean the most at Christmas never come with a price tag. The best gifts aren’t secured during an early morning dash on Black Friday with a crowd of crazed consumers. The gifts that run deep within us are those moments when a hug is shared, a story is told, and a family prayer is said.

For me the simple gifts that run deep will include the discovery of Christmas by our nine-month old granddaughter. As her older brother and sister jump around in hyper-giddiness she will watch and begin to get a sense that Christmas is a special time.

A simple gift for me will be to see a young family with a two-week old daughter, plus her older brother and sister, light the advent candle during the Christmas Eve service. A little while later, after carols have been sung and scriptures read, a simple gift will be the singing by candlelight of “Silent Night” by the gathered worshipers. It is a few moments of calm and peace that hush the chatter in my soul.

A simple gift will be the voice of my 87 year old father that I will ring up on Christmas Day. It gently nudges the sadness within me that comes from being several states away. I will be blessed by his chuckles as he shares the recent stories of happenings in his senior living complex. Any relationship is a simple gift. A visit with my dad is like a drink of the deep water from my Papaw Helton’s well- renewing and quenching.

Finally, the last simple gift of Christmas Day will be when I lay my head down on the pillow that night and know…because I know…that I have been blessed.

The Far Side of Church

June 8, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                     June 8, 2013

 

The Far Side of Church”

 

I love laughter, and I love “The Far Side” comic strip. It was a sad day when Gary Larson stopped doing “The Far Side.” Thankfully, my brother had given me “The Far Side Calendar” every year for Christmas for five or six years. When I get depressed or frustrated I take a look at a few of the calendar pages.

I wish I could blame my warped sense of humor on “The Far Side”, but that would be a lie. It was in my genes long before I started looking at funny-faced kids and adults wearing spectacles. And, as a result of that, I think of situations that might occur in church that I think would be funny. Others might not think they are even worth a giggle, but I’m ready to explode.

Like the Sunday several years ago when I asked a dear elderly lady named Pauline Jones to light the advent candle and I gave her a book of matches that had no matches in it. To further the humor I then gave her a second book of matches…that was also matchless!

I think of church pranks, like when I spoke at Ascension Lutheran Church down the street from us on pulpit exchange Sunday and they gave me a bulletin that had the pages mixed up. Page three ended with us singing “Crown Him With Many Crowns”, and then page four…in my bulletin had the second verse of “Spirit of the Living God.”

I can imagine a Far Side entitled “Deacon Pranks” with a picture of a deacon putting Super Glue on the bottom lip of a communion plate, or substituting prune juice for grape juice.

I can picture a wolf dressed up in a suit, wearing a wig and glasses, sitting in church,with the caption underneath “Being a life-long independent Baptist wolf, Peter felt justified in stealing sheep from other flocks.”

I can imagine a baptistry with sharks swimming around a circle within it, and the pastor saying to the fearful-looking teenager “As Paul tells us in Romans …all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death.”

In other words, church needs to encourage finding the lighter side of things.

Ricky, the sound booth humorist, was known to turn off the pastor’s mic in the middle of the sermon and start playing a Richard Pryor tape.”

There’s a time to be serious. There’s a time to share hope and peace. And there’s a time to laugh.

Ted didn’t see the humor in it. The one Sunday he fell alseep in church, the congregation had exited quietly and placed empty clothing on the pews with a sign, ‘Raptured! Sorry you couldn’t come.’”

Solomon wrote that there was “…a time to weep and a time to laugh” (Ecclesiastes 3:4a).

Look for the humor in church. I believe that it is one step along the journey to experiencing joy.