Pause and think about it!

An Easter drama given through the eyes of those closest to Jesus. Characters include Peter, John the Baptist, John, James, Mary Magdalene and Mary. 

Peter: Hello. I’m Peter. I’m sure that you have all heard about the twelve disciples that Jesus chose to follow Him. I guess I have the reputation for being the spokesman for the group, so I am the one who gets to welcome you tonight. We are grateful that you have come …and I believe that you will be blessed by being here. Perhaps we should just go back for a moment and recall the great moment of Jesus’ birth (music begins). Mary. Joseph. Bethlehem. The Shepherds. The Angels. The birth of a King!

Song: O Come all ye faithful

Peter: Come, let us adore Him? Christ the Lord! Yes, Jesus…our Lord and Savior…the King of kings and Lord of lords…was born. But most of the world paid little attention to the event. He grew up in Nazareth in a carpenter’s shop…(sees John off to side). Oh, there’s John—the one we call John the Baptist. (Calls and motions to him) John, come over here and share with the people what you know about Jesus?

John the Baptist: Shalom, Peter. I always like to talk about Jesus. I was preaching in the wilderness of Judea asking the people to repent for I knew that the Kingdom of heaven was at hand. I was baptizing those who repented in the Jordan River; and I told them by the Spirit of God that there would be One come after me who would baptize them with the Holy Ghost and with fire. One day as I was baptizing—standing there in the Jordan River—I looked up and saw Jesus coming toward me. As He walked His face was shining, and then He spoke. He asked ME to baptize HIM in the water. I said, “No, Jesus, please, no! I need to be baptized of you, and you come to me?” But He insisted telling me that it was necessary to fulfill all righteousness. Oh, Peter, as soon as Jesus went under the water and came up again the heavens opened up, and the Spirit of God descended upon Him like a dove and stopped on Him and said in a voice that we could all hear: This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. At that moment God instructed me to tell the people assembled at the Jordan River that this Jesus was God’s Son—the Lamb of God that takes away their sins. It was soon after that I found myself in prison for preaching to Herod that he needed to repent for taking his brother’s wife. (John walks away.)

Peter: (To the audience) While John was still in prison, Jesus began His ministry and started to call together some disciples. I was fishing in the sea of Galilee with my brother, Andrew, the day Jesus walked by. All He said was Come follow me and I will make you fishers of men; and do you know what we did? We immediately left our nets and followed Him! Andrew and I walked with Jesus on down the seashore where He saw James and John mending their nets, and He called to them, “James and John, follow me!”   (James and John come up and greet Peter with a slap on the shoulder while he is talking.)

James: I surely remember that day. It was beautiful, sunny, and warm. We saw Jesus coming with Peter and Andrew. When He spoke, it was with such love that we couldn’t resist the invitation, and to think that a Rabbi such as He would want us for disciples was overwhelming. We were excited to leave all and follow Him.

John: We went with Jesus all around Galilee, listening as He was teaching in the synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and disease among the people. How quickly His fame went throughout land. They brought to Him many sick people and those possessed with devils, and He healed them! When they were hungry He fed them. It was marvelous to see!

James: When He opened His mouth and taught it was with indisputable authority.

Peter: Yes, and I remember that He nicknamed you boys “the sons of thunder!”

James: You would have to remember that! It’s true. By the time He finished, Jesus had called together a group of twelve—John and me, you and your brother Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, Thaddaeus, James of Alphaeus, Simon and Judas. Most people don’t realize how young the twelve of us were—we were just teenagers. You, Peter, were probably the oldest when Jesus called us to follow Him.

Peter: Those three years were packed with activity—watching Jesus as He moved among the people with such compassion and love.

James: Then the night we ate the last supper in the Upper Room: Jesus broke the bread and shared it with us. He blessed the wine and drank it with us. None of us could comprehend what was about to happen. He said that one of us would betray Him. I guess we all wondered how anyone could possibly betray Him after all the good He had done. We all asked Him, “Lord is it I?”

John: Except Judas!

Peter: Now as we look back we can see that Jesus was trying to prepare us all along for what was about to take place: His death, burial, and resurrection. But it was beyond our understanding.

John: How well I remember the Garden of Gethsemane—He asked us to stay awake and pray with Him but we all went to sleep. Three times He came back to check on us. It must have been painful for Him to know that we didn’t realize He was about to die.

Peter: The things that followed happened so quickly. ..the arrest. ..the trial before Pilate…

John: They put that purple robe on Him, and place that prickly crown of thorns on His head… and mocked Him. (head down)

James: And they spit on Him. .and got down on their knees and pretended to be worshipping Him..mocking… (head down)

Peter: Then they took off the robe and led Him to Golgotha. (head down)

Song: My Tribute (Lights reflect Peter, James and John kneeling at cross throughout the song. Lights out at end of song. All three leave stage. Mary Magdalene enters)

Mary Magdalene: I was in the crowd that followed Him up that hill to Golgotha. As He carried His cross, I saw the blood run down His face, yet I saw the glory shine forth from Him. I watched them nail Him to the cross and lift it toward the sky. I stood there at the cross and felt so all alone. Why was I here? Why was He there? I recalled how He intervened and saved my life! I saw Him heal Blind Bartimaeus and make the lame man walk. I saw the love in His eyes when He freed the demon possessed man. Oh, how He loved the children and held them in His arms and talked to them. As I gazed at the cross remembering the great miracles He did, the sun went down and it became very dark. I felt the earth tremble under my feet and heard shouts from the temple as the veil was torn in two. I heard Him cry with a loud voice: “It is finished. Father into Your hands I commend my spirit.” I watched as Joseph of Arimathea begged Pilate to let him take His body, and having obtained permission, he took Jesus’ dead body from the cross. I saw Nicodemus join him as they anointed His body with spices, wrapped Him in grave clothes, and laid him in a tomb. I followed and watched from afar off. Was it true? Was He really gone? (She kneels at the cross during the verse of next song, then walks off stage)

Song: The Old Rugged Cross

Mary: (coming up center aisle with Mary Magdalene) Hurry up! Let’s take these spices and go to the tomb so we can anoint the body of Jesus. The sun is just rising. If we hurry we can get there just at daybreak.

Mary Magdalene: (as they walk toward the tomb) Do you think the soldiers will roll away the stone for us? It is very big! (They approach the tomb) Mary! Look! The stone is already rolled away. She looks in and begins to weep.

Angel: Why are you weeping?

Mary Magdalene: Because they have taken away my Lord and I don’t know where they have laid him. (Keeps head in shawl, weeping)

Angel: Don’t be afraid. If you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified, He is not

here. He is risen! See! The place where they laid Him is empty. Go quickly now, and tell His disciples and Peter that Jesus is going into Galilee. You will see Him there.

Mary & Mary Magdalene: (Peer into tomb, then exclaim…) He’s alive! He’s alive! He’s alive! (Hugging each other and jumping up and down) Let’s Go!  (Run out of room shouting… He’s alive… He’s alive)

Song: Easter Song 

Mary & Mary Magdalene: (Coming up aisle from back of room and telling everyone, He’s Alive… He’s Alive! We’ve seen Him!

Mary Magdalene: Peter! Peter! Peter! (Calling to him as she sees him sitting on the side with James and John looking sad and whispering to one another)

Peter: Yeah. What is it?

Mary: James! John! Peter!

James, John, Peter: Yeah, ok. What happened now? Did you find out who moved the stone?

Mary Magdalene: He’s alive. We’ve just seen Jesus! He’s alive!

Mary: (Shakes Peter) We’ve just seen Him. He’s alive!

Peter: He’s alive? He’s alive? (He shakes James and yells in his face) He’s Alive! (Then he shakes John, and they are all shaking each other, jumping up and down and proclaiming loudly…) He’s Alive! (They begin the chant, “He’s Alive!” and go throughout the congregation telling everyone. He’s Alive! He’s Alive!)

Song:  He’s Alive, or He Lives

Peter: (To the congregation) Oh my friends!  Weep not! Jesus is Alive! He appeared unto us many times during the next forty days before He ascended into heaven. He told us to wait in Jerusalem and He would send the Holy Spirit to baptize us and give us the power and authority to do greater works than He did!

Mary Magdalene: And we all did as he said—one hundred twenty of us waited in Jerusalem and prayed, believing and expecting to receive His promise.

James: And on the day of Pentecost as we were sitting in the Upper Room, the Holy Spirit fell upon us like tongues of fire—as it falls upon us even today, and we receive that power to be a witness for Him.

John: It seemed that all of Jerusalem came out to see what happened in the Upper Room that day, and Peter, you preached, man, did you preach! telling them the whole story of God’s plan of salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ.

Mary:  Three thousand people became followers of Jesus Christ that day.

Peter:  And thousands upon thousands more have joined the Gospel team over the years since that time. Thanks to God, one day that same spirit that raised Jesus from the dead will also raise us and we will be resurrected to live eternally with Jesus in our Father’s House.

All:  Hallelujah! Amen!

Song:  The Blood will Never Lose its Power

Note: Costumes can be very simple wrap-around togas and sandals or bare feet. Props include a large cross (or silhouette of cross projected on wall), and a stone wall to represent the tomb (made of cardboard or a projected silhouette). Musicians may be soloists, ensembles, choirs, or the congregation. The musical selections given here may be substituted with other appropriate songs. Be creative in the presentation. For example, during Peter’s opening narration, you could have the nativity scene assemble as he speaks their names.

(c) East of Bethlehem, C. Yvonne Karl, Brentwood Press, Chapter 17. 2003.

Are you not mere men?  (1 Corinthians 3:3-4, NAS)

Many mystify, canonize, enthrone, revere and worship the people we’ve come to know as the characters in the Nativity. Two thousand years after the birth of Christ, these people are perceived as poignant personalities, having always been well-known and respected, and somehow just a bit more divine than human. Otherwise why would Dr. Luke and Tax Collector Matthew have told their story. Surely the events described in the above scripture narrative were featured on the front page of the non-existent Bethlehem Morning News.

Of course none of these is true. Both Matthew and Luke were intimately acquainted with Jesus’ family and wrote the accounts based on what Mary told them as confirmed by the Holy Spirit. There were a precious few people in their lives who really knew the miracles surrounding Jesus’ birth. The so-called Nativity characters were mere people who “heard the Word of the Lord” and did it!  Such depictions of the birth of Christ were first introduced by Saint Francis around the year 1223 AD.

Many of you no doubt have vivid childhood memories of specific activities that took place at Christmas time. One of my earliest and fondest memories was assembling the nativity in the stall and placing Baby Jesus in the manger. I was intrigued with the china figurines. My mother treasured them, yet she entrusted them to my little hands and allowed me to place them wherever I wished on the table.

So it is with God. He created a “baby shower” of eternal dimensions the night His Son was born. He treasured His Son, yet He gave Him to us and gave us freedom to choose where to place Him in our lives. Jesus was DIVINE. All the other people that figure into this Christmas story—no matter how significant they may appear to be—were mere people. However, because of their desire to live godly and because of their obedience to hear and act on the voice of the Lord, they became giants in the Kingdom of God. Did they know it? No. They faced the daily joys and difficulties and complexities of life just as we do.

Let’s take a closer look at some of these mere people.

MARY & JOSEPH (Matthew 1:18)

Mary was espoused (engaged) to Joseph. What we know is that Mary “found favor with God” and Joseph was a “righteous man”. Nothing else mattered. We are told absolutely nothing about the circumstances surrounding the engagement of this couple or about their parents and family life.

“Espousal among the Hebrews was something more than what a mere marriage engagement is with us. It was considered the beginning of marriage, was as legally binding as marriage itself, and could not be broken off except by a bill of divorce. Hence we find that Joseph is called the “husband” of Mary (vs. 19).  The betrothal was usually determined by the parents or brothers of the parties and the engagement was made between a friend or legal representative of the bridegroom and the father of the bride.

The espousals were made very early in life, though marriage did not take place before the bride was twelve years old. Even when the age was suitable, the marriage was not consummated for some time after the betrothal. At least a year, or sometimes more, elapsed between the betrothal and the marriage of a maiden, to give time for preparing her outfit. In case of a widow, marriage might take place thirty days after espousal. The betrothal was usually accompanied by a feast in the house of the bride.

The engagement, to be binding, must be either by written contract, or by the reception of presents by the bride from the bridegroom. When Abraham’s servant received the consent of Rebekah’s father and brother to make her the wife of his master’s son, he presented to the maiden valuable gifts. The reception of these made the contract binding. The bride remained at her father’s house until the time of marriage, when the bridegroom came after her. Meanwhile communication between her and the bridegroom was kept up by means of the friend of the bridegroom.

The friend of the bridegroom was the person selected by the bridegroom to conduct the marriage negotiations on his part. It was he who carried messages between the bridegroom and the bride during the time of the betrothal. When, on the occasion of the marriage, they were brought to see each other in a private room or under a canopy provided for the purpose, the friend of the bridegroom stood outside, eager to catch the first words of delight which came from the bridegroom’s lips, expressive of the satisfaction he experienced on conversing with his betrothed.

This position John the Baptist claims for himself figuratively. He is not the Christ, but bears a relation to him similar to that borne by the Para nymph to the bridegroom. He makes the arrangements for bringing Christ, the bridegroom, to the Church, His bride. He waits with reverence and respect to hear words of joy coming from the lips of Christ because he has found a waiting and a willing Church. As the services of the Para nymph only occupied a short time, so the Baptist’s mission would soon be over: He must increase, but I must decrease (Jn 3:30).” (Manners and Customs of the Bible, p. 330).

These simple people, Mary and Joseph, each “heard” the message from the Lord and “acted” on it. They were mere people through whom God was able to accomplish His purpose.

SHEPHERDS (Luke 2:8-20)

There have been many books written about shepherds because they figure so prominently in the Bible. David was watching his father’s sheep on this very same hillside in Judea the day Samuel came to anoint him as King over Israel. It is no surprise, then, that God chose to give the first birth announcement of the arrival of His Son to the shepherds on that hillside. Jesus loved the analogy of shepherd and sheep. He said, “I am the Good Shepherd: the good shepherd gives his life for the sheep” (John 10:11).

“The Eastern shepherds give names to their sheep, as we do to dogs and horses. Every sheep recognizes his own name, and comes when called. Travelers have noticed the wonderful readiness with which the sheep of a large flock will recognize the shepherd’s voice. Though several flocks are mingled they speedily separate at the command of the shepherd, while the word of a stranger would have no effect on them.

Porter thus describes a scene he witnessed among the hills of Bashan: ‘The shepherds led their flocks forth from the gates of the city. They were in full view, and we watched them and listened to them with no little interest. Thousands of sheep and goats were there, grouped in dense, confused masses. The shepherds stood together until all came out. Then they separated, each shepherd taking a different path, and uttering as he advanced a shrill, peculiar call. The sheep heard them. At first the masses swayed and moved as if shaken by some internal convulsion; then points struck out in the direction taken by the shepherds; these became longer and longer until the confused masses were resolved into long, living streams, flowing after their leaders’ [Giant Cities of Bashan, p. 45) (Manners and Customs of the Bible, p. 428-429).

The shepherds on the Judean hillside reflected the character of the sheep when they “heard” the message from the Lord and “acted” on it. They were mere people through whom God was able to accomplish His purpose.

WISE MEN (Matthew 2:1)

Today we know that these “wise men” were wise because they sought out the Savior. The idea that they were kings and three in number is mere imagination and unsusceptible of proof. The Bible does not say how many there were. We know there were at least two because it says “men” not “man”. There may have been one hundred or more because they often traveled in groups. “These wise men, or, more properly, Magi, belonged to a numerous and influential order of men. We find in the Old Testament several references to the Magi.

In Daniel’s time the Magi were very prominent in Babylon. As the Magi were men of learning, devoting special attention to astronomy and the natural sciences, it happened that after the lapse of years, men who became celebrated for learning were called Magi. The Magi who came to visit the infant Savior were no doubt of the better class…They were evidently skilled in astronomical knowledge, and were earnest seekers after the newborn king. Where they came from is a disputed question. Various writers have suggested that they were Babylonians, Arabians, Persians, Bactrians, Parthians, or even Brahmins from India. Matthew says they were from “the East” which was a geographical term of very elastic meaning.” (Manners and Customs of the Bible, p. 330-331).

The fact is these men “heard” the message from the Lord and “acted” on it. They were mere people through whom God was able to accomplish His purpose.

CONCLUSION

When we say Christmas Story, we’re really talking about the account of Christ’s birth. It is relevant every day of the year—not just in the December season. The persons that figure prominently in the story of Jesus were mere people who seem great to us because of the biblical and historical accounts the have followed them. Allow them to remind you each day that if you’re faithful and obedient to the Lord you will be GREAT in the Kingdom. That’s your reward though you may not realize it until you hear Him say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of the Lord!” Our goal and aspiration is to be faithful and obedient—not to be great. “Great” is a by-product of having obeyed.

Many people we read about in history did not become famous or textbook worthy until after their death. In the same way, the people who played such a major role in the birth of Jesus Christ were not esteemed, famous, or popular because their peers did not know or comprehend the eternal impact of the action of these mere people. God takes insignificant people—teenagers like Mary, single men like Joseph, outdoorsmen like the Shepherds, and educated men like the Wise Men—and makes them significant. He takes mere people, pours in His Spirit and makes them tributaries through which the River of Life can flow from His throne to others bringing deliverance, life, hope, and salvation.

Do you ever feel like a “mere” human being? Simply ordinary? Totally insignificant? Are you being faithful to “hear” and “do” God’s will? They may never make a figurine of your body and place you on a table in remembrance of some event, but our Heavenly Father will make you a new person and place you at His Table as His honored guest. All heaven will rejoice—just like they did on the night of Jesus’ birth!

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(c) East of Bethlehem, by C. Yvonne Karl, Brentwood Press, 2003, Chapter 6.

This book is out of print and out of stock but often can be found as a used book on amazon.com, alibris.com, and abebooks.com.

To reprint in any form, email ykarl@alabasterbox.org

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Some years ago Noah and Laura, two of my students, gave me a treasured Christmas gift: a ceramic Santa kneeling at the manger worshipping Jesus.

I am well aware that there are those who would like to eradicate the legend of Santa, but he does typify what every Christian should be like for He is described as being full of love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, and faith. (cf. Gal.5)

The Santa custom actually began as a person named Nicholas who was born around the year 300 A.D. in what is now Turkey. He was a devoted disciple of Jesus Christ. When his parents died and he inherited their wealth, he simply gave it away in the form of gifts—primarily to poor children. If the recipient discovered his identity, he would request that they tell no one. From this came the custom of gifts coming from an unnamed Santa. We should not lie to our children about who Santa is, but enjoy the custom while making certain we teach them that Christmas is all about God giving His Son Jesus to deliver us from our sin and bring us into His family.

St. Nicholas, the generous gift-giver, was a church leader throughout his life and known for his warm personality, his compassionate spirit, and boldness in preaching. In later generations his death on December sixth was celebrated by giving gifts. Christians were already celebrating the birth of Jesus on a Roman festival day December 25, and at some point along the way, the St. Nicholas remembrance became a part of the Christmas celebration with the exchange of gifts as a reminder of the greatest gift of all—Jesus Christ.

In the Gospel of Matthew, we meet the Wise Men—kings from the East—who recognized Jesus as God’s gift to them and brought Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Likewise we acknowledge the gift that others are to us by giving something appropriate to them. It may be a gift of time, thanksgiving, a card, or something of substance. A gift is not given with the expectation of receiving a gift in return but rather in the spirit of having already received something. It is more blessed to give than to receive. St. Nicholas’ life reflected this attitude of heart. He is known as Jolly old St. Nicholas, Santa Claus, Papa Noel, Father Christmas, and various other names in different countries and languages.

It is difficult to find a person who looks happier than a “Santa” with his twinkling eyes and joyful laugh. It is difficult to find a person so eager and ready to give to others with no thought of getting something in return. It is difficult to find a person so willing to forgive and be gracious to the smallest of offenders. Yet, these are precisely the characteristics that we Christians are to have day after day; they are the fruit of the Holy Spirit. If people all ages are drawn to these characteristics in Santa, how much more are they drawn to spirit-filled Christians who are in circulation 365 days a year rather than just a few days around Christmas time.

During the Christmas season, each time we see his symbol, let’s remember the life of St. Nicholas who gave himself and his wealth and time to those around him as he served Jesus. Perhaps someone will look at you this Christmas and say, “Hi Santa, I see Jesus in you!” The Santa in our house should be filled with Ho-Ho-Ho laughter that does our heart good like medicine. Such joy comes from knowing Jesus and is kept in manifestation by the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Thank the Lord for St. Nicholas who worshipped Jesus and whose unselfish life continues to point us to Jesus Christ—the Greatest Gift ever given. No matter how good anyone may appear to be, how perfect, how jovial, or how benevolent, only Jesus is the real source of these characteristics for He alone is the giver of the abundant life. Above all else, JESUS IS THE CENTER AND FOCUS OF CHRISTMAS. May all of our activities and celebrations point to HIM.

Merry Christmas!

Notes: On Christmas Eve when our children were small, we always read the biblical account of Jesus’ birth from the Gospel of Luke, but  I also read “The Night before Christmas” story to them and under the tree they would find gifts from “Santa.”

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P.S. This is the first time I’ve had my picture taken with a Mall Santa, but it goes with the above story about how I relate to him. -December 2016

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(c) Above article adapted and expanded from East of Bethlehem, Chapter 13, by C. Yvonne Karl. Brentwood Press, 2003.  (www.alabasterbox.org; ykarl@alabasterbox.orgyvonnekarl@gmail.com)

 

 

 

 

A TRADITIONAL CHRISTMAS CELEBRATION

Scriptures, Carols, Symbols

PRELUDE

Selected Christmas Music

(Band, orchestra, choir, ensembles, or recorded music)

PRAYER

PURPOSE EXPRESSED IN SONG

O Come All Ye Faithful

Joy to the World

PART  1

THE CHRISTMAS STORY 

IN SCRIPTURE AND SONG

Carol: O Little Town of Bethlehem 

The Announcement by the Angels: Matthew 1:18-25

Carol: Angels from the Realms of Glory, Angels We Have Heard on High, Emmanuel

The Birth of Christ: Luke 2:1-7

Carol: O Holy Night

The Shepherds: Luke 2:8-20

Carol: While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks

The Wise Men: Matthew 2:1-12

Carol: We Three Kings

The Dedication: Luke 2:22-30

Carol: Good Christian Men, Rejoice!

The Good News: Romans 10:14-17

Carol: Go Tell It On The Mountain, Come to the Manger, His Name is Wonderful

PART 2

THE CHRISTMAS CELEBRATION 

IN CUSTOMS AND CAROLS

The Holly Wreath

Reader: The green color of the holly wreath is lovely but when you try to handle it to put it into an arrangement you find that lovely holly leaves are also very sharp and sometimes painful. The prickly leaves remind us of the Crown of Thorns which were placed upon Jesus’ head before His crucifixion. The red berries represent drops of blood pressed from His brow. As Christmas approaches you may know someone for whom the holidays will be painful—Jesus came to share that pain. In wearing the crown of thorns, He died on the cross to turn our sorrows into joy.

Carol: Master, Redeemer, Savior of the World

The Angels

Reader: Angels, angels everywhere! The angel announced the conception to Mary and then related the event to Joseph. The angel announced the birth of Jesus from the heavens surrounded by an army of other angels. The angel told Joseph to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt to flee the murderous King Herod. The angel ministered to Jesus after His temptation. The angel was at the tomb after the resurrection telling the women, He is not here; He is risen. And the Apostle Paul tells us to not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels.

Carol:  Hark the Herald Angels Sing

The Christmas Tree

Reader: Evergreen trees which we use as Christmas decorations symbolize our Savior’s undying love for us. If we give them proper light and water, their leaves remain a healthy green—a sign of life. The Word of God describes God’s people as being like trees planted by the River with leaves that do not wither. As we look at our Christian brothers and sisters, we see the fruit of the Spirit in their lives—fruit that grows as a result of being planted by the River of Life. When we look at the Christmas tree this year, let’s remember the faithfulness of God to give us life everlasting.

Carol: O Christmas Tree

 

The Lights

Reader: The lights of Christmas represent Christ as the Light of the World. This life gives light to all mankind. His life is the Light that shines through the darkness, and the darkness can never put it out. The real Christmas experience for everyone is the turning on of the light within our heart. For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Before we continue with Christmas preparations, let us ask ourselves whether the real Christmas Light has come to us; and if not, let us invite Christ into our hearts right now. (Turn tree lights on.)

Carols: It Came Upon the Midnight Clear

The Star

Reader: Through the dark of night, after centuries of anticipation, a unique star appeared in the sky and was seen by some highly educated men who rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. They believed it announced the birth of the coming king about whom they had studied. Although their journey was long, the star led the wise men to the house where they found newborn King. The Bible is our star—it leads us straight to Jesus Christ. We must keep study it, meditate upon it, and follow it for direction in our lives—it will lead us to the King of kings!

Carol: Star of the East 

The Tree Ornaments

Reader: One way to get the attention of those around us and direct them to the Word of God and to the faithfulness of God is for them to see the gifts of the Spirit at work in our lives:  Symbolic of these gifts, we place ornaments on the Christmas tree. (See endnote.)

 

Carols: O Come all ye Faithful

The Poinsettias

Reader: In many countries around the world, the treasured poinsettia has become one of the traditional Christmas flowers. It blossoms in beauty and nearly sings as it unfolds. Most flowers seem to share happiness, but the red of the poinsettia at Christmas time just seems to shout JOY. We can only have true joy if we have the source of joy planted in our heart—His Name is Jesus.

Carol:  Hark, the Herald Angels Sing; All Hail King Jesus

The Yule Log

Reader: Throughout the Bible fire has served as a symbol of the presence of God: the flaming sword at the entrance to the Garden of Eden; the burning bush from which the Lord called Moses; the pillar of fire with which God led his people out of Egypt; the tongues of fire on believers on the day of Pentecost. Fire has always served God’s people as a reminder that we have God with us. To the Scandinavians Yule actually means “Christmas” so we call this our Christmas log for it will burn to demonstrate the warmth of the soul who has accepted Christ into His heart.

Carol: Deck the Halls, v. 2, See the Blazing Yule Before Us

 

The Christmas Cards

Reader: Christmas 1843 was an historic time in London. Sir Henry Cole was having an artist friend design a Christmas greeting to send to his friends. This came to be known as the first Christmas card. It was printed in black and white and colored in by hand. After about thirty years, Christmas cards came to be popular. They were first introduced to the United States just a little over one hundred years ago. This year as we address our Christmas cards, let’s pray over each one of them that they will bear witness of Jesus Christ whose birth we celebrate on this day. Pray that ours won’t be just another card, but a card with a special message that will encourage, inspire, or even change the life of the person who receives it.

Carol: The First Noel  

 

The Christmas Bells

Reader: Christmas Bells ring out joy and celebration. The Bible says that on the bells around the horses will be written, Holiness unto the Lord. Bells were also placed on the hem of the priest’s garment so he wouldn’t die going in and out of the Holy of Holies. This Christmas, every time we hear a bell ring, let’s remember that Jesus came to bring holiness into our lives—to set us apart as His children; and to save us from death—eternal separation from God. May our testimony be like a bell that rings out to call others to Jesus!

Carol: I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day; Come on Ring those Bells

The Candles

Reader: People around the world place lights in the window at Christmas time and there are many touching stories about how a candle in the window has welcomed a wayward child back home. The spirit of man [is] the candle of the LORD, searching all the inward parts of the belly. God uses our spirit to be searchlight to expose our need for His gift of forgiveness. Once this gift becomes a part of our lives, every day is Christmas because every day Jesus is born in the hearts of people who see our light. Let’s continually allow the light of Christ to glow out through us.

Carol: Away in a Manger; What Child is This?

PART 3

THE CHRISTMAS BLESSING

IN GIVING AND RECEIVING

The Gifts

Reader: Gift-giving is first found in Genesis and then throughout the Old Testament. Men gave gifts to God from their fields and their flocks. Men gave jewelry of all kinds to the one they wished to marry. When the Queen of Sheba came to visit King Solomon, she brought him large quantities of gold, spices, and precious stones; in return he gave her whatever she desired. However, the greatest gift ever given was when God gave His Son, Jesus Christ, as the supreme sacrifice for our sins. The wise men brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh—somewhat like shower gifts today—to help the young family get established and have what they needed to raise the Christ Child. When Jesus ascended back to heaven after His resurrection, He gave gifts to the church: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. Then God sent us His Holy Spirit who comes laden with gifts for everyone. Gift giving continues to be a custom in many countries—especially during the Christmas season. All kinds of gifts are given from the most elaborate and expensive to those simple but equally meaningful. As we give gifts to others, let us remember that the greatest gift is love.

Carols: The Gift Goes On; What Child is This? O little Town of Bethlehem; Mary’s Boy Child, Sweet Little Jesus Boy

Carol: Silent Night 

 

Invitation to the Wassail Table

King Henry VII introduced the Wassail Bowl during the late 1400’s. It contains a mixture of hot spices and toasted apples. The word itself means “Be thou Well”. Often the Wassail Bowl is served with mince meat pies which were made in oblong shape to represent the manger. The spices were used to signify the frankincense and myrrh brought by the Wise Men. A golden candle on either side of the manger represented the gift of gold. As you come to the Wassail Table and share with each other remember Christ came to the world on Christmas Day that you might be well in spirit, soul, and body.

Closing Prayer 

(c) East of Bethlehem, C. Yvonne Karl, Brentwood Press, 2003. Chapter 16. This book is out of stock and out of print but is occasionally offered as a used book on amazon.com, alibris.com, and abebooks.com.

Fellowship around the Wassail Bowl

_________________________________

The following recipes are from Grandma’s files:

WASSAIL BOWL

1 gal. fresh apple cider

1 cup brown sugar (packed)

1 6-oz can frozen lemon concentrate, thawed

1 6-oz can frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed

1 T whole cloves

1 T whole allspice

1 t. nutmeg

cinnamon sticks

lemon slices

In large kettle combine cider, sugar, lemonade, orange juice. In piece of cheesecloth tie together cloves, allspice, nutmeg and place in kettle with mixture.  Simmer uncovered 20 minutes. Remove cheesecloth bag of spices. Place in bowl, decorate with cinnamon sticks and thin lemon slices. Serve warm. Makes about 16 servings. 

MINCE MEAT PIES

4 apples peeled & sliced thin
½ cup bread flour
2 28-oz jars mince meat
½ cup brown sugar, packed
1 T ground cinnamon
4 T unsalted butter
½ cup chopped pecans

equivalent of 2, 9” pie shells—either homemade or frozen

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. To make manger pies, cut pie crusts  into oblong pieces and place in cornbread-type baking pans. 

Combine sugar and cinnamon, butter and ½ the flour until crumbly. Add pecans. Set aside. Toss apples with remaining flour and arrange in pie shell. Top with mince meat. Sprinkle crumble mixture over mince meat. Bake 10 minutes at 425; reduce oven to 350 degrees and bake 20 to 30 minutes or until knife inserted in center comes out clean. Recipe makes about 16 mini pies in shape of a manger

Christians who are not part of liturgical church traditions have no understanding of the enormous importance of the “Twelve Days of Christmas.” Contrary to modern belief, these are not the twelve days before Christmas, but in the Western Church are the twelve days from Christmas until the beginning of Epiphany, January 6 (the twelve days count from December 25 until January 5). The popular song “The Twelve Days of Christmas” is a song of Christian instruction with hidden references to the basic teachings of the Faith.

During the period from 1558 to 1829 in England, Catholics were prohibited by law from practicing their faith publicly or privately. It was a crime to be a Catholic. Within this setting and background, “The Twelve Days of Christmas” was composed as one of the “catechism songs” to help young Catholics learn the tenets of their faith. It was a mnemonic device—a memory aid—at a time when to be caught with anything in writing indicating adherence to the Catholic faith could not only get you imprisoned but severely punished. Those outside the church saw it as a meaningless tune with meaningless lyrics.

The “true love” mentioned in the song is not an earthly suitor, but refers to God Himself. The “me” who receives the presents refers to every baptized believer who is part of the Christian Faith. Thus, “On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me” takes on new meaning. Each of the “days” represents some aspect of the Christian Faith that was important for children to learn. Each of the other symbols is significant.

A Partridge in a Pear Tree
The partridge in a pear tree is Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, whose birthday we celebrate on December 25, the first day of Christmas. In the song, Christ is symbolically presented as a mother partridge that feigns injury to decoy predators from her helpless nestlings, recalling the expression of Christ’s sadness over the fate of Jerusalem: “Jerusalem! Jerusalem! How often would I have sheltered you under my wings, as a hen does her chicks, but you would not have it so…”

Two Turtle Doves
The two turtle doves are symbolic of the Old and New Testaments, which together bear witness to God’s self-revelation in history and His creation of a people to tell His to the world.

Three French Hens
The three French hens represent the Three Theological Virtues: Faith, Hope, and Love.

Four Calling Birds
The four calling birds represent the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, which proclaim the Good News of God’s reconciliation of the world to Himself in Jesus Christ.

Five Golden Rings
The give golden rings are illustrating the five books of Moses, also called the five books of the Law, otherwise known as the first five books of the Old Testament or the Pentateuch: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, which give the history of humanity’s sinful failure and God’s response of grace in the creation of a people to be a light to the world.

Six Geese A-laying
The geese represent the six days of creation that establish God as Creator and Sustainer of the world.

Seven Swans A-swimming
The seven swans symbolize the gifts of the Holy Spirit:  prophecy, ministry, teaching, exhortation, giving, leading, and compassion; Or, uniquely Catholic, the seven sacraments: General, Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist (gratitude, praise, communion), Reconciliation, Anointing of Sick, Holy Orders (Priest, Bishop, Cardinal…).

Eight Maids A-milking
The eight maids correspond to the Beatitudes: Blessed are (1) the poor in spirit, (2) those who mourn, (3) the meek, (4) those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, (5) the merciful, (6) the pure in heart, (7) the peacemakers, (8) those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.

Nine Ladies Dancing
The nine ladies dancing reflect the joy one finds in bearing the Fruit of the Holy Spirit: (1) love, (2) joy, (3) peace, (4) patience, (5) kindness, (6) generosity, (7) faithfulness, (8) gentleness, and (9) self-control.

Ten Lords A-leaping
The ten lords symbolize the Ten Commandments: (1) You shall have no other gods before me; (2) Do not make an idol; (3) Do not take God’s name in vain; (4) Remember the Sabbath Day; (5) Honor your father and mother; (6) Do not murder; (7) Do not commit adultery; (8) Do not steal; (9) Do not bear false witness; (10) Do not covet.

Eleven Pipers Piping
The eleven pipers illustrate the Faithful Apostles: (1) Simon Peter, (2) Andrew, (3) James, (4) John, (5) Philip, (6) Bartholomew, (7) Matthew, (8) Thomas, (9) James bar Alphaeus, (10) Simon the Zealot, (11) Judas bar James. The list does not include the twelfth disciple, Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus to the Romans.

Twelve Drummers Drumming
The twelve drummers reflect the points of doctrine in the Apostle’s Creed: (1) I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. (2) I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord. (3) He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. (4) He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into the grave. (5) On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. (6) He will come again to judge the living and the dead. (7) I believe in the Holy Spirit, (8) the holy catholic (universal) Church, (9) the communion of saints, (10) the forgiveness of sins, (11) the resurrection of the body, (12) and life everlasting.

Now this is the commandment, and these are the statutes and judgments which the Lord your God has commanded to teach you… You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words…you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates…lest you forget the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.

*Note: There are as many claims that this symbolism is factual as there are claims that it is myth. If you are interested in the “myth” history, read http://www.neatorama.com/2014/12/15/The-Myth-of-the-12-Days-of-Christmas/ 

 

(c) East of Bethlehem, C. Yvonne Karl, Brentwood Press, 2003. Chapter 15.

This book is out of stock and out of print but is occasionally offered as a used book on amazon.com, alibris.com, and abebooks.com.

It was a special night in the little town of Bethlehem. A baby had been born in a stable—the only begotten Son of God. His birth was accompanied by a heavenly display of lights—far greater than any fourth of July extravaganza of fireworks we have ever seen. Luke tells us that a multitude of the heavenly host joined the angel in the heavens to announce His birth as the glory of God shined down around the shepherds on the Judean hillside. A host is already a multitude or army. We can only imagine how many as multitude of heavenly armies would be. The shepherds, we are told, hastened to Bethlehem to see this newborn king.

However, it was not this dramatic scene that caused the kings in the east to search out the Christ-child. It was a star. They saw this star and related it to the prophetic scripture they had heard. They began seeking the King—and they found Him. They rejoiced with exceeding great joy, fell down, worshipped Him and gave Him gifts. That’s quite a baby shower! The gifts they brought were products of their own country. (We give back to God the first-fruits of all He gives to us!) These kings, referred to as “wise men”, were fulfilling scripture: all they from Sheba shall come; and they shall bring fold and incense; and they shall show forth the praise of the Lord. This is no surprise as the Queen of Sheba who came to see Solomon brought gifts of much gold.

The Bible does not tell us how many wise men, or kings, came that day nor does it tell us their names. We do know they brought gifts of three different types: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Most commentaries say there is no significance to the gifts except that they were expensive and therefore reflect the character and socio-economic status of those who gave them. However, we can research their various uses and origin. Together, the three types of gifts represent the roles of Jesus the Messiah: His kingly office is represented by gold, His divinity by frankincense, and His manhood by myrrh. “They offered him incense as their God; gold as their king; and myrrh, as united to a human body, subject to suffering and death.” 

Gold

Just as the metal gold is unchangeable, so is God. When melted by fire, gold becomes liquid and flows. When we are tried by the fiery circumstances of life, the experience does not change our value or our substance. It simply causes the faith and love in our hearts to flow over into others, and causes our praise and worship to flow from our innermost being to the throne of God. In both the Old Testament tabernacle and the temple, gold was used plentifully, so we see that gold is associated with worship. We are told that in the heavenly city we will “walk on streets of gold.”

Gold was the usual offering presented to kings by their subjects or those wanting to pay respect. It seems that the metal we know as gold has always held extremely high value and used as a medium of exchange. All who have studied American History known of the “gold rush” period when people risked their lives to get to an area where they might be able to find gold. It is valuable because it is scarce and must be dug out of the ground. Several state capitols in our country sport gold overlays on the dome. In other countries, it is not uncommon today to see a palace with pure gold hardware and light fixtures, gold crown moldings around the ceilings as well as in other conspicuous places—all built by kings, queens, and other rulers centuries ago and still sparkling.

Gold is a precious metal and lasts indefinitely, thus it is the basis of currency. With enough of it, we can purchase nearly any object. God is the basis of all things—He is pure precious gold. He had seen to it that His son’s family would have the money they needed to establish their carpenter shop and raise His son. It was enough!

Frankincense

Frankincense was a valuable, all-purpose substance used in medicines and perfumes as well as worship. To obtain the Frankincense, a deep, longitudinal incision is made in the trunk of the tree and below it a narrow strip of bark five inches in length is peeled off. The milk-like juice which exudes is hardened by exposure to the air.

The gum and oil were used in soaps, cosmetics and perfumes as well as an astringent for the skin smoothing out wrinkles, first-aid for wounds and bites, a tonic for ulcers, genital infections, heavy periods, depression—even digestive problems. It was known to unplug the sinuses and soothe coughs, colds, and laryngitis and was very good for asthma sufferers as it would ease breathing.

Frankincense is highly fragrant when burned, and was, therefore, used in worship, where it was burned as a pleasant offering to God. Aaron burned fragrant incense on the altar every morning when he tended the lamps. He burned it again when he lit the lamps at twilight so incense would burn regularly before the Lord for the generations to come.  This teaches us that our worship is to be pleasing to God. Remember, this sweet smelling resin comes as the result of the tree’s woundedness and pain. When we can worship God in the midst of our sorrow, our brokeness, and our pain, then it is a sweet smelling offering.

Myrrh

Myrrh is a resin that has an aromatic odor but a bitter taste; its name is derived from Hebrew murr or maror, meaning bitter. Myrrh is produced from a thorn-bush and was obtained from a tree in the same manner as frankincense. When it oozes from the wounded shrub, myrrh is a pale yellow color at first, but as it hardens, it changes to dark red or even black color. Ancient texts refer to its use as a medicine, antiseptic and preservative. Modern research has shown that it stimulates the production of white blood cells, boosts the immune system and is an excellent way to promote oral health. Even today, mouthwashes and toothpaste found in natural health stores often contain myrrh as an active ingredient. Mixed with other ingredients, it can be a potent topical antiseptic salve and has been found to fight gum disease, is recommended as a gargle in cases of mumps, and helps fight tooth decay.

When Jesus was hanging on the cross, they gave Him wine mingled with myrrh to drink, but He did not take it. This would have taken the edge off His suffering, but obviously Jesus chose to allow His human side to be totally alert to the fact that He was dying as a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. He had already drunk of the bitter cup by surrendering to His Father’s will and agreeing to the suffering.

Myrrh was used for the purification of women, likely because of its pleasant scent, thus Esther had to apply it to her body for six months in preparing to meet the king. It was said to keep its fragrance for several hundred years when kept in an alabaster pot and may well have been the costly perfume poured on Jesus’ head and feet at Simon’s house. Also known to be used in preserving the body for burial, Jesus said to the people: For in pouring this fragrant oil on My body, she did it for My burial. After His death, Joseph of Arimathea asked for permission to take Jesus’ body, and Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds.

At the time of the birth of Jesus, myrrh was one of the most expensive substances that could be collected and its uses were many. No wonder it was one of the gifts the Magi brought to honor the Christ Child. The Holy Spirit is our myrrh—He purifies, takes away the pain, comforts and strengthens us, attracts us and draws us to the Father, and preserves us for eternal life.

Three Valuable Gifts

Together, the three types of gifts represent three roles of Jesus the Messiah: His kingly office is represented by gold, His divinity by frankincense, and His manhood by myrrh. They offered him incense as their God; gold as their king; and myrrh, as united to a human body, subject to suffering and death.

The greatest gift of all is eternal life given us by Jesus Christ through His death on the cross.

 

(c) East of Bethlehem, C. Yvonne Karl, Brentwood Press, 2003. Chapter 14.

This book is out of stock and out of print but is occasionally offered as a used book on amazon.com, alibris.com, and abebooks.com.

Christmas Fruit

Go ahead! Pick on me!

Love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, and faith. Scripture calls this the fruit of the Spirit and it grows as a result of work. It begins on the inside—where no one can see—and with careful attention and cultivation it begins to grow out where it can be seen, admired, plucked, and tasted. We must work out our own salvation. The work takes place in our heart—and then we have something to give—we have fruit for others to taste. CHRISTmas fruit!

Nearly every day we hear children or adults report that someone is “picking on” them. In the Song of Solomon we meet two people who are very much in love. The bride invites her beloved to come “pick on her.” Awake, O north wind, and come, O south! Blow upon my garden, That its spices may flow out. Let my beloved come to his garden and eat its pleasant fruits. She knew the north wind was chilly, biting, and penetrating, while the south wind was mild, gentle and pleasurable. Either wind, or both, would blow the fragrance out from the garden where others could smell it. She no longer needed to keep it all to herself, but was now willing to let the fruit be shared with others. When the Spirit blows, the fragrance flows!

Her prayer was for the winds to blow upon her garden, but then immediately she changes it to his garden. When we have been espoused to Jesus Christ, then we too acknowledge that everything is His. Our life, our very being, is His garden and therefore all of the fruit that our life produces is for His pleasure. After all, it is by His Spirit that the fruit grows. He plants the fruit. He waters it. He gives the increase. Nevertheless, He does not come into the garden uninvited.

God loves for us to invite Him into the garden of our life. You shall cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.‘  He spends much time comforting us, instructing us, causing us to grow and mature and bear fruit, but He does not selfishly take all of the fruit; He shares it with others. He tells them: I have come to my garden, my sister, my spouse; I have gathered my myrrh with my spice; I have eaten my honeycomb with my honey; I have drunk my wine with my milk. (To His Friends) Eat, O friends! Drink, yes, drink deeply, O beloved ones.

Once the trees have grown to maturity and produce fruit, they can reproduce over and over. We are trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord…that He might receive the compliments and thanks. If it seems that all of our fruit is being picked, we should not be alarmed. God knows we will grow more! God receives the first fruit, then He shares it with others.

When the Lord’s friends pick on us, instead of thanking the Lord for the privilege of feeding them, too often we complain. We need to change our attitude and remember it is not our fruit, but it is the fruit of the Spirit. This fruit is not grown just to look at, but to be picked and eaten. How is this possible?

If they

…pick on your love, love them!

…pick on your joy, cheer them up!

…pick on your peace, comfort them!

…pick on your patience, bear them!

…pick on your gentleness, stroke them!

…pick on your faith, encourage them!

…pick on your meekness, teach them!

…pick on your self-control, don’t get upset with them!

No one likes an apple tree just to look at. The fruit is good-looking when the mouth waters and the taste buds desire to sample it. So it is with our life and the fruit of the Spirit that grows in us. When others see it, their spirit begins to crave it. They want to taste what they see. Their ability to taste depends on biting the teeth into the fruit—through the skin. When we feel that people are getting under our skin, we need to stop and think: they are biting into our fruit. Will it be the sweet-tasting fruit that we have allowed the Spirit to grow? Or will it be a bitter work of the flesh?

Next time someone starts picking on us, we will know that our beloved, Jesus Christ, the King, has invited them to join Him in eating His fruit in His garden—our life, and we’ll respond by saying, “Go ahead! Come into the garden. Pick on me!”  We are delighted to share with others. This is the fruit of Christ in our life—our CHRISTmas fruit!

 

(c) East of Bethlehem, C. Yvonne Karl, Brentwood Press, 2003. Chapter 12.

This book is out of stock and out of print but is occasionally offered as a used book on amazon.com, alibris.com, and abebooks.com.