Nativity Scenes

Eight Nativity Sets adorn my office shelves year-round. Each holds special meaning and memories in my life.

My sister gave me the musical, turntable creche from Berlin as a Christmas gift in the 1980s.

I presented the Department 56 set to my wife in the 1990s when our children were young.

I purchased two handmade sets of wood and clay on a mission trip to Honduras.

A local potter in Cartersville crafted a vase with the Manger Scene cut into the side.

A large, olive wood creche with fourteen human and animal characters came from a visit to Bethlehem in 2014.

A “Precious Moments Nativity” from a coworker presents a highly sanitized version of Jesus’ birth.

A smaller tableau of the Holy Family also came from Palestine during a 2019 Holy Land trip with Northside Church.

In contrast, the Gospel stories of Jesus’ actual birth are simple and unpretentious. A woman accompanied only by her husband gave birth and laid her firstborn in a manger.

In faith, the church points and declares,

“This is Christ the King, whom shepherds guard and angels sing.

Haste, haste, to bring him laud, the babe, the son of Mary.”

With the shepherds, magi, angels, and all creation, let us come to Bethlehem and join the Nativity Scene.

Family Christmas Traditions

This season I have been reflecting on childhood, holiday memories. Following my father’s death in November, I am the sole survivor of our nuclear family. It’s a sobering experience to become the lone repository of the jokes, stories, mores, values, and traditions that made us . . . US.

The holidays began with the selection of the perfect tree. We set out in our Ford Fairlane Station Wagon like characters from “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The experience always mutated into a scene from “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.”

Next came the decorating of the tree with the bald spot facing the wall. School-made ornaments made priceless by our hands adorned the branches. Trains of tinsel along with strings of popcorn and cranberries girdled the tree.

Our father worked as an executive with Sears-Roebuck on Ponce de Leon, and it turned out that Santa used the Sears’ catalog as well. My sister and I spent countless hours dogearing pages and circling gifts in The Wish Book for the Jolly Old Elf’s attention.

Each December we piled into the car to view the neighborhood Christmas lights. The short ride typically ended with the children squabbling while our parents scolded, “Don’t make me come back there!”

On Christmas Eve, stockings were hung by the chimney with care. We prepared a note to accompany Santa’s midnight snack of milk and cookies. Then we settled into bed while visions of sugarplums toys danced in our heads.

Christmas morning dawned bright with wonder. When we opened the door to the living room, it felt like a Polar Express had magically transported us to the North Pole. We fell asleep exhausted that night, already anticipating the next Christmas a long year away.

We cannot travel back into the past. However, we can make memories with our loved ones in the present. May God grant all of us a grace-filled Advent and Christmas season, full of laughter, love, and joy.  

An Early Christmas

Dec 25

A Hallmark display recently caught my eye. A sign above the holiday greeting cards declared, “Christmas is December 25th!” Who knew?!? This is certainly helpful information!

Granted, Christmas Creep causes the holidays to arrive earlier each year. Retailers anxious for holiday sales rush the season. In September, Costco erected a Winter Wonderland of snowmen, penguins, and trees. Amazon launched Prime Days for early shopping in October. Sirius/XM radio premiered its holiday channels on November 1. And we are the midst of 40—count them, 40—new movies on Hallmark’s Countdown to Christmas and Miracles of Christmas.

Personally, I have always resisted the Hallowthankmas madness, choosing to observe the day after Thanksgiving as the advent of the holiday season. However, this year I have experienced a Scrooge-like change of heart.

2020 has been a rough year: global pandemic, political polarization, racial unrest, social distancing, and economic challenges. To add insult to injury, A Charlie Brown Christmas will not be broadcast on network TV for the first time since 1965!

Therefore, this year I have decided to celebrate an early Christmas. I’m decking the halls and listening to holiday music. Eight Nativity Scenes adorn my office with a plugin, bubbling, candle ornament. I’ve been sipping eggnog since mid-November, and if I had some chestnuts, they would be roasting on an open fire!

I’ve also changed my Advent sermon plans. The revised Worship Series is entitled, “We Need a Little Christmas!”

Oh, I fight the occasional urge to say, “Bah, humbug.” I’m a recovering Scrooge with occasional lapses. However, life’s too short to miss the advent of the Holy Day Season.

Christmas is December 25th this year. But why wait? Start celebrating an early Christmas today.

A Psalm of Thanksgiving

Psalm 100

A psalm. For giving grateful praise.

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
    Worship the Lord with gladness;
    come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
    It is he who made us, and we are his[a];
    we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
    and his courts with praise;
    give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
    his faithfulness continues through all generations.

Teach Us to Number Our Days

Although 2020 has been filled with crises and challenges, the months have provided unexpected blessings. The pandemic has taught us that health is fragile and life is transitory. Therefore, we should note what is important and ignore what is trivial. However, this fleeting lesson is soon forgotten.

I invite you to join me in a spiritual experiment. Commit Psalm 90:12 to memory. For the rest of the year, begin each morning reciting the verse. May God grant us the grace to number our days so that we might gain hearts of wisdom.

Psalm 90: A Prayer of Moses, the Man of God.

Lord, you have been our dwelling place
    throughout all generations.
Before the mountains were born
    or you brought forth the whole world,
    from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

You turn people back to dust,
    saying, “Return to dust, you mortals.”
A thousand years in your sight
    are like a day that has just gone by,
    or like a watch in the night.
Yet you sweep people away in the sleep of death—
    they are like the new grass of the morning:
In the morning it springs up new,
    but by evening it is dry and withered.

We are consumed by your anger
    and terrified by your indignation.
You have set our iniquities before you,
    our secret sins in the light of your presence.
All our days pass away under your wrath;
    we finish our years with a moan.
10 Our days may come to seventy years,
    or eighty, if our strength endures;
yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow,
    for they quickly pass, and we fly away.
11 If only we knew the power of your anger!
    Your wrath is as great as the fear that is your due.
12 Teach us to number our days,
    that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

13 Relent, Lord! How long will it be?
    Have compassion on your servants.
14 Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love,
    that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.
15 Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
    for as many years as we have seen trouble.
16 May your deeds be shown to your servants,
    your splendor to their children.

17 May the favor[a] of the Lord our God rest on us;
    establish the work of our hands for us—
    yes, establish the work of our hands.

Augmented Reality

In 1990, a Boeing researcher named Tom Caudell coined the phrase “augmented reality.” In layman’s terms, it is technology that superimposes computer generated graphics over a real world view.

Military Jet HUD

One example is the Heads Up Displays used in advanced aircraft, which display critical information on the airplane’s cockpit or the pilot’s visor. Car manufacturers make similar tech available in automobiles. For instance, my GMC Yukon features a HUD with a windshield display for the speed limit, current speed, radio selections, and more.

The Christian faith graces believers with an augmented reality. Our spiritual faith is superimposed over the physical world. It enables us to distinguish between the important and the unimportant along with the eternal and the temporal. Such information guides our steps and informs our actions.

Although we are citizens of both heaven and earth, our ultimate allegiance is pledged to God’s kingdom. We live in an augmented reality that reveals what is truly real.

Election Day

Tuesday, November 3, 2020.

Today is Election Day in the United States of America.

We will elect the President of the United States along with other national, state, and local offices. As we prayerfully await the results, consider a lesson from history.

In the 1830s, French author, Alexis de Tocqueville, toured the United States and later reflected about his experience. He wrote:

I have toured America, and I have seen most of what you offer. I’ve seen the richness of the fields and the wealth of your mines. I’ve seen your industrial might, the beauties of the rivers, the streams, the lakes, and the grandeur of the mountains. I’ve noticed the abundance of the forests and the marvelous climate with which you are blessed.

In none of these things did I see the cause for the greatness of America.

It wasn’t until I went into your churches that I saw the reason for America’s greatness. America is great because America is good; and as long as America is good, America will be great. If it ever ceases to be good, it will cease to be great.

Today, let us pray for our nation.

May God bless America, land that we love.

DST Forever!

DST Fall

Twice a year our bodies adjust to the abrupt change of Daylight Saving Time. In the fall, we “gain” the hour “lost” last spring. Although we welcome the additional hour of sleep, it takes days to readjust.

Standard Time is like the weather—everyone complains about it, but no one does anything about it! In six months, we will revisit the debate yet again.

Here’s my simple plan: Daylight Saving Time Forever! Yes, there are more important issues in the world, but this is one we could easily fix.

Quit messing around with the calendar and clock. I’ll gladly trade an hour of sunlight in the morning for an additional hour in the evening. And no one would miss the semiannual shock to our biological clocks.

I’m sure Congress will get right on it, along with a balanced budget, reduced deficit, and funded entitlements. On second thought, I’ll plan to “Spring forward one hour” again next March.

Lessons Politicians Teach our Children

While watching political-attack ads and debates on TV , I began to reflect on the lessons that politicians of all parties are teaching our children on-air.

  • If you cannot say something nice, say nothing at all something mean, nasty, hurtful, hateful, defamatory, and derogatory. Interrupt others because your opinion is more important.
  • Never take responsibility for your own actions. Always blame someone else for your faults and failures.
  • Take credit for others’ achievements. Never recognize anyone else’s contributions. Pride is for winners and humility for losers.  
  • Lie. Lie BIG. The bigger the lie, the better the lie. Lie more when someone responds with the truth.
  • Call others liars. If someone does not agree with your version of the truth, dismiss their opinions as fake news or false delusions.
  • Bully people. Use your power and position to torment and tyrannize other children.
  • Appearance is more important than substance and looks supersede character.
  • Look out for #1. Treat everyone else like, well, #2.
  • Finally, never trust national media outlets or local blog authors.

The Wisdom of Samwise Gamgee

It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo, the ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end, because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened?

But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come, and when the sun shines, it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you, that meant something, even if you were too small to understand why.

But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back. Only they didn’t, because they were holding on to something. That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.

“The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” by Newline Cinemas