Catching a Glimpse

The first Christmas comes and goes, and most people don’t notice. Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, and a few others catch a glimpse of what is happening, but they’re just a handful.

Christmas Card Boxes and Advent Calendar

I always keep my Nativity themed Christmas cards because the children, especially at our school, love to look at them and talk about the Nativity story.

Waiting During Advent

In the Advent/Christmas season, let me encourage you to learn how to wait. I know we don’t want to do that.

Formations 12.26.2021: The Word Became Flesh

Our favorite Christmas Bible stories usually involve angels, Mary and Joseph, shepherds, a stable behind an inn, animals, a tiny baby in a feeding trough, and wise men visiting from afar. This passage in the Gospel of John has none of those, and yet it is probably the most important Christmas story of all.

Connections 12.26.2021: Christmas Clothes

When I was a boy, my parents had a Christmas routine. My father would go to one of the department stores in our small town, where he would engage the help of the wife of the couple that owned the store in selecting a dress as a Christmas gift for my mother.

Facing Grief, at Christmas and Always

I am neither a nihilist nor a pessimist. For heaven’s sake, I am pastor of America’s home of Positive Thinking. I am, however, a realist. And as such, I have a theory about life. Here it is: Life is not the last five minutes of the movie.

Formations 12.19.2021: Angels from the Realms of Glory

Angels are everywhere. That’s not a theological statement; it’s just an observation of life in a modern, Western culture in December.

Connections 12.19.2021: A Friend in Pregnancy

Soon after I became pregnant with our first daughter in 2004, I learned that my best friend—already the mother of two—was pregnant as well.

As Slow as Christmas

It was late on Christmas Day; the sun had set and my parents and I were somewhere between Yatesville and Barnesville on our way back home after the day-long celebration of Christ’s birth through the eating of food and the exchanging of gifts.

Formations 12.12.2021: God Will Be Our Shepherd

I’ve met—and am related to—a bunch of farmers and others who live in rural communities. But I don’t think I’ve ever met a shepherd.

Connections 12.12.2021: How to Live

Who knows what people expect to hear when they go out to listen to John the Baptist preach. We do know what they hear.

An Invitation to Joy

If we relied on Mark, we would have to stretch to get a story worth a Christmas carol. Mark has no shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night, no Mary, no Joseph, no manger, no wise men, no Herod.

A View from the Pew: Pancho and the Christmas Play

If you’ve ever performed in a Christmas drama you know the truth of the old show business maxim attributed to W.C. Fields: “Never work with children or animals.”

Formations 12.27.2020: Blue Christmas

It’s always good to remember that the Christmas season isn’t always joyful for some of us. Those folks ringing the bells and collecting donations outside your favorite grocery store?

We Need the Hope of Christmas Now

Simply and directly, our world is not what it should be. And the Advent and Christmas season offer the expectancy of what should be.

Pass the Parcel Nativity Story

I wanted a simple, interactive way of telling the Nativity story, as my Sunday group can be a bit lively, so I decided that we would use some of our leftover Christmas cards.

Connections 12.20.2020: Faithful to Send Jesus

I thought about opening with these words: “Put yourself in Mary’s place.” But then I realized that we can’t do that.

Skipping Christmas

For centuries, Christians have celebrated the birth of Jesus by coming to church to sing, pray, remember, give thanks, and recommit our lives to Christ. What were we thinking?

Lent. The Ugly Step-Sister Season.

Lent… It’s not Christmas, that’s for sure. It’s not a season when we’re hanging the holly and lighting the tree, twinkling and throwing gifts around like confetti and singing carols to strangers. It’s not a season that glitters.

Helping Each Other Grieve

As well as being a joyous time, Christmas can be difficult for people touched by tragedy or loss in the past year. Grief is isolating. While the rest of the world seems to be celebrating, tragedies years and decades old resurface.

A View from the Pew: Family vs. Faith Traditions on Christmas Eve

There are two kinds of families in this world: those who open gifts on Christmas Eve and those who wait until Christmas morning. I have been blessed to have been a part of both.

Connections 12.22.2019: A Righteous Man

Our lesson text says that Joseph was “a righteous man” (v. 19). We could use more righteous men these days. I say that as a man. I’m allowed to talk about my own kind.

A View from the Pew: ‘Tis the Season for Missionary Speakers

Missionary speakers at church are as much a Christmas tradition as Christmas trees, Advent wreaths, and Nativity scenes.

Coming, a Prayer for Advent

Come to us, Lord Jesus,
in every purple-patterned life,
every wrap of loving arms
in shivering December.

Connections 11.10.2019: Getting and Being Ready

I try not to think too much about “the real meaning of Christmas”—the incarnation event, the Word made flesh, the baby in the manger—until just after the fourth Sunday of Advent. Don’t freak out on me.

Advent Devotions: Joy

Merry Christmas! Technically, Advent is over, but as I’ve said before, even though the Christ child has come, in a way, we are still waiting. We wait with hope. We wait with peace. We wait with love. And today, we wait with joy.

A View from the Pew: Hearing the Story

“A Charlie Brown Christmas” aired in 1965, and a generation formed an indelible association with the passage from Luke 2 and the recitation of the Christmas story by the character Linus Van Pelt. Born in 1970, I am definitely of that generation.

Advent Devotions: Love

When I was in junior high school I began going on mission trips each summer to New Orleans. Our youth group would break up into teams and lead backyard Bible clubs in neighborhood parks. We always carried Evangecubes—an interactive tract—with us. One day I was sitting at the bottom of a slide with a little boy who was around 8 years old.

Advent Devotions: Peace

Isaiah tells us of a promise that will be fulfilled. Though he expects to see the promise fulfilled in his lifetime, he is left waiting and faithfully pointing toward the truth. This is the same promise that we are waiting for as we move toward celebrating the birth of the Christ child.

Advent Devotions: Hope

As I’ve prepared to explore Advent and journey through this season of waiting and watching, I’ve had one song stuck in my head. Well, one line from one song stuck in my head: “A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices….”

Meditations on Luke: “Do Not Be Afraid”

Over Christmas one of my daughters asked me a question. “Daddy, why is it that every time an angel shows up in the Bible, he always says, ‘Do not be afraid’?” I responded, “Well, what would you do if an angel suddenly appeared in your room one night?”

Crossroads: The Angel Candle/Candle of Love

Today we light the last purple candle. This candle is the angel candle, or the candle of love. This candle reminds us of the love God has shown us through Jesus.

Formations 12.31.2017: Christ(mas) Has Come!

On the Christian calendar—as opposed to the secular calendar by which stores began decking their halls shortly after Halloween—the Christmas season began on December 25th and will end twelve days later on January 5.

Connections 12.31.2017: Jesus and the Elderly

I turned forty this year, and I’m grateful to be able to say that I still have one living set of grandparents. My father’s parents, known to me as Mom and Pop, are age eighty-three and ninety-three. They’ve been a huge part of my life since my birth.

Crossroads: The Shepherd Candle/Candle of Joy

Welcome to the third week of Advent! Advent is a time of preparation, when we wait and prepare for the Christ child. Each week, you will light a new candle as we recognize the things that Christ brings to this world: hope, peace, joy, and love.

How Does Christmas Feel?

When I was a high school student, I did not compile a particularly enviable record as an athlete or as a scholar. I did, however, achieve a fleeting measure of notoriety as an Elvis impersonator.

Connections 12.17.2017: The Light of Christ

At this time of year, we marvel at the beauty of Christmas lights. Our family enjoys getting a special treat and riding through our town, admiring neighborhood light displays while we listen to Christmas music. We love to decorate our own house as well.

Prayer is Not Seasonal

Commercials tell us that it is time for families to gather around the Christmas tree and the television. Jingle the bells. Add snow to the background. Cue smiling families, dressed alternately in red and green, making snowmen and snowballs. “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.”

Crossroads: The Candle of Prophecy/Hope

Welcome to the first week of Advent! Advent is a time of preparation, when we wait and prepare for the Christ child. Each week you will light a new candle as we recognize the things that Christ brings to this world: hope, peace, joy, and love.

A View from the Pew: What to Get Your Church Staff for Christmas

While the rest of the world started Christmas preparations on November 1, many Christian churches in the U.S. generally wait until after Thanksgiving to turn their focus of worship to the celebration of Christ’s birth. Whether or not your church has a “Hanging of the Green” service or observes the season of Advent, parishioners often turn their thoughts to showing their appreciation to their church staff with holiday gifts.

Formations 12.03.2017: The Lights of Christmas

One of my favorite parts of Christmas is the lights. We deck our houses with tiny electric lights. We drape lights on Christmas trees. We go to services on Christmas Eve where the light of dozens of handheld candles bathes the sanctuary in a warm, amber glow.

A View from the Pew: Aging of the Choir

I’ve had a fondness for Christmas cantatas, lessons and carols services, and other performances of sacred Christmas music since I was a boy fidgeting in the third-row pew while my parents rehearsed portions of Handel’s “Messiah.” Our choir this Sunday was as intriguing as their performance was beautiful.

Crossroads: The Christ Candle

Merry Christmas! In the weeks leading up to Christmas, we have explored what each group was waiting for. Today we celebrate the birth of Jesus and, as we celebrate, we remember that Jesus waited for just the right time to enter the world.

Making Room

There was no room for Jesus in crowded Bethlehem, but that did not stop him, and it did not stop God. God became flesh, regardless of the space limitations. Christmas this year comes at a time when millions of people have no room, no home, no space to live in safety, without fear.

Formations 12.25.2016: God Is Born and Don’t Own a Car

This week, after a month and some change of waiting, Christ comes. Luke introduces us to the one who brings hope, love, peace, and joy, the one we’ve come to call God, as an infant lying in a feeding trough.

Connections 12.25.2016: Ridiculousness

The whole thing seems ridiculous to me. God Almighty cares enough about this world and the people in it to come down and spend a few years in it and with them. And when God Almighty comes, it’s as a helpless baby who has to be protected, fed, and burped.

Formations 12.18.2016: A Glimpse of Holiness

Angels almost always appear on the biblical scene saying, “Don’t be afraid.” And they are indeed frightening creatures, at least in the book of Revelation and other apocalyptic writings.

Connections 12.18.2016: Father of the Forerunner

Two weeks ago, I encouraged us to put ourselves in Mary’s shoes—to truly feel empathy for her when she heard the news that was both devastating and life changing. Can we do some imagining about Zechariah, too?