Why are there Lights on the Tree?

Advent stories and messages from around the world

“Why are there Lights on the tree?”

December 14, 2021

John 9:4-5; 8:12; 3:19; 1:4

The story of the first lighted Christmas tree goes back to the 16th century. German tradition says that Protestant reformer, Martin Luther, was the first to add lit candles to a tree.

The story goes that Martin Luther was walking home through the woods one night, and he was inspired by the sight of stars twinkling amongst evergreens in the woods. So, Luther wanted to recreate his experience from the woods in his home for his family. So, he put up an evergreen in his home and put lit candles on it. (Please! Don’t ever do that; it’s a fire hazard).

We have to move forward three centuries to see the first Christmas tree with lights. So it’s only appropriate that Thomas Edison’s name is attached to this story. In 1884, Edward Hibberd Johnson, a friend and investor of Edison’s had an idea.

He set up a Christmas tree by the street-side window of his parlor. (Sitting room) Johnson then proceeded to Edison’s lab, where he hand-wired 80 red, white, and blue lights, which he strung around the tree, powered by a generator.

Today, we enjoy the beauty of all types of Christmas tree lights, on Evergreens, Spruce, artificial, and many even come pre-lit.

Here’s a quick tidbit about Christmas tree lights. The Hallmark channel has several of their Christmas movies dealing with balls of lights all tangled together every year. About 20 years ago, my wife Kathy found a tip for when you take down your Christmas lights each year. Take several empty paper towel tubes and wrap your lights around them as you take down your tree. Then, next year, all you have to do is walk around your tree, slowly unrolling the lights from the roll.

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If the Christmas tree and its shape are a reminder of our Triune God, The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, then Christmas lights should remind us that Jesus is the light of the world.

The theme of Jesus being the light in our dark world is repeated throughout the Gospel of John.

“As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” John 9:4-5

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” John 8:12

This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.

John 3:19

In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. John 1:4

How is Jesus the light of the world? Through you and me! We are His light in this world. As we read and share the scriptures with others, we are Jesus’ light to them. When we follow Christ’s life as a model for ourselves, by being a servant to all, showing kindness and love to others, we are His light in this world.

Through you and me, Jesus brings His light to others, so they may come out of the darkness of this world and be free to receive God’s Grace. So they may have the faith that you and I do in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

 Dear Jesus. We know and believe that you are the light in this world. Help us spread that light throughout the world as we share your words and actions with others. Bring them to know you as our Lord and Savior who died so that we may live eternally. Amen.

A Short History of the Christmas Tree

Advent stories and messages from around the world

“A short history of the Christmas Tree”

December 13, 2021

Matthew 28:19; 2 Corinthians 13:14; 1 Peter 1:1-2

The Christmas tree tradition as we know it today began in the 16th century. But, the use of evergreens for decorations and worship goes back much further.

The Druids, who lived in what is now England and France from the 3rd century B.C. till the 2nd century A.D., decorated their temples with boughs made of evergreens as a symbol of everlasting life.

The Vikings worshiped evergreens, as they believed it to be a unique plant from the sun god, Balder.

Then there is the story of St. Boniface. In the 8th century, he traveled through southern Germany when he came upon some pagans. These pagans weren’t just unbelievers, but they had a horrible yearly ritual. Each year they would sacrifice a person, usually a child, to Thor, the god of thunder. (Marvel studios must hate this story), at the base of a tree known as the Thunder Oak. St. Boniface arrived on the scene just as they were about to sacrifice a child with a hammer (as you know, Thor swings a hammer). Boniface stopped the people and swung an ax to fell the tree. But, just as he did so, a great wind came up and uprooted the tree, which broke into four pieces.

Supposedly the wood from the Thunder Oak was used to build a chapel. Then next to the fallen oak, an evergreen sprouted up, and Boniface called it the tree of the Christ child.

I have also read many years ago that Boniface started the tradition of bringing an evergreen indoors. People would hang it upside down from the ceiling (I once read this was to keep rats out of it), and people would gather around it and share gifts.

Although the trees we see today point straight up to heaven, the trees that were hung upside down in Boniface’s time were sometimes called the trinity tree. Each corner of the tree represented one of the Blessed Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

As I said earlier, our modern-day Christmas tree dates back to the 16th century in Germany. Christians brought trees into their homes and decorated them. Martin Luther is credited with adding lighting to the modern-day Christmas tree.

But that is a story I’ll save for tomorrow 😊

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The Bible talks about our Triune God many times throughout it. Other times it is inferred that all three persons, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, are present.

Here are just a few references to our Triune God.”

“Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” Matthew 28:19

“May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” 2 Corinthians 13:14

“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance.” 1 Peter 1:1-2

Three Distinct persons in our one God.

God the Father, the Creator of all things, instituted the Law we call the Ten Commandments.

God the Son, Jesus Christ. Sent to earth where He accomplished many things, like teaching, healing, feeding many, and showing us how to put others first by serving them. Yet, Christ’s ultimate goal was to die on a cross for our sins. So that we may have eternal life.

Last but certainly not least, God the Holy Spirit. He came to live as promised by Jesus, within the Apostles at Pentecost. He now lives within us from the moment we are baptized. The Holy Spirit guides us on the path set before us before we were born. He also disciplines up and encourages us to get back on that path when we stray.

The next time you look at your Christmas tree, look at it as a triangle, with each corner representing one part of the triune God. Don’t be afraid to make the sign of the cross and say; In the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Take time today to praise our Triune God, and thank Him for the many blessings we receive each day.

Thank you, Lord, for being our mighty God, who is three persons in one. You are our Creator, our Savior, and our guide throughout life. Thank you for all you do for us each day and the many blessings you supply. Amen.

Preparation is important for good results

Advent stories and messages from around the world

Third Sunday of Advent – December 12, 2021

“Preparation is important for a good result.”

Isaiah 40:3; Luke 7:18-28

One of my favorite things to do is to bake. Of course, I bake cookies, pies, cakes, but my favorite thing to bake is cheesecakes. And, my favorite cheesecake recipe is “Praline Cheesecake.”

I’ve learned over the years that you need to prepare when making a cheesecake. Unlike a box cake, where you add eggs, butter and pop it in the oven, cheesecake takes a bit more prep time.

For my Praline Cheesecake, I need three 8 oz. packages of cream cheese. The cream cheese to be soft so I can mix it with other ingredients. So, it’s essential that I take the cream cheese out of the refrigerator at least an hour before I begin putting the ingredients together.

The other thing that needs to be done is to make the crust before making the cake ingredients. This involves mixing a cup of graham cracker crumbs and melted together. Then that mixture is pressed into a springform pan and baked at 325 for eight minutes. After the crust is done, it needs to cool before adding the cream cheese mixture.

I’m a bit of a stickler when it comes to ingredients, so I have all of my ingredients measured and lined up beforehand. One other bit of prep work is taking the three eggs out of the fridge used in the cheesecake mixture for at least 30 minutes before mixing them with the now softened cream cheese.

It sounds pretty involved, doesn’t it? And that’s not the whole recipe. But, you can only have a well-made and delicious cheesecake if you plan and prepare before the actual mixing and baking.

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God’s pretty good at advance preparations too. So he promised someone would come to pave and prepare the way for the coming Savior.

A voice of one calling:

“In the wilderness prepare

the way for the Lord40:3 Or A voice of one calling in the wilderness: / “Prepare the way for the Lord;

make straight in the desert

a highway for our God. Isaiah 40:3

God sent John the Baptist (Jesus’ cousin, the son of Elizabeth) to pave the way for Jesus’ ministry. Jesus even verified that John the Baptist was indeed the person spoken of in the Old Testament.

“John’s disciples told him about all these things. Calling two of them, he sent them to the Lord to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”

When the men came to Jesus, they said, “John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?’ ”

At that very time, Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses, and evil spirits and gave sight to many who were blind. So, he replied to the messengers, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy (7:22 The Greek word traditionally translated leprosy was used for various diseases affecting the skin.)are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”

After John’s messengers left, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear expensive clothes and indulge in luxury are in palaces.

But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written:

“ ’I will send my messenger ahead of you,

who will prepare your way before you.’ 7:27 Mal. 3:1

 I tell you, among those born of women, there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” Luke 7:18

As I mentioned in an earlier devotion, John never claimed to be the Savior. Instead, he said someone was coming that was far greater than himself. John told the people that he was not worthy to tie (Jesus’) shoes and that he John baptized with water, but the one coming (Jesus) would baptize with the Holy Spirit).

Yes, there was and is no question John the Baptist’s job was to prepare the way for Jesus’ ministry. This preparation made way for the Son of God to fulfill His destiny as the Savior of the world.

Prepare yourself each day for what may come your way by immersing yourself in God’s word and prayer. Let Christ’s love shine in you, so others may know who He is. Amen.

Dear Lord. You sent John the Baptist to prepare for the coming of your Son Jesus. Help me to prepare each day for the world we face. Help me to be a beacon of light in the wilderness for you, so others may come to know you as I do.

Amen.

Shoes by the fire on Christmas

Advent stories and messages from around the world

Shoes by the fire on Christmas

December 10, 2021

John 13:3-17

When I was young, I lived in Chicago. Like many cities and states up north, we had some freezing and icy weather. Snow, wind, sleet, and sometimes freezing rain. I can remember coming in after slogging through snow and sleet, and my body would be cold, and my shoes would be wet.

Back then, we had the old-style radiators in our home to heat the house.

Our family would put our shoes near or under the radiator to dry them out. But those who had a fireplace sometimes put their shoes near the fireplace to dry their shoes and wet socks.

The children of France have a unique tradition at Christmas. They leave out their shoes in front of the fireplace on Christmas Eve, hoping Père Nöel will fill them to the brim with little presents, sweets, fruit, nuts, and anything else that will fit in there.

I guess the larger the shoe, the better. I’d probably make out pretty good since I have size 12 shoes. 😊

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The first thing that comes to mind when I think of shoes is feet. And when I think of feet, I think of Jesus washing the disciple’s feet at the last supper.

“Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so, he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”

Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.

When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly, I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” John 13: 3-17

What many people don’t know about Jesus washing His disciple’s feet was that He was keeping with tradition. It was traditional for the owner of a house or one of his servants to wash the feet of their guests as they entered the home. Why? This was not a ceremonial washing; it was a necessity for cleanliness.

We need to remember that the streets in a town like Jerusalem or any community of that time were dirt. But it’s more than that. Most people walked either barefoot or had thin sandals. The streets were filled not only with people. There were horses, donkeys, goats, and sheep, walking the streets with their owners and “doing their business,” whenever and wherever they wanted.

So, when someone came to your house, their feet weren’t just dusty dirty; they were probably “Yucky,” dirty.

There is no mention that the master of this household, where Jesus had the Passover meal with his disciples, had cleaned their feet as they entered his home. But, leave it to Jesus to take someone else’s oversight or neglect and turn it into a teaching moment.

Here was the Son of God, on His knees cleaning his disciples’ feet. Yes, their feet were probably filthy. But Jesus’ actions were two-fold. One, He washed their feet of dirt and “debris.” Two, He gave His disciples an example of what servanthood looked like. Serving others is not beneath anyone.

When we help others with food, money, housing, or paying a bill, we are being a servant of Christ, just like He was and is to all of mankind.

Jesus served us by coming to earth and allowed Himself to be arrested, beaten, and hung on a cross.

Why? Because He loves you and me. His words echo throughout history,

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

You and I, as Christians, are friends of Jesus. Jesus gave His life for us. Jesus’ shoes are pretty big ones to fill. So, the question is, “What are you willing to do to serve your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?”

Dear Jesus. You serve us each and every day. You listen to our prayers, and you answer them. We are sick in body and sometimes spirit, and you hold us close as we are healed. Help us be a servant like you, giving of ourselves for others.

Amen

A Donald Duck Christmas

Advent stories and messages from around the world

A Donald Duck Christmas

December 10, 2021

Luke 22:17-20

As I researched many different Christmas traditions from around the world, I would have to say that I found Sweden’s Christmas Eve tradition the strangest.

Every December 24 since 1958, at 3 p.m. in the afternoon, families in Sweden sit down in front of their televisions and watch,

Kalle Anka och Hans vanner onskar God Jul, or “Donald Duck and his friends wish you a Merry Christmas.”

Most of the show is a repeat of the 1958 Walt Disney Present Christmas special, “From all of Us to All of You.” The show airs without commercial interruption (Yeah, try that in the States!).

It’s pretty much the same show every year with clips from old Disney movies, and surprisingly not very much of it has to do with Christmas. (Disney has one Caveat, Swedish television must show a trailer of the most Disney film.)

Here’s the most fascinating part of this tradition. Almost half of all the households in Sweden watch this “Donald Duck” special every year!

(Excerpts taken from Culture Boxes Nordic Quack, by Jeremy Stahl, 2009, December 22)

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50% of the families in Sweden stop what they’re doing on Christmas Eve and watch a Disney Donald Duck Christmas special. Wouldn’t it be amazing if 50% of the people in the United States stopped for one hour every Sunday and went to church to worship God?

In my 25 years in full-time ministry, I was always amazed at how many unfamiliar faces I saw at church on Christmas Eve. One of my pastors used to call it a case of C.E.O.’s. These are people who only come to church only on Christmas and Easter.

I laughed when I heard the term C.E.O. used to reference people’s church attendance. But, actually, it’s pretty sad, isn’t it?

As Jesus reclined in the upper room with His disciples, He instituted what we refer to as The Last or The Lord’s Supper.

“After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. For, I tell you, I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”

And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

In the same way, after the supper, he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.”

Luke 22:17-20

Jesus set a precedent when He said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” I notice the church has often added a word to that sentence, “often.”

Yes, we should remember our Lord Jesus often. We should think about and worship Him in everything we do, whether playing or working. We worship Jesus when we receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion, His Body, and Blood which is really present in the bread and wine.

It’s not something to be taken lightly because Jesus Himself, the Son of God, told His disciples (That’s you and me!) to “Do this in memory of Me.”

Don’t be a C.E.O. and (get ready, here it comes) don’t “Duck” any opportunity you have to worship Jesus, with all of your heart, your soul, and mind.

Dear Jesus. So many times, we find excuses to not take time to worship You by partaking of the Sacrament you instituted at the Last Supper. Help us to do better and to take every opportunity we can to worship you with all of our hearts. Amen

The story behind the Carol, Silent Night

Advent stories and messages from around the world

The story behind the Carol, Silent Night

December 9, 2021

Psalm 33:1; Isaiah 12:5; Psalm 96:1; Exodus 15:1

The Story of the beloved Christmas Carol, Silent Night, varies, depending on who’s telling it. Suffice it to say it was written in Germany. It is just as popular today as when first sung at St. Nicholas church in Oberndorf, Germany, over 200 years ago.

(The long and the short of it)

In the original German, Silent Night—or Stille Nacht —was created because Josef Mohr needed a carol for worship. On Christmas Eve of 1818, Mohr visited Franz Xaver Gruber with a poem he had written in 1816. Gruber quickly arranged the song to be played on a guitar with a choir because the church organ was broken. That evening at Midnight Mass, Gruber strapped on his guitar and led the congregation at St. Nicholas in the first rendition of Silent Night. (The Gospel Coalition.org)

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Why do we sing in church? Why do we raise our voices in song to the Lord?

Let me share with you several verses from the Bible that come right out and tell us to “Sing to the Lord!”

Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous; it is fitting for the upright to praise him. Psalm 33:1

Sing to the Lord, for he has done glorious things; let this be known to all the world. Isaiah 12:5

Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth. Psalm 96:1

Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord: “I will sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted. Both horse and driver he has hurled into the sea. Exodus 15:1

King David tells us to sing to the Lord, and so does Isaiah. Moses and the Israelites sang to the Lord in worship after He had closed the sea on the Egyptian army.

We pray to the Lord worshipfully. We read His Word and worship His deeds and Holy name. And we sing praises to the Lord, lifting our voices to Him in worship.

When I was younger, I did not like singing hymns. I thought they were boring written hundreds of years ago for a different time and generation. So as far as I was concerned, singing hymns was just singing a bunch of words no one uses anymore to totally outdated music.

That changed as I got older (much older😊). Now I read and pay attention to the words of the hymns we sing in church very closely. You know what? The music may not be contemporary (I still love contemporary Christian music). The words may sometimes be Old English and unfamiliar. But that’s okay. When you pay attention to the words of those old hymns, they are just as significant today as they were hundreds of years ago.

We praise the Lord in song because we love Him. And to Him, every word that comes out of our mouths when we praise Him is beautiful, even if we are off-key.

Every Christmas Eve Candlelight service I have attended always has the congregation sing Silent Night. To this day, I can’t get past singing the first verse without tearing and choking up to the point that I can’t sing.

The next time you sing Silent Night, remember it’s a hymn written over 200 years ago. Yet, people still enjoy singing it as they worship God and celebrate the birth of His Son Jesus. Amen.

Dear Lord. Thank you for all the wonderful music that has been written about you. Whether it was written 200 years ago by Josef Mohr or last year by Toby Mac, we know it is all beautiful to your ears as we sing your praises. Amen.

The Story Behind the Candy Cane

Advent stories and messages from around the world

December 8, 2021

The story behind the Candy Cane

Isaiah 53:2-9; Matthew 27:27-31

As Christmas approaches, there is quite a bit of baking and candy-making being done. My favorite Christmas cookie (some don’t consider it one) is an oatmeal raisin. Many folks like sugar cookies with sprinkles, almond crescent’s, and others prefer Pfeffernüsse.

There’s Hershey’s chocolate kisses, peppermint bark, caramel corn, and of course, candy canes on the candy side.

There’s a lot of history behind the candy cane’s origin. Here’s the story I told kids during my children’s message for 25 years.

There’s a story that is told; about 100 years ago, a candy maker in Indiana wanted to make a type of candy that would be a witness for his Savior, Jesus. So, he made the Christmas candy cane.

He put together some symbols in the candy cane that would remind us of the birth, life, and death of Jesus.

First, he made the candy cane white to symbolize the virgin birth and the sinlessness of Jesus.

Secondly, he made it hard to show the Solid foundation of the church and the firmness of the promises of God.

Third, he made it in the form of the letter J, to represent Jesus’ precious name, who came to earth as our Savior, and when you turn it over, what does it look like? It’s the staff of the Good Shepherd, Jesus.

Then he decided to stain it red. So, he put a broad red stripe on the candy cane. Why do you think he did that? (It represents the shedding of Jesus’ blood on the cross for our salvation.)

Finally, he put the 3 small stripes on the candy cane? What do you think the 3 small stripes are for? (They remind us of the scourging or whipping Jesus received before He was crucified.)

(Remember when you purchase candy canes, not all have the one broad and three small stripes on the – Bob’s Candy Canes always do)

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Scourged, whipped, despised, and finally crucified for our sins. It’s slightly easier to read those words when we tie them into the candy cane story. Now take a look at what Jesus went through for us as you:

Read the words of Isaiah

“He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,

nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

He was despised and rejected by mankind,

a man of suffering and familiar with pain.

Like one from whom people hide their faces

he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Surely, he took up our pain

and bore our suffering,

yet we considered him punished by God,

stricken by him and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our transgressions,

he was crushed for our iniquities;

the punishment that brought us peace was on him,

and by his wounds, we are healed.

We all, like sheep, have gone astray,

each of us has turned to our own way;

and the Lord has laid on him

the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and afflicted,

yet he did not open his mouth;

he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,

and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,

so, he did not open his mouth.

    By oppression53:8 Or From arrest and judgment, he was taken away.

Yet who of his generation protested?

For he was cut off from the land of the living;

for the transgression of my people, he was punished.53:8 Or generation considered / that he was cut off from the land of the living, / that he was punished for the transgression of my people?

He was assigned a grave with the wicked,

and with the rich in his death,

though he had done no violence,

nor was any deceit in his mouth.” Isaiah 53:2-9

We should never forget how Jesus was treated by the soldiers. Read this account from Matthew.

“Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand. Then they knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said. They spit on him and took the staff, and struck him on the head again and again. After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.” Matthew 27:27-31

From now on, whenever you see a candy cane, don’t just think of it as a great candy treat. Instead, let it help you to remember how Jesus is our Good Shepherd, how He suffered and died for our sins, and how much He loves all of us.

Dear Jesus. Thank you for sacrificing yourself for our sins. We are so undeserving of your sacrifice, yet you did it anyway because you love us. Jesus, we love you too. You are such a blessing to so many. Continue to bless us through your love and compassion, always. Amen

The Christmas Pickle

Advent Stories and messages from around the world

December 7, 2021

“The Christmas Pickle”

Luke 2:15-18; Matthew 2:10-11

In yesterday’s devotion, I talked about how my wife and I hide a cross in the middle of our Christmas tree each year. It’s our way of remembering and conveying to others that Jesus was hung on a tree (cross) for our sins. And that there would be no Christmas without the birth, death, and resurrection of Christ.

For the last ten years or so, there has been another ornament we also hide on the tree. It’s the Christmas Pickle. The photo you see above is of a Christmas Pickle Tree in Germany at Walt Disney World’s EPCOT.

The legend of the Christmas Pickle goes something like this: In Germany hundreds of years ago. The last decoration placed on the tree was a pickle, carefully hidden in the branches. The legend says that the child who found the pickle on Christmas morning would receive a special gift.

My wife and I hide a Christmas pickle somewhere in our tree each year. Then, whoever finds it on Christmas morning gets to open the first present.

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On that first Christmas, the Shepherds followed the directions of an angel and found a baby in a manger.

“When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So, they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.” Luke 2:15-18

Several months later, Magi (Wisemen) came from the east, following a star for direction. They, like the shepherds, found the child and His family.

When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Matthew 2: 10-11

Both the shepherds and the Magi were led to and found a special gift. The shepherds found the baby Jesus and His parents tucked away in a stable, lying in a manger. The Magi found baby Jesus in the humble home of a commoner.

That Christmas night, not only did the Shepherds receive a special gift, but so did the whole world. Christ the Savior was born. God the Son had come down to live amongst us and save us from our sins by sacrificing Himself for you and me.

Dear Lord. Your Son, Jesus, was born quietly in a stable in a manger. But, He did not remain silent for long. He did what no person on earth could do; He died so we might live. Lord, thank you for sending the special gift of your Son, Jesus.

Amen.

The Hidden Gift within our Christmas Tree

Advent Stories and messages from around the world

“The Hidden Gift within your Christmas Tree”

December 6, 2021

Acts 5:30; Acts 10:39; Acts 13:29

My wife Kathy and I have been married for over 47 years. During that time, we have accumulated a plethora of Christmas Ornaments. We still have a number of our original Christmas ornaments, which involved painting a clear plastic ornament and baking them in the oven.

Over the years, we’ve accumulated both religious and secular ornaments. We always put all of the angel ornaments toward the top of the tree. The rest are scattered all around. Disney, Coca Cola Santa, manger scenes, and Lennox crystal ornaments.

I find that during the weeks leading up to Christmas, I don’t look at the ornaments very much after the tree is decorated. But, as we put them up, our memories of Christmas past turns into a two-hour conversation as we put up each ornament.

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Over the last 10 years or so, I’ve hidden cross ornament in the middle of our Christmas tree. I do this to remind us of the hidden gift within our Christmas tree. Remember, without Christ, there is no Christmas.

The book of Acts, written by the Apostle Luke, is the only New Testament book that refers to the cross Christ died on as a tree. Luke uses the word tree, not once, but three times. (The Greek for a cross is a tree)

The God of our forefathers raised up Jesus, whom you killed by hanging Him on a tree (cross). Acts 5:30

And we are [eye and ear] witnesses of everything that He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem. And [yet] they put Him out of the way (murdered Him) by hanging Him on a tree; Acts 10:39

And when they had finished and fulfilled everything that was written about Him, they took Him down from the tree and laid Him in a tomb. Act 13:29

Let’s be realistic; a cross comes from a tree. All wood comes from trees.

So, the idea of hiding the cross deep within our Christmas tree is a reminder that Jesus died on the cross for you and me. The promise of a Savior was first mentioned in Genesis 3 by God. The fulfillment of that promise came true one starry night in Bethlehem, over 2000 years ago.

Jesus being born on what we call Christmas night was just the beginning of the promised fulfillment made by God. He (Jesus) would go on to teach, preach, heal and serve throughout His ministry. Finally, fulfilling the scriptures by being arrested, beaten, and crucified for our sins.

Earlier I mentioned the two-hour conversation my wife and I had concerning the history of our Christmas ornaments as we put them on the tree. For us, the cross and what Jesus did for us by dying on the tree/cross is a daily part of a conversation.

Let the cross of Christ and what He did for me, and you always be a part of your daily life. So why not strike up a conversation with Him right now, thanking Him for all He has done for you? Amen.

Dear Jesus. You died on the cross for our sins. You sacrificed your life, so others might live. Help us to never hide the Gospel story from others, but bring the message of your birth, life, death, and resurrection to the world. Amen.

“Telephone, Telegraph, Tele (Everyone!)”

Advent stories and messages from around the world

“Telephone, Telegraph, Tele (Everyone!)”

Second Sunday in Advent

Luke 3:1-18

When I was much younger, my friends and I had a saying for someone who gossiped or couldn’t keep a secret. The expression went like this, “Telephone, Telegraph, and Tele—–.” Then, for the last tele, we would insert the persons’ name. So, conversations went like this. “You can’t tell (person’s name) anything in confidence. You know they are one of the three forms of communication, telephone, telegraph, and tele (person’s name).”

This banter was always meant to be funny and not mean-spirited to the person we talked about. At times someone in our group of friends would be would one of those avid communicators, and we’d say it out loud in front of them. For some reason, if it was a female, she always hit me in the shoulder and said, “Shut up, Joe, I do not gossip!” 😊

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There are times to keep secrets, and there are times to tell the world what you know. But, when it comes to talking about Jesus and all that He has done for us, it’s always a time to tell the world.

Before Jesus began His formal ministry, the prophet on the scene with a message from God was John the Baptist. John was actually Jesus’ cousin. God sent John the Baptist to pave the way for Jesus’ ministry.

“In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene— during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John, son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet:

“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,

‘Prepare the way for the Lord,

make straight paths for him.

Every valley shall be filled in,

every mountain and hill made low.

The crooked roads shall become straight,

the rough ways smooth.

And all people will see God’s salvation.’ Isaiah 40:3-5

John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones, God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

“What should we do then?” the crowd asked.

John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”

Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”

“Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.

Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”

He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”

The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” And with many other words, John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them.” Luke 3:1-18

When people came to hear John the Baptist speak, they didn’t realize at first that he was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophesy (see above).

John never pretended to be anything other than he was. John even said, “After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.”

 John preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin. But again, he made sure people understood that he was not the Messiah. John said, “I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit (Directly prophesying what would happen on the day of Pentecost.)

Just 30 years ago, our ways of communicating with others were limited. Today we can send a message that will go out to millions of people (whether they want to or not) with the touch on our phone screen.

John the Baptist brought a message from God. Thousands of people flocked to him in person to hear the Good News that was part of the beginning of the Gospel about Jesus Christ.

There is no wrong way to communicate the Word of God to others. Some people like Pastors and Priests and laypeople, like you and me, share the Gospel verbally. Others do so through acts of kindness and service to others. Still, like me, others communicate the Gospel of Jesus Christ through the written word.  While many tell Jesus’ story through the combination of all of the above. Like John the Baptist, the important thing is that we tell others about God’s grace and how He sent His Son Jesus to save us from our sin. And, through Faith in that fact, we are saved and will someday live eternally with our Father in heaven.

Dear Lord, thank you for the many ways you communicate with us. Sometimes it directly, other times through someone us, and other times through a whisper of the Holy Spirit. Thank you for all the prophets who gave the world hope, the hope of a Savior, your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen