The View from Bethlehem’s Manger

Happy Christmas Eve!

This evening at Woodbury Community Church it was my blessing to present the drama, The View from Bethlehem’s Manger. 

Here is a recording of that drama. Enjoy! And may you have a blessed Christmas.

Video streaming by Ustream

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Learning New Things About Christmas

The First ChristmasI’ve been a follower of Jesus for a long time now. My journey of faith began as a child, and it was as a four-year-old boy that I prayed and asked Jesus to be my Savior. I grew up in a church-going family. So, from the time I was an infant, I was in church. That means that in my 43 years of life I have heard (and in recent years, I have preached) a number of sermons about Christmas.

When people ask me about the toughest sermons to preach, I almost always respond that  Christmas and Easter sermons are the most difficult to prepare. These two holidays come  every year and it can sometimes be tough to come up with fresh ideas and insights into the familiar and wonderful stories of Christ’s birth, death and resurrection.

I have to say that I am energized about preaching on Christmas this year. One of the reasons is that I’m learning so many new things about Christmas. On Christmas Eve, I’ll be preaching a dramatic monologue sermon. My sermon will come from the perspective of Bethlehem’s innkeeper. In preparation I’ve been reading an old book that I found at a used bookstore several years ago. It’s a book entitled, The First Christmas, by Rev. Denis O’Shea. It was published in 1952 by The Bruce Publishing Company in Milwaukee.

I’m enjoying the book for several reasons.

1) It was written by a Catholic priest. I’m Protestant. That means that my views on who Mary is are very different than O’Shea’s. So, I’m forced to read this book critically. Seeing things from a perspective radically different than mine is a sharpening process.

2) It was written in 1952. This was shortly after Israel was resettled by the Jewish people. The historical context of this book is fascinating. The illustrations that are used about what the Holy Land was like in the 1950’s make me wish I could have seen it then. I’m reading a section about the Samaritan people, and at the time only 260 were living in Palestine. O’Shea had visited with the present High Priest of the Samaritans and the information written about that encounter is fascinating.

3) Like William Barclay, one of my favorite New Testament commentators, O’Shea writes from the perspective of a historian. (If you want to read great stuff on the times of the Bible read any of Barclay’s commentaries.) The quoting of ancient historians, the visuals that he paints about what houses, inns, roads, landscape, food, clothes, animals, etc. were like in the days surrounding Christ’s birth are fascinating. He also does a great job painting a picture of the geo-political culture of the day. Understanding how Herod achieved his position, the world of Caesar Augustus, what a census involved, and why the Jewish people were required to go to the land of their ancestors to register is fascinating. I felt that I could picture the abodes of the first century world, and the inns that Mary and Joseph would have stopped at on their route from Nazareth to Bethlehem.

There is so much more that I could say. Again, there is a lot that I would disagree with in this book, particularly O’Shea’s insistence that Mary was a perpetual virgin. But, all-in-all this book has opened my eyes and my mind to see things I’ve never seen before about Christmas. I can’t wait to share them in the form of a drama on Christmas Eve.

If you are in town, I’d love to have you join us for Christmas Eve services at Woodbury Community Church at 5 or 7 PM. I hope the sermon will be something that you’ll be talking about for a long time.

What is something new that you’ve learned about Christmas this year?

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAWhen my children were growing up, they performed in many Christmas pageants. They are always such a special part in the calendar of the church. I remember one year when Breanna and Christopher were a part of the cast of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, the classic story by Barbara Robinson about the Herdmans. The book’s description says that the Heardmans are the worst kids in the history of the world. They lie, steal, smoke cigars, swear, and hit little kids. So no one is prepared when this outlaw family invades church one Sunday and decides to take over the annual Christmas pageant.

None of the Herdmans has ever heard the Christmas story before. Their interpretation of the tale — the Wise Men are a bunch of dirty spies and Herod needs a good beating — has a lot of people up in arms. But it will make this year’s pageant the most unusual anyone has seen and, just possibly, the best one ever.

pageant2Well, we had our annual Christmas pageant yesterday. It wasn’t the story The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, (our church kids preformed A Rockin’ Royal Christmas) but it was one of my favorite of all time. After Friday’s horrific events in Connecticut, I treasured watching the children of Woodbury Community Church perform just a little bit more. Their voices seemed sweeter. Their antics were cuter. And, the story of the hope that comes because of the birth of Jesus was  even more poignant.

PageantDo you have a favorite Christmas pageant memory? I’d love to hear about it.

I’m so proud of the kids of Woodbury Community Church. They did a great job presenting the story of Christmas.

Here is a clip from the show:

Video streaming by Ustream

Present at Christmas – Suffering

This Advent Season, I have been preaching through a series entitled Present at Christmas. We have been taking a look at some of the gifts that God gives to his children. Long before this weekend, my scheduled sermon for this Sunday was on the gift of suffering. It is difficult to preach on suffering on a weekend like this, where dozens of families are dealing with a pain that is greater than anything that I have ever been through. Below is my sermon from today. I hope that it blesses you as you continue to move through this weekend’s horror.

 

Extreme Christmas Caroling

There are two types of people in this world — those who love it when a group of people show up to their door to Christmas carol, and those who hate it.

Todd Rhodes had a fun post about caroling on his blog today. He tells the story the Long Hollow Baptist Church worship team, who decided to have some fun with Christmas caroling this year. Check out their humorous videos:

 

Fantastic Free Resource for Advent

Good NewsHow are you and your family moving through Advent this year? A friend of mine clued me in to this free resource from Desiring God ministries. We are taking time to read the Advent devotional at our dinner table. It’s caused some deep conversations with our sons.

Good News of Great Joy is a series of 21 Advent readings by John Piper to challenge the reader to look for ways to adore Christ this Christmas season. It’s easy to move through this season without taking the time to, or even understanding what it means to adore Christ.

This is a free e-book available for all e-readers by clicking here.

It’s not too late to jump into these readings. They will take you less than 5 minutes to get through each reading, but your discussion may take you longer. That is a good thing!

One other note on this book. I think the preface to this book, written by David Mathis, the Executive Editor of Desiring God Ministries was the best description of why we do Advent that I’ve ever read.

Does This Ever Get Old

There is a great scene in the Charlie Brown Christmas Special. I’m sure most of you have seen it. Charlie Brown is being chastised by his classmates because he has picked the absolute worst Christmas tree in the history of Christmas trees. Charlie, who is normally down on himself, is really depressed this time. This has to be the worst Christmas ever. And then good ‘ole Linus reminds Charlie, and the rest of the gang about the true meaning of Christmas.