Category Archives: Christmas

Extraordinary Savior

“Extraordinary Savior.” “Extraordinary” is, of course, a term of comparison: If there were no ordinary people, there would be no extraordinary ones. That got me to thinking: in order to appreciate the extraordinary savior, I need to understand what an ordinary one is like.

Is there such a thing as an ordinary savior? There is, and (sadly) Jesus is often presented as one. If you spend any time at all on religious broadcasting, you’ll run into the ordinary savior. He saves people from their circumstances – poor health, insufficient income, and troubling emotions. That’s one way of identifying an ordinary savior: he only saves people from, while the extraordinary Savior – the real one – saves people for. Let me give you a few examples.

An ordinary savior saves people from a religionless, churchless existence. He pities those unfortunates who sleep in on Sunday mornings, go out to eat, and travel. He wants to save them from their laziness, gluttony, and wanderlust, though they aren’t looking to be saved. I suspect most people who don’t really know Jesus – they’ve heard about him, of course, but have never joined themselves to him – think of Jesus as this kind of savior: one who loves organ music, 18th century hymns, and those rousing 19th century gospel songs. He doesn’t want people missing out on these good things.

An ordinary savior also saves people from hell; that’s why he came. People were going to hell in a handbasket (or maybe a shopping cart) and he stepped in to save them. The extraordinary savior does that too, but he does more: He saves people for heaven; he saves people for service in his kingdom. It is the repeated promise of the New Testament that Christ is saving us for something important. He has a role in mind for us. He intends for us to reign with him. The ordinary savior just saves from. The extraordinary savior saves for.
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What Just Happened? (A Christmas Meditation)

A few months ago, I jumped out of an airplane. After three weeks of weather delays, our group (Jeanette Dembski, Traci Disbro, Brian Ellis, and I) had to wait another four hours for all the other people who, like us, had waited three weeks but, unlike us, didn’t attend church that morning and got to the airfield before we did. I appreciate all of you who came to watch and who waited through the afternoon. I don’t so much appreciate those of you who were taking odds on how likely I was to chicken out.

Finally, after waiting and waiting, Jeanette Dembski and I were aboard the plane. We ascended 14,000 feet in just seven minutes. The door opened. One skydiver after another, including Jeanette, hurled out and into the blue. Then it was my turn. I stuck my feet outside the plane, my heels resting on a four-inch ledge. As we rocked back and forth, my instructor said in my ear, “One…two…three,” and then we were out.

I looked around me and could see for miles. The instructor tapped my shoulders, which meant I could release my grip on the halter and raise my arms. Below me I could see farm fields and roads. There were lakes, lots of lakes, which surprised me. (I hadn’t seen them from the road.) Some had dozens of boats on them, a few leaving white lines, like writing, on the surface of the water. I could see that one of the lakes was too shallow for boating and there were no houses around it. On the roads were Matchbox-like cars that hardly seemed to be moving.

My instructor signaled to me and I looked up – I had been looking down – and there was a photographer, fifteen feet away from me, as if perched in mid-air, taking video. Then he zoomed away, and I went back to surveying the landscape and trying to find the airfield, where we would land. Once again, the photographer flew up, signaled for me to smile, then zipped away. There was so much to take in that the passing of time didn’t really register. Whether a few seconds or a few minutes had passed, it was hard to tell.

As I was taking in the scenery, something suddenly happened – boom! – and I felt like I had been snapped back into the sky. I was shocked by the force of it and didn’t understand what was going on. In the midst of about a thousand visual, audio, and tactile stimuli, a sort of thought emerged: “What just happened?” I really didn’t know.

What happened, of course, was that my chute opened… Continue reading

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Christmas: Its Prequels and Sequels

You better watch out, you better not cry; Better not pout, I’m telling you why: Santa Claus is comin’ to town. He’s making a list and checking it twice, gonna find out who’s naughty and nice. Santa Claus is comin’ … Continue reading

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Why Your Christmas Celebration Should Be More Exuberant

The Church has historically celebrated twelve days of Christmas, beginning with the Feast of the Nativity on December 25, and lasting until January 5. The very next day is the Feast of the Epiphany. In the Roman Church, the feast days include the Feast of St. Stephen, of St. John the Apostle, of the Holy Innocents and more.

But consider what has happened in modern times. The celebration of Christmas has been turned upside down and backwards. In the past, Christmas Day began a twelve-day period of feasting, celebration, and worship. Now, Christmas day is the final and, perhaps, only day of celebration. By December 26th, the wrapping paper is discarded, the unwanted presents returned, and people are back to haunting online and brick and mortar stores for bargains. In other words, they’re back to life as usual.

The Christmas celebration ends too soon, but it also begins to soon – just after Halloween. Christmas’s center of gravity has moved from worship to spending, with the result that people worry more and celebrate less. The big questions revolving around Christmas no longer have to do with God but with economic forecasts for the shopping season. Analysts do not know whether the Savior’s birth will save us from sin – they may not even care – but they are hopeful it will save us from an economic downturn. Continue reading

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An Angel’s Perspective on the Birth of Jesus

You cannot understand our perspective. You do not even understand how the lower animals perceive reality – how could you understand the perceptions of spiritual beings higher than you?

We comprehend things you cannot see or hear or touch or smell. We embody a reality you cannot perceive. Where you see one reason, we distinguish ten thousand, stretched across time and space.

Were you to experience reality as we do for even a moment, your brains would overload. They could not handle the cascade of information that flows through us, a million times more than you can currently process. Continue reading

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Christmas Surprise: What We Weren’t Expecting for Christmas

By the end of the Old Testament era, many people were impatient for the Creator to fulfill his promise and make right what had gone wrong. When would the serpent’s head be crushed? Where was God’s promised king (things could … Continue reading

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That’s What Christmas Is All About

God intended the humans to rule his world but now they were at its mercy. Under God’s rule, they could rule, but the moment they stopped being subject to God, they became subject to fear (Gen. 3:10) and were ruled by desire (Gen. 3:16). The earth that once cooperated with them no longer yielded to their touch. On the very day of their revolt, there began a struggle between man and God, man and earth, and man and man. They were expelled from the garden, and the world began to fall apart. And so did the humans. And, to all appearances, so did God’s plan.

But the Creator is not easily stopped. In fact, he is not stopped at all. Ever. It was his plan that the world fall apart, should the humans turn away from him. It was a safeguard and a mercy. The recalcitrant earth, the relational conflict, the pain and fear and, above all, death were God-designed consequences of man’s rebellion. Why? Because God wanted revenge? No. Because God wants us. Sorrow and failure and struggle are a mercy. His judgments are a kindness. The Creator knows we will not come to him without them. And if we don’t come to him, we cannot come to ourselves, to our rightful place, and to our joy. Only when we have fully come to God, can we fully be ourselves. Continue reading

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So This Is Christmas

It was in the Garden, not the stable, that the Creator first became Immanuel (God with us). (“Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day…” Genesis 3:8). The Creator, a being of unimaginable power, who brought into existence the visible universe and, along with it, realities that are not visible (at least to creatures like us) was with humans: with them in ways they could readily perceive and in ways that caused them to flourish. He was Immanuel.
The Creator made the earth to be a place that would beautifully and remarkably sustain biological life. It was perfect. And on the earth, he made a place (Eden) that was supremely suited to a particular kind of biological life: the human. He placed two humans, a man and a woman, in that ideal environment. Continue reading

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The Story Behind the Star of Bethlehem

The next big holiday on the church calendar is Epiphany, which is celebrated on January 6, twelve days after Christmas. At Epiphany, the church recalls the visit of the magi, commonly referred to as “wise men,” to the child Jesus. … Continue reading

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Mary, Mother of Jesus – Secret Agent?

The mother of Jesus had a lot in common with the sleeper agent of spy fiction, Continue reading

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