Friday, 9 December 2011
The First Noel (And the Last Note of the Year)
One of my favorite things about Christmas is Christmas music. Many of today’s artists have recorded their versions of the old standards and have come up with some new ones. That’s fine, but I prefer the crooning of Perry Como, Dean Martin, Andy Williams, Bing Crosby, Johnny Mathis and my all-time favorite, The Carpenters. As soon as I hear these songs, it brings back childhood holiday memories. We had more than half a dozen Christmas albums (and I do mean LPs) that Mom would put on the record player while we decorated the tree and the house. It was the one time of year that Mom kept the candy dishes full of things like ribbon candy, chocolate drops and chocolate covered cherries. As long as we didn’t go too crazy, we could eat what we wanted when we wanted. It was a magical time of year.

As I got older and outgrew Santa, my love for Christmas music continued. In junior high (no one had ever heard of “middle school” back then), all the kids in our neighborhood got together to go caroling. I made everyone a song book with all the words and we even practiced. For several years we entertained our neighbors with carols ranging from “Rudolph” to “Silent Night”, and ending each time with “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” There were a few people who gave us cocoa or cookies, but we didn’t care if we got anything or not. We were having too much fun.

I’ve always loved the fun songs like “Rudolph” and “Frosty.” Newer ones like the “Twelve Pains of Christmas” and “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” make me chuckle. But nothing compares to the traditional songs that chronicle the birth of Jesus. While “Silent Night” is the traditional favorite, I love “O Holy Night.” Other favorites include: Hark the Herald Angels Sing, O Little Town of Bethlehem, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, O Come All Ye Faithful and It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.

Luke 2:8-14
Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

We learn about the very first Christmas carol in the song, “The First Noel.” Noel is the French word for birthday, which means the first Christmas carol could be thought of as a happy birthday song. It tells the story from Luke 2 when the shepherds received the good news of Christ’s birth from an angel and the best group of carolers ever (the heavenly host) started singing God’s praises.

“The First Noel, the Angels did say
Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay
In fields where they lay keeping their sheep
On a cold winter's night that was so deep.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel
Born is the King of Israel!”

Biblical historians now are quick to point out that the birth of Jesus most likely was not in December, but more probably in March or April. Whatever. While tradition has us celebrating His birth officially on December 25, it is really something we can celebrate all year long. It is the greatest gift ever given to mankind. God gave His only Begotten Son that we could all have hope and peace and joy and eternal life in Him. We have chosen as a society to give special celebration and honor to His birth on December 25, so let’s do it up right!

1 Corinthians 13:103
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.

There are a lot of other celebrations going on at the same time as the celebration of Christ’s birth. This is the time of year that the Jews celebrate Hanukkah, aka the Festival of Lights. The day after Christmas is the first day of Kwanza, an African-American harvest festival. And then there is the whole Santa Claus thing that creates most of the hustle and bustle this time of year. The overlap of these multi-cultural celebrations is what brought on the practice of saying “Season’s Greetings” and “Happy Holidays.” Again, I say “whatever.” Regardless of what the world is doing and what is the latest “politically correct” practice, we should know who we are in Christ and not get caught up in confusion.

So go ahead and decorate your Christmas tree. Buy gifts for family and friends. Enjoy the wonder and awe in the children’s eyes when they sit on Santa’s lap and share their wish list. Sing about a reindeer with a shiny nose and drink your egg nog (none for me thanks, yuk!). But let your first noel be for Christ. Let your first fruits and your first praises be for Him. Instead of trying to impress everyone with your use of the term “Merry Christmas”, go out and make it a merry one for someone. Share the gift of Christ with others. “Freely you have received, freely give,” (Matthew 10:8).

This is the last blog article for 2011. This truly is the most wonderful time of the year, so go out and enjoy it to the fullest with your family and friends. Don’t get overwhelmed by the hustle and busyness that seems to come with what is supposed to be a time of worship. Instead, put Christ first and allow Him to lead you in this time of celebration. Thanks for following this blog . . . I hope it has helped you in some way or provoked your thinking. I do wish all of you a Merry Christmas and a blessed New Year. See you in 2012!

Posted on 12/09/2011 8:51 AM by Susan Nelson
Friday, 2 December 2011
Making It Complicated

You can tell a lot about a television show’s target market by the kind of commercials that run during that program. If you are seeing a lot of commercials for deodorants, shoes or cleaning products, the target is mostly women. Ads for trucks, anything Black & Decker and oversized hamburgers are aimed at men. Commercials for toys, theme parks and candy are aimed primarily at children, who then bug their parents to run out and buy, buy, buy. You get the picture. Apparently the primary target audience for the courtroom shows that air weekday mornings are the unemployed who need to get off the couch and go back to school and get “the skills to pay the bills.” Now, I am not unemployed . . . my hours are just later in the day. But there must be a pretty good market for these technical training schools, because you may see seven or eight commercials for them during a one-hour episode of “People’s Court” or “Judge Mathias” (a guilty pleasure . . . something to have on while I am working around the house before going to my “real job.”)

The pitch in most of these ads is very traditional and subtle. They have a man or a woman who has completed the program to talk about their experience and about how quickly they found a job after graduating. They talk about how much their lives have changed since they attended the school and that they encourage anyone who wants to better their life to enroll. As they are talking, you see footage of them hard at work fixing a computer or interacting with people in an office, as well as scenes of them enjoying time with family and friends. But there is one series of commercials that is a little different and probably, I think, a little more effective. The spokesman is a young, hip guy who faces the camera and speaks directly to the viewer, urging you to take some action. He points out that sitting around isn’t getting you anywhere. He asks “why are you making it so complicated?” Changing your life is as simple as going to this school to get the aforementioned “skills to pay the bills.” He tells you how easy it is to sign up and that you can even get financial aid. In other words, you are the only one holding yourself back. You are the only one making it complicated.

John 3:16-17
16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

When we share the good news of the gospel and invite people to church, we are like a spokesperson for our faith. Like the people in the television commercial, we share our own testimony about how our life has been changed for the better since we accepted Jesus as our Lord and Savior. We can explain how simple it is. Romans 10:9 says “that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” So why does the person we are witnessing to want to make it so complicated?

Psalm 130:3-4
If you, LORD, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you.

Our greatest desire when we share Christ with others is that they will immediately receive what we have said and accept Him, too. But more often than not we run into the “Yes, I believe and I know I should, but” response. There is some reason given for why the person won’t take that first step on the road to salvation. Many believe that they have to give up some bad habit or make a lifestyle change before they can “come to church.” They need to understand that if they truly want Christ in their life, they just need to say “yes” and leave the clean up work to Him. He can help you quit smoking, drinking, etc. In fact, you’ll be more successful with His help than trying to do it on your own. Some people think they have done too many terrible things to ever be worthy of God’s love. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  Still others may have a hard time believing that it could really be that simple . . . that God loves each and every one of us and it’s His will that none should perish. All we have to do is be humble and repent and let Him have the driver seat in our life.

When witnessing to others, many take the laid back, subtle approach. We don’t want to be too pushy or upset anyone. But maybe we should. Maybe we should be more like the young, hip spokesperson for the technical school and ask people why they are making it so complicated. We need to keep it simple and be ready to answer their excuses or objections. Just like the unemployed need the “skills to pay the bills,” the unsaved need a Savior for their souls. We need to be able to say to that person we are witnessing to, “What are you waiting for? It isn’t complicated – you’re the one making it complicated. Choose Him now – sitting around doing nothing isn’t getting you anywhere.” When you realize the consequences – life or death – is it really that complicated?

Posted on 12/02/2011 6:52 AM by Susan Nelson
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