Category Archives: Advent

Merry Christmas 2014

Well, here we are again. We are at the point of culmination: the culmination of all the decorating, all  the shopping, all the hustle & bustle, Christmas cards mailed, and yes – all of the waiting. What, waiting? Yes, waiting. You have been waiting, haven’t you?

Our home in Keller, Texas is beautifully decorated, thanks to the vision and creativity of my lovely wife. We have a beautiful Christmas tree beneath which lies a plethora of colorfully wrapped packages waiting to be opened. The sugar count in our kitchen is at an all time high with cookies and other holiday treats. Our staircase is decorated with faux pine garland interwoven with lovely white lights and our fireplace is decked out as well, complete with stockings hung by the chimney with care. The shopping is done – almost. I traditionally shop on Christmas Eve; not as an act of procrastination but because I enjoy it. Indeed, the Strege’s invest heavily in the traditions of the season and we enjoy it.

Some refer to the Christmas festival traditions as “trappings”. I understand why that is. If we’re not careful, Christmas becomes all about the trees, the lights, the goodies, and the presents. And while those things are fun and can bring some degree of happiness into our season, they are not what Christmas is all about for those of us who have put our faith and trust in Jesus.

As a Christian, there is not a doubt in my mind that the true “reason for the season” was born of a virgin and laid in a manger in a town called Bethlehem some 2,000 years ago. He died on a cross to save all who believe in Him from our sins, and was resurrected 3 days later. In Him and Him alone, death was swallowed up in victory! Without Him, my hope for eternity, and yours as well, is quite bleak. But through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, we have the hope of eternal life in His amazing presence. Indeed, we are at the culmination of Advent – that period of anticipation as we wait to joyfully celebrate the birth of our Savior.

This morning, as I prepare to embark on my traditional Christmas Eve shopping excursion, the birth of our Savior is at the forefront of my mind. I hope it is at the forefront of yours, too. I wish you and all for whom you care a very Merry Christmas indeed!

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which well be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, which is Christ the Lord!” ~ Luke 2:10-11

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which well be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, which is Christ the Lord!” ~ Luke 2:10-11

Santa is Real!

NOTE TO THE READER: This is the text of the speech I offered last night at my Toastmasters Christmas party. I hope you enjoy it!

“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.” Each of us is familiar with this famous line penned by NY Sun editor Francis Church as he replied to a query from little Virginia O’Hanlon in 1897. Madam Toastmaster, fellow Toastmasters, honored Guests, I stand before you this evening to share with you the truth that Santa Claus is, indeed, real.

Who is this Santa Claus? In American culture he is portrayed as that jolly old elf with the rotund torso donned in his famous red suit trimmed in white fur. His hair and his beard are snowy white and he laughs with a hearty “Ho, Ho, Ho!” He lives in the perpetual winter of the North Pole and has a troupe of elves building children’s toys year round for Santa’s Christmas deliveries. He magically appears simultaneously in innumerable shopping malls and town squares all across the land as he welcomes children onto his lap to hear their Christmas wishes. He tours the world in a single night in a sleigh pulled by eight reindeer as he distributes toys to good little boys and girls. That is how culture portrays him; but is that who he is, really?

According to History.com, the notion of Santa Claus has its origins way back in a 3rd century Turkish Monk named St Nicholas. St Nicholas was known for his piety, his kindness, and his charity. Let’s briefly examine these three traits of Saint Nicholas.

Piety, according to Websters dictionary, is the quality of being religious or reverent. Nikolas was a monk, and monks typically live lives of religious ritual and repetition as they seek to connect with and relate to God. Reverence is a deep respect for something. It’s more than just going through the motions of some ceremony or ritual; it that complete, internalized honor, respect, and love for the One behind the ceremony or ritual. His reverence for God is likely the catalyst behind the other two traits for which he was known.

Websters Dictionary defines kindness as the quality of being friendly, generous and considerate. History tells us that Saint Nicholas traveled the countryside helping the poor and the sick. In this, he reminds me of Mother Theresa, a nun who lived a life of self-deprivation as she dedicated herself to helping the poor and needy. Both Saint Nicholas and Mother Theresa are excellent examples of individuals who dedicated their lives to showing true kindness to others.

Charity, according to Websters dictionary, is benevolent goodwill towards or love for humanity. One of the best-known stories about Saint Nicholas involves his encounter with a very poor family. The family could not afford to put up a proper dowry for its three daughters so they could be married. So, instead, the girls were going to be sold into prostitution. Saint Nicholas gathered the resources necessary to put up a dowry for each of the girls so they could be married instead of being sold into prostitution.

I would be willing to bet that each of us in this room has, at some point in life, been the recipient of unsolicited kindness or charity. When I was in college, I was driving home to Katy from Austin late one night. I dozed off as I drove down a dark farm to market road just outside of Bellville, Texas. I woke up as my car careened off the road and into the ditch. Fortunately, I was not injured. As I stood by the roadside at about 1:00 in the morning, I wondered what I would do next. (Remember, this is 1983, long before we all carried cell phones.) It didn’t take long for a car to come along and stop. A man and his wife took me to their farmhouse, which was close by. The man retrieved a tractor and the three of us drove back to the site of my accident where he proceeded to pull my car out of the ditch. The man and his wife offered to let me spend the rest of the night as a guest at their home, but I told them I was within 20 minutes of my own place. I offered him a $20 bill, all the money I had on me. He would accept no payment for his effort; he told me that he hoped I would take the opportunity to help somebody else someday. You know what? On that night, at that time, that man and his wife were Saint Nicholas to me.

Several years later I was standing in line at a Houston BBQ restaurant, waiting to order my lunch. As I approached the register, a man came stumbling towards me. At first I assumed he was drunk, but once I looked directly at him I knew something was wrong. His eyes were bulging out from his face and he held his hands to his throat in the universal sign for choking. He was obviously in distress. He was rather large, but I moved behind him, wrapped my arms around his torso, and delivered the hardest Heimlich maneuver I could muster. The piece of brisket that had lodged in his throat flew several feet through the air, over the counter, and landed at the feet of a very shocked cashier. As he gasped for breath, he managed a soft “thank you” as he headed to the men’s room. You know what? On that day, at that time, I was Saint Nicholas to that man.

Saint Nicholas, the original inspiration for our modern day Santa Claus, lived a life of kindness and charity towards others in honor of his faith in God and his love for humanity. So you see, my friends, Santa is real. He exists as the spirit of Saint Nicholas lives on through each act of kindness and charity that we receive and through each act of kindness and charity that we pay forward. As we celebrate this holiday season, let us seek to view every person as Saint Nicholas viewed them – worthy of our respect, worthy of our time, worthy of our kindness, and worthy of our charity. Merry Christmas!

One of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, “What commandment is the foremost of all?” Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘HEAR, O ISRAEL! THE LORD OUR GOD IS ONE LORD; AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH.’ The second is this, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” ~ Mark 12:28-31

What Do You Want for Christmas?

What do you want for Christmas? I bet if I had $1 for every time I’ve been asked that question through the course of my life I would be a wealthy man! But in all seriousness, this is a question that each of us should ponder during this season of Advent. What do you want for Christmas?

As a young boy growing up in Minnesota I never had any difficulty answering that question. One year it was a 10-speed bike and another it was a new parka. In middle school I wanted corduroys and silk shirts. After moving to Texas at age 15 I became enamored with our Western heritage and I wanted a new Resistol cowboy hat and ostrich skin boots. My wants turned more practical as I grew into adulthood – money to keep my car running, clothes for work, coffee makers and kitchen items. Now, here I sit at age 53. What do I want for Christmas?

The gift I want the most is not available in any store. It cannot be purchased online. In fact, there is no dollar amount sufficient to purchase what I want for Christmas.

In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” ~ Luke 2:8-14

God has already given me a gift that carries more value than any human could possibly measure: He has given me saving faith in His Son, Jesus Christ. I want my family to know Him as I know Him. I want them to grow in faith and walk with the Lord along the path of sanctification.

But it doesn’t stop there. You see, the evidence of sin is all around us. Watch the news. Watch almost any television show or Hollywood movie. Listen to the songs on the Top 40 lists of just about every genre of music. Thumb through many of the novels on the NY Times bestseller list. Observe what goes on around you. Our world, and our very American society, suffers from a sin sickness for which there is only one cure. The Bible tells us that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Fortunately, God loves us so much that He sent His Son into this broken and fallen world to save us from the eternal consequences of our sin. It is the birth of His Son that we celebrate at Christmastide.

What do I want for Christmas? I want to be equipped to be salt and light to all with whom I come into contact. I want to be an effective witness for my Lord and Savior whenever and wherever God provides the opportunity. The world needs to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ. God willing, I will have a role in sharing it.

How about you? What do you want for Christmas?

True Hope

Amid the tumult we’ve seen over the past week or so, the rush of the holiday season has begun. As protesters in Ferguson burned businesses, looted stores and blocked traffic, and as many Americans exchanged accusations of racism and bigotry, television advertising was amuck with “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday” commercialism. Thanksgiving seemed all but forgotten amidst the rush of news, misinformation and retail advertising as many American consumers looked ahead to Christmas even before the sun rose Thanksgiving morning. As I ponder the current state of our nation and the frenzied rush to feed our lust for material things, I’m tempted to despair. But as that temptation begins to overtake me, I am moved to seek God’s Word.

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. ~ Isaiah 9:6-7

God’s Word reminds me that my hope is not grounded in humanity. My hope lies in Someone far greater than any human being or any human institution. That Someone, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, came to Earth to live, die, and be resurrected to save us from the very sin that is increasingly enveloping our society day by day. This passage from the prophet Isaiah is just one of many Old Testament prophecies concerning God’s promise to send His Savior into the World. That promise, given by God to men and women of all races, was fulfilled some 2,000 years ago in a little town called Bethlehem at the birth of Jesus.

Let us pray for our society. Let us pray for Michael Brown’s family and for Officer Wilson. Let us pray for awakening and revival. Let us pray for reconciliation. And as we do so, let us focus our minds and our hearts on Jesus, the fulfillment of God’s promise, the Baby of Bethlehem, whose birth we celebrate in just a few short weeks. For true hope rests in Him and Him alone.

‘Tis the Season! ~ John 1:24-34

Rudolph the red nosed reindeer_9462

Rudolph the red nosed reindeer_9462 (Photo credit: Wonderlane)

Christmas. What’s it all about, anyway? Is it stockings and toys? Is it stress over lack of money and time to buy and do all the things we want during the holiday season? Is it a beautifully decorated tree and lights on the house? Is it a man in a red suit that magically descends the chimney, leaves an abundance of gifts, and then magically ascends again? (When I was a boy we had no chimney; I always wondered how Santa was able to get into our house)! In the American tradition, Christmas is all of these things. Sadly, for many, this is the extent of the Christmas holiday.

The next day he (John the Baptist) saw Jesus coming to him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” ~ John 1:29

Interior, St John the Baptist Church - geograp...

Interior, St John the Baptist Church – geograph.org.uk – 1096768 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Indeed, Christmas is much bigger than the secular traditions of the holiday. Christmas is about Love. It’s about a Love so big that our human minds cannot fully grasp it. God in His Word reveals this Love. Here, in this passage of Scripture, John the Baptist tells us why this Love came to earth. The Bible tells us that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (see Romans 3:23). We need help; we need redemption. That redemption comes only through the Child of Bethlehem, whose birth we celebrate at Christmas.

I’m no Scrooge; I enjoy my decorated home (my wife is quite talented), giving and receiving gifts, and gathering with family and friends. But those things pale next to the birth of my Savior. As a wise person once said, “Jesus is the Reason for the season.”

May your Christmas season be filled with love and joy!

My prayer for today: Heavenly Father, Thank you for sending Jesus to save me from my sins. As I enjoy the holiday season, let me always remember and celebrate, first and foremost, the Holy Birth that is the centerpiece of Christmas. In Jesus’ name – AMEN.

Christmas Preparation ~ John 1:19-23

1-08-06 christmas tree 011

1-08-06 christmas tree 011 (Photo credit: takfoto)

Like me and my family, I’m sure you’ve begun your Christmas preparations: decorating the Christmas tree, shopping, making travel plans, baking goodies – all of the activities that bring us joy as we prepare to celebrate the holidays. As we work through these annual rituals of preparation, it is easy to lose sight of what Christmas is really all about, and the most important preparation of all can sometimes be shoved into the background as we make ready to celebrate with family and friends.

A voice is calling, “Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness; Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God. Let every valley be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; and let the rough ground become a plain, and the rugged terrain a broad valley; Then the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all flesh will see it together; For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” ~ Isaiah 40:3-5

Scripture tells us that we must prepare for the Lord’s coming at Christmastide. It’s not referring to decorating trees, or shopping, or baking cookies. God tells us in His Word to prepare for the coming Savior. John the Baptist lived this preparation just before Jesus’ ministry.

(John the Baptist) said, “I am A VOICE OF ONE CRYING IN THE WILDERNESS, ‘MAKE STRAIGHT THE WAY OF THE LORD,’ as Isaiah the prophet said.” Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, and said to him, “Why then are you baptizing, if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet ?” John answered them saying, “I baptize in water, but among you stands One whom you do not know. It is He who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” ~ John 1:23-27

John’s message to the world in advance of Jesus’ ministry was a message of repentance. Jesus was about to enter the scene, and the people needed to prepare to meet him by repenting of their sins and being baptized as evidence of their repentance.

Guess what? Nothing has changed.

Birth of Jesus

Birth of Jesus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As I compose this essay, we are early in the season called Advent. The first season of the church year, Advent is a time of self-examination, confession, and repentance as we prepare to celebrate the birth of our Savior. Just as in John the Baptist’s time, people are busy living their lives. Even in these days leading up to Christmas, we tend to live our daily lives with God in the background. We decorate, we shop, we party, and we plan – but do we stop amidst all of this to consider what it is we’re about to celebrate? Have you thought about Jesus’ birth, why He came and what His coming means to the world? If our first consideration of His birth comes during Christmas worship we’ve missed the boat.

Now is the time to begin considering these things. In what areas of your life is God shoved into the background? Are there sin habits that need confession followed by change? Have you done something that is eating away at you day after day as the shame separates you from God? Sin is at work in your life and in mine each and every day; we all fall prey to its siren song. Now is the time, ahead of Christmas, to acknowledge our sin, confess it, and seek the forgiveness that comes only through Jesus Christ. Give Him just a few minutes every day during this Advent season of preparation. If you’ll do that, you’ll find that your Christmas celebration is all the more meaningful as it embraces the true meaning and purpose of this wonderful holiday season.

My prayer for today: Heavenly Father, this is such a busy time of year. Help me to not shove you into the background of my life as I live this daily busyness. Instead, show me where I’ve done wrong so I may confess, repent, and seek the forgiveness that comes only through Your Son, Jesus Christ. In His Name I pray – AMEN.

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