Category Archives: Christmas

All of us believe in a virgin birth

Many skeptics point to the virgin birth of Jesus as an example of a Christian belief that is implausible and absurd.

Vince Vitale, a tutor at Oxford, has a response to this. One day it struck him that most atheists already do believe in a virgin birth:

● The atheist Princeton professor Peter Singer, in a debate with a Christian, was challenged to answer the question “Why are we here?” He responded:

We can assume that somehow in the primeval soup we got collections of molecules that became self-replicating; and I don’t think we need any miraculous or mysterious [explanation].

But molecules emerging out of some ancient ocean with ability to reproduce themselves—that leaves lots of room for mystery. In fact, that scenario sounds quite similar to a virgin birth.

● Cambridge physicist Stephen Hawking attempted to propose an atheistic explanation for the universe:

[T]he universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist.

But “nothing” normally does not bring something into being. This is far outside the realm of the ordinary. Is it a less miraculous birth than the Christmas story?

The fact is that we live in a miraculous world. Believers and skeptics alike are aware of this. It is therefore, as Vitale points out, not a matter of whether we believe in a virgin birth, but which virgin birth we choose to accept!

We can believe in the birth of an atheistic universe that is indifferent to us—a universe where “there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, … nothing but blind pitiless indifference” (Richard Dawkins). Or we can believe in the virgin birth of a God who loves us so deeply that he “became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14). Emmanuel, God with us.

Our joy and faith are embodied in Christmas lights

Lay bow to string and lip to horn
     And make our joy ring: a child is born.
Put pen to sheet and stick to drum
     And make our joy speak: the Christ has come.
Lift lights to eaves and voice in song
     Till each believes that the Son has dawned.

As I grew up, my family never had a Christmas tree and never decorated the house beyond a few candles arranged with sprigs of white pine or blue spruce from our yard.

But one year my oldest brother made a large star outlined with lights and mounted it on our front porch latticework. We had twinges of conscience: was it too gaudy? Was it a waste to use electricity to burn lights for no practical use? Yet it seemed a biblical thing to do, a witness and reminder of the star God had placed over Bethlehem to point to the Christ-child. Several years later my brother made an even larger star and placed it atop our farm’s tallest silo, aiming it toward the nearby town and highway.

The other year Karen bought a string of multicolored lights and we taped them around our front picture window. This year we added some lighted garlands to wrap the porch pillars and a long string of lights to hang under our porch eaves, and spent the better part of a Saturday morning putting them up.

It’s only a small porch. But is the lighting too expensive, too bright, too much?

No! This month’s issue of Christianity Today has several church leaders suggesting ways to root our celebration of Christ’s birth more deeply in our lives. Patricia Raybon says: Turn on Christmas lights. Plug in the bulbs and “light the night sky with electrified elation.” Tell the whole world, Look at our house. Look at our bright, happy season. Look at our Christ.

We have a true reason to light up the night. I like to believe that, on our front porch this month, our joy and our shouts of faith are getting embodied in some simple strings of Christmas lights.

Joseph Mohr of ‘Silent Night’

His name will forever be associated with the Christmas season. But at his birth in December 1792, it appeared Joseph Mohr’s name would be associated with nothing but disgrace.

He was an illegitimate child—his mother’s third. A child who might have been a casualty of abortion in today’s world. When Franz Joseph Mohr learned he’d gotten Ann Schoiber pregnant, he fled, leaving the mother to face the music alone, including a steep fine. She was a knitter who earned little. It would have taken her a full year’s wage to pay the penalty.

The town’s brutal executioner stepped into the picture. He would pay the fine and become the child’s godfather. He hoped by doing this to improve his own reputation. Little Joseph’s life now bore another stigma: godson of the hated executioner. He was banned from attending school or learning a trade.

But the boy loved to sing. While playing on steps leading up to a monastery, he was overheard singing by Johann Hiernle, a monk and cathedral choirmaster. Hiernle thought the boy’s voice so good, he could not bear to see it wasted. He found Ann Schoiber and arranged for Mohr to study with his elite group of students.

Hiernle’s kindness was not wasted. Mohr proved to be an outstanding pupil and mastered the organ, violin and guitar by the time he was twelve.

He was ordained a priest in 1815. It was while he was yet a young assistant in Oberndorf that he won lasting fame. He wrote the words to a new Christmas carol and asked the church organist, Franz Gruber, to set them to music—and perhaps helped him. On Christmas Eve, 1818, the two first sang what has since become the most popular Christmas carol of all time: “Silent Night, Holy Night” which has been translated into 200 languages.

In his last pastoral assignment Mohr opened a school which took in poor children. He gave virtually his entire income to this project and died as poor as he was born. But his life left the whole world much richer!

Adapted from an article at

Things can’t make someone happy

A story is told about a king whose son was deeply depressed. Every attempt to cheer the prince had failed. So the king summoned all his advisors to come and give their counsel.

After a great deal of discussion, they agreed that the best plan was to search the kingdom, find the happiest young man his age, and then remove his shirt and bring it back to the prince to wear. Putting on the shirt would transfer the happiness and cure prince’s depression.

The king’s counselors searched far and wide, conducting countless interviews. They finally settled on the one they judged to be the happiest young man of all. Unfortunately, they had to report to the king that he was a servant and did not own a shirt. There was no shirt to take to the prince.

The story, of course, is ludicrous. But you and I must be careful before seeing ourselves as superior to the folks in the story. We all too easily do the same thing.

It’s ridiculous to think that depression can be cured and happiness transferred by wearing a shirt. But, well, how often do we try to give happiness by giving the same thing that happy people in a commercial have? Or think that giving the same article or gadget that a smiling neighbor has will give joy to someone we love?

As we give gifts this season it’s good to be clear on this.

There is a role for presents at Christmas. A gift can be a way of celebrating our love, of saying “I’m thinking of you, I’m aware of your likes, your needs.”

But if our goal for giving a gift is to make the other person happy, we are as foolish as the king’s advisors. If the one getting our gift was restless and empty and unsure of our love before they received our gift, they will be the same twenty minutes later (or 20 hours or 20 days — however long it takes for the initial thrill to wear off). Pinning the happiness of someone we love on a material possession is indeed ludicrous!

The only proper response to the incarnation

Here’s a fun description in common, ordinary language of the wonder that this season should instill within us all!

                    Sharon's Christmas Prayer

         She was five,
         sure of the facts,
         and recited them
         with slow solemnity
         convinced every word
   was revelation.
         She said
they were so poor
they had only peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to eat
and they went a long way from home
without getting lost. The lady rode
a donkey, the man walked, and the baby
was inside the lady.
They had to stay in a stable
with an ox and an ass (hee-hee)
but the Three Rich Men found them
because a star lited the roof
Shepherds came and you could
pet the sheep but not feed them.
Then the baby was borned.
And do you know who he was?
                           Her quarter eyes inflated
                           to silver dollars.
                  The baby was God.

                           And she jumped in the air
                           whirled round, dove into the sofa
                           and buried her head under the cushion
                           which is the only proper response
                           to the Good News of the Incarnation.

–John Shea, The Hour of the Unexpected

Gift giving of one’s self

Perhaps the most-anticipated part of the Christmas season is also the most-dreaded and difficult: gift-giving.

Loving someone can mean getting a gift for them. (Particularly from the Dayton Farmers Market–in the shops named after women at Trissels!) Again and again the Bible pairs love and giving. “God so loved the world that he gave” (John 3:16, see also Ephesians 5:25, Galatians 2:20). Yet too often we find ourselves in the maddening position of grappling over what to give a person who might already have anything that we come up with! It’s especially damaging when we use credit cards to buy now and pay later, perhaps with high interest and low self-esteem.

So what should we do?

Let’s remember that some of the most precious and memorable gifts involve giving of one’s self rather than purchasing something. Indeed, that may be the highest form of giving: when God “so loved” that he gave, the gift was himself. There’s a relief to be found in this too: when I give something that is uniquely myself, I need not worry that the person already has the exact same thing!

How about giving a coupon that the recipient can redeem for an uninterrupted period of your time. Ask “What can I do?” and “What are they passionate about?” and then offer to make time to do it with them. Those who are busiest may find that this is the greatest gift they can give.

Or give by using a skill you have. Bake something and then share both the goodies and the recipe. Make a record of your life these days for long distance friends and family. Build or sew something. Give a worn-out sister-in-law a coupon for babysitting or for helping with a project around the house. Write out a prayer, an affirmation, a joke, or reminisce a good memory.

Best of all, you’re not just exchanging stuff; you’re building relationships. Like God.

A love like what God shows

Human nature wants a Deity who shows power over enemies. We choose leaders who convince us they can control and shape everything and everyone around them.

The Bible presents another way. Leaders are to be servants of all. The Messiah anointed of God is born in a lowly manger and lets himself be rejected and even crucified. True, one day God will judge the whole universe with power (anything that resists him will be cast out of the new heavens and earth) but in this day of grace God is among us in humility and apparent weakness.

Why? Because God is not content with obedience but wants our love as well — a strong, passionate love that cannot be compelled into being. So God loves us and invites us to return that love and then waits, vulnerable, letting us freely choose, knowing we might choose to spurn him.

Such love is also to be the pattern for our love. The Bible repeatedly calls us as the people of God to show this same vulnerable love (cf. Eph. 5:1-2, Phil. 2:5).

Here is one simple, everyday example of this love. Think of what we say when someone bugs us or stands against us. Do we accuse them and demand that they change? In contrast, love that is like what God shows looks like this:
– Rather than laying bare the other by pointing out their mistakes, wrong motives, etc., we lay bare ourselves by describing what’s going on inside of us (eg. our hurt at the other’s action).
– We say to them what love we will do; we don’t demand that they love.
– We listen when the other wants to talk even if we also want to talk and think that what the other is saying is wrong; we listen until we have communicated our desire to hear them and until we know for sure that what they are saying is wrong.
– We affirm the other rather than drawing attention to our goodness.

Try it! See how this vulnerable love opens the way to healthy conversations and relationships!