Christmas Illustrations, 2010

All right, here we go again. Every year I embark on a Quixotic Quest for the perfect Christmas Illustration. Not that Mary and Joseph and Jesus and Bethlehem isn't enough -- I just always look for that touching yet not-too-schmaltzy image that connects the worshipper with the ancient story in a way that brings Christ to life in the moment. For the sad, sad (and largely unrealized) story of my nearly ten-year search for the perfect Christmas illustration, download this document: Christmas_Stories 2010

For the latest additions, read below.

If you find something that works for you, post it here as a reply. I might include it in next year's collection.

Dave

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Have you ever noticed the pronounced hush that often attends the reading of Luke's nativity story on Christmas Eve?

There is a stage in a child's life at which it cannot separate the religious from the merely festal character of Christmas or Easter. I have been told of a very small and very devout boy who was heard murmuring to himself on Easter morning a poem of his own composition which began 'Chocolate eggs and Jesus risen.' This seems to me, for his age, both admirable poetry and admirable piety. But of course the time will soon come when such a child can no longer effortlessly and spontaneously enjoy that unity. He will become able to distinguish the spiritual from the ritual and festal aspect of Easter; chocolate eggs will no longer seem sacramental. And once he has distinguished he must put one or the other first. If he puts the spiritual first he can still taste something of Easter in the chocolate eggs; if he puts the eggs first they will soon be no more than any other sweetmeat. They will have taken on an independent, and therefore a soon withering, life.

C. S. Lewis Quoted on www.SermonIllustrations.com

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There is a deepening of the silence that normally accompanies the reading of Scripture, an increased attentiveness, an air of heightened expectation. Perhaps it is the solemnity of the evening, as we gather, candles in hand, to celebrate the birth of the Christ child. Perhaps it is the weight of tradition, aware that we listen to passages Christians have heard for centuries. But perhaps it is also the breathtakingly simple yet surprisingly powerful story of a young girl giving birth to her first child, attended only by shepherds and stable animals but heralded by angels above.

David Lose www.WorkingPreacher.org

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A little boy and girl were singing their favorite Christmas carol in church the Sunday before Christmas. The boy concluded "Silent Night" with the words, "Sleep in heavenly beans." "No," his sister corrected, "not beans, peas."

Michael P. Green, Illustrations for Biblical Preaching, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993, p. 57.

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Pastor Clifford S. Stewart of Louisville, Kentucky, sent his parents a microwave oven one Christmas. Here's how he recalls the experience: "They were excited that now they, too, could be a part of the instant generation. When Dad unpacked the microwave and plugged it in, literally within seconds, the microwave transformed two smiles into frown! Even after reading the directions, they couldn't make it work. "Two days later, my mother was playing bridge with a friend and confessed her inability to get that microwave oven even to boil water. 'To get this darn thing to work,' she exclaimed, 'I really don't need better directions; I just needed my son to come along with the gift!'" When God gave the gift of salvation, he didn't send a booklet of complicated instructions for us to figure out; he sent his Son.

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If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent us an educator;

If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us a scientist; If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist; If our greatest need had been pleasure, God would have sent us an entertainer; But our greatest need was forgiveness, so God sent us a Savior.

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To avoid offending anybody, the school dropped religion altogether and started singing about the weather. At my son's school, they now hold the winter program in February and sing increasingly non memorable songs such as "Winter Wonderland," "Frosty the Snowman" and--this is a real song--"Suzy Snowflake," all of which is pretty funny because we live in Miami. A visitor from another planet would assume that the children belonged to the Church of Meteorology.

Dave Barry in his "Notes on Western Civilization" (Chicago Tribune Magazine, July 28, 1991)

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Little Bethany climbed up into Santa's lap in the mall. As soon as she was settled, Santa said, "And what would you like for Christmas this year?" The girl's eyes grew wide and her jaw dropped as she looked at Santa with horror. Then she said, "Didn't you get my email?"

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When Orville and Wilbur Wright finally succeeded in keeping their homemade airplane in the air for fifty-nine seconds on December 17, 1903, they rushed a telegram to their sister in Dayton, Ohio, telling of this great accomplishment. The telegram read, "First sustained flight today fifty-nine seconds. Hope to be home by Christmas." Upon receiving the news the sister was so excited about the success that she rushed to the newspaper office and gave the telegram to the editor. The next morning-believe it or not--the newspaper headline stated in black, bold letters, "POPULAR LOCAL BICYCLE MERCHANTS TO BE HOME FOR HOLIDAYS." The scoop of the century was missed because an editor missed the point.

Daily Bread, December 23, 1991.

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In New York's Hayden Planetarium a special Christmas holiday show was enhanced by an added feature. A giant lollipop tree was projected onto the planetarium dome, surrounded by a horizon filled with brilliantly colored toys which came to life and cavorted to the tune of "Jingle Bells." At the climax a huge figure of Santa Claus faded out in a snow storm, and the star of Bethlehem broke through into a sky that produced exactly the Palestine sky on the night of the nativity. The designer of this show may not realize that he dramatically staged the supreme Christmas message our world needs to understand: The recovery of the lost meaning of Christmas. This is not said in any criticism of Santa Claus; the effect must have delighted the hearts of all the children who saw it, without doing violence to their love of Bethlehem. But for adults it is a tragic loss to substitute "Jingle Bells" for "Hark! the Herald Angels Sing," and a lollipop tree for the manger of Bethlehem. The instinct is right to fade out these things in the light of the Christmas star. It is about God's incarnation that the angels sing–God with us.

Robert E. Luccock in James W. Cox, The Minister's Manual: 1994, San Fransico: Harper Collins, 1993, p. 218.

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History records for us an interesting footnote. It was during the dark winter of 1864. At Petersburg, Virginia, the Confederate army of Robert E. Lee faced the Union divisions of General Ulysses S. Grant. The war was now three and a half years old and the glorious charge had long since given way to the muck and mud of trench warfare. Late one evening one of Lee's generals, Major General George Pickett, received word that his wife had given birth to a beautiful baby boy. Up and down the line the Southerners began building huge bonfires in celebration of the event. These fires did not go unnoticed in the Northern camps and soon a nervous Grant sent out a reconnaissance patrol to see what was going on. The scouts returned with the message that Pickett had had a son and these were celebratory fires. It so happened that Grant and Pickett had been contemporaries at West Point and knew one another well, so to honor the occasion Grant, too, ordered that bonfires should be built.

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What a peculiar night it was. For miles on both sides of the lines fires burned. No shots fired. No yelling back and forth. No war fought. Only light, celebrating the birth of a child. But it didn't last forever. Soon the fires burned down and once again the darkness took over. The darkness of the night and the darkness of war.

The good news of Christmas is that in the midst of a great darkness there came a light, and the darkness was not able to overcome the light. It was not just a temporary flicker. It was an eternal flame. We need to remember that. There are times, in the events of the world and in the events of our own personal lives, that we feel that the light of the world will be snuffed out. But the Christmas story affirms that whatever happens, the light still shines.

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“O Little Town of Bethlehem.” has been around since 1868 although it wasn’t formally used in churches until 1892. It is a hymn which is packed with emotion, a song about the Christ Child, born to Mary, a song filled with the creative power of God intervening in history with the gift of a savior. For me “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” depicts the Christmas story as a story of hope, a story where the divine and the human come together in an amazing but humble way. It is also an invitation for both the non-believer and the believer. For the non-believer it is an announcement of what God has done and for the believer it is a challenge to increase one’s faith.

What might surprise you is how this great hymn came to be. It was written by Phillips Brooks, Episcopal priest. Brooks was serving the Holy Trinity Church in the City of Brotherly Love (Philadelphia, PA). He had just returned from a trip to The Holy Land which inspired him to write the words. “When he returned to America he still had Palestine singing in his soul.”

Brooks was a bachelor. His church organist and Sunday School superintendent, Lewis Redner was also a bachelor and Brooks gave the words to him and asked him to create a tune for the upcoming Christmas celebration. Redner procrastinated and struggled with the creation of a tune to go with the 5 stanzas that Brooks had written. It wasn’t until the night before the celebration that Redner got inspired in the middle of the night and created the song as we know it. The following day a group of 36 children and 6 Sunday school teachers introduced the song created by the 2 bachelors. That was on December 27th, 1968. It wasn’t published as an official hymn of the Episcopal Church until 1892. The following January, Phillips Brooks died, never knowing the magnitude of the hymn that he created.

For some reason the 4th stanza has been dropped from the original score.

“Where children pure and happy Pray to the blessed Child, Where misery cries out to thee, Son of the mother mild; Where charity stands watching And faith holds wide the door, The dark night wakes, the glory breaks, And Christmas comes once more.”

The stanza includes the line, “And faith holds wide the door.” This hymn, like the story of the annunciation of Mary in the gospel of Luke, is a story about faith.

(from Stories of Christmas Carols by Ernest K. Emurian, Baker Book House Co., page 97)

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