Category: Christmas (Page 1 of 5)

Lights from a Limo

Both the younger girls and our sons-in-law were in Midland for the¬† long holiday weekend to observe the Stanglin family Christmas traditions. We brought our daughters up decorating the tree on a certain day, watching certain Christmas movies, drinking egg nog and Dr Pepper at certain times, and those things naturally evolve into traditions we’ve done our best to keep. But I’ve only realized recently that we’ve raised three strict legalists! These girls are pretty hard core when it comes to our Christmas traditions–there’s no budging on any of it! We watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” the day after Thanksgiving, not Albert Finney’s “Scrooge.” We eat Mexican food after we decorate the tree, not on Christmas Eve. So I really didn’t know what to do for Sunday night.

On Christmas Eve we go out to Longhorn Steakhouse and then drive around the city looking at the best Christmas lights, before watching “Scrooge,” eating popcorn and drinking the Dr Pepper Nog, opening the new pajamas, and reading “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.” I’m telling you, it’s a production. There’s a silly Stanglin family dance that happens after the movie, too, but I’m not detailing any of that here.

Well, this is the first time we’ve had seven people to accommodate. We can’t fit seven people in any one of our cars and we can’t take two cars to look at lights–that won’t work. We thought about borrowing a church van and then quickly remembered what our church vans are like. So what do we do?

We surprised the whole family with a limousine!

It was worth the price as soon as we opened the front door and everybody saw it, idling in front of our house, waiting to escort us on our Christmas Eve adventure. Those first two or three minutes were awesome! We took the pics, piled in, plugged in the traditional Stanglin family Christmas CD, and laughed and sang all the way to Longhorn Steakhouse. We pretended to be celebrities. Somebody made a prom joke. After we ordered, we watched the Dolphins drive the length of the field and kick the game-winning field goal against the Cowboys on Collin’s phone (yes!), ate a fantastic meal together, and then rode all over Midland looking at the lights.

It feels like a one-time thing. I need to iterate here in writing that it was definitely a one-time thing. This was a special memory, not the start of a new tradition. By this time next year, surely we’ll have a new church van.



Advice versus News

There’s a difference between advice and news. Advice is counsel about what you should do. News is a report about what’s already been done. Advice tells you to make something happen. News tells you something has already happened. Advice says you need to act. News says somebody else has already acted.

Let’s say there’s an invading army coming to town. What the town needs is military advice. We need advisors. We need someone to explain to us: okay, the trench works go there and the troops need to be positioned here, you need to put snipers up there and move the tanks down here. You need to do those things to be saved.

But what if a great and powerful King intercepts the invading army and destroys it? What does the town need then? We don’t need advisors, we need messengers. And the Greek word for messengers is angelos. Angels. And the messengers don’t say, “Here’s what you need to do.” They say, “We bring you good news of great joy that’s for all the people! Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you! He is Christ, the Lord!”

In other words, stop running, stop hiding, stop building fortresses and stockpiling weapons. Stop trying to save yourself. The King has already done it! The King has come now and you are saved!

Something has happened. Something has been done. And it totally changes everything.

Glory to God in the highest! And on earth peace to all people!



Love at Advent

This Sunday is the fourth and final Sunday of the Advent season. This is the liturgy we are using at GCR to acknowledge the event and light the fourth candle, the candle representing love. Please use these readings and passages during this week to bolster your time with the Lord in Word and Prayer. Feel free to use this at your own church or small group this Sunday.

When the angel Gabriel visited Mary, announcing God’s plan for her to conceive and give birth to the Messiah, Mary said to the angel, “How can this be?” And yet, only a few months later, Mary sings praise to the Lord as she holds his salvation in her arms.

“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me–holy is his name!
His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.
~ Luke 1:46-50

We, like Mary, hear God’s call to participate in making God’s plan for our salvation a reality. We are gracious recipients of God’s gifts and his great love that transforms us into bearers of the Good News. As the apostle reminds us in 1 John 4:

“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: Not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”
~ 1 John 4:9-11

Congregation: We wait as people who have encountered our God’s divine love that disrupts the status quo and ushers us into abundant life, together, marked by mutual love and peace.

We light this candle as a reminder of the love of Christ that transforms us. May his love grow within us, changing us into bold proclaimers of God’s salvation with our voices and our lives. Amen.

Light from Somewhere Else

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.”
~ Isaiah 9:2

This is a very well known Christmas text. It’s a famous text that speaks to the coming of the Christ. And it describes the conditions the Christ is coming into as darkness. People walking in darkness. People living in the land of darkness. And we read this a lot at Christmas, but we don’t ever read the verses right before it. The four verses right before it tell us why the world is so plunged in darkness.

“When people tell you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living? To the law! And to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this Word, they have no light of dawn! Distressed and hungry, they will roam through the land; when they are famished, they will become enraged and, looking upward, will curse their king and their God. They will look toward the earth and see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom, and they will be thrust into utter darkness.” ~Isaiah 8:19-22

People know they need help, but they’re looking for it in all the wrong places. They’re looking to the earth, they’re looking to themselves for wisdom and salvation. They’re looking to superstitions, they’re looking to their king, they’re looking to the culture — they’re looking to themselves.

Yes, we’re living in darkness. Yes, things are really messed up. But we can fix it ourselves. Yes, there’s war and violence and injustice and racism. But if we’ll all just love each other, we can fix it. Yes, there’s poverty and hunger and greed and lust. But if we’ll all just give to the right organizations, we can change it. Yes, there’s broken lives and broken hearts and broken relationships; there’s twisted bodies and warped minds and institutional vileness all around us. But if we’ll just vote for the right people, if we’ll just pass the right laws, if we’ll just use the right technology, we can overcome it.

The message from the Hallmark movies, the holiday music, the Coke commercials, the ad agencies, the billboards, and the Facebook posts is that we have it within us. The love and goodwill that exists inside each of us is enough to make the world a place of unity and peace. In other words, we have the light inside us. And if we just work together, we can eradicate the darkness. If we’ll all come together, we can overcome poverty and injustice, violence and evil — sin. With what’s inside us, we can build a world of love, joy, and peace.

Really? Can we?

We can’t save ourselves. Maybe you’ve noticed. We’ve been trying for centuries. We are completely unable to save ourselves. In fact, believing that we can save ourselves — that education or party politics or hard work or some system or ideology¬† can save us — that’s only led to more darkness!

See, the Christmas message gives us a very realistic way of looking at life. At its core, Christmas is very unsentimental. It’s not mushy or fantasy. Christmas is not, “Cheer up! If we all pull together, we can make the world a better place!” Christmas is not optimistic thinking like, “We can fix the whole world if we try really hard.”

The heart of Christmas is this: things are really terrible and we cannot heal or save ourselves. Things really are this dark. Everywhere. Nevertheless, there is great hope. On those living in deep darkness, a light has dawned!

It’s not, “A great light has sprung up from the world!” It’s not, “The people have finally produced the light!” It’s, “ON the people a light has dawned!” It’s, “ON the world a light has come!” The light has come from outside us. It had to. The hope comes from outside the world. There was never any other way. And that salvation light is Christ Jesus. That light is the promised Messiah, the holy Son of God!

“In him was life, and that life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it… The true light that gives light to every person was coming into the world.” ~John 1:5-9

The true light was coming. The eternal light that gives life to all people has come. The brightest light that shines in the darkness and conquers the darkness, the light from above, the light from outside us has come!

How? When?

“To us a child is born. To us a Son is given.”



Rockin’ the Show

You want to guarantee energy and enthusiasm for the grand finale of your children’s Christmas program? You want to provide the best picture opportunities for the parents? Then give the kids inflatable electric guitars and cut ’em loose!

Our GCR Children’s Ministry put on their annual Christmas program for our church last night and it was a smashing success. The theme was “The Best Christmas Song Ever.” Turns out, it’s not Blue Christmas, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, or Winter Wonderland. It’s not Hark, the Herald Angels Sing or Joy to the World. It’s some song written by some corporate children’s ministry writer named Yancy. Who knew?





Carrie-Anne and I were completely delighted by the whole production. We just laughed our way through the whole thing, watching these kids try to make it through the 30-minute show. The squirming kids who don’t really want to be up there at all. The superstar extroverts who hog the microphones and crowd out their co-performers with their oversized hand and arm motions. The kid who kept waving at his dad. The one who tried to exit the stage at two different times, only to be corralled and hauled back up to his position by a helpful volunteer. The squirrelly ones who were only trying to get a laugh. The ones who beamed as they delivered their well-rehearsed lines so precisely. The ones who stumbled through theirs, only to let out a huge sigh of relief when it was over. Each one of these kids brought C-A and me so much joy last night.






Congratulations to Kristin and Ashlee and their whole team of incredible volunteers for a spectacular show! If they’ll ask me to sing Blue Christmas at next year’s show, I think I could convince a few to put it in the Top Ten.



Joy at Advent

The third Sunday of Advent is when God’s people experience and express great joy at the coming of our Lord Jesus. This is the liturgy we’re reading at GCR Church this Sunday. Please use this in any way that would be helpful for you or your church this week.

When God’s people were surrounded by hardship, suffering, and grief, the Lord’s prophet proclaimed in Isaiah 61:

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives,
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn, and to provide for those who grieve in Zion.”

We come today as people who are also surrounded by suffering and grief. And yet, the Spirit hovers among us, caring and anointing, inspiring freedom where there is captivity, declaring blessing in places the world has cursed, and in places of mourning and heartache, igniting an unquenchable joy. Our coming Lord Jesus proclaims in John 16:

“A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets this anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you. Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy!”

Congregation: We wait as people who experience hardship and pain, yet we are called to witness to the persistent joy that sustains our life as God’s people.

We light this candle as a symbol of our Christian joy. May our lives shine with the joyful Light who lives in our hearts as we wait and work for the coming of God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

« Older posts