New Christmas Music

In years past my sister used to ask me what new Christmas music I would recommend. She knew that I loved the holiday season and that I was always on top of the latest, best, and most fresh music to play throughout a holiday season.

Though she hasn’t asked me this year, I bet you’re wondering where you can find some good, new holiday music. At the top of my list this year is the new offering by Matt Wertz entitled: Snow Globe.

This record contains fresh, new takes on old favorites like Walking in a Winter Wonderland, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, and O Holy Night. But the real stand-outs are the new originals like Snow Globe, Wake Up, Wake Up, and especially Christmas in the City, a tribute to the holiday being celebrated in New York (…no wonder I like it!).

Here’s a link to the CD version if you’re interested: Snow Globe

The Light That Lights Up the World

“For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,” made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).

Do you know who wrote those words? It was none other than St. Paul himself…the man who lived and walked in darkness; the man who persecuted Christians to the death; the man who thought that works could save him. He lived in the dark.

But then one day on the road to Damascus, the Light slapped him right in the face and said, “Let light shine out of darkness.” His life was never the same. Sins forgiven, grace bestowed, new vocation, and the ancient world was set on fire for the Lord through the ministry of one man.

“Let light shine out of darkness,” said Yahweh, at the beginning of all time. And there was light. And there was life. And there was for Adam and Eve a perfect relationship with God…

…Until the darkness of sin entered their hearts and the deep darkness of death entered the world: Cain killed Abel; the nations built a tower and “babeled”; Abraham and Sarah laughed in the face of God’s promise; Moses murdered; David adulterated; Israel idolized. “Let light shine out of darkness!”

But the world had become so…very…dark. Not just the world…but all human hearts. And dark hearts led to the deepest darkness called death.

So God began to speak hope and light through prophets:

  • The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. (Isaiah)
  • Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you.
  • Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
  • Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light. (Micah)
  • It will be a unique day—a day known only to the LORD—with no distinction between day and night. When evening comes, there will be light. (Zechariah)

“Let light shine out of darkness,” Yahweh said to a virgin named Mary through the bright and shining angel Gabriel. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” “Let light shine out of darkness.”

Then, on a dark Bethlehem night, Light caressed Mary’s face and said, “Let light shine out of darkness.” That shining little face was a prelude to words that would later come from that mouth: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

The Light of the World was born for the express purpose of suffering through the darkness of this world, to suffer the punishment of sin’s darkness, and to suffer the deep darkness of death on a cross. But from the grave Light flooded the world and said, “Let light shine out of darkness.”

Every time there is a baptism that very same light shines out of the darkness.  In some churches a baptismal candle is lit. It is given to the baptized, light touches the face, and a pastor says: “Receive this burning light to show that you have received Christ who is the Light of the world. Live always in the light of Christ, and be ever watchful for His coming, that you may meet Him with joy and enter with Him into the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom, which shall have no end.”

When light shines out of darkness, life is never the same. Sins forgiven, grace bestowed, new vocation, and family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers bask in the light of the Lord. “Let light shine out of darkness” on Christmas and always.

Where do you see Light?

What a 4-Year-Old Taught Me, Continued

In my last post I recounted how a 4-year-old in my car taught me to appreciate what I have. He also inspired me to do what I can to help others. The boy inspired many readers, as well.

The very next day, along came his seven-year-old brother. The boy read me a story that left me with my mouth wide open. This story is by a young boy who is currently living under very difficult circumstances.

Read the words of a second-grader who is wise beyond his years:

Once upon a time there lived a kid named Jimmy.  He was very excited about Christmas.  It was 3 days until Christmas.  3 days passed already and finally it was Christmas.  Everybody was laughing, smiling, and joking, playing, and eating candy.  Except Jimmy.  Jimmy was very, very, very, mad and sad that he didn’t get any presents.  Then he went into his room, looked under his bed and found his Bible.  He started reading and reading.  By the end of the day, he was finished reading his Bible and then he knew what the true meaning of Christmas was.  Then he was laughing, smiling, joking, and playing.  He was very happy.

Out of the mouths…or pens…of babes.

I’ll ask again: What can you do today to help someone who is in need?

What a 4-Year-Old in My Car Taught Me About Taking Things for Granted

The four-, seven-, and fourteen-year-old boys crawled into the back of my car. It was time to head to the 4K Christmas program at school. “Nice car, Pastor,” said the youngest. They bounced around and got their seat belts on as their grandmother climbed into the front passenger seat.

I was picking them up in one of Milwaukee’s rougher neighborhoods because they no longer have a car. It was stolen. Grandma and the boys live together with the boys’ parents. More than a year ago they were evicted from their rented home because they had all lost their jobs. Now they live in the house of grandma’s son. Let’s just say that there are less than savory characters around.

It’s been hard for the boys to keep up with homework and concentrate on school. There are too many distractions.

Grandma’s doing all she can to keep the family going. Mom and Dad now have jobs. But it’s difficult to find someone who will rent to them again.

It’s all they can do to keep the faith. Losing a house, a car, and one’s dignity can have that effect.

On this night, the baby Jesus was born at the Christmas play to bring some hope into the midst of frazzled faith.

After the angels twirled around, a shepherd dropped his stuffed sheep, and Christmas cookies were consumed, I took the boys and their grandma home again. When I dropped them off I thought about that one little sentence out of the mouth of a four-year-old: “Nice car, Pastor.”

You see, I’ve haven’t really been appreciating my car lately. Or the fact that I can make my mortgage payment. Or the food that I so easily put on the table. Or the fact that I have a way to pay for the new roof on my house.

I so often take it all for granted and fail to appreciate it. I want to do more to help others. I want to find those boys a decent place to live. I wish I could get them a new car.

I want to do all of those things, but know that I can’t. Most of all, I’d like to repair the faith that is faltering.

Only Bethlehem’s Babe can do that. He came to bring hope, faith, and love even into desperate situations. He came into the midst of poverty to make us rich. He came to experience death to give us life. Only through His cross is there hope when we bear our own crosses.

I pray that He helps them hold on. And I ask for forgiveness for taking my blessings for granted.

In the mean time, I will do what I can, when I can, to the best of my ability, to help make life easier for others.

What can you do today to help someone who really needs the help?

10 Touching Moments of Christmas

The word “touching,” of course, has two meanings. One can touch a shoulder, or one can be touched emotionally. Let’s face it, this is an emotionally touching time of year. Traditions create memories. Family time is both refreshing and stressful, sometimes at the same time. The memory of Christmases past creates a warm heart, and sometimes a sense of melancholy.

This post is the last in my holiday series focusing on the five senses. We have heard, smelled, seen, and tasted the uniqueness of the Christmas season. It’s time for the fifth sense…as well as its emotional counterpart.

Here are five ways Christmas is enhanced by the fifth sense:

  1. The tacky touch of a hand held candle being lit in church on Christmas Eve.
  2. The poke of pine needles as you’re putting up the tree.
  3. Sitting in the glow of the lights holding a baby who’s wearing “footy” pajamas.
  4. Smoothing the table cloth one last time before the guests come.
  5. Christmas morning’s cool floor under foot as you make your way to the tree.

Here are five ways Christmas is enhanced by emotionally touching moments:

  1. A dark church lit only by candles, sitting closest to those you love, worshiping a newborn King.
  2. Memories flooding your mind as you unpack ornaments to decorate a bare tree.
  3. A father holding a baby in the glow of the lights, cherishing the all-too-short time that this child will be this small.
  4. One special night to sit around the table eating dinner with family  (and without other distractions) …never mind the stains on the table cloth.
  5. Exchanging gifts on Christmas morning that mean so much more than just items and objects.  They are an expression of love for one another, and a reflection of the Love born into the world to bear our flesh and be our Savior.
What is it that touches you during the Holiday season?

Ten Tastes that Taste Like Christmas

So far in this little “mini-series” we’ve explored great (and not-so-great) sounds of Christmas, the scents of Christmas, and the sights of Christmas. Today it’s time to taste Christmas. This time of year has flavors to savor unlike any other.

It’s the season to ease up a little on diet plans and weight loss strategies. Save those for New Year’s Day. For now, enjoy (in moderation, of course!) the tastes that make this season one of the more palatable times of the year.

When I think of Christmas consumables, these are the ten that first come to mind:

  1. Spritz Cookies (here’s the recipe). Almond, vanilla, buttery, goodness. My mom has made these as long as I can remember. I now make them every Christmastime, in the shapes of Christmas trees and wreaths.
  2. Chai Latte. Non-fat, please.
  3. Sour Cream Cinnamon Coffee Cake (here’s a recipe). It’s our tradition to make it each Christmas Eve Day, and consume it Christmas morning while opening gifts.
  4. Christmas Eve salad with raspberries, walnuts, goat cheese, and raspberry vinaigrette. Delicious.
  5. Grilled Pork Tenderloin, rubbed with herbs and brown mustard, stuffed with mushrooms. One Christmas Eve it was 7 degrees, and I cooked it outside on the grill. It was well worth it.
  6. Brussels Sprouts. Yep, one of our family’s favorites. Make them like this, and I dare you not to enjoy them: Cut off the bottoms; throw them in a bowl; coat them with olive oil and balsamic vinegar; salt them; roast them for half an hour at 425°.
  7. Peppermint. It really isn’t my favorite, and I might eat half a candy cane every holiday season, but I can’t help but think about Christmas when I taste it.
  8. Chex Party Mix. It’s not really a Christmas item, but it’s something I like to make around the holidays (and, don’t tell Chex, but I usually make it with Crispix instead). I love to have it around to snack on….and snack on…and snack on…
  9. Frango Mints. Although Marshall Fields no longer exists, these do. Chocolatey, minty, goodness.
  10. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups wrapped in Christmas-colored foil. Billie the Brownie comes to our house every Christmastime and hides these all over the place.

Christmas just tastes good, doesn’t it? 

What tastes like Christmas to you? What would you add to the list?

Do You See What I See? 10 Sights That Say Christmas

You know as well as I do that it starts way too early. I already saw Christmas decorations in certain department stores well before Halloween. On the one hand, it’s proof of how materialistic holiday Christmas has become. On the other hand, it provides even earlier opportunities to talk about the Baby Savior of the world.

Over the past week we’ve discussed the sounds and scents Christmas. Today it’s time to savor the sights of Christmas.

Here are ten sights that say “Christmas” to me:

  1. The lighting of the National Christmas Tree in Washington D.C. (When we lived there it was our tradition to go to the Mall and see the tree every year).
  2. The electric candles that light up the windows of our house.
  3. A Charlie Brown Christmas on the TV.
  4. The Mickey Mouse “Tiny Tim” ornament on our tree (My wife, Tammy, and I bought it when we were on our honeymoon in Disney World).
  5. Makeshift Christmas Tree lots popping up in school and church parking lots.
  6. Hand held candles lighting up our dark church on Christmas Eve.
  7. The ice skating rink opens in downtown Milwaukee at Red Arrow Park.
  8. My mom’s perfectly wrapped presents under her Christmas Tree.
  9. “Star” light’s hanging over Milwaukee’s Wisconsin Avenue.
  10. The abundant collection of créches scattered around our house.

Do you see what I see? Or does your Christmas “look” different?

What are your favorite “sights” of Christmas?

Ten Scents Worth of Christmas Cheer

Isn’t it interesting how a scent can:

  • take you back to a time and place, 
  • change a mood, 
  • cause hunger, 
  • or bring comfort?
  • …sometimes even all at once…

How much more so around Christmas time, when the scents of the season create a warm atmosphere and lasting memories? Since we’ve been discussing the songs of Christmas, today it’s time to talk about the scents of Christmas.

Here are my ten scents worth of Christmas cheer:

  1. The smell of pine, especially when the bottom of the tree is cut off before putting it in the stand.
  2. Fruit in the fruit basket delivered by a friend.
  3. Cookies baking in the oven, filling the house with a sweet, savory smell.
  4. The attic, opened only once a year, to retrieve hidden gifts.
  5. The fresh clean smell of brand new clothes pulled out of a just opened box.
  6. Smoke from a neighbor’s chimney filling the bitterly cold air as you step out the back door.
  7. Coffee brewing to go along with dessert after Christmas dinner.
  8. A gingerbread house lovingly and painstakingly made by Grandma Wessler.
  9. Brand new perfume wafting through the air just after it was opened as a gift.
  10. Cinnamon scented candles on Christmas Eve, flickering in a dim room after everyone has left and the party is over.
That’s my ten scents worth of Christmas cheer. What would you add to the list?

10 Christmas Carols I Wish They Played On the Radio

In my last post my readers and I listed and debated which Christmas carols and songs we’d rather never hear again. We had a great time. But someone suggested that I give equal chance to list favorite Christmas carols and songs.

The 24-hour Christmas stations have been on in Milwaukee since before Thanksgiving. They mostly play the songs I listed in my last post. In other words, I try to avoid them as much as I possibly can.

If those radio stations played any of these songs and carols even every once in a while, I might listen to them:

  1. Where Shepherds Lately Knelt, words by Jaroslav Vajda; music by Carl Schalk (Incredible poetry paired with the perfect melody that takes one straight to the manger.)
  2. Of the Father’s Love Begotten (written in fourth century, and still one of the best expressions of the Divine Mystery; I savor it as we sing it each Christmas Day at our church.)
  3. Come Your Hearts and Voices Raising  (Read the lyrics; they will change your heart…and Quem Pastores, to which it is set, is one of the most lovely Christmas melodies there is.)
  4. Once in Royal David’s City  (A carol with which our congregation begins our annual Christmas Eve service; seldom used, under-appreciated, and glorious in its splendour. Click on the title to see it done at King’s College.)
  5. How Many Kings, by Downhere (An instant classic about the King of Creation stooping to a lowly manger.)
  6. Tennessee Christmas, by Amy Grant (A down home song that instantly reminds me of Christmases past; now that we have a child living in Tennessee, it means even more.)
  7. It’s Christmas Time, by Terry Scott Taylor and Steve Hindalong (On the City on a Hill Christmas CD; for the past several years it has been the CD we play on Christmas morning; this song is Christmas to me.)
  8. Behold the Lamb of God, the entire CD by Andrew Peterson (I once was in attendance when the whole thing was performed live, and it was truly one of the incredible experiences of my life. It’s new; it’s different; it’s fresh; it’s faithful. Listen to it from beginning to end. You will thank me.)
  9. A Charlie Brown Christmas, Vince Guaraldi Trio (The Christmas stations do play cuts off of this CD, but they are too few and far between. What’s Christmas without the Vince Guaraldi Trio and Linus telling to true story of Christmas?)
  10. Love Has Come, by Amy Grant (“…and I believe that angels sang that hope had begun, when the God of glory who was full of mercy sent His Son.”)
Which carols and songs would you put into the rotation if you were the program director at a 24-hour Christmas radio station?

10 Christmas Carols I’d Be Glad to Never Hear Again

The 24 Hour Christmas stations have already been going a couple of weeks. Christmas specials are on every night of the week. Christmas songs are playing in the stores.

It didn’t take me long to remember once again that there are certain Christmas songs and carols that I don’t ever have to hear again. If these songs would go away never to be played on a radio station or in a shopping mall again, my Christmas would be so much merrier.

  1. Any Christmas song sung by Elvis (Enough said)
  2. Silent Night (Yep. I know. Sacrilege.)
  3. Jingle Bell Rock (Any version; Jingle Bells is bad enough)
  4. Little Drummer Boy (Too much prrrrrumming)
  5. Santa Baby (What?)
  6. Sleigh Ride (Friends are calling “yoo hoo”?)
  7. The Twelve Days of Christmas (AAAAARRRRGGHHHH!)
  8. I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus (Really?)
  9. Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! (I wish it would all melt)
  10. Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer (I hope this song does)

Please don’t consider me a grinch. I just want a Christmas season that’s filled with classier Christmas joy.

Which Christmas song or carol would you, given the chance, wipe off the face of the earth? Go ahead. Tell me. You’ll feel much better.