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‘Twas the Night Before Jesus Came

‘Twas the night before Jesus came and all through the house, not a creature was praying, not one in the house. Their Bibles were lain on the shelf without care, in hopes that Jesus would not come there.

The children were dressing to crawl into bed, not once ever kneeling or bowing a head. And Mom in her rocker with baby on her lap, was watching the Late Show while I took a nap.

When out of the East there arose such a clatter, I sprang to my feet to see what was the matter. Away to the window I flew like a flash, tore open the shutters and threw up the sash!

When what to my wondering eyes should appear, but angels proclaiming that Jesus was here. With a light like the sun sending forth a bright ray, I knew in a moment this must be The Day!

The light of his face made me cover my head; it was Jesus, returning just like he had said. And though I possessed worldly wisdom and wealth, I cried when I saw him in spite of myself.

In the Book of Life which he held in his hand, was written the name of every saved man. He spoke not a word as he searched for my name; when he said, “It’s not here,” my head hung in shame!

The people whose names had been written with love, he gathered to take to his Father above. With those who were ready he rose without sound, while all the rest were left standing around.

I fell to my knees, but it was too late. I had waited too long and this sealed my fate. I stood and I cried as they rose out of sight. Oh, if only I had been ready tonight.

In the words of this poem the meaning is clear – the coming of Jesus is now drawing near. There’s only one life and when comes the last call, we’ll find that the Bible was true after all!

The Rushmore Report: Where Did Mistletoe and Christmas Trees Come From?

Christmas is the season for joy and forgiveness. However, it is also full of strange and beautiful traditions we all follow without really understanding their meaning. Have you ever wondered where your favorite Christmas traditions come from – such as mistletoe, Christmas trees, stockings, candy cane, and poinsettias? With Christmas Day just three days away, this is a good time to brush up on Christmas traditions.

1. Mistletoe

Traditionally, it is said that mistletoe should never touch the ground between being cut and its removal. (It is to be the last of the greens removed from the house after the Christmas season is over.) It was supposed to be hung each year to protect the house from fire, and any man and woman that met each other under it were obliged to kiss. After each kiss a berry was plucked from the bush; once all the berries were plucked, the privilege ceased. The use of mistletoe as a Christmas decoration is very common and originally began in the 18th century.

2. Christmas trees

The Christmas tree tradition began in modern Germany in the early Renaissance with the decorating of pine or fir trees with apples, roses, candies, and colored paper. Its 16th century origins seem to center around Martin Luther, but its widespread popularity followed introduction by various members of the nobility. To decorate a Christmas tree became much more popular and widely accepted in the United Kingdom after Queen Victoria’s marriage to the German Prince, Albert.

3. Christmas stocking

There is a lot of confusion surrounding the tradition of Christmas stockings, but popular legends have found ways to try and explain it. It starts with the story of an old man with three beautiful daughters who had no money to pay for their dowries and so they could not marry. St. Nicholas was riding through the village and heard of this story. Understanding that the old man would not accept charity, he crept down the chimney that night and found stockings that the daughters had hung by the fireplace to dry. Into each of these three stockings he placed a bag of gold, and the next morning the three beautiful women and their father were overjoyed, and soon the women were married. Ever since, adults and children alike have hung stockings by the fireplace or at the end of their beds to be filled with presents while they sleep, ready to be joyfully opened the next morning.

4. Candy cane

According to popular history, in 1670 a German choirmaster wished to find a way to get the children to be quiet in his church during Christmas Eve services. He asked the local sweet maker to make sweet sticks for the children, but in order to justify the giving of candy during the worship service he had the sweet maker add a crook to the tip of each sweet and to make them red and white (to reinforce Christian beliefs in the sinless life of Jesus). These delicious candy canes then spread through Europe while being given out at nativity plays. Now they are a popular tradition each year, and they come in many flavors, not just the traditional peppermint.

5. Poinsettia

The plant and its associations with Christmas stem from Mexico, where they tell the story of a young girl who was too poor to pay for a present to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Angels inspired her to pick weeds from the roadside to place in front of the church alter and these weeds became poinsettias when beautiful crimson blossoms sprouted from them. From the 17th century onwards friars in Mexico incorporated these bright flowers into their Christmas celebrations, as they believe the flowers have a special symbolism. The star shape of the leaf symbolizes the Star of Bethlehem, and the red symbolizes the blood sacrifice through the crucifixion of Christ. Today, these beautiful flowers are popular Christmas decorations, with December 12 being National Poinsettia Day in America.

The Rushmore Report: Seven Ways to Have Your Best Christmas

Christmas is just ten days away. I’m sure you have many family traditions, including food, festivities, and fun. But this can be your best Christmas ever. Let me suggest seven ways.

1. Visit someone who lives alone.

In our years as pastor and pastor’s wife in three churches, one of our greatest Christmas blessings came from visiting shut-ins on Christmas Day. Nothing is quite like it. When you walk in the house or nursing home room, the smile on the other side of the door is priceless. This Christmas, visit someone who has no one. It will be their greatest gift of the year.

2. Attend a Christmas Eve Service.

When I lived in Gainesville, Texas, we did our Christmas Eve Service on December 23. So I had Christmas Eve off. Generally, I attended three different services on Christmas Eve, always including First Methodist Church and First Presbyterian Church. Make a Christmas Eve Service a part of your family tradition.

3. Read the Christmas Story.

Just before opening gifts as a family, this is a great way to keep the focus on Jesus rather than the gifts. It takes just a few minutes. By reading Luke 1:5-56 and 2:1-20, this will take you and your family back to the real reason for Christmas – the birth of the Christ child.

4. Go Christmas caroling.

Do this as a group, with your Sunday School class, Bible Study group, or team from work. Sing at a nursing home, from room to room. Sing in a neighborhood or apartment complex. Bring the children along. This will bring joy to you and those who hear you sing.

5. Give a gift to your church staff.

For each minister, give a gift card. Whether it is $5 or $50, it will bless those who bless you every Sunday. As a former pastor, I assure you this will make a difference. It says, “We love you and appreciate all you do” at just the right time. Your church staff hears too much criticism and receives too little encouragement. You can make a difference they will not forget.

6. Send a few cards to people you haven’t talked to in awhile.

Written messages mean so much, because we receive them so seldom. In this day of social media, do what we did in the olden days – write a personal message on real paper. Seal it in a real envelope and slap on a real stamp. Make your message personal. Pick ten people. This will take about an hour but bless them for weeks.

7. Start something new.

Find a new community Christmas event to attend. Go to a different church program or presentation. Go see Christmas lights in a different neighborhood. Mix things up. Do something new.

The Rushmore Report: Trump Says Eight Words You Need to Hear

In just over a month since he was elected, President-elect Donald Trump has said plenty of things that have brought panic to liberals, while inspiring long-absent optimism in millions of others. Many of us are still pinching ourselves that our nation has stemmed the tide of political correctness. Well, ’tis the season for good cheer, and the eight words President-elect Trump just said will definitely have you cheering.

At a rally in Michigan, Trump heralded what he called the return of the ubiquity of the phrase “Merry Christmas” during the festive occasion.

These are the eight words Trump said that thrill millions of Christian Americans: “We’re going to start saying Merry Christmas again.”

Noting that department stores have adopted “Happy Holidays” in place of the traditional Christian greeting, Trump has agreed with Bill O’Reilly’s assessment that the progressive movement has waged a “war” on Christmas. And it’s hard to dispute that fact.

“Christmas” itself has been sanitized out of the season, as political correctness has run amok. It’s a joy to know that we now have a leader heading back into the White House who will lead us in being proud of our roots and traditions – even as we move forward in a positive way – rather than ashamed or persecuted for them.

About the Author

Michelle Jesse is Associate Editor for AllenBWest.com and a Christian author and activist.

The Rushmore Report: The Problem with Our Holly Jolly Christmas Songs

Sometimes I learn a lot from conversations I was never intended to hear. This happened once as I was stopping by my local community bookstore. It’s a small, quiet store, so it was impossible to not eavesdrop as I heard a young man tell his friend how much he hated Christmas. To be honest, the more he talked, the more I understood his point. What he hated was not Christmas itself. What he hated was the music.

This guy started by lampooning one pop singer’s Christmas album, and I found myself smiling in agreement on how awful it is. But then he went on to say that he hated Christmas music across the board. That’s when I started to feel as though I might be in the presence of the Grinch. But then this man explained why he found the music so bad. It wasn’t just that it was cloying. It’s that it was boring.

“Christmas is boring because there’s no narrative tension,” he said. “It’s like reading a book with no conflict.”

Now he had my attention.

I’m sure this man had thought this for a long time, but maybe he felt freer to say it because we were only hours out from hearing the horrifying news of a massacre of innocent children in Connecticut. For him, the tranquil lyrics of our Christmas songs couldn’t encompass such terror. I think he has a point.

Some of the blame is on our sentimentalized Christmas of the American civil religion. Simeon the prophet never wished anyone a “holly-jolly Christmas” or envisioned anything about chestnuts roasting on an open fire. But what about our songs, the songs of the church? We ought to make sure that what we sing measures up with the, as this fellow would put it, “narrative tension” of the Christmas story.

The first Christmas carol, after all, was a war hymn. Mary of Nazareth sings of God’s defeat of his enemies, about how in Christ he had demonstrated his power and “has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate” (Luke 1:52). There are some villains in mind there. Simeon’s song, likewise, speaks of the “fall and rising of many in Israel” and of a sword that would pierce the heart of Mary herself. Even the “light of the Gentiles” he speaks about is in the context of warfare. After all, the light, the Bible tells us, overcomes the darkness (John 1:5), and frees us from the grip of the devil (2 Corinthians 4).

Far too often, though, our corporate worship ignores this spiritual warfare. Our worship songs are typically celebrative, in both lyrical content and musical expression. In the last generation, a mournful song about crucifixion was pepped up with a jingly-sounding chorus, “It was there by faith I received my sight, and now I am happy all the day!” Even those ubiquitous contemporary worship songs that come straight out of the Psalms tend to focus on psalms of ascent or psalms of joyful exuberance, not psalms of lament.

By not speaking where the Bible speaks, to the full range of human emotion – including loneliness, guilt, desolation, anger, fear, desperation – we only leave our people there, wondering why they just can’t be “Christian” enough to smile or why they, like Charlie Brown, still feel unhappy when they stand to sing “Joy to the World.”

Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). In the kingdom, we receive comfort in a very different way than we’re taught to in American culture. We receive comfort not from faking cheerfulness or trying to drown out the throbbing of our souls with holly jolly sentimentality. We are comforted when we see our sin, our brokenness, our desperate circumstances, and we grieve and cry out for deliverance.

In a time when we seem to learn of a new tragedy each day, the unbearable lightness of Christmas seems absurd to the watching world. But, even in the best of times, we all know that we live in a groaning universe, a world of divorce courts and cancer cells and concentration camps. Just as we sing with joy about the coming of the Promised One, we ought also to sing with groaning that he is not back yet (Romans 8:23), sometimes with groanings too deep for lyrics.

We have a rich and complicated and often appropriately dark Christmas hymnody. We can sing of blessings flowing “far as the curse is found,” of the one who came to “free us all from Satan’s power.” Let’s sing that, every now and then, where we can be overheard.

About the Author

Russell Moore is the President of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, and is a prolific writer and author of several books.

The Rushmore Report: Southwest Plane Diverts After Baby Born Mid-flight

A Southwest Airlines flight headed from Philadelphia to Orlando diverted to South Carolina after a baby was born mid-flight. Southwest Flight 556 left Philadelphia just before 3 p.m. Sunday. But, after a woman went into labor, the plane diverted to Charleston. The birth of the baby was an inconvenient blessing – and a reminder of another baby born over 2,000 years ago – the greatest inconvenient blessing of all.

“Medical personnel assisted with the delivery,” Southwest spokeswoman Melissa Ford said in a statement to Today in the Sky. “Emergency medical technicians met the flight upon landing and transported the parents and baby to an area hospital.”

The flight’s remaining 132 passengers stayed on board and Flight 556 took off from Charleston about 70 minutes after landing. Flight 556 made it to Orlando at 6:34 p.m. – about an hour behind schedule.

One passenger tweeted on the flight from onboard, sharing a short, six-second video in which a baby could be heard crying at the front of the plane. “The flight crew did a great job,” said the tweeting passenger.

The birth of the Southwest baby disrupted the lives of 132 passengers and countless others whose flight plans were altered by the late arrival in Orlando. But no baby was as disruptive as Jesus. In his birth, he disrupted world religions, the rich and famous, and the spiritually elite.

Jesus didn’t come the way the Messiah was expected by most to come. To them, he was born to the wrong parents, in the wrong place, at the wrong time, and in the wrong setting. He was the unexpected Messiah – the world was caught off guard.

During this Christmas Season, baby Jesus is still the Great Disruptor. He wants to disrupt your lifestyle, habits, plans, routine, relationships, and eternity.

The Great Disruptor has been born. That is settled history. The only question that remains is: Has he been born in you?

 

The Birth of Jesus

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

‘Twas the Night Before Jesus Came

There is much we could write about this Christmas Eve. We could respond to the politics of the day, entertainment world, or barrage of coming football games. Instead, we will keep things where they belong, with a focus on the reason for the season. I share with you the timeless words of an unknown author, repeated for generations.

‘Twas the night before Jesus came and all through the house, not a creature was praying, not one in the house. Their Bibles were lain on the shelf without care, in hopes that Jesus would not come there.

The children were dressing to crawl into bed, not once ever kneeling or bowing a head. And Mom in her rocker with baby on her lap was watching the Late Show while I took a nap.

When out of the East there arose such a clatter. I sprang to my feet to see what was the matter. Away to the window I flew like a flash, tore open the shutters and threw up the sash!

When what to my wondering eyes should appear, but angels proclaiming that Jesus was here. With a light like the sun sending forth a bright ray, I knew in a moment this must be THE DAY!

The light of His face made me cover my head. It was Jesus, returning just like He had said. And though I possessed wordly wisdom and wealth, I cried when I saw Him in spite of myself.

In the Book of Life which He held in His hand was written the name of every saved man. He spoke not a word as He searched for my name; when He said “It’s not here” my head hung in shame.

The people whose names had been written with love, He gathered to take to His Father above. With those who were ready He rose without a sound, while all the rest were left standing around.

I fell to my knees, but it was too late; I had waited too long and thus sealed my own fate. I stood and I cried as they rose out of sight; oh, if only I had been ready tonight.

In the words of this poem the meaning is clear; the coming of Jesus is now drawing near. There’s only one life and when comes the last call, we’ll find that the Bible was true after all!

War on Christmas – House Republicans Fight Back

It’s the most uncomfortable time of the year.

A group of conservatives in Congress do not want Christmas traditions and symbols to recede from public life. They have banded together in their fight to keep nativity scenes on display in town squares and the words “Merry Christmas” in our conversations this season.

Colorado Rep. Doug Lamborn introduced a resolution in the House of Representatives on Friday that would affirm the body’s “sense” that Christmas should be protected. House Resolution 564, which invokes the First Amendment, suggests that references to religion or God should not be prohibited in civic dialogue.

“Now, therefore, be it resolved, That the House of Representatives – (1) recognizes the importance of the symbols and traditions of Christmas; (2) strongly disapproves of attempts to ban references to Christmas; and (3) expresses support for the use of these symbols and traditions by those who celebrate Christmas.”

The resolution has been referred to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. According to Lamborn, seasonal religious expression must be protected for all Americans, and efforts to remove religious aspects of Christmas from the public discourse are not merely misguided – they are unconstitutional.

“Christmas is a wonderful time of year when a majority of Americans take time to remember the humble birth of Jesus Christ on a holy night more than 2,000 years ago. The message of Christmas is one of love, hope, and peace,” Lamborn said in a statement. “It is a message that our country and this world needs more than ever in the midst of ever increasing conflict and chaos.”

He takes issue with the “troubling effort by some in America” to eliminate “any and all Christmas celebrations and traditions from the public arena.” Lamborn sent a letter to his colleagues in the House encouraging them to co-sponsor the resolution.

The proposed resolution is only the latest volley in the annual so-called “War on Christmas.” Every year, social conservatives lament secular attempts to suppress the Christian holiday. Many others disagree that there is any such “war,” and that Americans have simply become more inclusive.

Earlier this month, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, through their Office of Diversity and Inclusion, released a statement urging students not to throw Christmas parties, as that might offend some students. “Holiday parties and celebrations should celebrate and build upon workplace relationships and team morale with no emphasis on religion or culture. Ensure your holiday party is not a Christmas party in disguise,” read the message, which has since been altered, according to the Daily Beast.

University Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek apologized for the statement after it was roundly criticized in the media as tone deaf and an affront to free speech. “As an educational  institution, it’s our job to listen and to learn,” he said in a news release. “We are sorry that we did not communicate very well. We’ve learned a lesson from this. We want to move forward and to focus on the big picture and our goals for creating and sustaining a learning environment where all community members and all points of view are valued and respected.”

Perhaps this year’s biggest Christmas controversy revolved around Starbuck’s minimalistic red winter cups; previous years’ designs incorporated symbols of wintertime, such as snowflakes, ornaments and reindeer.

Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump even suggested boycotting the coffee giant. “If I become president, we’re all going to be saying ‘Merry Christmas’ again. That I can tell you,” he told his supporters during a rally last month. A Starbuck’s spokesperson, however, said the minimal cups are the company’s way of inviting customers to doodle their own designs on the cup this year around.

“Since 1997, we have served our holiday beverages in a unique red cup, each year and each design telling a different story,” a Starbuck’s spokesperson said. “Starbuck’s is inviting our customers to tell their Christmas stories in their own way, with a red cup that mimics a blank canvas.”

It would seem Rep. Lamborn may be on to something. In a year when our president told a national television audience that the meaning of Christmas, according to Linus, is “loving tiny trees,” maybe the day has come for Congress to step in. In four days we celebrate a day called “Christmas.” The first part of that word is “Christ.” Why is this so hard for people like Chancellor Cheek to understand?

Parents Hide Baby Under Christmas Tree

Nathan Carter Solstad was born last week. The parents who adopted him brought him home on Friday. They hid him under the Christmas tree, then told his three sisters they had a gift to share. The girls were overjoyed when they found him. One hopped up and down and said, “I’m going to wet my pants.”

Three little girls will never forget the time they were given a child for Christmas. Each year around 172,000 babies are born on Christmas day. Each is a reminder of the central fact of Christmas: “To us a child is born, to us a son is given.” But unlike every other child ever born, “the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

How desperately do we need his wonderful counsel, omnipotent power, unchanging love, and divine peace today?

A recent New York Times article cites FBI reports that the San Bernardino killers “had long  been radicalized.” Authorities had no idea they were plotting the massacre, causing Americans to worry that other groups in our midst are planning murder right now.

Meanwhile, CNN is reporting that the U.S. Justice Department will investigate whether the Chicago police habitually violate the law. According to The Los Angeles Times, a Paris-bound flight departed from San Francisco was forced to land in Canada following an anonymous threat. And residents of Versailles, a small town in Kentucky, are mourning the murder of a six-year-old boy by an intruder who broke into his home.

It’s hard to read bad news at Christmas. But here’s the good news: the Child who was born at Christmas is more powerful than our most powerful enemy. He loves us despite our worst failures. He will forgive our worst sins and heal our deepest hurts. As the hymn says, Jesus offers us “grace that is greater than all our sin.”

Colossians 1:16 teaches that by Jesus “all things were created.” Scientists currently measure the diameter of the observable universe at 93 billion light-years in length. Our Creator measures all of that with the palm of his hand (Isaiah 40:12). Then Jesus focused all of his divinity and omnipotence into a fetus and was born as a tiny baby on Christmas day.

G. K. Chesterton was right: “The Child that played with moon and sun is playing with a little hay.”

If Jesus would be born in a cow stall and laid in a feed trough, he’ll go anywhere. If he would touch a leprous body and heal a crazed demoniac, he’ll help anyone. So don’t let our fallen world discourage you.

Tim Keller reminds us that “Christ literally walked in our shoes.” He knows your every fear, pain, and challenge today (Hebrews 4:15). He offers grace for your every need; as Adrian Rogers noted, “God grades on the cross, not on the curve.”

Max Lucado was right: “God never said that the journey would be easy, but he did say that the arrival would be worthwhile.” When we focus on the arrival and find joy in the journey, our faith is our greatest witness to a despairing, struggling world.

Martin Luther King, Jr.: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” If you stand with Jesus today, you’ll never stand alone.

About the Author

James C. Denison, Ph.D., is a subject matter expert on culture and contemporary issues. He founded the Denison Forum on Truth and Culture, a nonsectarian think tank designed to engage contemporary issues with biblical truth in 2009. Dr. Denison writes a cultural commentary available at www.denisonforum.org/subscribe. His free daily commentary is distributed around the world to 85,000 subscribers in over 200 countries.