“Indeed we have great reason to be joyful.”
Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Let earth receive her King; Let every heart prepare him room, And heaven and nature sings — Isaac Watts (1674-1748)
When the northern Philippine city of Baguio observed World AIDS Day recently, Roman Catholic and other Christian church representatives chose not to participate in a parade and program aimed at campaigning for “zero HIV infection.”
Christmas has become a hybrid holiday, a mix of sacred and secular, depending on who is celebrating it. For some, the holiday is a religious occasion recalling the birth of Jesus. For others, Christmas signals the end of winter’s darkness and the promise of returning light. Christmas may be a day devoted to family and memories of a shared past, or an opportunity to exchange gifts, even an opportunity to boost the struggling U.S. economy.
If Christmas has come to mean different things to different people, then it’s not surprising that some familiar Christmas symbols bear the weight of more than one interpretation.
31-year-old Nick Warnes pastors a new church development in a Los Angeles neighborhood that is 40 percent white, 40 percent Latina-o and 20 percent Asian and composed primarily of de-churched people. “Many told us it would be impossible to plant Northland Village here, because they would not welcome us,” says Warnes. “Other churches came in as heroes, trying to save the pagans. We recognized the kingdom of heaven was already here; we wanted to join in with what God was doing, becoming agents of reconciliation by coming alongside the other.”
In the neighborhood, Warnes saw that people were concerned about justice. Working with its de-churched neighbors, Northland began to recognize an injustice in how funding was distributed to schools in the neighborhood. “Instead of complaining, we wanted to help spring justice,” says Warnes. “So we created a mechanism where computers could be donated and money could be given to the schools that were receiving inequitable funding.”
After ringing a bell for almost 24 hours straight, Ryan Althaus was ready for food and sleep. But the founder of the Team Sweaty Sheep ministry pledged to keep ringing until he reached his goal of 36 hours in an attempt to set a world record for longest continuous hand bell ringing by an individual.
Althaus was one of 24 people across the country participating in The Salvation Army’s bell ringing contest, which began Thursday afternoon. He ended up ringing the bell for a little more than 36 hours, breaking the record. Darrell Tureskis of Springfield, Ill., set a new record with 60 hours of ringing.
Deck the halls and cue the pageant! Advent has arrived in American churches, which means the lapsed and the curious who seldom darken the door just might drop by for a taste of the season’s spirit.
Although a recent survey showed 62 percent of Scots favor gay marriage, the country’s main religious denominations overwhelmingly disapprove of it — though many observers think religious voices are less influential than they used to be.
“For the grace of God that bringeth salvation
hath appeared to all.”
Titus 2:11, KJV
Grace to you and peace in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. May the appearance of the gracious salvation of the Triune God enlighten our hearts, minds and spirits in this joyous season.
The Rev. John Philip Newell, internationally acclaimed author, scholar, and teacher, is the featured preacher for Christmas Day, Dec. 25, on “Day 1” with host Peter Wallace, the nationally syndicated ecumenical radio program also accessible online at Day1.org.
The cast and producers of “All-American Muslim,” a reality-TV show that has been a lightning rod for controversy, said Dec. 14 they are helping change negative perceptions of Muslims, and rejected criticisms that the show is propaganda that sugarcoats Islam.