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A Holy Christmas

When my parents moved to Delaware in 1976, a local Catholic Church about a half mile away was about to break ground. By the 1980’s, we moved from St. Mary Magdalene Church on Concord Pike to Holy Child. This was the church that introduced my family to the concept of a midnight mass. When my father was transferred to Ohio, another local church had an even better tradition. From 10-11 pm, Christmas carols were sung and the church service ended at 12 mid-night Christmas morning.

Who owe their birth neither to [c]bloods nor to the will of the flesh [that of physical impulse] nor to the will of man [that of a natural father], but to God. [They are born of God!] 14 And the Word (Christ) became flesh (human, incarnate) and tabernacled (fixed His tent of flesh, lived awhile) among us; and we [actually] saw His glory (His honor, His majesty), such glory as an only begotten son receives from his father, full of grace (favor, loving-kindness) and truth, John 1:13-14.

After years of worshiping Santa and presents, I discovered the reason for this spiritual holiday. When the church bell struck 12 am Christmas morning, the sound of this bell announced the dawn of a new day. Strike after strike, 12 total times, helped me to begin to make room for Jesus as a young adult. As my parents drove home from this annual mass, the words of O Holy Night struck a cord with my soul. These 2 hours each Christmas Eve helped me make the 25th of December a Holy Christmas.

John testified about Him and cried out, This was He of Whom I said, He Who comes after me has priority over me, for He was before me. [He takes rank above me, for He existed before I did. He has advanced before me, because He is my Chief.] 16 For out of His fullness (abundance) we have all received [all had a share and we were all supplied with] one grace after another and spiritual blessing upon spiritual blessing and even favor upon favor and gift [heaped] upon gift, John 1:15-16.

Now as a parent, I haven’t passed on this tradition with my children. Instead we celebrate my sister Cindy’s birthday, play games around a table and watch Elf. Not quite the spiritual experience that I was forced to attend and raised with. Yet, there is time to write a new story. Time to reflect upon the meaning of this day of Emmanuel, God with us starting as an infant who would go on to become a Savior. Therefore, as this holy night arrives, set your heart and mind and things above to worship Jesus.

by Jay Mankus

Mixing Birthdays with Christmas

Depending upon when you were born in a calendar year, your birthday is either overshadowed by Christmas, spread out throughout the year or occurs in the summer when most of your friends are on vacation. I fall into the latter category, often struggling to a find a few friends who are home in August. Yet, most of the women in my family are forced to mix their birthday with Christmas. My mother and wife were born one day a part in the middle of this month while my sister Cindy and Leanne’s mom were born on Christmas Eve. Unfortunately, these days are mere appetizers that lead up to the birth of Christ.

[My purpose is] that you may know the full truth and understand with certainty and security against error the accounts (histories) and doctrines of the faith of which you have been informed and in which you have been orally instructed, Luke 1:4.

In the wake of the Coronavirus, a once in a century event, some of you wish that you were born during a different month or period in history. During a late night conversation with a Pharisee named Nicodemus, Jesus refers the spiritual process of being “born again.” At the time of their discussion, this theological term wasn’t known causing Nicodemus to become sarcastic. “Do you really expect our mother’s to open up their legs to be forced back in their womb again?” The wry smile on Nicodemus face vanished quickly. According to John, this religious leader stops talking, intrigued by the thought of being spiritually reborn.

For God so greatly loved and dearly prized the world that He [even] gave up His only begotten ([d]unique) Son, so that whoever believes in (trusts in, clings to, relies on) Him shall not perish (come to destruction, be lost) but have eternal (everlasting) life. 17 For God did not send the Son into the world in order to judge (to reject, to condemn, to pass sentence on) the world, but that the world might find salvation and be made safe and sound through Him, John 3:16-17.

As neighbors decorate the interior and exterior of their homes for this celebration, don’t be caught off guard by silly Nick. Rather, prepare your hearts for the true meaning of this holiday season. The passage above highlights what some Christmas Carols declare, “Joy to the World as Immanuel has come to earth to save this fallen world from sin. This gift wasn’t without a sacrifice as God offered up his one and only son to become the perfect Lamb of God. Perhaps, this Christmas as people gather together at a church, in a home or view an online service, the only birth that matters is the decision to become born again, Romans 10:9-11.

by Jay Mankus

Cardiomegaly

In the 1966 Christmas classic How the Grinch Stole Christmas, the narrator blames the Grinch’s attitude on an abnormally small heart.  As the citizens of Who-ville began to sing carols in preparation of Christmas, the Grinch started to devise a plan to steal their joy.  From a spiritual perspective, the Grinch represents Satan, seeking to steal, kill and destroy any glimpse of the real meaning of Christmas.  Yet, as his plan was interrupted by Little Cindy Lou Who, God used this child to penetrate the Grinch’s soul.  In one instant, when the meaning of Christmas was revealed, the Grinch’s heart grew three sizes that day.

The thief comes only in order to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance [to the full, till it overflows], John 10:10.

The medical term for an enlarged heart is cardiomegaly.   This isn’t a disease, but rather a sign of another condition.  For example, during pregnancy, some mothers develop an enlarged heart.  This condition is usually temporary because of stress on your body.  Cardiomegaly can also be brought on by the weakening of the heart muscle, coronary artery disease or heart valve problems.  After three visits to a local cardiologist, I have been diagnosed with an enlarged heart.  My doctor wasn’t concerned, rather he wants me to come back in a year to monitor this condition.  Nonetheless, I do have something in common with the Grinch, an enlarged heart.

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh, Ezekiel 36:26.

Throughout the Bible, there is an emphasis on pursuing a new heart.  The context of this reference is usually within a prayer.  King David asked God for a new heart after committing adultery and murder.  The prophet Jeremiah reveals how hearts can become deceitful, longing for fleshly desires instead of obeying God’s commands.  King Solomon refers to the heart as the well spring to life.  As I complete my 2500th blog, my prayer is that the Lord will create in me a new heart, full of forgiveness, love and mercy.  When individuals begin to demonstrate enlarged hearts seasoned with God’s grace, this world will become a better place to live.

by Jay Mankus

 

Wake Me Up

In the summer of 2009, Staples created a witty back to school shopping advertisement.  This commercial compared children going back to school to the most wonderful time of year for adults.  Using a Christmas carol, parents are jubilantly placing school supplies into a shopping cart while both kids are dazed and depressed.  From time to time, everyone needs comic relief to bring laughter and joy into your life.

“I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins,” Isaiah 43:25.

When it comes to the spiritual realm, you need more than a funny show to snap you out of a spiritual funk.  This unhealthy state usually begins with distractions from the world, preoccupation with other priorities and simply forgetting to invite God into your daily life.  Those that continue down this road, allowing busyness to take over will begin to experience the early stages of spiritual amnesia.  Symptoms include memory loss in terms of biblical application, failing to pray, a tendency to forget to read the Bible and lost desire to attend church weekly.

“For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more,” Hebrews 8:12.

The only known cure to spiritual amnesia is confession.  According to the Old and New Testament of the Bible, God pours out his grace, mercy and forgiveness to those who acknowledge their shortcomings.  Unfortunately, the hardest part of spiritual amnesia is breaking free from its numbing powers.  In my younger years, I went off to a retreat to revive my soul.  Yet, as an adult with a busy schedule, you have to search harder than ever to find opportunities to regain spiritual momentum.  Although recovery does not happen overnight, if you seek God like the persistent widow, Luke 18:1-8, your faith will be restored.

by Jay Mankus

 

Nights Void of Holiness

Franz Xaver Gruber composed the melody to Stille Nacht in 1818, giving birth to the classic Christmas carol known as Silent Night.  An Austrian school teacher, Gruber was likely inspired to write this song while serving in his church in Arnsdorf, Austria.  Beginning in 1816 Gruber took on the role as organist and choirmaster at St Nicholas Church.  Working with Joseph Mohr, a catholic priest who write the lyrics in German, the two combined their gifts to debut this song for a Christmas Eve mass 2 years later.

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, Luke 2:6-7.

If you believe the political pundits, public educators and progressive agenda in America, you may be convinced of a different America than the actual founders.  Instead of pointing to a Continental Congress which spent several hours in prayer seeking God’s insight, you will be pointed toward slave owners who should not have the right to be heard or followed.  This tense climate has given birth to nights voids of holiness.

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, Luke 2:10-11.

The 1988 film Diehard based upon the book written Roderick Thorp has recently become an usual Christmas classic.  Few people realize the irony behind one of the main characters.  The leader of a terrorist group and mastermind of a scheme to steal millions of dollars of bonds shares the last name with the composer of Silent Night, called Hans instead of Franz.  While Christmas is suppose to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Savior of the World to Mary, a virgin, I can’t recall a recent night void of violence.  Instead of experiencing holy nights, many endure a fallen world on the verge of hell.  Despite this painful reality, don’t let others steal the joy of Christmas.  Rise above the Ebenezer Scrooges and recent terrorist attacks to share love to others this season.

by Jay Mankus

 

Staying in Tune

There was a time in my life when I possessed musical talents.  For three years I played the alto saxophone, improving each year.  When I visited my grandmother for the holidays, I quickly picked up the piano, able to play Christmas carols.  Unfortunately, some where along the way, my interests waned, forgetting the notes, rhythm and ability to play an instrument.

Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen, Amos 5:23.

C.S. Lewis adds a piano analogy within Mere Christianity.  In one of his introductory chapters, Lewis takes three key components: tune, notes and music sheet.  For performers to correctly play an instrument, it must be tuned properly to produce a quality sound.   Next, individuals must have the knowledge to play the appropriate key or note.  Finally, unless you understand how to read a music sheet, a song doesn’t flow or make sense.

And whenever the harmful spirit from God was upon Saul, David took the lyre and played it with his hand. So Saul was refreshed and was well, and the harmful spirit departed from him, 1 Samuel 16:23.

Beyond music, these elements are essential if you want to stay in tune with God.  The conscience in connection with the Holy Spirit enables individuals to discern God’s still small voice.  Convictions, gut feelings and minds swayed by prayer serve as notes, clues as to where to go and what to do.  Finally, as people begin to read and study the Bible, principles for life are revealed like notes on a music sheet.  While C.S Lewis’ words are more than a half of a century old, these timeless truths provide a guide to stay in tune with God.

by Jay Mankus

 

How Bright is Your Star?

Sirius, Canopus and Rigil Kentaurus are the 3 brightest stars as seen from earth.  Sirius, the brightest of all the stars in the midnight sky comes from the Greek word scorching.  The further you get from civilization, the more visible the smaller stars become.  From a worldly perspective, are you overlooked like a tiny star, do you blend in like a medium one or does the aura you give off shine bright?

Said the night wind to the little lamb
Do you see what I see
Way up in the sky little lamb
Do you see what I see
A star, a star
Dancing in the night
With a tail as big as a kite
With a tail as big as a kite

One of my favorite Christmas carols is Do You Hear What I Hear?  The lyrics of this classic uses hearing and seeing to discern what happened on the night of Jesus’ birth.  If you get caught up in the hustle and bustle of life, the senses God gave you are often neglected, missing the miracles right in front of you.  Therefore, if you want to make a difference in life, stop, drop what you’re doing and take a look around every now and then to help brighten the lives of others.

However, all human beings experience periods of darkness, times when your desire to press on fades.  As your fire dims, the lights of others may be the only source of hope you see.  If the light of Christians around you is absent, stars can burn out permanently.  How bright is your star currently?  Well, for the sake of Christmas, may the Holy Spirit rekindle the flame inside your soul so that silent nights will remain bright.

by Jay Mankus

Unusual Displays of Faith

One of my college roommates was a highly touted  football player coming out of high school.  Chiseled like a rock, Mike had the physique to play in college and possibly the pros.  However, when the Lord got a hold of his heart, a new passion blossomed.  Ditching the party scene, faith turned this giant into a man of praise.  Thus, weekend nights offered up a chance to relax, sit on a beach chair in the front yard and listen to worship music, interacting with strangers walking by.

This unusual display of faith inspired me to become more bold in my faith.  Although I don’t remember how it started, another Mike, Michael Mestern and I began a weekly tradition on Main Street.  Before each session, Mike and I prayed on the steps of the mall at the University of Delaware’s Campus in Newark.  Following this, we were moved to sing, like a street evangelist, walking back and forth, up and down Main Street, making a joyful noise unto the Lord.  Whether it was singing Christmas carols or songs from Chrysalis, the Holy Spirit guided us each evening like Galatians 5:25.  Sometimes we hummed, on certain occasions we raised our voices and most of the time we responded to conversations with praise.

The point of today’s blog is that you don’t have to be extremely gifted to be used by God, you just need to make yourself available.  Rollen Stewart displayed his faith by studying where cameras were set up during professional sporting telecasts.  Then, he used his wealth to purchase tickets, find the best place to stand out and hold up John 3:16 signs.  The question is: what are you waiting for or who are you trying to please?  May the words of 2 Timothy 1:6-7 inspire you to fan into flame your God given talents so that through usual or unusual means, the light of Christ will continue to shine, Colossians 4:2-6.

by Jay Mankus

 

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