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S.A.N.S. Episode 307: O Holy Night

Rush Limbaugh introduced me to Mannheim Steamroller as it was one of his favorite groups to play on his radio show every Christmas season. O Holy Night was one of the Carols my parents church in Ohio would sing annually as part of their midnight mass on Christmas Eve. The service began at 10:30 p.m. with singing the first half hour. Following this time of worship, a tradition Catholic Mass lasted an hour as the final hymn ended right around midnight every year.

Now in the sixth month [after that], the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 To a girl never having been married and a [v]virgin engaged to be married to a man whose name was Joseph, a descendant of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, Hail, O favored one [[w]endued with grace]! The Lord is with you! [x]Blessed (favored of God) are you before all other women! – Luke 1:26-28.

Before moving to Cleveland, I focused on the commercialism and gifts that I received Christmas morning. Yet, this 90-minute service every Christmas Eve helped turn my attention away from what was waiting for me under a tree at home and toward that holy night more than 2000 years ago. As you listen to today’s feature song O Holy Night, may the lyrics help prepare your heart to make room for Jesus this season and throughout 2023.

by Jay Mankus

Naughty or Nice?

https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=Christmas+classic+scene+from+elf+with+Santa%27s+naughty+and+nice+list

Dr. Suess first released the original The Grinch Who Stole Christmas in 1957. The man behind Dr. Suess is actually Theodor Seuss Geisel. The concept of a Christmas Naughty and Nice list was implied by Dr. Suess with the Grinch as the poster child for the naughty. Seven years later Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer introduced Santa’s Naughty and Nice List. Meanwhile, the 1973 Christmas classic The Year Without a Santa Claus reenergized Santa’s calling to travel the world on Christmas Eve to reward good children.

But I tell you, on the day of judgment men will have to give account for every [s]idle (inoperative, nonworking) word they speak. 37 For by your words you will be justified and acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned and sentenced, Matthew 12:36-37.

As I’m about the finish my study of the Book of Revelation, I was reminded of the Bible’s own Naughty and Nice List. In the first century, Jesus pointed to the Book of Life while teaching about Judgment Day. Anyone who has made their reservations in advance, Romans 10:9-11 and 1 John 5:12-13, will be acquitted on Judgment Day. The apostle Paul explains this in Galatians 2:20 and 1 Corinthians 15:53-58. Subsequently, anyone who has entered into a personal relationship with Jesus makes the Nice List.

And the sea delivered up the dead who were in it, death and Hades ([c]the state of death or disembodied existence) surrendered the dead in them, and all were tried and their cases determined by what they had done [according to their motives, aims, and works], Revelation 20:13.

The apostle Paul writes about those individuals who pass away without ever being introduced to Jesus in Romans 1:18-20. According to the disciple whom Jesus loved, these people will be judged based upon their aims, motives and works. The great commission is currently in its third and final stage, Acts 1:8, taking the Gospel to the ends of the earth. God’s Naughty and Nice List is finalized based upon these three categories. If you’re unsure if your name is in The Book of Life, there’s still time to join the nice list, Hebrews 10:26-27.

by Jay Mankus

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

Songs that Save Souls

While singing a Christmas carol in church yesterday, a stanza from O Little Town of Bethlehem struck a cord with my soul. After examining the lyrics, I discovered two different versions. Unless you sing the traditional version, the sixth stanza is skipped completely. As the words “Where meek souls will receive Him,” flashed on the overhead screen, my heart was moved.

Because if you acknowledge and confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and in your heart believe (adhere to, trust in, and rely on the truth) that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart a person believes (adheres to, trusts in, and relies on Christ) and so is justified (declared righteous, acceptable to God), and with the mouth he confesses (declares openly and speaks out freely his faith) and confirms [his] salvation, Romans 10:9-10.

Immediately, a rhema, an utterance from God overwhelmed me. Humble and meek hearts are crucial to receiving Jesus as Lord and Savior, Romans 10:9-11. If hearts are broken, callous, distracted or worn down, the miracle of Christmas is ignore, lost or missed completely. One of the ways God has changed and transformed my own heart is through Christian music which has touched my soul.

Of David. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! – Psalm 103:1

As I look back on the past three decades, there are some songs that became like a refuge, soothing my soul each time I listened to the lyrics. The first song is When God Ran by Benny Hester. After Hester got divorced, most of his music was removed from Christian bookstores, but this classic song moves me each time I hear it. In college, Feel the Nails by Ray Boltz served as a source of conviction to draw me back to God each time I strayed away.

Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works! – Psalm 103:2.

One of my favorite Christmas traditions growing up was attending a Christmas Eve service that ended at midnight. After my father was transferred to Cleveland, my parents started attending a local church where the priest looked just like pictures of Jesus. This Christmas Eve service began at 10:30, singing Christmas carols until 11pm. The final hour was a traditional mass that ended with Joy to the World. As you attend church this Christmas, may God refresh your memory of songs that save souls.

by Jay Mankus

Speed Trap

Back in 1986, I was introduced to the need for speed. The film Top Gun coincided with the year I received my driver’s license. Thus, when Maverick and Goose approach their fighter jet, played by Tom Cruise and Anthony Edwards, I understood their conversation, “I feel the need, the need for speed.”

Understand this, my beloved brothers and sisters. Let everyone be quick to hear [be a careful, thoughtful listener], slow to speak [a speaker of carefully chosen words and], slow to anger [patient, reflective, forgiving]; James 1:19.

I was naïve back then, unaware of the speed traps lurking around each corner. Nine months after I got my license I received my first speeding ticket, flying down the St. George’s Bridge, oblivious to the cop at the bottom of the hill. This past Monday, I spent the day in traffic court for my son Daniel who received a ticket Christmas Eve, driving to my parents house after work. Hopefully, he too learned a valuable listen.

For the [resentful, deep-seated] anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God [that standard of behavior which He requires from us], James 1:20.

The Bible has an interesting perspective on speed traps. Instead of focusing on driving, the context above refers to speeding up and slowing down. The earthly brother of Jesus encourages first century Christians to be quick to listen. Apparently, the need for speed is centered around becoming a better listener. Meanwhile, you must fight the urge to become angry, slowing down as a form of discipline to tame your tongue. Therefore, the next time you get behind the wheel, dial in your ears toward heaven so that you avoid any urge for a lead foot or road rage.

by Jay Mankus

Denying the Ghost of Christmas Past

In the 1988 film Scrooged, Bill Murray plays a selfish, cynical television executive who is haunted by three spirits bearing lessons on Christmas Eve.  Bitter, disappointed and frustrated, Murray’s character came to the conclusion that Christmas was a fraud.  Far worse than Ebenezer Scrooge, Murray is visited by the ghost of Christmas past, present and future.  These shocking encounters convict Murray’s heart like the wealthy man in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus.  The only difference is that Murray is still alive while the rich man in the story below died.

So the rich man said, ‘Then, father [Abraham], I beg you to send Lazarus to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—in order that he may solemnly warn them and witness to them, so that they too will not come to this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham said, ‘They have [the Scriptures given by] Moses and the [writings of the] Prophets; let them listen to them,’ Luke 16:27-29.

Parables are meant to be analogies, hypothetical scenarios to illustrate spiritual truths.  Within this particular story, Jesus details a conversation between Abraham who is in heaven with a desperate rich man pleading his case from hell.  This man asks to be sent back to his family on earth in the form of a ghost, similar to the concept of the ghost of Christmas past.  Despite this man’s concern to save his family from the same eternal fate he is enduring, Abraham vehemently denies this request.  While Abraham references the importance of listening to and studying the words of Old Testament prophets, his reason for saying no is clear.  You must walk by faith, not by sight.

He replied, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent [they will change their old way of thinking and seek God and His righteousness].’ 31 And he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to [the messages of] Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead,’” Luke 16:30-31.

Every Christmas, pastors, priests, reverends and teachers attempt to share a fresh approach to Christmas, coming up with an unique angle or spin.  Of all of the sermons I have heard at Christmas Eve and or Christmas Day services, Abraham’s exchange with this rich man in hell is not one of them.  Human nature makes individuals think, “if I only saw a ghost, speak to the dead or witness a miracle, then I would believe.”  Yet, in reality, you shouldn’t have to experience the death and resurrection of Jesus to believe.  The author of Hebrews references this in Hebrews 6:1-6, supporting Abraham’s excuse for denying a first century visit from the ghost of Christmas past.

by Jay Mankus

The Grouch That Spoiled Christmas

 

As a child, Christmas was my favorite time of the year.  As Christmas Eve drew closer, the more excited I became, wondering what gifts may be waiting for me under the tree.  Somewhere between adolescence and adulthood, life got a lot more complicated.  Now that I am the one in charge of working to help pay for all the presents, this season has lost it’s luster.  After three consecutive weeks of working sixty hours at Amazon, I find myself turning into a new fictional character, the grouch that spoiled Christmas.

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.  She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.  But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” – Matthew 10:38-40

Last night as I was leaving work, I had a flashback of the passage above.  Mary and Martha illustrate the clash of personalities that happen every day in life.  In this story, Martha is the older sister, the responsible one, running around to clean and cook for Jesus, trying to be a hospitable host.  Meanwhile, the baby sister cares more about talking than doing, entertaining Jesus by listening to his daily encounters with his disciples.  In an attempt to be a perfectionist, Martha becomes jealous, grouchy like me.

Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her,” Luke 10:41-42.

Looking back, I never realized how much my parents did to make Christmas special.  I’m sure there were private moments behind closed doors of complaints or frustration, but my mother possessed the characteristics of Mary.  Before I ever heard of Mary and Martha, my mom demonstrated the personality trait God encourages others to emulate.  In a sense, last night I was reenacting this scene from the Bible in real life.  I played the role Martha.  My co-workers illustrated the joy of Mary, savoring the time together.  However, Jesus wasn’t there to scold me.  Rather, the Holy Spirit whispered to my heart, “watch out or you will become the grouch that spoiled Christmas.

by Jay Mankus

Be Grateful For What You Have; Not What You’ve Lost

In my first year as a high school teacher, I stayed up well past midnight preparing for the next day.  While attempting to create challenging lesson plans, I overlooked one important truth.  This quest for perfection often left me feeling empty as the good was overshadowed by negative reactions by parents and students.  Instead of being grateful for what I had accomplished, my heart, soul and mind spent most of the time focusing on what I had lost.

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you, 1 Thessalonians 5:18.

A little more older and wise now, writing this blog has helped transform my perspective.  Rather than worry about the next issue, subject and topic I am going to address, the Lord has given me a sense of peace, knowing that somehow, someway God will provide new ideas.  Whether I’m reading an article waiting for my next eye doctor appointment, listening to talk radio or watching television, interesting concepts continue to flow.

In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive, Acts 20:35.

After not being able to sleep on Christmas Eve, I stumbled upon a documentary aired on the Golf Channel about former British Open Champion Darren Clarke.  Labeled as one of the best tour players not to win a major, Clarke faced something more important winning a golf tournament.  When Darren’s wife Heather was diagnosed with Breast Cancer for the second time, she succumb to this disease in 2006.  Always staying positive to the end, Heather left behind a message to visitor’s of her tombstone.  “Be Grateful For What You Have; Not What You’ve Lost.”  May these words inspire you to apply this mindset in 2017.

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

 

An Extreme Spiritual Make-over

 And she gave birth to her Son, her Firstborn; and she wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room or place for them in the inn. – Luke 2:7

If I had to give an honest assessment, I too would have responded like the Inn Keepers in Bethlehem.  Similar to a vacation destination during Spring Break Week, the Roman Census quickly filled up all available accommodations.  Thus, the poor, unprepared and those stuck in traffic scrambled around like a male shopping for presents on Christmas Eve.  Only 1 person, a good Samaritan type, made room for Mary and Joseph.

In this day and age, distractions abound, pulling individuals in all sorts of directions.  Subsequently, scheduling time for God is usually the first to get cut or limited to a brief glance of a verse or two and a lame prayer.  Despite the lulls that may occur in a car, at home or during work, exhaustion keeps many from developing and or maintaining a healthy relationship with Jesus.  As I evaluate my 2014 calendar, I’m afraid I fit into Jesus’ harsh criticism of those follow the Lord with their lips, but not with their actions.

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers! – Matthew 7:21-23

If you too find yourself in this predicament, perhaps its time for an extreme spiritual make-over.  Philippians 2:12 suggests to begin working out your salvation with fear and trembling.  Solomon agrees, as fearing God in the beginning of knowledge, Proverbs 1:7.  When you allow the Holy Spirit to “Pump You Up,” missed opportunities of the past can lead to pivot points along your faith journey, Colossians 4:5.  In the end, make room for Jesus, whatever the cost, Matthew 16:24-27 so that one day you will hear from the King himself, “well done my good and faithful servant!”- Matthew 25:23

by Jay Mankus

 

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