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Tag Archives: Christmas

Priestly Shepherds

Beginning 500 years before Jesus’ birth, Judean priests took an active role in the farming life of the countryside. Some priests also became shepherds by raising sheep without a blemish for future animal sacrifices. One thing that I did not know about the shepherds in the passage below is that they were priestly shepherds, working with the local temple. When this angel appeared to them, the news of a Savior meant their ancient tradition of animal sacrifice to forgive sins would no longer be necessary.

And in that vicinity there were shepherds living [out under the open sky] in the field, watching [in shifts] over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood by them, and the glory of the Lord flashed and shone all about them, and they were terribly frightened, Luke 2:8-9.

Was the initial response by these shepherds fearful that they would be out of a job? Or was their main concern based upon Old Testament angelic encounters which often came as a precursor to their deaths? All of the years of hearing this passage read out loud in church, I never knew the context of who these chosen priestly shepherds were. Based upon their reactions to seeing the Christ child, it’s clear to me that these men were more excited about the fulfillment of an Old Testament prophecy, Isaiah 9:6.

But its entrails and its legs he shall wash with water. And the priest shall burn all of it on the altar for a burnt offering, an offering by fire, a sweet and satisfying odor to the Lord. 10 And if the man’s offering is of the flock, from the sheep or the goats, for a burnt offering, he shall offer a male without blemish, Leviticus 1:9-10.

While this is merely speculation, the role of a Jewish temple priest was a messy job. The slaughtering of animal’s day after day likely left stains of blood as well as being squirted by blood in your face from time to time. This tedious practice detailed by Moses in the book of Leviticus was a temporary process until a second Adam arrived. When news of Jesus’ birth was brought forth by an angel, these priestly shepherds realized in their minds that the lamb of God that would take away the sins of the world is about to arrive, Colossians 2:13-15. This is another reason to celebrate Christmas.

by Jay Mankus

S.A.N.S. Episode 331: A Thousand Songs

There are hundreds of talented worship groups across the country and throughout the world. When I stumbled upon the Christ Fellowship Worship team, I enjoyed their montage of Christmas music. This is similar to spontaneous worship montages that I like to listen to before going to sleep, A Thousand Songs is like a series of condensed snippets of almost every Christmas song that I am familiar with to keep the theme of Christmas within your hearts and mind.

The Lord is my Strength and my [impenetrable] Shield; my heart trusts in, relies on, and confidently leans on Him, and I am helped; therefore my heart greatly rejoices, and with my song will I praise Him, Psalm 28:7.

The passage above is a Psalm of David. As a skilled harpist, David had a special connection with music. Perhaps this is the inspiration behind David’s words about music. It’s unclear when David wrote this Psalm, but his close relationship with the Lord is unveiled. This commitment led the prophet Samuel to refer to David as a man after God’s own heart. May this Christmas season inspire you to sing songs in your heart to the Lord this holdiay season.

by Jay Mankus

S.A.N.S. Episode 328: Glory

Now that Christmas Day has passed, coming up with the remaining 38 songs from different artists will be a challenge. However, know that my children have come home from college, this final month of Sing A New Song will be a joint effort. Today’s song Glory by Jervis Campbell is thanks to my daughter Lydia. Lydia was introduced to Jervis by a classmate at Liberty University. While driving to church one Sunday morning, Glory was playing in the car CD player.

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. 15 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,] John 1:14-15.

While the calendar clearly shows Christmas in 2022 is over, the passage above provides a spiritual reminder of what Jesus’ birth means. This supernatural conception via the power of the Holy Spirit demonstrates the glory of God the Father. Two chapters later, the disciple whom Jesus loved, boldly proclaims the meaning of Christmas to those who are born again, John 3:16-17. May today’s song prepare how heart, mind and soul to bring glory to God in 2023.

by Jay Mankus

God’s Christmas Gift for You

Since 2022 is my first Christmas living in South Carolina, all of my usual traditions were replaced with a new one. At seven in the morning, I went over to my sister in laws to watch my three-year-old niece and daughter open up their stockings. The rest of the morning was spent watching Annie open up her Christmas presents while eating breakfast. As I was observing from a distance, my mind pondered, “what’s God’s Christmas gift to me?”

But when He, the Spirit of Truth (the Truth-giving Spirit) comes, He will guide you into all the Truth (the whole, full Truth). For He will not speak His own message [on His own authority]; but He will tell whatever He hears [from the Father; He will give the message that has been given to Him], and He will announce and declare to you the things that are to come [that will happen in the future], John 16:13.

As Jesus tried to prepare his disciples for his arrest and crucifixion during Passion Week, He spoke of how the spirit of Emmanuel would continue to live on following his departure. Jesus compared God’s presence to a counselor and spiritual guide. Although invisible like a Holy Ghost, God will announce and declare messages to you. Rather than place your trust in Amazon’s Alexa for knowledge or controlling your electricity, place your hope and trust in God’s Christmas gift for you.

For His divine power has bestowed upon us all things that [are requisite and suited] to life and godliness, through the [[d]full, personal] knowledge of Him Who called us by and to His own glory and excellence (virtue). By means of these He has bestowed on us His precious and exceedingly great promises, so that through them you may escape [by flight] from the moral decay (rottenness and corruption) that is in the world because of covetousness (lust and greed), and become sharers (partakers) of the divine nature, 2 Peter 1:3-4.

According to Luke, a first century doctor and historian, Peter was present on the Day of Pentecost, Acts 2:2-5. On this special day, Peter was overwhelmed by the power of the Holy Spirit. While writing 2 epistles known as Catholic Letters addressed to Christians scattered all over the world due to Nero’s persecution, Peter highlights what happens when you open up God’s Christmas gift for you. The Holy Spirit provides everything you need for life. Once you learn to separate yourself from the commercialism side of Christmas, may you have to faith to accept and embrace God’s gift to you, Romans 6:23.

by Jay Mankus

S.A.N.S. Episode 325: O Come O Come Emmanuel

For a couple of decades, Whitney Houston became the female version of Michael Jackson, the most popular female singer of her generation. Blessed with an amazing voice and able to hit high notes that few will even try, Whitney was able to speak to and touch those who listened to her music. While there were several Christmas songs that I could have chosen from Whitney who died way too soon in life, O Come O Come Emmanuel seems fitting for this occasion.

Behold, the virgin shall become pregnant and give birth to a Son, and they shall call His name Emmanuel—which, when translated, means, God with us, Matthew 1:23.

Depending upon the translation of the Bible that you prefer, Emmanuel is spelled with an E or an I. What makes the word Emmanuel special is that God’s promise of sending a Savior in the form of a human being arrived as Mary gave birth to Jesus. Although there were no rooms available in local inns due to the Census, Mary and Joseph had to settle for a vacant barn with a manger. As Christmas day approaches, may you rejoice in God with Us, now in the form of the Holy Spirit.

by Jay Mankus

S.A.N.S. 321: The First Noel

It’s hard to believe that Christmas is seven days away. The older I get, the quick time seems to fly by. Rather to write about the 12 days of Christmas with a corresponding song, the final week of Advent will have to do. The artists selected for this week were a joint venture between my wife Leanne and I. I wanted to pay homage to famous singers who became icons in American culture. Holly Starr’s rise to acclaim began on My Space and has led to multiple top 25 songs.

For to you is born this day in the town of David a Savior, Who is Christ (the Messiah) the Lord! 12 And this will be a sign for you [by which you will recognize Him]: you will find [[c]after searching] a Baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger, Luke 2:11-12.

Holly’s version of The First Noel sets the tone for the reason of this season. Noel comes from Latin which means birthday. While the birth of any child is a special occasion, Mary gave birth to the future Savior of the world, John 3:16-17. From a historical perspective, Jesus was born between 4 and 5 BC. When you consider the baby boys under two were slaughtered by Herod the Great’s edict. Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt to seek refuge until his death in 4 BC. This First Noel’s life was saved by God.

by Jay Mankus

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

S.A.N.S. Episode 301: What a Beautiful Name/Agnus Dei

Now that Thanksgiving has come and gone in 2022, it’s officially time for Christmas music. While stores in Aiken have been playing Christmas music since the days following Halloween, Christmas season is now here. As you listen to the Cottrell’s version of What a Beautiful Name / Agnus Dei worship montage, may the words help you overcome the commercialism of Christmas. The lyrics should help you make Jesus the reason for this special season.

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 1:14.

A first century physician serves as a church historian. Luke is the author of Acts who writes about several of the apostle Paul’s missionary trips in accordance with the Great Commission left behind by Jesus, Acts 1:8. At some point during this spiritual journey, even this doctor was moved by what he saw and witnessed. Luke came to the conclusion that there is no other name on earth that compares with Jesus, Acts 4:12. May today’s song bring you closer to the One who saves.

by Jay Mankus

What I Need this Christmas

You and I wasn’t available on You Tube so I substituted this song with Rain Down.

Every Thanksgiving my family members are expected to provide a list of presents that they want for Christmas. Yet, the more I ponder about what I want, I can’t think of anything that I really need this year. Rather than waste money on presents that I may not use or want, all I need for this Christmas is to spend time with my family. After working my first sixty-hour week leading up to Thanksgiving, family is what makes the holidays special.

 I have strength for all things in Christ Who empowers me [I am ready for anything and equal to anything through Him Who [g]infuses inner strength into me; I am [h]self-sufficient in Christ’s sufficiency], Philippians 4:13.

This perspective was conceived after listening to the song You and I by Oceans Above. The lyrics of this song start off with a prayer request for a wide range of individuals throughout the world. Similar to the beatitudes in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapters 5-7, the lead singer turns their prayer toward “what I need.” Part of the chorus references the words of the apostle Paul in the passage below. What Christians really need is for Jesus to be strong in your weak moments in life.

But He said to me, My grace (My favor and loving-kindness and mercy) is enough for you [sufficient against any danger and enables you to bear the trouble manfully]; for My strength and power are made perfect (fulfilled and completed) and [b]show themselves most effective in [your] weakness. Therefore, I will all the more gladly glory in my weaknesses and infirmities, that the strength and power of Christ (the Messiah) may rest (yes, may [c]pitch a tent over and dwell) upon me! 10 So for the sake of Christ, I am well pleased and take pleasure in infirmities, insults, hardships, persecutions, perplexities and distresses; for when I am weak [[d]in human strength], then am I [truly] strong (able, powerful [e]in divine strength), 2 Corinthians 12:9-10.

Therefore, don’t make Christmas self- centered by seeking presents. Instead, it’s time for me to be the giver rather than a receiver. One of my favorite Christmas gifts over the years was a letter from someone I met on a Misson’s trip in college. Despite not receiving a letter in return for 3 months, I continued to write to see how they were doing. When I returned home during Christmas break, I got a letter about all the trials she had endured. Sometimes the greatest gift is not giving up on those who have lost hope.

by Jay Mankus

Halloween House Cleaning

When I was a teenager, I participated in a seance. I had a crush on the girl leading it, so I didn’t hesitate to join in this late-night summertime activity. I was in Junior High at the time, and I didn’t know what faith was, so I didn’t think about the spiritual consequences. At the time, I thought this was pretend, like Whoppi Goldberg’s character in Ghost. This is my Halloween house cleaning story.

But when the unclean spirit has gone out of a man, it roams through dry [arid] places in search of rest, but it does not find any. 44 Then it says, I will go back to my house from which I came out. And when it arrives, it finds the place unoccupied, swept, put in order, and decorated, Matthew 12:43-44.

In the years that followed these seances, I battled severe depression. During one restless night, I even planned my own suicide, jumping off my second-floor banister with a noose around my neck. Before I went through with this, my best friend from baseball actually hung himself a week later. I was an emotional wreck for the next few years until my high school swim coach introduced me to Jesus.

Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and make their home there. And the last condition of that man becomes worse than the first. So also shall it be with this wicked generation, Matthew 12:45.

Halloween has become the second most celebrated holiday in the United States, a close second to Christmas. Halloween is the only time each year that children and parents come into your house, a great time to witness by sharing the love of Jesus. Unfortunately, if you participate in certain activities, there are spiritual doors that you may open like I did at seances. Though I don’t believe everything I see on television, there are many who speak about opening the door for the Devil to enter their life, Ephesians 4:26-27. May this blog prompt you to do your own Halloween House Cleaning this fall.

by Jay Mankus

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