Entitlement

Today’s society is bombarded with many slogans that portray us to be “deserving” of something. Such self-focused messages are:

            “You deserve a break today…” used by McDonald’s

            “You owe it to yourself…” used by cruise lines

            “Treat yourself to take the break you deserve” used by Hilton HHonors

In the dynamics of families and relationships, how many times have you graciously gave a gift and never received a “thank you” of any kind? How often have you heard the stories of parents passing away, and the children fought over the estate and money? If a sibling or parent is near their deathbed, do they deserve to be treated with respect if they never reciprocated love to family members in a state of healthiness? What if a husband and wife purchase a home with their hard-earned money – should their children feel entitled to the parent’s assets?

Within the business world, employees arrive late and perform their duties with little ambition. They demand pay raises and better benefits. Are they really deserving of it? Or, a parent scrapes and works hard to grow a business, and their grown children now believe they’re entitled to run it when the parent is deceased.

Churches also run into the same dilemmas when the congregation feels entitled to receive answers from their pastors or to hold positions within the house of worship. And, while I walk down the path of religious connotations, many believers feel deserving of God’s blessings. Speaking of this, do you know why much of humanity walks away from God and stops believing in Him? They prayed for an answer they wanted to hear and didn’t receive it. He was a means to get what they felt entitled to in life! Ironically, I believe our church leaders are responsible for this incorrect train of thought. They stand on the pulpit and preach God will meet all our needs and give them their desires if they pledge their soul to Jesus. The fact is our sin separates us from the Lord.

Entitlement is a dangerous walk in life – it’s Godlessness. Let me be frank here – God, parents, and employers owe us nothing. God blesses us with things because He wants to – an unconditional love of grace. A selfish demand for His generosity will reap no benefits. It’s that simple!

Jesus’ ministry spoke of loving others with a grateful heart. This includes treating each other with respect, even amidst our differences. The well-being of gratitude promotes healthy relationships, both in our walk with the Lord and relationships with others.

In the subject of parenting, fewer children today respect their elders. They ignore the recognition parents deserve for years of hard work and dedication to their families because they live in the “gimme, gimme” world. These generations are gifted with their heart’s desires, and they expect it from the parents. Thus, the slogans I mentioned at the beginning of the message above, come into play. As the children grow older, they feel entitled to life. Little do we know, it promotes laziness, ungratefulness, and the subject of this blog – entitlement. What are we teaching our children and others?

So, how can we live a life feeling less entitled to things and people?

•          Humbly give thanks to God for all we receive. “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18

•          Remember the grace of God, for Jesus died on the cross for our sins. We do not deserve to be treated with graciousness for our sinful attitudes, but the Lord’s love and grace reaches out to us, anyway. “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.” Titus 3:3-5

•          Set your mind on eternity with the Lord and not on this world. Money and physical possessions mean nothing, for they cannot be taken with you to heaven. “But, as it is written, what no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him…” 1 Corinthians 2:9

•          Continuously pray for discernment of entitlement. Why do I feel entitled, and how can I change this train of thought?

In summary of today’s message, expect little, receive with a grateful heart, and always give thanks. Give God the glory for your unexpected blessings!

Written by Anne Bicks, Editor and Marketing of Bicks Books LLC


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HAPPY GREGORIAN NEW YEAR!

With the changing of the calendar there are disagreements about if it is really a new decade.

What a silly disagreement.

Humans feel they control time. They can catagozie and contain it. However, as diverse as Humanity is, there are as many ways to contain time as there are civilazations.

I Celebrate three New Year’s. My actually new year is aligned with my pagan beliefs with the start of the year on Samhein, Halloween.

Then I recognize the Gregorian New Year, which most of the world, particularly the Western World, follow. Then, finally, I celebrate Chinese New Year. This is out of appreciation for Asian culture.

I once owned a Tibetan Buddhist Calendar. It being based on the moon as opposed to the sun. It was definitely different.

My friend in South Korea has two ages. One which is “western,” one which is based on her culture.

Not only are there calendar and time controls within different cultures, there are different views of time in various religions.

Growing up in the United Methodist Church we followed the Christian calendar (hint we are still in the Christmas Season until Epiphany). There are specific traditions and practices associated with certain times of the year in every religious practice.

And don’t even get me started on the different political calendars across the globe.

Sometimes this societal agree on the meaning of time is to our detriment. More and more people are having sleep problems and health issues because they are no longer in tune with their own physical, internal clock, their circadian rhythm.

It is worth remembering for all of the different views and beliefs on time, it is all fabricated by our brains. It is simply a way for our brains to catagozie and barely begin to understand our place in the Universe.

This Gregorian Year of 2020 I suggest we all take a step back and allow the Universe to speak to us, to reset our clocks to its time, instead of the chaos of societal time.

Goodbye 2019

Last night I told my mom. when she said she was grateful 2019 was almost over, there were good things which happened in 2019.

Be grateful for the good things in 2019 and leave behind the rest.

I say again: BE GRATEFUL FOR THE GOOD THINGS IN 2019 AND LEAVE THE REST BEHIND.

Going further, be grateful for the lessons learned from the bad things that happened in 2019.

Overall, move in 2020 with a grateful heart. Forgive the events, people, and perhaps most importantly, yourself. Gratitude for the what was and gratitude for what will be. This is the best way to progress into the next decade.

I end with my favorite Scripture. Philippians 4:4-9:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!

Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.

Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me–put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

The Light of Saint Lucia

I love learning about holiday traditions, especially when they’re linked to our ancestry. Last year, I did a Christmas blog on the German ritual and southwest U.S. practice of placing a pickle on the tree. This year, on December 13, the light of Saint Lucy shines on Scandinavia and Italy. It is Saint Lucy’s Day, also called the Feast of Saint Lucy, signaling the arrival of Christmas. Though her personal story is quite sordid, Saint Lucia shines the light of Christ for all Christians. So, let’s bundle up and get ready to visit the countries of Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Italy!

Who was Saint Lucy?

Image courtesy of catholicsistas.com

Once coinciding with the Winter Solstice (shortest day of the year), the Feast of Saint Lucy has become a Christian festival of light since the 4th century. Lucy was born in the year 283 to very wealthy and noble parents. She was a devout Christian who promised her virginity to the Lord. Her father passed away when she was five years-old, but as she reached her teenage years, her mother arranged an engagement with a man who was a pagan and paid him a handsome dowry. Against her religious beliefs, Lucy was not interested in a relationship not condoned by God. She prayed He would spare her the marriage.

This young lady worked to help Christians hiding in the catacombs during their persecutions conducted by the Roman Emperor Diocletian. She brought them as many supplies as she could handle, wearing a wreath on her head. It had candles attached so she could see in the darkness of the caves.

Image owned and courtesy of The Tour Expert

It devastated Lucy when her mother came down with a long-term illness, shortly before her wedding. She went to the shrine of Saint Agatha to pray for her mother’s health and was told by the saint her mother’s illness would be cured through faith. Lucy returned home and convinced her mother to cancel the wedding and donate the dowry to the poor.

Furious at the snub, Lucy’s fiancé reported her to the governor for being a Christian. She was arrested, tortured, and threatened to be taken to a brothel if she didn’t renounce Christianity. But, something divine occurred…

When the prison guards tried to remove her, she was a dead weight. No one could budge her away! So, they built a woodpile around her, instead, and lit it afire. In the name of God, she kept denouncing their horrific acts. One guard stuck a spear through her throat, but she didn’t stop speaking, and another gouged out her eyes. Miraculously, her eyes were restored. It is said Lucy could die only when she was given the Christian Last Rites. Saint Lucy’s death, on December 13, 304, is celebrated with a feast and different rituals by each country.

Croatia and Hungary

A popular tradition on this day is planting wheat grains, which will be full grown on Christmas. It symbolizes a new life born in Bethlehem. They also place a candle next to the plant for the Light of Christ.

Sweden

Though not an official holiday in Sweden, St. Lucy’s Day has been a special occasion since 1764. Formal dinner parties are the protocol. In the school system, students choose someone to be Lucy, and she dresses in a long white robe, red sash, and a wreath with candles are put on her head. Then maids are chosen who dress in white robes. They even hold regional contests for the best Lucy.

Saint Lucia Island in the Caribbean

Boys also dress up in several attires. Some wear a long white robe with a cone-shaped hat, or a Santa elf costume with a lantern, and some don gingerbread men outfits.

Everyone snacks on Lussekatt, a special  baked bun made with saffron. Early on Lucia morning, Swedish television airs a procession and concert, which features a different choir in a different church each year.

Finland

St. Lucy was first celebrated in Finland in 1898, and Helsinki Cathedral crowned her St. Lucy of Finland in 1949.

Denmark

In Denmark, the Day of Lucy was first celebrated on December 13, 1944. It is a yearly event in most churches at Christmas. Candles stay lit all night, representing the light of Saint Lucy.

Norway

The modern-day celebration of Lucia in Norway was adopted after World War II but it only remains popular in kindergarten and middle schools. They, too, dress in the white robes with wreaths and candles on their heads.

Saint Lucia (Caribbean)

This Caribbean island was named after Saint Lucy and is celebrated as National Day. They hold the National Festival of Lights and Renewal the night before the holiday, and the capital is covered in lights and decorated lanterns

Italy

The roots of this holiday are originally traced to Sicily, Italy. Lucy was born, lived, and died a martyr in this city, and today, it points to the arrival of Christ, the light of the world. Italians gather on December 13 to light candles and torches, and to eat, drink, and be merry. Many religious parades and feasts permeate the cities.

As the darkness falls upon Northern Europe on December 13, let us help our ancestors to celebrate Saint Lucia’s Day. Though not observed in the United States, we can pray for a message of light and the hope of Christ in our hearts.


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How Wise Were They?

The most beautiful story in history is the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ, which we celebrate every Christmas. Joseph and Mary, along with a string of other characters, remind us of how holy His birth was to all Christians. But through centuries of translations, this special event has become inundated with a lack of facts and/or misinterpretations. Let’s revisit a section of the nativity’s chain of events – that which involves the three wise men. I think it will surprise you to learn a few details never explicitly revealed in the Bible. For this blog, I will refer to the nativity story as written in the Book of Matthew 2:1-12.


Who Were the Three Wise Men?

Matthew tells us they came from “east of Jerusalem.” If we examine the historical facts, east of Jerusalem was the Parthian Empire (also known as Persia), which is today’s ancient Iran. They rivaled Rome during the time of King Herod’s reign and occupied much of Palestine.

Image of Persian Empire courtesy of Wikipedia

When the Medes (ancient Iranians) and Persians conquered Babylon, the Persians formed a priesthood of wise men known as magicians or magi. This appears to be the point of origin for the wise men, who held dual priestly and governmental authority. They were called the magi of the Parthian Empire but were NOT considered kings. (So, how did we invent the Christmas song, We Three Kings??) They were perhaps advisers to the kings.

Most residents of the empire practiced the Zoroastrianism religion, now considered being the oldest practice in the world. They believe in one universal, supreme deity, Ahura Mazda, or the “Wise Lord.” Despite their religion, they understood a new Savior would be born through the prophet Daniel’s prophecy. (Daniel 9:24-27)


Names of the Three Wise Men

Following the format of most stories in the Bible, the three wise men were never named, and only legend and many interpretations assigned the names Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar. The Catholics kept the names and honored them as kings and saints, but their real names were never revealed in scriptures.

The three wise men, today, are called “Magi,” “the Three Wise Men,” and “three kings.” We’ve already confirmed they were not kings. “Wise men” translated is “magos,” which means an Oriental scientist, magician, sorcerer, or wise men. They interpreted dreams, were fortunetellers and royal astronomers. The gospel writer, Matthew, referred to them as ma’goi, or magi.


How Did the Wise Men Become Involved in the Birth of Jesus?

Many territories around Bethlehem had close links with King Herod, including the Parthian Kingdom. They knew Herod as a treacherous king who committed many murders, including his wife, her brother, and father, many friends, and military leaders. He didn’t trust anyone.

Image of King Herod courtesy of Wikipedia

The day arrived when the wise men appeared in Jerusalem, and they began asking questions around town. They wanted to know where they could find the new King of the Jews. A major stir developed because people believed their earthly king was Herod.

When Herod learned of the chatter, he became furious because he was the only king of the land. He approached Jewish religious leaders who told Herod what was written in God’s word. They told him the Messiah would be born in the town of Bethlehem:

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” Micah 5:2

Furious at the news, Herod secretly called a meeting with the wise men. They told King Herod they witnessed a star which they believed to be the prophecy of the Jewish King. (Many Christians conclude the wise men followed the star, but the Book of Matthew only says they SAW a star).

King Herod, the conniving leader he was, acted thrilled about the magi’s news, but he was seething inside. He sent them to Bethlehem to find the Messiah.

“Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” Matthew 2:8


The Magi’s Journey

The Gospel of Matthew does not place the wise men at the birth of Jesus. It is written they arrived at a house with a young Jesus, by His mother’s side. It’s estimated He was about forty days old to two years of age, but not in a manger. They dropped to their knees and gave praise to the new Savior.

Image courtesy of FreeBibleImages.org

The evening of the magi’s visit, David, the archangel, paid a visit to the wise men. He warned them not to return to Herod, and he also told Joseph that night to pack up his family and move to Egypt for safety.

The wise men “departed into their own country another way.” (Matthew 2:12) Realizing he was snubbed by the magi, King Herod madly ordered the death of every boy between the ages of birth and two years old. He thought he would find the Messiah, but not before his death.


How Wise Were They?

I believe they were quite wise men! The word wise means having good judgment. They studied the word of God and obeyed His commands, even though they were of another religion.

Are the three wise men fact or legend? We can decipher the answer by reviewing the written facts above, but there is one profound message in their story… wise people acknowledge their need for a Savior.


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Creating Creches

Last Christmas, my wife and I attended the largest private showing of manger scenes in the world. Made of every substance possible, I was in awe of their delicate beauty. I immediately knew we would have to collect nativity sets – I was hooked! The inspiring creches represented almost every country in the world, and every cost range too.

Nativities from all over the world – images owned by Bicks Books LLC

So, this year, as we began gathering topics for the Christmas blogs, I remembered the local church’s display of nativities. Detoured from my train of thought, I began searching the internet for sets made in Bethlehem. I couldn’t believe the splendor of these handmade creches of biblical olive trees. With my mind really ambling now, I wondered how long ago people made the sets, which signifies Jesus’ birth, thus today’s Christmas blog.

It surprised me to learn Saint Francis of Assisi, in 1223, created the first nativity scene in the town of Greccio, Italy.  He wanted to make an extraordinary experience for people who attended Mass at Christmas, and others who visited the area. But, his scene differed from those we purchase on the internet because he brought it to life!

Saint Francis of Assisi

Inspired by a recent trip to the Holy Land, he set up the Christmas scene in a cave just outside of town. It featured a wax figure of the baby Jesus, costumed people playing Mary and Joseph, a live donkey and ox, which a friend loaned St. Francis.

During the Mass, Francis told the Christmas story, then delivered a sermon. Afterward, many people strolled to the cave to watch a live enactment of the sacred event. He told the story of Mary and Joseph with tears and piety, and people responded with joy. His first manger scene became so popular that others soon followed his lead.

With time nativity sets evolved into an artisan craft. Today, the oldest set remains in Italy. Constructed in 1289, out of marble, it is attributed to Arnolfo di Cambio. He was an Italian architect and sculptor whose most famous work was the bronze statue of St. Peter now placed at St. Peters Basilica.

Creche sets of the 1300s were made of marble, wood, or terracotta. They placed most of them in chapels and churches for year-round displays. The most famous of these was a set carved in wood, in 1330, for the Poor Clare Sisters at the Convent of Saint Clare in Naples, Italy.

As Christianity progressed, Martin Luther used these holy scenes to counteract the pagan beliefs of Christmas trees. The creches became front and center of holiday celebrations for Christians.

Today, the tiny town of Bethlehem, in Connecticut, boasts a restored 300-year-old handcrafted nativity scene displayed in a barn on the grounds of a monastery. Thousands of people stream through the doors to view one of the country’s most exquisite artworks, dubbed the Rembrandt of creches. A coronation gift to the King of Sardinia in 1720, this masterpiece sits in a 15 by 10-foot area. The sixty-eight terracotta figures adorn colorful silks with gold embroidery. The creche is a lasting impression, for all walks of life are represented throughout the artwork. This must go on my bucket list!

Image owned by Robert Fenton Houser

Creating creches, whether in a live show or by the loving hands of true workmanship, will always remain the resounding reason for the season. They are a simple reminder of the humble King who would grow up to sacrifice His life on a cross for sinners. Let us never forget the gift of Jesus coming to earth to offer salvation to all people.

Be blessed!

www.danabicksauthor.com

An Acceptable Christogram

Three weeks before Christmas, I can remember the annual ritual of watching my mother write her holiday cards to friends and family members. She’d sign our name and below that she wrote, “Merry Xmas.” One year, I asked her what “Xmas” was, and she told me it was short for Christmas. She used to mail about 60 cards, so I could understand why she shortened it – I’d have writer’s cramp too!

I grew up seeing both written versions of this holiday name and never thought twice of any Christian implications; after all, my mother was a devout worshipper of God. But, this Christogram (an abbreviation for Jesus Christ) became a secular upheaval called the “War on Christmas.”

Many Christians take great offense to the use of the Greek word “Xmas” instead of Christmas, for they feel it takes Christ out of Christmas. Some call it blasphemous and disrespectful to the Lord, making Him anonymous. Modern etiquette discourages using the word as an abbreviation in formal writing. Style guides for some publications such as The New York Times, discourage using Xmas unless writing space is limited.

Well, a surprise to all Christians – “Xmas” has impeccable credentials! The “X” in this Christogram  represents the Greek letter ‘Chi’ which is the first letter of the Greek word for Christ, Christos. The English translation for Chi is “X,” and it represents the Messiah. Xmas’s second half, “mas,” means mass; thus, the whole word means Christ’s Mass. In Hebrew, Jehovah also has an abbreviation.

The Christogram, Xmas, has been abbreviated for at least 1,000 years. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle reveals “Christ” written as “Xp” or “Xt” as far back as 1021. So, how did this word become so prevalent in today’s times? I think we have the world of advertising to thank for this transition as Xmas fits perfectly in the narrowest of leaflets or shop windows. And it’s no coincidence the “X” looks similar to the cross. I think it is acceptable for Christians to write “Xmas” on their Christmas cards or social media sites. If faced with objections, explain why their criticism is unfounded, according to Christianity. Blaming the secularization of a religious holiday on the misconception of “Xmas,” reflects a misunderstanding of our history and language, don’t you agree?


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Flowers of the Holy Night

How often do you drive down a road and notice the plants and weeds growing along its edge? You might see them if they are shockingly beautiful, but otherwise – not so much. Would you ever think a Mexican roadside weed could become a symbol of Christmas, or be linked to Christianity?

Poinsettia, a name meaning “very beautiful,” grows as a weed in Mexico and Central America. They grow wild in a tall, stringy form, and the red flowers are actually not flowers. Similar to our Bougainvillea in the United States, its upper leaves turn red, and the tiny flowers grow in the middle of the bracts. Cultivated in a variety of colors now, an Aztec king once prized it. So, how did it become a favorite Christmas plant?

The Aztecs used to pull these weeds to make purple dye for clothes and cosmetics. They made the white sap in the stem into medicine to treat fevers. In 1825, Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first ambassador from the USA to Mexico, owned greenhouses on plantations in South Carolina. He began growing these plants and sent them to friends and botanical gardens.

Image of Joel Roberts Poinsett courtesy of scencyclopedia.org

Joel’s friend, Robert Buist of Philadelphia, fell in love with the plants when he received one. He began selling them as cut flowers, using the name of Poinsettias. By the early 1900s in America, they sold whole plants for landscaping and pot plants nationwide.

Albert Ecke, a German immigrant, increased the availability of poinsettias in America when he sent cuttings by air instead of fully grown plants by rail. By this time, the Ecke family had a profuse inventory of single-stem plants. His grandson, Paul Ecke, Jr., was strong in marketing, and he developed a brilliant idea for the poinsettias. Why not send them to early television shows so they can be a backdrop during the holidays?

So, they shipped thousands of plants to the Dinah Shore, Bob Hope, and The Tonight Show programs. The public went crazy over the burst of color on the Christmas shows, and their popularity was born. Throughout most of the 20th century, the Ecke family crop accounted for over ninety percent of all poinsettias sold in the United States. The US Congress even deemed December 12 as National Poinsettia Day to commemorate the date of Poinsett’s death.

As Christianity quickly spread across the Americas, Mexicans became the first people to celebrate the holiday flower’s Christian meaning. They saw its red leaves as a symbol of deep love and the blood of Jesus at His crucifixion. Today, the poinsettia, with its star-shaped foliage pattern, is used consistently in churches at Christmastime, for it is thought it resembles the Star of Bethlehem.

I’m ending today’s blog with the Legend of the Poinsettia for your reading enjoyment. Be sure to join us again on Sunday, November 24, for the next “Everything Christmas Blog.” God bless!

*************

The Legend of the Poinsettia

Pepita, a poor Mexican girl, had no gift to present the Christ Child at Christmas Eve Services. As Pepita walked slowly to the chapel with her cousin Pedro, her heart was filled with sadness rather than joy.

“I am sure, Pepita, that even the most humble gift, if given in love, will be acceptable in His eye,” said Pedro.

Not knowing what else to do, Pepita knelt by the roadside and gathered a handful of common weeds, fashioning them into a small bouquet. Looking at the scraggly bunch of weeds, she felt more saddened and embarrassed than ever by the humbleness of her offering. She fought back a tear as she entered the small village chapel.

As she approached the alter, she remembered Pedro’s kind words: “Even the most humble gift, if given in love, will be acceptable in His eyes.” She felt her spirit lift as she knelt to lay the bouquet at the foot of the nativity scene.

Suddenly, the bouquet of weeds burst into blooms of brilliant red, and all who saw them were certain they witnessed a Christmas miracle right before their eyes.

From that day on, the bright red flowers were known as the Flores de Noche Buena, or Flowers of the Holy Night, for they bloomed each year during the Christmas season.


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The Schwan Christmas Tree

The year was 1843, and Heinrich Christian Schwan was a newly ordained minister. Six years later, Heinrich and his new wife, Emma Blum, moved to the United States from Horneburg, Germany (a province of Hanover). The Puritan practices were all but gone in the U.S., so he was free to preach Christianity and practice his childhood traditions from Europe. Zion Lutheran Church, in Cleveland, Ohio, was the perfect start.

On Christmas Eve 1851, the first winter storm of the season hit, and Rev. Schwan decided it was time to put a tree up in his church. He wasn’t sure how well it would be received by parishioners, but he took the risk. Most of his congregation were from Germany, so he was pretty sure they had seen a Christmas tree. (The U.S. did not formally celebrate the holiday until 1870).

Rev. Schwan and his wife made the garland of colored paper and used cookies, nuts, and candles to decorate the beautiful large tree. It was important to share his happiness of the birth of the Christ Child. The next morning, as the congregation arrived for the Christmas service, mixed reactions filtered throughout the church. Some were delighted to see the tree, yet others were offended and angry.

Within a couple of days, the Schwan Christmas tree was headline news, but it wasn’t positive. A prominent newspaper called it “nonsensical, moronic absurdity, and silly.” The media even suggested the church be shunned for idolatry practices. Rev. Schwan was devastated, for he thought it expressed joy. He couldn’t believe many people considered it to be sacrilegious, so he began making inquiries to fellow clergymen about Christmas trees.

A letter arrived one day from the Imgaard family in Wooster, Ohio. Lighting a Christmas tree was part of their family tradition since 1847! So, the following year, Rev. Schwinn met with the community leaders and his congregation to share this news. He convinced them it was not pagan or wicked.

On the eve of Christmas, 1852, another tree blazed in the Zion Lutheran Church. As fate would have it, decorated trees began popping up all over town, and within five years, they appeared all over the country.

It was believed for a very long time, the Schwan Christmas tree was the first to appear in a church in America. However, we found facts that show Rev. John Muehlhaeuser of Rochester, New York, used a tree in his church as early as 1840. However, it was placed there to charge admission and raise money for his building. Today we read that they used Christmas trees in churches in Philadelphia, in 1834, and Fort Dearborn in 1804. Pastor Schwan is fully responsible, though, for gaining the widespread acceptance of Christmas trees in the church. His pastorate later continued by serving many years as the president of the Evangelical Lutheran School of Missouri.

Image courtesy of readtheplaque.com, Bryan Arnold

I would like to touch on the pagan roots of Christmas trees. Using Jeremiah 10:2-4, some Christians believe the following verse maintains their position that Christmas trees are pagan…

“Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen… For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.”

May I say the Christian belief is the Christmas tree is merely a symbol. To be considered idolatry, it has to be worshiped like God. We do not place our trust in a piece of wood – this is ridicules! Christians need to follow their conscience, though, when deciding if they want to use a Christmas tree. For sure, it should not be a debate that divides us.


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A Christmas Celestial Event

A perfect scene… a star like none other, sitting above a stable in the peaceful night, and it’s announcing the birth of a holy Messiah. The Gospel of Matthew was the only book in the Bible that described “The Star of Bethlehem” occurrence.

Matthew 2:2

“…and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

What did the wise men witness in the sky that night? Was it real? Was it a star, a comet, or something else? The magi were skilled astrologers and scholars, so their fixation was not in the stars, but on large astronomical events which they believed would predict something happening. But why were they the only men to witness and describe a star guiding them? If they were well trained then why didn’t they understand what they saw in the sky?

Many astrologers of 2,000 years ago, the Chinese, Korean, and Babylonians, documented the heavens because they placed predictions based on events. The writings recorded then, are in a constant review by our astronomers today, and theories abound. But, one thing is for sure, no answer or explanation for this divine incident is clear. Here are the details I discovered, and you may come to your own conclusion.

I know little of astronomy, but for certain, stars do not move relative to themselves. Planets continuously shift through the solar system. Based on this, how did the sacred star move, leading the magi to Bethlehem? One theory suggests a heliacal rising. The planets Jupiter and Venus lapped each other while moving through the background stars. If the sun caught up to one of the planets, the planet would disappear until the sun moved far enough away from it. Then it would reappear shockingly bright in the sky, just before sunrise. Historical records show this exact occurrence on April 17 of 6 BC to December 19 of 6 BC. But, this natural alignment of planets, sun, and earth would not create a long, extended tail to the ground such as the one described by the magi.

A second theory suggests a comet. This seems to be the most logical explanation because it can hang over a city or land mass as did Halley’s Comet on March 8, 1986. Historical astronomy records revealed a tailed comet in the timeframe of the magi’s travels, and it lasted for seventy days. However, from Jerusalem’s vantage point, the comet would have been in the southern sky with the head close to the horizon and the tail pointing upward. The magi described the “Star of Bethlehem” as one they never seen before and comets were frequent visitors in their galaxy. So, as scholarly astrologers, why couldn’t the magi tell the difference between a comet and a star? Apparently, something confused their decision.

A final theory suggests the birth of a star, known as a nova. It certainly matched the biblical description. Once again, Chinese historical records reveal a new star was born in the northern constellation of Aquila in 4 BC. During the time the three wise men traveled from Jerusalem, the star would have lit their sky south into Bethlehem and not in the west. This explains why no one else witnessed this bright star. However, the star did not move, and it certainly didn’t stand over the city of Bethlehem; nor would it have stayed bright for the one to two years they took to find Jesus.

Revealing all the facts described in this blog, I will stand on my own theory. The Star of Bethlehem was an incredible act of God and one created for a unique purpose. God can use natural law to carry out His will because He is not bound by the laws He created for this world. When you think of the whole miraculous event of Jesus’s birth, a special star is not beyond His scope.

What do you think?


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