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I'm a Midwestern boy. So, aside from a fistful of Christmas's spent with my grandparents in eastern Tennessee, I'm very used to spending the holiday in Iowa, Illinois or Michigan, all places that are known to have snow in December. But, the year 2020 marks yet another first time for something in my life.


COVID-19 cases in our children's school district, as well as state restrictions, seem to be ramping up while the temperatures drop and the sky clouds. Wanting to get away from it all, my wife and I made an unprecedented decision: we would have our children attend school completely online, my wife and I would still work online, and we would relocate and rent a house in warmer weather for a month. We drove almost 1200 miles to a place with palm trees and saltwater, and we don't know if our minivan will make it back. I'm still getting used to seeing snowman lights next to palm trees and green grass.


Perhaps Christmas is when us Christians will the most strongly feel the absence of in-person church gatherings the most. Some churches have a lot of expectations to meet for programming. Other churches may not even have a Christmas Eve service. But many churches have shown resource and creativity in response to the U.S. government guidelines, and sometimes the resulting "homemade" approach has served a congregation well, even better.


But it's still weird. My family will very likely watch a Christmas Eve service online. No passing candles. No smorgasbord of red/green apparel. And there's no way I can pull off a successful Santa prank this year. This isn't a vacation. We're still working or going to school full-time. Only on the weekends could we enjoy the "sights," but just the sights, as it isn't swimmable or warm sand type of weather at this time of year.


But, like mature church leaders, our family is doing what needs to be done and creatively making the best out of the situation.


I couldn't help but think about how Mary and Joseph felt on their way to Bethlehem. Did they want to go? Probably not. Did they, carrying an illegitimate child, still have the respect and support of their families? We don't know. And it couldn't have been easy to travel 75 miles in that place and time. Like my family, they may have found temporary housing among palm trees from complete strangers. The good news is that it wasn't difficult for a son of David (Joseph) to find housing from a fellow Jew in the town of David (Bethlehem). The bad news is that the guestroom (not "inn") of the house was occupied, so Mary and Joseph lived in the house's den, dominantly used as a farm stable in that culture.


I imagine, every once in a while, Mary or Joseph might have stepped back and said, "What in the world are we doing?" Sometimes my wife or I have done that. But Mary and Joseph were faithful to God's call. I imagine they were very comforted by the surprise visit from the informed shepherds.


So, what the original Christmas story and 2020 have shown us is that following God's call can be a risky undertaking that defies what's logical, practical and plausible. But the surprise rewards will be unimaginable.

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Screenshots from daviddotymusic.com

David Doty, about whom I've previously posted, is a composer, pastor and hymn-writer. Most recently, he's released solo piano arrangements of Christmas carols and also lyric videos of two Christmas carols in Chinese. You can access David's website here and become a Patreon subscriber here.

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When I was serving at a church in Wisconsin, the senior pastor produced an Advent sermon series entitled "'Twere The Days Before Christmas," dwelling on the historical and cultural context and the events leading up to Jesus's birth and based on the famous poem "'Twas the Night Before Christmas." It didn't end up fitting into the sermon series execution, but we did involve it in a Christmas play I produced. Poem is below:


‘Twere the days before Christmas, when all ’round David’s towns

Not an Israelite was smiling, but more likely to frown.

Zechariah laid the incense by the altar with care,

Frightened to see the angel Gabriel there.


For God made a promise to the elderly gent 

A Spirit-filled baby will lead many to repent.

He will shout from the wilderness, ‘Prepare ye the way.

‘Be righteous and charitable as we wait for the day.’


He’d be dressed in camel hair, from his head to his foot,

Eating locusts, wild honey and never staying put.

Zechariah’s son’s message would cause the rich strife,

And immerse the lowly and unholy in new life. 


For Zechariah’s son, John would be his name, 

Would bring God’s righteousness and saving plan to fame.

John’s birth would be one of many miracles to come,

But because Zechariah doubted, he then became mum.


But though Zechariah could not speak of his glee,

his wife Elizabeth praised God for pregnancy.

Though the land was morose under Caesar’s quick sword,

There was then a sense of hope in the Lord.


Then, in Nazareth where hearts are gloom-laden

The same angel appeared to a humble young maiden

Her name was Mary; she was celibate and lowly

But she would give birth to One Most Holy.


His name would be Jesus, meaning ‘one who saves’

He would rescue many bound for a perennial grave

For His kingdom’s rule would never be undone      

And He would be called God’s very own Son


Mary was frightened and joyful at once

But submitted herself to God at this bunce

With haste, she trekked miles, perhaps more than a dozen

To see Elizabeth, who was also her cousin


When Mary saw Elizabeth, John jumped in her womb

For joy was tangible in that little room

Then Mary composed a psalm of great praise

For His humble servants the Lord would raise


Later John was born, but his name still debated

And the mute Zechariah became quite frustrated

He wrote ‘John’ on a tablet, giving the final word

And his voice then came back, everyone shockingly heard


Zechariah then went from priest to prophet

And spoke of his newborn’s God-given docket

Along with the salvation that God would afford

And everyone in Judea had fear of the Lord


Then back in Nazareth, Mary’s betrothed then heard

From Caesar, that another census was spurred.

So Joseph and Mary, in her maternity gown,

Would trek to Bethlehem, Joseph’s hometown.


The carpenter and his gravid fiancee packed all day,

and hopped on a donkey for a small place to stay.

Their loved ones watched until they trekked out of sight,

Shrugging, “Safe travels and have a good night!”


Though it seemed to many that God’s world had crumbled

He was, in fact, blessing families faithful but humble

Through a miraculous conception and an incarnate birth

This is how God would come save the earth

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