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A Christmas Wrap

Dear friends,                                                         January 2012                                                                                        

I write this January LifeSharer letter in a home, quite neat and attractive and warm, yet a home that will seem understandably dull for a few days. You see, Claire has just finished taking down Christmas. And until we adjust to the new atmosphere, we will sigh in remembrances of what it has looked like these last couple of months. For put away now are the ribbons, wreaths, nativity sets, lights, the two big Christmas trees, the Christmas throws and  pillows, the poinsettias, the snow globes, the holly, the reindeer, the framed puzzles, the vintage posters from the  Georgetown (Colorado) Christmas Festival, the candles...

I could go on. Indeed, I believe that Claire makes our little cottage about the most Christmassy place south of Santa's workshop! 

Yes, the house is lovely in its present state with the Carol Coppi paintings, the Edward Hopper prints and the various artwork that I've picked up from Belarus, Russia, Poland, Burkina Faso, India (and so on) back on the walls. But it's different. 

However, we rejoice that the spirit of Christmas need not be packed away with the trees and the tinsel.

Oh no, the Christian has both the obligation (and, thank God, the spiritual power) to keep Christmas alive and kicking every day of the year. Remember the converted Ebenezer Scrooge? "He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew...and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.  May that be truly said of us." Amen to that. 

With that introduction, however, let me admit that our Christmas experiences of the winter months are always something very special. And boy, do we pack 'em in. As you might remember, Claire and I got the Christmas season started early with a working vacation down in Branson the first week of November where, among other things, we attended a play called "A Christmas Snow," went to the Christmas concert of the Lennon Sisters, enjoyed the lovely lights and decorations that were all around town, visited extended family nearby and celebrated our 40th anniversary. And later in November, our annual weekend retreat with our book club down in Nebraska City was full of Christmas too. 

But once December came round, we really hit our stride. We put together a couple of Christmas-themed jigsaw puzzles, started planning our parties, ran off lyrics to Christmas carols to be sung outside the abortion mill, played seasonal favorites on the CD and phonograph, started preparing Christmas-themed sermons for Faith Bible Church, etc. Claire decorated the house. We strung lights on the front yard pine tree. We suspended green wreaths on each of the silver maples and another on the garage. The nativity scene was set up in the yard. We were ready to go. 

The schedule from then on was pretty much a whirl as mixed in with all of our other Vital Signs duties (and despite an exposed nerve from a cracked tooth that haunted me for a couple of weeks), we managed to season a whole lot of things with a little Christmas flavor. For instance? 

* On the several occasions in December and early January when we were praying and sidewalk counseling in front of Planned Parenthood, we also sang Christmas carols together. It was a way we could express a joyful witness of the "good news of a great joy for all people" while also waging spiritual warfare. And, believe me, there are a whole lot of verses in those ancient Christmas carols that take on a new relevance and power when sung in that context. 

* Christmas was the theme of the four Sunday morning sermons I preached in December at Faith Bible Church: “The First To Hear,” “The Bethlehem Scene,” “Gifts,” and “The Providence of Christmas.” 

* I spoke about the Christmas shepherds (Luke Chapter 2) to three groups of kids at the AWANA Club at Country Bible Church in Blair. 

* We added a bit of Christmas seasoning to several other meetings: the quarterly meeting of the Vital Signs Ministries Governing Board, a fundraising dinner for Don Stenberg which featured Ed Meese as speaker, and the December gathering of our longstanding book club. Also, for several other social activities, Claire made sure there were always plenty of cookies to go round!

* We wrote a whole lot of thank you notes and other messages to friends during December. And, in doing so, you guessed it, we used Christmas cards and stationery instead of normal stuff. 

* Claire and I hosted 9 evening dinner parties. We also served as hosts for Claire's annual Christmas tea for the girls in her family, the traditional Christmas Eve breakfast in Lincoln for the Aylward family members that can make it, and maybe a half dozen simpler, more personal conversations over coffee. 

* We served a Christmas Day dinner for 18 guests.

* As the guests of Quint and Carol Coppi, we attended a "Holiday Under Glass" luncheon at the Joslyn Art Museum which featured exquisite performances by three different choirs from Central High School. 

* We watched Christmas movies; read Christmas poetry and stories; and listened to not only our favorite Christmas albums but a couple of new ones too. Claire and I also managed a few quiet meals out together, including a delicious and kinda’ fancy New Year’s Eve dinner at Dolce. 

* We braved the crowds three times on brief shopping excursions. One was to Scheels; a second was to Target; and the third involved browsing through the Boy's Town gift shop after we had breakfast at the cafeteria there. 

* Claire and I were invited to address a special gathering of Christian families out near Lindsey, Nebraska, about 2 and a half hours away. We met in a large home that had been transformed from a schoolhouse – complete with gymnasium! Very neat. As requested, I spoke about the Christian’s obligation to promote the sanctity of life, to honor and care for our elders, and the importance of family and intergenerational interaction. We had a truly wonderful time. And yes, I managed to season even this talk with a bit of Christmas sentiment. 

* We promoted (and personally participated in) Voice of the Martyrs' Christmas Care project in which gospel materials and school helps were sent to children in countries where the Church is experiencing direct persecution. Provisions were also sent to evangelists and pastors in those same countries. 

* Throughout most of December I posted several items daily on Vital Signs Blog and I made sure there were a lot of them that dealt with Christmas themes. We know from previous years that those are especially popular and the traffic counter suggested that was again the case this year. 

* This December an audio file of "Chesterton and Christmas" (a presentation I delivered at the annual conference of the American Chesterton Society in St. Paul, Minnesota a few years ago) was offered by the ACS on their website as a free gift to reward those who purchased material there...and just to be nice to those who didn't buy anything! It was most definitely an honor to be of service to them. 

And last but not least… Claire’s and my Christmas season was absolutely chock full of “When Swing Was King.” (Next page.)

* Chock full, indeed! We gave 17 presentations (that’s right, 17) of the Christmas edition of "When Swing Was King." The Christmas edition involves the same type of music we feature every month (big bands and classic crooners) but there's no doubt it is special in several ways. It is more visually stunning. More emotional. More profound. The repertoire includes festive favorites like Duke Ellington's "Jingle Bells," Woody Herman's "Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town,' and Judy Garland's "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" as well as some of the most profound carols: "Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem" by Frank Sinatra, "Silent Night" by the Glenn Miller Orchestra, "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" by Perry Como, "O, Holy Night" by the Mills Brothers and "Oh, Come All Ye  Faithful" by the Guy Lombardo Orchestra.

So, as you can see by the above list, we were as busy in December as elves – and maybe even happier. For we love Christmas and we love the challenge of bringing the theological truths, the wondrous and beautiful mysteries, and the special joys that Christmas brings into all areas of our life…including our various pro-life ministries. 

It is the best way to fight back in the culture’s war on Christmas – not merely by stiffly insisting that the school, the city or the local bank celebrate the holiday but by we Christians doing so. And with fervency, creativity and waves of good cheer. It is our winsome witness that is the most potent weapon in that war, showing as it does what a world-shaking event that birth in Bethlehem was 2,000 years ago AND what a life-changing power the living Christ still has today. 

Okay, that’s the Christmas report for this year, my friends. Let’s now make sure that the Christmas (and Easter!) spirit lives strong and glorious in us all throughout 2012. May God bless us all in mighty ways this year and, in turn, may He use His Church to bless the world around us.

Coming up for Vital Signs in the next few weeks?  Besides the usual (blogging, the WSWK programs, the presence at the abortion clinic, etc.) there’s more work with Nebraskans Against Planned Parenthood (the new website is almost ready to upload), a L’Abri conference in Minnesota, the annual Walk for Life in Lincoln on Saturday, January 28 (to which you and your church should seriously consider participating in) and the next Book It! discussion of Saving Leonardo by Nancy Pearcey on February 7. 

We will also be sending letters out to several pastors soon, asking them about letting us help create a letter-writing ministry for their respective churches.  We will prepare and host the first one for each congregation and, if they agree that it’s a worthwhile way to lift up Christ’s Name in the public square, they will then take it over themselves.  We all pray that churches will find their voice on the crucial issues of our day – this is an excellent way to do just that.  So please pray that it works.  And, if you’d like to help get something started in your church, let us (and your pastor) know!

Until next month, keep in regular touch with us on Vital Signs Blog.