The Twelfth Day of Christmas

On the eve of Epiphany there are a multitude of sounds to consider

On this twelfth day of Christmas,
I’m listening for the percussive rhythm
of twelve drummers drumming.
But I don’t hear it.

I don’t even hear the familiar melody
of that traditional song
that calls attention to (among other things)
five golden rings,
three French hens
and a partridge in a pear tree.

Perhaps I’m barking up the wrong tree.
It’s entirely possible.
The recent “blizzard of the century”
that blanketed upstate New York
in an unprecedented snowfall
unleashed the sounds of sirens
from emergency vehicles
helping the despairing
and searching for the missing.

Rather than twelve drummers,
what’s drumming in my head
are the snares of holiday travel
that kept families separated
from one another this season.

I’m aware of the sighs and tears
that punctate the pain and grief
of those facing this new year
without a loved one
who left through the doorway of death
in recent days.

I’m hearing the cacophony
of chaotic concerns
related to the recent upticks
in COVID variants.

I’m listening to the constant
(and as-yet unanswered)
prayers for peace in Ukraine
while those in Ukraine
hear the scream of rockets overhead
and the scream of victims on the ground.

My ears embrace the sounds of suffering
from terminally-ill kids in cancer wards
in children’s hospitals
as well as the muffled weeping
of countless women who regret their decision
to abort their unborn baby.

I can’t help but hearing the sounds
of praying parents and grandparents
calling out to God on behalf of those they love
who are making self-destructive choices
or suffering the consequences of mindless decisions
made in haste.

And on this day before Epiphany,
when we will
at long last
celebrate the magi’s arrival
at their longed-for destination,
I also hear an infant’s cry.

It is a cry that echoes down the hallway
of two millennia.
It is the cry of empathy and understanding.
God-with-us is with us, indeed.

What if Jesus Had Never Been Born?

A short story by Philip Van Doren Stern became a screenplay we know as “It’s a Wonderful Life”

When Philip Van Doren Stern’s 4,000-word short story “The Greatest Gift” failed to impress a prospective publisher, the writer and Civil War historian decided to print it himself. He sent it out as his Christmas card to family and friends in December 1943. The story had to do with a despondent man contemplating suicide who is given the opportunity to see what the world would have been like had he never been born.

One of those who happened upon this unique Christmas greeting was Hollywood director Frank Capra who bought the movie rights to the story for $10,000. Capra adapted The Greatest Gift into a screenplay and gave Stern’s story a new title. It’s a Wonderful Life was released as a motion picture in December, 1946.

What originated as a Christmas card became a movie released at Christmastime. And each Christmastime, It’s a Wonderful Life is shown multiple times. If it wasn’t for Christmas, we would never know the story of George Bailey. But more significantly, without Christmas our world would be drastically different.

British writer C. S. Lewis imagined such a dark, Christ-less planet in his brilliant children’s story The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The world he conceived he called Narnia. Paralyzed under the frozen spell of the White Witch, it is a world in which it is “always winter but never Christmas.”

A world in which it is always winter but never Christmas would be a world in which the mail carrier stuffs your box with bills, bank statements, and third-class junk. No Christmas would mean no Christmas cards or caroling or gift giving. The world would be devoid of twinkling lights and festive decorations. By definition, a world without Christmas would be a world without Jesus.

The shock George Bailey felt as he wandered into the dark and depraved city limits of Pottersville is nothing when compared with what we would feel if our sin-infested planet had been denied the “Light of the World.” What worked as a brilliant literary motif in Stern’s story works as a startling exercise for those tempted to approach their faith casually. We would do well to ponder what our world would be like had Jesus Christ never been born.

If Jesus had never been born, not only would there be no Christmas, there would be no Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Mardi Gras, Easter, Halloween, or Thanksgiving. Each one of those popular American holidays is based on (or somehow tied to) Christianity. But a world without Jesus would have even greater implications.

Can you imagine a world without the artistic masterpieces of the Renaissance largely influenced by the Christian message? Can you imagine a world without a boat named the Mayflower transporting victims of religious persecution to the New World determined to populate a land where faith could be freely practiced? Can you imagine a world without William Wilberforce and his Christian witness against slavery in Britain’s Parliament?

Can you imagine a world without George Frederic Handel’s immortal oratorio Messiah? Can you imagine science textbooks that do not include the findings of Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Descartes, Pascal, Newton, Faraday, and Mendel all of whom embraced the Christ of history and were shaped by his teachings?

Can you imagine a world without universities like Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and many others that were founded by Christians to train Christians? Can you imagine a world without Clara Barton and the lifesaving efforts that came from her Red Cross?

Can you imagine a world without General William Booth and his army of soldiers fighting on the frontlines of homelessness, hunger, and poverty? Can you imagine a world without Bill Wilson’s Twelve Steps or his Big Blue Book or the countless lives who have regained sobriety through the organization called Alcoholics Anonymous?

And furthermore, if Jesus had never been born, we would not have the assurance of forgiveness and confidence of the Creator’s acceptance and the wonderful life we were created to experience.

*This article is excerpted from “Finding God in It’s a Wonderful Life” by Greg Asimakoupoulos.

Greg’s book,
Finding God in
It’s a Wonderful Life
is listed on the
BOOKS menu
at $2.99-$14.99
Lulu Books.

Thank God for Lucy!

December 13 is the feast day of Saint Lucia

A young girl born in Italy
would be remembered ‘cross the sea
for how she served humanity
without concern for honor.

With glowing candles on her head,
Lucia followed where God led
to comfort those she also fed
with saffron buns and coffee.

Her flickering flames would light the way
to where those jailed for faith would pray.
And so we honor her today
by serving those in crisis.

Don’t Let Balance Die!

A grave marker in a Chicago cemetery is a call to keep balance alive in our lives during this hectic holiday season

Earlier this fall I was attending a leadership summit in a suburb of Chicago. Following our sessions one afternoon, I went for a power walk before dinner. Adjacent to the conference center was a cemetery.  Because reading old headstones in a graveyard is one of my favorite pastimes, my aspirations of getting my heartrate up gave in to my curiosity as I looked down at the markers.

One tombstone in particular captured my attention. It marked the final resting place for a family by the name of Balance. Balance? Really? I’d never seen that word as a name before.  For one whose mind delights in word play and double entendres, I had to smile. Balance was dead.

Before me was living proof that balance had been a casualty of life. What was relationally true for this Chicago-area family, has been emotionally true for me at times in the past when my schedule was out of control. And I know I’m not alone. Balance is that easy-going, less-than-obvious, reality that doesn’t call attention to itself. We tend to take it for granted. We don’t realize how key it is to a happy life until it’s gone.

When balance bites the dust, panic thrives. Life becomes chaotic. A kind of grief sets in. Inner peace plays hide-and-seek.  When balance has ceased to be a reality in our lives, the consequences are endless. They include debt, illness, depression, a short temper, drug use, alcohol abuse and over-eating.

If ever there is a time when taking urgent care of balance is critical, it’s now. This is the season of the year when maintaining a healthy balance between demands and desires is at-risk. Advent, Hanukkah and Christmas can easily find balance on life-support.

Just looking at my own schedule at work is enough to rob balance of its breath. There is a tree-lighting ceremony, a St. Lucia breakfast, a poetry reading tea, four holiday concerts, three Advent lectures, two staff parties and an all-campus carol sing-a-long. (Were you expecting a partridge in a pear tree?)

And then there’s my own personal calendar of writing the family Christmas letter, addressing the Christmas cards, shopping for family members and workmates, wrapping those gifts and helping my wife decorate the house.

Add to all of the above the fact that Christmas Day falls on Sunday this year. Bah! Humbug! Once again, a day meant to be spent with family is threatened by the demands of the church calendar. Without an infusion of creativity, balance is definitely headed for the intensive care unit.

Your schedule is likely just as complicated. The commitments on your calendar may be different than mine, but the outcome is equally as stressful. With apologies to Dr. Seuss, it’s not the Grinch we have to worry about. It’s the lack of balance that threatens to steal Christmas (and ultimately our health).

To that end may I suggest reflecting on the lyrics of one of my most-loved contemporary carols. In “Breath of Heaven” (written by Chris Eaton and recorded by Amy Grant) there is recognition of the weight waiting for Christmas finds us carrying as well as the pressures that cause us to stoop navigating life in a less-than-perfect world.

I am waiting in a silent prayer. I am frightened by the load I bear, In a world as cold as stone. Must I walk this path alone?  Be with me now.

In silent prayer and honest reflection, we just might find guidance in how to reduce the activities that typically define our December. We just might discover that Immanuel (God-with-us) is with us providing us the means to keep balance alive.

In the case of Christmas Day being on Sunday, for me there is hope. Balance will not succumb this year to the life-threatening complications with which I have to contend every six years. With the concurrence of colleagues, we decided to pre-record our Christmas Day worship service and broadcast it on our closed-circuit television channel a few times on Sunday. A hack we discovered during COVID proves helpful once again.

Now, what other ways can I simplify this season?

It’s a Wonderful (Amazing) Life!

New words to Amazing Grace inspired by an old movie

A wonderful life
God’s given us
through friends and family.
Each morning breaks
with hope anew
like waves upon the sea.

There’s beauty in
a walk at dawn
and geese upon a pond.
Our lives are blessed
by thoughts of times
with loved ones who are gone.

There’s wonder in
a moonlit night
and in a child’s face.
Our blessings morph
to grateful hearts
and hymns that praise God’s grace.

Greg’s book,
Finding God in
It’s a Wonderful Life
is listed on the
BOOKS menu
at $2.99-$14.99
Lulu Books.