Tag Archives: christmas

A Stranger in the World

5 Dec

There’s something about over-the-top gaudiness that humors me.  Whether it’s an inappropriately huge Christmas tree decked out so many ornaments it leans to one side or a neighbor’s lawn covered in inflatables, I just have to laugh.  Christmas seems to bring out the glitter, the glam, the glitz, and the gluttony we’ve been hiding all year long.

I’m not sure Jesus’ birth was ever intended to cause so much “celebration.” It was a quiet affair—father, mother, and child, a heavenly host, and some of the lowliest shepherds.  A year later, the wise men appeared bearing three gifts.  All in all, it was not a very grand affair for the Lord of Heaven and Earth—at least to the naked eye.  The birth of William and Kate’s little prince garnished more notice.

It’s just a story we tell, isn’t it?  Right along with The Grinch Who Stole Christmas and The Polar Express.  We live in a world where Jesus birth is as much a fable as the story of St. Nick—more legend than actual Bible truth.  So, then, why does it surprise us when we see the world expressing itself as only the world can?

For example, earlier this week on Facebook I posted a picture of a nativity (see about) composed of Star Wars and Star Trek characters, other alien entities, and a gallantly posed Batman figurine flexing atop the crèche.  It drew some chuckles, likes, and cries of sacrilege.

But, to me, it perfectly illustrated Jesus’ birth, whether or not the creator of this particular nativity intended it to be.  John 1: 10 came to mind, “He [Jesus] came into the very world He created, but the world didn’t recognize Him.” We didn’t recognize Him.  The world had no idea who He was, and it’s still missing Him!

To many, Jesus’ birth seems that alien, that inexplicable, and that ridiculous.  The story of Immanuel (God -With-Us) is so insane that it might as well be added in the madness of the holiday season.  A nativity scene nestled between Elf on a Shelf and a pink glitter reindeer—it just seems to make sense.

And yet it makes no sense at all.

On the holiest of nights, Heaven kissed Earth producing a small, helpless baby who would save us all.  Heroes usually have an epic birth story and the gospels tell the story of Jesus.  An otherworldly humanoid sent by His Father.

It’s almost like Superman’s backstory.  His home planet was being destroyed, so Superman’s mother and father packed their baby boy into a capsule, which crash landed in middle of nowhere America.  Taken in by a farmer and his wife, Superman’s humble origins didn’t hold him back from becoming a shy, big city reporter named Clark Kent who moonlighted as Superman.  With one exception, Superman came to earth to save his life, but Jesus came to give His life away.

That’s a nice story, isn’t it?  But how could it possibly be true?  It seems unbelievable.  So replacing Jesus with a screaming alien baby and the wise men with three Darth Vader’s, well, that’s just as ludicrous because it’s not true.

Unless it is.

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are full of true stories of people who missed who Jesus is and what He came to do.  Even Jesus’ most faithful followers didn’t understand His purpose, until they came face to face with their Risen Savior on a Sunday long ago.  If we who have been with Jesus face to face miss Him in our daily lives between soccer practice and Bible study and grocery shopping, then how can we ever expect a world that didn’t recognize Him to understand Him?  It’s nearly impossible to recognize someone you have never met.

Play “Jingle Bells,” drink egg nog, and wrap your gifts in lovely paper.  There’s nothing wrong with celebrating peace on earth and goodwill to mankind (Luke2:14).  Just remember, the world won’t always recognize Him; they won’t know Him.  But you can and you do.  Help others to look beyond snow globes, ugly sweater contests, and Secret Santa’s.

Celebrate His Birth. And laugh at the joy in the world, for it is about Him, even if the world forgets about the little alien stranger who came to dwell among us.

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The Choice Mary Made

12 Dec

Did Mary have a choice?  It’s a question we were batting around at Bible study last night as we discussed chapters 3-4 of Liz Curtis Higgs latest book, The Women of Christmas.  One of the ladies in my study—an older lady from England—passionately stated, “We are discussing this as though Mary had a choice.  The angel told her that she would bear a son and she accepted it.  What matters is how she accepted it.”  As the Bible study leader (and usually the youngest woman in the room), it delights me when one of the ladies in my group surprises me with stunning insight.  This was one of those moments.  We continued our discussion, but the words of this woman stayed with me far into the evening.  I am still pondering it.

What matters is how Mary accepted it.

Let’s take a quick look at Mary’s angelic encounter.  Luke 1: 26-28 (NIV) records the event:

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.  But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be calledthe Son of God.  Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month.  For no word from God will ever fail.”

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

Mary only asks one question: How will this be since I am a virgin?  She doesn’t say, “Why me?!” or “Are you kidding me?  Where’s the hidden camera?”  Only one question is recorded—how?  In The Women of Christmas,   Liz Curtis Higgs draws out this point considering that perhaps Mary’s youth made her less cynical, more hopeful, and more wide-eyed with wonder.  In this case, Mary let her words be few, while her cousin Zechariah the priest needed a sign when Gabriel appeared to him in the temple and told him that his barren wife, Elizabeth, would also bear a son. Zechariah was struck mute (and perhaps deaf) by the angel until the birth of the baby who would one day be called John the Baptist.  I suppose that was definitely a sign, but probably not the one Zechariah was hoping for.  (I try not to judge Zechariah too harshly because I’m not sure how I would react to an angelic visitor, especially since God hadn’t delivered a word to His people in 400 year silence between the Old and New Testament writings.)

I don’t know if Mary could have said no or what would have happened if she did say no.  This is one of those situations where I’m not sure how free will and God’s will intertwine.  God created Mary, so He undoubtedly already knew how she would react to Gabriel’s proclamation that she would be the virgin to bear the long-awaited Messiah.

But what if she had said no?  Could Mary have said, “No, you’ve got the wrong girl”?  Would there have been a Moses-like moment where God said that He created her womb, like He created Moses’ mouth?  If she had tried to flee, would God have brought her back with a Jonah and the big fish sort of event?  Could Mary have wrestled with an angel like Jacob? 

If Mary had said no, what would that mean for us?  Who would’ve carried the long-awaited Messiah?  Would we still be waiting for the God Man to break humanity’s curse? 

Of course, that’s if she could say no.  What choice did she have?  And here’s where the Word hits me in the heart because while it seemed that Mary was the girl chosen for the task, she did have a choice in how she would handle her situation.  She could’ve despaired about what Joseph might do, what her parents might think, and what the other women in Nazareth might say about her as they gossiped around the town well.  Undoubtedly, being human, Mary  may have had all these questions and concerns.  Her response though—a question and the acceptance that she was the Lord’s servant—is probably not the same reaction I would have.

I would think about what everyone would think of me my perfect plans for my good life had been ruined.  This isn’t what I want God and I don’t know why You would ask me to do this, to go through this, to live with this.    I can’t do this, God.  You’ve got the wrong girl.

Notice Gabriel’s words in Luke 1:27.  In the NLT version, Gabriel says, “For nothing is impossible with God.” He didn’t say nothing is impossible for God; he says with God.  God could do it all by Himself, but He chooses to do it with us, even in spite of ourselves.

With God, the impossible is possible for me.  For you.  For Mary.  For Elizabeth.

Perhaps I could take a cue from Mary, only a young teenager at this point in the story.  Instead of bemoaning my life’s circumstances, perhaps I could say, “How, God, will we do this together?” and “OK, God, I am Your servant.” I imagine that would make all the difference in how I react to various circumstances that come my way.

Often times we don’t get to choose what diseases befall us, what those closest to us will do to cause us pain, or how the world will beat us up.  But we can choose how we react, knowing and trusting nothing escapes God’s loving attention.  When baby Jesus was finally born and presented in the temple, Mary was told her blessing was a double-edged sword.  Her heart would be pierced, just as her Son would be pierced for our transgressions.  My sins and yours.  The world’s greatest gift also came with huge responsibility, pain, and suffering.

The choice, dear friends, is how we react, what we do with what God has given us—the good and the bad.  May we have the courage, like Mary, to say, “I am the Lord’s servant.”

Music Review:: Once A Year by Poema

13 Dec

Christmas is still weeks away and I’m trapped inside on a dreary December day.  Fortunately, I have Poema’s Christmas EP entitled “Once a Year” to keep my spirits high.  A pleasant little listen with five songs—two classics, two originals, and one other—sisters Shealeen and Elle’s album is a pretty little package.

I especially like Poema’s version of “Little Drummer Boy.”  It’s the first time I have ever heard female vocalists tackle the song.  The bands gentle vocals don’t overwhelm this song or their original tune “Wool Coats,” which make for enjoyable listening.

Only available digitally, this is one you don’t want to miss, especially since talented female singers can be scarce in this market.  Download the album and start enjoying Poema’s “Once a Year” today.

*Thank you to Overture Media and Tooth and Nail Records for my review copy of this album!*

UnWrapping Christmas with musician Josh Wilson

6 Dec

Yup, we used this pic last year. It's still great though, isn't it?

Musician extraordinaire Josh Wilson is a faithful friend.  Despite the fact he’s already participated in UnWrapping Christmas twice, he’s willing to go another round with Backseat Writer.  Fortunately, being the creative genius that he is, Josh provides fresh and insightful answers each and every year. Exciting things are on horizon as Josh’s new album is set for release in February 2011.  Currently, the album’s first single, “I Refuse,” is playing on Christian radio stations throughout the country.

Did you score any good deals on Black Friday? Is it a day of great deals or terrifying chaos?
I decided to continue my Black Friday tradition of sleeping in.  I scored the great deal of getting a massive amount of rest.

Where are you spending Christmas this year…and what are you looking most forward to?

I’m spending Christmas this year with my wife Becca’s family.  This will be my first Christmas with her family, so I’m most looking forward to learning about their traditions and getting to know her parents and siblings more.

What was the best Christmas gift you ever received? (Don’t say “Jesus” because that’s a given!)

The best Christmas gift I ever received was my Taylor guitar.  I had been saving up for the guitar for months, visiting the store daily to play it.  One day, it had disappeared from the wall and I was devastated.  On Christmas morning, the guitar showed up under the tree.  My dad had secretly bought the guitar for me.  I’ve had it 10 years, and it’s still my primary guitar.

Describe one of the most hilarious Christmases.

Looking back, this is hilarious to me, but I’m sure my parents hated it.  Growing up, my sisters and I would wake up at the crack of dawn on Christmas morning because we were so excited about what Santa had brought.  Our parents told us not to go in the living room until they were awake, because they didn’t want us to see the presents without them being there.  So we would stand in the hallway by our bedroom at 4:30 am and scream at the top of our lungs, “Moooooooom!!!  Daaaaaaaad!!!  Waaaaaake uuuuuuup!  Santa came!!!”  After 15 minutes or so, my parents would groggily come into the living room and let us see our presents.  We usually finished opening everything by 6am.

What’s your fave Christmas song/Christmas movie or cartoon/Christmas cookie?

Favorite Christmas song is probably “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”  Incredibly haunting melody.  Favorite movie is either Elf or Home Alone.  We watch them both every year.  Favorite Christmas cookies are my mom’s homemade sugar cookies.  My mouth is literally watering thinking about them right now.

New Year’s resolution—yes or no? If yes, what is your resolution?

As usual, my New Year’s resolution will be to make no New Year’s resolutions.  I’ve held to it every year.

Our Journey to Rehab

18 Dec

Today was one of those days where I didn’t expect anything too great or anything too bad to happen.  Since Christmas is only a week away, I’ve been working heartily on preparations for the big day.  That was until I called my friend, and I could there was a quiver in her voice.  I asked what was wrong and she told me about the happenings in her house.  The end result–I had to put my very ordinary plans on hold to take her sister (another good friend of mine) to a drug rehab center.  One week before Christmas.  And it’s an hour and a half away.

Being my best friend and co-conspirator in all things merry and not-so-merry, Sarah agreed to come along on the adventure as well.  We tearfully helped my friend’s belongings into her sister’s SUV and watched as she kissed her mom goodbye.  When they would see each other again was not known.  My friend needed help, and we were taking her to get it.  We waved goodbye and went on our way.  From the backseat of the car, I hastily sent a message to Twitter explaining that we needed prayers because we were taking a friend to get clean.

God answered your prayers!

The ride down was smooth and pleasant, except when one of the sisters would dissolve into tears or apologize for her behavior (sister #1 for taking her to rehab and sister #2 for having to go to rehab).  I tried to comfort the sisters, and the words I spoke and the calm in my heart soothed their gaping wounds, at least for the moment.  When we got there, sister #2 hesitated for a moment, but I grabbed her bags and urged her forward as sister #1 gathered the necessary paperwork.  I shot sister #2 a confident smile and led the way. 

Once we entered the facility, the kind staff were eager to help both of my friends–sister #2 as she did her intake for admission and sister #1 as she navigated through the insurance/co-pay nightmare.  Both sisters would come into the waiting room at various times, so Sarah and I entertained them with interesting facts from the Good Housekeeping and Family Circle magazines that were laying about.   It came time to say our goodbyes, and I couldn’t help but cry as I held my dear friend so close and told her that I was proud of her for making this choice to save her life.  I watched as the sisters locked together in a heartbreaking embrace as each one said, “I’m sorry” in breaking voices.  And then she was gone–for a week?  Two weeks?  A month?  Three months?  We’ve no idea, but we love her so much.

Sarah and I walked sister #2 to the car as she sobbed silently and puffed on a cigarette.  It had been a long, trying, and frustrating day for her.  Sarah took the wheel as we drove home–sometimes lost in our own thoughts, sometimes exchanging banter, and other times assuring our friend that she did the right thing for her sister.  No matter where we were in the conversation it went back to that:: “Did I do the right thing?” 

You did, my dear friend.  The strength and courage that you showed today amasz me.  Your maturity and ability to handle this situation with such grace and such love is an outpouring of God’s work in your life.  I don’t know if you recognize that, my friend, but you were being prayed for so passionately by people who don’t even know your name.  Not only is this a testament to you, a testimony to them, but also an example of how God has never, never abandoned you.

It’s sad to see my friend away from home on Christmas–in a place with others who are longing to be with their families, too.  But at the same time, it’s for this very reason that Jesus had to come; this is why we celebrate.  To set people like my friend free from her dependence on substances that will never satisfy, to allow the Holy Spirit to permanently dwell in God’s people that we may use our words as salve on the injured, and to walk with our friends into the entrance of a rehab hopsital after they admitted to stealing prescription medications from us.  Jesus came so that we could not only walk with people, but so that He could walk with us forever.  And so in our walking, God could be found.

Shame and sin.  A baby who saves.  Ordinary people touched by His Spirit to experience God’s grace.  Lost and given to hope.  It has all the elements of the Christmas story, and it is a Christmas story, but it’s not a typical one.  This story is about a woman whose sister loved her so much that she risked her relationship so that her sister could be well again.  It’s about a woman alone in rehab on Christmas Day and the empty space at the table back home.  It doesn’t have jolly elves or happily-ever-afters.  Yet it’s a real Christmas tale, nonethe less.  And it’s the reason He came.

Recycling Christmas:: 12 Days of Toto in Africa

13 Dec

I like to recycle, and as such, I’m posting another cheery video from last year, again this year to make you smile.  You should be allowed to see some cute guys singing “The 12 Days of Christmas” for more than just one year, right?   If you take notice, there are 12 guys singing–one for each day of Christmas. Plus, they end using the melody from “Africa” by Toto, which is just cool. Sarah would probably love to have Christmas in Africa. She is the force behind putting the black Santa ornament on our fiber optic Christmas tree. 🙂 A big shout-out to Peggikaye, who introduced me to this video.

All twelve of the original members of Straight No Chaser (SNC) had reunited since performing this song a capella at Indiana University and recording a Christmas album called Holiday Spirits, which was just released this year!

“Africa” by Toto is one of the weirdest music videos ever made, so I posted that for you, too. I love this song. It makes me want to become an archaeologist in Africa with the lead singer of Toto. That is, until the spear goes into the wall and the place burns down.

Review:: Ring The Bells – Travis Cottrell

9 Dec

By Clay W. Ginn – Rich with orchestral sounds, Travis Cottrell’s Christmas album Ring The Bells majestically introduces the sounds of the season. Combining Christmas standards with three original songs, Cottrell puts together a mix of musical stylings.

Creativity:: 6 – The varying styles of music really add depth to this album. The best example of this is the world music backbone to “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”. However, the songs rely heavy on orchestration seem familiar, like you’ve heard the song performed before in exactly the same way.

Original Songs:: 7 – “Home For Christmas” has the feeling of an old Christmas standard. “Ring The Bells” is a joyful, exuberant piece that sounds like Cottrell is really having fun with it. Finally, “Once More” ends the album with a wistful look at Christmas.

Classic Covers:: 6 – Running the gamut from operatic to jive, Cottrell covers the songs well, but brings nothing new to the Christmas party.

Musical Score:: 8 – Musically, the pieces are tremendously composed. The various arrangements are well done and have a traditionally Christmas sound, with a few exceptions.

Overall Holly Jolliness:: 6 – This would be a great CD to play in the background at your family Christmas get together. Unfortunately, people may not stop and ask who the artist is. It just doesn’t stand out enough.

Total = 32 .   Those who are fans of Josh Groban will love this CD. Unfortunately, I’m not one of those people. The CD is really well done and Cottrell has a phenomenal voice. It just doesn’t ring my bells.

Print copy of review.

To read our review guide lines, go here.

You can find Ring the Bells and the rest of our great “12 Days of Christmas Music” reviewed albums in Backseat Writer’s online store, Drive-By Shopping, under the “12 Days of Christmas Music” category!

Clay W. Ginn is a software developer for a small company in North Texas. I’ve been married for nearly 12 years and am the father of three. I’m an avid reader, weather nut, and love playing my guitar and singing. My wife and I are huge fans of Walt Disney World, trying to get there once every couple of years. I grew up on a farm in rural Kansas, and attended seven different colleges before completing a Bachelor’s degree in Business Information Technology and a Master’s degree in Information Systems. In the past I’ve been a youth leader, worship leader, police dispatcher, accounting clerk, customer service representative, and a gumball machine builder. I love writing anything, from movie and music reviews to political screeds to comparisons of culture and faith. I’m even working on a novel as well.

Review:: Peace on Earth – Casting Crowns

2 Dec

By Clay W. Ginn From the haunting piano opening of “I Heard the Bells On Christmas Day” to the stirring string arrangement which closes “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”, Casting Crowns has created a beautiful Christmas album well worth a listen.

Creativity:: 7 – There is not a single original song on Peace on Earth. All are either traditional Christmas songs, covers of another artist’s music (Amy Grant’s “God Is With Us” and Paul Baloche’s “Christmas Offering”), or a rearrangement of their own music (“While You Were Sleeping” from Casting Crown’s 2005 album Lifesong). That being said, the arrangements are classic Casting Crowns. Lush piano blends with layered string arrangements, all held together by steady acoustic guitar.

Original Songs:: 4 – The only song that could be considered to be original could be “While You Were Sleeping” but it was previously released. The second verse is changed from the lyric that was on Lifesong, reflecting more of the Christmas story. It’s a deeply moving song to me, but for the purpose of originality, it’s been heard before.

Classic Covers:: 8 – The arrangements created by Casting Crowns on this album are solid, giving a unique take on them. The soft rock sound favored by the band makes these songs memorable, yet quiet enough to be played as background at you Christmas get-togethers.

Musical Score:: 9 – As stated before, the blending of the various musical elements is beautifully done.

Overall Holly Jolliness: 10 – After I listened to this disc the first time, I wanted my wife to listen to it. It’s a great addition to our Christmas collection (which we listen to more than just during the holiday season) and we’ll be listening to it often this year.

Total = 38 – Fans of Casting Crowns and fans of soft rock Christmas music can expect to find this album under their trees this year. It’s available now, so go out and get it!

Print copy of review.

To read our review guide lines, go here.

You can find Peace on Earth and the rest of our great “12 Days of Christmas Music” reviewed albums in Backseat Writer’s online store, Drive-By Shopping, under the “12 Days of Christmas Music” category!

Clay W Ginn is a software developer for a small company in North Texas. I’ve been married for nearly 12 years and am the father of three. I’m an avid reader, weather nut, and love playing my guitar and singing. My wife and I are huge fans of Walt Disney World, trying to get there once every couple of years. I grew up on a farm in rural Kansas, and attended seven different colleges before completing a Bachelor’s degree in Business Information Technology and a Master’s degree in Information Systems. In the past I’ve been a youth leader, worship leader, police dispatcher, accounting clerk, customer service representative, and a gumball machine builder. I love writing anything, from movie and music reviews to political screeds to comparisons of culture and faith. I’m even working on a novel as well.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas

26 Nov

Because we love Christmas, Backseat Writer is celebrating the season all month long.  Not only are we decking our sidebars, but we’re introducing special coverage from November 28 through January 2.

Starting on Black Friday, we’re kicking off 12 Days of Christmas Music Reviews. Nothing but solid reviews of new albums by Casting Crowns, Shane & Shane, Sara Groves, and others. Find out which albums you can expect to find under your tree, and which ones you’ll find at an after-Christmas clearance sale.

Not only that, but we’re having a Holly Jolly Hurrah! We’ve been sending out Christmassy questions to all of our friends who seem to be mostly musicians and authors, asking their opinions on very important topics like Santa, Christmas cookies, and Christ’s birth.  Throughout the month, you’ll be seeing responses from members of Thousand Foot Krutch, This Beautiful Republic, Shirock and artists including Josh Wilson, Aaron Shust, and Manafest.

Don’t worry!  We’ll still be offering our regular content as well, so join us in ushering in the holidays… as we wait in expectation to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Only the Lonely Give Thanks Alone

16 Nov
Poor Big Bird.

Poor Big Bird.

The holidays are fast approaching, and I always anticipate them with a sense of dread–because I hate the day after Christmas.  There’s all this excitement in the air and then it’s over.  I hate that “over” feeling.  It sucks the life right out of me.  But this year, I’m not looking forward to the holidays in general because of my fractured family.

When I was 20, my parents got divorced.  Then both of my parents (for lack of a better term) got remarried to someone new.  Now mom and dad have “new” families and I’m left out in the cold.  So this year, mom is spending Thanksgiving with her husband and his children while dad is mostly likely spending the day with his significant other and her children.  As you can see, that leaves me without family on the day where everyone supposedly sits around the dining table with family gorging themselves on turkey, stuffing, and cranberry concoctions.  I know I’m not alone in being alone on Thanksgiving.  (At least I’ll see both parents on or around Christmas Day…some people don’t even have that).

So I’ve come to think of Thanksgiving as a day of strategic planning to get the best early morning Black Friday deals.  I scour the ads, make a list, and execute a strategy that will enable me to get the best presents at the best prices.  Plus, my best friend/roommate will be home on Thanksgiving, so I’m not technically alone.  We’re just without our families…on a day when family has come to mean everything.  Or at least it would seem from all those Campbell’s Green Bean Casserole commercials.

It’s a bit early to be giving thanks, and I do have a lot for which to be thankful.  However, right now I’m not thinking about that; I’m being brutally honest because I know someone out there feels the same way.  Whether or not you are caught in the in-between of step-families or just in the lonliest time of your life, I hope you know that you’re not alone.  Sometimes it’s enough to just know someone else feels, thinks, experiences the same thing.

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