December 18, 2014

Advent Poem

Advent is a time to search our hearts, to discover, both individually and as a community, where we can do a little better – while the days are going by...
      There are lonely hearts to cherish
        There are weary souls who perish,
                While the days are going by-
        If, with a smile we can renew,
        As our life journey we pursue,
        Oh, think of all the good we can do,
                While the days are going by-
        There’s no time for idle scorning,
        Let your face be like the morning,
                While the days are going by-
        The world is already full of sighs,
        Full of sad and weeping eyes;
        Let our job be to help others rise,
                While the days are going by-
        All the loving links that bind us,
        One by one, we leave behind us,
                While the days are going by-
        But the seeds of good we sow,
        Both in shade and shine will grow.
        So let us keep our hearts aglow,
                While the days are going by-

         (by George Cooper, abridged by J. E. Royle)

December 10, 2014

The 5 Spiritual Steps of Christmas

The 5 Spiritual Steps of Christmas
By: Jason E. Royle

1)  When you go from believing in the Christmas spirit: smiling faces, unexpected hugs, unwarranted acts of kindness, to storing the spirit of Christmas in your heart all year long—you have taken a spiritual step. 

2)  When you go from safeguarding love inside you to spreading the seeds of God’s love to those around you—you have taken a spiritual step.

3)  When you go from needing things to needing something more, from wanting more of the temporary to searching for more of that which is eternal—you have taken a spiritual step.

4)  When you go from believing in the meaning of Christmas to exemplifying the meaning of Christmas—you have taken a spiritual step. 

5)  When you go from getting upset over not getting every gift for Christmas you wanted to realizing every breath you take is a gift—you have taken a spiritual step.   
Amish Horse & Buggy, Schaefferstown, PA

December 9, 2014

Every Good and Perfect Gift

“Every good gift and every perfect present comes from heaven;
it comes down from God, the Creator of the Heavenly Lights…” 
–James 1:17

A few years ago I remember reading about a commercial venture at a large department store that proved to be a disaster.  It was a doll in the form of the baby Jesus.  It was advertised as being unbreakable, washable, and cuddly.  It was packaged in straw with a crib and appropriate biblical texts added here and there to make the scene complete.  But It did not sell.  So in a last ditch effort to get rid of the dolls, the manager of one of the stores made a huge sign and put it outside the front door that read:

Jesus Christ
Marked Down 50%
Get Him While You Can!

We live in a culture that loves a good deal, but the Son of God did not come to earth to be packaged and sold for half price.  Christ came to give us something so rare not even all the money in the world could buy it.  It is the perfect gift for an imperfect people. Of course we try to replicate this gift every year, but just never seem to get it right.  We go through the motions of Christmas but always seem to come up short.  The fact is, we will never, ever, not in a million years, be able to replicate the splendor of God’s gift to the world… but let’s not stop trying!

Let's celebrate Christmas as people living in great faith, full of joy, beaming with hope.  Let's welcome Christ into our lives and into our homes!  Get him while you can!  Jesus Christ is the greatest ‘free’ gift you will ever receive.


December 3, 2014

A Happy Christmas (poem)

A Happy Christmas

A happy Christmas to you!
For the Prince of peace is come,
And his reign is full of blessings,
Their very crown and sum;
 No earthly calm can ever last,
‘Tis but the lull before the blast;
 But his great peace
Shall still increase
In mighty all-rejoicing sway;
His kingdom in thy heart
shall never pass away.

–Frances Ridley Havergal 

St. Paul's float "Happy Birthday Jesus" Lebanon, PA 

November 30, 2014

Christmas Around the World (Part 2)

Christmas Around the World (Part 2)

…In the Philippines, people attend Misas de Gallo (Masses of the Cock), which are celebrated early each morning the nine days before Christmas. On Christmas Eve, Filipinos parade through the streets carrying colorful star-shaped lanterns called parols. These lanterns are also displayed in the windows of most homes.

…In Italy, most homes and churches have a presepio (Nativity scene). On Christmas Eve, the family prays while the mother places a figure of the Bambino (Christ child) in the manger. Many Italians serve eels for dinner on Christmas Eve. They also bake a Christmas bread called panettone, which contains raisins and candied fruit. Italian children receive gifts from La Befana, a kindly old witch, on the eve of Epiphany. According to legend, the Wise Men asked the kindly old witch to accompany them to see the infant Jesus. She refused, saying she was too busy and had to clean her house, and so she missed the wondrous sight. Each year, La Befana goes from house to house, leaving gifts and looking for the Christ child.

…In Poland, people attend Pasterka (Shepherd's Mass) at midnight on Christmas Eve. Many Polish families follow the Christmas tradition of breaking an oplatek, a thin wafer made of wheat flour and water. Nativity scenes are stamped on the oplatek. The head of the family holds the wafer, and each person breaks off a small piece and eats it. The Christmas Eve meal features fish, sauerkraut, potato pancakes, and beet soup.

…In Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, Christmas dinner includes rice pudding, called julgrot, which has an almond in it. According to tradition, whoever gets the almond will have good luck throughout the new year.

Santa Claus is a familiar figure in the Scandinavian countries. But many children there believe that a lively elf brings them gifts from Santa on Christmas Eve. The Danes and Norwegians call this elf Julenissen, and the Swedes refer to him as Jultomten. 

The Christmas season in Sweden begins on St. Lucia Day, December 13. In the morning of this day, the oldest daughter in the home dresses in white and wears a wreath with seven lighted candles on her head. She serves the other members of the family coffee and buns in bed.  A popular Christmas custom in Norway is ring in Julen (ringing in Christmas). Throughout the country, people ring church bells at 5 p.m. on Christmas Eve.  In Denmark, people decorate their Christmas tree with small paper cones filled with candy. Children are not allowed to see the tree until Christmas Eve. 

November 29, 2014

Christmas Around the World (Part 1)

Christmas Around the World (Part 1)

…In France, children put their shoes in front of the fireplace so Pere Noel (Father Christmas) can fill them with gifts. Many families attend midnight Mass and then have a festive supper called Le reveillon. Large numbers of French families also decorate their homes with small Nativity scenes. In these scenes, clay figures called santons (little saints) portray the story of Jesus' birth. Some people put additional santons in their Nativity scenes every year. They buy these figures at special holiday fairs that are held before Christmas.

…In Germany, Saint Nicholas visits children's homes on St. Nicholas Eve, December 5, and delivers candy and other sweets to be opened on December 6, St. Nicholas Day. According to one tradition, the Christkind (Christ child) sends the gifts on Christmas Eve. This tradition is most popular in the mainly Roman Catholic region of southern Germany. In the northern, mainly Protestant areas, parents usually say the Weihnachtsmann (Christmas Man) brings the gifts. Most German families have a Christmas tree that they decorate with lights, tinsel, and ornaments. Spicy cakes called lebkuchen are made in various shapes and used as decorations.

…In Australia and New Zealand, December comes during the summer. Many people celebrate Christmas by going on a picnic or to the beach. Schoolchildren have a six-week summer vacation at Christmastime. Caroling takes place in many cities and towns. Popular Christmas foods include turkey and plum pudding. Both Father Christmas and Santa Claus are popular symbols of gift giving in Australia and New Zealand.

…The nine days before Christmas have special importance in Mexico. These days are called posadas, which means inns or lodgings. On each day, Mexicans reenact Mary and Joseph's search for lodgings on the first Christmas Eve. Two children carrying figures of Mary and Joseph lead a procession of people to a particular house. The people knock on the door and ask for lodgings. They are refused at first but finally are admitted.  After each posada ceremony, Mexicans feast and celebrate. Children enjoy trying to break a piñata. The piñata may be shaped like an animal, an elf, a star, or some other object. It is hung from the ceiling, and the children take turns trying to hit it with a stick while blindfolded. When someone breaks the piñata, the gifts and candy fall to the floor, and the children scramble for them.

November 26, 2014

Thanksgiving Advice

is one of the rarest 
and most treasured gifts 
you can offer family and loved ones 
this Thanksgiving. 

-J. Royle
At the Zoo in Cleveland, OH