Top 5 Best Christmas Song (with a Bonus Category)

As with any highly opinionated blog post, selecting just five of my favorite Christmas songs is extremely difficult. I could just pick five, but I have decided to add a bonus category to this selection process. The first five are my favorite Christmas songs. By songs, I mean a blend of hymns/carols and popular seasonal tunes that peak by lyrical and audio tastebuds and compel me to crank up the volume.

The second bonus category I call “My Prerogative” has been selected solely from a poetic and melodic perspective. I have, in this case, thrown out any theological implications or questions and opted to select these additional five because I like them. One might say, “well, that’s cheating; you said top 5.” And you would be right, but it’s my blog, and cue Bobby Brown’s…”It’s my prerogative.”

Let me skip the preamble and get to the good stuff.

Top 5 Best Christmas Songs:

5. Trans-Siberian “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24”.

I have played a lot of brass band Christmas music in my life, and when I first heard this song, I fell in love with Carol of the Bells all over again. I have always gravitated toward wailing guitar solos and rifs that get cranked up to the 11… For me, this is one version of an old Christmas tune that I find myself cranking up the volume to when I hear it start. Some might contend that this song has been overplayed, but I still can’t get enough of it. A few years ago, I was fortunate to go to a Trans-Siberian concert, and it was everything I expected it to be. There were pyrotechnics, fog, a storyline, and enough electric guitars to melt your face…it was awesome.

4. Pentatonic’s version of “Mary Did You Know?

Let’s put aside our memes and retorts to the song’s question for just a second and focus on the vocals and the mastery of the minor chords, which always seem to create mystery and awe. I loved the original recording that was sung by Michael English years ago. The song was written by Mark Lowry, and if we don’t delve too deeply into theology, perhaps we could simply ask ourselves, “Do we know Jesus as Lord of all creation?” I simply love the acapella version from Pentatonics because it carries a depth of vocals, and gave me chills the first time I heard it. Am I judging songs on emotion as well as lyrical depth? Perhaps. Some of you will disagree with me, but that’s my opinion and why Mary Did You Know made this list.

3. What Child is This?

This is another Christmas song, sung in a minor key, that absolutely captivates me and creates within me a sense of awe and wonder. There are many great versions of this song, such as the one by Chris Tomlin and All Sons & Daughters, or beautifully done by the One Voice Children’s Choir. I love this song for many reasons, especially when one gets to the chorus and the refrain is boldly proclaimed:

This, this is Christ the King
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing
Haste, haste to bring him laud
The babe, the son of Mary.

2. Tie: Amy Grant’s Grown Up Christmas Wish & Breath of Heaven (Mary’s Song)

Amy Grant’s entire Home for Christmas Album is a heartwarming collection of songs that have stuck with me for years, and I find solace while listening to this album on repeat while at work or when I need to relax. Breath of Heaven (another minor song, I’m sensing a theme here) makes me contemplate that Holy birth through an intimate glimpse into the nativity. I can’t help but be drawn in and held captivated by hope and expectation.

1. O Come O Come Emmanuel

The allure of this song stems from the ancientness of this tune. Originally written between the 6th-9th century in Latin sung in monasteries during the last seven days of Advent. The English translation was introduced to the world in 1851. This Christmas song elicits something old and sacred and resonates within my heart everytime I hear its words sung. There are many, many versions available online of this song, and, for the most part, I love them all. It captures in me the joyous expectancy of the Christ-mass again and helps me explore the Savior’s birth, the context and longing for Messiah in the ancient world, and the source of true Christmas in this modern world.

My Prerogative List:

5. I Wonder as I Wander

I love, love, love this song. Supposedly written by John Jacob Niles in the 1930’s began as a fragmented collection of lyrics and became a Christian folk tune. The lyrics leave the listener to peer into melancholy three stanzas and meet a Savior who came ordinary folk. It invites all of us to not only the manger but also the crucifixion. Folk songs tell stories and evoke feelings and imagery that appeals to our emotions and our hearts. This song has always strummed those chords within my heart as well.

4. In the Bleak Midwinter

The beautiful poetry of Christina Rossetti and the tune written by Gustav Holst and later Harold Darke evoke a classical progression of Nativity, dominion, and salvation for the whole world. The mournful tune haunts me while the words often draw tears to my eyes in contemplation of the Divine. In the Bleak Midwinter is one of my favorite poetic and melodic Christmas songs and I hope it’s yours as well.

3. Silent Night (Stille Nacht)

The tune was written by Franz Gruber to the lyrics written by Joseph Mohr. The piece has much lore attached to it and has been translated and sung in many different languages around the world. It is a beloved Christmas song and I could not leave it off of this list.

2. Oh Holy Night

I love this song because it is complicated to sing, yet it is beautiful, glorious, and poignant. “Oh night divine, oh night when Christ was born…” It always gives me pause and helps me slow down my fast-paced lifestyle to experience the true significance of Christmas.

1. O Come, All You Unfaithful

A friend suggested this song, and now I cannot get it out of my head. Its message strikes at the very nature of our fallenness, yet still speaks to the Savior’s presence in the lowliest of person no matter how hurt and broken that person is – Jesus comes to you and me. Christ is born for YOU. If ever the world needed to hear that refrain it is now. So many come to this holiday season carrying so much hurt, brokenness and despair. The message of hope at Christmas is available to bring healing, restoration, hope, love and joy for all.

That’s It
That’s my top 5 (plus 5 more) Christmas song list. Perhaps you saw my list and it resonated with you. Perhaps you read the songs on my list and thought that I missed one of your favorites. Let me know in the comments below if I was one target or way off the mark. I would love to hear how your favorites list matches up to mine.

Have a blessed Christmas, dear friend.
I hope the Lord continues to bless and keep you and yours.

-Something more to ponder today.

A Christmas Gift To A Family In Need…

Beverly took in her granddaughter when she was just a small child.  Her granddaughter was an unfortunate victim of drug abuse by her parents.  From that point on she called Beverly ‘Mom’, and she has been mom ever since.  Fast-forward to the present year, and through more unfortunate circumstances, Beverly’s son suddenly passes away because of numerous health concerns, leaving behind a special needs son.  What does Beverly do?  Like any loving Grandmother, she take him in and adopts him as her own.   This grandmother, who raised her own children, is now raising her grandchildren on a small retired, fixed income.  Their small apartment home is barely big enough, but they make do.  The main problem that Beverly has is that she only has a small truck that seats two people, and she wasn’t prepared to take in her grandson – who would be?  Every morning her grandson takes the bus to school and every evening he arrives home by bus.  Whenever they need to go grocery shopping someone always has to stay home because there isn’t enough room in her little truck for three passengers.  This little family has grown, and in the midst of their growth, there has been great sadness along the way – the tears of a mother who has lost a son, the deep ache of a son who has lost a father – yet this little family struggles on and doesn’t give up.

The Christmas Gift.
This Christmas, Beverly’s driver’s side door on her little truck – fell off.
It was an old truck, borrowed from another family member.
It did the job, and had been a faithful mode of transportation, that is until the door fell off its hinges.  Beverly has been praying for a larger vehicle so that it can fit both of her kids.  She has also been praying for a larger place to live…

This Christmas, one of Beverly’s prayers was answered.  Car1
An elderly couple came into our social services office looking to gift their car to a family in need.   Our social services director and volunteer coordinator immediately thought of Beverly and her kids.  A week or so later the couple came to The Salvation Army and presented the vehicle to her. Car2 The generous couple wept for joy as did Beverly as the gift was gladly received.  Having gone through so much pain in the last year, Beverly and her children received a very special Christmas gift.   “I can go to the grocery store and take both of my kids now, this is simply wonderful!”  Beverly is more than a little overwhelmed with the kindness of these strangers that are now friends.  It is a Christmas present that is gladly offered and tearfully received!

Perhaps, for some, this short tale of an kind of kindness might restore your confidence in humanity in some small way.  While we might currently complain about shopping lines and horrendous traffic, we might not recognize the needs of other people we encounter on a daily basis.  Needs that are just under the surface, seared by pain and frustrations in life.  This story of generosity is amazing…but I believe we are all capable of similar acts if we choose see the needs of those around us.

Something more to Ponder.
Merry Christmas everyone!

Giving At The Red Kettles: Gary’s Story…

I recently listened to a Ted Talk about time management, and in that Ted Talk the speaker inferred that it is not about having enough time to do things, it is all about our priorities in life.  If something is important to us, that becomes a priority, while other less liked tasks will become a non-priority.

Many of us will claim that we don’t have enough time in the day, but perhaps the real question is: what do we make a priority in our lives?  Here at The Salvation Army, our priority during this insanely busy season is to provide food, toys, clothing, and a warm safe place for people in need, and so we set out to accomplish this by raising much needed funds at our Red Kettle locations.  This vital campaign helps us ensure that no one goes hungry or without a Christmas in our community.  This is daunting task, because it requires hundreds and hundreds of hours of manning a red kettle location during cold winter days by generous volunteers and additional hired bell ringers.

I would like to share with you an amazing story of generosity by one such volunteer.  His name is Gary, and he has made bell ringing one of his priorities in life in order to help people in need.  Despite fighting an epic battle of cancer in his life, last year alone Gary came out and rang the bell for The Salvation Army for over 60 hours during the month and a half long Red Kettle Campaign…and he’s back again this year to do the same!!
Gary has made it his mission to not only overcome his own personal health crisis, but to help others by ringing the bell at the red kettle.   “I really love doing this, and I know that  I am making a difference!” Gary said, as he stands all bundled up at the entrance of his local Walmart store.   He never stops ringing the bell while we talk, each clang of the bell is another accomplishment in his life.  You can hear him from the back of the parking lot, and every time Gary is out ringing that bell, you can rest assured he is smiling and welcoming shoppers warmly in the hopes that they will give…and give they do.  His smile is infectious as is his personality.  His priority?  To help people in need despite his own daily health challenges.   Gary could’ve stayed at home after being diagnosed, no one would have blamed him.  He could have simply fought for his own life, that would certainly be understandable, but Gary has risen above his own mountainous challenge in order to tackle the challenges of others…by ringing that bell.

Gary’s story personifies for us the true meaning of Christmas.
It reminds us that giving is far better than receiving…that generosity and selflessness can touch the hearts of many by simply being willing and available to serve.   The world needs more Garys in it.
It is so much more than just ringing a bell, it is the very heart of God living and becoming hands and feet in a very tangible way towards others.   It is the countless acts of kindness shown to people when no one else is watching.  It is giving God our very best instead of what is left over.

So let me ask you what are your priorities this Christmas?

Christmas Chaos Calmed By 4 Words…

In the early six am hour, I stumble from my bed.  And my very first priority is to, with eyes half open – and long drawn out yawn, stand before the coffeepot with cup impatiently in hand.

Yesterday still reverberates and echos loudly in my ears, but I must be prepared for the onslaught that is this new day.  What can I expect from this new one?  Perhaps more hectic phone calls of fires I must put out?  Most likely more kettle money to count, as well as a host of other public appearances…the day will eventually join all other days, which slowly blends and bleeds together becoming a cacophony of noise, fast driving, and not enough hours to complete every. single. task.  It (my day) can become quite frustrating.
At the end of the day…

It is in the late night hour, when the lights have been extinguished, and the sounds of exhausted snores begin again, that I wonder if THIS is what I have signed up for?  The restlessness, the anxiety, the stress, the responsibilities, the burden that they (whoever “they” are) has called the “mantle of leadership”.  Is it worth it?
For I am drawn to the unfinished homework down the hall that my child needed my help on.  That growing stack of dirty dishes, now elbow-high in the sink.  The Mount Everest sized heap of laundry, a mix of colors and whites all blending together in some stained and stinky gym-socked odors that still remain downstairs- largely ignored.  “T’is” the season” we say (laughing it off), as we run out the door having not eaten as much as we should and hoping we can spend more time with our children today than we did yesterday…or the day before that.

These are the things that guilt my slumber…but still I sleep (and snore), only to repeat the same maddening schedule all over again the next day, “Dear Lord, please either return today or make Christmas Eve speed up in my direction” I breathlessly, and continuously pray.  This has become my mantra, my hope to cling to, my “light at the end of the tunnel” (which happens to sound a lot like the ringing of bells and the clanging of loose change from a crimson bucket).

I keep telling myself that this makes a difference, that what we do in these restless weeks matters, but it offers little comfort when fielding that phone call from an irate store manager, or a raging parent unsatisfied with the toys that we have to offer them (while we always put our best foot forward)…The mantra “We make a difference” is even a cold comfort when having to terminate another ringer for having sticky fingers and blatantly lying about it even when managers and customers have witnessed it a time or two.

Are we making a difference?
Am I making a difference?
Did I sign up for this?
Is this what God has asked us to do?
Better yet, am I really giving my all to God in the places and spaces that matter most?

And that’s when it hits me…
I have been going about this all wrong…
What is “this” you ask?

My attitude…
My motivation…
My determination…
My gifts and abilities…
ALL “MY”s….

But there are days when I must get away and recharge…
there are days when I must reconnect with the family…
there are days when priorities and responsibilities of ‘self’ wins out.

But here…
In this moment-
I feel the Holy Spirit breathe into me four simple words that strike the cord of truth deep within me.  It lays to waste all of my hesitations, temptations, guilt and fears.  It puts everything back together again.  It restores my faith in humanity even after getting burned SO. MANY. TIMES…

He whispers those words into my busy day.
He whispers them into my chaotic heart and mind.
He whispers them and though the bell ringing continues, and the change from crimson buckets still falls, I find some clarity and solitude.  (How ironic is that?!)

What are the four words you ask?
Perhaps it is something for all of us and all of our furious paced lives right now…

The words?

Thy Will Be Done…

Are you feeling the Christmas chaos yet?
Have you asked similar questions?
Do you feel the guilt of a crazy paced life right now?
You’re not alone!!

A Prayer We Can All Pray: 
Lord, I want to be your servant today.
You know that I feel betrayed at times by those around me.
You know that I feel cheated out of a calmer life sometimes.
You understand the chaotic mess that is my life right now.
I pray your silent strength and shielded hope would surround me.
I pray you would increase as I decrease in all of these efforts today.
Grant me your strength and discernment for the tasks at hand.
Lead me Lord into Thy will.

Something more to ponder today!
By the way….you got this!
God Bless you!

The Gift Of Giving (Gary’s Story)

Perhaps you have stopped at a fast food restaurant and  gone through the drive thru, or you have stopped at a toll booth only to discover someone has “paid it forward” as the clerk cheerfully tells you “The car ahead of you paid for yours”.   It’s a surprising feeling isn’t it; experiencing someone else’s generosity?  Perhaps for some of us, it’s a little humbling.  For others it reinforces the need to give back.

bucket3The gift of giving truly is the meaning of Christmas.
We stop to recognize the ultimate gift that was given to humanity – Christ Jesus.  Perhaps in some small way we can give back to our communities and to specific people.  Giving isn’t always natural…sometimes it needs to be forced, sometimes we need a little convincing.

There is no need to convince Gary though, he has been giving to our Red Campaign this Christmas season in a manner of his time and talent.   Gary has been bell ringing for The Salvation Army of Evansville for as much time as he can give this year.  Some days, it is a whole day’s shift from 10 am in the morning, until it gets dark outside. He has been vigilant, dependable and a constant feature at one of our Walmart locations.   Every evening when the red kettle driver picks up Gary’s bucket, you can rest assured it is a full bucket of much needed funds.  bucket2

There is something else about Gary you should know, other than his generosity of time and talent.   For those two vital assets alone are truly commendable and honorable.  But there’s something more about Gary – something that would shake the very fabric of our lives and quake us to the core and make us evaluate everything that we hold dear and consider important in life – Gary has terminal Leukemia.

His doctors have given him roughly nine months to live.  He could be doing anything with his precious time that he has left.  He could be crossing off things on his bucket list, and perhaps he is.  He could have gone home and wallowed in self-pity – no one would have blamed him.  Yet, Gary is paying it forward in such a way that lives will be touched and changed.  Gary is so much more than just a bell ringer at yet another red kettle campaign.  Gary is giving more than just another few hours at a random kettle location.  Gary is giving of himself.  This is his gift.  This is his moment to shine.
I wonder if we’re all capable of giving as Gary is giving today?
I wonder if we could simply give without terms or conditions, and just give of ourselves regardless of the circumstances of our lives?  I recognize that life isn’t always perfect, I’m also pretty sure there has never been any promises that life is fair and perfect from the start.  Many of us have bruises and scars to prove just how unfair and imperfect life can truly be.
BUT the gift of giving truly MUST transcend our circumstances and conditions.  We shouldn’t ever say “well I couldn’t give because the moment just wasn’t right…” well, let me ask you when will the moment ever be right?    (and I’m speaking to myself right now) We can’t continue to make excuses in life – it doesn’t matter where we’ve been or the hurts we’ve endured – how we come out of those moments truly will define us.

Gary is testament to a defying circumstances.
He has touched my heart in a way that I am forever changed.
His gift is so much more than eight hours out at a Salvation Army kettle stand.  Despite his circumstances, Gary is displaying what living life should look like.

Do you have time to give?   Then give it.
Do you have talents to give?  Then give it.
Do you have treasure to give?  Then give it.
Don’t make excuses, don’t hold back, don’t squander it or hoard it.
Our gifts come in many shapes and sizes…what we do with these gifts matters!

Something more to ponder today.

Christmas…So What?

The lights are twinkling tonight on our indoor Christmas tree.  The soft amber glow illuminates and rebounds off of chromed metallic ornaments and festooned handmade trinkets our children crafted years ago.
There are also now shiny, gleaming presents underneath its green bows.  They were once nicely arranged a night ago; a night while children slumbered and were clueless to their sudden arrival there.  Each present was meticulously placed, end to end, odd shape upon symmetrical spun into a tapestry of beauty only this advent season can contain and hold like a gently rocked baby reminiscent of the One so long ago.

glowNow, as the day quickly spun into daylight as it always does, the touch of children’s hands began to closely inspect each gift, turning them over, guessing and re-guessed as to its contents, shaking them, listening and then gently shaking them once more.  It is the act of innocence.  It is the spark of imagination and exuberance only caught in the eye of youth.  The quiet sneaking and peaking.  The reading of names written there upon the glinting wrapping paper and smooth crimson satin bows.  Caught in the act, their mother and I lightly chide them and remind them that the day has not yet arrived.  The day that might as well be a thousand years from now to our children seated impatiently there beneath our tree.  They begin begging to open just one – their pleas fall upon our deaf ears…it is far too soon.  The mystery, or perhaps torture, must continue for another twelve days.

I place a warm arm around my beautiful bride as we witness the glow of excited faces.  We glance at one another, a passing, unspoken giftsacknowledgement that this moment too is sacred.  It can be as sacred as any moment seated in mighty glasscathedrals.  Though we lack stained glass and their purposeful messages told and passed down from generation to generation…and though we also lack within this moment the “choirs of angels” sharing another choir“holy night” in resplendent octaves and melodies that glance upon our souls – we still share a moment of pure joy.  It is a gift, a worthy moment only share by these few members of family and blood.
In but a moment it draws me back to the story of the birth of Christ.  A moment shared only by a very young couple, a bunch of smelly animals and a few humble shepherds.  They did not have glory of fanfare.  They encountered Christ, God’s Son in the most humblest of moments…and it too was of the utmost sacred of things.  christ

My arm is still around my wife, my love and I can’t help but think – So what if we often get the specifics of Christmas wrong.  So what if we don’t always sing on key in church…so what if we don’t read all of the words right as we stumble upon its phrases that should be memorized after all of these years.  So what if we take in a little extra time gazing into our loved ones eyes in moments like these as the world seems to continue busily buzzing by.  Perhaps that’s the point of all of this anyway.  Perhaps in a world of ever increasing cynicism and constant need for glory and power we miss the point all together.  Could it be that we miss the mystery of it all?  We chide our children, yet in but a moment we glimpse what we once were within their eyes, before the impossible became unrealistic, and we oversimplified this gift of life -of love and of this Christ-mas…perhaps we should instead join them beneath the glimmering tree, and in our gazing up – witness mystery once more.  Perhaps then, we will then properly articulate a Savior born long ago.  Perhaps then, with it will come a sense of rejuvenated hope and awe… Perhaps then, we will care less about the mechanics of it all and instead focus upon the purpose of it all.

For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of His government and peace
There will be no end,…”  (Isaiah 9:6-7)

Merry Christmas.
Something more to ponder.
To God be the glory.

Dear Salvation Army, Are You Missing Out?

It is that time of year again – Thanksgiving meals to host, Red Kettles to send out, toys to collect and pick up, volunteers to appreciate and direct…the list goes on. toys.jpg

If you go to The Salvation Army and/or are employed  by The Salvation Army, (Officer/Employee/otherwise) you know just how hectic this time of year can become.   There are moments when there isn’t enough hours in the day to get what needs to be done completed.   We can become harried, worn out and sometimes short-fused.

kettleSometimes we tend to dread this season of Christmas because we are so very busy.  Don’t get me wrong, it is a wonderful thing that we do for people in our communities, but it does come at a cost.  We can become jaded by what we do so much so that we lose sight of why we do it in the first place.  Sometimes we lose out on precious opportunities because our noses are firmly planted to “the grind”.

Don’t Miss Out!
Here are a few things that I have learned thus far whilst being an Officer, and before that, an Officer’s kid at this time of year:

1.  Look up from time to time. eyes.jpg
Don’t become so focused on stats and figures and logistics that people get lost in the shuffle.  Look up, look into people’s eyes, take a precious moment (not the porcelain figurine) away from the busyness and look up at those around you.

2.  Take a minute break – unplug for a short time.
timeout.jpgIt sounds preposterous to “take a break” during our busiest season, but step outside.  Go get a cup of coffee.  Do something for ten or fifteen minutes (even an hour if you can afford to) that gets you away from the noise and responsibilities.  This is sometimes called “self-care”.  It’s maintenance for the mind, soul, body.  Breathe.

3.  Listen.  ears.jpg
Again, it sounds funny to say this when we have some many people wanting a moment of our time, but learn to listen…to the right things at the right moment.  The Lord DOES place people on our path that edify and encourage us (sometimes those we least suspect), and He also puts certain people on our path that we can help share His hope with.   Put down the planner, put down the pen, take your eyes off of the Christmas data entry on the computer…and just listen.

We have a distinct opportunity to reach new believers during this time of year.  Sure, there are those few who are “Seasonal Christians” who only come at Christmas and Easter, but there are also some deeply impactful moments that one can have with people who are desperately searching for something meaningful in their lives.  We know that Christ is the answer – and we (if we are listening) can spur on those deeply spiritual moments.

4.  Intentional Worship
Not only should we anticipate the business of this season, we should also anticipate God’s Holy Presences in our worship.  Worship isn’t exclusively what we do on Sunday mornings either.  Worship can take place while we drive bell ringers out to their sites – and the conversations that we engage in while in that van.  That van can become a sacred space, as sacred as any penitent form or altar.
Let’s face it, we’re all familiar with certain “catch-phrases” or cliches  associated with the Christmas season.  There’s one particular cliche’ spoken often around this time of year, and it goes like this “Wise men still seek Him” – I’m not one to use these tired phrases, but we DO need to be intentional in our worship of the Most High.  There needs to be personal preparation before we come before Him.  We ought to check our motives, attitudes, grudges, conflicts at the door and navigate the deep, personal waters of our hearts.  We must set aside these sacred spaces within our hearts in order to ensure we aren’t people with divided hearts.  We do not want to miss experiencing His presence because we are too busy or too consumed with STUFF.

Questions to Ponder:
ponderAre You Missing Out?
Are you so busy that you actually dread Christmas?
Are Sunday services and other worship opportunities merely a afterthought?
How can you make this Christmas season count?
-There’s nothing specifically special about one specific day, but more people are open to Christ during this time of year.

What would happen if we listened more intently?

Don’t miss out on experiencing His Holy Presence or the opportunity to make a lasting impact on someone’s life because you find yourself too busy at this time of year.  Be intentional, be aware and be His Ambassador of grace and peace.

Something more to ponder today!
God Bless You!



The views and opinions expressed on do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of The Salvation Army and are the sole property of Scott Strissel.  Thanks for reading!  

it IS a wonderful life! (Poem)

as the lights on the Christmas tree twinkled
as the fire crackled and popped
hissing at dampened wood
as the family gathered around the sofa
bundled together in love
it IS a wonderful life!

as we shared the story of Jesus
as we talked, laughed and reclined
within this moment,
within each other’s presence
was presents enough for me
it IS a wonderful life!

as George Bailey’s heart is warmed again
with town’s people gloriously giving
and songs are shared
and joy is dispersed
we find these moments to grasp at
we find these moments and glimpses of heaven
it IS a wonderful life!

SES 12-24-14

At Christmas (A poem)

I’m keeping warm, this heart of mine
in winter’s air, this soul repines,
these bones, but brittle glory be
the wonders of His love to see.

I dare not miss nor neglect this grace
and lose out on heavn’s holy place
a song of praise, a song of peace
a hope of joy will never cease.

And so I glimpse into that stable
the Son of God, no, not a fable.
A gift of hope, of love divine
salvation givn’ to all mankind.
SEStrissel 12-19-14

Question: What is your greatest Christmas memory?


I don’t often delve into the realms of reminiscing and romanticizing about Christmas…but sometimes it helps to really appreciate what you have.  It helps to remember.  To bring to mind that which we have perhaps lost along the journey.  Bringing to mind these precious memories helps us to recognize the blessings in this life.  This is an Advent Thanksgiving of sorts.  In these moments of appreciation we can thrust ourselves back into joy which can overflow our souls if we let it.  Bringing to mind these moments, these Christmas memories helps us cope with the hardships that perhaps we’re facing now.  It can help us get through the “dark days”.  It’s therapeutic.  It is cathartic. It can be life changing.

Let Me Start With A Story Telling (And then it’s your turn!)
Years ago, during a very busy Christmas season, just like this year, I was working long hours and in dire need of rest.
I was still in college at the time and just before Christmas break and midterm finals I would drive for my parents.
When I say drive, what I mean is that I was a Christmas Red Kettle Campaign driver.  The days were long, the nights swiftly approached far too soon (4:30pm), and I would spend long hours driving from kettle location to kettle location burning tanks of gas as I went.  That van became my dorm room when I had to study.  That van became my dinning room table when I grew hungry.

As I drove the daily routes to and from kettle sites, I got to know the bell ringers who rang at those locations.  Many would arrive at The Salvation Army corps building and I would have to transport them because most would not have reliable transportation on their own.  A couple of individuals in particular, whom I will call Frank and Joe were some of “my regulars”.  Frank and Joe were quite dirty and smelly most days.  I don’t say that to be mean, it was just simply how it was.  They were both from hard living lifestyles, they both lived with government assistance because of slight mental disabilities, they truly struggled in life.  These two friends lived in a little, run down trailer at a trailer park in some back lot, and if not for this driving position, I would never have met them.  They weren’t much to look at but they did alright at their daily “jobs” ringing the bell at The Salvation Army’s red kettle.  van

Towards the end of the Christmas season, as the campaign was winding down and Christmas Eve was a day away, I chatted like I always did with my “regulars” on the way to their kettle sites.  I asked them what they would be doing for Christmas. Some said they would be going to spend time with family.  Some shared all of their Christmas plans in great detail.  Frank and Joe remained silent throughout the conversation.   I was getting close to the end of the route, I had dropped off most of the bell ringers, all except Frank and Joe.  Looking back in the rear-view mirror, they both had dour expressions on their faces.  I felt compelled to ask them once again what they would be doing for Christmas.  They remained silent for a moment or two until Joe spoke up and said, “Well we really aren’t doing anything.  We don’t have family around anymore, and we don’t really have any money to cook a nice meal.”  I was slightly surprised by their honest and sad answer.  I had been aware of the needs of some of our bell ringers, but I had never realized just how alone Frank and Joe truly were.  Dropping them off that day I began to have this little voice in my head say, “You can help them have a Christmas!”   I chewed on that thought all day as I drove and helped out around the corps.  What could I possibly do to help them?  That night I picked them back up, dropped off the full kettles at the corps and took Frank and Joe home to their little trailer in the back lot.  We said our good-nights and farewells and I went home.

Christmas Eve rolled around and, as tradition, we only rang at the kettles for half the day as we all prepared to celebrate Christmas the following day.  I picked up Frank and Joe and delivered them to their work sites for the shortened day and went about my duties.  Along the way I was fortunate to have some extra spending money that I had be given and I was prepared to go and spend it…but something happened.  A recollection of those two filthy guys in my van.  Their dour faces in the rear-view mirror.  The harsh life they found themselves in.  I could do something for them…and so I did.  I don’t say this for any kind of glory.  I don’t tell this tale because I want you to think better of me, but the Lord had blessed me with some additional resources during that time and I was able to share those blessings with others who were more in need of it than I was.  I went to the grocery store and got them a fully prepared Christmas dinner and then with the leftover money I was able to buy them a few small gifts.  I wrapped the gifts and placed the full meal in a box together.

As the half-day wrapped up, and we put our kettles away.  I loaded up my regulars for their journey home.  The sun was setting and I too looked forward to some rest.  Frank and Joe were my last drop-offs on my “homeward bound” route.  As I dropped them off they said their normal farewells, but I surprised them that day.  Parking the van, I went to the back and pulled out the box of food and gifts I had gotten them.  At first they refused to accept it.  Frank kept shaking his head and saying “no”.  I told them it was a gift and I that wanted them to have it.  Joe choked back some tears and in a husky voice said “thanks” as he nodded his head.  They walked into their little trailer with the box of food and waved good-bye.  I drove home to a warm home surrounded by family and I couldn’t help but feel, in a small way that the best Christmas gift I received that holiday season was the opportunity to genuinely give to a couple of guys who had nothing.  In my heart I knew that giving was truly better than receiving gifts and in that moment I was able to find a deeper appreciation for the gift that God gave to us so long ago in a manger, the Savior of the world – Christ Jesus.  Salvation was born and this gift of grace was given freely to us despite our lowly, undeserving hearts.

That is one Christmas memory that I still cherish to this very day. There are many more memories. Some greater than others, but THAT Christmas memory is certainly one hold onto.

What Christmas memories do you have?
Please leave comments below and share in the joys of Christmas together today!

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