The First Christmas

It was late in December, and shoppers were busy finding last minute gifts for all of their friends and relatives. Mary, though, had no time for the seasonal bustle. She had to travel to the little town of Bethlehem for taxes or something. The weather forecast called for snow, and she was nine-months pregnant, but taxes don’t care about that kind of thing. So Mary, and her husband Joseph, got on their donkey and were driving to Bethlehem on Christmas Eve.

Of course, finding a hotel room on Christmas Eve proved tricky. Everyone’s out-of-town relatives were in for the holidays, and they had filled up every room, even at the shady-looking motel run by the Pakistani family. By then, the snow was starting to accumulate, and Mary’s water had broken. In desperation, they sought shelter in a barn with no front wall, a cow on one side, a horse on the other, and a manger in the middle. There was just enough space for one of them to stand on each side of the manger.

Out in the mountains, sheep were searching for grass in the snow. One of them said to the shepherd boy, “Do you see what I see?” The boy looked, and noticed a choir of angels, playing harps and singing Christmas carols. He asked what was going on, and they told him that Jesus was in Bethlehem. He got the other shepherds, and the sheep, and they went to the address the angels had given them.

Meanwhile, things were dicey at Herod’s castle. Three oriental kings had shown up and demanded to see baby Jesus, because they had heard about him from a star. The guards lowered the drawbridge and let them in, but no one could find Jesus anywhere in the castle. Finally, they asked some people who had paid attention when the Christmas story was read at church, and  they said that baby Jesus was supposed to be in Bethlehem.

The three kings got back on their camels and drove to Bethlehem. They had to drive slowly, due to all the snow, and so they arrived  after the shepherds and the little drummer boy. Fortunately, the star turned into a spotlight that pointed at Jesus, so they found him easily. They went in and saw baby Jesus in the manger. There was a glowing circle around his head that lit up the whole barn. By then, Mary had completely recovered from childbirth and was standing next  to the manger. The kings gave gold and some other stuff to baby Jesus. Then they all bowed down around the manger and prayed to him.

They stayed at the manger to watch the ball drop on New Year’s Eve, and then the shepherd went to tell it on the mountains, over the hills, and everywhere. And they all lived happily ever after.

Life Saver

I have a tendency, when writing, of taking many days to complete something. I will start it one day, and come back several times over the next week, usually with lots of time between editing sessions. Even worse, I don’t make a habit of saving my changes.

My computer is on a battery backup, so I don’t have to worry about unexpected power outages, and my programs generally have some sort of automatic backup anyhow. However, the internet has not yet reached the sophistication of native applications.

Of particular interest in this scenario is WordPress’s insistence on using “nonces” for security. These are codes that must be submitted with every request. They prevent cross-site request forgery and additionally expire after a short period of time. This expiration can prove troublesome for someone like me, who may not save his changes for periods exceeding twenty-four hours.

Whenever you try to save a post with an expired nonce, you get a message that says “Are you sure you want to do this?” Even if you are, your changes are tossed out, and you are sent back to the post editor with the previous save loaded, and no sign of your recent work. As you can imagine, this is a bit frustrating.

Then, a miracle happens. After a couple of seconds, a box appears above the post title. “The backup in your browser is different than the version below. Would you like to load it?” I’m not sure what sort of black magic is involved here, but I appreciate it. Good job, WordPress.

Oracle

Ecstatic bursts of speech were a hallmark of ancient pagan religions. In Jewish culture, they had become proverbial1. However, such outbursts had no place in the first century temple. The Jewish religion was too dignified for such marks of religious mania. For the Judeans in the temple that day, the sudden tumult of voices speaking words they did not know raised suspicions.

Were these people, like the famed Oracle at Delphi, carried away in a drug-induced religious trance? Would they turn dangerous? At least at Delphi there was always a priest standing by to translate the Oracle’s mysterious babbling into vaguely useful information about whether you should buy a new field or send your soldiers into battle. Who would explain these strange happenings?

The big Galilean who finally addressed the crowd2 in their local tongue did not have the look of a priest. In fact, he was about as unlike a priest as it was possible to be. Clearly an uneducated laborer, the man was coarse and unkempt. Yet, like John the Baptist before him, Peter made an impression on the crowd. Those who had been mocking only moments later, quieted to hear his explanation.


  1. Matthew 6:7 

  2. Acts 2:14 

The End of Insanity?

The day finally arrived. Our house guest has found herself a new place to live. To say she has “moved out” may be a bit of an overstatement, as many boxes of her things still remain in our library. Still, she is spending her nights at her new house, and has returned one of the keys we gave her.

We’ve started the process of restoring our house to its previous state, and taking inventory of the things that appear to have left along with our guest. Kelly has been passing along her findings to our guest so that they can be returned to us.

I suppose all of this demands a summary, so that my future self can check here if memory fails. Overall, I think I would gladly allow another displaced person to reside here for a while. In fact, we’ve still got a few of those offers open at the moment.

What I would do differently, however, is to restrict future guests more strictly at first. Allowing someone free access to the house has proven to be very stressful for Kelly, as her plans around the house often end up being the victim. Setting boundaries may help to ensure that Kelly doesn’t end up completely frustrated at the end.

Ark Encounter

This morning I saw the news that Kentucky will not be granting Answers in Genesis’s “Ark Encounter” park its twenty-five percent tax discount that other tourist attractions in the state receive. Their reason is that AIG’s hiring practices, which require employees to self-identify as Christians, are discriminatory.

I’m not really interested in whether this is an attack on religious liberty, a stand against indoctrination, or any of that stuff. Those issues seem to be adequately addressed in the comment sections of various news articles. What I’d like to talk about is strategy.

Is this just a brilliant gambit by AIG? It’s not like their hiring policy actually makes any sense for them, but it’s a very nice red herring to bargain with later. Consider the following:

  1. It’s not exactly hard to lie about whether you’re a Christian. Plenty of people do it for far less than a job.
  2. A group of self-avowed Christians is not going to have fewer internal disputes than a mixed group.
  3. Reaching non-Christians is a primary goal of AIG’s ministry. What better way than to hire them to work alongside you every day?
  4. There can still be a code of conduct for employees to ensure they stick to the script while inside the park.
  5. Does it make a difference to the experience if the guy selling lemonade at the concession stand is a Buddhist?
  6. Having non-Christians on staff limits the perception that questionable practices might be covered up due to religious pressure.

As it currently stands, there is a public outcry against this policy, and people are saying “We would support you if it weren’t for this discriminatory practice.” For AIG to turn this to a significant advantage, all they need do is wait. After a suitable stalling period, to build up some pressure, they can change that hiring rule and make a press release about wanting to include people of all beliefs.

That’s good press, and those who said they were unreasonable will have to applaud AIG’s willingness to include non-Christians, or risk being accused of being anti-religious themselves. Well played.

Santa Baby

Dear Miss,

I don’t make a habit of responding to all of the correspondence we receive here at the North Pole, but in this case I feel I must make an exception. You appear to some misapprehension about what it is we do here. In case you have forgotten, I have included a copy of the text from your original letter below, with my own comments at places I feel need clarified.

Santa baby, just slip a Sable under the tree for me;
Been an awful good girl, Santa baby,
So hurry down the chimney tonight

I am glad to see that you understand that good behavior should be rewarded. However, our target audience dictates that we specialize in toys rather than luxury goods. It is also against our ethical guidelines to deal in animal pelts.

Santa baby, a ’54 convertible too, light blue;

Here at the North Pole, we build all items from scratch when requested. Vintage items are not kept in stock. Once again, I must mention that our focus is children, particularly the disadvantaged.

I’ll wait up for you, dear; Santa baby,
So hurry down the chimney tonight.

It is against our policies to enter a house while anyone remains awake. We feel it keeps everything simpler.

Think of all the fun I’ve missed;
Think of all the fellas that I haven’t kissed;

I’ll admit, this one stumped me. However, I had a team of my best elf investigators look into it further, and they were able to come up with a list of twelve possible names.

Next year I could be just as good… if you check off my Christmas list

Christmas gifts are given as a reward for good behavior in the previous year, not as a bribe to ensure good behavior in the next. I realize this concept may be new to you, as my records indicate you have never held a job.

Santa baby, I want a yacht and really that’s not a lot;

Actually, it is.

Been an angel all year; Santa baby,

I have checked my list twice, and feel there must be an accounting error on your side. According to our records, you have been vain, abusive, and manipulative all year.

So hurry down the chimney tonight.

Santa honey, one little thing I really need…

Given all the children around the world who are actually in need, I feel that I must disagree with your using that word in this context.

The deed… to a platinum mine, Santa baby,
So hurry down the chimney tonight.

Platinum? You strike me more as a gold digger.

Santa cutie, fill my stocking with the duplex and checks;
Sign your ‘X’ on the line, Santa cutie,
and hurry down the chimney tonight.

We do not use any currency here. Bringing joy to children is all the riches we require.

Come and trim my Christmas tree with some decorations bought at Tiffany’s;

Decorating your tree is your own responsibility.

I really do believe in you;
Let’s see if you believe in me…

While belief is important, gifts are not given solely on that basis.

Santa baby, forgot to mention one little thing… A ring…
I don’t mean on the phone; Santa baby,
So hurry down the chimney tonight

Very clever.

Hurry down the chimney tonight
Hurry, tonight!

With the large number of deliveries required in one day, I assure you haste will not be lacking. However, your requests for this year have been declined. I would encourage you, in the coming year, to spend more time looking to the welfare of others, and less time increasing your own material possessions.

Finally, the photograph you included with your letter was unnecessary, as my elves can identify the sender of every letter based solely on handwriting. Also, I ask that you not soak your next letter in perfume. It sent several of the elves in the sorting department into asthmatic fits.

Yours Truly,
Santa Claus

Favored

I’ve sung the songs that call Jesus “the hope of nations”. I know that “gospel” means good news. Yet, from time to time, I lose my connection with that. It’s partially because I’ve been wrong a lot. I’ve learned that nothing is really good or bad, but that it’s all about who you’re talking to at the moment. What one person considers wonderful, the next considers an abomination. I’ve learned it’s just safer to assume that nothing is an absolute good.

Then, I’m confronted with Jesus. A man who cared for the alien, who gave healing to the sick, and friendship to the sinner. A man who saw the wickedness of the human race, yet gave grace to those who knew they didn’t deserve it. A man who spoke out against the corruption of religion. A man who forgave the soldiers who drove nails into his wrists. A man who died in the place of the rebels who rejected him.

If that is what God is like, isn’t that good news for us all?