Monthly Archives: December 2010

A Christmas Carol from Paul


—By David R. Stokes

Christmas is more than a day in December — it is a season. Reminders of this are all around us — the weather, the gatherings, the music on the radio. It is not unusual for savvy media outlets to saturate their formats with all things Yuletide for a few weeks at the end of the year. It puts us “in the mood” — not to mention puts money in their accounts.

What’s your favorite Christmas song? Some like to hear about chestnuts roasting on an open fire — others love to think about bells jingling. Yet others tear up (with good reason) thinking about a Holy Night so long ago. They may even want to fall on their knees.

A case can be made that the greatest Christmas song ever written is one with no familiar music. The tune is no longer available to us. But the lyrics — ah, those lyrics — well, they’re actually inspired. As the Apostle Paul was writing to young Pastor Timothy about everything from order in the church to the dangers of greed, he gave us an easily overlooked but enduring Christmas nugget.

It may be not be a toe-tapper like I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus — but it completely captures the essence of Christmas. That essence is incarnation. This means that God became one of us so that He could reach those of us willing to surrender to Him.

As the Apostle winds up a series of thoughts about the church and those who serve and lead, he pauses to reflect on a larger issue. Strategies and structure are not ends in themselves. They are secondary to powerful ideas. While he may have felt the need to give Timothy some practical advice about how to do his important job, he never lost sight of the why in all of it — nor should we. There can be many controversies in life — macro and micro. All of them require attention. Some of them require systems and structure. No doubt, this was something with which Timothy wrestled. Therefore, his wise mentor, Paul, offered his advice.

Things that tend to polarize people often have little to with objective truth. Instead, subjective experience is allowed to play too large a role in our lives and passions. When this happens, Paul’s writings suggest that we need to stop and sing. And we should sing something very specific — the most beautiful of all Christmas carols — though it is highly unlikely that we’ll hear the words blended with any seasonal music.

We are not told the style of music, nor are we told the instrument or instruments used to express it (if any). We are given just the words. They are inspired — and they have endured. They are ancient words, yet ever new.

The first Christmas Carol is introduced in scripture this way: “Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great…” (I Timothy 3:16 NIV).

Communities of faith throughout history have wrestled with many things. But Paul reminds us all these centuries later that there are some no-brainers for the faithful. First and foremost is that most powerful of all ideas is that God has come to the earth — the Word has been made flesh.

So, this season, let us reach back for one of the forgotten “oldies” — a first-century worship favorite. They likely sang it in places like Ephesus, Thyatira, and Philippi. There were no ornate cathedrals or padded pews, no multimedia presentations to tantalize the eyes — just words, powerful and profound. Go ahead and make up your own music — but don’t mess with the words. They are from God. They are a Christmas gift from the one who gave us the reason for the season.

And, one…two…three…

“He appeared in a body,

Was vindicated by the Spirit,

Was seen by angels,

Was preached among the nations,

Was believed on in the world,

Was taken up in glory.”

– I Timothy 3:16 (New International Version)

Merry Christmas!

David R. Stokes is a minister, author, columnist, and broadcaster.

Halfway through the stress…


…an observation.

I know and understand why some of my brethren and sisteren have a problem with some of the pagan elements incorporated in the celebration of Christmas. Some folks honestly, genuinely believe that it’s wrong to celebrate Christmas. However…after having toured a place this week, parts of which included looking over a bullet riddled car and viewing the site of someone’s recent murder, I have a small request…

…if you’re moved to tell me about it…don’t.

My day is filled with walking, breathing examples of folks on the threshold of an eternity of which they have no clue and/or regard for what comes after.

I will always…ALWAYS…rejoice for that 6 week respite this time of year, when radio stations, store loudspeakers and the occasional flash mob proclaim the Gospel in its simplest form, in between Frosty and Rudolph, every day, all day through the lyrics of familiar carols written by faithful ministers and laymen of times past. The rest of the trappings of this holiday season don’t phase me a bit in the light of that truth.

Next week promises more of the same for me. I can assure the folks who have a problem with Christmas, Santa Claus, Rudolph and Saturnalia, that the last thing on my mind when I look into the eyes of an abused wife or local candy man will be the mindless drivel that passes for righteous debate nowadays.

For those who have been praying for me and my family…thank you. I greatly covet those prayers and can tell you in full confidence that they were directly answered at one point this week, details of which I may post at another time.

For those who really have a problem with the holiday…cool…but you’re also required to give me that same slack (Colossians 2) in my lack of a problem with it.

As for the Jeremiah 10 crowd…I have a playpen in the corner, I can fill it full of nice theological treatises with really big words in them for you to fondle and coo over…as the world burns around you.

…I am undone…


Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.—Isaiah 6:5

Some time off…


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…the next couple of weeks have taken a turn and presented some unanticipated stresses that have nothing to do with the holidays and that require my full attention. I’ll be coming back online after the first of the year.

Blessings to you and yours…