Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Christmas Anew. By Gail Hollenbeck.

Editor's Note: The following is written by Gail Hollenbeck, a correspondent for the Tampa Bay Times. I have worked with Gail several times and have found her to be a wonderful example of a Christian journalist.  --M.E.

I’d like to share a poem with you that I wrote about Christmas many years ago. But first, I want to explain how I came to write it. It all began when I was a little girl………..

Christmas was always a joyful time at our house. My father especially loved Christmas and made it special for my mother and my sisters and me. As a youth, I loved the story of how Jesus was born, of the shepherds who came to see Him and the wise men who later came to worship Him. As a teen, I even wrote a story about the shepherd boy who was left behind when the others went to visit the baby Jesus in the stable in Bethlehem.
In those days, I thought I was a Christian. I believed everything I was taught about Jesus. I affirmed it all when I joined the church at age 12. I was active in my youth group and sang in the choir, even duets in church.
I thought if my goodness was weighed against my sins that my goodness would weigh more. Sure, I’d done some things that were wrong, but I figured God would overlook that, because for the most part, I reasoned, I was pretty good.
But something niggled at my heart and told me that was wrong.
There were some things about Christmas that I didn’t understand. In church we would sing “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” In one verse we sang:
          Oh holy Child of Bethlehem
          Descend to us, we pray;
          Cast out our sin and enter in,
          Be born in us today.

Be born in us? What did that mean?
We also sang “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”:
          Born that man no more may die
          Born to raise the sons of earth
          Born to give them second birth

Second birth? Whatever did that mean?
Then there was Easter when we would be told “Christ died for you.”
What exactly did Christ’s death on the cross have to do with me personally? I didn’t get it.
When I was 16, I was in a bad car accident. The car rolled over. This was in the days before seat belts, so when the car rolled, I rolled with it. But miraculously, I didn’t even have a scratch.
When I walked away from that overturned car and looked back and saw it upside down and the fire trucks and ambulance there, I knew God had spared me. And just as I came to that realization, God spoke to my heart and told me: “I’ve spared you for a reason. There is something more.”
Wow! The Creator of the universe had just spoken His thoughts into my heart. He had my attention.
I was 17 the night God brought a young man to speak to my Methodist youth group. I can’t remember all he said, but I do remember two Scripture verses that he used.
John 3:3 says: Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

This was said to Nicodemus when he came to see Jesus. Here was a Godly man, a Pharisee who kept the law, a ruler of the Jews. If his good was weighed it would have weighed far more than mine. Yet Jesus was telling him he must be born again.
The other verse was Rev. 3:20 where Jesus says: Behold I stand at the door and knock, if any man hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to him and will sup with him, and he with me.
What was it those carols said? Cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today?..................and, Born to give them second birth?
That night, God gave me understanding. I realized that this was personal. I needed to be born again. I needed a new and sinless heart and that Jesus was willing to come into mine and give me His. Wow.
There wouldn’t be a weighing of my good vs. my bad, because I could never be good enough. Like Nicodemus, I needed Christ’s righteousness.
So that night, I exchanged my sins for His righteousness.
A few years later, I wrote it into a poem……I called it “Christmas Anew.”

CHRISTMAS ANEW. By Gail Hollenbeck.

 Once it didn't mean so much,
         that baby in the manger.
 I'd known His story from my youth,
         but still He was a stranger.
 That baby born in Bethlehem
         so new and pure and sweet,
 Who'd give His life for all mankind
         was Someone I had yet to meet.

 The seasons changed throughout my life,
         the babe became a man.
 The infant with the radiant face
         now hung with nail scarred hands.
 "Oh God," I cried, "What do you mean
         that Jesus died for me?"
 And so He showed me how my sins
         had put Him on that tree.

 But then He conquered sin and death,
         He rose up from the grave.
 If I would take Him as my own,
         my sinful soul He'd save.
 "I'm knocking at your heart," He said,
         "I've done it all for you.
 If you will let my Spirit in,
         I'll make your life like new."

 And so one night I opened up
         and let this Savior in.
 Oh praise His name, my life WAS changed,
         He'd saved me from my sins!

 My life has never been so blessed,
         He knows my every care,
 I go to Him with want or woe,
         His grace is always there.
 He binds my wounds and heals my scars
         with tenderness and love.
 His richest blessings have been mine,
         Oh praise my Lord, my Love!

 Now it means so much to me,
         that baby in the manger.
 His story's written in my heart
         and He's no more a stranger,
 For I have met Him face to face
         I have a home above,
 And Christmas isn't just a date,
         for now I know HIS love.

Copyright 1967© Gail E. Hollenbeck
Perhaps you are like me. Perhaps you have known about Jesus in your head, maybe all your life, but you’ve never received Him into your heart. I hope this Christmas that will change.

Dear God,
I know I’m a sinner and need Christ’s righteousness.
So today I stop trusting in my own goodness and transfer my trust to you, believing that when you died on the cross, you paid the penalty for my sins. I want to be born again with Christ living in me.
Come into my heart, Lord Jesus, and be my personal Savior.

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