Charles Stanley — Christmas: A Time to Celebrate
Andy Stanley: You know, before we jump into all this stuff we're going to talk about, music is such a big part of Christmas. When did you start listening to Christmas music in the Christmas Season? How early do you start?
Dr. Stanley: Probably around Thanksgiving.
Andy: Yeah, we do too. We put up our tree on the day after Thanksgiving and we start Christmas music and we listen to Pandora. There's a Country Christmas station. Listen to it all the way through and probably a couple days past Christmas so. And then, what about... we put up our tree right after Thanksgiving. When do you put up your tree?
Dr. Stanley: Ha, ha. When they bring me one decorated.
Andy: See, okay, how many guys in the audience, as much as you love Christmas, hate putting up the Christmas tree. Can I see those hands? Yes, there we go. So, you have a favorite Christmas song?
Dr. Stanley: I do. And you probably wouldn't think that this would be a favorite one but "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas" is my favorite, has always been. And the first time I heard it was nineteen forty-one.
Andy: Which was, it was
Dr. Stanley: And, written, right. Yes, nineteen forty-one. Irving Berlin wrote "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas" and he also wrote "God Bless America". He was a Jewish American. And the interesting thing is it was played first on Christmas Day and it became a hit, naturally all over the world. And if you'll remember that on that Christmas, three weeks before, was the attack on Pearl Harbor. And I think the reason it made such an impression on me, it... suddenly there was a spring of hope. Here we were, weeping over this attack, and so many people being killed in the very beginning. And "I'm Dreaming of White Christmas" and Bing Crosby sang that, never forget it. In fact, I was so impressed by it that the radio station; we had one radio station in my town they started on Christmas morning when they began their programming and played that song all-day-long through the evening until they shut it down.
Dr. Stanley: And it sold over a hundred million copies. It's a great song.
Dr. Stanley: Do you know that song? Did you like it?
Andy: I... yes. Would you like for me to sing it? It would ruin it for you. It would be the last time you ever wanted to hear.
Dr. Stanley: Ha, ha, ha.
Andy: That song! You'd be dreaming...
Dr. Stanley: No, I think we can manage it, son.
Andy: So, this is the... how old were you when you...
Dr. Stanley: Nine.
Andy: So, you can remember that when you were nine years old.
Dr. Stanley: Yes, I can.
Dr. Stanley: It may?
Andy: Of course, when they play a song all day long like that, I guess it's hard to forget. Ha, ha, ha, ha.
Dr. Stanley: Well, as I said somehow there was joy in it, and hope, and beauty and that we just been attacked and begin the Second World War.
Andy: Wow, what about Christmas traditions; you grew up and it was pretty much just you and your mom in Dry Fork, Virginia and so Christmas, you know, it's the most wonderful time of the year but it's, you know, sometimes this can be the most difficult time of the year. Christmas memories growing up, your earliest Christmas, Christmas gifts, Christmas traditions; you had an interesting Christmas tradition you didn't necessarily love, remember that?
Dr. Stanley: Ha, ha. Well, I didn't have much of a early Christmas in my early years because it was just my mom and myself. And she didn't make any money, made nine dollars and ten cents for forty hours. And so, I remember one Christmas the only fruit we had was one orange. In fact, it really gave me a key to the reality of Santa Claus. I said now, I believe Santa Claus, from what I've been told, would've left me more than one orange. And so, that...
Andy: So that's all you got for Christmas?
Dr. Stanley: Well, I got a little something else but not much. But I remember opening the refrigerator and there was one orange in the refrigerator. And I thought, you know, if Santa Claus came he'd leave a whole bunch of stuff.
Andy: So, you were pretty young at that point.
Dr. Stanley: Right.
Andy: Oh, wow. And then there was a story you told me when I was young about your uncle that showed up one Christmas, because generally there weren't a lot of toys; there wasn't a lot of money. But there was one Christmas in particular that Santa Claus did come.
Dr. Stanley: Well, I was about four years old. And I remember that because I started school when I was five and this was before that. And my father had died when I was nine months of age, and so all his brothers and sisters got together and they brought all these toys and one of my father's brothers and his wife brought all those toys to Danville and they called me out and they opened the trunk and there was just toys, toys, toys.
Dr. Stanley: And I'll never forget it. It was a... it changed Christmas for me.
Andy: I'm sure. And then the... there was the other tradition of your mom would make, is it oyster stew?
Dr. Stanley: Yes.
Andy: And I heard like that's a thing that people eat oyster stew for Christmas.
Dr. Stanley: Well, for some reason we did, but I only ate the soup part. I didn't eat the oysters.
Andy: Yeah, and I'm just glad because when I've ask other people about this they go, Yeah, oyster stew for Christmas. I'm just glad that you didn't bring that particular tradition forward. Ha, ha, ha, ha. Into the next generation of our families. Anything else about those early days before we jump into the content, just.
Dr. Stanley: Well, back in those early days it snowed a lot. And so, I remember around December time that oftentimes it snowed two feet deep. And as a small kid I jumped off the porch in the snow; it got... it came up to about right there on me so it frightened me a little bit. But Christmas was always connected with snow. And those early days, I don't have anything really a lot of good things to say about those early days because there was nothing going on in my life. And it's just my mom and myself so if we want to talk about happy Christmases I had to wait until almost you came along.
Andy: Well, that's one of the reasons I brought this, not to make you sad and to depress our audience because I think I got, my sister and I, Becky and I, got the advantage of you making up for those Christmases where there wasn't a lot. Because the Christmases I remember with our family were enormous. It was, I mean, whatever we thought of, whatever we dreamed of, whatever you could do for us, you did. And as I got older and understood more of your story, and of course, as an adult appreciating and feeling being, you know, the emotion associated with those stories, I get that. And I'm so grateful for that. The two Christmases I remember especially were the Christmases you gave us two dogs. We had two miniature Dachshunds and I remember because they were... you had... he... they had the dogs under, literally under the tree in a crate all covered up with gifts. And so, my sister and I, we were in Miami so we were young. You know, were opening the gifts and we kept hearing this, Grrr. It's like, it was coming from under the tree. And so, then we would get our gifts and we'd open it and we, Grrr. And finally, there's this big brown crate, remember it had a little cage. And I can still remember looking in there and seeing these glowing eyes thinking, you know, Who is this for, anyway? And so, that was the Christmas we got our two miniature Dachshunds, Dolly and Cleo.
Dr. Stanley: And they were named after two hurricanes.
Andy: Yeah, we lived in Miami and they named... the people who bred these dogs named the two dogs after two hurricanes which was kind of strange. Then the other Christmas, fast forwarding to really probably college years, strangely enough. One of the things that people don't know about my dad, they know, you know about his photography. And because of his photography, he's into technology as it relates to photography. You'd might guess that. But the thing you don't know is my dad has been an early adopter when it comes to computers from the very beginning. Before anybody had a laptop or before anybody had a home computer or a PC you had that big giant word processor that when your turn it on the lights would flicker a little bit. Remember that thing? This huge... and then you had the very first Apple computer. You had the second Apple computer. But the point of the story is, so one Christmas, after we were opening gifts and I want to talk about how we opened gifts so, don't let me miss that. That's a big part of Christmas. My dad says, Come here, I want to show you something. And you... I don't know if you remember this. So, you called me into the den 'cause the Christmas tree was in the living room. And I think you were embarrassed because you really splurged. Because he purchased, most of you never seen one of these, he purchased the very first portable Apple computer. We called it a luggable. It wasn't portable; it was luggable. I bet it weighed forty pounds; I don't know how much it cost. It was this giant thing and you were so excited because it might have been the first one in the city that you purchased for you and I to use when we travel. And you just, you know, you've always been generous. You've always made a big deal out of Christmas, and so as difficult as those Christmases were for you growing up, you more than made up for it with our family. But there was one negative thing about Christmas. Do you know what I'm talking about?
Dr. Stanley: I can't think of it right now.
Andy: Every single Christmas, okay, you got to picture this. So, he loves photography. He loves taking picture of his family, you know.
Dr. Stanley: Oh, yes.
Andy: For Christmas. Now you know what I'm talking about? So, you know how kids are. You run down, and you just want to rip into all the gifts. Well, we don't do that. So, you know, wait, wait, wait, remember what you'd say? Wait, wait, don't come down, don't come down. And it was until he got the tripod set up and the camera and then we had to make...
Dr. Stanley: To make fire in the fire place.
Andy: And fire in the fire place so we had this rock of, you know, this Norman Rockwell looking scene. And then, he has to make beautiful photographs of every single gift being opened. Which meant, No, no, no, slower, no, no hey, put that back, let's do that again. And it's Christmas! Okay, it's like, you know, we're ready to dive and it's like every single gift has to be some kind of photo that he's going to be able to, you know, print and hang on, you remember that? And it... yes. It would just about drive us crazy and mom was going, Charles, let 'em open the gifts, Charles. I know but I. So, fortunately we have amazing pictures of Christmas but we're not smiling in any of them.
Dr. Stanley: [laughing]
Andy: Because you made us wait so long. And the other thing is, it was lunch time and we were still opening gifts. Not because there was so many gifts because it took so long because everybody had to have a picture made. Am I exaggerating this or is that pretty.
Dr. Stanley: Yes, you are. Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha.
Andy: I think that's pretty much how it went. That, but that kind of fueled your interest in photography.
Dr. Stanley: Well, you know, not to having much, I really want you all to have everything I heard you say that you'd like to have for Christmas. And I remember something; it was so interesting. I wanted a watch and I didn't have a very good watch. And so, he and Becky and my wife decided to get me a watch. And so, it was going to be a surprise. Ha, ha, ha, ha.
Andy: I forgot about this.
Dr. Stanley: Everybody, you know, all the presents wrapped and so forth. So, I've been away, and I came home. Andy came said, Daddy, daddy, daddy we have a surprise for you and it's a watch. Ha, ha, ha.
Andy: That's when we lived in Miami. I remember that. I came running in there and it just all tumbled out of my mouth and it was a surprise for you and it's a watch! Ha, ha. So much for the surprise. Now, fast-forwarding a little bit there, actually not fast forwarding, you have another, there's another Christmas tradition that you absolutely love. And I absolutely love it because you brought me up in this tradition. And it has to do with something that we've always done at church on the Sunday evening before Christmas. And in our church growing up we generally didn't have Christmas Eve services like a lot of churches, but we would make a really big deal out of that Sunday evening service before Christmas. You want to talk a little bit about that? That's, I think that may be your favorite Christmas tradition.
Dr. Stanley: Well, it is because we have the Lord's Supper on Sunday night. And then we have a candle light service. And so, after we serve the Lord's Supper, we cut out all the lights, and it's pitch black dark as dark as we can get it. And then I will talk a little bit and then we light one little candle. And so, we start with that and then I light one person's candle and they light the others until finally the whole church, everybody has a candle and we started out with darkness and we raise them until the whole place is light. And I remind our folks each Christmas, this is what we're up to, is lighting up the world with the Gospel. And so, that's a very special time with me because it's a visible, vivid expression of what we're doing in preaching the Gospel in a darkened world.
Andy: And it's always so very powerful.
Dr. Stanley: Yes, it is.
Andy: Now, you have another tradition that comes out of a place of sadness that you, in the most unique way imaginable, turned into a Christmas tradition that brings a lot of people joy. And this is one of those stories the first time I heard it, I knew that he did this and I tell you what this is in just a minute. But I didn't know the story behind why he did it until we prepared for this conversation. And I, Dad, I think this is one of the most powerful things I've ever heard you say in terms of, you know, bringing out of your own life a principle that I think it's extremely transferable. And I don't think you ever shared this publicly before, but I think this is a big part of your life message. And the tradition that he has that I knew about was, on Christmas morning, he sits down and he calls a whole list of people. And I've known he's done this for many years. I didn't know how far back this went but people would tell me, Your Dad called me on Christmas morning. You know, Christmas morning about eleven thirty; I got a call from your dad. And then, I would talk to him on late Christmas morning or early Christmas morning and I'd call and I wouldn't get you; I'd call and wouldn't get you. Then I'd get you and, you know, we're organizing when you're coming over and I'd found out that you've been on the phone all morning just calling people. Would you tell us a little bit about how that tradition started and why that's such a big deal to you? I think this is just a remarkable story.
Dr. Stanley: Well, it was my first Christmas alone. And all those years I'd always been around people but was a time in my life when I was living by myself. And I woke up that Christmas morning and I was very sad, very lonely and felt very empty. And so, you know, I had a pity party and told God a whole bunch of stuff that He already knew. And so, I got down and I began to pray and talk to the Lord. And finally, I guess God said to me, Where am I in all this? And I began to think about what I was thinking and what I was feeling and so I asked Him to forgive me. Got up and I thought, I'm not going to lie on this bed on Christmas morning and have us, have a sad story. So, I just picked up the phone and called one of my friends. Said, I want to tell you, I just said, This is your pastor. I just want to say Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, hope you have a wonderful, wonderful day. Well, I felt so good after that I called another one. So, then I called another one and I spent until about noon calling my friends and just wishing them a Merry Christmas and I felt so good, I thought, I know how to conquer loneliness. That is forget yourself and start talking to somebody else. So, it became a habit and when I said I just called my friends, I called those people that I knew but didn't know them maybe all that well. And so, it was a surprise to them. And I just made that a habit and especially if I knew somebody was hurting about something on Christmas. So, you know, you can either feel sorry for yourself or you can get somebody else happy because you called them.
Andy: Isn't that a fabulous story?
Andy: You know, it's a... it's almost embarrassing because for years I've known this is been your habit. And I've always thought, what a great pastorally thing to do, to just call random people and to know where that came from and it is such a life principle, that God, when we're open and this... I've learned this from you over and over, through every season of life and in, you know, now, in the seasons of life I'm in, these lessons mean so much more. You just never, ever allowed yourself to be overcome with the circumstances of life, the loneliness of life, the fear of life. You've always found a way to leverage your faith to come out of that on top. And then God just uses that in extraordinary ways. Not just in your life but in the lives of other people. And I, Dad, I just think that's an incredible, incredible principle. And it certainly dovetails into the Christmas Season, not only because you learned it in the Christmas Season. But Christmas is not always the most wonderful time of the year for everybody.
Dr. Stanley: That's right.
Andy: We're reminded of what we don't have, and we're reminded of who we don't have. And so, even people who have, are physically around other people at Christmas, sometimes it just dredges up stuff. And the fascinating thing is that that in some ways is the reflection of the very first Christmas. You know it's impossible for us to get our minds or hearts around the fact that Mary and Joseph had never celebrated a Christmas. Oh, I mean, our whole lives there's always been Christmas. I mean Mary and Joseph, there's no Christmas. This is just another bad day. Because someone they didn't know in a country that they hate decided to, you know, count how many people were in the world and then their world so that they could feel more powerful about themselves. And so, a census is taken, and Joseph finds out and he's got to travel for two or maybe three days from Nazareth to Bethlehem. And his girlfriend's pregnant and that's already an issue. And he's married her anyway and there's all these emotions swirling around him. We can only imagine when Joseph says to Mary, Mary, okay, it seems like every day there's more bad news. I have the worst news of all. We're going on a trip to my hometown, the town of my family, in order to register for some crazy thing that doesn't matter a bit. And they begin that journey and she's away from home and perhaps away from family. And women died in childbirth all the time.
Dr. Stanley: That's right.
Andy: And this was her first child. And so, within the context of all that fear and all that loneliness is the Christmas Story. So, we thought there would be no other, no more appropriate thing to do than to read the Christmas Story and so, Dad, would you mind reading us the Christmas Story as we find it in the Book of Luke? And as you turn... I love the Book of Luke and if you don't know this, you should know this and if you're not a Christian or you have issues with faith or the Bible, this is one of the most powerful ancient documents in all of ancient times. And it begins not once upon a time, and it doesn't begin in the beginning. The Gospel of Luke begins this way. Luke says, I have thoroughly researched this. I've essentially talked to every eye witness I could find and I have put together an orderly account of the things that have happened in our midst. So, this version of the Christmas Story is a version that was thoroughly researched. This happened. This is part of history. And it became the center of history and it has certainly changed history. So, Dad, the Christmas Story.
Dr. Stanley: "Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which shall be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: for you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.' And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.' When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, 'Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.' So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them".
Andy: Isn't that amazing?
Dr. Stanley: That's amazing.
Andy: And theirs, the story is so rich and there are so many layers. And as twenty-first century English Bible readers we miss so much. There's just one thing I would love to draw out and love for you to comment on it. It's so fascinating that God chose to announce to shepherds. And one of the things that makes it so fascinating is that shepherds raised the sheep that were often used in sacrifice but shepherds were always ceremonially unclean. They raised the sheep for the temple, and yet, most of them probably never visited the temple; they weren't worthy. And so, in this culture that was all about cleanliness, in this culture where the Pharisees and Sadducees and the teachers of the law would always be on Jesus' case because He wasn't clean enough, because he wasn't separate from sick people, in this moment God turns it all upside down. And He begins with the group that was the most outcast from the temple. And then He began to work His way in.
Dr. Stanley: When those shepherds came and looked at Jesus...
Andy: As a baby.
Dr. Stanley: As a baby. They just saw another baby. But there was something special about him because the angels announced Him. So, looking through the Scriptures, here's who they were seeing. They didn't understand it at the time but here's who they were seeing according to the Scriptures. They were looking at a baby who was the Son of God, the Light of the World, the Great High Priest, the Great Shepherd, the Bread of Life, the Water of Life, the Door into Life, the Great I Am, the Word of God, the Lamb of God, the King of Kings and Savior of the World, Lord of Lords, Messiah, Prince of Peace, the Way, the Truth, the Life.
Dr. Stanley: All of that is what they saw but only looked at a baby. And then years later when Jesus is grown He's... He walks down into the Jordan River Valley
Andy: And there's John the Baptist, somehow a relative of Jesus. And can you imagine they make eye contact and John knows who Jesus is and somehow knows why He's come. And Jesus knows that something significant is about to happen. And one of the things that we miss when we read the Gospels is, and the movies don't depict this right, we when we see the movies of John the Baptist there's a dozen people here and a dozen people there and some kids playing in the river. But the Gospels tell us that all of Jerusalem, all of Jerusalem, all of Judea went out to see John the Baptist. So, there're hundreds and hundreds, and hundreds perhaps thousands of people when he looks up and he sees Jesus. And he says those famous words, Behold...
Dr. Stanley: The Lamb of God, which takes away the sin of the world.
Andy: And there's that Lamb thing again and that shepherd thing again. And then Jesus would say, I'm the Great Shepherd and my sheep know my name. And so, throughout the Gospels there's this theme that's launched at His birth where God announced, to maybe the group that was most outcast, that I'm doing something not simply for the Jewish people, I'm doing something for the whole world.
Dr. Stanley: Amen.
Andy: Now, the part I'd love for you to comment on is the Savior part. The, you know, the Jewish shepherds and the Jewish people in that region were looking for a Messiah. They were looking for a Joshua. They were looking for a warrior. And the angels announced that God is sending you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Why a Savior?
Dr. Stanley: Well, the reason God sent a Savior was because of sin. Sin had separated mankind from God and all down through the ages and all the prophets had talked about there will be a Messiah. There will be a Savior. When will He come? And for hundreds and hundreds, and hundreds of years they looked and waited and talked about it. And read the prophets and tried to understand what was going on And all that God was doing was keeping His Word. That is, He was sending a Savior, someone who could atone for our sin. They knew all about sacrifices but now God the Father sent the ultimate sacrifice whose death would take care of our sin. Pay for our sin debt in full. And so, when Jesus came, He came to die. He came for the purpose of laying down His life in order to pay the sin debt of all mankind. Because there had to be a sacrifice for sin. And Jesus was that sacrifice, fulfilled that prophecy, fulfilled the promise of God and, as a result of Jesus coming, all of us who know Christ as their Savior; we've been saved by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, the ultimate sacrifice of Almighty God.
Andy: Isn't that amazing? Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.
Dr. Stanley: Amen.
Andy: And nobody standing there that day had any idea what John the Baptist meant and perhaps when he locked eyes with Jesus, they knew, they knew that behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the entire world. That's just an amazing, amazing thought.
Dr. Stanley: The only adequate sacrifice in all the world, Jesus.
Andy: You know, we say... and there's a bumper sticker and there's signs that'll show up during the Christmas Season that says, "Jesus, the reason for the season". But if what you just said is true, and it is true, and if Jesus came to be the Savior of the world, then Jesus isn't the only reason for the season. You're the reason for the season, and I'm the reason for the season, and all of you are the reason for the season. And every single person who's ever born, every single person who's born separated from God in some ways is the reason for this season. As we close out our conversation, Dad, I think it would be great for you to pray for us, and for our churches, and for our nation, and for our world, and perhaps for those, who maybe for the first time, understand the significance of why Jesus came and why we celebrate Christmas.
Dr. Stanley: Amen. Well, let's pray together. Father how grateful we are that you've given us the truth in your Word and we see over and over again when you make a promise you keep it. And while they waited for hundreds of years for the fulfillment of this promise, thank you that you have never failed to keep a promise. And more than that, you have been willing to give the greatest gift you could give and that is your only Begotten Son. For all of those sacrifices in the Old Testament you were shouting to the world that sin is so evil, and so bad, and so destructive it takes blood, life, death, to atone for that sin. And we thank you that you did not exclude anyone. Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. And, Lord Jesus, you said, For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whosoever believes in Him would not perish but have eternal life. Thank you for the wonderful privilege that you give us to share this awesome, eternal, irrevocable truth to a whole world, the Savior the Lord Jesus Christ. And you've given us your Word, the Bible that gives us all the history we need for background, and all about the life of Christ. And we have one story to tell. And that story is the atoning death of Jesus Christ that atoned for, paid for all our sin, all of our life for all eternity. What an awesome God you are. What a loving Father you are. I pray that you make us sensitive to the opportunities to get the Gospel out. That the Christ that we love and who has saved us would be the message that the entire world would hear. That we in the church would do exactly what you said do, go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature. May we never lose sight of that obligation, that commandment, that charge, and with it, came the promise of the Holy Spirit who would enable us to share the truth in such a way that the power of God would convict of sin, reveal the truth, and bring about salvation in their life. And we pray that people, as they hear the truth of the Gospel in whatever language they may hear it, may hear it, believe it, and surrender their life to Jesus Christ. We thank you, Father, you know all about languages and you know all about people who have never heard. And people that you desire that they hear. We bless you and praise you, and worship you, and adore you for being who you are, for doing what you've done, and for loving us not because we deserved it rather because that's who you are, an awesome God of Love. In Jesus' name we pray, amen.
Andy: Thanks Dad.