Appreciating the Carols of Christmas

with Ace Collins, Barbara Rainey | December 10, 2013

Do you prefer the ease of an artificial tree? Or the aroma of a real one? No matter your preference, both are beautiful once they're decorated. Wanting to proclaim Christ during the holiday season, Barbara Rainey tells how she came up with the idea of Adore Hymns, a set of Christmas ornaments designed to help us display and more deeply enjoy our favorite Christmas hymns. Joining her is author Ace Collins to tell us a little bit about the history of the Christmas tree.

Do you prefer the ease of an artificial tree? Or the aroma of a real one? No matter your preference, both are beautiful once they're decorated. Wanting to proclaim Christ during the holiday season, Barbara Rainey tells how she came up with the idea of Adore Hymns, a set of Christmas ornaments designed to help us display and more deeply enjoy our favorite Christmas hymns. Joining her is author Ace Collins to tell us a little bit about the history of the Christmas tree.

Appreciating the Carols of Christmas

With Ace Collins, Barbara Rainey
|
December 10, 2013
| Download Transcript PDF

Bob: You know that Christmas tree you’ve got in your home? Well, think back, a hundred years ago, and think of New York City. Here’s Ace Collins.


Ace: It was hard to get a Christmas tree in the middle of New York City. So, a man named Carr—and this is ironic—went, with his sled, out into rural New York—cut down a bunch of trees, and set up a lot on a corner in New York City, and sold the first Christmas tree. The name of that lot was Carr Lot.

So, we had a situation where we also, evidently, kind of forecasted what was going to happen with used cars, a hundred years down the road. [Laughter] But I mean, it was a man named Carr who had the first Christmas tree lot, in about the 1850’s, in New York City.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, December 10th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. We’re going to find out more today about the Christmas tree and other traditions that we have come to associate with the Christmas celebration. Stay tuned.

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And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Tuesday edition. We broke tradition, a couple of years ago—and this was really—this was hard for me to do, at our house, at Christmas. My son, John, is, apparently, as he’s moved into his adult years—apparently, has an allergy to pine.

Dennis: Oh!

Barbara: That’s really sad.

Dennis: That is tragic.


Bob: We had to break down and go with the phony, Christmas tree so that John—[Laughter]

Barbara: I noticed you said, “phony” instead of artificial.

Bob: It is phony!

Dennis: I’m with you—phony. We are alienating a bunch of our listeners, but I’ve just got to tell you there’s nothing like the real thing.

Bob: We are happy to have Barbara Rainey back—joining us again today. Welcome back, Barbara.


Barbara: Thank you, Bob.

Bob: And you agree about phony trees?

Barbara: Yes, they are not my favorite either.

Bob: Well, we—

Barbara: They are a lot easier.

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Bob: Yes. Well, yes, until one of the strands of lights on the phony tree goes out. Then, you are—it can be a headache anyway. So, anyway, we have gone the way of the—

Dennis: The phony.

Bob: —the phony, I guess. [Laughter]

Dennis: But Barbara likes the trees because they have become message-carriers in our home.


Bob: Whether they are real or artificial?

Dennis: That’s right.

Barbara: It doesn’t matter.

Dennis: It’s a decorative location that she can hang some very important names on.

Barbara: For years, I looked for ornaments that would be meaningful and would communicate the message of Christ. I, like many other women, have longed for something that would be important that would have a spiritual significance because all of us know Jesus is the reason for the season. Yet, most of us don’t know how to put Christ back into Christmas.

I had the privilege of being able to work with some people here and create some ornaments, that proclaim the names of Christ, that families can hang on their Christmas tree—

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that talk about Jesus, and who He is, and why He came, and why we need Him—and help us make Christ the focal point of our Christmas celebrations.

Bob: When you first introduced these Christmas tree ornaments last year—the Adorenaments®—you called them the Christmas names. You took names from Isaiah, from Matthew, and from Luke to present the Christmas names of Jesus. We were all pretty surprised by the number of listeners who said, “That’s what I want my tree to look like.”

Dennis: Barbara wasn’t surprised, though.

Barbara: Well, I was in a way; but I did, intuitively, sense that this is what people want. People—women that I’ve talked to—want what I want—which is a way to proclaim their faith at home. We’re going to decorate our homes for Christmas anyway; so, we might as well have something that talks about the reason for celebrating Christmas.


Bob: You’ve come back, this year, with a second set of seven ornaments—

Barbara: Yes; that’s right.

Bob: —that are the royal names of Jesus—and all of these in the shape of a crown—but each one looking different; right?

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Barbara: Right, each crown is different.


Dennis: And a different color from last year. The names of Christ, last year, were bronze. Would that be the right color?

Barbara: Yes, bronze/gold—gold, kind of.

Dennis: And these are silver glittered crowns, each around the names of Christ. I’ve got to mention them: The Almighty, Lion of Judah, Son of David, King of Israel, Prince of Princes, King of Kings, and Lord of Lords. Seven of them—they really are beautiful.


Bob: And then, to top it all off, you came up with eight ornaments that look like pine cones to me. [Laughter] Don’t they? Don’t those look like pine cones to you?

Barbara: Well, they are shaped sort of like a pine cone; but no, I wouldn’t have thought of that, Bob. Sorry. [Laughter]

Dennis: Bob, I could put this out in front of a hundred people—no one would think that looks like a pine cone.

Bob: You can go to FamilyLifeToday.com and see if you don’t agree with me that these are pine- cone look—I think they look really nice—

Barbara: Thank you.

Bob: —each one of them. I like pine cones, too. So—

Barbara: I like pine cones, too.

Bob: Each one of these has a different Christmas hymn name on the front of the ornament—

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Barbara: That’s right.

Bob: —and the story of the hymn on the back; right?

Barbara: Yes; because, I think, we sing these songs—we sing these hymns, Christmas carols—and we don’t know the story behind them. So often, the story was written either out of a time of great trial, or a time of loss, or a—there is some really important story behind why the person wrote the words to these particular songs—and why the music was written to accompany them because, often, they weren’t written—the words weren’t written at the same time the music was composed. It’s very fascinating. I think it makes the music and the singing of these Christmas carols more meaningful when we know the story behind them.

Dennis: Yes; here’s one: It Came upon a Midnight Clear.

I didn’t know this; but it says: “Slavery was the backdrop for writing a Christmas poem called It Came upon a Midnight Clear. Two lines read, ‘Yet, with the woes of sin and strife, the world hath suffered long.’ All called listeners, in 1849, to do justice.

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Though it was not popular, initially, another war-era, World War I, brought the song to thousands of soldiers who found comfort and hope in the Prince of Peace and their King: It Came upon a Midnight Clear.”

Bob: You know, I’m just imagining a tree that would have 14 different names of Christ—seven crowns, seven names of Christ—the Christmas names—and then, the pine cone hymn—

Dennis: It’s not—

Barbara: There—

Dennis: It’s flat! And it’s elegant.

Barbara: They are laser-cut, and they’re gold-edged. They’re really beautiful.

Bob: They really are beautiful, but imagine a tree that’s filled with these—that’s going to be a gorgeous tree.

Barbara: It would be really beautiful. It—what it allows a family to do is to teach your children the truth about Christ; and it allows you, at Christmastime—to proclaim your faith—

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because all of us do social occasions at Christmas. So, when people come into your home and everybody looks at everybody’s tree, they will see that your tree has ornaments on it that talk about Christ. They’ll want to know about your faith, if they don’t know, or they’ll be curious. We, women, want to proclaim our faith from home. We want to make statements about what we believe. These ornaments allow you to do that.

Bob: We have our friend, Ace Collins, who is joining us, this week, to share with us some of the traditions of Christmas and where they came from. He has written a couple of books: the Stories Behind the Great Traditions of Christmas and the Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas.

Ace, welcome back to FamilyLife Today. Tell us about Christmas trees. Where did the Christmas tree first get introduced into the celebration of Christmas?

Ace: Christmas trees have three different origins.

The first is in the Viking culture because, before missionaries got to Norway and that area—the tree—the evergreen tree was looked upon as having magical powers because it did not die in the wintertime when everything else did.

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Hence, it was a tree that lived through anything. Once missionaries got to the Vikings and converted them to Christianity, they looked upon this as a symbol of what their Christian faith was all about—even through the roughest, most difficult times, the faith would endure. Hence, they adopted the evergreen. They didn’t bring it in the house, yet; but they adopted the evergreen as a symbol of their faith—to take them through the toughest times, such as the long, bleak winters—the darkest times.


Saint Boniface put a Christian look on that tree when he was doing his missionary journeys through Europe. He was a man from the British Isles who came over and began to do missionary work in the main part of Europe. He came across three men—who were about to sacrifice a child at the base of an oak tree—

Bob: Oh my!

Ace: —sacrifice the child to the god, Thor. He stopped the sacrifice by hitting that oak tree as hard as he could. Evidently, the oak tree was dead because it just fell over. Behind that oak tree was a small evergreen tree.

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Boniface used the tree as a witnessing form. The triangular shape of the evergreen represented the Trinity: The Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost.

Well, trees, then, began to be used, by the church, as paradise trees. They were used when the church, in the seven and eight hundreds, would have outdoor pageants. Children would play Adam and Eve. They would tie apples onto evergreen trees, and they would pull the apple off. That became, really, the first ornament—even though it wasn’t used for Christmas.

It was in Latvia that people dragged the trees inside, in the midst of winter, and started celebrating it as Christmas. Now, here is the strange part of the story. For the first hundred years or so, the tree was hung, upside down, from the ceiling.

Bob: Really?

Ace: Yes.

Bob: And the reason for that?

Ace: I have no clue! I’m guessing it’s because the houses were small. You didn’t have room on the floor—I don’t know—but if you went in and looked at a Christmas tree in the 14- and 1500’s, you would see it hanging, upside down. The Queen of Latvia turned it over. She took it to France. They started celebrating Christmas there with Christmas trees.

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Martin Luther was the one who really introduced it in Christian culture.

Dennis: When did ornaments begin to be hung on those trees?

Ace: About the time Luther introduced the tree—he would actually take cookies, different candies, and things like that—and hang them on the tree. By the 1700’s, you started having crystal ornaments made and more expensive ornaments made.


Dennis: When did they start commercially-selling trees, then, here in America?

Ace: We talked about the fact that Christmas really started being celebrated as a holiday—a family holiday—in the 1840’s. Well, that was about the same time that Prince Albert married Queen Victoria. Prince Albert was from Germany. He brought the tree to the British Isles. If the Queen was putting up a tree, everybody in Britain had to put up a tree, too. That’s what it amounts to. They followed the Queen’s lead. Everything that happened to the royal family was also reported in the local papers. The New York Times reported the Christmas tree at the royal palace. So, Americans started going out and cutting down Christmas trees, as well.

It was hard to get a Christmas tree in the middle of New York City. So, a man named Carr—and this is ironic—

11:00

went, with his sled, out into rural New York—cut down a bunch of trees, and set up a lot on a corner in New York City, and sold the first Christmas tree. The name of that lot was Carr Lot.

So, we had a situation where we also, evidently, kind of forecasted what was going to happen with used cars, a hundred years down the road. [Laughter] But I mean, it was a man named Carr who had the first Christmas tree lot, in about the 1850’s, in New York City.


Dennis: I’ll bet Mr. Know-it-all didn’t know that.

Bob: Didn’t know about the car lot.

Dennis: Did you know about the first Carr Lot, Mister Know-it-all?

Mister Know-it-all: That is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard in my life—“Carr Lot”. [Laughter]

Dennis: Well—

Mister Know-it-all: They came through Japan—I’m telling you. [Laughter]

Bob: Alright. Thank you, Mister Know-it-all.

Dennis: Well, underneath the Christmas tree, you have gifts.

Ace: Yes.

Dennis: Have we always celebrated gifts—going back to the 1850’s—here, in America?

Ace: The 1850’s is when we really started celebrating gifts. Before that—in England and the United States—most gifts—if you were from a British family—were given New Year’s Eve. If you were from a Christian British family—you would give certain gifts on January 6th,

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which was the day of Epiphany, when the Wise Men, supposedly, arrived. Hence, you had the 12 days of Christmas—did not begin the 12 days before Christmas—they began on Christmas and went to the day of Epiphany. That’s the 12 days of Christmas.

Bob: And there were gifts given each day over the 12 days?

Ace: No, not originally. The gifts were given only when you took the tree down—on the day of Epiphany—and the kids could not wait to take the tree down. The tree was traditionally put up on Christmas Eve and taken down on the 6th of January—the day of Epiphany—when the Wise men came. So, you celebrated the gifts by celebrating the Wise Men arriving with the gifts. It is the oldest Christmas tradition—let’s face it—because it was celebrated the first Christmas. The Wise Men brought the gifts of frankincense, gold, and myrrh. When you think about those three gifts, think about the insight those particular men must have been given.

Now, we don’t know how many wise men there were. Thanks to We Three Kings of Orient Are we think there were three. The Bible doesn’t say. There could have been a hundred. We don’t know; but they brought three gifts: frankincense, gold, and myrrh. You had gold—

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which was the most important wealthy commodity in the world. You only gave presents of gold to kings. Yet, this was a humble child in a manger. So, they had been given the insight that this was royalty—this was the Son of God.

Frankincense and myrrh were both expensive spices used mainly for funerals. Why? And also, they were used for very important religious celebrations. Why would you give those to a child? You gave those to a child because you knew that child was going to give His life and die. You also knew that that was going to be a religious event.

Dennis: Wasn’t there some symbolism in the myrrh—in that it was used in grave clothes?

Ace: Yes. And it was a situation where it was also very sweet smelling, and Christ’s life was sweet.

Dennis: An aroma.

Ace: An aroma.

Dennis: Amazing.


Ace: So, the first gifts, therefore, were given in that respect. Now, in Europe, they were giving out Christmas gifts—throughout Eastern Europe, dating into the Dark Ages and the Middle Ages—but once again, in England and America, that is a tradition that has happened in the last 200 years or so.

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Bob: Before we ever get to the presents at our house, we open the stockings. In fact, the stockings are a big deal at our house. I mean, I think, sometimes, the kids have as much fun opening their stockings as they do opening their presents; but I’m curious about that tradition. I’m just wondering if Mister Know-it-all has any idea—what has your research come up with about the tradition of the stocking?

Mister Know-it-all: Well, the stockings actually come from, if you recall—it was, I believe, October, 1929, when the stock market crashed.

Bob: Yes.

Mister Know-it-all: Well, there was—of course, it was a tremendous economic blow. These traditions—that had built up—of gift-giving and expensive things like that—of course, that all went by the wayside with economic chaos.


Bob: Right.

Mister Know-it-all: So, parents began to give small gifts. Of course, to make them look larger, they would stuff them into children’s socks. So, it was called stocking because of the fall of the stock market.


Bob: Because of the stock market.

Mister Know-it-all: That’s correct. That’s correct. [Laughter]

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Bob: I see. So, it has nothing to do with the fact that you call socks, “stockings”?

Mister Know-it-all: No. In fact, that’s where the name came from.

Bob: Is it? Alright, Mister Know-it-all, thank you very much. Ace, what about the stocking?

Ace: Well, on the timeline, he is close. It was not 1928—it was the 4th Century. [Laughter] But what is a year or two to folks who are doing research? Actually, it began with Saint Nicholas—a man named Nicholas—who always wore his red robes as an official of the church—who would go by, in early December—not associated with Christmas, at the time—and leave coins—small coins and candy—in the shoes and socks of children, who were from very poor families.

Legend has it that it really went from shoes to stockings when a man, who was so poor, his daughter would never be married because she couldn’t have a dowry. She hung her only pair of stockings up by the fire, overnight, to—after washing them to dry—and that Nicholas tossed a coin in—that landed in the stockings for the dowry. So, that’s the legend.

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Obviously, a lot of our traditions are born in legend. The stockings are one of the older traditions—and the stockings, and the gifts, and, also, of course, Saint Nicholas—therefore, became one of two very important influences from the Christian church that created Santa Claus.

Bob: Now, our kids are used to getting all kinds of things in their stocking; but I’ve heard older folks talk about fruit as a—or coal in your stocking.

Ace: Yes, coal is if you were a bad person.

Bob: Yes?

Ace: That dates back to probably about four or five hundred years—

Bob: So, they’d pass some guy—“You’ve been a bad boy.” They’d actually put lumps of coal in your stocking?

Ace: I never knew anyone who admitted to getting lumps of coal, though.

Dennis: My mom used to threaten to put dirt in my stocking. [Laughter]

Ace: Well, if mine weren’t washed, you wouldn’t have to put it in there. [Laughter]

Dennis: Let’s talk about Advent—the idea of Advent. Where did it come from originally?

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Ace: It was used by the church, very early on, because Advent, in itself, means, “The Coming.” The church used it to try to focus—during the partying time—we talked about the partying time—about the fact that there was a lot of partying going on with the Winter Solstice—to focus on Christ and the real meaning of Christmas. The early church used “The Coming”—the Advent—a series of weeks, between the end of November and Christmas Day, to teach about the coming of Christ.

Now, they talked about it in three different ways. We think of it, now, as kind of the coming of the baby Jesus; but they actually talked about it—not only as the coming of the baby Jesus on earth—the original Christmas—they also talked about it as the coming of Christ into your heart, and what that would mean for your life, and how you reached out and touched others, with Jesus, in your touch, in your actions, and in your ideas. Finally, they talked about looking ahead to the second coming of Christ.

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So, Advent had a slightly different meaning then than it does now. And I—now, we just look forward to the coming of the baby Jesus. You light the candles. You’ve got the Advent calendars and things like that. I really wish—of all the traditions that we’ve lost part of—I really wish that we would look more carefully, now, at Advent as the coming of Christ into our lives and into our hearts and how it affects our lives, our hearts, and our actions. Thinking of the Advent as Christ coming—not just on earth—but Christ coming into your heart, your life, and your actions. Advent has become a very, very special time for me.

Bob: So, do you have a wreath? And do you celebrate Advent in your home?

Ace: I actually have an Advent calendar that I buy every year now—

Bob: Do you?

Ace: —that has biblical verses and things like that behind it.

Dennis: And are you walking your children through that, then—

Ace: Yes.

Dennis: —as you go through Advent?

Ace: Yes.

Dennis: How do you do that?

Ace: What you basically talk to them about are different things on how you can reach out. I always use the term, “touch the least of these,” because I think “the least of these” really comes into focus on Christmas. You think more about the people around you who have nothing. But Advent being a holiday, at Christmas—where Christ comes into your life and into your heart—if all you do is look at Advent as Christ being born—

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the only time you celebrate Advent is at Christmas. But if you look at Advent as coming into your heart and into your life, Advent becomes something that you celebrate every day. Therefore, the coming becomes an important part of your daily walk with Christ.

Bob: I think it’s interesting how many of the hymns of Christmas reflect, not just on His first coming, but on His second coming—that Second Advent, which Christmas ought to remind us—that He did come, but He is also coming again.

Barbara, you’ve talked to a lot of moms and dads who have used the ornaments that you’ve created—the Adorenaments—in kind of an Advent setting, where they put a new one on the tree every day, read the devotional guide that you’ve got with it, and use that as a part of the Advent season so that the meaning of Christmas is spread through the whole month of December.

Barbara: It’s a very easy way to prepare our hearts—to worship, to celebrate, and to really experience the joy of Christmas on Christmas morning—

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by doing something, every day, leading up to it. Whether you have an Advent calendar—which many people do—or you do an Advent calendar and you read about one of the names of Christ, each day, leading up to Christmas—it’s a way to focus our hearts on Christ, and on what He did, and why He left heaven and came to earth.

So, yes, that’s really the best way to do it—is to read about one of the names each day because it reduces the stress of trying to read about all seven in one sitting. It would take a little while, and kids would get restless. So, it’s a much better way to do it—to read about one a day.


Dennis: We’ve talked today about all kinds of traditions. Why not create a tradition that is rooted in the Scriptures, where it’s very essence—the names of Christ—are found in the Bible? You now have 14 of them. You could, literally, take the 14 days leading up to Christmas—or you could take a couple of Sundays—and do seven one Sunday and seven the next Sunday.

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You’ve covered both the Christmas names of Christ—as found in Luke, Matthew, and also Isaiah—but also take His royal names and communicate those to your children because they all communicate something about who this King of kings and Lord of lords really is.

Bob: Well, and one of the cool things about these ornaments is—they’re not only meaningful, but they are beautiful. They look great on your tree and make your tree look great. It makes a statement for everybody in the house, all Christmas season long. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com to see what Barbara has developed—the Adorenaments—the names of Jesus as Christmas ornaments—and the Adore Hymns that take Christmas hymns and make ornaments out of those, as well.

Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com to find out more about how you can order these resources from us; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. That’s 1-800-358-6329. Ask about the Christmas ornaments when you call, and we’ll answer any questions you have and make arrangements to send to you what you need.

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Also, if you’d like to have the stories behind the songs and traditions of Christmas, Ace Collins has a three-book set. These stories make for wonderful family reading during the holiday season—at the breakfast table, the dinner table, during family devotions, or just when you gather together around the tree in the evening. You can order the books from us, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com, as well. Or you can call 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY”.

And when you get in touch with us, can we ask you to give some serious thought to making a year-end financial contribution to support the ministry of FamilyLife Today? A lot of families do what Mary Ann and I do during December—you stop, and you consider ministries that have had an impact in your life over the past year, and you make a special year-end contribution in support of those ministries. We want to ask you to consider doing that this year and include FamilyLife in your list of organizations that you would donate to.

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And the good news is—if you make a donation to FamilyLife Today, here at yearend, every dollar you donate is going to be matched—not dollar for dollar—not even two-to-one—it’s going to be matched three-to-one. We have some friends of the ministry who have come along—and they’ve agreed that they will match the donations we receive with three dollars for every dollar you send in, up to a total of $500,000. If you give $25, that becomes $100. You give $100—it becomes $400. You see how that works for us.

So, we’re asking you to be as generous as you can possibly be—knowing that your donation—at the end of it all, will be quadrupled. Call 1-800-FL-TODAY to make a donation over the phone; or go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the button that says, “I CARE,” and make an online donation. Or you can mail your donation to FamilyLife Today at P O Box 7111, Little Rock, AR. Our zip code is 72223.

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And again, we hope to hear from you. Thanks, in advance, for whatever you are able to do. Please do pray for FamilyLife Today. Pray that we’d be able to take full advantage of this matching gift; and pray for our financial needs, here, at the end of the year. Pray that we’d be able to finish the year strong and in a good position for ministry in the year to come.

And we want encourage you to join us back again tomorrow. We’ve got a lot more Christmas to talk about. Ace Collins is going to be here. Barbara Rainey is going to be back. I hope you can tune in, as well.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas. Help for today. Hope for tomorrow.

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