FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Getting Back to the Basics of Christmas

with Barbara Rainey | December 2, 2008
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Today Barbara Rainey opens the Scriptures to John 3:16 and tells what this particular passage holds for us this Christmas season.

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  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Today Barbara Rainey opens the Scriptures to John 3:16 and tells what this particular passage holds for us this Christmas season.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Today Barbara Rainey opens the Scriptures to John 3:16 and tells what this particular passage holds for us this Christmas season.

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Getting Back to the Basics of Christmas

With Barbara Rainey
December 02, 2008
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Bob: Barbara Rainey was reflecting on John 3:16 – "That God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son."  And as she meditated on the gift of Christ, another Scripture passage came to mind.

Barbara: I thought about a verse in Hebrews 6, and it talks about how Jesus is the anchor for our soul.

[musical transition]

And I thought, you know, in hard times, in difficult times, what we need is something that keeps us secure; something that keeps us from feeling like we're going to be blown to bits.

[musical transition]

And an anchor does that.

[musical transition]

If we have Christ, He is our anchor, and He will keep us from being shaken and moved, and He will keep us secure, no matter what life brings.

[musical transition]

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, December 2nd.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  There is a lot more to think about as you meditate on John 3:16.  Stay tuned.

[musical transition]

And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Tuesday edition.  I don't know if the two of you know this, but I had an opportunity not long ago to spend some time with our mutual friend, Michael Easley, who is a pastor of a local church, and who has a daily radio program called "In Context," and I was asking him about how he had come to faith in Christ.  Did you ever hear his testimony?

Barbara: I don't think I have.

Dennis: I don't recall hearing it.

Bob: He was a teenage boy, a young teenage boy.  He walked into a Sunday school classroom, and the Sunday school teacher had just written on the board, "John 3:16."  That's all that was written – didn't write out the verse, just wrote the address on the board.

And he spent that Sunday school hour talking about that verse with those kids.  Now, for most of the kids who were in that class, that was just another Sunday school hour that you checked off, but for Michael, that verse brought the Gospel alive to him that morning, and he said, "I walked out of Sunday school class different than when I had walked in.  I understood God's love.  I understood my sin.  I understood my need.  I understood that Christ had come" …

Dennis: It's all there.

Bob: …"to deliver me."

Dennis: It's right there.

Bob: And he was converted around John 3:16, and the reason I mention that is because you have written and illustrated and painted a brand-new book – and, by the way, welcome back to FamilyLife Today.

Barbara: Thank you, Bob.

Dennis: By popular demand, by the way.

Bob: That's right, Dennis has been demanding it for weeks.

Dennis: Yeah.  No, our listeners have been demanding, that's who wants her here.

Bob: The book is called "When Christmas Came," and it takes that verse, John 3:16, and puts it in a Christmas context, which is where it belongs, right?

Barbara: Yeah, it really does tell the story of Christmas, but we don't typically think of it as a Christmas verse.  So it was really fun to look at it from a different perspective, to look at how it tells the story of God sending Jesus at Christmas, even though it doesn't say at Christmas, we know that's when He came, and it talks about God giving, and His great love, and so it really fits.

Dennis: Yeah, just in case there might be a listener who maybe thinks they know John 3:16 …

Bob: They've seen the address at the football games when the guys hold up the sign.

Dennis: … but really may not remember it – "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."

To your point, Bob, it's – and to Barbara's as well – it is taking a verse that we all know, and it's applying it to probably the most celebrated season or holiday on our calendars.

Bob: Well, this book is your meditation on John 3:16, both in prose, poems and also in just devotional thoughts, reflections on your own childhood, growing up at Christmastime.  And then there are eight different watercolor illustrations that are worked throughout the book.  You start with a heart, "For God so loved the world," right?

Barbara: Correct.

Bob: And then there's a globe for the world.

Barbara: For the world, mm-hm.

Bob: And then there's a gift because God gave …

Barbara: That represents God as the Giver.

Bob: And "His only begotten Son" – what did you draw for that?

Barbara: Well, you know, that was an interesting one to do because, typically, you would think a manger, and that's typically associated with Jesus.  But I wanted to do something a little unique, and I decided to do baby feet, and so the illustration that represents the Baby Jesus is baby feet, which is typical of what new parents do – they inspect fingers and toes, and so I painted some baby feet, and they're laying on some straw, so it does look a little bit like a manger.

Dennis: There is some symbolism to those baby feet that goes beyond this illustration, though, Bob, that we'll explain before the broadcast is over today.

Bob: All right.  You go from "Who gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him?"

Barbara: Whoever believes …

Bob: Is that the doorway here?

Barbara: That's the door, and it represents the fact that each of us has to make a choice about Jesus.  God gave the gift, He gave Him freely to anyone who wants to receive, but as in any gift – at Christmas, if I gave you a gift at Christmas, you would have to reach your hands out and take it from me.  Even if I threw it at you, if you didn't grab it, it would not be yours, and so the door represents the fact that each of us individually has to make a choice as to what we're going to do with the Gift that God gave.  Will we receive it or not?

Bob: So – "Whosoever believes in Him" – that's the door – "should not perish" – now there you had to stop and think, "How am I going to represent that in a book about Christmas and God's goodness" – to represent perishing could be very dark.

Barbara: Well, it was really one of the more challenging elements to figure out how to represent "and we will not perish," but I thought about a verse in Hebrews that is also one of my favorite verses, and there is a phrase, and it's in Hebrews 6, and it talks about how Jesus is the anchor for our soul.

And I thought, you know, in hard times, in difficult times, what we need is something that keeps us secure; something that keeps us from feeling like we're going to be blown to bits, and an anchor does that.  An anchor does that for ships, and there are many references biblically to ships and to storms, and so I thought even though we don't use the sea as our primary transportation as they did in biblical times, nonetheless we all know what an anchor does.  Everyone knows that an anchor is what keeps a ship stable.

And so I drew an illustration of an anchor to represent that if we have Christ, He is our anchor, and He will keep us from being shaken and moved, and he will keep us secure no matter what life brings.

Dennis: Yeah, in fact, let me read the passage, because it's really a pretty good passage – Hebrews, chapter 6, verses 17 – well, through the end of the chapter – "Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise, the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath; that by two immutable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us." 

Here is the passage she was talking about – "This hope we have as an anchor of the soul both sure and steadfast and which enters the presence behind the veil where the forerunner has entered for us – even Jesus having become the high priest forever according to the order of Melchesidic, and it's talking there about Jesus being the anchor of our soul."

Bob: So "God so loved the world," we've got the heart and the globe, "that he gave" – we have a gift – "His only Son," we've got the little baby with the feet, "that whosoever believes" – that's the door open with the light coming through – "should not perish" – the soul is anchored, "But should have everlasting life" – now how are you going to picture everlasting life?

Barbara: That was a hard one.

Dennis: Yeah.

Barbara: That was really the hardest because no one has seen heaven, none of us have been there, so we don't know what it looks like.  But we have some hints.

Dennis: I really like what she chose here.  This was cool.

Barbara: Yeah, we have some hints of what it will be like, and we have some hints of what will happen when we go there, and one of the things that will happen when we go there is there will be the sound of a trumpet.  So I painted a trumpet, because that's very clear in Scripture that at the sound of the trumpet, we will go to be with Jesus.

So there's a trumpet, but I also decided to paint an image of a lion, because Jesus is the lion of Judah, and I've been re-reading recently all of the Narnia books.  After we went to see Prince Caspian in May, I thought, you know, it's been years since I've read those, since we don't have kids at home anymore.  So I started at the beginning and kept reading through them, and just the image of Aslan – it just is such a compelling image of who Christ is – the strength and the power of who He is.

So "everlasting life" actually has two images – it has the image of the lion and the image of the trumpet.

Bob: How has your meditating on this verse over a period of months borne fruit in your own thinking or in your own life?  Is there anything that, as you thought about it, you thought, "You know, I don't know that I've ever thought about in that way before."  Anything that rang true to you in a fresh way?

Barbara: Yeah, I think one of the things that was interesting, because as most projects go, this one evolved.  It changed, it grew, it had lots of different iterations, but one of the things that I realized as I wrote some of the prose pieces that go with the meditation pieces, is that it was really interesting to reflect back on my live as a child, because I loved Christmas intensely as a child, and most children do.  So I wasn't unusual on that, but as I thought back to what it was like as a kid, I had this longing every year at Christmas for it to last.  I didn't want it to be over, I didn't like it when it was over, it was depressing to put all the decorations away, it just felt boring when it was over.

And I realized, going through the process of writing this that God put that there – He wanted me to want Christmas to last forever.  He wants Christmas to last forever for all of us.  That's why He sent Jesus, because Christmas can last forever.  But I didn't understand that as a child, I didn't understand that until I heard the Gospel clearly presented to me in college, when I heard for the first time that I had a choice about the gift of Jesus, and, again, that wasn't tied into the Christmas message, either, but it was really interesting to see, as I reflected on this verse, how – what I'd always felt all of my life about Christmas lasting was really put there by God.  He was calling me, and I think that's true for all of us.  He calls all of us every year at Christmas, year after year after year, He is calling people to Himself through the celebration of the holiday.

Dennis: Yeah, and you really did a good job of writing in this, I think, to take us into the warm experience of Christmas.  In fact, Bob, I want you to read the piece that Barbara wrote about the world and just how Christmas was all about God's Son visiting the world, because this really, I think, captures what we're talking about here.

Bob: Well, you start off by quoting from "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe," and this is the faun, Mr. Tumnus, speaking to Lucy, and he says, "Why, it is she that has got all Narnia under her thumb" – talking about the White Witch.  "It is she that makes it always winter, always winter and never Christmas.  Think of that."

Then you go on to say, "I wholeheartedly agree with Lucy's response, which is 'How awful.'  I remember how weary I would get when winter in the Chicago area never seemed to end, sometimes running into March or even April.  It stayed cold and gray and lifeless so long, still, I can't imagine living in uninterrupted winter and no Christmas?  Truly dreadful.  Today we mark time by the birth of Christ.  Our calendars are ordered against that pivotal event in history.  For centuries the world truly was locked in a state of perpetual winter.  There was no Christmas, just as C.S. Lewis's imagery in the land of Narnia was frozen under an evil enchantment with no hope of coming springtime thaw, so our world was plagued by a chilling curse that petrified the hearts of humanity.  That long winter produced lives of futility, void of light, life and color without the expectation of Christmas.

This was the condition of the world into which Christ was born, and such is the state of each human being on our planet who has not received the Gift of Christmas.  God never does anything by chance or without intentionality, He never makes mistakes, it was not a random event, it was, in fact, quite on purpose that God determined the exact season, the exact moment, the exact location for the introduction of His Son to our cold, bleak world.  Christmas came during the Winter Solstice, the darkest days of the year.  At the dreariest hour, God broke through the darkness of our winter with the great and eternal light of His Son.  God invites us in the darkest days to embrace light and warmth and hope to leave winter behind and to welcome Christmas into our world.  Christmas is about the world because God's love never ends, and it is enough for us all."

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And, you know, that's what our focus ought to be a Christmastime, I mean, I really think what you've done, Barbara, with the book "When Christmas Came," is you brought us back to what ought to be front and center in our hearts and minds at this time of year.  And everything in the culture presses us away from meditation on Christ and God's Gift, and your book presses us back in that direction, and we need things like this to stay spiritually focused during a time of year when there is all kind of enticement to be focused on other things.

And I hope a lot of our listeners will get a copy of your book not only for themselves but we are hoping listeners will make this a great Christmas gift to give to family members, friends, loved ones.  You can go to our website,, and on the site you'll see information about how you can order multiple quantities of the book at a discounted price so that you can give the book as a gift.

And, again, we've already said it this week, but I just want to say again, this is a great way to put the Gospel in someone's hands at Christmastime who needs to hear about God's love for them.  Again, there is more information on the website,  When you get to the home page, on the right side of the screen, you'll see a box that says "Today's Broadcast."  Click where it says "Learn More," and that will take you to an area of the site where you can find out how you can get a copy or multiple copies of Barbara's book, "When Christmas Came."  It is only available from us here at FamilyLife this year.  It's not available on Amazon, it's not available in local stores, at least for this year.  The only place you can get it is here at or by calling us at 1-800-FLTODAY.

Let me also mention when you do get in touch with us, if you don't have our interactive Nativity Scene that we've created for families called "What God Wants for Christmas," you might consider getting that resource as well.  This is a great tool for parents to use with children to help them understand the meaning of Christmas and the Gospel message, and the kids love to open the little boxes and play with the figures that are in each box.

Again, more information about the Nativity Scene, "What God Wants for Christmas," and Barbara's book, "When Christmas Came" on our website at or call us at 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY.

You know, I think it is safe to say that this has been an unusually challenging year for a lot of families, for a lot of businesses, a lot of corporations, and it's been an unusually challenging year for a lot of ministries like ours – because of what's going on with the economy in the last several months with gas prices, everything that's happened in our economy this year, there are a lot of ministries like ours that are facing the end of the year with some significant financial challenges, some significant hurdles.

And we know you're facing some of those things in your own family and wondering how Christmas may be different at your house this year than in past years.  We had some friends of the ministry who stepped forward recently, and they wanted to encourage as many FamilyLife Today listeners as possible to consider making a year-end contribution to FamilyLife in spite of the challenges that we've all faced this year.

So they have agreed that they would match any donation we receive from a listener on a dollar-for-dollar basis up to a total of $425,000.  Now, we are hoping that we'll be able to take full advantage of that matching gift opportunity but, again, we know it's been a tough year for a lot of folks, and if we're going to be able to take full advantage of that matching gift, we need to hear from as many of you as possible with as generous a donation as possible.

So we wanted to let you know about the opportunity that is there for us and ask you, if there is any way you can, to make a year-end contribution to FamilyLife Today so that we can continue on this station and on other stations into the year ahead and so that we can take full advantage of this matching gift opportunity that is available between now and the end of the year.

If you can make a donation, you can do it online at, or you can call 1-800-FLTODAY, make your donation over the phone.  Let me just say in advance, we do appreciate your partnership with us and your support of this ministry, and we particularly appreciate your donation here at this particular time.  It means a lot to us.

Dennis, before we wrap things up today, I know you wanted to share with our listeners a little of the story behind the dedication in Barbara's book, and what she's written and what she's drawn is powerful.

Dennis: There is also power in one last thing, Bob, and I mentioned earlier that the feet of Jesus, the baby's feet, had symbolism not only for Him in the manger but also other symbolism, and there is a surprise that we just wanted to offer here, because our daughter and her husband, Rebecca and Jake, this book was dedicated to someone very special to them.

Barbara: I dedicated this book to Rebecca and Jacob's daughter, Molly, who was born in June of '08, this past June, and she lived seven days, and then died.  And I was already working on this project when Molly was born, and we spent that week with her, had the privilege of being there for all seven days of her life. 

And one of the things that Jacob and Rebecca got to do, and we did as well, was get her handprints and her footprints – and most hospitals do that, anyway.  They put a hand – put a footprint on some kind of certificate.  And the day that they decided to make Molly's handprints and footprints, they got it on several different pieces of paper, and then the idea began to spread by Dennis, he started it.  He said, "Could you put her handprints and feetprints in my Bible?"  And the nurse said, "Sure."  And so everybody scrambled to get their Bibles, and so we all now have Molly's hand and feet prints in our Bible.

But after all of that was over, and we were back home, and I was thinking, "How can I illustrated the baby Jesus, I thought about Molly, and I thought about her footprints.  And so I painted Molly's footprints, because we had them as baby Jesus's footprints.  So the image of the baby Jesus's footprints are really Molly's footprints.

Bob: And on the first page of the book where there is a dedication, Molly's footprints are there.

Barbara: Footprints are there, mm-hm, because I decided to dedicate the book to Molly because the hope of Christmas is what it's all about.  The hope of Christmas is that we will see her again, and we will.  So that is the joy that God gave us when He gave us the gift of Jesus Christ.  We can have hope, and that gives us joy in living today – being separated from her and still grieving the loss of this precious grandchild, but we have hope, and that's the message of Christmas.

Dennis: Yeah, in fact, here is the dedication – "This book is dedicated to Molly Ann Mutz, my namesake, my precious granddaughter who, because Christmas came, we will see again one day when all things will be made new – June 13-June 19, 2008."

And, you know, for those who have been alive for I'd say more than four or five decades, they begin to understand that heaven looks better and better, and those who have lost children or lost a loved one also know that the reality of what the book is about, John 3:16, is really the hope of the world.  Christmas is not about Christmas lights and gifts and candy canes.  It's certainly fun to have those things, and we enjoy those things, but it is about celebrating, redemption, Who became flesh, and Who paid the price to get us into heaven, and that's what we need to be celebrating and it's becoming more meaningful with each passing year.

Bob: FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas – help for today; hope for tomorrow. 


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