Mark Lanier

What Does Christmas Mean To You?

I asked a few Gospel Music artists and friends to share some words about what Christmas means to them.

Mark Lanier

Mark Lanier has long been considered among Gospel Music’s favorite artists. He is also a noted composer and many of his songs are known as gospel classics. Mark spent five years with the Bible tones, seven years with Perfect Heart, a highly acclaimed and awarded quartet, and several years with Poet Voices.

“Christmas is a big deal around the Lanier home,” says Mark. “We start listening to Christmas music in mid-November and the lights go up outside always during the week of Thanksgiving. There is always a fire in the fireplace, the anticipation of gifts and watching my two boys grow up with a little extra spark in their eye around this time of year.  Boy it is so much a part of life here in LA. And most of all I get to brag about the Savior who came the first Christmas and changed the world and my whole family’s lives each week through Gospel Music. Christmas is my favorite time of the year!”

Marg Griffin is a good friend and the wife of Bill Griffin. The Griffins are promoters of Gospel Music in Western Canada and Live in Calgary, Alberta. “’Joy to the world! The Lord has come’. Joy has always bubbled up inside of me,” says Griffin. “Jesus came that His joy might be in us and that our joy will be made full. (John 15:11). We experience joy, which can be defined as a strong feeling of happiness, gladness and delight. When our needs are being met and we are at peace with one another. We experience unspeakable joy when Christ has filled our lives with His love and goodness.”

Marg Griffin

“Each year Bill and I create a magical Christmas paradise filled with sparkling lights, beautifully decorated trees, hundreds of heartwarming Precious Moment figurines, jolly old St. Nicholas, and of course the center piece which is the larger nativity scene, featuring the source of all joy, the Lord Jesus,” continues Griffin. “Why do we dig out the Christmas CD’s at the first cover of frost? Why do we decorate every wall and corner of our home at Christmas time? Christmas is the one time of the year when the world, in which we live, talks about our source of joy. The Lord Jesus, who is our light 365 days each year, is the reason for the candles, the lights and the stars. The Lord Jesus who is the ‘Altogether Lovely One’ and ‘Fairer Than Ten Thousand’; He is the reason for the beautiful decorations. All year long we celebrate the joy of Christ’s peace and love. The shimmer and glisten of trees and lights are lovely, but they are fleeting, temporal and last only a season. The light that they symbolize brings light to our path throughout the entire journey of life.”

Rhonda Spurrell is a good friend of mine, and is a wonderful singer and recording artist.  She shares this from her Journal: “Winter 1996: For 13 years I had the privilege of being youth Pastor at a church in Verona Ontario. During that time I pastored five different youth groups comprised of ages 13 – 22. These kids came from all walks of life, some from good solid Christian homes, others from totally dysfunctional homes, always in trouble with the law, and no one to care for them. Some kids I have pastored were abused physically, mentally, and sexually. Together with God’s help, I helped them overcome fears and frustrations of being an adolescent in today’s world. Sometimes I would be a bit overwhelmed and often I had no one to assist me. It was just the kids and God and I. Many are the stories I could tell of how God moved in on our meetings in the little hall of the United Church and blessed us with His presence. The kids felt comfortable and safe enough to open up and share their hearts and their feelings and for some it was the only place they could.”

“Every year at Christmas we put together a skit for the church’s annual Christmas concert” continues Spurrell. “For some of those kids being involved in that concert and coming to the church was the one and only time they had ever been inside a church. One such young man came to one of our meetings; he had never been inside of the church before and was totally, as he put it, ‘cooled out!’ He was a big fella and had a low voice. He told me his name was John. I could tell that he was a loner just by the way he sat at the back of the room. His clothes were too big for him; his hair was long and covered his glasses, which always sat on the end of his nose. He always chewed a huge wad of bubblegum, which you could smell when he walked into the hall. When I said’ hi’ he smiled at me with one tooth missing in the front. I encouraged him to come and sit with all the other kids and after a couple of weeks of coaxing, he did. One evening I asked him if he would like to be in our Christmas play. His face lit up and he said, ‘Oh, boy, would I ever!’ Then he asked, ‘What part am I going to play?’ I told him that I was giving him the part of God. Immediately, his face became so serious and he looked me right in the eye through thick glasses and said, ‘I promise, I will play my part the best I can.’ My heart started to sing; I knew that I was being led of the Lord to give John that part. It wasn’t a very challenging part, but a very important one all the same. You see, John was a bit mentally challenged and lived alone with his aunt. He had been shuffled from foster home to foster home always getting into trouble and not quite fitting in anywhere. Finally, his aunt decided to take him in. He hadn’t been accepted anywhere else. To John getting this important part meant acceptance, he was important.”

Rhonda Spurrell

“Everyone was easy to costume, except big John,” Spurrell remembers. “Where was I going to find a white cloak that would fit him?  My mind began to race and I scoured our church costume closet, my closet, and checked the local Salvation Army stores in the city. I finally found a white baptismal gown that would fit him. So, one evening I went to visit John’s apartment to try it on him when we put it on we all laughed; it was huge! But with a nip and tuck here and there it began to take shape, soon it fit perfectly. As I was altering the gown, John, out of the blue, gave me the biggest hug. He looked at me and said, ‘I have the most important part in the play; I am God. I promise I’ll do a good job.’ My heart began to melt and I encouraged him, telling him I knew he would do a great job.”

“Our practices continued and John became surer of himself each time. I would chuckle as he so seriously learned his lines, his actions, and whenever I would tell him that he did an excellent job I could hear his deep-throated chuckle of delight. Oh, what fun we all had! The night of the performance was of course, one of nerves and great expectancy. I fluttered around and made sure that everyone’s costume was intact and offered words of encouragement to each one. At first when I went to check on John I couldn’t find him. No one knew where he was! My heart sank and a little bit of panic started to sneak in. Then in one of the back Sunday school rooms I could hear a deep voice softly talking. The door was closed so I stood outside in the hall and overheard John. He was praying that God would help him. That was the first prayer that I ever heard John pray. I know God heard him. I wept. All the teaching I have given about how God hears us when we pray and that He loves us; some of it had sunk in! The play went off without a hitch and everyone was pleased and moved by the message of Christmas. God showed up in more ways than one night.” Spurrel concludes, “Who are you influencing for Him? Are you discouraged because you don’t see results? Don’t give up. He’s getting through and He is faithful! May your home be filed with great joy, beauty, and light this Christmas.”

On a personal note, my favorite Christmas story came from my late Mother, Sheila Foster.   When she was a little girl, living in Thornloe, Ontario, she was part of a very poor family. Her parents usually made any Christmas presents they ever got. One particular year, the family awoke to the sound of sleigh bells. She recalls waking up and running downstairs, looking out the window with the rest of the family, to see a horse drawn sleigh pulling away.

Sheila Foster

Puzzled, her dad opened the door and there on the stoop was a big wooden box. He dragged it inside and to their surprise and delight there were all kinds of fruit, a goose, candies, and presents for everyone! What excited me about all this was the look on my mother’s face as she told this story.  You could tell, this story meant a lot to her.  It was captured in her memory and would be there for the rest of her life. My mother did not have many moments like this, which she shared from her heart. Her story became my favorite Christmas story!Merry Christmas from the home of Phil Foster to your’s. God bless us everyone!

Phil Foster and Family 2012