Sunday, December 17, 2017


The Nativity scene, or “Crèche,” was once a common American sight during the Advent season, not only on church properties but in homes and town squares. Today, secularization has banished its presence from many public places and governmental locations. Yet Christmas has survived the political “humbugs” of modern scrooges, despite how its true meaning is often lost in the annual busyness of holiday activities.

When set up inside or outside a church, Christ’s Crèche may be in visual proximity to His Cross. Both sights, taken together, offer crucial insight into the true meaning of Christmas, as expressed in John 3:16 (NKJV), “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.”

The name Christmas comes from “Christ’s Mass,” a Eucharistic celebration to honor the birth of Jesus. Yet the bread and wine on the Table is a spiritual “communion” with His body and blood, sacrificed on the Cross to purchase salvation for all who believe. It was a divine plan: Jesus was born in Bethlehem so that He could die on Golgotha’s hill.

In 2006, while taking Holy Communion at a Christmas Eve service, I was meditating on Christ’s words in John 6:54-56, “Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.” It put this bond of the Crèche with the Cross to the forefront of my thoughts, and on Christmas Day I wrote the following poem:


Last night I fed on Christmas in the broken bread and wine.
I tasted sacred nourishment that brought God’s life to mine.
With thoughts of Mary’s holy Child, by candlelight and songs,
I worshiped at the Table where all Adam’s race belongs.

I pondered how the sweetness of our Lord’s nativity
Should never be seen separate from His death upon the tree;
How God, wrapped up in human flesh, sojourned with human need,
How hands that sculpted human form could feel our pain and bleed;
How incarnation taught Him through life’s weariness and sweat;
How only after learning these, He chose to pay our debt.

Last night I fed on Christmas, and the strength I gained was real.
Our present peace and future hope draw meaning from that Meal.
Our banishment is ended; our empty lostness gone.
The Babe and Lamb of Bethlehem is Whom I feasted on.

— David L. Hatton, 12/25/2006

When I wrote that poem, the union of the Crèche and the Cross wasn’t new to me. I had poetically tried to capture the same concept 14 years earlier in another, longer poem. In it, I attempted to intermingle Mary’s heart of grief at the foot of the Cross with her remembrance of the Christmas story as recorded in the Gospels:


Time suspended, time that stops
In between the crimson drops:
As they tumble to the ground
Somehow she can stare around
Seeing scenes of yesterday,
Hearing angel’s words that say,
“Highly favored, have no fear!
From your virgin womb this year
By the Spirit’s power alone
Comes the King for David’s throne,
Sinner’s Savior, Holy One,
God Almighty’s only Son.”

Then, the words her cousin told
(As it trickles red and cold,
His life-blood before the tomb),
“Blest, the fruit that fills your womb!
Blest are you of womankind,
Mother of our Lord Divine!”
And her song sung in reply,
“My soul praises God on high!
In my Savior I rejoice!
Making me His humble choice,
Causing all to call me ‘blest,’
God has done for me the best!
Mighty is His holy name,
Ageless grace, and endless fame!”

As she stands before His cross,
Feeling pain, heart-rending loss,
She remembers public shame,
Pregnant with no man to blame.
She recalls dear Joseph’s care:
Taught by dreams her task to share,
How he guarded her from scorn
Till the baby boy was born . . .
Worried when her pains began
As they came to Bethlehem,
He implored each house and hall
Just to find a stable stall.
In its filth the baby came
’Neath an oily torch’s flame.
Wakened by a holy light,
Shepherds visited that night.
Angels beckoned them to run
To the town to find the One
Called the Christ whose wondrous birth
Brought down Heaven’s peace to earth.

On the hill called Calvary
Witnessing his agony,
Aching with a dreadful sob,
Hearing laughter from the mob,
She, with other women’s tears,
Weeps and dreams back through the years
To the visit of the Three:
Magi from the East to see
Little Jesus on her lap
Swaddled in a woolen wrap.
Frankincense and myrrh and gold,
“Royal presents,” they were told.
One day he would reign as King. . .
How could they have said this thing,
When with torment now he cries
Up to cold and silent skies?

Darkness gathers, shadows fall,
Thunder echoes with his call. . .
Mournful cry: “My God!  My God!”
She falls prostrate on the sod.
Then she somehow overhears
Whispered words that ease her fears,
Words that re-ignite the dream
Shattered by her son’s last scream.
“It is finished!” he had cried.
Now the guard that pierced his side
Whispers when the deed is done,
“Surely He was God’s own Son!”

Mary keeps that faithful word
In her thoughts until she’s heard
Peter tell her, “He arose,”
Smiles, and nods as if she knows. . .
How could it be otherwise?
And again her heart replies,
Filled with overwhelming love,
“My soul praises God above!
In my Savior I rejoice!
Making me His humble choice,
Causing all to call me ‘blest,’
God has done for me the best!
Mighty is His holy name,
Ageless grace, and endless fame!”

— David L. Hatton, 2/8/1992

In my 25 years of helping laboring moms in the hospital, I had to work half of my Christmases. It was always a sentimental thrill to see babies delivered on the day set aside to celebrate Christ’s birth. The joy of their entry into the world, however, could be dampened by knowing that each of them would someday have to face their departure from this life. But that same contemplation on Christ’s Creche and Crossand the hope they together offer to the human racemakes a Christian’s journey from the cradle to the grave extravagantly hopeful.

Christmas reminds us of that hope, if we have placed our trust in Jesus, the Babe of Bethlehem and the sacrificial “Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world.” As the Advent season closes the old year and initiates a new one, so faith in Christ ends an old self-directed life and begins a new God-directed one. And, as my favorite quote at Christmastime says:

“Though Christ a thousand times in Bethlehem be born,
 If he’s not born in thee thy soul is still forlorn.
 Should Christ be born a thousand times anew,
 Despair, O man, unless he’s born in you!”
   Angelus Silesius (1624-1677)

(1) from Poems Between Birth and Resurrection ©2013.
(2) from Poems Between Darkness and Light ©1994.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017


“They have gone beyond the limits of impropriety. They have invented mirrors to reflect all this artificial beautification of theirs, as if it were nobility of character or self-improvement. They should, rather, conceal such deception with a veil. It did the handsome Narcissus no good to gaze on his own image, as the Greek myth tells us. If Moses forbade his people to fashion any image to take the place of God, is it right for these women to study their reflected images for no other reason that to distort the natural features of their faces? . . . If the Lord places more importance on beauty of soul than on that of the body, what must he think of artificial beautification when he abhors so thoroughly every sort of lie? 'We walk by faith, not by sight.'” — Clement of Alexandria (150–215 AD) in Christ the Educator, 3.2.11-12

When I came across the above quote recently, it reminded me of my opinion about makeup in my early teen years. I had read and was so impressed by the following verse that I used sunlight to burn its words into a wooden plaque with a magnifying glass:

Despite the fact that this plaque still hangs in our house—directly above our bathroom mirror—its presence doesn’t keep my sweetheart from spending time in front of it trying to beautify her face. Even my repetitive avowal that shes the loveliest woman in the world isn’t effective. Evidently her artificial beautification isn’t for me, or for God. For whom then? For the world? For herself? It may be an unconscious part of a woman’s self-identity....

I’ll never forget a mime routine Red Skelton once did on his TV show. He role-played a couple coming home from a party. First, the wife entered the bedroom and removed her painful high heels, her earrings, her wig, her imitation eyelashes, and the two falsies from her bra. Applying cold cream to her face, she wiped off her lipstick and makeup. Then, wiggling out of her girdle and setting it on the vanity with the rest of her things, she went to bed. When Red entered as the husband, he quickly and easily undressed. But before climbing into bed, he went over to the vanity, looked down at everything his wife had removed, and said, “Goodnight, honey.” How funny it was, and how informative!

My wife knew my feelings about makeup before we married. While she uses it minimally, she shares with most women in America the common habit of facial routine before the mirror. It’s part of her culture, yes, even of her Christian culture. I remember a teacher telling me of his visit to a Christian family in Germany. At the dinner table, the wife, who had just taken a big swig from her beer mug, asked him, “Is it true that Christian women in America actually wear lipstick?” Arbitrary culture is a bigger gatekeeper on morality than Bible teachers want to admit.

But Bible teachers are mostly men, and when lax in marital devotion, they can be blatantly chauvinistic. At the university where I met my spouse, I cringed during one chapel service when the university president defended his wife’s use of makeup by saying, “If the barn needs painting, paint it!” As my sympathy for his wife rose, my respect for him fell. Maybe he didn’t intend to liken her to a barn, but his statement implied an even worse malediction: an aging woman’s face is unacceptable without artificial beautification.

Our culture idolizes the transient state of youth. Cosmetic painting has a hidden but inherent message: youthful beauty alone is beautiful. Beyond red lips, smooth skin and the absence of gray hair, this ideal encompasses other body parts. Historically, the corset was invented to narrow older abdomens to a younger size, while its two upper half-cups gave the bosom a breast-lift. When women finally salvaged themselves from the unhealthy tyranny of the corset, they weren’t wise enough to resist its twin offspring, the girdle and the braziere. These also had health risks. But with girdles making tummies appear youthfully slender and bras keeping breasts looking perky—firm and sticking out, as they were in late adolescence or early adulthood—the risks were ignored.

Joined to cosmetics, in the growing business of beautification, are diet programs, plastic-surgery procedures, and various skin-care technologies, all trying to remove or slow the signs of aging. But these age-erasers are not age-eliminators. They only procrastinate the attitudinal adjustment that all women must eventually make. Thinning, sagging, wrinkling skin is a future reality that every face will, sooner or later, have to face. By embracing that reality now, at any stage of life, a woman can bless herself with the special gift of self-acceptance. Accepting her face, figure and features, her skin, shape and size, along with every other part of her unadorned body, can be a time-saver at the mirror. But personally practicing body acceptance can also be an emotional life-saver, a healer of low self-esteem.

Because our bodies are temples for God’s presence and incarnations of His image, Christians should have led the way in spreading a sound message of body acceptance. Instead, secular voices have become its loudest proponents. Numerous women have given impressive TED Talks in this area.[1] But the best full-length documentary I’ve seen so far is EMBRACE (2016), by the Australian body image activist Taryn Brumfitt.[2] Without claiming a theological basis for their ideas on body acceptance, these ladies have proclaimed an essentially prophetic word calling for a healthy personal and social repentance (metanoia), a change of mind” about their perceived body image.

Whose thinking should guide our thoughts on the appearance and appeal of our face, our skin, our shape? Shouldn’t it be the mind of the Creator who gave them to us? God is not against beauty. His salvation plan through Christ includes the restoration of physical bodies that will surely outshine the beauty of our youth. But, until Resurrection Day, we live, move, and have our being in these aging bodies, which serve as sanctuaries of the Holy Spirit. At whatever age they’ve reached or state they are in, our bodies are uniquely personal, and each one is “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14).

The next time you shower or bathe, stand in front of the mirror and look with care at your naked body. It has been your closest companion in the ups and downs of life, and it might be physically showing the wear and tear of your adventures. But we should not let a preoccupied focus on chasing lost youth cause us to miss enjoying the present state and achievements of our bodies. Instead, we should rejoice in them, and heed Paul’s injunction to “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship,” (Romans 12:1, ESV).

Inspiration for this concluding poem came to me in an art class on “facial expressions” after the professor decried the beauty-care industry’s use of Botox for killing nerves that controlled the facial muscles behind wrinkle formation.


Please, never treat your wrinkles
    as if they were a blight.
Like stars that shine and twinkle,
    they set the soul in sight.
They’re formed in special places
    as journey-marks, not scars.
God paints them on our faces
    as part of who we are.

David L. Hatton, 3/2/2009
(from Poems Between Birth and Resurrection ©2013)


[1] The following TED Talks are presently viewable on YouTube:
The lady stripped bare by Tracey Spicer
An epidemic of beauty sickness by Renee Engeln
My story is painted on my body by Chantelle Brown
Plus-size? More Like My Size by Ashley Graham
Ending the pursuit of perfection by Iskra Lawrence
The Business of Beauty is Very Ugly by Carrie Hammer
A new standard of beauty by Amber Starks
Beauty and how we're obsessed with the wrong idea by Christina Gressianu
A bold message about beauty by Michelle Serna
Stop hating your body; start living your life by Taryn Brumfitt

[2] Taryn Brumfitt’s film EMBRACE is now available on Netflix streaming.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017


Greek mythology tells about a woman named Pandora who received a box that was supposed to remain closed. When curiosity got the best of her, she yielded to the temptation to lift the lid. Before she could shut it, a swarm of disastrous curses instantly escaped from the open box, filling the world with tragedy. In the Garden of Eden, Eve did essentially the same thing by eating the forbidden fruit.

These similar stories have another crucial similarity. God told Eve that the “offspring” of a woman would someday defeat the devil, whose deception brought death into the world. The other story tells of what was left behind in the bottom of Pandora’s box. Still awaiting release was something the world—now plagued by sickness, suffering and sorrow—desperately needed: hope. Jesus Christ fulfilled both of these expectations.

The Bible explains the nature of this fulfillment: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil,” (1 John 3:8b, ESV). It also describes how it was accomplished: “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil,” (Heb 2:14, NIV). Through the Incarnation, God’s Son became a true human being to defeat death by His Cross. His empty tomb became the symbol of Christ’s victory over death and His proven promise of our access to eternal life.

As hope was finally released from the open lid of Pandora’s destructive box, so

Hope beckons to a death-bound human race from the open doorway of Christ’s empty tomb.”(DLH)

Forbidden fruit from a lethal tree had led humanity into death’s tomb. The promised Fruit from Mary’s womb died on Calvary’s Tree to liberate us from the realm of death—starting now by giving us spiritual life by new birth, and finishing up later by sharing His own bodily resurrection with us for eternity. This is humanity’s ultimate hope declared by history’s most human-friendly faith!

The ancient Christian salutation on Easter morning, “Christ is risen!” declares this awesome hope. The responsive return-greeting echoes our resounding faith in it: “He is risen indeed!” I pray that this hopeful faith be both in your heart and on your lips!