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“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you…” (Ezekiel 36:26)

On December 3, 1967, a 53-year-old South African grocer dying with chronic heart disease, received the first human heart transplant. The new heart had functioned normally, until 18 days later the recipient died from double pneumonia. Surgeon Christiaan Barnard, who trained at the University of Cape Town and in the United States, performed the revolutionary medical operation utilizing a technique developed by American researchers in the 1950s. Hope was given to patients with irreparably damaged hearts when heart-transplant operations began, and by the late 1970s many of Bernard’s patients were living up to five years with their new hearts. However, the demand for donor hearts always exceeded availability, and thousands died every year while waiting for healthy hearts to become available. It was only fifteen years after the first transplant that a 61-year-old retired Seattle dentist by the name of Barney Clark in an advanced stage of heart disease became the first recipient of a permanent artificial heart on December 2, 1982. Clark was too old to be a candidate for a heart transplant. His only shot at survival was permanent artificial heart advanced by Dr. Robert Jarvik. The surgery was considered a success, since Clark went on to live another 112 days. in the 1990s, the Jarvik-7 was used on more than 150 patients whose hearts were too damaged to be aided by a mechanical pump implant. More than half of these patients survived until they got a transplant, able to celebrate many more holidays . . . including Christmas.

The ability to get a new heart for Christmas comes in many forms. Released in December, 1843 – Charles Dickens’ novel A Christmas Carol has never been out of print. It tells the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, a wealthy, stingy man who had developed a calloused heart. Scrooge’s catchphrase, “Bah! Humbug!” is often used to express disgust with many modern Christmas traditions. One Christmas Eve, he is visited by the ghost of his former business partner and the spirits of Christmases Past, Present, and Yet to Come. After their visits, he is transformed into a kinder, gentler man. His last name, Scrooge, is synonymous in describing persons who are known to be less-than-generous. Ebenezer Scrooge is arguably one of the most famous characters created by Dickens as well as in all of English literature. Through the visions of Scrooge, Dickens’ book is able to capture the universal longing for inner peace felt by each of us. Without self-reflection, we too can easily fall into the role of Scrooge for having a judgmental and cruel attitude.

A young man named Saul once opposed Jesus and His followers with a vengeful spirit. He “began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison” (Acts 8:3). But one day he encountered the risen Christ, and his life became a different story (Acts 9:1-16). In a letter to Timothy, the converted Saul (who became known as Paul) described that life-changing event. “Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 1:13-14). A change in behavior begins with Jesus changing our heart. Jesus was born into our world and gave His life so that we can be forgiven and transformed through faith in Him. The medical team operating on Dr. Barney Clark had to remove his disease-ridden heart before they could replace it with a “new” one. If we fail to be consistent in our walk with Christ, we may develop an irregular heartbeat. Over time, our heart can become calloused and our spiritual specialist may need to perform heart surgery. As we enter Advent, we need to improve our heart health by taking a journey to a manger to witness the birth of the “King of Kings” (Revelation 19:16). It’s the last place we might expect to find Him, but that is the miracle and gift of God through Jesus.  Because of that humble birth of God’s Son, we can change our old heart and find a new one that beats only for Him. Amidst the flurry of activities, won’t you join me and look at each day as an opportunity to demonstrate Christmas? A heart radiating the love of Jesus is always the perfect gift. And all who receive it will join each of us in finding something very special . . . A New Heart for Christmas.

REFLECTION: What heart conditions do you need God to heal? Throughout this Advent seasoned, what steps will you take to realize the miraculous love of Christ in your life?  How might you invite others to journey with you to become more focused on finding a heart-filled Christmas?


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