On Monday, the 66th annual Neosho Laymen's League Pre-Christmas Services began its weeklong event at the Bible Holiness Assembly of God Church, 614 N. High St., Neosho, with a sizeable crowd.
The event – which starts at 6 a.m. and concludes at 7 a.m., includes refreshments, music, scriptures, and a guest speaker speaking on the theme, "What Christmas Means to Me."
Ray Prihoda, laymen's league president, welcomed the group.
"We welcome you to Neosho Laymen League Pre-Christmas Services and we are glad that you are here at our church," he said. "…As we all come together at this time of the year and celebrate our Lord's birth, that is a good thing."
Monday's guest speaker was David Layman, former plant manager at La-Z-Boy Midwest of Neosho.
"I am very glad to be here and I appreciate you inviting me," Layman said in his opening remarks. "The theme is 'What Christmas means to me?' as Dallas (Kelly, former Neosho High School basketball coach) mentioned that to me, I started thinking how I put my hands around that, how I get there. I want to take a little bit of a detour and go to how the world sees Christmas. It starts with how do we know when Christmas is here? I think that it starts for me (with) the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade."
He gave examples of other events this time of the year.
"Then Christmas lights go up everywhere, we have Black Friday shopping day, then Cyber Monday shopping day," he said. "Then tons of catalogs arrive in the mail every day. Christmas songs are on the radio, Christmas specials on the TV, Christmas plays at school and church, Christmas cards are signed and mailed out to family and friends. Yes, we definitely know when Christmas is here."
Layman then talked about the religious meaning with Christmas and the signs.
"The Christmas Tree symbolizes life and rebirth. The star on the Christmas tree marks the place where the Christ child lay," he said. "The Christmas lights represent that Jesus is the light of the world."
He also mentioned about the wreath symbolizing that God is the Alpha and the Omega and His kingdom knows no beginning and no end.
Layman also told about the candy cane, the Christmas carols, Santa and presents.
"Presents, one of the best things about Christmas for most people is getting and receiving gifts," he said. "Giving one another presents is a ritual straight from the Bible. Jesus is God's gift to human beings, we give each other gifts because God set the precedent by giving so much to us in the form of creation, His Son and himself. When we see Christmas presents, they remind us of the most precious gift God gave us, the way to Heaven through Jesus."
Page 2 of 3 - Layman then moved on to the central theme of this week's services, "What Christmas means to me."
"When Dallas called me a couple of weeks ago to ask me to speak, I immediately began to think of various traditions that my family has embraced at this time of the year," he said. "I have three things that I feel like will tell that story and the last one I think is the most key."
His first point of tradition was when he and his wife Susan's children were young.
"We had to have a real tree and we had to cut it down, so we would load up in our pickup truck and drive a little north of Diamond to a Christmas tree farm," he said. "The Christmas tree hunt would always be on Thanksgiving weekend and it didn't matter what kind of weather we had, we were going for a tree."
They arrived at the tree farm, walking through the farm until they found that special tree.
His second tradition dealt with talking about his childhood.
"My mom's mother had definite structure to celebrating Christmas, it was always on Christmas Eve," he said. "All of the relatives came, and since I was the first grandchild, I had a special duty before Christmas dinner. I read the Christmas story, Luke 2:1-20. I can't say that I enjoyed reading these verses, first of all it is 20 verses, but the hardest part was reading in front of everyone."
However, he said reading the verses set the tone for the evening.
"We knew that we would receive presents after the dishes and the kitchen were cleaned up, but we recognized that Christmas was for Jesus, it was His celebration, not just for us getting presents."
This tradition continued for her lifetime, he noted, as his brother and sister came along, then cousins came along.
"We always read the Christmas story before our Christmas dinner," he added.
The third tradition he spoke about dealt with many generations in his family.
"I grew up in a Christian home, my dad was a Southern Baptist preacher, and both sets of my grandparents attended church every Sunday," he said. "So church was and is who I am today."
Layman continued on.
"I have had many great Christian mentors in my lifetime and early on in my childhood, my moral compass was set," he said. "One of the ways that you learn to understand the significance of Jesus being born is to participate in the children's Christmas program. At an early age, I was a participant, I was usually a shepherd or a wise man, and I liked those parts because I didn't have to remember any lines. When our children were old enough, they also participated in the children's Christmas programs, and now our grandchildren participate in the children's Christmas programs."
Page 3 of 3 - Layman did speak about his oldest grandson performing for the first time in a Christmas program a few days ago, also noting that he was a wiseman.
In his closing comments, Layman said, "my parents and my grandparents taught me the true meaning of Christmas. Susan and I taught our children the true meaning of Christmas and now, I am watching our kids bring up our grandkids, teaching them the true meaning of Christmas. Yes they really enjoy their presents, but they know that the real meaning of Christmas is about Jesus. And that is 'what Christmas means to me.'
Laymen League participants sung "Silent Night" and "The First Noel."
Special music was by Keith Schneider and Barry Koch read the scripture Luke 2:1-3.