Dale Johnson: This is one of my favorite times of year. This is actually one of my favorite podcasts that we do all year. It’s become quite a Christmas tradition for us at ACBC to involve one of our members that maybe many of you know and talk to them about some of their Christmas traditions. This week, I have with me Dr. Howard Eyrich. He’s a recent Academy Member. Listen, I couldn’t be more thrilled about Howard and Randy Patten this past year being inducted as an Academy Member of ACBC. What a well deserved thing. Their service to biblical counseling in general, the movement itself, and ACBC in particular—and Howard is still very, very active in the work of ACBC as a fellow. He also teaches at Birmingham Theological Seminary. He holds, as I mentioned earlier, a DMin degree, but he’s also the director of their DMin program and the chair of their master’s program at Birmingham Theological Seminary. He still serves and teaches there. Many of you have taken courses with Howard through the years.
I can’t wait, Howard, to hear a little bit about Christmas around the Eyrich household. Brother, let me just say, first of all, from all of us at ACBC, we’re grateful for you. We stand on the strength of shoulders of men just like you and the work that you still continue to do. We find ourself grateful for you and your work so very often. It’s a pleasure to have you with us on the podcast to talk about these Christmas traditions.
Howard Eyrich: Well, thank you, Dale. It’s good to be with you. It’s a joy, in God’s providence, to be in this movement from the very beginning and watch it grow, watch it to have its struggles from time to time and rise above them and keep on going and keep getting the job done.
Dale Johnson: Yeah, it’s interesting to me that you were in the room on many of the occasions that I wish I was just a fly on the wall to watch, and you’ve lived a part of that life and what an exciting thing. Whenever I get with you, I enjoy talking about things of the past and history a little bit about the biblical counseling movement. But today our task is to talk about Christmas. So I want to, Howard, just get your perspective on Christmas. This is one of my favorite times of the year, certainly, but it’s fun for me to think back over my short life and think about all the neat memories that I have particularly of this time of year with family and that sort of thing. What about for you Howard? What are some of the neat things, as you look back over your life, that Christmas memories start to arise? What are some of those things?
Howard Eyrich: Well, the first thing that comes to my mind, it only happens once, hopefully, in life. I brought my wife home, who was then my fiance, to meet my parents. Although she didn’t stay with my parents. She stayed with my spiritual parents, who were just 10 years older than I was. She stayed with them, and she knew this, because I wanted their imprimatur on her because they were the first functional marriage I’d ever seen in my life. They became my models and they had a lot of influence in my life so I wanted to be sure they were pleased. She stayed with them. We had a great time. So that’s my first Christmas memory.
My second Christmas memory is our first Christmas tree and my stupidity. We went to my dad’s farm and we cut our own tree down. You know, out in the forest it doesn’t look as big as it does when you bring it in. We ended up with about a 14-foot tree because the apartment we were living in at the seminary had 18-foot ceilings. So, it really actually fit the room. Well, that was fine. We hauled in. We got it set up and we were going to decorate it that night. We had gone and bought ornaments and stuff, because this was our first Christmas. She went in to sit in the tub and kind of take a great time getting ready to do that and be all new bride. Well, my buddy came by, who we used to call roommate because he spent so much time with us, who I just had a chance to visit after 13 years of not seeing him. I thought we’d do her a favor. We’d decorate the tree. So that’s a memory she never lets me forget.
Dale Johnson: There’s a reason it’s a memory because it’s brought back up quite a bit I’m sure.
Howard Eyrich: Another very special one is, and this may minister to somebody that’s listening, my dad had Alzheimer’s. I think you’re aware of that. Probably about three years from the end of his life, maybe it was four, he would still have moments of lucidity and you could really relate to him. Well, I was managing his affairs at that point because he was not capable of doing so, and so I got him and my children in the old pickup truck and we went to the tree farm. Before we went, I put money in my dad’s pocket and I said, “Now Pop, you buy the tree.” So we went to the tree farm and he and the kids picked the tree out, cut down. We drug it back. They bagged it up like they do and we brought it home, but before we did, Pop paid for the tree and he bought hot chocolate for all of us and we stood there and drank hot chocolate together. Then we came home and I unloaded the tree and took it in the house to set it up and I said something the Dad about buying the tree and thanking him. He looked at me with a blank stare. He had no memory of what just happened, but I had a great memory of seeing him and my kids enjoy. That was probably the last time we got to do that.
Dale Johnson: Yeah, it’s so neat to hear the way the Lord just gives special times, especially around this time of year with family, and it’s centered around family.
Howard Eyrich: If I give you one more quickly, another fun was in 1981. We moved to Miami in July and Christmas rolled around and we went Christmas shopping and tree shopping in Bermuda shorts and t-shirts, having moved from Pennsylvania.
Dale Johnson: I love that because, as a Florida boy, I grew up in Florida, on most occasions during Christmas in December, we’re still running around in shorts. That was sort of the way we celebrated Christmas. Well, those are really exciting. I just love to hear stories of individuals and ways that they remember certain things in the past of their life. I want to ask a little bit more about maybe some of the ways, Howard, even today and things that you guys have started, about the ways that you prepare your home and your heart for this season of Christmas. For us as Christians, Christmas has a special meaning. So describe to us how you guys prepare for this time of year.
Howard Eyrich: Well, first of all, my wife has a tremendous decorating skills. People walk into my home anytime during the year and they think it’s professionally decorated. She just has that knack for putting things together, colors and places, and the whole thing. So she has collected a village. So we get those out and she sets all those up and we put a tree up. Most of the time we decorate the tree together. This year we didn’t because last year we threw our tree away after we moved. We had one little one about three feet and said, you know what, we’re not going to go buy another one. We’ll just use this one this year. So she decorated that one. There wasn’t room for two. She has stockings for every person in the family. In fact, this year we have a new grandson-in-law and she said, I realized I didn’t have one for Trevor. So she quickly ordered one so we’d have one for Trevor. Those are always special because at Christmas when we exchange gifts, she just takes down the stocking. We have a home where when you open the front door, there’s a long hallway that goes back to the great room and the kitchen, so she just hangs them in that hallway and they decorate the hallway and she takes them down and brings them out and hands them to the kids for their stocking gifts.
We’ve gotten to the place where we don’t do much in terms of gifts for adults. We do for the smaller children. The other children, all they want is the gift cards. This year, we will not get everybody together. My son-in-law’s mother is in a nursing home. It’s gotten even more complicated this year. They live in Augusta and we live here. I have two married grandsons who live in Charlotte and a married granddaughter lives in Winston-Salem. So we won’t get that gathering together. So those things won’t happen this year the way they almost happened annually. Another thing I might say—this again might minister to others—is we have lived 500 to 1,000 miles away from family almost our entire ministry of life. So, I do say to people, don’t let the miles get in between. Figure out a way to get together. It doesn’t necessarily have to be on the day. Figure out a way together and celebrate the Lord’s birth together as a family, as many of you as you can. We’ve done that. My in-laws drove every year up here or we drove down there from Philadelphia to Atlanta, Atlanta, and Philadelphia, St. Louis to Atlanta, Atlanta to St. Louis. But it’s been great. It really has. It keeps the family well-connected.
We play Christmas music from Thanksgiving to Christmas. Every evening it’s on at dinner time, but not before. A lot of times, it plays a lot of the day. The speakers are right outside my office door so I can put it on and have it almost playing all day in the background when I’m working. When my kids were small, we made Christmas ornaments together. We always had a birthday cake for Jesus that my daughter, even when she was 3 or 4 years old, helped my wife bake. She picked it up and put it together and made it special.
Dale Johnson: I love that. We haven’t done the birthday cake for Jesus. I love that. We’ll have to implement that. We haven’t done the ornament thing. That sounds like a lot of fun. We’ve done the sugar cookies and the decorating and all that good stuff, but ornaments—that sounds fun and a good way to remember every year. Howard, as we get a little bit closer to Christmas and think about even Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, what does that typically look like? So if we were to zoom in sort of into your world, and I know you said sometimes it’s at your house and sometimes it’s other places, but what do those days typically look like as you guys gather with family?
Howard Eyrich: Well, if we’re all together, we always have a pancake breakfast, strawberries, blueberries, the whole nine yards. My son-in-law loves to do that, so if he’s here or at his house, either one, he gets the griddle out and makes pancakes and he just enjoys doing that. He makes the best bacon. Boy, he just knows just how to get it just right.
We always do a candlelight service. That’s a tradition. I’ve been doing that since before I went to seminary. I think my first year as a Christian, at 17, I went to a candlelight service on Christmas Eve and I think I’ve maybe missed one or two in my entire adult life. Those are special. In Miami, it was really kind of neat because we did an 11:00-12:00 service with the family and then we walked out the front doors of the church and we gathered around in a large circle, everybody holding their candle and singing Silent Night with the news camera crew out there capturing it and playing it on the news later that night. So that one was a really special one to remember.
We exchange gifts. Before we exchange gifts, we always read the Christmas story and if there are children there who are capable of doing so, we will do that. In fact, it’s interesting, my oldest great-grandson is only four, but he is reading at a third-grade level. So, if he’s here, and I don’t think he will be, but if he’s here, I’m going to have him read the Christmas story. Other than exchanging gifts and just having a lot of good fellowship and watching some games together—that doesn’t mix with Christmas and yet in our culture, it’s just part of Christmas.
Dale Johson: Howard, it’s so interesting. I love to hear just what happens and as you’re talking, it’s so amazing to me. I’m thinking of smells that resonate when I walk into our home during Christmas and the baking and the food and the different smells of candles and what not. Even when you talk about reading the Christmas story on Christmas morning and having kids maybe enact the story, that sort of thing. I mean, all that is just a flood of really neat things that a lot of people share. I want to ask you one last question, Howard, and I want you to think about this just from you personally. As you think about the incarnation and you think about Christ coming to Earth and what we celebrate during this time of year, how do you in your mind keep that fresh? How do you keep that as something that’s significant and important? Because as we tie together, certainly the Christmas story makes the Easter story matter and the Easter story would be really little to nothing without what we celebrate this time of year in the virgin birth. So, talk just for a second about the meaning of Christ to you, the incarnation, the coming of Christ, and just personally what that means.
Howard Eyrich: That’s a hard task to catch, to put in capsule form because, for me, I love the Old Testament. I read the Old Testament a lot. Right now I’m doing my quiet time by reading one chapter of Deuteronomy a day. Reading the Old Testament, to me, makes the incarnation really come alive, not only the prophecies but the contrast of God walking among us over against God’s representative leading us in Moses and Joshua and the prophets and so forth. We’ve got the whole package now. So, the incarnation, to me, is wrapped up in the fulfillment of everything I saturate myself within the Old Testament. That doesn’t mean I don’t love the New Testament because New Testament fills in a lot of the detail, but it’s that ongoing, growing fulfillment that makes it a greater reality for me.
Dale Johnson: I love that. I mean, it’s a constant preparing, waiting for the Christ to come, waiting for the Messiah to come, and you read that constantly throughout the Old Testament. Then you hear the announcement, Christ is coming, the Messiah is coming. And we have, as the New Testament describes, that mystery which was hidden before and has now been revealed. It makes this time of year special. It makes the times that we get to enjoy with our families special. Howard, this has been great. I’ve really enjoyed getting to hear some of your stories and I’m going to ask your wife at some point about that first year that you guys decorated the tree. I’d love to talk to her about that.
This has been great, brother. I appreciate it and I know our members are going to love hearing a little bit about Howard Eyrich and his family during Christmas.