Lunchtime Links: December 21, 2009

· Christmas, believe it or not, is only four days away. Millions of Americans with varied faith backgrounds and levels of commitment to Christianity will head to church Thursday evening or Friday morning. Pastors are acutely aware that they will have their largest audience of the year. Their approaches to the traditional Christmas message offer insight into their preparation and what they hope their audiences will be inspired by.

· The clock is ticking. You have plenty of gifts to buy and little time to play with. Your procrastination has finally caught up with you. Whether you have a full list of devoted Christians to shop for or people not as curious about faith, here are some of helpful suggestions.

· With the last two weeks of December upon us the get-togethers are in full swing. In addition to whatever office parties or social functions you may have already attended, the Christmas and New Year’s holidays may easily pack on a few pounds. Some handy fitness tips can keep you from regretting stepping on the scale during the first week of January.

· Whether or not to openly welcome gay parishioners and clergy into congregations have been a topic of debate throughout 2009 with divisions increasingly apparent in the Lutheran and Episcopal churches. Highlands Church, an evangelical church in Denver, is taking a decidedly different take than other conservative denominations, openly welcoming LGBT members into its congregation.

· The end of the year inevitably brings lists. This year is no different, with the Associated Press releasing its list of the Top 10 stories of 2009. The general public was invited to vote via Facebook parallel to the traditional survey of AP-affiliated writers and editors. The only difference was the order of the top stories. AP editors picked the economy as the top story followed by President Obama’s inauguration. Facebookers picked Obama as the top story.

· Actress Brittany Murphy died Sunday at the age of 32. Murphy had appeared in the comedy “Clueless” and in “8Mile,” the critically-acclaimed biography of rapper Eminem. A preliminary coroner’s report Monday indicated Murphy died of natural causes.

· The Cincinnati Bengals were playing with heavy hearts Sunday in San Diego in the wake of the death of teammate Chris Henry earlier in the week. The game would have been significant enough on its own with both teams jockeying for a first-round bye in the AFC playoffs. The Bengals rallied from an 11-point fourth quarter hole only to see the Chargers win on a last-second field goal.

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