Putting Christ back into Christmas

Putting Christ back into Christmas is not as simple as getting our neighbors to agree to say “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays.”

No, it is a daily spiritual discipline: speaking the truth about the incarnate Savior; abstaining from the addictions of materialism, anxiety, family squabbles and a critical spirit, in fact, all the variations of being unloving; and above all, anticipating his Advents, first in Bethlehem and second on the Mount of Olives, as our King.

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May Christians create holidays such as Christmas?

May Christians create holidays? The Bible gives us precedent to say Yes.

First, God’s people have always celebrated holidays that are not mandated in the Bible. To name three, the feast of Purim was established in the 400s BC, when Esther and Mordecai saved the Jews from slaughter. The name Purim is the Hebrew form of a pagan, Babylonian word for “lots”. The feast began when “the Jews of the villages who dwelt in the unwalled towns celebrated the fourteenth day of the month of Adar with gladness and feasting, as a holiday, and for sending presents to one another.” Crucially for us, nowhere does God mandate it as a holy day, as he did Passover or Pentecost – it was a human decision.

Second, the Jews invented the holiday of Chanukah or Hanukkah (more…)

Early Frost: A tale of Christmas in Rhode Island

A special story for the season!

It is a scientific fact: the winters of one’s child years are much colder, darker, snowier and more perilous than the winters served to these same people as adults. Nor is this natural law any respecter of generation. Old-timer, post-war, boomer, post-boomer: each child in every era survives to see winter eventually lose its icy chokehold, become indifferent to the point where the Ice Age rolls back. With added years the terror of wolves prowling the suburbs melts into slush and seeps away. Fellow adults begin to step outside, hatless and scarfless. Those cars that still bobble away the spark of combustion are themselves culpable, their onboard computers stripped of the defense of blaming the environment.

(more…)

Brace yourself – it’s Christmas Season!

Advent season starts this Sunday. Like many Christians, I’ll be following a plan of Bible readings and prayers in preparation for Christmas and in anticipation of the Second Coming.

I don’t forsee being stressed; in fact, I plan not to be stressed.

I don’t want to gloat or anything, but we have a low-stress Christmas. On Black Friday I watch people on TV, whacking each other with sale items at Big Box stores; I work hard not to roll my eyes.

I hear people talk about Keeping Christ in Christmas, but their actions speak louder than their words. (more…)

‘Twas the Day after Christmas (Luke 2:8-20) – Part II

In the first part of this blog, we saw how the shepherds heard the angels’ message, saw the Christ child and went out to proclaim what they had seen. We too should pass on the entire gospel message, not just parts of it. But there is a second application for the Christian, one that pushes us past superficial application of Luke’s gospel:

 II. We should tell the message in a way that will be understood

In this case, we will not simply imitate what the shepherds did, but will honor their spirit and intention. Please notice that the shepherds were Jewish, and the people they told about Jesus would also have been Jewish. In fact, the angel spoke in terms that a Jewish person would have understood, using words like city of David, a Savior, Christ, the Lord, “Glory to God in the highest”.

Let’s play a game of “what if.” As far as we know, the shepherds did not speak to non-Jews, that is, gentiles. If the gentiles had heard the same message in the same language they would have understood it very differently than the Jews did. For example, “Savior” was one of the titles used by the Roman emperor – Caesar Augustus was “Savior” of the world, the one who brought it peace. “Christ” means “the Anointed One,” that is, a royal figure. The pagans also applied the terms “lord” and “god” to their idols. This means that if gentiles had accidently heard their message, they would not have heard it the way it was intended. To them it would have come across as badly distorted: “A new king has been born, he is a divine offspring of the Greek god Zeus, may Zeus be highly praised!”

If you and I are not speaking to people just like us, with our background, they will likely misunderstand us. Whose job is it to make him- or herself understood? One fundamental rule of communication is that it is the speaker, the person who is trying to communicate a message, who is responsible to make the message understandable. One of the things we do when someone doesn’t speak English is we speak louder, under the assumption that the message will get through with higher volume. Christians do the same thing, with equally poor results. (more…)

‘Twas the Day after Christmas (Luke 2:8-20) – Part I

Burned into our memory is the fact that the shepherds saw the angels, went to Bethlehem and worshiped the baby Jesus. All the Nativity displays end that way, with the shepherds fixed in place. But in fact, Christmas day was the very beginning of the shepherds’ story, since they rushed right out and began to tell others what they had seen.

We read Luke’s gospel and see what the shepherds did – but what do we do to wrap up the Christmas season?

  • We measure the diagonal on the wide-screen TVs,
  • We rush out to spend our Christmas money.
  • We Facebook our friends about going on diets to work off the eggnog.
  • We return the gifts we didn’t like, plot to regift others in 2012, or wonder whether we should wait two years to regift, to make sure memories will have faded.
  • We haul the tree to the curb, because they won’t let you burn it.
  • We buy the discount wrapping paper and ribbon and store them away until next time.

The shepherds’ spiritual career began on Christmas. (more…)

Will the real Santa Claus please stand up!

St. Nicholas was a historical person! He was a pastor in Turkey in the 4th century. According to legend, there was a poor man in his parish who had three daughters, and he had no money to get them husbands. There was a danger that the girls would be sold into prostitution. Nicholas quietly raised money and divided the coins into bags. He went by the poor man’s house by night and tossed the bags through the window, so the girls could have a dowry, get married and escape slavery.

For his generosity, the church designated him as SAINT Nicholas; the Dutch shortened his name to Santa Claus, who comes around to give gifts to all good children.

St. Nicholas, follower of Christ and a man who gave gifts to the desperately needy, not to people who already had more stuff than they needed – a fine example to us all this Christmas.

“Will the real Santa Clause please stand up!” by Gary Shogren, PhD in New Testament Exegesis, professor at Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica