Sunday, December 21, 2014

Take Christ Out Of Christmas

One of the favorite Christmas decorations in our house has always been a small statue of Santa kneeling at the side of the manger. His hat is off and his head is bowed in reverence. We place the figurine in a position of prominence in our family room, hoping to remind each of us to Whom our thoughts should be directed at this time of year. Unfortunately, I think the reminder is falling on deaf ears.

The music starts in October now. In November my company puts out a memo reminding us that we are allowed to wear "Holiday Ties" with our uniforms beginning December 1st. The mayhem starts in earnest on Black Friday, and now extends to Cyber Monday and then into the following week for on-line orders, and on, and on, and on ...

Recently, I dug through my file drawer and found a piece I wrote back in 1998 (before I had ever heard of blogging). The article was about a local Cincinnati story that went national when an atheist lawyer sued the federal government for violating the establishment of religion clause of the Constitution. Richard Ganulin was troubled about the "separation of church and state." Though this concept is nowhere to be found in the Constitution, Ganulin and his like-minded atheists were upset that Christmas had become a national holiday.

Said Ganulin: "Christmas is a religious holiday and the Congress of the United States is not constitutionally permitted to endorse or aid any religion, purposefully or otherwise, or [promote] entanglement between our government and religious beliefs." He sued to have it stopped and he lost his battle. But don't jingle your bells in celebration just yet.

In that case, U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott did rule against Ganulin. According to Religion Today (December 8, 1999), Judge Dlott decided "that Christmas can be observed as a federal holiday because non-Christians also mark the holiday by celebrating the arrival of Santa Claus. Since non-religious people also observe the holiday, giving federal workers a day off for Christmas does not elevate one religion over another." In her ruling, Judge Dlott invoked a cool, witty, original verse to show that the Christmas holiday does not amount to government establishment of religion:
"Christmas is about joy and giving and sharing.
It is about the child within us; it is mostly about caring.
There is room in this country and in all our hearts, too,
for different convictions and a day off, too."
Now ain't that sweet.

When Judge Dlott dismissed the case the local paper reported that "Santa Claus has at least temporarily saved Christmas, both for Christians and for others."

Really?

The actual goal in this case was to remove the religious nature of Christmas from our culture. Fifteen years later, I think the plaintiff's motives have been wholly met and then some. Judge Dlott justified her ruling with the spine-tingling claim that no reasonable person would see the federal holiday as an endorsement of Christianity in particular or religion in general. Did you get that? No reasonable person would see Christmas as an endorsement of Christianity. Ganulin may have lost his battle in 1998, but in 2014 his side has the war completely in hand.

Santa has crawled into the crib.

So that's why I say we let him have it. I say we take the Christ out of Christmas.

Let them have the pepper spray at Walmart and the stampedes through Toys 'R Us. Let them have the latest iWhatever. Let them have the little lights that work when you test them but not when you plug them in. Let them have the frustration and the dramatically higher suicide rate. Let them have their "celebrity advent calendars." Let them have the pressure to get "the right gift." Let them have the stress. Let them have the the unprecedented level of debt that skyrockets during the "holiday season." Let them have the marketing mayhem. Let them have their "Happy Holidays."

I don't want Christ to win this battle.

Christmas is about the miracle of a God so big, He chose to shrink Himself to save us. It's not about "Peace on Earth;" it's about an infinite sacrifice to make peace with earthlings. It's not about us being "happy;" it's about us being treated unfairly -- it's about deserving wrath but getting forgiveness. Christmas is not about "the child within us;" it's about rebel that is us. Christmas is not about us being cheerful givers of gifts; it's about the God of the Universe descending to dwell among us and choosing to die on a splintered cross.

Christmas doesn't want Christ because a God who demands repentance and obedience isn't marketable.

The thing we've made Christmas doesn't deserve Him ... and I don't want Christ in what Christmas has become.


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Thursday, December 11, 2014

Star Power

I don't know about you, but ever since I was a kid, I have always looked a little skeptically at some aspects of the Christmas story we are all familiar with. In particular, I have always wondered how it was that a star could just pop into the sky and lead the "wise men" to find the baby Jesus in a manger in Bethlehem. It always seemed a little suspicious to me. Now, I know God can work miraculously and do anything He wants to do but come on, the star seemed to be a bit much. Surely the story of the Star had all the qualities of a man-made fairy tale.

Not anymore.

For anyone who has any interest in the interconnectedness of history, science and Biblical truth, I highly recommend you check out a booklet and DVD presentation that makes a fascinating case for the reality of the Star of Bethlehem.

The The Star of Bethlehem (produced by Frederick A. Larson) is an amazing piece of work that is built on the following premise:
" ... the Bible [makes] a surprising number of references to signs in the heavens. Both Old and New Testaments assume that what happens up there matters. If we are interested in following the counsel of the Bible, we must hold a distinction in mind. Astrology assumes that stars are causes of earthly events. The Bible assumes that they can be messages about earthly events. It may be useful to think of this as a thermometer distinction. A thermometer can tell you if it's hot or cold, but it can't make you hot or cold. There is a big difference between a sign and an active agent. This is the difference between "astrology" and what the Bible holds forth."
Larson proceeds to go into breathtaking detail about the facts of history, combined with the technological capability we have to reproduce the place of objects on any date in history, to show that the Star of Bethlehem need not be thought of as a fairy tale anymore. In fact, Larson connects astronomy, not just to the Star of Bethlehem, but to the Cross of Calvary.

I won't spoil it here but I highly recommend this as a way for your family to approach the Christmas season with an inspiring look at another reason to hold confidence not only in the words of the Bible, but in the reality and Truth of the Christian view of the world.

You can check out a synopsis of the production at the link above and you can order it here.

Enjoy ...

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Peace With The Bedlamites

I'm not sure when they started calling it "Black Friday" but the day after Thanksgiving lives up to its name every year. There are the folks who camp out for days to buy a TV; there are fights, riots and people who even get killed by crazed shoppers, all for the sake of being the first to nab the sale priced items for which they had waited in line for hours.

Happy Holidays!

Welcome to the season formerly known as Christmas. How did we get here? Has our society lost its mind? It seems that with regard to the celebration of Christmas the answer is clearly, "yes." As a point of interest ...

In 1247 the sheriff of London, a man named Simon FitzMary founded a priory for the sisters and brethren of the order of the Star of Bethlehem just outside the city walls. It was used, as one of its special purposes, for the housing and entertainment of the bishop and canons of St. Mary of Bethlehem, its mother church, and thereby became known as the Priory of St. Mary of Bethlehem.

By 1330, records show that the priory had become a hospital and that by 1403 some of its patients began to remain there permanently. When King Henry VIII later dissolved the Catholic monasteries in Britain, the priory was given to the city of London and, in 1547, officially sanctioned as an insane asylum which soon became infamous for the brutal ill-treatment meted out to the insane and the clamor, commotion, and pandemonium that could be heard emanating from within it. Because the local residents spoke in a dialect that didn't quite live up to the King's English, their cockney pronunciation of Bethlehem came out as "bedlam."

So, in a way that only human beings could contrive, the word we now use to describe lunacy and chaos actually has its source in the name of the city of Jesus' birth: Bethlehem.

Today's news stories simply reflect the sad link we have created for ourselves in turning the birth of Christ into a consumerist marketing frenzy. The lunatics are not only running the asylum, we created it.

The irony in the linguistic morphing of Bethlehem into Bedlam goes beyond the modern parallel between a British insane asylum and the month of December in an American shopping mall. We have not just got a problem with our perspective -- we have a problem with our theology.

In the songs we sing, the cards we send, and the seasonal movies we watch, we have come to see Christmas as a season of joy, of giving, of love, and of family. Nothing is wrong with any of these, of course. But we are fooling ourselves if we think that these are the heart of Christmas. Each descends from a more central fact about Christmas that is closely related to another of our favorite Christmas phrases but misunderstood just the same. Linus made it famous in the Charlie Brown Christmas. You can watch it here for old times' sake if you wish, but here is what Linus is quoting:
In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is [Messiah] the Lord. "This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased."
The phrase I'm talking about is right there at the end: "Peace On Earth." Do you see it? I hope not -- because it's not there.

Though it's the title of many a Christmas card and the advertising on many a holiday shopping bag, you might notice that is also not what the text actually says. It's not even what Linus says. You may also notice that the entire passage is not about our joy, or our giving, or our love, or our families -- it is focused on God himself.

It is not unusual (in fact, it is human nature) to turn things that are supposed to be about God into things about us. It is also not unusual for us to twist the meaning of things just a tad when we do so. And that's where the "Peace on Earth" thing comes in. It makes us feel good to say that Christmas is our hope for "peace on earth" but first we have to recognize that, once again, the peace is not a promise for us in our worldly relations -- God knows that hasn't proved true over the 2000 years since Jesus' birth -- instead, Biblical translators point out that ...
"The meaning seems to be, not that divine peace can be bestowed only where human good will is already present, but that at the birth of the Savior God’s peace rests on those whom he has chosen in accord with his good pleasure."
Do you see the difference?

It is not that world peace broke out on that cold winter morning in Bethlehem; it is that God came down in human covering to offer the only possible way of reconciliation between His perfect moral goodness and the bedlam that has broken out since we staged our human rebellion against Him.

We've been at war. The peace we're offered is between us and God.

The joy comes in realizing that to be true. The giving and love come in mimicking the selflessness we witnessed in the gift He gave that cost us nothing. Our families are the means by which we replicate and disseminate that love "for all the people." The difference is subtle but imperative; each of these things is impossible to celebrate fully, or practice appropriately, unless we first make peace with our Creator and Messiah.

Though I don't know that I've ever seen it used as a Christmas card, I can't imagine a better representation of what we Bedlamites have made Christmas into than the fresco on the Sistine Chapel that Michelangelo titled, "The Creation of Adam." In the most gracious act in human history, the Creator himself reached down to touch us in human form, while we appear only vaguely interested. Look at the way God is stretching His arm down to man -- and at the way the first Bedlamite halfheartedly reaches back.

May we all celebrate this Christmas with the intention of divorcing ourselves from the accuracy of Michelangelo's artful depiction of our state. May we all replace "Peace on Earth" with "Peace with God" and recognize the power in the subtle difference.



_________________

I want to give credit to Greg Koukl who, on his 12/7/2008 Stand To Reason podcast, articulated the core meaning of the Luke 2 passage cited above as I've addressed it here.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Why David Wood Is A Christian

If you walk in Christian circles, it is common to hear people talk about "giving their testimony." To be honest, I've always felt uncomfortable with the idea and never been one to engage in the practice. But maybe that's because I've never heard a testimony quite like this one.

David Wood is a philosopher of religion and a Christian apologist who I've simply known as a go-to guy on the subject of Islam. But there is way more to him than that. He is pursuing his PhD in Philosophy of Religion with a concentration on "the problem of evil." As it turns out, David Wood is also an expert in that subject.

Do yourself a favor, and listen to a testimony unlike any you have probably ever heard before ...