x Celebrating the “Christ Mass”

Standard

“Keep Christ in Christmas!”
“Jesus is the reason for the season!”
“It’s OK to say Merry Christmas!”

I get it.  Faithful Christians (and even some of the “twice-a-year” variety) get frustrated and upset about greetings and wordings that avoid using “Christ” and “Jesus” or other spiritually significant phrases.  So, they post comments like those above on their Facebook, on their cars, on their homes, etc.  I don’t disagree with any of these statements but I wince just a little every time I see or hear these things.   I understand the sentiment, but I’m not sure such platitudes do much positive good and, most likely, have more negative effect than positive when out in the public sector. 

Let me explain… 

Editing note:  I am re-running the post from last year with some edits that are particularly relevant this year.

I’ll be the first to agree that the deep meaning of the Christmas story has been overrun by plastic reindeer, sappy movies, frozen fruitcakes, cheesy Santas, multi-million dollar buying orgies and more!  It’s disgusting and sad when taken to its extreme.  Believe me, I am the first in line for the movement of simplifying and dialing down the consumer-centric Christmas season (along with the rest of life, while we’re at it), but it’s just not worth the effort to get all upset and offended at those who would rather say “Happy Holidays” or Season’s Greetings” than any of the other “Christ”-based salutations.  It’s not helping the cause.  In fact, it is likely creating even wider divisions…unnecessary divisions.  The triumphant message of the messenger angels (also known as the “herald angels” in Wesley’s hymn) — “Peace on earth and good will to all people!” — is easily lost.  And, unfortunately, it is we who have the most reason to sow peace and goodwill who are sometimes the biggest sowers of discord.

Ok, I got a little distracted there.  Let me explain more by sharing 8 reasons NOT to obsess about the ways that people greet us during this season of the year and to stop demanding that we “get our holiday back.”

1. “Season’s greetings,” refers to that broad expanse of time from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day.  Multiple religions and faith-systems have sacred and/or important days during this time of the year.  If anything the ancient pagans who celebrated pagan gods on December 25 long before Christ was even born should be demanding back their hijacked “holy-day.”  Saying “Season’s Greetings” or “Happy Holidays” is not anti-Jesus.

2. Christians are not the only people of faith who celebrate a high holy day around the winter solstice. Christianity (especially the Western brand) suffers from a regrettable lack of global awareness. “Happy Holidays” literally means “Happy holy days” and should be recognized as an acknowledging that some of our neighbors–and maybe even some of our friends and relatives–are also in the midst of living their faith.  Again, December 25 and the surrounding days are not the possession of Christianity.  For 300 years the church never celebrated Christmas and endured unimaginable persecution, yet grew to the point that it outlived the “unconquerable” Roman Empire.  We have no reason to expect those on the “outside” to give these days the same importance as the “insiders.”  We certainly don’t do the same on their sacred days.

3. “Xmas” is not a dirty word. In fact, “X” is the Greek letter, Chi, which, in the “olden” days, was often used as a literary symbol for Christ.  Of course, not everyone who uses this terminology is thinking about the Greek alphabet, but when you see it you can certainly read it that way.  Again, we have no reason to expect those who don’t follow Christ to feel any reason to honor Christ in their holiday greetings.   There is nothing wrong with a non-believer wishing a believer “Merry Christmas.”  There is also nothing wrong with an unbeliever who feels uncomfortable using his name.  Perhaps we ought to say that his name SHOULD make people a little uncomfortable.  Perhaps we ought to celebrate the fact that people feel a little bit uncomfortable when saying his name because if his name becomes too ordinary, and when he becomes only an historical figure, we will find ourselves in a very difficult place.  We might already be there.  

4. There is zero Biblical precedent for celebrating the birth of Christ (or any birthday for that matter).  There is clear teaching, however, that self-indulgence is the essence of sin.  We must be very careful that our remembrance of Christmas (in the midst of very secular celebrations and “seasonal activities”) doesn’t become all about me, or my family or my financial buying power.  This is how we keep Christ in Christmas, should we choose to celebrate this very holy day.  By keeping ourselves in Christ we keep him in celebration of Christmas (and every other day, too).  And here is where Christmas 2016 comes into play, by falling on a Sunday.  Christmas on Sunday — for some the is the perfect day to celebrate.  Other churches are canceling, shortening, and altering their regular programming.  I understand both sides of the argument, but in the end if we begin replacing Christ with anything — even super-important and meaningful family times–are we not also denying Christ?  We might even be worse off than those who refuse to wish us “Merry Christmas.”  Before I stop, though, let me explain one other thing.  It may be less Christ-centered to show up for a Christmas day church service, go through the motions, and then go home and not think about him again than to not go to the church service, but gather with family and friends to pray, sing, remember the deep meaning of Christmas together, and then spend the day in fellowship together.

5. If you find yourself bothered by all the secular expressions posted around malls and big box stores this season, perhaps the best thing to do is just not spend so much time at the mall.  Simplify.  Give gifts of time and “experiences” rather than more “stuff.”  If dealing with holiday crowds makes you uncomfortable then spend more time serving the poor, going to worship, getting out in nature, and spending time with the people you love.  Jesus would be pleased, I think.

6. Life is too short to worry so much about what everyone else is saying and doing.  We, as followers of Christ, are under the burden of respecting and honoring those different than us; displaying the fruit of the Spirit in our encounters with people–all people.  Those who do not follow Christ are under no such faith obligation.  As citizens of the USA we all have the responsibility to act civilly and with proper respect toward all fellow citizens.  Like it or not, there is no law that demands the public use of the name “Christ.”

7. The best way to “keep Christ in Christmas” is to be “in Christ,” walking as Jesus walked.  Jesus was all about the poor and weak.  He was all about feeding people. Jesus was all about healing and compassion.  He found great pleasure in getting loud, sinful, mismatched people together around a table for a meal and some time hanging out.  Not a moment of his life did he spend trying to get his name up on a sign.  And when his name was written down and placed above his head, he was on the cross dying for the people who loved him and for those who had hung him there.  More than ever, in the midst of a very divisive presidential transition, and the increasing racial tensions (and much more) the best thing that follower of Christ can do is to simply live our lives “in Christ.”  There is no need (and, indeed, we have no right) to be divisive, judgmental, vindictive, or condemning.  If we must judge and condemn, let us look in the mirrors at ourselves and judge whether we are worthy to be throwing stones.

8. Finally, try something new this year.  Give yourself the gift of a new friend and closer relationships with people.  Do something special for those who don’t deserve anything or expect anything from you.  Find a way to quietly bless those less fortunate.  Babysit someone’s children for a night so they can go out and reconnect as a couple.  Invite a new family in the community over for a meal.  Show kindness in ways you might not otherwise think to do.  If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then perhaps imitation is also the best way to celebrate the life of Christ.  I will lay out the challenge right now — between now and the end of January, commit yourselves to the task of overwhelming kindness, generosity, and good-will.  I would love it if you would leave a comment or send a message about how doing this has changed you, taught you, or opened up your eyes to something new.  Let’s learn together and grow together.

BONUS :  During the holidays and special times that my friends of other faiths celebrate I try to be the first in line to give them an appropriate greeting.  At Eid Mubarak I offer the expected and appropriate greeting.  At Nyepi I give an appropriate greeting and respect the desire to “unplug” and spend the day in silent reflection.  At Christmas I don’t expect or demand that my friends and neighbors give me any sort of Christmas greeting, but they often do.  And sometimes they will ask me something about the meaning of Christmas.  Why?  Respect.  I don’t care what someone calls the day.  If they are asking what it’s all about or why my family has shown kindness on this day then it’s a win.  Not everyone asks and some really don’t care.  But some so notice and some do care..

Let’s face it, in much of the world the way that Christmas is celebrated has created a holiday much different than the Christ-centered, religious holiday for which you and I might hope.  It has become “their” holiday.  Rather than demand that they celebrate on your terms, enter into their celebrations as representatives of their Heavenly Father who loves them; be the Body of Christ–even the Christ child that laid in the manger waiting for his day to arrive–and create opportunities for meaningful interactions and authentic sharing.

x O Holy Night

Standard

O Holy Night

O holy night the stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new glorious morn

Fall on your knees
O hear the angels’ voices
O night divine
O night when Christ was born
O night divine o night
O night divine

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new glorious morn
Fall on your knees

O hear the angels’ voices
O night divine
O night when Christ was born
O night divine o night
O night divine

Words:  John S. Dwight, 1813
Music: Adolphe C. Adam, 1803

 

~deil~

Celebrating the “Christ Mass”

Standard

“Keep Christ in Christmas!”
“Jesus is the reason for the season!”
“It’s OK to say Merry Christmas!”

I get it.  Faithful Christians (and even some of the “twice-a-year” variety) get frustrated and upset about greetings and wordings that avoid using “Christ” and “Jesus” or other spiritually significant phrases.  So, they post comments like those above on their Facebook, on their cars, on their homes, etc.  I don’t disagree with any of these statements but I wince just a little every time I see or hear these things.   I understand the sentiment, but I’m not sure such platitudes do much positive good and, most likely, have more negative effect than positive when out in the public sector. 

Let me explain… 

Editing note:  I am re-running the post from last year with some edits that are particularly relevant this year.

I’ll be the first to agree that the deep meaning of the Christmas story has been overrun by plastic reindeer, sappy movies, frozen fruitcakes, cheesy Santas, multi-million dollar buying orgies and more!  It’s disgusting and sad when taken to its extreme.  Believe me, I am the first in line for the movement of simplifying and dialing down the consumer-centric Christmas season (along with the rest of life, while we’re at it), but it’s just not worth the effort to get all upset and offended at those who would rather say “Happy Holidays” or Season’s Greetings” than any of the other “Christ”-based salutations.  It’s not helping the cause.  In fact, it is likely creating even wider divisions…unnecessary divisions.  The triumphant message of the messenger angels (also known as the “herald angels” in Wesley’s hymn) — “Peace on earth and good will to all people!” — is easily lost.  And, unfortunately, it is we who have the most reason to sow peace and goodwill who are sometimes the biggest sowers of discord.

Ok, I got a little distracted there.  Let me explain more by sharing 8 reasons NOT to obsess about the ways that people greet us during this season of the year and to stop demanding that we “get our holiday back.”

1. “Season’s greetings,” refers to that broad expanse of time from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day.  Multiple religions and faith-systems have sacred and/or important days during this time of the year.  If anything the ancient pagans who celebrated pagan gods on December 25 long before Christ was even born should be demanding back their hijacked “holy-day.”  Saying “Season’s Greetings” or “Happy Holidays” is not anti-Jesus.

2. Christians are not the only people of faith who celebrate a high holy day around the winter solstice. Christianity (especially the Western brand) suffers from a regrettable lack of global awareness. “Happy Holidays” literally means “Happy holy days” and should be recognized as an acknowledging that some of our neighbors–and maybe even some of our friends and relatives–are also in the midst of living their faith.  Again, December 25 and the surrounding days are not the possession of Christianity.  For 300 years the church never celebrated Christmas and endured unimaginable persecution, yet grew to the point that it outlived the “unconquerable” Roman Empire.  We have no reason to expect those on the “outside” to give these days the same importance as the “insiders.”  We certainly don’t do the same on their sacred days.

3. “Xmas” is not a dirty word. In fact, “X” is the Greek letter, Chi, which, in the “olden” days, was often used as a literary symbol for Christ.  Of course, not everyone who uses this terminology is thinking about the Greek alphabet, but when you see it you can certainly read it that way.  Again, we have no reason to expect those who don’t follow Christ to feel any reason to honor Christ in their holiday greetings.   There is nothing wrong with a non-believer wishing a believer “Merry Christmas.”  There is also nothing wrong with an unbeliever who feels uncomfortable using his name.  Perhaps we ought to say that his name SHOULD make people a little uncomfortable.  Perhaps we ought to celebrate the fact that people feel a little bit uncomfortable when saying his name because if his name becomes too ordinary, and when he becomes only an historical figure, we will find ourselves in a very difficult place.  We might already be there.  

4. There is zero Biblical precedent for celebrating the birth of Christ (or any birthday for that matter).  There is clear teaching, however, that self-indulgence is the essence of sin.  We must be very careful that our remembrance of Christmas (in the midst of very secular celebrations and “seasonal activities”) doesn’t become all about me, or my family or my financial buying power.  This is how we keep Christ in Christmas, should we choose to celebrate this very holy day.  By keeping ourselves in Christ we keep him in celebration of Christmas (and every other day, too).  And here is where Christmas 2016 comes into play, by falling on a Sunday.  Christmas on Sunday — for some the is the perfect day to celebrate.  Other churches are canceling, shortening, and altering their regular programming.  I understand both sides of the argument, but in the end if we begin replacing Christ with anything — even super-important and meaningful family times–are we not also denying Christ?  We might even be worse off than those who refuse to wish us “Merry Christmas.”  Before I stop, though, let me explain one other thing.  It may be less Christ-centered to show up for a Christmas day church service, go through the motions, and then go home and not think about him again than to not go to the church service, but gather with family and friends to pray, sing, remember the deep meaning of Christmas together, and then spend the day in fellowship together.

5. If you find yourself bothered by all the secular expressions posted around malls and big box stores this season, perhaps the best thing to do is just not spend so much time at the mall.  Simplify.  Give gifts of time and “experiences” rather than more “stuff.”  If dealing with holiday crowds makes you uncomfortable then spend more time serving the poor, going to worship, getting out in nature, and spending time with the people you love.  Jesus would be pleased, I think.

6. Life is too short to worry so much about what everyone else is saying and doing.  We, as followers of Christ, are under the burden of respecting and honoring those different than us; displaying the fruit of the Spirit in our encounters with people–all people.  Those who do not follow Christ are under no such faith obligation.  As citizens of the USA we all have the responsibility to act civilly and with proper respect toward all fellow citizens.  Like it or not, there is no law that demands the public use of the name “Christ.”

7. The best way to “keep Christ in Christmas” is to be “in Christ,” walking as Jesus walked.  Jesus was all about the poor and weak.  He was all about feeding people. Jesus was all about healing and compassion.  He found great pleasure in getting loud, sinful, mismatched people together around a table for a meal and some time hanging out.  Not a moment of his life did he spend trying to get his name up on a sign.  And when his name was written down and placed above his head, he was on the cross dying for the people who loved him and for those who had hung him there.  More than ever, in the midst of a very divisive presidential transition, and the increasing racial tensions (and much more) the best thing that follower of Christ can do is to simply live our lives “in Christ.”  There is no need (and, indeed, we have no right) to be divisive, judgmental, vindictive, or condemning.  If we must judge and condemn, let us look in the mirrors at ourselves and judge whether we are worthy to be throwing stones.

8. Finally, try something new this year.  Give yourself the gift of a new friend and closer relationships with people.  Do something special for those who don’t deserve anything or expect anything from you.  Find a way to quietly bless those less fortunate.  Babysit someone’s children for a night so they can go out and reconnect as a couple.  Invite a new family in the community over for a meal.  Show kindness in ways you might not otherwise think to do.  If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then perhaps imitation is also the best way to celebrate the life of Christ.  I will lay out the challenge right now — between now and the end of January, commit yourselves to the task of overwhelming kindness, generosity, and good-will.  I would love it if you would leave a comment or send a message about how doing this has changed you, taught you, or opened up your eyes to something new.  Let’s learn together and grow together.

BONUS :  During the holidays and special times that my friends of other faiths celebrate I try to be the first in line to give them an appropriate greeting.  At Eid Mubarak I offer the expected and appropriate greeting.  At Nyepi I give an appropriate greeting and respect the desire to “unplug” and spend the day in silent reflection.  At Christmas I don’t expect or demand that my friends and neighbors give me any sort of Christmas greeting, but they often do.  And sometimes they will ask me something about the meaning of Christmas.  Why?  Respect.  I don’t care what someone calls the day.  If they are asking what it’s all about or why my family has shown kindness on this day then it’s a win.  Not everyone asks and some really don’t care.  But some so notice and some do care..

Let’s face it, in much of the world the way that Christmas is celebrated has created a holiday much different than the Christ-centered, religious holiday for which you and I might hope.  It has become “their” holiday.  Rather than demand that they celebrate on your terms, enter into their celebrations as representatives of their Heavenly Father who loves them; be the Body of Christ–even the Christ child that laid in the manger waiting for his day to arrive–and create opportunities for meaningful interactions and authentic sharing.

O Holy Night

Standard

O Holy Night

O holy night the stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new glorious morn

Fall on your knees
O hear the angels’ voices
O night divine
O night when Christ was born
O night divine o night
O night divine

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new glorious morn
Fall on your knees

O hear the angels’ voices
O night divine
O night when Christ was born
O night divine o night
O night divine

Words:  John S. Dwight, 1813
Music: Adolphe C. Adam, 1803

 

~deil~

Stables, Mangers and a Cow for Good Measure

Standard

“And he was laid in a manger, because there was no place for him elsewhere.”

Ok, so the Bible is very clear that Jesus was placed in a manger.  But where’s the part about searching for a hotel room late at night in the pouring rain?  Where’s the part about the innkeeper refusing to give them a room for the night?  Where’s the part of having to spend the night—and give birth—in a stable or a cave?  Where are the ox and ass?

It’s not there; not any of it.

The story that has been told and retold, dramatized and cartoonized countless times throughout the centuries is very much unlike the account we read in the Scripture.  So, today, just for the sake of being true to the text, I want to present an alternative story, based on the Biblical account.  I’m not saying I know without doubt that this is how things really went down, but I think there is at least as much support for this version as there is for the traditional version, maybe more.

I think it’s highly likely that Joseph and Mary actually gave birth in the home of a relative of Joseph, or at least a sympathetic friend.  My conclusion on this comes from personal study, investigation of the study of others, and my experience living in a culture that it in many ways similar (even now in the 21 century) to that of Mary and Joseph.

Here are my reasons for thinking this:

1. The word that is often translated “inn” in Luke 2:7—kataluma— is also the same word that is used for the “upper room” in which Jesus and the disciples ate their final meal together.  The word literally means “guest room” which could be interpreted as an upper room for guests or a hotel type situation.  In most translations (and I like the NLT because it takes a step in the right direction here) the word “inn” is used as is more a cultural interpretation than a statement of known fact.

2. Most homes during this time period not only had an upper room for guests, but the lower portion of the home was used for housing animals and livestock during night.  As such, the lower area of the home had mangers (feeding troughs).  It is absolutely conceivable that Mary and Joseph were staying in the home of a family member, but that the guest room was already occupied by another (probably older) member of the family.

3. In most non-Western places around the world, when one visits his/her place of origin, or a place where he/she still has family, staying in a hotel is unthinkable–it’s expensive and a dishonor to family members in the area.  Since Joseph was from the area he likely would have had lots of family around.  Being poor, he likely would not have sought out a hotel.  The only caveat to this might have been that nobody wanted to give housing to the pregnant-out-of-wedlock Mary, but this seems an unlikely scenario.

4. Look at the wording of the text, the mention of the kataluma comes after the baby is born.  There is no talk of them frantically searching for a place to stay.  It’s more than likely that they had already been in Bethlehem for some time before the birth.  The whole “born in stable” storyline comes only from the mention of a manger, which could have easily been a manger in the lower portion of a home–”Mary laid the baby in a manger, because there was no room for them in the better-suited guest room above,” or something like this.

5.  Finally, the absence of more information should lead us to believe that what took place was nothing out of the ordinary; that things more or less followed the culturally appropriate patterns which, in this case, would mean staying with family and giving birth in the home surrounded by family…and not cows…or sheep…or whatever else.

Anyway, I actually find this version of the story more comforting and realistic.

It may not be a matter of essential faith, but it does give a good reminder to the power of interpretation, cultural background, and translation…we must be careful.  We must be careful to take the Word of God for what it is and not add or subtract from it.  In the Christmas story, at least, we have added much.

May our hope and joy this season come not in the story of Christmas…but in the Christ.

For more information:  Out of AdullamBetter Bibles BlogConfession and Truth, and Tough Questions Answered