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Archive for the ‘Christmas’ Category

“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria)…” Luke 2.

The reading of the nativity narrative from Luke has been a part of my every Christmas Eve dinner since I was born. This is one of our enduring family traditions, giving focus to why our family is gathered, what the celebration is about, and beginning our worship cycle for the year.

The family sits gathered at the Christmas table and my father’s basso voice deeply enriches the Word as he reads from the Gospel of St. Luke. We listen, and give thanks for family and friends gathered near and far. Those with us and those separated from us are remembered in prayer. We pray fervently for our nation and her leaders, and continue to petition that His peace be spread on earth, and that we continue to have good will toward all men.

We pray our thanks for the blessings of each other, and our own, asking for each of our family and friends to remain safe and finally concluding our pre-meal devotion in simple praise for the events of a little over 2000 years ago.

We then go to church and watch the Christmas pageant, hearing and seeing those words, still fresh on our minds, acted out on stage.

For me, and my family, this is the way Christmas should be – a day focused on our Savior deigning to become human and dwell on earth with us for a while.

The Gospel of St. Luke is all about what happens to common people in a world that is dark and then suddenly the glory of the Lord is revealed. Like the characters in Luke, the players in a church Christmas pageant are common. Common children and basic costumes, replete with forgotten lines, stage fright, and funny bloopers.  But, what a story these children tell. In all that is common, a quite extraordinary story is told. In all that is commonplace about that quiet night, and extraordinary moment occurs. The Christmas program reveals God coming to earth as an infant. The quiet night reveals to us that the world will be no longer silent.

God meets us. God is revealed to us. All this glory through a baby that Mary and Joseph called Jesus.

Max Lucado says it best in his book, “The Glory of Christmas.” He writes,

“There is one word that describes the night he came – ordinary.

The sky was ordinary. An occasional gust stirred the leaves and chilled the air. The stars were diamonds sparkling on black velvet.

The sheep were ordinary. Some fat. Some scrawny. Common animals. No history makers. No blue-ribbon winners.

And the shepherds. Peasants they were. Probably wearing all the clothes they owned. Smelling like sheep and looking just as wooly.

An ordinary night with ordinary sheep and ordinary shepherds. And were it not for God who loves to hook an “extra” on the front of the ordinary, the night would have passed relatively unnoticed. The sheep would have been forgotten, and the shepherds would have slept the night away.

But God dances amidst the common. And that night He did a waltz.

The black sky exploded with brightness. Trees that had been shadows jumped into clarity. Sheep that had been silent became a chorus of curiosity. One minute the shepherd was dead asleep; the next he was rubbing his eyes and staring into the face of an alien.

The night was ordinary no more.

The announcement went first to the shepherds. Had the angel gone to the theologians, they would have first consulted their commentaries. Had he gone to the elite, they would have looked around to see if anyone was watching.

So he went to the shepherds. Men who didn’t know enough to tell God that angels don’t sing to sheep and that messiahs aren’t found wrapped in rags and sleeping in a feed trough.”

God didn’t come for the perfect. God didn’t come for those of us that have it all together. He didn’t come for those of us who can go through life on our own. God came for the clumsy. For the meek. For the frightened and the lost. God came as the most helpless of all creatures – an infant – to show us that we need not be rich or famous or special for God to love us.

Isn’t it funny that these little Christmas pageants that we have year after year, appear to be so mediocre compared to what really happened that night? What if we tried to recreate here, the spectacular events that unfolded the night Jesus was born?

To start, it could begin fairly simple. Just some shepherds resting on a Judean hillside, watching their flocks of sheep. Our shepherds could just be standing over to the side, tending to a few of the younger children wearing sheep ears.

But then, what would we do next? How could we portray the next scenes that play out? Suddenly the scene is filled with the light of glory. This light of glory is beyond anything we can ever imagine. How would we portray that? No lights we have could do that. We’d have to have a million deer shining lights for that.

And then the matter of the angel, and another and another, until there becomes a heavenly host, and the shepherds become terrified. We’d have to have 500 people playing the parts of angels, strung up on the ceiling, singing the most beautiful music you have ever heard in order to try to recreate that event! And that would not come close to doing it justice.

Maybe the point isn’t to see how spectacular one can make a Christmas pageant. Decorations and costumes and technology isn’t what Christmas is all about. Christmas is about welcoming the baby Jesus with an open heart. It is about believing that God has done a wonderful and special thing by coming down into our world.

It is about wanting to make room for a Savior to be born. Only for us, the Savior will be born in our hearts. What in your life needs that newly born Savior? Where are you hurting the most? What needs to change for you this year?

Remember that we are told, “With God anything is possible!” (Phil 4:13) With God, we can be comforted in our grief. With God, we can overcome depression. With God, we can pursue long-held dreams. With God, we can reach out to serve others in ways we never imagined.

I pray that each one of us can be moved with the gift of Christmas. May each one of us, in our own ways be filled with the gift of grace that came in the form of a baby.

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As we prepare for the coming holiday season, the pageantry, the anticipation, the exchanging of gifts, the subjective increase in good will between people, the lights, the trees, the decorations, family, friends, neighbors, and the breaks from school and work one begins to think about the meaning of this time of year.  People get into all sorts of debates, everything from “commercialism v. religious observance”, to “’holiday’ v. ‘Christmas’”.

While preparing for Thanksgiving last month, some of my students heard the reason why a celebration for giving thanks to God was such a huge deal. The Puritans didn’t believe in celebrating what we consider “traditional holidays”. They believed it violated the regulative practice of worship. Imagine my surprise when I learned that there are some today that continue this concept of 400 years ago.

There are many devout Christians that do not celebrate Christmas or Easter. Part of the objection of these modern day Puritans to celebrating Christmas is the legend of Santa Claus, a wholly understandable objection. It is argued that the making of Christmas wish lists, writing to Santa, and hoping for gifts requested is covetous and therefore sinful. It feeds into the sin of greed, and this leads to the increasing commercialism of the season. These are traits that certainly take away from what is often referred to as “the reason for the season”.

Another argument is that the against the celebration of a “made up holiday”, is that it was placed on the calendar in order to coincide with the pagan observance of Saturnalia. My question to those today that do not celebrate Christmas, yet call themselves Christian is this: “When is it ever a bad time to commemorate the Grace of God in His sending of His only begotten Son to us as a human, to live among us, to prepare for the day He was to take on the sins of the world, past, present, and future, sacrificing Himself for our salvation.? To me this is a worthy cause of celebration.”

If you say December 25th is a bad time, given the history of that period of the year and previous pagan celebrations, when would be a good time? Then I challenge you to explain why one time is inherently “better” than another when discussing the eternal gift of salvation. Discussion of this point, of course, logically leads to the celebration of Easter. When is it a bad time to commemorate the life of the Savior of the Universe?

While one can make the make the argument that Christ’s birth is not clearly documented to determine with any degree of accuracy to a time period certain, the same cannot be said of Jesus’ death and resurrection. These events are specific to the Jewish calendar. These events occurred during Passover, a religious observance that had been celebrated for more than 2000 years before Christ walked among us.

This is a holiday in which even the name “Easter” is derived from the pagan Celtic goddess “Eostre”. If you celebrate Easter, but not Christmas I would love to have you explain your logic behind that one. If you celebrate neither, how can you call yourself a follower of Christ when you refuse to acknowledge the very culmination of His purpose for His life on Earth?

Was it not Him that directed us: “Take and eat, this is my body given for you. Take and drink, this is my blood, shed for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

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