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Archive for the ‘Christmas’ Category

Every day is Christmas

It’s Christmastime, so it’s time for the seasonal handwringing over our culture’s reducing the season to little more than a time for gift-giving and sentimental movies. To be sure, I have no problem with giving or receiving gifts, and I’m sometimes up for a sentimental seasonal movie.

And I also share the concern for our culture. It is beyond sad that our culture loves the Christmas season but rejects out of hand the biblical Christ. I read in the Christian Post that “the American Family Association is calling for a limited one-month boycott of Radio Shack, accusing the company of censoring the word ‘Christmas’ from its holiday promotions and advertising. ‘Until Radio Shack proves it recognizes Christmas by using it in their newspaper, radio, television advertising and in-store signage, I will boycott its stores this Christmas,’ a boycott pledge on AFA’s website states.”

Please do not misunderstand me, but I’m not too stressed over whether Radio Shack uses the word “Christmas” in its holiday promotion and advertising. Part of that may be because Radio Shack is completely inconsequential to my life. It’s probably been ten years since I was in a Radio Shack!

Frankly, it seems to me that professing Christians think too small. You see it in the popular slogan: “Remember that Jesus is the reason for the season.” Again, I understand the sentiment, and I’ve heard it repeated by sincere Christians as well as strongly voiced by church members whose living is marked by ungodliness.

I have come to believe that we Christians cannot change our culture by threatening to take our business elsewhere when portions of our culture do not externally heed our demands. What the good folks at the American Family Association are unwittingly promoting is, in my estimation, a culture of Pharisaism. It is a requirement that people conform externally to certain demands. Say “Merry Christmas” or else!

Let’s face it: the Christmas season is important to our culture because of the economic impact it has on the economy. We wish that were not so, but it is what it is.

Here’s my main point, though: Jesus is not merely the “reason for the season,” as catchy as that slogan is. Jesus is the reason for life. For the Christian, Christmas draws special attention to the incarnation of Christ, the “infleshing” of the Son of God. Without Christ’s coming to earth and becoming man, he could not have died as our substitute. We would still be in our sin. We would have no hope. God, whose essence is holy, could not receive unholy creatures.

Consequently, the One who knew no sin became sin for us, that we would be accounted righteous in the sight of God and received by him (see 2 Corinthians 5:21). That is what the birth of Christ is all about. God was claiming a people for himself, and the coming of Christ was a necessary step in that process.

So we rejoice in the coming of Christ not merely during a particular season recognized by culture and church calendars. Every day is Christmas! Every day is a day of rejoicing and gratefulness to God. “Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen” (Revelation 7:12).

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A blue Christmas?

Christmas seems to be a particularly depressing time for many people. Statistics reveal increased numbers of suicides and attempted suicide when compared to other times of the year. Mental health professionals report an increase in cases of depression.

Many reasons for increased depression are offered. Folks get overwhelmed with trying to find the “perfect” Christmas gift. All the festivities can crowd needed rest out of one’s calendar. Expecting one’s Christmas season to match a Hallmark movie doubtlessly produces a blue Christmas for many. Gatherings that force folks to be around others they dislike can be a downer.

Perhaps more persons need to feel blue at Christmas, though not for any of the reasons often offered. The thrice-holy Christ entered the world. Juxtaposed against his holiness, any human should be filled with dread and shame, a state of the darkest blue.

In Isaiah 6 we find the prophet in the presence of the Almighty. Confronted with perfect holiness, Isaiah shrinks, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (v. 5). Isaiah saw himself and his people as they really were: wicked and evil. “For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45) correlates what a person says with what a person is. That is not a comforting thought.

One might ask, “Well, that’s all well and good, but we’re talking about Christmas. What does Christmas have to do with Isaiah’s experience with the holy God?” The apostle John records this account in his gospel: “Though he [Jesus] had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: ‘Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?’ Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said, ‘He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.’ Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him” (John 12:37–41, ESV; emphasis added).

Isaiah saw Christ in his glorious holiness and saw himself as wicked and unworthy. Somehow, that’s a reality we need to grasp during the Christmas season. We are not celebrating the miracle of a birth, though the Virgin Birth was certainly that. We are not celebrating the innocence of a little child, though this Child is the only one who has ever been born as innocent after Adam’s fall. Too much of Christmas in our culture borders on sappy emotionalism, and a lot of it is thoroughly baptized in sappiness. Even the “Put Christ Back into Christmas” campaigns miss the mark, because most people would be aghast at who Christ really is. Perhaps beside manger scenes should be a depiction of Revelation 19:11-15: “Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.”

Seeing Christ as Scripture depicts him should drive us to the cross, for there “he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21, ESV). Seeing Christ in his holiness reveals us in our sinfulness and lawlessness. By his grace, we loathe our sin, repent of it, and embrace his atonement for us. And, yes, we celebrate Christmas, but for no sentimental reason. We celebrate because our kind, benevolent, gracious, holy Savior God has satisfied divine justice due our sin and has clothed us in his righteousness.

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You better watch out / You better not cry / Better not pout / I’m telling you why / Santa Claus is coming to town
He’s making a list / And checking it twice / Gonna find out who’s naughty and nice / Santa Claus is coming to town
He sees you when you’re sleeping / He knows when you’re awake / He knows if you’ve been bad or good / So be good for goodness sake!

Probably all of us, or at least most of us, recall some time during our childhood when an adult repeated at least a portion of the words from “Santa Clause Is Coming to Town” during the weeks preceding Christmas. We were being less-than-nice and received the warning that if we did not do better, Santa wouldn’t bring us any gifts. It probably had an effect on us for a few minutes or perhaps a couple of hours.

My thinking about this Christmas song has nothing to do with parenting (I could go there, but I’ll resist!), but it does have something to do with obedience. Many folks, of course, view God the way many children in our culture are taught to view Santa. If you want to be blessed with a good job and a nice house, etc., you had better be good because God is watching. If you are “naughty,” you will forfeit these good things.

That is really a sad way to live. One learns to equate being “good” or “bad” with earning or forfeiting God’s favor. It degenerates into a view of salvation based upon works. If you are “good,” God rewards you with heaven. If you’re bad, God punishes you with hell.

Recognizing that we are saved by God’s grace through faith in Christ, that our works do not earn God’s favor (Ephesians 2:8-9), we recognize that such an attitude towards obedience is an affront to a gracious and merciful God. And yet we are to obey God’s Word (Ephesians 2:10), though we do it because he has favored us, not in order to earn his favor.

One of the great lessons of the Christmas season is that of submission. When the angel Gabriel announced to the virgin Mary that she would miraculously conceive and give birth to the Messiah, she could have protested that her reputation would be ruined. She could have submitted to God in order to gain God’s favor or from fear of punishment.

Mary, though, had been told that she was God’s “favored one,” that “the Lord is with you,” that she had “found favor with God.” She had not earned God’s favor. God had granted it according to his good pleasure.

When told that she would miraculously conceive and bear a son, that his name would be Jesus, that “he will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High,” and that he would receive the throne of David and reign forever, she expressed confusion, seeking to understand how a virgin could bear a son. When the angel answered, she submitted to the will of God: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

For Mary, submitting to the will of God, regardless of the potential sacrifice and reproach, was the only thing that mattered. With heartfelt joy she praised God, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46-47).

The happy Christian is the one who is surrendered to the will of God. When he finds a command in the Bible, he does not hedge or attempt to rationalize away its meaning. Even in the face of the loss of business, friends, or prestige, he joyfully obeys the Word of God. He realizes that the precepts of God are always for his good and for God’s glory, and he obeys out of gratitude for God’s grace.

May this season of celebrating the coming of Christ be an especially joyous one as we seek to be submissive to his Word.

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ChristianAudio and William B. Eerdmans are offering Handel’s Messiah: Comfort for God’s People as a free download this month. This is what ChristianAudio says about the book:

Hallelujah! December 1st arrives and we think of our Savior’s birth…and rejoicing the Incarnation. One of the influential reminders of this and enjoying Christmas is hearing and seeing Handel’s Messiah. How many of us actually know the story and theology of Handel’s Messiah?

Handel’s Messiah: Comfort for God’s People by Calvin Stapert is the December free audiobook of the month and is a special one to listen to. Not only is the book extremely well-narrated by James Adams, it also includes some of the music to illustrate the history and theology of Handel and the music. Even if you are not a music lover, this is still a fascinating study into the life, thought, and theology behind the best-known score of all time. This is one of our most timely free audiobook offers, and we trust you will find it encouraging and helpful!

Enjoy!

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Many professing Christian theologians have jettisoned belief in practically all the “hard-to-believe” sections of the Bible. Gone is the belief that God created the heavens and the earth and all therein in sixth twenty-four-hour days. Gone is the belief that Moses, by the power of God, parted the waters of the Red Sea. Gone are Elijah’s chariots of fire and Jesus’ miracles.

For many theologians, the Bible’s declaration that Adam and Eve were real, literal people is too much to swallow. Tremper Longman, a professor of religious studies at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California, and a noted evangelical, claims that a person would have to be guilty of a “highly literalistic reading” of the first two chapters of Genesis in order to believe in a literal Adam. Unfortunately, Dr. Longman’s reasoning for rejecting a literal Adam is used by many to reject all of the supernatural events recorded in Scripture.

Take, for instance, the virgin birth of Christ. One has to admit that such an event is not just a little out of the ordinary, and yet Matthew was very explicit in detailing what occurred: “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’” (Matthew 1:18–21, ESV). Matthew intended his hearers to comprehend that no human father was involved with the conception of Jesus. Is this, too, only a “myth”?

John Shelby Spong, a retired Episcopalian bishop, revealed his contempt for those who believe in the virgin birth of Christ: “When one Episcopal bishop told me that he accepted the virgin birth story literally because ‘if God wanted to be born of a virgin, he could have arranged that,’ or when another said, ‘If God created ex nihilo, the virgin birth would be a snap,’ I thought to myself, ‘How will the church survive in this world with that lack of scholarship among its leaders?’ In those statements the bishops were asserting their belief in a God who was in fact a manipulative male person, who would set aside the processes of the world to produce a miracle in order to bring his divine presence into a human enterprise called life, from which this God was clearly separated. They also revealed no knowledge whatsoever of the biblical studies that have, for at least a century, thrown new light on the interpretation of these birth narratives.” Spong believes that the Virgin Birth is merely a myth to reveal God’s concern for the universe.

Must we believe in the Virgin Birth to be truly Christian? Many would doubtlessly argue that not believing is regrettable but does not mean one is not a Christian. Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary provides a needed correction to such an opinion: “This is not a hard question to answer. It is conceivable that someone might come to Christ and trust Christ as Savior without yet learning that the Bible teaches that Jesus was born of a virgin. A new believer is not yet aware of the full structure of Christian truth. The real question is this: Can a Christian, once aware of the Bible’s teaching, reject the Virgin Birth? The answer must be no.”

Baptist theologian Millard Erickson gives us this to think about: “If we do not hold to the virgin birth despite the fact that the Bible asserts it, then we have compromised the authority of the Bible and there is in principle no reason why we should hold to its other teachings. Thus, rejecting the virgin birth has implications reaching far beyond the doctrine itself.” I wonder–could not the same be said about creation?

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With the month of December comes the focus upon Christmas and all that goes with it. Decorations have suddenly popped up everywhere, joining those Christmas decorations that have been up for weeks! Christmas carols are heard on radio stations and in the stores. And there are, of course, the ubiquitous manger scenes.

Now, before anyone thinks that this curmudgeon is on an anti-manger crusade, think again. I like manger scenes, however unhistorical most are! The manger in the Bible was doubtlessly not a barn-like structure, the conditions were doubtlessly not pristine, the three wise men were nowhere around, and there probably were more than three anyway. Nevertheless, manger scenes do emphasize Christ and, in a culture that is becoming more and more anti-Christian, it is good to see a positive portrayal of Jesus.

The problem, though, is the sentimentalizing of the birth of Christ. A baby is born to a poor couple who are required to travel when the wife is close to giving birth to her first child. They arrive at their destination to find no lodging available other than a place where animals are kept.

The scene in popular imagination and portrayal becomes almost “Walt Disney-esque.” The animals are gazing with awe-struck wonder at the little baby. The world loves the sweet story.

But the world doesn’t love the portrayal of the biblical Christ. Why? Because the manger is not the emphasis of the Bible. Outside of Matthew and Luke, the circumstances of the birth of Christ are not explicitly discussed. While those details are important because they reveal the miracle of the virgin birth of Christ, the manger was not the destination. It was part of the process to get to the cross.

The world hates the cross because the cross reveals humanity’s sin and rebellion against God. The cross reveals the nonsense of the “I’m okay; you’re okay; let’s just all accept and affirm each other’s beliefs” attitude that is so prevalent.

The world hates the cross because there is nothing sentimental about it. A holy God unleashes his wrath against a holy and innocent victim who is suffering in the place of human sinners. There’s not a good way to sugar-coat that.

The world hates the cross because it points to the hopelessness of man. It reveals that human efforts to become accepted by God are worthless. The cross reveals human sin and hopelessness and pride. The cross reveals the necessity of humility.

Unfortunately, many professing Christians glory in the manger. They gaze upon the representations therein with child-like awe and wonder. They feel “spiritual” and especially close to God. They feel at peace. And they sin if they worship that representation of Jesus, making an idol out of a baby doll.

If we celebrate Christmas without an eye on the cross, we have missed the point of the incarnation. A better depiction for manger scenes would be to have a cross in the background, because the manger becomes little more than a Hallmark moment without the cross.

One is struck by the numerous references to the cross in the New Testament. We are sinners, and we can do nothing to become accepted by God. Even our righteous acts, as the prophet Isaiah reminds us, are as filthy rags. On the cross the Lord Jesus suffered the righteous wrath of the thrice-holy God. He suffered for our sins, for our rebellion. He suffered so that we would not suffer. He suffered so that justice would be served and we would be forgiven and counted righteous. He suffered so that God could receive us.

Little wonder that the apostle Paul could never get over the cross. Though he does not refer to the manger in his writings, the cross is always in the forefront. Not in the manger was his boast: “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14a).

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