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Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

John Lennon’s 1971 mega-hit “Imagine” enjoys international acclaim as people sing the hymn-like call for a perfect world. Believe it and it will be. “Imagine there’s no Heaven / It’s easy if you try / No Hell below us / Above us only sky / Imagine all the people / Livin’ for today.”

Many today live according to Lennon’s dream. Western culture has managed to rid itself of the old restraints that have supposedly kept us from experiencing a utopian society. Let us imagine what we want reality to be, and it will be! And “livin’ for today”? Yep—we’ve got that down.

We have a culture that is trying to reconstruct humanity along the lines of imagination. Imagine a world where there are no consequences for promiscuous sex. We’ve made abortion safe (so we’re told), legal, and not-so-rare. And those unborn babies? They wouldn’t want to be where they’re not wanted, right? They don’t have a say in the matter, but we can imagine, can’t we?

Yes—let’s live as though reality will follow our imagination. Same-sex marriage? Why not? We can imagine that homosexual couples will as able to rear psychologically-healthy children as heterosexual couples, right? We can imagine.

And what’s with this business about our sexual identity being determined by our physiology? If Bruce Jenner imagines he is a woman, then who are we to say otherwise. Mom, what if your little boy thinks he’s a girl? And you’ve always wanted a little girl. . . . A bit of makeup and surgery and drugs and . . . voila!

If we all would only imagine, what a wonderful world this would be! “Imagine no possessions / I wonder if you can / No need for greed or hunger / A brotherhood of man / Imagine all the people / Sharin’ all the world.” The reason for so much suffering, we are told, is that the few have almost everything and the most have almost nothing. What’s the solution? Increase taxes on the wealthy. They must “pay their fair share.” Now everyone will have plenty, right? After all, poor people with more money will now create jobs for others, won’t they? Hey, we can imagine.

The problem with utopian dreamers is that reality simply refuses to follow dreams. God has established certain laws that will not heed the futile dreams of depraved minds. That is really the issue, isn’t it? Who is sovereign?

The Scriptures reveal and history affirms that God made man and woman–two sexes. People may be confused about that, but confusion does not create a new reality. Some people are confused about aspects of math, but that doesn’t change the reality of numbers.

But humans will not have this God reign over them, and that is the bottom line. We would be the director of our movie, the captain of our fate. And nothing has really changed throughout all history.

The serpent tempted Eve with what is the bottom line for all sin: “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5). “You will be like God”—that’s what people want. Humans want to be in charge, to call the shots, to decide what “is” is, to make their own utopias.

The reality is that when humans call the shots, their innate depravity permeates everything. People are naturally greedy, and everyone’s greed mutually conflicts. When people want to be sovereign, others disagree with their view of sovereignty, and fights and wars ensue. When people choose to change their sexual orientation, their confused mentality conflicts with biological and psychological reality. Attempts at human-envisioned utopias give way to hell on earth.

There is only one answer, and that answer is submission to the divine Creator, the One who knows the way to joy and happiness and fulfillment better than we ever will. Moses clearly laid out the alternatives: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live” (Deuteronomy 30:19). And the apostle John points us directly to Jesus Christ: “In him was life, and the life was the light of men” (John 1:4).

The reality is that we all need a radical makeover, much more radical that what Bruce Jenner envisions, one that cannot be produced with psychology, surgery, or drugs. We need new hearts; we need Christ: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

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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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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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