Archives For Christmas

When Christmas Is Lonely

Mark Beuving —  December 22, 2014 — Leave a comment

My pastor is good at reminding us that the Holidays can be a difficult time. We look forward to time off work to relax and catch up with our families. But what if you have no family? What if you’ve recently lost a loved one? What if your family gatherings are tense, argumentative, and discouraging?

Though we tend to speak about Christmas as a warm, happy time—the most wonderful time of the year—Christmas for many is a reminder of brokenness, loss, or loneliness.

If you find yourself in that position, Christmas is still for you. Perhaps Christmas is especially for you. Christmas is the celebration of God coming to earth as an infant. And that journey to earth where God took on baby-smooth flesh happened because this world is broken. We are lonely people. We are quarrelsome. We are hounded by illness and death. And for that very reason God entered our world.

Christmas

Jesus came because our world is broken. He came because we are broken. And he came as one of us so that he could lead us to healing, to wholeness, to reconciliation. The birth of Jesus was the rekindling of hope. It was God insisting that sin and death would not have the last world. All would be well. The angels appeared to the shepherds and announced peace on earth with the arrival of Jesus (Luke 2:14). And Paul reminds us that “he himself is our peace” (Eph. 2:14).

So if you find yourself alone this Christmas, or with an empty chair around the dinner table, remember that Jesus was born. Remember that because Jesus became a human child, sacrificed himself, and defeated death we will see our loved ones in Christ again. Remember that Jesus promised those who had chosen to follow him rather than clinging to family that they would be rewarded “a hundredfold” with family, “brothers and sisters and mothers and children” (Mark 10:30).

This does not make loss or loneliness enjoyable, nor should our goal be to keep a stiff upper lip. But you need to know that no matter how bitter your loss or persistent your loneliness, you have one and only one hope for wholeness, and we celebrate his birth at Christmas time. Strategies, platitudes, and self-help books are not enough to get you through. What you need is a Person, and he came as an infant in a feeding trough for your sake.

And if you find yourself in a tense family environment with irreconcilable differences and constant antagonism, or if you find yourself relatively alone on Christmas in an effort to avoid such a situation, remember that the baby you celebrate this Christmas season came to reconcile two groups who warred against one another:

“For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.” (Ephesians 2:14–17)

This does not make complex family dysfunction enjoyable. These situations are not easily reversed. But Christmas means that healing is possible. The only hope you have for restored relationships is the baby who would one day give his life to absorb the hostility of angry, selfish, sinful people.

I don’t write this in an effort to convince hurting people to cheer up. Grieving, hurting, and weeping may be the most appropriate thing you can do this Christmas season. But I do believe that we all need to see that the most important thing any of us can remember at Christmas time is the birth of Jesus. We need to remember him as we brave the shopping malls. We need to remember him as we happily unwrap presents around the Christmas tree. We need to remember him as we enjoy our families.

And we need to remember him as we feel the sting of loss. We need to remember him when once-comforting traditions turn into reminders of our pain. We need to remember him as we endure criticism or try to love the unlovable.

We all have only one hope, and at Christmas time we celebrate his humble arrival to earth, where he would grow into the Man who conquered every power, including death, and who will one day return to wipe our every tear and rid our world of evil once and for all.

“The angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

‘Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!’” (Luke 2:10–14)

Christ-Myth Angels

Joey Dodson —  December 23, 2013 — 1 Comment

I watched the “Nativity” movie with my family the other night. Afterwards I concluded: “Aside from some minor inaccuracies, the film wasn’t bad.” To which my clever daughter quipped:  “Well, the Book’s a lot better.”

Similarly, I’d have to say that when I look around at most of the modern renditions of Christmas: the Book’s indeed a whole lot better. One conspicuous example is Christmas angels. During this holiday season, it seems there is an angel around every corner. We recognize them by their wings. But in the Bible, angels don’t really have wings. I guess they could have wings if we equated them with the likes of the cherubim in Ezekiel or the seraphim in Isaiah. Cherubim, however, have four faces and their bodies are covered with eyes. And seraphim have—not two wings—but six. I admit it would be fun to replace the Christmas angels in our manger scenes with creatures such as these. Can you imagine the fright it would cause if we redecorated the angel costumes in our pageants as these figures? (Add some Revelation 12 to the mix and we got the makings of a Peter Jackson movie.) But alas, I doubt that the angels who proclaim “In Excelsis Deo” to the Shepherds in Luke represent the same heavenly creatures in Isaiah who cry “Holy, Holy, Holy…”  (Unless they are shape-shifters! How cool would that be?)

Now that I have ruined nativity scenes for some of you, allow me to tackle one more possible angelic misconception: the guardian angel. John Calvin argues that to say whether or not each believer has a single guardian angel assigned to her goes beyond what Scripture says. Or better: it does not go far enough.

Sure when Jesus says that the angels of children always behold the face of the Father, the Lord insinuates that there are certain angels to whom the kids’ safety has been entrusted. But perhaps it is a stretch to infer from this that each believer has her very own angel. Rather than being protected merely by one single angel, the Bible suggests that all of the angels watch for our safety. Why do we want a single special guardian, when we have an entire heavenly host watching out for us? According to Calvin, when we limit God’s care to a single angel, we do “great injury to ourselves and to all the members of the Church.” We do so by denying the value in God’s promises of auxiliary troops, who encircle and defend us so that we are emboldened to fight with all our might. Calvin goes on to apply this point to believers. Since the Lord has provided us with protection (not of one angel, but of myriads of them), “let us not be terrified at the multitude of our enemies, as if they could prevail.” Rather, let us adopt the sentiment of Elisha: “There are more for us than against us!”

As I was typing in haste one day, I made an embarrassing typo. Instead of Angel of the Lord, I typed, ‘Angle’ of the Lord. In the delirium that comes at the end of a semester for professors, I began to mock myself. Was he a “right” angle or an “acute” one? Although some Christ-myth mistakes make us laugh, there are some that are very dangerous. One that stems back to the early church and remains a clear and present danger is for us to be more fascinated with the angels of the Lord than we are with His presence. With or without his angels, whom shall we fear when the Lord of Hosts is on our side? We are confident that nothing-nothing-nothing can separate us from the love of God through his Son. Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael are great and all, but at the end of the day and in the thick of the fray, it is through Christ that we are more than conquerors.

Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) Kicking Santa Claus in the movie Christmas Vacation.

Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) kicking Santa Claus in the movie Christmas Vacation.

Amidst the hectic nature of the Christmas season, squeezed within the crowds of our shopping malls, and frantically moving from one get-together to the next, we need to remember one essential Christmas truth: Immanuel.

I’m not talking about loosening up your Christmas schedule. I’m not asking you to forego your annual visit to Santa, to boycott those non-Christian Christmas movies, or to sing only churchly Christmas carols. I don’t mean to imply that we simply remember that Jesus is the reason for the season or to suggest that we take some time to focus on him this Christmas. Not at all.

No, what we need to remember this Christmas season is Immanuel. The life-changing truth of Christmas is the advent of Immanuel. God-with-us, which is literally what Immanuel means, is the reality that transforms every aspect of life. The Old Testament is all about God’s presence. The Garden of Eden was all about God-with-us. The post-sin promises in Genesis 3 were about the restoration of God-with-us. The tabernacle and temple were about God-with-us. The exile was the tragic realization that God-is-no-longer-with-us. And the positive side of the message of the prophets was the hope of God-with-us.

And then Jesus was born, and God was with us. In the most profound sense imaginable. He was a human being, walking amongst human beings, teaching us from our midst, guiding and healing us as he stood next to us. And even when Immanuel rose from the grave and returned to the Father, God-with-us was still a present reality. In fact, when Immanuel ascended, he left us with Immanuel on steroids (so to speak).

Jesus was God-with-us in that God walked in our midst. As amazing as that is, Jesus sent an even more intense version of God-with-us to take his place: the Holy Spirit. Now God-with-us means that he lives not beside us, but within us. He is with us on the inside, transforming, convicting, and guiding us. Immanuel has never meant more.

Now back to the point. As we elbow our way through the Christmas crowds, God-is-with-us. As we stand in line for a photo with Santa, God-is-with-us. As we gather with our families, give and receive gifts, sing Christmas carols, and give and receive the worst (or best, depending on your perspective) white elephant gifts, God-is-with-us.

It’s not about abandoning one for the sake of the other. It’s not about taking time away from the shopping mall to think about Jesus. When you walked into that shopping mall, God was with you. And he’s with you still now. And now. And now. He is everywhere in your Christmas schedule. You do it all—shopping, Santa, and singing—by God’s side, or better, with God inside. Immanuel.

So it doesn’t matter if you go to see Santa or watch a movie in which he stars. God is with you. View Santa through eyes of faith and you have nothing to fear. It doesn’t matter if you over-gift your kids or feel a rush of delight as you drink a peppermint mocha at Starbucks. God is with you. If you do these activities as a transformed and transforming bearer of the very Spirit of God, then these “distractions” cannot possibly pull you away from the Christ of Christmas, because he’s already there. On the inside. Immanuel.

So as you navigate this Christmas season, just remember one all-important truth: Immanuel.

On a recent trip to Disneyland (thanks to the generosity of my parents), we watched the “holiday” version of Disney’s World of Color in California Adventure. If you’ve never seen World of Color, it’s impressive. For half an hour, jets of water shoot across the lake in California Adventure, embellished with brilliant colors, projections of Disney characters, and accompanied by music.

Amidst all of the beauty and holiday cheer of the event, one line stood out to me. The show features a rendition of the song “Joy to the World.” You know the song:

“Joy to the world, the Lord is come,
Let earth receive her King!
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heaven and nature sing!”

This Christmas song announces the hope that shapes our lives as Christians.But in Disney’s version, the song doesn’t get past the first four words. Over and over it repeats the words, “Joy to the world!” But nothing else is said.

I don’t want to criticize Disney for not being Christian enough. They’ve never claimed to be speaking on behalf of the Christian faith (yet sometimes they actually have presented Christian truths explicitly). But I find their rendition of “Joy to the World” fascinating because it dips into a Christian hope without acknowledging the Christian basis for that hope.

In the Christian story, joy is announced to the world. Why? Because the Lord, the King of all the earth, has come. This joy can be realized if we would all welcome this King, preparing room in our hearts, so to speak.

In the Disney version, the phrase “joy to the world” becomes nothing more than a vague wish. There is no basis. There is no reason for joy. The song simply wishes joy to be spread to the world. What is a confident announcement of joy in the Christian tradition becomes nothing more than a fleeting sentiment in the secular world.

What this secularization of “Joy to the World” does is conjure up the feelings of the Christian hope without actually tapping into that hope itself. In secularizing hope, we strip it of its power and repackage it as an innocuous and sentimental holiday greeting. (Incidentally, the same thing happens to the phrase “peace on earth,” which is also taken directly from the Christmas story.)

I thoroughly enjoyed the show, and I’d recommend it to anyone who has a chance to see it. But let’s all remember that there are no substitutes for the joy announced to the world on Christmas Day. The secularists in our midst are indeed wishing for joy to the world, but we alone have a basis for announcing that joy—we have the answer they are looking for.

 

This entry is part 4 of 4 in the seriesThe Truth About Santa Claus

Santa Claus has been with us for many generations, but still there are those who deny his existence. More than 100 years ago, sweet little Virginia O’Hanlon, eight years old at the time, encountered some of these nonbelievers, which prompted her to write these famous words to the editor of the New York Sun:

Virginia O'Hanlon

Virginia O’Hanlon

Dear Editor: I am 8 years old.
Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
Papa says, “If you see it in THE SUN it’s so.”
Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?

The brilliant response from newspaper writer Francis Church has reportedly become the most frequently reprinted editorial of all time. He explains:

Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little…

Francis Church

Francis Church

Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world…Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy…Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus…There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence.

Francis Church is rightly condemning the modern notion that we should only believe in those things which can be verified through the five senses. Indeed, the lack of legitimate “Santa sightings” is no reason to disbelieve in his existence. Church maintains a sense of wonder in our increasingly technologized world. Where would we be if our worldview left no room for mystery?

But we need to be careful about equating the kind of faith that can be directed toward Santa Claus and the kind of faith that Christians direct towards Jesus. Some would say that faith is faith—believing in Jesus is no different than believing in Santa. When Karl Marx referred to religion as “the opiate of the masses,” he had in mind the kind of faith that Francis Church has in Santa Claus: We can’t explain everything in this world, and none of us want to give up the joy of poetry, romance, and wonder, so why not believe in Santa if it makes life more bearable?

Santa ChimneyI am all for celebrating the magic and mystery of the world in fun ways (which is how I see Santa Claus). But we “believe” in Santa despite what we know, rather than because of it. No one ever looked at the night before Christmas and decided the best way to explain the gifts in the stockings and under the tree is a garish, overweight man in a red velvet suit flying in a sleigh and descending through every chimney in the world.

On the contrary, faith in Jesus is not despite the evidence. It is not blind faith. It is a faith that rests on the authority of what God has said, and then steps out into the real world and finds God’s words confirmed in every aspect of the world and the human experience. Faith in Jesus is more than a sense of romance and magic (though it is not less).

So celebrate Christmas with or without reference to Santa Claus, and never lose your sense of wonder in this unbelievable world. But don’t believe those who tell you that faith in Jesus is nothing more than a lie you tell yourself to make life a little happier, or to make your Christmas celebrations a little more religiously charged. God’s truth runs deeper than our five senses, but it is consistently confirmed by all of them.

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