Archive for December, 2007
For what has seemed like an eternity BuddyO and I have been battling over the differences between how we each perceive God’s character. Recently he had this to say on the subject: http://rev22.org/index.php/archives/108
Which got me to thinking; perhaps he is on to something here. This provoked even more thinking on my part, causing a loss of consciousness. Right after coming to I had something like an epiphany:
Throughout the Bible (not just the OT) there are plenty of references to the holiness, righteousness and exacting justice of God. Even the Gospels have passages that some find a bit ‘hard to swallow’ given the forgiving nature of Jesus. There is a part of one passages that clearly speaks of God’s sovereignty and his intentions for us:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” (Luke 10:27)
In many ‘conservative’ churches great emphasis is placed on personal righteousness, striving to show God the full respect that he deserves as well as the obedience that he requires. It is often remarked that Jesus did not come to abolish the law, that he came to fulfill it, so to trivialize or disregard God’s laws as recorded in scripture is not only unbiblical but dangerous as well. There is a concern that God is being misrepresented as soft, weak and less than holy.
Then there are the mandates of Jesus (also found throughout the Bible, including the Old Testament) concerning the sacrificial service he expects of us in regards to our relationship with others. This one in particular is quite well known:
“Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27)
Many ‘liberal’ churches today consider the commands of Jesus to care for those in need (as well as the natural world we have been given) as his highest priority. The emphasis here has been on the mandate for social justice that is found again and again throughout both Old and New Testaments. To them, a fervent devotion to Biblical doctrine and the law is considered misguided and counter to serving God’s kingdom. To portray God as wrathful and angry with the world is to misunderstood the message of Jesus; that strength is found in surrender and weakness.
Of course neither one of these commands of Jesus is meant to stand alone. What is often forgotten is the importance of one little word – “and”. Taken separately, each part of this command is certainly worth considering and devoting one’s life to. Apparently Jesus did not mean for this to be the case as they are irrevocably tied together with that one little conjunction. I guess we could look at it as two very important requests that God has made of us. If only we would obey both of these rules, keeping them both sacred and secure in hearts, how much better would the world be?
But it seems that, at best, we can only concentrate on keeping one command at a time. Church history has proven over and over again that this tactic is not very successful. Many of us find it difficult to keep even one of these commands, much less both of them. Some of us have a hard time understanding ‘who’ this distant God is so we may find it impossible to love him as we do our spouses or our children. (After all, we aren’t saints, are we?) Others may have a very tough time being able to ‘love’ others, especially those that they don’t like. (But we aren’t God. W can’t be expected to do what Jesus did, can we?)
The secret is that little word –“and”. Jesus did not intend for us to carry around two new laws in our hearts, to take the place of the 10 or the 600 already on the books. There has always been only one law and that law is ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind AND Love your neighbor as yourself.” That ‘and’ is like the plus sign in an equation – each part standing alone is deficient without the addition of the other. The harmonious conjuction of those two simple sentences equals the entirety of God’s Law. And the Law = Love. When we take them together, realizing that each part’s value is dependant on the other, our world opens up to infinite possibilities. It was on the cross that Jesus showed us how to bring those two parts together as one.
My friend Alan has just had an article published today over on theOoze. In it he says;
It’s certainly much easier to conform and be accepted by the world than it is to transform ourselves and the world around us, but Jesus calls us to walk the harder road toward transformation. Our job as Christians should be to put Christ back in Christmas, and frankly to put Christ back in Christianity. We’re called to be different from the world around us—to shine like stars in a dark place—Philippians 2:15. It can be a challenge to shine out when there is so much subtle (and at times not so subtle) pressure to conform to the world.
Read the rest of his piece here:
While commenting on the “Old Man’s Feast Day”Alan recommended that I check out something Lewis had written about the way in which he saw this holy day being celebrated. Although written over 50 years ago (Niatirb is an anagram for Lewis’ Britain) it is even more pertinent today. It reminds me of what Brent of InWorship said about X-Mas being for Santa and Christmas being for Christ – two separate festivals that sometimes, in some good ways, do overlap.
Xmas and Christmas: A Lost Chapter from Herodotus,” by C.S. Lewis
And beyond this there lies in the ocean, turned towards the west and north, the island of Niatirb which Hecataeus indeed declares to be the same size and shape as Sicily, but it is larger, though in calling it triangular a man would not miss the mark. It is densely inhabited by men who wear clothes not very different from the other barbarians who occupy the north western parts of Europe though they do not agree with them in language. These islanders, surpassing all the men of whom we know in patience and endurance, use the following customs.
In the middle of winter when fogs and rains most abound they have a great festival which they call Exmas and for fifty days they prepare for it in the fashion I shall describe. First of all, every citizen is obliged to send to each of his friends and relations a square piece of hard paper stamped with a picture, which in their speech is called an Exmas-card. But the pictures represent birds sitting on branches, or trees with a dark green prickly leaf, or else men in such garments as the Niatirbians believe that their ancestors wore two hundred years ago riding in coaches such as their ancestors used, or houses with snow on their roofs. And the Niatirbians are unwilling to say what these pictures have to do with the festival; guarding (as I suppose) some sacred mystery. And because all men must send these cards the marketplace is filled with the crowd of those buying them, so that there is great labour and weariness.
But having bought as many as they suppose to be sufficient, they return to their houses and find there the like cards which others have sent to them. And when they find cards from any to whom they also have sent cards, they throw them away and give thanks to the gods that this labour at least is over for another year. But when they find cards from any to whom they have not sent, then they beat their breasts and wail and utter curses against the sender; and, having sufficiently lamented their misfortune, they put on their boots again and go out into the fog and rain and buy a card for him also. And let this account suffice about Exmas-cards.
They also send gifts to one another, suffering the same things about the gifts as about the cards, or even worse. For every citizen has to guess the value of the gift which every friend will send to him so that he may send one of equal value, whether he can afford it or not. And they buy as gifts for one another such things as no man ever bought for himself. For the sellers, understanding the custom, put forth all kinds of trumpery, and whatever, being useless and ridiculous, they have been unable to sell throughout the year they now sell as an Exmas gift. And though the Niatirbians profess themselves to lack sufficient necessary things, such as metal, leather, wood and paper, yet an incredible quantity of these things is wasted every year, being made into the gifts.
But during these fifty days the oldest, poorest, and most miserable of the citizens put on false beards and red robes and walk about the market-place; being disguised (in my opinion) as Cronos. And the sellers of gifts no less than the purchaser’s become pale and weary, because of the crowds and the fog, so that any man who came into a Niatirbian city at this season would think some great public calamity had fallen on Niatirb. This fifty days of preparation is called in their barbarian speech the Exmas Rush.
But when the day of the festival comes, then most of the citizens, being exhausted with the Rush, lie in bed till noon. But in the evening they eat five times as much supper as on other days and, crowning themselves with crowns of paper, they become intoxicated. And on the day after Exmas they are very grave, being internally disordered by the supper and the drinking and reckoning how much they have spent on gifts and on the wine. For wine is so dear among the Niatirbians that a man must swallow the worth of a talent before he is well intoxicated.
Such, then, are their customs about the Exmas. But the few among the Niatirbians have also a festival, separate and to themselves, called Crissmas, which is on the same day as Exmas. And those who keep Crissmas, doing the opposite to the majority of the Niatirbians, rise early on that day with shining faces and go before sunrise to certain temples where they partake of a sacred feast. And in most of the temples they set out images of a fair woman with a new-born Child on her knees and certain animals and shepherds adoring the Child. (The reason of these images is given in a certain sacred story which I know but do not repeat.)
But I myself conversed with a priest in one of these temples and asked him why they kept Crissmas on the same day as Exmas; for it appeared to me inconvenient. But the priest replied, “It is not lawful, O stranger, for us to change the date of Chrissmas, but would that Zeus would put it into the minds of the Niatirbians to keep Exmas at some other time or not to keep it at all. For Exmas and the Rush distract the minds even of the few from sacred things. And we indeed are glad that men should make merry at Crissmas; but in Exmas there is no merriment left.” And when I asked him why they endured the Rush, he replied, “It is, O Stranger, a racket”; using (as I suppose) the words of some oracle and speaking unintelligibly to me (for a racket is an instrument which the barbarians use in a game called tennis).
But what Hecataeus says, that Exmas and Crissmas are the same, is not credible. For first, the pictures which are stamped on the Exmas-cards have nothing to do with the sacred story which the priests tell about Crissmas. And secondly, the most part of the Niatirbians, not believing the religion of the few, nevertheless send the gifts and cards and participate in the Rush and drink, wearing paper caps. But it is not likely that men, even being barbarians, should suffer so many and great things in honour of a god they do not believe in. And now, enough about Niatirb
Each winter it got very dark in the garden, especially during the last month of the year. Some of the children would become sad and depressed during this time, remembering those that had passed before and pining away for the warm sunshine and green plants of summer. But on the very darkest and shortest day of the whole year there was much gaiety and laughter. For on that day most of the children would celebrate with candles, bonfires, music, song and feasting. On that day all the children in the Old Man’s gardens would throw festivals to remind themselves that starting tomorrow the days would become longer and brighter, bringing the promise of spring.
All these festivals were a bit different from each other, though. Each one revolved around the distinct customs found in all the various garden’s of the Old Man’s. The children brought these customs and traditions with them over his many bridges; bridges built by his Son built to help bring them closer to the Old Man.
Often the Old Man could be seen at these many different festivals, singing, dancing, talking and laughing with the children. Wherever there was a celebration of life and friendship there you would also find the Old Man.
One day some of the leaders in the garden were talking; “You know, all these festivals are great fun, but none of them say much about the Old Man” said one girl (who had been one of the first to find the garden.)
“So?” the others asked.
“Well, we owe him so much and he has been so kind. Don’t you think it would be great if we held all the winterfestivals in honor of him?” she said.
Of course! It seemed so obvious to them. Everyone loved the idea. So they decided to take the best from each festival and created one great big one dedicated to the Old Man. It was to be called Old Man’s Festival. There was even more food, more music, more dancing, more decorations, candles and bonfires than ever before. It was a wonderful time and the Old Man seemed to love it.
Soon the Festival got so big that it took almost a whole month for all the preparations to be made. If there already wasn’t enough to do, someone came up with a new idea.
“The Old Man, he doesn’t get a birthday like the rest of us. I’ll bet he gets sad about that. Why don’t we bring him gifts during the festival?” Who could (or dared) say no to that?
The first year that everyone brought gifts, the Old Man seemed embarrassed;“Children, you needn’t bring me things. What can I possibly need? I own everything in the garden as it is. All I want is your love and for you to love each other.”
“Well, if he once us to love each other let’s give the gifts to those who can use them.” First they started with the needy kids but then they began to give them to anyone that they liked. They loved to give (and receive) gifts and this soon became the most important part of the festival (even more important to some than remembering the Old Man). Each year it was important to find that perfect gift, to show that you really cared for the person you gave it to.
Eventually the children had so much to do for Old Man’s Festival that they started to lose track of their time. The preparations began earlier and earlier. They worked harder and harder at cooking delicious food, decorating the yard with thousands of lights, and hanging colorful ribbons and bows. Mostly, though, they were frantically making or buying all the gifts they needed to make the Festival a success. Sometimes the Old Man would be seen coming down the hill to talk with a few of the children but they were much too busy getting ready for his feast day. He would often walk through the campgrounds, trying to get the attention of the busy children.
Meanwhile, more children kept coming across the bridges and they brought along their own customs and traditions. They would set up their own midwinter’s feasts, with the all lights and food and music but of course it all would be very different from the established Festival traditions. Of course, these children would be invited to join in the Festival, if they were willing to give up their old customs and ways. Few of these new arrivals could understand why this was necessary so most of them respectfully declined. Even so, they were always reminded that their winter festivals weren’t the real thing, that their celebrations should only be about the Old Man.
The Festival season became bigger and better and the season lasted longer and longer. Soon everyone involved could be seen running to and fro, frantically trying to get everything done in time for the big event. This year was to be the biggest and best so far. Finally the time had come–it was Festival Day! The party was tremendous, the food delicious, the children’s orchestra and choir had never been better. White and colored lamps and candles, ornamental flowers, ribbons, bows- it was fantastic. The hall hung with tapestries. Dozens of cooks and servers laid out great platters of exotic and exquisite meats, cakes and sweets- more than they could ever possibly eat! Children put on plays and skits and dancers displayed their skills. And the gifts! – what wonderful gifts! No expense was spared. Wrapping paper flew through the air and there were squeals of delight (and occasional groans of disappointment.) Singing, laughing – so much noise and revelry. It had been exhausting and frantic but the day was finally here. This was worth all the headaches and stress. Now it was time to have fun. It was Festival!
But something seemed to be out of place. The celebration was just not quite right. There was an uncomfortable sense that a very important element was missing. Where was the Old Man?
He was supposed to be here- after all it was his party. But no matter how hard everyone looked they could not find him. What a terrible disappointment! All this work, all this excitement and anticipatioin – and for what? They looked around at all the dishes and glasses and silverware that needed to be cleaned, all the torn paper wrapping and bits of string, the dying plants and sagging festoons. Was this it? Everyone became very quiet as they pondered how much time and effort they had spent preparing for this one day. And how much more work now faced them.
Just then then, drifting in on the wind, there could be heard the faint sound of laughter, and perhaps just a bit of music. The wind was blowing in from the west, from around the hillside and they all listened. Yes! That was laughter- and song! Where was that coming from?
Some of the children decided that they must find the source of these delightful noises. The others pleaded with them; “Dont’ go! You must stay and help clean up!” But they turned and ran out into the darkness, towards the west and the source of the laughter.
They ran and ran and finally came to the shoulder of the great hill. The horizon was glowing softly and as they crested the rise they saw below them an amazing spectacle. At the bottom of the hill there lay a small camp, made up of some of those children who had recently come over the bridge. There was an open bonfire circled by many children, all wearing simple yet colorful clothes. They were singing and laughing and dancing. Nearby stood some others with violins and tambourines and they were playing a simple rhythmic melody. Over the fire the carcass of a goat sizzled slowly on a spit while a young boy kept a close watch on it.
Off to the side they were astonished to see the Old Man sitting quietly on the ground. Surrounding him were a dozen or so children and they all seemed captivated by what the he was saying. Sitting at his feet they listened quietly, and when they occasionally asked him questions he would listen too, nodding his head and smiling. Beyond them could be heard the dancing, laughing and singing but it was never so loud that it drowned out the Old Man’s voice. Seeing the newcomers on the hillside, he beckoned for them to come closer.
Over the course of our friendly debate about the “Christianity” of Christmas there has been a number of different opinions presented; One suggests that the secular world, fueled by the “New Atheism”, is determined to remove any vestige of religion or spirituality from the public sector . Another suggests that Political Correctness is sucking the true meaning out of this Holiday season, homogenizing the story of God’s incarnation in it’s attempt to appease all faiths. There are those, some Christian, some Atheist, some Pagan, who point out that this is not a Christian holiday at all and should be identified for what it really is– a celebration of hope in the darkness of midwinter.
I have been of the opinion that, although all of the above suggestions are true to some extent, what many of us now call “Christmas” or the “Holidays” is something completely different, more along the lines of an extended holiday version of of the Memorial, Independence and Labor Day sales of the summer. It has been co-opted by commercial interests and the fervor to publicly stamp Jesus’ name on them is misspent energy. In fact, considering his anger in the temple, why would he want to be associated with advertising campaigns designed to only increase profits? As I said last month;
Well if you have collectively already captured the Christian market for this holiday ( we are going to go shopping, no matter what) then how do you increase your business? Expand your market to include non-Christians and you help accomplish that by sanitizing the religiousness out of it. Heck I’ve known people that have had Hanukkah trees years ago, exchanging ‘winter’ gifts and all that. And now we have a tremendous influx of Muslims and Hindus into the country with a fair amount of income at their disposal. So let’s make Christmas a ‘universal’ holiday – let’s get everyone to buy gifts!
Well, apparently someone else agrees with me. In the December 31st issue of National Review (not yet online), Jonah Goldberg says this in an article entitled “Merry Holidays” (page 12):
…conservatives in America very rarely pay attention to the fact that, while the extremists of the Left seek to purge the public square of Christmas in its entirety, the Right – in the form of capitalism – seeks to water down Christmas almost everywhere else. Each year a Wal-Mart or a K-Mart, a Sears or a Home Depot, arouses the ire of patriots for Christmas who cannot stomach the use of “Holiday Trees” on its signs or “Happy Holidays!” in its TV commercials. Often these Yuletide partisans will try to suggest that Big Business is caving to political correctness. And there’s some truth to that, to be sure. But there’s something else going on: Businesses like to make money from everybody. It is in their interest to appeal to as many “holiday” shoppers as they can, be they Jews, Muslims, atheists, or pagans.
…Jesus’ question—What does it profit a man to gain the world but lose his sown soul?—seems ecumenically apt enough. Some things aren’t for sale at any price……..Wal-Mart couldn’t care less about menorahs or crèches in the public square—so long as they were bought you-know-where.
National Review is not known to be adverse to capitalism or conservative religious causes so I think Goldberg’s take here is very much on Target’s.