Archives For Christmas

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.
– John 1:14 -

Over the past two weeks, I’ve been considering Christmas according to John, as John gives us a fresh, theological look into the significance of Christmas in the opening of his Gospel. My goal has been to fight against the familiarity of Christmas and cause us to be properly affected by the glory of the incarnation as John presents it, particularly in John 1:14.

Two weeks ago, we looked at how Yahweh dwelt among His people in His tabernacle. Then, last Friday, we considered how the dwelling place of Yahweh is inseparable from His glory. We saw that first in the tabernacle, then in the temple, and finally in Jesus. And so John is proclaiming to his audience that in the same way that the glory which filled the tabernacle and temple were Yahweh’s own self-expression and the manifestation of His presence, so this Jesus is Yahweh’s own self-expression and the manifestation of His presence.

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depressionDepression and discouragement are not respecters of the holidays. For many reasons, the normal sorrow of life can reach a highpoint this time of year for some.

It may be a reminder that we are without a loved one. It may be financial stress, or loss, in a time where the pressure is to purchase. It might be emotional pressure of getting together with broken family. We just may not have a clue why we are discouraged, which can be discouraging itself. We can, even unintentionally, place big demands on this time of year to deliver and fulfill us in impossible ways, apart from God.

And Christmas time or not, many of us experience the normal, heavy weight of discouragement and depression as a regular thing; dejection, confusion, frustration, sadness, hopelessness, anxiousness, anger, darkness, despair.

But God has answers and real hope from his word for the battle.

Here are 11 truths for strength in sorrow:

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And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory
– John 1:14 -

Last Friday, we looked at the significance of John’s use of the word “dwelt” in John 1:14. I argued that by using the peculiar word for to pitch a tent, John was calling our attention to the Tabernacle of Israel, where God condescended to reveal Himself to Israel for worship and communion. The climax of the story of the Tabernacle comes in Exodus 40:34–38, where Yahweh’s glory fills the Tabernacle, signifying that He will dwell—that He will take up residence—with His people.

That scene sheds light on the relationship between the two phrases in John 1:14: “and [He] dwelt among us,” fits perfectly with “and we saw His glory.” There is an inseparable connection between the (a) dwelling place of God, and (b) His glory that fills that place. The dwelling of God is inseparable from the glory of God.

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starbucks xmas 1It isn’t wrong to have a fern on my porch or a cactus in my office (chosen for its resilience to neglect, a prerequisite for any plant life under my supervision). But apparently having a fir tree, imitation or genuine, is considered by some to be morally repugnant; though only in December.

I’m not going to launch a crusade to promote the observance of Christmas with all its tiresome trappings and requisite redundancies; what I am going to do is call for some reasonableness by those believers who vociferously object to their brothers and sisters in Christ enjoying seasonal festivities.

First, let us just concede that Christians do not have to celebrate or even acknowledge Christmas…or Easter, or Pentecost, or St Ledger’s Day, or MLK’s birthday, or Sabbath (Col 2:16), or Thursdays (named for the Nordic god of thunder).

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And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us…
– John 1:14 -

If we’re reading through this verse in our daily Bible reading, we’re likely to zip right by it with little fanfare. We read, simply, that Jesus “dwelt” among us. And when we think of the idea of “dwelling” we just think of “hanging out.” But there’s much more going on in what John is saying than it sounds to us English-speakers. He uses a peculiar word here. There are more common Greek words for “to dwell,” but he chooses skēnoō. Now, the word skēnē in Greek means “tent,” and skēnoō is the verb form. So we could render it, “to pitch a tent.” John tells us that this Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us.

That’s a weird way to talk, isn’t it? Especially since we don’t have any Scripture that tells us that Jesus actually pitched any literal tent during his time on Earth. Why say it this way? He’s got at least two other words that he could use here. But John uses this particular word because he wants his readers—who would be familiar with the history of Israel—to recall the tabernacle, the tent of meeting (Ex 27:21), where God met with the Israelites in the Old Testament.

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christmas_treeIt’s not uncommon to hear that the celebration of Christmas is rooted in ancient Roman paganism. That claim generally goes something like this: the ancient Romans celebrated a pagan festival on December 25th, but when the Roman Empire was Christianized in the 300s, the church simply turned the pagan festival into a Christian holiday.

It is true that there was a pagan Roman holiday called the “Birthday of the Unconquered Sun” that marked the winter solstice. And in the old Julian calendar, the winter solstice occurred on December 25. The cult of “Sol Invictus” (“the Unconquered Sun,” a.k.a. the sun god) became an official Roman cult in 274 under the reign of Emperor Aurelian. And the Roman empire was Christianized about fifty years later under Constantine.

It doesn’t take too much imagination to see how some could assume that the post-Constantine Romans simply adopted the pagan holiday and Christianized it.

But there’s actually good evidence to suggest that the date of December 25 does not have pagan origins. That’s because, long before Aurelian made December 25 an official pagan holiday, there were Christians in the early church who taught that Jesus was born on December 25th. Continue Reading…

I’m no Scrooge. I don’t object to draping tinsel, jetting off Christmas e-cards, or singing inane jingles about jingling bells. I trust that my family understands that–pagan roots aside–the plastic conifer in our living room is not a subtle mark of our allegiance to the forces of darkness. It’s just a (model of a) tree.

We do, however, prefer singing “Hark the Herald Angel Sings” over the misdirected praise of “Oh Christmas Tree,” though I’m not even fanatic about enforcing that.

We tolerate the poetic inaccuracy of “We three kings of Orient are” because it rolls off the tongue better than “We indeterminable number of Gentile scholars of Persia are.”

But… I am nervous about the potential confusion which may cloud a four-year-old’s faith in my honesty. 

Angels on high, a pregnant virgin, God in a manger, a guiding star… are impossibilities. Yet, “all things are possible with God.” [Yes, you need to believe in the virgin birth to be a ChristianWe ask our children to trust us on these claims, with their lives. Then we add a fictitious, omniscient fat guy with a red-nosed reindeer to the mix. At a certain age we matter-of-factly disclose that we were just kidding about the chimney intrusion, the Elven workshop, and the works-based naughty-or-nice judgment. “Those parts are make-believe, the rest is gospel truth. Trust me, son.”

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One balmy Summer day in 1997 Rita Rupp (57) from Tulsa Oklahoma, was on a lengthy road trip with her husband Floyd (67). For no reason in particular, she began to sense that they may be in danger. She started thinking, ‘What if someone hijacks our car and kidnaps us? No one even realize we’re missing for days, and no one would come looking for us.’ So she hatched a plan.save me

Rita wrote a note, just in case she got kidnapped. She scrawled the note in appropriately distressed handwriting, “Help I’ve been kidnapped. Call the Highway Patrol.” She also supplied her name and a helpful description of the van they were driving.

This eccentric emergency plan would actually have proven to be a pretty good idea in the event that at some point she had actually been kidnapped, and managed to dispatch the note before being incapacitated.

At the idea was rather harmless, albeit a bit quirky. Except for one unforeseen eventuality. Mrs Rupp’s paranoia would have remained her private problem if on a bathroom break at a gas station the note hadn’t inadvertently dropped out of her handbag. Oops.

A conscientious attendant found the alarming note and quickly notified the authorities who then immediately issued alerts, mobilized patrol vehicles, and set up road blocks in four states. (Here is the New York Times article that proves I’m not making this up).

All the while, Mr and Mrs Rupp were cruising along to their destination, blissfully unaware of the multi-agency, national rescue operation that been launched to save them.

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[Clint originally published this on Dec 19, 2011. We thought our commenters would like to reopen the debate, just for fun.]

I’m no Scrooge. I don’t object to draping tinsel, jetting off Christmas e-cards, or singing inane jingles about jingling bells. I trust that my family understands that–pagan roots aside–the plastic conifer in our living room is not a subtle mark of our allegiance to the forces of darkness. It’s just a (model of a) tree.

We do, however, prefer singing “Hark the Herald Angel Sings” over the misdirected praise of “Oh Christmas Tree,” though I’m not even fanatic about enforcing that.

We tolerate the poetic inaccuracy of “We three kings of Orient are” because it rolls off the tongue better than “We indeterminable number of Gentile scholars of Persia are.”

But… I am nervous about the potential confusion which may cloud a four-year-old’s faith in my honesty. 

Angels on high, a pregnant virgin, God in a manger, a guiding star… are impossibilities. Yet, “all things are possible with God.” [Yes, you need to believe in the virgin birth to be a ChristianWe ask our children to trust us on these claims, with their lives. Then we add a fictitious, omniscient fat guy with a red-nosed reindeer to the mix. At a certain age we matter-of-factly disclose that we were just kidding about the chimney intrusion, the Elven workshop, and the works-based naughty-or-nice judgment. “Those parts are make-believe, the rest is gospel truth. Trust me, son.” Continue Reading…

I’m no Scrooge. I don’t object to draping tinsel, jetting off Christmas e-cards, or singing inane jingles about jingling bells. I trust that my family understands that–pagan roots aside–the plastic conifer in our living room is not a subtle mark of our allegiance to the forces of darkness. It’s just a (model of a) tree.

We do, however, prefer singing “Hark the Herald Angel Sings” over the misdirected praise of “Oh Christmas Tree,” though I’m not even fanatic about enforcing that.

We tolerate the poetic inaccuracy of “We three kings of Orient are” because it rolls off the tongue better than “We indeterminable number of Gentile scholars of Persia are.”

But… I am nervous about the potential confusion which may cloud a four-year-old’s faith in my honesty. 

Continue Reading…