Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Celebrating Christmas: Controversy, Culture, and Jesus Christ

Merry Christmas!  Yes, I said it!  Merry Christmas!  This is the time of the year when we remember the birth of Jesus Christ.  Was he really born on December 25th?  Probably not!  And oh does the controversy begin to rumble in the backdrop.  

Some Christians say we shouldn't celebrate Christmas at all because it's rooted in pagan rituals.  Other Christians don't like Santa and think it means "Satan" in another guise.  Still others simply see it as a time of family and gratitude for the birth of the savior.  Others see the December 25th date as the beginning of a spiritual birth that cusps on Easter in the resurrection, all in relation to sacraments and the Eucharist.

It's certainly very confusing.  At the same time outside the church a "war on Christmas" is being waged by a culture hostile to Christian values.  

Recently Kirk Cameron's "Saving Christmas" came out in theaters.  It was later trending on the internet worldwide as the lowest rated film in the history of the movie database IMDB.  It became a giant controversy, and another in road by which Christians we made to look like simple minded conservative fools.  

In my neck of the woods, out here in central Wisconsin everyone still says "Merry Christmas."  But in bigger cities, and other parts of the country one may only say "happy holidays."  

I myself find it confusing.  How am I to think of the Christmas season?  I was raised Catholic and it was a time in the church of nativities and the repeated literal birth of Christ, every year.  Very confusing for a kid my age.  Why is Jesus born over and over again every year?  

In a more practical sense, Jesus never came up at family events.  There was a tree with lights and ornaments.  There was food.  There were wrapped up presents under the tree.  And there was Santa in the red suit with reindeer and more presents.  If anyone ever even mentioned Jesus, it was grandma or grandpa, and all the aunts and uncles would just get a little quiet and awkward for a second.  Then the conversation would pick back up, and that was it.  No further mention of Jesus.

So now, myself, as a dedicated Protestant Christian.. how do I go about celebrating a Christmas that honors the birth of Jesus Christ?  Is that something I even need to do?  There isn't anything in the Bible about a Christmas season, or celebrating the birth of Christ.  Yet in the Old Testament God did encourage Israel to set up yearly "holidays" of a sort to remember his provision in times of need.  A prominent example would  be the festival of booths (Leviticus Chapter 23 - Commentary).

In the New Testament believers in Jesus Christ are encouraged to fellowship together regularly to celebrate the savior (Acts 2:42-47).  So perhaps it's not such a terrible idea to have a season when we remember the provision of God to the malady of sin.

We all remember Isaiah 9:6 (ESV) For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 

This was a prophecy found in the Old Testament regarding the coming of Jesus Christ.  The coming of Christ changed everything.  Before Christ, man kind had no way of getting right with God.  There was no forgiveness for sins, there was no new birth, and the world was in trouble.  But through grace, unmerited favor, God comes in person to deal with sin, heal the sick, and speak the truth.

That's what Christmas is about.  It's about God coming.  It's about God saving.  It's about the birth of hope.  

So why not celebrate Christmas?  Many cite the pagan rituals that have crept into the practice of Christmas.  The Christmas tree, the giving of gifts, and the mistletoe among many other traditions do have roots in paganism.  If we go back to 4th century ancient Rome, we see a Christianity struggling to evangelize a pagan society.  One of the key ways those early missionaries evangelized the pagans was by taking pagan rituals and infusing them with Christian meaning.  Those missionaries matched pagan holidays with new Christian holidays to help the pagans make smooth transitions into Christianity.  There is nothing wrong with that.  It's a somewhat drastic method of missionary work where you help new believers to remain in their cultural context while allowing the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ to transform the cultural practices.  This allows people to remain in their "people groups" making "people movements" toward Jesus a much more likely possibility.  And what do we see as a result?  The ancient Christians succeeded, and the church grew by leaps and bounds.

Many would say that the Christmas season has become consumeristic and materialistic.  Granted.  It certainly has become something it was never intended to be.  But that's how stores make money.  All kinds of additions are made to existing holidays to encourage people to purchase things in regard to those holidays.  We as Christians don't have to participate however.  Why does Christmas involve giving gifts to one another?  Is that a bad thing?  Certainly not.  We give gifts to one another to remind ourselves of the ultimate gift God gave us in Christ Jesus.  Salvation and the forgiveness of sins, adoption into the family of God.  

Jesus Christ changed my life completely.  And he has given me a ministry.  I've nearly finished my bachelors of science in Religion at Liberty University.  In addition, I'm meeting with recruiters from a Salvation Army officer's training facility.  I'm seriously considering becoming an officer in the Salvation Army, a pastor.  I have a lot to be grateful for!

I started A Lifestyle Change for Peace Blog nearly two years to write about my journey in recovery and my walk with Jesus. Since then, the blog has been viewed over 35,000 times in hundreds of countries. Amazing, and humbling that Jesus would be so kind as to save someone as doomed as I was, and grant him a ministry to help others. It's all about Jesus. Always. Again and again in poetry and writing I asked the questions "Where do we go from here?" and "What is the truth?" "What is the meaning of life?" And in the book of John I received my answers. When I asked where do I go? Jesus said, "I am the way." When I asked what is the truth? He said "I am the truth." And when I asked "What is the meaning of life?" He replied "I am the life." In John 14:6 Jesus said I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me. All of my endless questioning, my disaster, was finally answered by the words of Jesus, and his powerful presence at the outset of hope in my life. Praise be to Jesus, my very real savior.

Jesus Christ was born one day, two thousand years ago.  Born of a virgin, humbly in a manger.  The world had no place for him, yet he was God himself.  The motel was full, so he was born in the barn.  This world does not recognize the savior.  But we recognize the savior, maybe, because we're just a little different.  Jesus was not born in a palace, amongst the wealth of this world.  He wasn't built in a mansion.  And those who live in mansions often cannot see him, despite him being everything.  But those like you and I, accept the savior, despite the poor condition within us, and he lives within us, and his Holy Spirit works on us and through us.  Let's remember during this season, this time of year, and Jesus Christ was born in humility, and came to save those who are the most marginalized and lost in this world.  Praise be to the Lord Jesus Christ, our blessed redeemer.

Matthew 5:3-12 (NIV)

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.