Saturday, December 30, 2006

Keeping Christ in Christmas?

I got to read a Christmas letter from a childhood pastor, now retired, which he sent to my mother when I went to visit her yesterday. It was really sad for me. He is a pastor who never, to my recollection, taught or proclaimed the gospel to me. His letter seemed to fit that. It had no sort of Christmas greeting and almost no religious content. The best he could muster was an expression of hope for the new year with the politicians changed out to his preferred party. He hoped that it would be a better year for the world. That was his hope for the future. Life on earth would get better and it would come through human effort and change. How wrong of him not to focus on the fact that our hope should only be placed on God and the new life to come that He secured for us through the innocent life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I hold no hope for things to get better in this world. They will be indescribably better in the world to come. It won't happen by human effort but is an assured thing based on God's promise.

While on that 2-day trip to my mother's I saw a few yard signs in that town that read "Keep Christ in Christmas." That struck me as odd. Christ is already long gone from Christmas. Maybe you could put Him back, but that doesn't seem likely for a world that thinks it has no use for Him. Maybe it is better to put Christ somewhere else besides Christmas. He gets associated with all the sentimentality of the holiday season when put in Christmas. Perhaps we should bring back Epiphany which was the Eastern Orthodox Church's original date for Christmas. It used to be that congregations had a special worship service on Epiphany. Now it is often transported to the Sunday following. Folks don't even remember on what day Epiphany occurs. Epiphany: the mysteriously incarnate Lord of the universe comes to all people in addition to the Jews. The light has dawned upon a people who were lost in darkness.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Christmas, the Church Year and animals

Well, it is about time for random theological stream-of-consciousness emission.

Yesterday was the celebration of Christmas. I watched the geese flying over and the birds at my feeder and I thought for a moment: do the animals know it is Christmas? Well, you can say no pretty easily, it seems. My wife said they probably celebrate the real day of Christmas, which is something different. Then the thoughts turn to the Church Year and to the rhythm of the week. Are these human inventions. It doesn't seem to be the case. Yahweh was directing the Israelites during the Exodus to these ideas. The Sabbath was introduced first in Exodus 16:23-29. It also links back to the account of Creation (Exodus 20:8-11 back to Genesis 1:31-2:3). The annual celebrations of Passover, Atonement, Tabernacles, etc. also tie to a yearly cycle. The months are tied to the year (Exodus 12:1-3, 13:4-6). So the calendar has divine origins.

What must surely be a human corruption, we don't maintain the 28 day months in our Roman calendar. Perhaps we should go back to the Hebrew calendar. Wouldn't that be nice to have every month except one end on the same day of the week and have exactly four weeks in it. It would be like the advantages of the Metric System.

My thoughts turned to this whole stream as I pondered the emotionalism that is almost inexorably tied to the celebration of Christmas. Things are done at Christmas to make people feel good. My pastor works hard to involve children and others in the services so that people smile and be happy. Isn't it all a false happiness, however. Feeling a "warm fuzzy" does not solve our problems. Our real happiness ought to come from Christ having come to us, taken on human form, died and rose for us. That is the real solution to our problems.

An article in the paper noted that many churches are now offering "blue" services, acknowledging that people get depressed over Christmas. Why do they get depressed? Well, is it because there is so much pressure to feel good? How about that in combination with the fact that they haven't solved their real problem. Many people don't ever feel good coming to church because they do not know the Gospel. They come out of obligation to try to do another work to make God happy with them. That is hard to do and people get bored so we add entertainment and sentimentality to bring the warm bodies into the pews.