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Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

A Weak “Post”

I recently preached a sermon as part of our series on advent last week.  The audio is available here.  This was special for me because it marks the first time I’ve officiated (right term?) the Lord’s Supper in our church.  The audio is special because you get to hear my extremely talented friends sing a favorite song of mine at the end.

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Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from all (both?) of us here at BBG.  We hope you and yours have a great time remembering the astounding miracle we celebrate each Christmas.  As Luther said, “The mystery of the humanity of Christ, that He sunk Himself into our flesh, is beyond all human understanding.”

4.  Since I clearly cannot maintain a blog with any regularity, I’ve recently joined twitter: @BMarchionni.  Perhaps I can manage to put out 140 characters of pith on a regular basis.  Hold your breath.

3.  The sermon I preached at The Harbor a few weeks ago is now available here.  Astute listeners will notice much overlap with the sermon I preached from Ps.107 earlier in the year, which is by design.  The sermon is actually an amalgam of the sermon on Ps.107 and another one I preached from Is.55 years ago.  It was a last minute opportunity, so I had only a few days to prepare.  In the process, I learned that it is extremely difficult to preach the same sermon (or even something similar to the same sermon) twice.  In the end, I probably spent as much time modifying, cutting and cleaning the pieces of the two sermons as I would have if I started over from scratch.

2.  Regarding Christmas, or more technically speaking, the Incarnation, I’ve always loved C.S. Lewis’ illustration:

Lying at your feet is your dog. Imagine, for the moment, that your dog and every dog is in deep distress. Some of us love dogs very much. If it would help all the dogs in the world to become like men, would you be willing to become a dog? Would you put down your human nature, leave your loved ones, your job, hobbies, your art and literature and music, and choose instead of the intimate communion with your beloved, the poor substitute of looking into the beloved’s face and wagging your tail, unable to smile or speak? Christ by becoming man limited the thing which to Him was the most precious thing in the world; his unhampered, unhindered communion with the Father.

1.  I recently caught a half-hour or so of BBC’s “Planet Earth” that focussed on the jungle, and had to manually re-attach my jaw.  The beauty and diversity of nature – however fallen – can easily fry my circuits when I consider what awaits us in the life to come, when He makes everything new.  If words cannot do justice to some of the beauty and wonder we experience now, how much more so for the New Heavens and Earth?  Statements like, “God is amazing,” in such a context seem so hopelessly impoverished.  Perhaps this is one of the reasons why our praise and worship needs to extend beyond what we can speak, write or sing.

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I have two young boys, and every year my wife and I face the question, “What do we do with Santa Claus?”  Harmful?  Innocuous?  Demonic?  Idolatrous?  Innocent fun?  I would gather that most readers of this blog have had enough contact with contemporary Christian culture to know the threads of debate that surround the rotund gift-giver in red.  The Santa question really stems from a larger, more general question:  What do we do with American holidays?  Dare I mention the Easter Bunny, or even (gasp) Halloween?

The holiday issue is ultimately a “Christ and culture” issue.  How are we “in” but not “of” the world?  Consistent with my desire to run against Danny’s grain, I submit a holiday edition of 4 orderly nonentities (contra “5.5 random things”).  With a little more time, I could extend this list ad nauseum, but they are among those on the front-burner of my mind this season (and I needed an even integer to counter Danny’s odd decimal):

1. To level the field, let’s remember that a good amount of American Christian culture has non-Christian roots.  We cannot deny that the West has put a stamp on how we express Christianity.  From art (e.g., halos on saints) to (most) worship services being held on Sunday to the very dates we observe Christian holidays, none enjoy Biblical support, and most have legendary or pagan origins and influences.  We also tend to celebrate, in varying degrees, plenty of secular days without compunction: birthdays, the 4th of July, Martin Luther King Jr, Mother’s Day, etc.

2. I would wager that few of us are consistent with how we celebrate the holidays, with our personal preferences weighing more heavily than our theology.  Perhaps you will play along with Santa Claus, but the Easter Bunny really chafes you.  You won’t buy gifts during Christmas, but you will buy gifts for birthdays.

3. Abuse does not preclude proper use.  Perhaps Christmas has become a hopelessly corrupt orgy of consumerism, insincere well-wishing, and other vices that de-Christ Christmas.  That doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate the Lord’s birth in a God-honoring way.

4. We must be mindful of Paul’s words in 1 Cor. 8, and consider how our actions affect those around us.  Perhaps for you Halloween has always been a harvest-themed celebration involving costumes and candy; that’s all you practice, and it is little more.  For others, Halloween may be the very picture of overt occultism.  By extension, consider your witness outside the Church.  What distinguishes you from the rest during Christmas time?

When all the chips are on the table, I am always suspicious of pat answers to “Christ and culture” questions, especially those of the knee-jerk variety.  There are numerous factors, some of which are quite subtle, worth bringing to bear on decisions about how to be “in” but not “of.”  In large measure, I believe that the process is more important than the result.  What’s driving our decision one way or another?  What is our ultimate goal or focus?  Are our decisions Biblically informed, prayerfully considered, and gospel-centered?  Are they rooted in self-righteousness, self-justification or pride?  Are we seeking God’s glory above all else, or are we after comfort, fitting in, or some other lesser – however noble – good?  Do we consider alternate viewpoints with charity or swift condemnation?  To paraphrase a recent quote from the beloved D.A. Carson, “Are you contending for the gospel, or are you contentious about the gospel?”

I’d be interested if any readers would like to comment on how they handle the holidays, secular or religious.  Even better if you have a few principles that you use as guides to decision-making.  You may consider Christmas only if you need a narrower scope. Gifts?  Santa?  Tree?  Stockings?  Fancy dinner?  Midnight vigils?  Tell all.

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There’s a new surge to put “Christ back in Christmas” going around these days, headed up by James Dobson and Focus on the Family.  You can check them out at Stand for Christmas.  On this website you’ll see reviews and ratings of various retailers to help determine whether they are “Christmas Friendly,” “Christmas Negligent” or “Christmas Offensive.”  Have you ever walked into a store and hear “Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer” and bristled with righteous indignation?  Now’s your chance to let them hear it… by posting a comment on a website no one outside of a relatively small number of evangelical/fundamentalists will take seriously.  Yeah, that’ll show ’em.

I’m not even sure where to begin with this one.  Maybe the site’s subtitle: “Now Customers Have a Voice.”  Hmm, I thought customer’s always had a voice: their wallet.  You know, if you don’t want to shop at a store, you don’t have to.  Wow, that capitalism sure is crazy.

Or maybe we should talk about how this group has fallen into, what I deem to be, a problem of our culture at large.  That is, everyone is just so easily offended.  Really, you are offended because the 18-year-old working at American Eagle for the discount said “Happy Holidays” to you as you checked out?  Yeah, I really hate that jerk, too.

Being offended is a proud heritage in our culture.  In fact, it’s even #101 on the list of Stuff White People Like.  Maybe my skin is too thick, but I just can’t get offended that easily.  Christians, though, and evangelicals in particular, have a bit of a persecution complex.  In some cases, it’s legit.  But I’m not sure how someone not using the term “Christmas” is truly an offensive thing to me.  I’d be much more offended if the kid at American Eagle said, “hey, you might want to but those pants one size bigger… I mean, you’re not getting any younger and studies show that you’re much more likely to expand than shrink at your age, especially with the holiday (oops, I mean “Christmas”) season coming up.”

After all, why should I expect a non-Christian business (we’ll set aside the issue, for the moment, of whether or not a business can be “Christian” anyway) to celebrate the birth of the Savior they don’t believe in?  Tell me, does it honor God for someone who doesn’t even acknowledge him in thought or deed to say the word “Christmas?”  We’re talking about the same God who rejected the sacrifices (which were commanded by him, unlike this holiday) of his people because they didn’t honor him with their lives.

Now, I think it’s ridiculous that retailers can be skittish about saying “Merry Christmas,” too, but for the same reason I think it’s ridiculous that the Stand for Christmas website even exists: it succumbs to the easily offended culture.  Retailers are afraid that someone will be offended if they say “Merry Christmas” when they actually celebrate Hanukkah.  In my experience, most people are not offended by such a thing.  Before I was married, I used to frequent Quiznos.  There was a girl working there who I talked to every now and then when I was eating there.  One winter I wished her a Merry Christmas, only to have her tell me she celebrated Hanukkah.  So, I wished her a Happy Hanukkah.  Simple as that.  No offense given, none taken.

Forgive me if I’m upset that there are a group of Christians out there who have decided to fight fire with fire, or “being offended” with “being offended.”  If the non-Christian world thinks they can be offended, well we can be too!  I can’t believe this masquerades as a strategy to battle “censorship.”

There has to be a better way to stand for Christmas.  How about this: when you walk into a retailer, strike up a conversation with the workers there.  Ask them about their holiday plans.  See what holiday they celebrate and ask them why.  Tell them why Christmas is special to you.  Tell them about how God became man in order that we might know God.  Tell them about why the manger scene is so important- that God wasn’t born in a beautiful palace to a king with a royal court celebrating, but in a manger with farm animals present.  Talk to them about the angels’ appearance to the shepherds.  Tell them about those who waited in eager expectation for the Messiah to be born.   It seems to be that this is a much better way to put Christ back in Christmas.

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Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas from all of us (read: both of us) here at BBG!  We hope and pray that this season marks a time of joy and awe as you consider the gracious miracle of God becoming man in the person of Jesus Christ.

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