Posts from the ‘Christmas’ Category

12 Days of Christmas Freebies

It’s definitely beginning to look a lot like Christmas. How do I know? Because the time has come for WorshipHouse Media’s annual 12 Days of Christmas Freebies. Click the link to see the calendar of giveaway days and score some cool stuff. Last year, they gave away an assortment of videos, one of which I’ve used on several occasions to underscore the point that there are no unqualified people when it comes to Kingdom work. Today they’ve started things off with a very creative animated presentation of Matthew 5:13-16. Don’t delay — click the link and get some free Jesus swag right now!

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Christmas Eve Reflections

It’s Christmas Eve, and so many of my fellow Christians are engaged in traditions that have been part of their families for years: decorating the tree, wrapping presents (or, heaven forbid at this late hour, buying presents), baking cookies, maybe mixing up some holiday punch. There are smells of cinnamon and citrus, ole Bing is crooning out “White Christmas,” and family members who might only see each other once a year are wrapping each other in warm embraces.

I am a man of two worlds. Being a nice Jewish boy who is Christian but continues to celebrate his Jewish heritage, tonight is not only Christmas Eve, but for me it is the fifth night of Hanukkah. Growing up in a Jewish household, I was pretty proud of the fact that we celebrated Hanukkah instead of Christmas. I loved the foods. Who could resist the greasy deliciousness – with just a hint of onion – of latkes, the traditional potato pancakes? My dilemma as a child was whether to drown my latkes in sour cream or applesauce! Then there was the dreidel game, in which parent-approved gambling could lead to a wealth of gelt, or foil-covered chocolate coins. I recently discovered that there are now dark chocolate gelt, to which I can only say, “where have you been all my life?!”  Aside from the food, and the games, and gifts, there was also the STORY of Hanukkah, which was a far sight better than any of the comic books I read as a kid. For those unfamiliar with the tale, I present a summary.

In the 2nd century BC, the Jewish people were oppressed by the forces of a Syrio-Greek king, one Antiochus Epiphanes. Antiochus forbid the Jewish people to practice their religion, and began forcing Greek culture and religion upon the resistant Jews. The final blow came when Antiochus desecrated the Temple in Jerusalem by slaughtering a pig upon the altar. As Antiochus proclaimed that the Temple was now dedicated to the Greek god Zeus rebellion broke out, led by the sons of a priest named Mattathias. The eldest son, Judah, led the rebellion after the death of Mattathias and was given the name Yudah haMakabi, or Judah the Hammer. His followers were known as the Maccabees.

Although vastly outnumbered by the Syrian armies, the Maccabees successfully drove their enemies away and reclaimed Jerusalem and the Temple. Judah ordered that the Temple be cleansed and rededicated (hence the name Hanukkah, which means “dedication”). As they built a new altar and new holy vessels for the Temple, a terrible discovery was made. There was only a single container of consecrated ritual olive oil, which was required in order to keep the menorah (the seven-branched candelabra) in the Temple burning through the night. According to tractate Shabbat 21b in the Talmud, this one container of oil miraculously burned for eight days, precisely the amount of time needed to press and consecrate more oil. Jewish sages hence instituted an eight-day holiday commemorating this miracle, customarily celebrated by lighting candles for eight days.

In my child’s mind, all of this made Hanukkah a vastly superior holiday to Christmas. Where else was I going to find a holiday which celebrated the Jews kicking some serious heiney??? I even wrote a play to be performed for my synagogue. Unfortunately, “The Bloody Maccabees” was far from a success; the special effects involved copious amounts of stage blood, scandalizing the members of my synagogue. Nevertheless, my love for the holiday was not weakened. The custom that developed much later – probably in response to Christian celebration of Christmas – of Jewish parents giving their children presents on each night was just another point of which I could boast. “Sure,” I would say to my Gentile friends, “you guys get a big day of presents… but I get EIGHT DAYS of presents!”

As I got older, I began more and more to meet Christmas and its trimmings with rolled eyes and positively Scrooge-like comments. I would complain to friends that Christmas would be easier to handle if popular Christmas music wasn’t so lame and repeated ad nauseum. “Speaking of nausea,” I would remark, “what’s with the decorations at the mall? It looks like Christmas just threw up in there!” I can remember making my college girlfriend furious when I mocked Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, one of her cherished childhood memories. “What does this horrible Claymation travesty have to do with Jesus? I thought that was the reason for the season??!” I shouted at her.

Even after I had placed my faith in Jesus as my Messiah, it was years before I was able to overcome the idea in my mind that Christmas was rank with hypocrisy. Would Jesus have approved of the focus on decorations, trees, and presents, I asked? If not, why did my Christian brothers and sisters continue to celebrate it with such materialism and greed, rather than focusing on Messiah? It wasn’t until I began dating my future wife that I experienced for myself a Christian family whose focus during Christmas was on celebrating the birth of our Savior. I began to get my first taste of this after being invited to spend the holidays with my wife’s family and being told that we would all be going to an 11:00 PM Christmas Eve service, so that we could worship and praise God for sending us His Son. At long last, I began to see that Christmas had depths beyond sugar cookies and brightly wrapped packages!

As I write this, I am getting ready to go to another Christmas Eve service at 11:00 PM, and I am reflecting on how my life in Christ has made both Christmas and Hanukkah important to me. Both holidays represent the Lord’s faithfulness in keeping his promises, and both holidays show us how the Lord brings light into darkness. During a very dark period for the Jewish people, God kept His promise to defend and preserve the children of Israel. Through Judah Maccabee, the Lord drove off those who would destroy the Jewish people. The miracle of the oil is symbolic of the light of God’s glory shining forth.

And what is Christmas, what is the Incarnation but the ultimate example of God’s light shining forth in the darkness? For those who trust in Jesus, the darkness in their heart is driven away, and they become the temple in which God’s Spirit abides. As my wife and I continue to celebrate Hanukkah, the Feast of Lights, I remember the words of Jesus Himself as He declared,

“I am the Light of the World.” John 9:5

and as we welcome Christmas, I will remember that we are celebrating the birth of our promised Savior – the ultimate rescue mission by God on our behalf!

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6

Merry Christmas

Fourth Week of Advent

And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” (Luke 1:46-55 NRSV)

With Christmas itself only a few days away, it seems as if the the themes of Advent — waiting and preparation — should be finished with. For many this can be such a busy week, getting ready to have guests, or traveling somewhere where they will be a guest, that contemplation falls by the wayside. But we should consider the words of Mary in the Magnificat. Faced with the news of God’s incredible grace and blessing bestowed upon her, the knowledge of what part she had to play in God’s plans, the young Jewish girl — from a place that the world didn’t see as important — glorified Him. In these last days before Christmas, each of can take the time to consider the grace bestowed on us, and the role we may have in God’s plans.

Digital Nativity Story

Amazing and clever take on the Nativity story. Enjoy!

Third Week of Advent

“to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” (Luke 2:11)

As the Advent season comes to its fulfillment, it’s appropriate to reflect on what we are anticipating and to be thankful. It is with gratitude that we should realize that Jesus still comes into the lives of the plain and ordinary people of this world, people like the sheperds to whom the angels appeared. Shepherds were not astrophysicists! They weren’t high paid web designers, or Nobel Prize winners, or famous writers. They were common folk, whose lives were filled with menial tasks and significant challenges. That sounds like a lot of people I know — starting with myself.

To paraphrase Walt Kelly: “we have met the shepherds and they are us.” The sheperds weren’t unique or extraordinary, but God chose them to reveal the greatest gift He ever gave – as he chose you and me.  “to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior …” I know for a fact that there are many among my own circle of church and family and friends for whom life is hard. Perhaps it is so for as well, and perhaps you wonder if God listens to your prayers. That makes you a member of the shepherd’s union, and for you also a Savior has been born.

Advent and Waiting

You probably hear it every day:

“I can’t wait to get off work.”

“I can’t wait for Friday.”

“I can’t wait for that big sale.”

Our culture doesn’t much care for waiting. A sense of anticipation does not seem to be much savored these days. Yet for Christians, we are in a season of the year in which we should savor our sense of anticipation. Advent is by its nature a season that is marked by waiting. We wait for Christmas day, the celebration of the Incarnation; this is as it should be, for historically God’s people waited for centuries for the Savior that had been promised.

The amazing thing about waiting during Advent is this: it allows us just a tiny glimpse into “what if?” As in: what if swords really became plow-shares? What if dead roots sprout and grow into living trees? What if lions and lambs lay down together?What if deserts bloom? What if the blind see, the deaf hear, the mute sing, and the virgin conceives a child? What if God became just like you and me? More than 2,000 years ago, He did just that, and now our waiting is transformed. We wait for Him to return in glory, that all the rest might be fulfilled as well.

Waiting is essential to the spiritual life.  But waiting as a disciple of Jesus is not an empty waiting.  It is waiting with a promise in our hearts that makes already present what we are waiting for.  We wait during Advent for the birth of Jesus.  We wait after Easter for the coming of the Spirit, and after the Ascension of Jesus we wait for his coming again in glory.  We are always waiting in the conviction that we have already seen God’s footsteps.

Waiting for God is an active, alert — yes, joyful — waiting.  As we wait we remember him for whom we are waiting, and as we remember him we create a community ready to welcome him when he comes.

Henri Nouwen

 

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