Tuesday, December 14, 2010

This is a great lesson on Christmas by Tommy South

Why It’s Good to Celebrate Christmas

Luke 2:1-20, Rom. 14:1-12

Recently we received a Christmas card from some dear Christian friends we have known for decades. Devout, Godly people. But the card was striking in that it was one of those generic “holiday” cards with a picture of a snowman, “seasons’s greetings,” but nothing about “Christmas” per se or Jesus’ birth – not even a Bible verse.

That card is, I think, somewhat emblematic of a kind of schizophrenia that we’ve suffered from (myself included) for a long time in Churches of Christ. On the one hand, Christmas is a time that is very special to almost all of us – a time for family, friends, food, gifts, decorations, etc. – and most of us participate in all of that to some extent. On the other hand, however, it’s been a long-standing belief that we ought not to celebrate Christmas in any spiritual sense, especially not as the birth of Jesus, since such a celebration is not taught in Scripture. Those taking this view do so out of a respect for the silence of Scripture, but this leaves us in the odd position as Christians of celebrating the secular aspects of the holidays (often carefully avoiding the “C” word), but not the spiritual aspects of it.

There is often a considerable amount of judging one another that takes place, whether we do or do not observe Christmas. Here are some quotes from a bulletin article that I’ve kept in my files. It makes all of the usual arguments against observing Christmas, then closes with a stern condemnation of all who do.

Man invented the holiday season known as “Christmas.” The term “Christmas” is not found in the Holy Word. . . . There is no indication of the date of his birth, and to attempt to provide such amounts to the same thing as attempting to set a date for his second coming. . . . The term “Christmas,” according to history, was coined from the 12th Century practice of Christes Masse (Mass of Christ). The earliest evidence for a celebration of Christ’s birth comes from the time of the Roman emperor Commodus, around A.D. 188. The feast of Christ’s birth was first found in Rome at the time of “bishop” Liberius. It was made official by his decree in A.D. 354. . . . The scriptures provide mankind with ALL THINGS that pertain unto LIFE and GODLINESS (II Pet. 1:3). Thus, if the celebration of the birth of Christ pertained to either “life” or “godliness,” God would have included it in his revealed word. Therefore, to add a religious significance to the birth of Christ with religious celebration of the same is to be guilty of adding to God’s word, which is sinful (Rev. 22:18). . . . Paul wrote, “WHATSOEVER ye do in word OR DEED DO ALL IN THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS” (Col. 3:17). Doing things “in the name of the Lord” means doing things (all things) by his authority. Since his authority (his word) is void of directives for celebrating his birth in a religious setting, to do so is to practice that which is an addition and, thus, a violation of that word. When one does such, he rests under the condemnation of God.

I beg to differ with that article, and want to explain why, in my opinion, it’s good to observe Christmas.

1. Because there is good biblical precedent for celebrating Jesus’ birth. Some are quick to point out, and rightly so, that no one knows the exact date of Jesus’ birth, although we can get much closer to it than the writer of the article implies. It’s highly unlikely that it took place on Dec. 25, or even close to that. It is also true that Dec. 25 was chosen in order to “Christianize” a pagan holiday.

But regardless of that, how could it be “wrong” to celebrate Jesus’ coming into the world at ANY time of year? The argument is often made that no one celebrated Jesus’ birth until centuries later, but that’s just wrong. Read Luke 2:1-20, & you’ll see that it was an occasion for rejoicing from the beginning. By what reasoning would we argue that something that was right at the time is now wrong?

There’s an odd tradition in some Churches of Christ: we want to preach & teach about Jesus’ incarnation and use those great hymns that so powerfully express His divine nature – so we do it at any time of year other than mid-winter!

Since it IS right to celebrate Jesus’ birth, wouldn’t it make more sense to do so when the world in general is at least to some extent focused on Jesus? Shouldn’t we capitalize on that opportunity to tell more about Him & His coming, rather than avoiding the subject? In our post-modern, post-Christian era, it seems to me that we need to grasp every opportunity to tell the story once again. I recall several years ago, when I was stuck in the “ignore the whole thing” mode, that a couple visited our Sunday AM service just before Christmas. I don’t recall what I preached on, but it had nothing to do with Jesus’ birth, and none of the “Christmas songs” were sung. As they were leaving, the couple expressed their dismay, because they had chosen to visit us at that time, thinking they could participate in celebrating His birth. Needless to say, we never saw them again. Who knows what other opportunities we might have had to teach them if we hadn’t disappointed them? Why not “redeem the time” & fill the celebration with biblical content, rather than merely celebrating the secular aspects of the season?

I’m not suggesting that we should indulge in some f the excesses that some go to at Christmas (“Happy Birthday, Jesus,” etc.), only that it’s a great time to teach about His incarnation and the reason for His coming & why it’s an occasion for great joy, & to praise God for His inexpressible gift by singing those wonderful old hymns & filling our worship services with readings from Matthew & Luke’s birth narratives. It’s great to do that any time – it’s especially good to do so now!

2. Because by not observing Christmas, we ally ourselves with the enemies of our faith. As you well know, we are witnessing a cultural trend toward eliminating any & all public references to Jesus. Secularists, atheists, & the various non-Christian religions are all concentrating on this effort. Some religious groups who consider themselves Christian play right into that trend – groups such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the World Wide Church of God, for whom non-observance is a doctrine.

I don’t know about you, but I refuse to stand any longer with atheists & non-believers & cultists by refusing or failing to celebrate Jesus’ birth! It amazes me that some Christians dive headlong into the materialistic & even mythological aspects of the season, while piously condemning – or at best ignoring – the spiritual aspects. Aren’t we playing into the devil’s hands by (a) missing out on a great opportunity to exalt Christ & (b) aligning ourselves with His enemies?

It seems to me that we should celebrate Jesus’ coming & urge others to do so as well, rather than stand by & lend tacit support to those who oppose Him.

3. Because the pagan origins of Christmas have pretty much died out by now, & are no reason not to observe it. Few people today even know the origins of Christmas, the reason for the date – that is, until some well-meaning Christian tells them!

Besides, we can be pretty inconsistent about this. Think about it: the days of the week are all named for pagan gods (“Sunday” = “Day of the Sun,” “Thursday” = “Thor’s Day,” “Wednesday” = “Wodin’s Day,” etc.). Does that mean that we should avoid referring to the days of the week by name, or that we should devise an alternate set of names for these days? Of course not! We simply recognize that the pagan associations have no bearing on our usage. So why can’t it be the same with Christmas?

There really is no valid argument to be made here.

4. Because Scripture says it’s okay to observe special days – or not. Romans 14:1-12 reflects some of the “issues” about which early Christians disagreed – certain foods that some thought should be avoided, the drinking of wine, and the observance of certain “days.” What were these “days”? One possibility is that they were pagan festivals that Christian converts thought it okay to continue to observe, minus their pagan sacrifices & rituals. More likely, however, is the suggestion that these were the Jewish festivals from the OT. We know that some Jewish Christians continued to practice certain aspects of their Jewish heritage even after conversion to Christ (see Paul’s “vow” in Acts 18:18 – apparently some form of the Nazirite vow). It makes sense that some of them saw no reason to discontinue these festivals, even though they realized that Jesus had now come & superceded & completed them. We can only imagine some of the sharp disagreements that must have arisen over such questions!

Notice Paul’s response. For one thing, he never says who’s right & who’s wrong in such debates. His concern is that believers treat one another in a Christ-like manner, even in the midst of disagreeing strongly. Paul’s admonition: “Don’t pass judgment b/c someone’s conscience differs from your own” (paraphrasing vs. 6-12). The Romans were free to observe these “days” or not – & both be right. Whichever way they decided, Paul said, they should do so in honor of the Lord.

So, that article that I quoted from earlier, condemning others for their choice to observe Christmas is itself unbiblical, b/c the writer is doing exactly what Paul said not to do! If his conscience tells him not to celebrate, he’s justified in not doing so. But he is NOT justified in saying that others are “under the condemnation of God” simply b/c their convictions do match his own.

It is unlikely that all Christians will ever fully agree on this question (as on a great many others as well). Some will choose not to observe Christmas at all. Others’ consciences will allow them to observe Christmas as a holiday, but not as Jesus’ birth, & so they will avoid all references to that event. Some, however – including me – will not see anything wrong with remembering in late December each year, as well as at other times, that the Word became flesh & dwelled among us, & will, in the spirit of Luke 2, rejoice with the angels & shepherds & all who have been redeemed by Him. And we will use that opportunity to proclaim Him to others while they’re willing to listen.

The important thing: As Paul said, whatever you do – or don’t do – about Christmas, do it to honor the Lord! (And don’t look down on those who disagree with you.)

Tommy South

Glen Allen Church of Christ

Dec. 5, 2010

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

People I have Met and Lessons I have learned

He was my spiritual hero. I felt like he was the ideal preacher. He messed up big time. I mean really big time. I didn't know what to think. Here are some lessons I learned.
  • None but Jesus is perfect. That is "There are none righteous no not one." Face it we are all sinners saved by grace. We continue to need that grace our whole life.
  • Satan goes after those in leadership in a big way. He knows how it hurts God and the kingdom when leaders fall. Who knows how you or I would have reacted in the same circumstances. "There but for the grace of God go I."
  • If we want mercy we need to be quick to give it. "Blessed are the merciful..." I am not minimizing sin. Jesus died for us knowing that we would mess up.
  • It is good to have heroes but our real hero must be Jesus. Jesus never fails!!!!!!
Jesus Never Fails
    Words & Music by: Gary Driskell
      Featuring Shawn & Lee Ann and Tim & Bridget Dill
        Verse 1
          So many souls have tested Him throughout the course of time.
            So many still reach out to Him with broken hearts and minds.
              And every one of them will say,
                Without exception that they find…
                  Jesus never fails...
                    Verse 2
                      Even in the days of old, He brought His people through.
                        And then He came to show His love and died for me and you.
                          Then He rose again to prove,
                            That every story has been true…
                              Jesus never fails…
                                  Jesus never fails. Jesus never fails.
                                    You might as well get thee behind me, Satan
                                      You cannot prevail, because Jesus never fails.
                                        Verse 3
                                          Sometimes this world brings trouble I find so hard to bear.
                                            I know I could not make it without Jesus being there.
                                              It’s so encouraging to know,
                                                How ever deep we’re in despair…
                                                  Jesus never fails.
                                                    Verse 4
                                                      So what can I do to prove to you, tell me how can you deny?
                                                        No untold facts, no mysteries, it’s all so cut and dried.
                                                          On the witness stand of your life,
                                                            I’ll be the first to testify…
                                                              Jesus never fails!
                                                                Repeat Chorus
                                                                  I know… Repeat Chorus
                                                                      You might as well get thee behind me, Satan
                                                                        You cannot prevail, because Jesus never fails.
                                                                          Never fails…