Monday, December 17, 2012

Christmas Season

Thanksgiving is the most celebrated holiday, BUT Christmas is the most loved holiday.
AND, what we love and enjoy, we want to last!

So... 1)  Advent = the 4 weeks leading up to Christmas.
        2)  Christmas Eve, Christmas Day
Then it's over, unless you recognize
Aka:  the 12 days of Christmas - recognition of what God has done through Christ
-- in the west - Dec. 26 - Jan. 6, the last night being "12th. night" - which is the end of Christmas festivities

So...... gift each day for 12 days!!! - Song:  "Twelve Days of Christmas" - 1st. published in 1780 in England, the origin is unknown and there are many variations.

During the 12 days are several notable 'feasts' (ie:  holy days, days of commemoration)
these are designed to 1) commemorate persons or events to 2)  inspire us

Today - will review 3 feast days.
I.  The feast of Stephen
II.  Epiphany
III.  The feast of Innocents

I.  The Feast of Stephen  (St. Stephen's Day) - Dec. 26th.
Stephen was:  A)  the deacon - Acts 6:1-5
                      B)  the witness - Acts 6:8-10
                     C)  the martyr - Acts 6:11-23, 7:54-58

Stephen was the 1st. Christian martyr - so Dec. 26th. = day of distribution to the poor (giving day)
The song:  "Good King Wensaslas" - story of Feast of Stephen
The moral/point - last 4 lines of the song:
"Therefore, Christian men, be sure, wealth of rank possessing, Ye who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing."  Prov. 19:17
(note:  effect of Stephen's witness??  Acts 7:58 - 8:1  Point being:  our good deeds/lifestyle are an essential part of witness.

II.  Epiphany - last day - Jan. 6th.   Definition of epiphany = a manifestation, a striking appearance
(west)  A.)  the Coming of the Magi
           B.)  the revelation of the Christ to the Gentiles  Matt. 2:1-12 - priestly caste of scholars - astrologers - "magicians"
Point:  He is the light of the world and WE are to hold forth that light!!

III.  The Feast of the Innocents - Matt. 2:13-21
Estimated number of young children killed - around 20 - 1st. Christian martyrs??  they were killed because of the testimony of the Magi
This is also called "Childermas"

Remember:  Christmas is not all about peace, joy, celebration, etc.
It is also about sin, sorrow, grief, evil, spiritual warfare - Rev. 12:1-17, 13:9-10
When Christ came into the world, Satan and forces of evil were not happy.
The battle is not over.  Peace has not arrived.  Calls for great perseverance on our part. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Imitating Santa

The personification of Santa Claus originated with  real person - St. Nicholas

Born - approximately 270 AD at Patara - port on the Mediterranean Sea.  (present day Turkey)

Parents - wealthy/upper class - both died in an epidemic while Nicholas was a boy.

Raised by his Uncle Nicholas - founder and abbot at New Zion Monastery in Patara - which led to Nicholas' desire to become a monk.

He had money, but while was still young, decided to give away his fortune and inheritance.  AND, to do so quietly.  (his rule for this - Matt. 6:3-4 )

As a teen - sent out by his uncle to study at Alexandria in Egypt - one of the greatest learning centers of the world at that time (like going to Harvard or Princeton today).  So - he went to the Christian School of Alexandria - which was founded by John Mark!!  Basically - the first Christian seminary.

Next - he made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land (to round out his education)
He hoped for confirmation of his desire (heart) which was to become a monk. 
He received a call in a vision/dream - 'no, not going to be a monk'.  "This is not the vineyard where you shall bear fruit for me.  Return to the world and glorify my name there."

En route home, the ship was caught in a storm - he prays and his prayer calms the storm - and he raises a young sailor who had fallen to his death during the storm.
So.... during a stop at the port of Myra - he enters the church there early one morning to pray and give thanks.  Meanwhile, (unknown to Nicholas), the hierarchy (chief bishop) of the area had died. 
The other bishops ga6thered to choose his successor.  Legend has it that the oldest bishop had a dream that God said that "1st. person named Nicholas to enter the church would become the chief bishop"

So........ he became Bishop of Myra (and served there until his death around 343 AD)  He didn't want to be a bishop, but......

Around 303 AD - Diocletian comes to the throne and began the Great Persecution.  Feb. 24, 303, Diacletian's first "Edict Against the Christians"
ordered - "the destruction of Christian scripture, liturgical books and place of worship".
Christians were deprived of the right to petition courts (no legal rights or recourse)
Christian politicians, senators, office holders, government officials, veterans & soldiers - were deprived of their offices and ranks - and imperial freedmen were re-enslaved. 
Burning alive was the recommended form of execution by Galerius.

3 more edicts followed.  Eusebius wrote: "the prison system filled with/deacons, pastors, priests, bishops to the point that criminals had to be released".  One of these imprisoned was Nicholas.

Approximate length of imprisonment - reasonable guess - 7 years.

Then, the Edict of toleration - by Galerius in 311 - backed off and said to let Christians worship
               Edict of Milan - by Constantine in 313 - all religions are to be equal and he promoted Christianity.

Nicholas was released and returned to Myra where he resumed his office.

His next appearance - Council of Nicea - 325 AD

325 - AD - all bishops invited by Constantine to attend, address issues of orthodoxy, and establish uniform doctrine.

One main point - the nature and deity of Christ (doctrine of the Trinity) - co-eternal/equal with God? - ortho/trinity OR the first created being?  - the view of Arius (Arianism)

In the midst of heated debate, Nicholas slaps Arius!!!  He is arrested, stripped of Bishop's robe, put in a cell.  The next morning, he is in his cell, un-shackled with his garments (vestments) on and scripture!!!  (this, according to legend)

Nicholas continued as Bishop of Myra until his death - Dec. 6th, 343.  On the church calendar this date is St. Nicholas Day.

Eventually he was sainted and became the patron saint of many groups/peoples - especially 1) sailors and 2) children.

Then, St. Nicholas became known as Father Christmas, Sinter Klauss in the Netherlands w/white hair, bishop's hat, which turned into Santa Claus.


Nicholas was not a perfect Christian or perfect man - but he does = model Christian
ie:  we should A) look up to  B) Imitate

Set aside that he was a Bishop, miracle worker, friend of the Emperor, and look at his ordinary, common traits that made him and uncommon man.

He was:
1.  A seeker - of God, of truth.  (therefore - desire of  'monk')
Deut. 4:29 - Seek"
A)  requires effort, diligence, discipline, and B) = a lifelong pursuit.

2. A responder - example:  heart's desire = monk/calling = minister
Application is more than a life calling, it is a daily calling - a call to apply a truth, repent of an action/attitude
If won't respond to what God has already shown you, won't go very far.

3.  A student - before can do His will, must know His will!!!  Note:  an enthusiastic adherent without knowledge can lead to heresy.  Rom. 10:2 

4.  A servant - obviously A) of God, but also B) of the people!!  John 21 - "Peter, do you love me? Then ????"  A student who is NOT a servant has missed the gospel.  Cannot be a servant of God and not be a servant of people.
But, he was more than a servant -

5.  An advocate - ie.  helper, defender, protector - example - the 3 innocents - he literally stepped in and stopped the execution of three wrongly accused men.
1 Pet. 5:1-2 - written to pastors, but we are not exempt from this.

6.  A steward - ie:  a manager of the Master's wealth - one who handles well what's entrusted to him. 
This is more than just money - also, time, talents, abilities AND opportunities!!
Example:  during terrible famine in Myra, Nicholas went to Constantine and asked him to lower taxes on the people because they were in such dire straits.

Question:  "Why me?"  Because, "best suited, best situated, etc.

Because he was Christ's steward, he was also
7.  A giver - more than money, but includes money.
Step #1 - give yourself, then can #2. give stuff

Underlying all this = Nicholas was who he was because:
#1.  He was a Christian

#2.  He was a Christian follower - head, heart, HANDS

So, imitate Santa/Nicholas, etc.
BUT:  Follow Christ!!!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Christmas Celebration

IF Thanksgiving is the most celebrated U.S. holiday (ie:  # of people)
SO Christmas is the most loved - it's more than Christmas Day, it's the Christmas Season!!

Question?  What does the Bible say about the celebration of Christmas?
Answer - Nothing!!
On one hand, much is said about His Birth - and the importance of His birth,
But, not much said about a special day, observation, ritual, etc.

Question?  Why has Christmas become such a holiday??
Answer - a mixture of secular and Christian reasons.
A)  for Christians - it's natural to commemorate, celebrate and event as important as the incarnation!  (God coming in the flesh)
B)  for people generally - people are always ready for a holiday - Christmas has special appeal!

Question?  When did the celebration of Christmas begin?
Answer - don't know exactly, ..... but early.  The 1st. known reference to the December 25th. date is in "Chronology of 354" (an illustrated, codex calendar)

Question?  Do Christmas traditions have pagan roots?
Answer - possibly, likely ... example:  winter solstice;  Deus Sol Invictus = the Undefeated Sun god - celebrated in 3rd. century Rome on December 25th.

BUT, if this date was "borrowed" from pagans, it was instilled with Christian truths!!  - Example:  John 1:4-5,9

Naturally, some early Christians objected because:
1)  not told to celebrate Christmas
2)  don't know the date of His birth
3) some pagans often celebrated birthdays

Christmas as a holy day (holiday) was common by the Middle Ages ...
Charlemagne - crowned emperor - Christmas day AD800 by Pope Leo III
Likewise, King Edmund in 855, William I of England in 1066.
 1377 AD, King Richard II of England hosted a Christmas feat with 28 oxen and 300 sheep - "merry making" led to common "misrule" which led to more serious problems.  Became an excuse for lewid behavior.  Became a "hybrid holiday" - church (religious) and secular

So.... the protestant reformers often opposed the celebration of Christmas.
Example:  after the English Civil War (& the execution of Charles I), Parliament (with a majority of Puritans) BANNED Christmas in 1647 as "a popish festival with no biblical justification".
(Churches were closed, shops open, fines for celebrating levied)
This led to A)  Riots in Canterbury
                 B) the book "The Vindication of Christmas" - in 1652.
The ban ended in 1660 when Charles II was restored to the throne.

The English were not the only ones!  In 1640, Scotland's Parliament banned the observance of Christmas, stating "the church has been purged of all superstitious observance of days".  (It was not re-instated as a public holiday in Scotland until 1958!!!)

In America??
-- Celebration of Christmas was banned in Boston 1659 - 1681
-- ban was lifted 1681, but most didn't celebrate Christmas till the mid-19th. century (in the Boston area)

Other colonies celebrated Christmas enthusiastically, BUT, Christmas fell out of favor with the colonies after the Revolutionary War because it was considered an English custom!!

Naturally, Christmas prevails.
In 1822, Clement Clarke Moore wrote "A Visit From St. Nicholas" (Night Before Christmas)
1843 - 1st. Commercial Christmas cards
1850 - A Harriet Beecher Stowe character complains of "the true meaning of Christmas lost in a shopping spree".
By 1860, 14 states adopted Christmas as a legal holiday.
1870 - it was declared a US Federal Holiday (by Ulysses S. Grant)

BUT, objections continue..... ACLU - "government funded displays of Christmas imagery and traditions violate the 1st. Amendment"  (at least they recognize the religious significance)

So.... The Christmas celebration has long, varied, interesting history and we ought to be cautious declaring HOW it should be celebrated.

BUT, if you celebrate as a Christian, then you should remember the Essence (heart, core) of the celebration = the INCARNATION!!!!!  - God made flesh Phil. 2:6-7 - did it to Himself

On one hand, God visited His people many times, but this visitation was special and unique.  John 1:1, 14  It was unparalleled - Matt. 1:23 - Emmanuel - literal (God with us)

Two Questions:
I.  The How of the Incarnation
ie:  How God became man yet remained God?
        Short answer = the Trinity (3 beings in one)
        Long answer = it's a mystery
1 Tim. 3:16 - the Trinity makes it possible

II.  The Why of Incarnation
ie:  Why did God become man??
Some answers:
Primary - A)  To Redeem Us  ie:  to buy back/through a physical sacrifice of Himself.   Physical sacrifice/death requires physical life.
Question = HAD to???   Matt. 16:21   Luke 24:26, 46  Heb. 10:5-7  Mark 14:35-36

which leads to:  B) to Reconcile us - 2 Cor. 5:18-19  Heb. 4:16 - we can know God as Father in a different way.

Also, C) to Reveal truth(s) to us - John 1:18 - Jesus came to teach things

Therefore:  D) to inform/instruct us - Mark 6:34 - about the Kingdom of God

And, believe also to E) identify with us - we identify with a person better - one born of woman, lived as a boy, lived as a man
Heb. 1:1-2, 4:14-15 - He was a person, but the Incarnation was not for Him, but for us!!