Christmas Feelings

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.   Hebrews 11:1

There was a huge billboard on the main drag going into downtown, bought by a local mega-church. The message was very simple: “Feel Your Faith!”

I hated that billboard. Faith is not about feelings.  Faith often exists despite feelings.  To equate the two is dangerously misleading.

Do you feel saved?  Do you feel loved by God?  Do you feel like God is walking with you every step of your life?  If feelings were necessarily part of faith, we’d have a lot to be worried about.  My answer to those questions is “No” too much of the time.  That’s why I’m saved by faith.

This brings us, of course, to the topic of Christmas spirit. I hear it every year from one quarter or another.  Someone just doesn’t feel that ol’ Christmas spirit this year.  That starts the downward spiral of sadness and depression.

“I just don’t feel it! What if I don’t feel it soon?  What if I don’t feel it at all?  Christmas will be ruined if I’m not in the swing of things!”

A recent court ruling allowed a public school to leave its Christmas decoration up. The crowd went wild!  They had won a battle against the ACLU or whoever that scrooge was.  How, I wondered, did they ever get past that nonexistent constitutional phrase, “Separation of church and state?”

It was very easy, really. The school board argued that Christmas is not a religious holiday.  Christmas is observed by many faiths in many countries around the world.  If nothing else, it’s a legitimate day off work and a reason for family gatherings.  It has nothing to do with Jesus or religion at all.

The court agreed.

*sigh*

That is, in fact, the prevalent view in secular society. They don’t believe in the whole Jesus thing.  They just really enjoy the lights, the gifts, the decorations, and family get-togethers.  It doesn’t seem to even dawn on them that Jesus’ nom de plume is part of the of the name of the holiday!

Most Christians understand that December 25 is not the day Jesus was born. I won’t belabor that topic except to say that the common understanding is that the hope was to convert the pagans to come to Christ by supplanting their beliefs with Jesus by making it the Lord’s birthday celebration.

“And listen to this, Mr. Pagan, sir! You can keep your trees and candle lights and gift-giving traditions.  We’ll just put a Christian spin on all of that.  What do you say?  I say it’s a win-win!  Yes, sir!  We’ll have you taking communion and getting baptized and doing alter calls before you know it!”

Yeah…that didn’t work out too well, huh? Pagans 1, Christians zip.

Put Christ back in Christmas? Was He ever really there?

Now I REALLY understand why God told the Israelites to marry within their nation. The minute you start letting a few things slide in the time-honored go-along-get-along tradition, that’s the minute you start becoming compromised yourself.  Marrying outside the faith is the first blink.  Whoever blinks first loses.

As Jeff Foxworthy is wont to say, “If momma aint’ happy, ain’t nobody happy. And if momma ain’t happy long enough, you’re gonna be unhappy…with about half of your stuff!”

If momma isn’t a) Jewish back then or b) Christian now, guess who’s giving in to keep the peace?

Yup, whoever blinks first loses. The pagans didn’t blink, so they got to have their cake and eat it too.  The Christians blinked, and before you know it, they’re playing hot potato with a decades-old rum cake instead of preaching about Jesus.

So what do we do about Christmas? Should we be so worried about being in the Christmas Spirit?  Do we need to place so much baggage on a holiday not called for in the Bible?

I haven’t decorated or bought gifts for a good 6 years. That started as a necessity when the economy and my life took sharp turn south.  Without the nerves from preparing for Christmas and the depression of taking everything down again, I find my mental health vastly improved this time of year.  What had been a necessity has become a relief.

Don’t get me wrong; I miss the childhood feelings. I love the music.  There are times I still would like to go back in time to those delicious memories.

I just can’t help thinking that Christmas has to be something else.

Let the comments begin…

And So it Begins…In Earnest

And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.   Colossians 3:17 KJV

It is 8:37am Central Standard Time as I start to contemplate what I might write today. I thought I’d check the news and see what this morning has brought so far; perhaps an article about lines formed overnight outside big box stores and the financial slaughter retailers hope to enjoy.

Before the cash registers can start to ring, shots ring out, tires squeal, and the human slaughter begins.

The first headline I see on The London Daily Mail Online is this –

Black Friday madness: One person is shot dead outside a Macy’s and another killed in a road rage incident at Walmart as stores open their doors ahead of $3.1 billion holiday splurge 

8:37am CST. Not early enough to read the news without a headline like this.  Too late to start the day with good news.

WWJD? Weep, I think.

Last Saturday I wrote And So It Begins – https://jeffreyhking.wordpress.com/2016/11/19/and-so-it-begins/ – describing my ambivalence over Christmas.  I miss the memories and feelings of my youth.  I cherish the traditional carols.  I miss the beautiful decorations and lights.  Not having done any of that in years, no decorations or presents, has been a bit of a relief even as I miss the “Old Ways.”  No pressure at the start, no depression when it’s over.

By the headline, at least two families will wish for the Old Ways. In earnest.  We’ll see what the toll is, financial and human, tomorrow morning.

This morning tells us why Luke and the other apostles only record the story with no more than a hint as to at least the time of year Jesus was truly born. Can you imagine if we were able to nail down the exact date?  It’s bad enough that we at least think we know where He was born.  There has been so much contention over who owns that site!

Personally, I vote for God. But that’s just me.

I would like to tell everyone to do voluntarily what a layoff forced me to do; downsize your Christmas to some favorite music, a favorite meal, a church service or two, the latter followed up by continuous attendance afterward.

I’m going to ask all of you for a favor, something I’ve never asked before. My readership is not yet large enough to have the impact I hope it would for something like this.  I’m going to ask you to re-blog this article just to try and spread this idea just a bit further.  No, this isn’t a bid to promote my blog.  I just feel strongly about getting Christmas back to being…smaller.  Something more meaningful and less dangerous.

If you don’t want to re-blog this, maybe write your own article on making Christmas more of what it should be this year and following years. Put it in your words, your feelings.  Let’s at least make an effort to change the tide within our own sphere of influence.

Will we make enough of a difference to stop these headlines? To paraphrase something I heard years ago, we likely won’t.  But it’s in the trying that we succeed.

Younger and Wiser

Luke 1, Selected Verses

34 Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? 35 And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God…38 And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.

Unlike Zacharias, Mary took Gabriel at his word. She didn’t dispute that this would happen.  She displayed some curiosity, asking how – not if – it would be done.  Then she accepted.

A high priest from the house of Levi, standing in the Holy of Holies should have known better. But he had grown too old and too smart to accept God’s Word on the first go.

Mary, on the other hand, was younger and wiser, accepting this good news as a child, wide eyes and all. She was the perfect embodiment Paul would later try to describe to the Corinthians decades later:

27 But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty;

It’s tough to ignore the experience of years. So much has been painful!  Look to the young and the weak for the sort of wisdom and faith God seeks.

How High?

Luke 1:18-19

18 And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years.  19 And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings.  20 And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season.

Adam and Eve. They started it.  God gave them only ONE job to do: leave those two trees alone.  As the only two people on the entire planet they literally could do anything in the whole world except that.  I think we all know how that turned out.  For all of us.  Thank you.  Not.

Abram and Sarai. Admittedly, they were old when they got the news that a son would be coming, the first of countless descendants and nations.  Still, they had a good idea of who was at their campfire.

“I hear you laughing in there!”

“Who? Me?  No laughing in here.  Dry throat.”

Whatever.

The children of Israel. Pick a year.  Any year.  Let’s start with the Exodus.  They saw the waters part and passed through on dry ground.  They followed pillars of smoke and fire.  They’re at the foot of a mountain, covered with smoke, fire, clouds, and the ground shakes from His presence.  God says to just chill while I have a chat with my number 1.

What did they do? Take all of the gold they plundered from the Egyptians as they walked out and made themselves one of those Egyptian cow gods.

God told them time and again to just follow His rules. When they did, nothing but net.  When they didn’t, everything they did clanged off the proverbial rim.

This is war, folks. Just as in the book of Daniel, God’s angels battle Satan’s angels.  The contest is fierce, and the good guys sometimes get stalled out, just like in Daniel.  We can’t see it or hear it, but they are battling right there in your room this second!  They do everything they can to protect us, body and soul, from falling for evil’s influence.

They’re the hostage rescue team come to get us. The last thing they need is for the hostages (us) to give them any pushback while they’re trying to help us escape with our souls.  Which is exactly what Zacharias did when Gabriel told him about his impending fatherhood.

Gabriel is not some rank and file angel. He stands – stands, mind you – in the very presence of God Himself.  He didn’t come all the way from heaven with a personal, special delivery message from God to play twenty questions.

When will we EVER stop forgetting that all God wants to do is to have us accept the free gift of salvation held in His outstretched Hand, and then spend eternity with Him? We’re not some trained monkey that He has do tricks for Him.  When He says “Do this,” He’s not having us entertain the neighbors.  He’s trying to get us to cooperate with the whole rescue operation.

So when a loving, doting, caring, caressing God says He’d like us to jump, there’s really only one appropriate response.

And So It Begins…

Luke 1:3-4

It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed.

I’m taking vacation days to have all of Thanksgiving week off, as I have done so many years before. Formerly, the first part of the week was spent putting up the tree.  I always say we are in an uncontrolled free-fall toward Christmas and the year’s end after Thanksgiving.

We haven’t decorated for 6 years now. The last year in my home town there was no celebration for us.  We were preparing for our move to Memphis and hopefully a fresh start.  We went from 2100 sq. feet to about half that.

That’s been a blessing of sorts. I’ve had no stress putting everything up.  I’ve suffered no depression taking everything down.  There have been no gifts for at least as long.  We simply go to Christmas Eve and/or Christmas Day services, have a nice brunch Christmas morning, and spend the rest of the day watching favorite movies and napping.  It’s all become very low key, very non-commercial.

My only problem right now is a lifetime of conditioning. I love Christmas music, especially as I gaze into the light-filled tree.  I miss our daughters and their anticipation.  I miss the traditions of my childhood.

The first Wednesday Advent service was the official beginning of that final countdown to Christmas Day. We never missed a Wednesday Advent service throughout my childhood.  Every week I felt more anticipation as another candle on the advent wreath was lit.

In my twenties, my best pal, Rick, and I would spend Christmas Eve attending as many Christmas Eve services as we could get to, ending with a mid-night service that bridged us over midnight to the big day itself! Later that day, I’d go over to his house, pretty much my second home and family, to celebrate a bit with them too.

Now it’s more about surviving the commercialization of the whole thing and the ever-increasing rudeness of people during this season of gifts. Work continues to intrude upon my private life.  I’ve spent more time in hotels than my own bed this year.

I have no time for the still-available Advent services. I have no time to hold to some of the traditions and feelings of my childhood.  Even if I did, my family doesn’t feel quite the same anymore.  Julie is understandably tired, plus works retail.  One daughter is still with us, but her health problems keep her lying low too.

My youngest is still in Ohio. She informed us several years ago that she doesn’t believe in all this shit anymore and is an atheist.  Now she swears she said she’s agnostic.  Two names for two roads going to the same destination, but whatever helps you sleep at night.

I’d like to travel the road of my youth as well as the road of our early marriage. We were all pulling on the oars to the same beat, heading in the same direction.  Now, who is or is not working?  Who is or is not too tired?  Who does or does not have room to put up even small decorations?  Maybe I’d like a little bit.  Just some sort of nod to my memories, something to soothe them.

Here’s the part where I remind myself to stop circling the drain of my naval, which I’ve figuratively contemplated long enough. Here’s where I get back to what God has to say about all of this.  Here’s where I remind myself that I’m allowing the psychotic-like aspects of the season to wreak its havoc between my ears.

Every Gospel has its purpose, it’s intended message of the Gospel framed in its individual way. Luke starts out all about Jesus’ birth with all of the close calls and nefarious schemes of a holiday blockbuster.  Luke knows Jesus’ entire story, from Alpha to Omega.  He knows getting this part as well as the rest is important.

Should we have started celebrating said birth at all, let alone on a pagan holiday, even if it was the best of intentions? Dunno.  I’m thinking God is just as glad we say thank you, regardless of our timing.  It might be nice to do it daily, come to think of it.

Is Christmas music OK? I guess that would depend on the song.

Maybe I’ll just contemplate the story all by itself. One blog post at a time.