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Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

Dear Santa: I want it all!As I walked into my gym for a workout, I saw this stocking hanging amongst other Christmas decorations and it immediately set my mind racing.

OK, so most of us would never admit to wanting it all. But hey, isn’t that the message our culture tells us? Get, get, get, get. Don’t have the savings? Then put it on credit. Make your Christmas wants clear and make sure your loved ones know it if they don’t come through for you.

In our better moments, we know this isn’t what Christmas is supposed to be about. And yet, the pressure is ON. We’ve been conditioned in ways we can’t even detect to have certain expectations and to keenly feel those expectations from loved ones.

When I think about this, I realize this is part of why I struggle with Christmas and why there are lot of Grinches out there. We just don’t want to be part of this emotional cesspool of expectations and disappointments.

So what do we want? Let me venture a viewpoint: we want a day that is truly HOLY. A day that transcends the numbing daily routine of life – not because we try to make it different, but because it IS different.

If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, where winter tends to be colder and darker, Christmas can be seen as a light in that darkness. Hope in what can feel like a hopeless season for sun-deprived people. In other words, holy.

How is this possible? Let’s consider the spiritual point of view. All the best known faith systems out there articulate what we can (and must) do to connect with our creator. It’s up to us to pray more, sacrifice more, worship more, give more, meditate more. How can any of us know when it’s enough?

Now consider Christianity. At its heart, Christmas is not about us doing. It’s about God doing. Basic Christianity (which I believe) tells us Christmas is about our creator seeing our broken condition and reaching out to us — coming to earth as a helpless baby born in an obscure Middle Eastern village.

We never have to wonder if we’ve prayed enough, sacrificed enough, worshipped enough, given enough. God did the heavy lifting and that child grew up to change the world through outrageous ideas like loving your enemy, forgiving no matter what and making it clear that eternity in Heaven is available to EVERYONE, no matter who they are (or aren’t), no matter what they’ve done (or haven’t done).

So what difference does that make to you and me? When you accept the gift of Jesus Christ — whom serious Christians believe sacrificed His life to make up for all the wrong things we’ve done and the right things we haven’t done — this is what will happen:

  • You’ll see all people with new eyes as you understand they are loved by God just as much as you.
  • You’ll realize that life isn’t about getting rich, buying the biggest flat-screen TV going and getting praise and admiration from others. Jesus explained what it’s about in the Bible, in an account of His life called “Matthew”: Here is a simple, rule-of-thumb guide for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them.
  • You’ll come to understand that this life isn’t all there is — in fact, it’s just the introduction to eternity.
  • You’ll start to love Christmas because it’s concrete, life-changing evidence of God’s powerful, active love for His creation.

Does this make sense? Yes or no, post your thoughts below and let’s have a conversation.

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O holy night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of our dear Saviour’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
‘Til He appeared and the soul felt its worth.

I’ll bet you don’t have to think long to match the melody with the lyrics of this well-loved Christmas carol. I’ll also bet that like me, some of the subtleties of the words have passed right by unnoticed.

But someone brought up the verse above at work the other day and pondered the line “‘Til he appeared and the soul felt its worth”. Any idea what it means? I think I’ve figured it out. ‘He’ is Jesus Christ, whom serious Christians believe is the Son of God. The inference in this lyric is that His arrival, and all that it meant,  caused people to feel valued in a new way.

The lyric makes sense to me because according to the Bible, the birth of the son of God was first announced not to the Donald Trumps, Prince Harrys or Lady Gagas of that time, but to a group of smelly sheep herders. It was the first of many, many times when Jesus would level the playing field between the haves and have-nots of this world.

Some faiths adhere to a “caste” system that ranks people’s value. Others faiths advocate violence against those who do not agree with their beliefs.

Meanwhile, the Bible describes how Jesus casually did the unthinkable for a Jew in ancient Israel: he had a very public conversation with a non-Jewish woman, and she was of questionable repute, too. Because of what he did, her soul felt a new worth.

Is that model being carried out today by followers of Jesus? Yes. Consider that a majority of prison ministries are Christian. Why? Because the criminals we’ve locked away as dangerous and useless are of huge value to God. In fact, they have the same value as you and me. Looking for proof? In the Bible, a missionary in the early Christian church wrote this: “Because all people have sinned, they have fallen short of God’s glory.”

Notice how it doesn’t say criminals have sinned more? Notice how it doesn’t say religious leaders or Nobel Prize winners have sinned less? That statement is a great equalizer for all of us, just as it was a great equalizer for the woman Jesus encountered.

The good news that serious Christians celebrate at Christmas is God sent Jesus for all people. The evidence is this Bible excerpt: “God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him would not be lost, but have eternal life.”

Again, notice there are no exceptions listed? That’s the unique thing about Christianity. Because our souls have equal worth to God (regardless of who we are or what we’ve done or haven’t done), we all have a chance to accept God’s extraordinary Christmas gift and find new meaning in our lives. So what’s holding you back?

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It was a media release from a Toronto radio station, issued more than a month before Christmas, that did it.

At the time, I was an assistant editor at a newspaper in the Toronto area when this came across my desk: “97.3 EZ Rock is thrilled today to announce they will be playing 100 percent holiday music up to and including Dec. 25,” it said.

Grrr….

I felt my back go up and my eyes roll in disgust.
“Well, that’s one radio station I won’t be listening to until January,” I immediately vowed.

At this point, I guess it’s no surprise to write that Christmas and I haven’t always been best friends. In fact, when that media release came out, Christmas and I were like North and South Korea. I wouldn’t even call it the Christmas season; I labelled it the shopping season.

Then as now, the mass consumption fun quietly kicks off the minute you close the door on your final trick-or-treater. If you have a Santa Clause parade where you live, that’s when the ribbon is officially cut.

By that time, the stores are decking the halls with balls of holly, Christmas commercials are flooding your TV, and obnoxious radio stations are assaulting your ears with insipid music.

In other words, the squeeze is on. Start buying. Start listening. Start watching. Start organizing your social schedule. And start feeling what our culture says you’re supposed to feel.

Shopping season continues to Dec. 25, which is the shopping holiday where we can all relax and look at everything we bought. Just a day later, shopping season resumes for a final, intense week of frantic consumption, followed by a thank-you card in the mail from the Retail Council of Canada.

I’m a passionate church-going man, but in this world, Christmas has so little to do with its real meaning (the birth of Jesus Christ, whom serious Christians believe is the son of God), I’ve sometimes found myself resenting the entire thing.

“I can empathize with your feeling,” says Allan Baker, pastor at a church in Ontario. “It’s similar to how I feel — ‘oh my goodness, here we go again’.”

Rev. Baker says ambivalence towards Christmas is not a rare condition.

“Maybe it’s because I’m older that I encounter more and more people disenchanted with the micro-thin depth of Christmas. That’s part of the reason me and my (pastoral) colleagues find more people in church this time of year.”

Rev. Baker notes he’s a citizen of this world and of the Christian world. “It’s a tension in one’s life — there’s all this pressure of the commercial world, but I need to remember there is a real God I’m devoted to. So I can go shopping and know there is a god higher than the marketplace.”

Even in December, many mainline Christian denominations (United, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Lutheran, etc.) consider themselves not to be in the Christmas season at all. They’re in Advent, “the period of preparation for the celebration of the nativity [birth] of Christ”, according to Wikipedia.

In other words, it’s a time of waiting, generally stretching four Sundays.

“We try very hard to stay in the Advent season,” says Dawn Hutchings, pastor at a Lutheran church in Ontario. “It’s really about emptying oneself and realizing our need for God. We don’t sing Christmas carols in church until Dec. 24.”

Rev. Baker calls Advent a time of discipline. Could that be any more radical in a culture that, at this time of year, stresses the exact opposite in everything from gift-giving to office parties to your entire social schedule?

“When we tell a 2,000-year-old story of Christ’s birth and ministry, it’s sometimes a challenge for people to find it relevant,” admits Rob MacIntosh, another church pastor. “But it is. If we would live that part of Christianity — bringing (the Christmas message of) peace and relationship into our homes, then we could spread it to people around us. If we can get the love part working right, then we’ll have the authority to speak to people about our faith.

And doing that, in a way that emphasizes God’s equal love for every single human being on this planet, could bring us to a place of seeing Christmas as a life-changing light in the darkest season of the year.

What’s your story when it comes to Christmas? Do you struggle with the season? Or have you found what Christians might call a “peace that passes understanding”?

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