The Festive Season
Obviously it’s come to that time of year again, “The Holidays.” When we all stick smiles on our faces and get excited for the upcoming day of presents and food and drinking and family and friends. The Festive Season!
Oh yeah, and it starts from some guy named Jesus who happened to be born that day.
Yes. Yes. I know, Jesus wasn’t actually born on December 25. Not the point.
Something that gripes me these days is this ridiculous level of political correctness that floats about during Christmas – sorry, “The Festive Season.” What also gripes me, though, is that I don’t really know where it comes from. Every Christmas for the past two or three years I’ve seen the flood of posts come up on Facebook and other places saying that there are claims to stop it being called Christmas – those big annoying pictures that come up saying “I’m keeping CHRIST in Christmas! Share if you believe or ignore if you’re a heathen scumbag who should just stay out of it.”
Of course, I’m paraphrasing.
Here’s the thing, though. Even if there doesn’t appear to be any sanctioned, government-led effort to reduce Christmas to “the holidays,” “Hanukwanzmas” or something equally as ridiculous, there is a not-so-public consideration in many people’s minds to remove the religious connotations from the holiday. Even my workmates want to wish people well for the festive season.
Some people seem to feel guilty these days about saying Merry Christmas – not all, but some – because they have to take into consideration the feelings of those people who might be offended by Christmas.
Beyond anything else, that is, to me, the most laughable consideration possible. That someone may be offended by Christmas.
Let me get one thing straight, though. I do not believe that it is a person’s responsibility to censor themselves to prevent offending someone else. If you want to call me names, tell me I’m stupid, criticize me or anything else – that’s your prerogative; just like it’s my prerogative to be offended by it. Whether that means I scream and shout, whether it means I delete and block you on Facebook, or whether it means I call you names in return is my prerogative. Chances are, I’m just going to ignore you.
I reserve the right to say Merry Christmas to you. What you do with that isn’t my problem; this time of the year, the ‘Festive Season’ is just that: Christmas Time. It is in our culture today as a celebration of the coming of Jesus Christ; Christ’s Mass.
It’s the first working day of December.
However, there’s a slight bright spot. A couple of weeks ago, one of my colleagues (the same one who thought I should decorate my desk because I’m a Christian) bought us all Advent Calendars. Freddo Frog Advent Calendars at that. So every day between now and Christmas I get to open another little door on the Advent Calendar and out pops a Freddo Frog to greet me with its chocolatey goodness!
However, this got me thinking about the reason behind Advent Calendars. I remember having them growing up – in fact, I think I even recall making them in school in some instances. It was always a bit of entertainment, seeing what was going to be behind each door when we got to school. Then came the recycled ones that you’d already seen last year, and it was just a case of opening the door again this year to see the same pictures.
But why were they invented? Who came up with the idea of a countdown of the days to Christmas?
Well, I looked it up, and sure enough there’s an Advent article on Wikipedia!
I discovered that Advent, or adventus in Latin is a translation of the Greek word parousia. Essentially the whole thing means ‘coming’ and talks of the coming of Jesus. Traditionally, Advent Sunday is the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day, making it yesterday. Apparently Freddo decided to get in a bit early, he wanted to start on the 1st.
Here’s the sentence that I liked best though:
“The season offers the opportunity to share in the ancient longing for the coming of the Messiah, and to be alert for his Second Coming.”
At Christmas, we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ; God incarnate who came to Earth as the true messiah. It’s sometimes, probably, easy to forget exactly what this means to the world. It’s sometimes easy for us to take for granted the concept of Salvation and Grace in our lives today, so far detached from the days when Jesus actually walked the Earth, but this is actually a big deal.
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. ~ Romans 6:23
When Jesus came to Earth, it wasn’t just because he’d gotten bored in heaven watching, and decided he wanted to come down and actually play with us instead; it was a necessity. When God created this world, when he created mankind, he created us for relationship with Him. We broke that covenant, that relationship, and when Jesus came, that was God reaching out to us. This was God actually showing just how much he loved us.
This was a pretty major thing. As we begin the countdown to Christmas, why don’t we think about this a little more? With each Freddo that I chomp into from this advent calendar, I’ll be taking that moment to reflect on just how much we all needed Jesus, and how we look forward to the day he comes again.
Christmas or Christmyth?
I saw a post on Facebook this morning, it read:
To all my friends, please remember that Christmyth is a time for family, friends, love and presents
Oh and of course, honouring our Lord and Saviour… Money, that is.
Whilst I accept that it’s a sad reflection of our society that money is considered to be the “Lord and Saviour” in today’s world, it’s understandable that people would have this consideration. The fact is that in a world and society where currency is the currency of the realm, if you remove Jesus from the equation, what else is there?
We live in a world today that’s devoid of hope, and is it any wonder when we consider statements like this? That our “Lord and Saviour” is money?
But I digress; what about this ‘Christmyth’ concept? This is a question far deeper than the shallow surface that it portrays.
I grew up in a Christian home, and Christmas, therefore, was just a part of life. I grew up hearing of tales of the three wise men, the shepherds being spoken to by angels, King Herod trying to kill baby Jesus and of course, the virgin birth. It was all just stories and history that I took for granted, no less real than Napoleon, Julius Caesar or Joan of Arc.
The thing with just taking it for granted, though, was that when I hit a bit of a crisis in my life as a young adult, everything came crashing down around me. I didn’t know why I believed in Jesus, I didn’t know why I believed in God. It was what I had always done in my life but lacked any depth. My salvation was shallow, something on the surface because that was a part of who I’d always been.
I was therefore away from God for a very long time, but during that time I kept searching for truth. I kept searching for meaning to my existence, for a reason behind everything that happened.
I’m not going to go into the historical evidence for Jesus’ existence, but needless to say, you’re in the very small minority of historians if you want to argue that he is a myth. Jesus existed, there is no Christmyth, and it was only a matter of time, in my search, before I came to this understanding.
When I came to this understanding, I didn’t have much choice. I clearly remember standing in a church service saying to God that I know he exists, that I know Jesus exists, and I know that Jesus died and rose again to save me from the consequences of my own sin. I clearly remember saying to God that regardless of anything else, if I can’t deny those three fundamental things, then I have no other choice than to follow Him.
So what about the Christmyth? If Jesus existed, then he was born, that’s about as simple as it can be put. Yes, it’s unlikely that the date he was born is the date that we celebrate – but then, the date we celebrate the Queen’s Birthday (here in Australia) isn’t her birthday either. August 1 is considered to be every horse’s birthday, that doesn’t mean that every horse is born on August 1 each year!
There is no Christmyth. It’s a real celebration of a real person’s birth; a person who – even if you don’t want to accept that He’s the messiah and son of God – was arguably the most influential man in human history.
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.
December 1 is finally here.I guess for some people it’s just another date, but for others – myself included – it’s when we flick our Christmas switch and start to get into the spirit of things. It’s the day that the Christmas tree goes up, that the carols CD gets put into the stereo and we start to get into the swing of things.
At the beginning of this week, a couple of my colleagues began decorating their desks. Tinsel was going everywhere, a couple of miniature Christmas trees and other glittery decorations in red and green now shine brightly around their immediate area.
I love Christmas, don’t get me wrong, but I’m generally don’t make a big show and dance about it. I think the most I’ve ever really done in the past is one year I actually had a CD of Christmas songs in the car for a few weeks in December – that was me getting into the spirit of things.
This year’s a little different, though. Yesterday I went out and bought my first ever Christmas tree and decorations. This is the first Christmas that I’m going to spend in a house that I really feel is mine, and so for the first time I’ve actually felt the desire to decorate my own house. Of course we had Christmas trees growing up, but for the first time in my life I actually feel settled and at home where I’m living, enough that I want to actually put this tree up.
I don’t know if that sounds strange to others, it does a little to me as I’m writing it, but it’s my perspective.
The point that I wanted to make, though, in that original story is the conversation that followed between my colleague and I. I made some remark – more about putting the decorations up so early, rather than actually complaining that they were decorating. It actually doesn’t bother me that much, but I do find people who start Christmas before December just that little bit overenthusiastic, and that tends to bring out my inner troll a little.
So my colleague tells me, “I thought you’d be all excited about decorating. You go to Church and stuff!”
“Since when does going to Church make me an interior designer?” I asked.
“No, I just mean that Christmas is more meaningful to you,” She said.
“Right.” I replied, “And that’s got nothing to do with pine trees and tinsel!”
Of course, less than a week later I have a 6 foot fake pine tree in my lounge room with baubles and beads hanging from it, but that’s not actually the point I’m trying to make.
“Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
~ Luke 2:14
One of the reasons why, I think, I’m so looking forward to Christmas this year is peace. I feel more settled in my life right now than I have in a long time. Through God’s blessing throughout this year in particular, I’ve come to find a peace in Him that brings comfort, happiness and joy. I think entering the Christmas season with peace and joy is the right way to do it.
The other day I posted a link on my Facebook to a news story about a New Zealand university Christian group who’d come up with an interesting ‘marketing’ tactic this Easter. Throw eggs at Christians!
The catch? You have to let them share the gospel with you.
I posted this through, and a friend commented to ask what coloured eggs had to do with Easter. I replied nothing, but nor did they have anything to do with the story.
But it got me wondering about something. In my past life, I used to be quite contentious about Easter, Christmas and some other minor Christian calendar events.
Why? Because of their history.
For me, at a stage in my life following paganism as a spiritual belief, there was something offensive to me about these Christians making a festival all about their God and their Jesus when that wasn’t what it was all about in the first place. The perspective was one of these Christians barging into countries who didn’t want them and taking over the place, turning the holidays into Christian holidays, and manipulating the people into giving up their own, older religious beliefs for this new one.
A little history lesson: Easter, like Christianity, does potentially have some origins based in the ancient pagan religions. There is some evidence of a Germanic goddess, Eostre (or Ostara) as being a goddess over spring in ancient times, however the first mention of her does state that the festival was already extinct, and there are some scholars today who argue that she may have been invented by Bede (the scholar who first wrote about her).
I’m not saying one way or the other, personally, because to me it doesn’t matter – and I’ll get to that.
What I want to pause and think about, really, is the whole thing about Christianisation of pagan festivals. As I stated above, once upon a time I took this as an offense, as a sort of espionage tactic by the Christians to make it easier to impose their religion on the people of another one.
I think, while it might be possible, it’s certainly less feasible than the other angle.
See, even whilst not walking with God, I still celebrated Easter and Christmas. I went looking for reasons to justify continuing to celebrate them given a lack of belief in Christianity, but I still celebrated them all the same.
Now imagine, say, 1500 years ago, whole villages and towns were coming to Christ. You become Christian in January, and suddenly April rolls around – here’s the Spring festival that you’ve been celebrating your whole life, but suddenly the gods you were worshiping aren’t the same anymore. What do you do?
You party anyway, and you celebrate with God.
If you travel around the world and stop in at Christian meetings throughout the nations, you’ll see differences in the way they worship depending on culture. The advantage of Christianity, and that we celebrate a personal relationship with God, is that there aren’t specific rituals that say you must worship in X manner. The way different cultures worship is an example of the freedom that we have in Christ to worship God and to have our relationship with Him in a manner that fits with us.
So when it comes to Easter, Christmas or anything else, then regardless of their origins, we can celebrate also. It’s not about ‘stealing’ the celebrations from the pagans; I genuinely don’t think that’s what happened. I would suggest that it was simply a cultural adaptation – they had a party last year, the year before, and every year before that too, so why not have a party this year with God?
And as for Easter Eggs?
I was surprised, actually, because this one does actually seem to have stemmed from a Christian tradition. Observation of Lent (I’m not even going there – I’ll eat steak when I like, thank you) had people not eating red meat or dairy, and eggs were included in this. So before refrigerators, they had all these chickens laying eggs, but nothing to do with them.
How rude of the chickens not to observe Lent, I say.
But hey, if you have a whole heap of eggs that you can’t eat, why not do something with them? Paint them up, colour them in and give them to one another. Still better than just throwing them away, right?
Patience is such a difficult thing.
Especially since we only ever need it when we don’t really want it, right?
I know that I’m patient in a lot of things. Some people might argue that point with me, and they’d be fair to do so because no doubt, the ‘things’ they’re thinking of are probably events and situations where I’m decidedly impatient. However that’s the irony of the whole point.
We actually have the ability to be a lot more patient than we realise, and when something’s not really bothering us, we are patient.
A friend and I have had a couple of conversations about patience lately, specifically about patience with God. In the sense of just wanting him to hurry up and sort things out in particular situations. She made a really good point to me at one stage, though, pointing out that while we’re waiting impatiently, God IS sorting it out.
One thing that I don’t generally have patience with is when I have to deal with some of my colleagues at work and their issues with computers. Every single problem is absolutely urgent, and you would almost think that it’s like they can do absolutely nothing if everything is not working perfectly. It feels, though, like they expect that there’s a magical ‘FixAll’ button somewhere in the back end that instantly rectifies all existing problems and will let them go happily on their way.
I know it doesn’t work like that, and it’s sometimes a struggle to just stay calm when they’re asking me if I’ve logged the job, and am I aware that it’s urgent, and can I call the IT department back and ask them why it’s taking so long, and… You get the picture.
But don’t we do the same with God? Don’t we sometimes tend to think that he should just press the magical ‘FixAll’ button on our lives? Sometimes things take time, whether it’s to build something; whether it’s to bring two people together; whether it’s to answer a question or whether it’s to resolve a situation that we’ve found ourselves in and aren’t sure how to break free again.
Another friend told me today that God’s reall been growing her trust in him; and that’s it, isn’t it? Trust. We need to trust God, and release whatever it is we’re waiting for into his hands and his timing, and just understand that sometimes it takes time to get from where we are to where we’re meant to be.
So, time context. It’s now been almost a whole year since the Israelites left Egypt. That’s actually pretty impressive, when I look back at the events that the Israelites have been through since the first Passover, it’s been a pretty major year for them.
Kind of like 2010 was for me, I guess. It’s interesting that I should come to this chapter so close to the celebrations of a new year in life.
God seems to love to have us remember, and to actually really remember the things that he’s done for us. Look at the Passover here, God commands that the Israelites celebrate the Passover every year, at the same time. It’s a remembrance of how he saved them by bringing them out of Egypt.
I can’t help thinking to the modern day, and the communion celebration that we take today. Jesus commanded that we take the cup and bread of communion in remembrance of what he did for us.
When you assign an event to something, I guess it makes it easier to remember, doesn’t it? Christmas has just gone, and even though for much of the world the real meaning of Christmas seems to have been lost, it’s still a fact that it’s a celebration to remember the birth of our Lord. Just as Easter is a celebration to remember his death and resurrection.
It didn’t matter where the Israelites were, or what their circumstances were at the time. If they were travelling, if they were unclean (at least unclean because of a dead body – not sure what the situation was for other uncleanliness), it didn’t matter, they could still celebrate the Passover. God basically said that this was more important than their ritual purity. He was more intent on them remembering him and what he had done for them, than about whether they were ceremonially clean or not.
I remember once hearing that communion should not be taken by someone who’s not right with God. Whether that was not being a Christian or whether it was perhaps someone who is ‘backslidden’, I’m not sure where the line was. Still, I read this and see God saying that whether someone is clean or not, they may take the Passover, and even an alien in the land, if they want to partake in the Passover, then they can.
I wonder if that should be the application towards our modern communion, too? If someone wants to partake in it, even if they’re not ‘clean’ or if they’re an ‘alien’ to the Kingdom of God, should this exclude them from a rememberance of Christ?
So Christmas is finally over.
I say finally, because Christmas with my family seemed to take a week this year. In actuality it could even be a month. Because we weren’t actually going to see my little sister and her family at Christmas, there were gifts (Coconut Ice – perfect) sent my way early December.
Still, as I’ve said, Christmas isn’t about the gifts. What was great was that it did take so long, from extended family, right through to some of my best friends, I count Christmas as being finished as of Tuesday night.
Now that Christmas is over, we start to look forward towards the new year. 2011′s only two more days away now. It’s time to start planning new years resolutions, and seeing how long we can make them last. I’m simply not going to actually tell anyone what mine are this year – that way if I don’t actually achieve them, then there’s no disappointment; and if I do, then I can jump up and down about it later.
The Nazirite is a ‘character’ of the bible who’s always fascinated me. It goes back to the obvious: Samson, from being a child. I didn’t really get the whole Delilah thing as a kid, all I did get was this super strong hero warrior who killed hundreds with his bare hands.
Samson was like Chuck Norris.
But I guess from there, my fascination with the idea of a Nazirite’s always been something that’s stuck in my head.
I do find it interesting that the ascetic lifestyle’s been one that I’ve slowly been drawn closer to over the past six months. I gave up smoking before I even came back to God; but it was most certainly still a part of the process. Then in September God told me quite clearly to stop drinking alcohol. At first I thought it was a temporary thing but as the months have gone by, most of the time I wonder whether it might be permanent – and occasionally I hope it isn’t; like when my brother-in-law offers me a whiff of the high-grade scotch whisky on his shelf.
Since going to Perth, I’ve been challenged to give away coffee. I’ve replaced the occasional hot beverage with chai or green tea, and still probably get at least a minor fix of caffeine through the green tea and other things each day. However, eventually I’m wondering whether I’ll just end up on water.
Which is okay – kind of. I still remember the taste of whisky or coffee, or the feeling of having a cigarette, and find myself wanting to partake and enjoy. However God’s will is God’s will, and I’m not about to bend from that if I can help it.
Not, though, that I’m saying I’m taking the vow of a Nazirite, either. Although I can’t help thinking that it would probably actually be a very powerful experience; dedicating and separating yourself to God for a period – imagine being solely dedicated to God for a whole year; following the law and vow of the Nazirite. It would be a pretty powerful experience.
That level of dedication is extreme, and I notice that the passage does clearly state that there’s an end to the vow of the Nazirite. I feel that speaks something to us, to remember that we are actually dedicated to God, but we are also expected to live this life that we’ve been given. If it was all just about being solely separated from the world and dedicated to God, then why live in the first place?
We have a mission and a plan to fulfil here in our lives, a plan that God has for us. It’s all well and good to try and get closer to God, but he has other things for us to do too. Eventually we need to shave our head, give up the dedication and go out into battle in the real world.
Well, good morning Boxing Day.
Christmas is still going for me. I’m on the road this morning to Launceston for a family barbecue this afternoon.
Yesterday was great. Lunch with some extended family – was good to catch up with Steve, whose blog inspired me to actually undertake this epic journey through the bible as well. I owe Steve and his wife Donna thanks; too, they’ve been a very important and special part of my life over the past four or five months that I’ve been on this journey, not only through the bible but with my relationship with God, too. We’ve been in touch via Facebook and email, so it was really great to actually see them in person.
Then came dinner with my sister and her family and in-laws. Also a great night. Relationships with the in-laws aren’t always as easy to form as other friendships, perhaps because you’re sort of forced into a relationship with people you don’t really know, and in some cases might not even consider associating with if you’d just met one another on the street. Last night was the most comfortable I’ve felt with my brother-in-law’s family. It’s nice when those relationships start actually tightening and getting stronger.
I hope that everyone else had a wonderful Christmas.
And today: Day 1 of the Boxing Day test. Come on Australia!
Numbers 3 & 4:
Here we have the census of the Levite clan; who weren’t included in the previous census because their responsibility was to God.
A couple of things that I find interesting:
1. Why are there so few Levites in comparison to all the other tribes?
2. The Levites are taken in place of the Israelite firstborns.
What I really brought out of this, though, wasn’t to do with those two points. As the title of this entry suggests, what I really took from here was the idea of service in the House of God.
The Tabernacle was God’s meeting place with the Israelites. It was the place where He could come and dwell amongst them; speak with them – via Moses or the Priests; associate with them; relate with them. It still comes back to the relationship. He wanted to be with them.
The Tabernacle, though, needed to be maintained. Not only did it need to be maintained, but it needed to be taken care of; stored and packed away properly and transported properly when the Israelites were on the move. At this point, it seems, they were still camped around Mt Sinai; but they were just that – camped. They were always going to be on the move again.
The House of God, today, is not a building. Sure, we refer to it as one, and the buildings have their place, but ultimately the House of God is in our hearts.
However, the ‘local church’ is our place of fellowship, accountability, friendship, relationship, family, all those sorts of thing.
I find myself wondering how the Levites felt about their part in things at this point. They weren’t to be part of the army; their role was to look after the Tabernacle.
I think sometimes we get caught up with an image of what we consider to be a ‘good job’ or a ‘bad job’. Going back to my involvement with local churches in my youth, I remember that one of my regular duties was to man the overhead projector. In the days before computers and TV projectors, we had to use them for putting the words up on the walls. I was actually good at it – and when I say I was good at it, I mean that there were people who weren’t. I never understood how people would get confused as to which way around to put the words on the screen.
But that wasn’t an exciting job. I also would play guitar, sing, and look after the sound desk at different times too. Singing and guitar were great, overhead projector and manning the sound desk, not so great.
So I wonder if there were Levites going, “Man… Are you serious? I have to fold the curtains?!” When their job was assigned to them in service. I wonder if any of them questioned why God would have them born in to the tribe of Levi, while their friends were all, say, from Judah and got to train with swords to be part of the army. Or even narrower, I wonder if there were Gershonites wishing they could be from Kohath, so at least then they’d get to look after the holy stuff instead of just carrying the curtains.
Service really needs to be done out of a heart of love; but it also comes down to where you are, as well. Sometimes, yes, you have to start at what you consider to be ‘the bottom’ in order to work your way up, demonstrate trustworthiness and reliability before you can be released into other things. Ultimately, it comes down to if you love God, then it doesn’t necessarily matter what you’re doing – because like everything else, it comes back to Him.