Christmas

The Shoot from the Stump

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Throughout history, God has brought judgement upon human empires and even His own people when arrogance and wickedness eventually take over. Scripture continually reveals how God brings the lofty and proud back down to being low and humble. He cuts down the towering empires with His almighty axe of judgement. 

After the reign of King David (the son of Jesse), God brought judgement upon the faithless people of Israel reducing them down to a small remnant. Abraham's family tree was chopped down to the stump. God's covenant promise to bless the world seemed hopeless and forgotten. But in God's own mysterious way, He promised to one day spring to life an everlasting kingdom from the very stump that appeared to be dead.

From the stump of Jesse, God would one day spring up the shoot named Jesus. Out of the roots of Old Testament Israel would come the fruitful branches of Christ's Kingdom. In His own special way, God took the cut down tree of Israel and brought forth a crown of thorns and a wooden cross that would be used as the cornerstone for building God's church.

What are we to think of our King who did not come as a mighty oak but rather as a tender twig born of a vulnerable virgin?

The one true King of God's everlasting kingdom was conceived in the most inconceivable way and obtained His authority through an unexpected act of utter submission.

In the midst of a season that has become a big spectacle, it helps us to remember our Savior who came into this world so subtle and small.

The greatest gifts often come in unexpected ways and unassuming moments. 

Christmas ought to remind us that our God transforms the world through the small, subtle and unexpected. May we slow down this season and seek the shoots of God's grace and His glory that springs forth from the unassuming stumps of our daily life. Stop and see the image of God in every cashier you come across this Christmas season. Bring the background music to the foreground of your heart and actually sing the songs written for our Savior. Discern the difference between buying a present and giving a gift and always choose the latter. And in the midst of a loud world begging you to love what it has to offer, listen to the whisper of our Lord who loved you enough to offer Himself.

 

Advent: Be Prepared

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This Sunday we enter into the season known as Advent. Advent comes from the Latin word adventus which means coming. Traditionally, Advent is celebrated as the season leading up to Christmas which begins exactly four Sundays before December 25th. As early as the fourth century A.D., Christians would normally fast during this season because the whole purpose of Advent was to look forward to the second coming of Christ.

That being said, the essence of the Advent season is found in the posture of preparation and expectant waiting.

So if the Christian life is about expectant waiting then we must ask ourselves what it means to actually find ourselves in a posture of waiting?

We can begin by acknowledging that waiting always implies an object of focus. You cannot find yourself in a position of waiting unless there is something very specific that you are actually waiting for.

So what are we as Christians waiting for?

In the second half of Jesus' teaching in Matthew 24, we find the answer. Jesus the Christ who is the eternal Son of God and the everlasting Savior of Man is going to return and bring God's final sweeping judgement upon all who have live and died on the earth.

Like Noah in the Old Testament, only those who respond with reverent fear and faithfulness to what God has revealed in Christ will be saved from this global judgement. And as we have been warned, this return of our King will occur at an unsuspecting moment when everyone is just going about their normal everyday lives. Therefore, we must always be prepared. 

Do you find yourself eagerly awaiting the eternal life that God has promised and provided for us in Christ? Is there a strong desire in the depths of your soul that longs for more of the power and presence of God than you are currently comprehending and experiencing? Is it easy to find yourself so distracted with the busyness of life that you quickly lose the posture of waiting expectantly on the return of our King?

Obedience to the truth of the gospel is not constantly working to excel in our moral performance but confidently being prepared and eagerly waiting for what our faith in Christ has promised.

And so, if the Christian life is about waiting for our King and the promise of eternal life in His glorious Kingdom, what are we to do while we are waiting here on earth?

We need to live each and every day like Noah was probably living his days between the time that he was warned about the flood up until the day the flood finally came. Think about that.

We need to be ready and continue to prepare ourselves and our families and our loved ones for that day of final judgement. We also need to be warning those around us of what's coming and about the only Way to escape it. Living with this level of urgency and preparedness will convict some and further condemn others. However, either way, our lives and our message ought to never just leave people content and comfortable with a life of worldly normalcy. 

To put this another way, the Christian life here on earth is about loving others and preparing ourselves for the One that we love. Like a young bride preparing herself for that moment she’ll stand before her groom, we ought to be preparing ourselves for that moment we’ll stand face to face in the presence of Christ.

The Bible continually uses this metaphor telling us how Christ is the Bride-Groom, and we as Christians are His bride. The Christian life is about being prepared and expectantly waiting for the One who has already demonstrated and pledged His love for you forever.  

Are you someone who seems to be constantly working on your life and your own moral performance? Are you someone who seems to be casually wandering through your life primarily focused on yourself and what you might be able to gain from God? Or are you a Christian confidently waiting for another life with the Lord that you love and loving others around you while you wait?

A good measure of your Christian condition is whether or not you expect your life here in this world to be the waiting period or the actual wedding party.

May we be people that are prepared and expectantly waiting for the return of our King.

So what is it that we are anticipating and waiting for so expectantly this Christmas season? Where is our focus these four weeks leading up to December 25th? May we avoid the onslaught of worldly distractions that overwhelm us this time of year and shift our focus back upon waiting in wonder for our King who has come and will one day come again.

 

Who is Santa?

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When it comes to the classical American Christmas, it’s not a stretch to say that Santa Claus has become the heralded hero of the holidays for almost every girl and boy with an imagination. He is the seemingly overweight omnipresent bearded resident of the North Pole with a magical sleigh powered by flying reindeer and little helpers who help him check a list that weighs the deeds of the naughty and nice in order to administer the appropriate gifts to all. In the middle of a season in which we are supposed to be celebrating the birth of our Savior, where in the world did Santa first enter the scene?

Saint Nicholas

To even begin to solve this mystery could lead down a variety of trails of truth mixed with tall tales, but we will begin with the birth of a man around 280 A.D. who would eventually become known as Saint Nicholas. Saint Nicholas was a bishop of the church in an area near modern day Turkey. He was apparently widely known for his generosity but was also a strong supporter and defender of orthodoxy. One story from history mentions Saint Nicholas attending the Council of Nicea in opposition to the heretical views of Arianism. During Arias‘ defense of his position that Jesus was not equal to God the Father, Saint Nicholas got so irritated by such disrespect for his Lord and Savior that he got up out of his seat, walked across the room and slapped Arias across his face (apparantly naughty kids get a lump of coal and heretics get a hand to the jaw).

Saint Nicholas was born into a wealthy family and inherited a great deal of wealth after his parents‘ passed. However, legend has it that he gave away all his inheritance in order to better the lives of those around him. Perhaps the most popular story of his generosity involves three young girls who were so poor that they were soon going to be forced into prostitution, but Saint Nicholas came to their rescue by throwing three bags of gold through an open windon for each of the three girls to free them from their poverty. In honor of his generous life, December 6th would become known as Saint Nicholas Day across most of Europe, and everyone would celebrate by giving gifts to one another. It became a common tradition that on the night before December 6th, Saint Nicholas would come dressed in his red bishop’s robe and fill up the boots left by little children near their fireplaces with all sorts of candy and gifts.

Santa Claus

So what about our modern day Santa with flying reindeer and incredibly chimney skills? After the Protestant Reformation, most of Protestant Europe decided to shut down the Saint Nicholas Day tradition (most reformers and puritans were not fans of Santa Claus or celebrating Christmas for that matter). However, the Dutch did not give it up so easily. If you enjoy the modern day Santa Claus, and his charity through chimneys then you have the Dutch to thank. They shortened the name Saint Nicholas to Sinterklaas (say that fast) and decided that he traveled by horseback with a helper who would visit homes via the chimney. As the Dutch began to slowly head on over to the New World they brought their Sinterklaas tradition with them, and a couple centuries later in 1823 a poem entitled “Twas the Night Before Christmas” was written and the modern day Santa Claus was born.

Christianity vs Clause

Should we as Christians embrace the modern day Santa Claus or avoid him at all costs? That is for you to decide. Either way, it would be beneficial to highlight the true character of the real Saint Nicholas as much or more so than the fantastical character of the famed Santa Claus. Saint Nicholas was a gracious and generous man because he served a gracious and generous God. Sure he might have gifted some stuff in little boys boots, but he would have never intended to overshadow the gifting of our Savior in a little baby’s body. So celebrate this season with whatever traditions you wish, but remember, Christmas is about God, the Giver and the Gift.

Why Decorate Trees?

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Have you ever taken time to stop and wonder, "Why am I cutting down this tree and bringing it into my home in order to spend the next two hours decorating it with lights, ribbons, balls, bells, stars, angels, and the fifty cheap paper ornaments my children made this month in Sunday school?" What is this tree supposed to commemorate? And if we’re honest, what does a decorated tree have to do with the birth of Jesus?

St. Boniface vs Thor

Although it would be a stretch to link today’s Christmas tree tradition with some sort of stunning spiritual significance, there is an old Germanic story that provides an interesting origin to such a tradition. Throughout Germany, tree worship used to be a popular pagan practice in which people would cut down trees and decorate their houses with them. Well, one winter day during the seventh century, a local German missionary named Boniface came across some men worshipping a tree known as Thor’s Oak. This didn’t sit well with St. Boniface so he took an ax and immediately cut down the oak to prove to the pagan people that Thor is not the god they assumed he was, and that the God of St. Boniface was the One True God of the universe. When nothing happened to him after cutting down the tree, many of the Germanic pagans lost their faith in their gods and decided to put their faith in Jesus. St. Boniface then pointed to an evergreen tree that was growing in the same location as the fallen oak and said…..

“This humble tree’s wood is used to build your homes: let Christ be at the centre of your households. Its leaves remain evergreen in the darkest days: let Christ be your constant light. Its boughs reach out to embrace and its top points to heaven: let Christ be your comfort and guide.”

Perhaps the Christmas tree is connected to Christ more than we realize. Each winter, the Germanic people would continue their practice of decorating their houses with trees, and now the evergreens would symbolize their testimony concerning the One true superior God and remind them of Jesus their Savior.