Home » Posts tagged 'Christmas'
Tag Archives: Christmas
Few things capture the spirit of Christmas better than a traditional nativity scene for many people. The star shines down on the serene baby Jesus, sleeping in a nice little manger with golden straw spilling out from the edges. He’s surrounded by Mary, Joseph, three wise men and several shepherds. They are all radiantly peaceful as they gaze in wonder at the newborn Christ child. Even the animals lying in their nice clean hay seem almost Spirit-filled as they look serenely upon the infant Savior. As the song goes, even when the cattle start lowing and the poor baby wakes, the little Lord Jesus no crying he makes. It’s a cute, quaint scene, capturing the spirit of a cute, quaint holiday.
Now, I don’t mean to be a scrooge, and I’m not suggesting there’s anything heretical about this cute, quaint scene. I’m all for tradition – our family sets up a nativity every year. On the other hand, I think it’s important to realize that this scene is not completely accurate.
Try to imagine for a moment how things most likely unfolded the night Jesus was born. Mary and Joseph were probably teenagers when they traveled to Bethlehem, for in first century Jewish culture girls were usually engaged around the age of 12 or 13 and boys around 16 or 17. The two were undoubtedly exhausted from their long journey when they arrived at the inn, but all the rooms were taken. The two decided to bed down with the animals in the inn’s stable, which must have been an act of utter desperation (was Mary beginning to have contractions?). They really had no choice, since the possibility of Mary giving birth in public was (especially in first century Jewish culture) completely unthinkable.
Plus, an early church tradition tells us that the stable was a cave, a suggestion many scholars find plausible. So the young, unwed mother and her fiancé make their way to this cave, which was probably animal-packed if the inn was full. We should probably imagine these two exhausted and desperate teenagers squeezing past livestock, stepping over animal droppings, making their way to a corner of an unventilated, smelly, dimly lit cave so Mary can have her baby with some degree of privacy.
Suddenly the manger scene is beginning to look a bit less cute and quaint.
Now try to imagine what the actual process of giving birth might have been like. Even with the best preparation and medical assistance, the birthing process is painful, “messy” and, at times, terrifying. Yet, Mary and Joseph would have had little preparation, and likely no medical assistance. They were alone.
When the child was born, they placed him in a manger – which in this context can only refer to a trough the animals ate or drank from. This certainly couldn’t have been their first choice! It’s hard to imagine anyone remaining calm and serene given these circumstances.
If even half of these assumptions are accurate, they suggest a nativity scene that was much less cute and quaint than what we traditionally picture. We should imagine two desperate, exhausted teenagers passed out on bloody, manure-filled hay in a crowded, smelly, dark cave while their baby sleeps – and sometimes wails – in a slimy feeding trough. The original audiences of the Gospels would probably have imagined something like this, and it would have shocked them. I believe this is a central point of the story.
Our God uses his almighty power to dive into the worst this world has to offer. He dives into the shame of an unwed Jewish mother. He dives into the rejection of an already-full inn and the darkness, odor and inconvenience of an overcrowded stable. He dives into the desperation and fear of a young, ostracized couple. He dives into our humanity; and not humanity at our best, but humanity at our worst. He’s not a God who gravitates toward the cute and the quaint, but a God who immerses himself in our mess, our manure, our pain, our fear, our sin and our shame.
He is a God who takes on himself everything that is shockingly ugly and redeems it all – and by doing so, he reveals himself to be a God who’s shockingly loving and beautiful.
This Christmas if you set up a nativity scene, don’t worry too much about what it looks like. There’s a place for tradition, and I doubt many stores sell “realistic” manure-filled caves to put on your end table! But remember that our God isn’t cute and quaint. He is a God who’s beautiful because he takes on our shocking ugliness and lovingly transforms us.
And I’ll take that Christmas story over cute and quaint any day.
Kim Walker-Smith is one of the most inspirational worship leaders I know of. Her personal testimony of visions Jesus has given her is absolutely amazing. Her voice and musical talent are astounding. And her passion for Jesus is extremely apparent and appealing when she sings songs like How He Loves, Holy Spirit and Freedom Reigns.
And here she is singing about Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer:
The song is from Kim’s 2014 album When Christmas Comes which includes 17 tracks. Most of them are worship songs or hymns like O Holy Night or Away in a Manger, but then there’s also White Christmas, Winter Wonderland and other songs that don’t mention the reason for the season at all.
It’s quite common that worship leaders release Christmas albums. Matt Redman, Chris Tomlin and Hillsong United have all done it There’s even a WOW Worship Christmas Deluxe album with 36 songs out there. And just like Walker-Smith, some singers throw non-Christian Christmas songs into the mix, including Michael J Smith as well as Bryan and Katie Torwalt. (more…)
It feels like this article shouldn’t have to be written, and yet it’s not uncommon to hear people say “Believing in God is like believing i the tooth fairy or Santa”, “There are no more evidences for God than what there are for Santa” or “Believing in an all-knowing, magic Santa is ridiculous, so is belief in an all-knowing, supernatural God.” The idea is basically that since Santa doesn’t exist, God doesn’t exist, because they are too similar.
This doesn’t work, for many reasons:
1. Adults believe in God
Shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. While basically only kids believe that Santa exists due to their parents telling them so, the majority of the world’s adult population believe in some sort of Deity. Now, some atheists would say that’s because God-believers are like kids who just believe what someone else told them without checking for evidence, but that’s not just insulting but false; while nobody “converts” to belief in Santa Claus as an adult, several atheists have become theists (like C.S. Lewis, Greg Boyd, Anthony Flew) after examining arguments at hind evidence. Which brings us to point number 2:
I don’t know if you’ve noticed but there’s been a lot of hostility towards refugees in the minority (so called “Western”) world lately. In Europe, country after country are closing their borders and argue that they don’t have capacity and resources to welcome refugees, even though the EU is the world’s richest political entity and development countries receive 86 % of the world’s refugees. In Australia the government is pushing back boats of refugees and put refugees in horrible detention camps, and in the United States there’s a guy called Trump who wants to ban Muslims from entering the country and build a wall against Mexico.
The two latter examples are extremely confusing since the white population there are obviously descendants of immigrants themselves… I read in Bob Ekblad’s book A New Christian Manifesto recently about some Scandinavian Americans who were protesting against native Americans’ claims of land, and the Scandinavians’ argument were that they had owned that land for such a long time.
The Bible says: “The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt.” (Lev 19:34). The Israelites had then been in Egypt for 400 years. Most American and Australian families have lived in their colonies for less than that, which means that they surely are immigrants from God’s perspective, and this Bible passage is naturally very relevant to them. They have no moral grounds for deporting immigrants when they are rich and themselves have benefited from migration. (more…)
Praise God for Heidi and Rolland Baker! These wonderful missionaries in Mozambique are so passionate about the love of the Father, the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the miraculous power of the Holy Spirit, and their missionary organization Iris Global has experienced glorious revival for the last 20 years. Their Christmas greeting above was published a few days after Christmas (probably because of the amazingly beautiful editing) but who cares about that when the video is a masterpiece when it comes to inspiration, passion and faith?
Heidi shares how 2014 has been a challenge for Iris because of the horrible floods in Mozambique, but she is amazed by how God used countless radical disciples to serve, encourage and relieve the suffering population and bring the Gospel of hope and life. As I’ve written before on this blog, Iris experiences amazing miracles like the blind seeing and the deaf hearing while helping the poor and vulnerable with good, serious development assistance.
Since I’m a monthly donor to Iris I also got a physical Christmas greeting from the Bakers, this postcard with a nice worship CD. The reason they send their supporters worship music is so that their love for Jesus may increase, they say. I love it. They’re just great. God bless them!
My blog post and YouTube video on rejecting consumerism and celebrating simple Christmas has gained attention. My friend Sunniva wrote in the comments about how she and her mother celebrates a simple Christmas:
We (read my mother and I) celebrate Christmas as an extended birthday. If we celebrate each others birthdays, we do so for Jesus so much more. Perhaps I will write a blog post how we do this, but for now: its a feast that’s Jesus-centered – anticipation begins at least a month before with old and home-made Christmasdecorations and greens from forest floor (no real tree-cutting here) appearing around the house bit by bit, with Christmas music, and by attending church in Advent-time.
On Christmas Eve we will decorate our home-altar with fairtrade-roses, fast from food and water till dark, sing Jesus-songs by the fire, go to Church, cook a vegetarian meal that’s 90 or so percent organically grown and which we present to Jesus before eating, watch the movie The Nativity (and Karl Bertil Jonsson’s Christmas is a must too, a modern Christmas Robin Hood story) and attend midnight mass, etc etc. We give each other a few meaningful presents to commemorate the joy, like fair-trade coffein-free chocolate and tea, something handmade and something useful etc (from this year not wrapped in paper but in a personal reusable gift-cloth-bag), while giving aid to the poor as well.
In short: Jesus is worth a splendid birthday celebration!
The only thing I miss is sharing this beautiful time with more people, wanting to be a minister so I can do that more easily. My dream is to arrange Christmas-retreats with simple feast-food and much prayer.
Jesus Army’s Forward blog has collected a number of different voices on the topic, that deals with the Christmas dilemma: Jesus’ birthday wasn’t celebrated very much in Biblical times (which is why we don’t know the actual date), rather, paganism has influenced the modern Christmas celebration quite a lot and today it’s a mindless consumption feast. At the same time, Christmas expresses love and community and many do connect it to Jesus. Here are some of the thoughts expressed by our fellow Jesus hippies as they try to deal with Christmas in a non-consumerist way: (more…)
Mammon, the deceptive demon of wealth, has poisoned the church so that rich Christians thrive in luxury and superfluities while the poor starve and suffer. 50 000 people die because of poverty every day, while 20% of the world’s population consume 80% of the world’s resources. The biggest consumption feast of them all is Jesus’ birthday, and this has escalated massively during the last 50 years so that we now here in Sweden spend twice as much money on Christmas shopping than we give in Official Development Aid to developing countries. Then we complain about how we can’t help the homeless or receive immigrants since we’ve ran out of money.
Christians are like boiling frogs who are slowly killing their radical spirit when following the ungodly trends of the world. They are like dead fish, following the dark stream of environmental destruction and idolatrous tradition. And so they eat more meat, buy more expensive presents and spend more time and energy on pointless secular rituals, and while they hate to engage in biblical practices like fasting or street evangelism, they have no problems with putting a pointless tree in their living room or buying video games for their kids. Jesus called us to sell our stuff and give the money to the poor. On Christmas, we use our money to buy stuff to give to the rich.
Yesterday I posted this video, called “Stop Celebrating Christmas“. We have to stop this harmful and ungodly consumption feast that has replaced any decent remembrance of the birth of the Son of God. To modify the traditional Christmas celebration isn’t enough, then we risk to fall back to the old destructive wheel-tracks. No, we need to envision a radically different Christmas celebration, a simple, miraculous, worship-centred celebration. This is what it could look like:
We have a lot of symbols for Christmas, and honestly I feel that neither jingle bells, snowflakes or Santa Claus are adequate representations of this holiday compared to angels. Angels play a huge role in the birth of Jesus. Massive, in fact. This is yet another reason I believe that people without charismatic experience or theology won’t get what the Gospel is all about. You cannot have Christmas without angels.
First of all, the angel Gabriel visits Mary to tell her that she will give a virgin birth to the Messiah (Lk 1:26-38). Then, he visits Joseph to ensure him that Mary has not been cheating but that the Holy Spirit has conceived the child (Mt 1:21). As the Son is born in Bethlehem, angels tell some nearby shepherds that the Messiah has been born, and sings a angelic song about glory to God and peace among men (Lk 2:8-15). After the visitation of the wise men (who surprisingly weren’t led by angels but just by a supernatural star and prophetic dreams) an angel tells Joseph that he must take his family to Egypt to escape Herod’s madness (Mt 2:13). And after some time, Joseph gets to know that it’s clear for him to go back to Israel by – you guessed it – an angel (Mt 2:19f.).
Basically, angels are involved in almost every event in the Christmas story. What do people do with that? Well, since many lack the experience of angelic visitations even within the church, even Christians try to remove them. They’re viewed as mythological ornaments or exotic phenomena without any relation or application to our own lives. I’ve heard Christians who argue that Biblical angels are not supernatural creatures, but since “angelos” means messenger they were simply random people that brought messages from God… with the ability to fly up to heaven, I guess (Lk 2:15).
This modern form of saduceism (Acts 23:8) is only possible among Christians who haven’t met angels. And so I want to use this Christmas season to share a testimony of some angelic visitations that have received much attention in Scandinavia. Two years ago, a Pentecostal church in Finland released a video where the pastor interviewed a woman called Marita Mäntyniemi. She had been driving in her car and suddenly she saw that several other cars had stopped in the middle of the road. She looked to the side and among the trees was a giant angel. It had a prophetic message on its wings about revival for Finland, and it was massive! People bent their knees in the snow and were astonished by the vision.
Earlier this week Aisha Harris wrote an article about how confused she was as a child since Santa Claus who was sitting in the malls and who was present in the television shows was white, but the Santa who visited her African-American home was black. She argues that the normative white male Santa is problematic and argues that Santa instead should be a penguin, that people of all colours can relate to. Megan Kelly from ultra-conservative Fox News got frustrated and argued that Santa has to be white and that Jesus was white, which of course He wasn’t.
Initially I liked the idea of a penguin Santa, and there’s already a lot of pictures of her/him, but then I thought – why do we need Santa? Today Santa is king of consumerism, speeding up environmental destruction like crazy in order to give stuff primarily to rich people. As I say in my campaign video Selling Christmas (below), Jesus’ model of generosity was about selling stuff and give the money to the poor, while the Christmas generosity is about buying stuff to give to the rich. An awful way to celebrate the birth of the homeless Saviour.
Santa is thus a not very good represntative for S:t Nicholas either, since he gave gifts to the poor children so that they would survive, not playstations or mascara. So I’d say we kill Santa. Replace him with Jesus, the Middle Eastern version, and share His Gospel about justice and eternal life. And give your money to Unicef or Iris Relief instead of buying unnecessary stuff. Merry Christmas!
- Santa Is A Penguin (combine26to28.wordpress.com)
- The (Race) War on Christmas: Megyn Kelly Declares ‘Santa Claus Just Is White’ and So Was Jesus (mediaite.com)
- Really?? Fox News Anchor Tells Black Kids Santa Claus AND Jesus Are White So Stop Complaining (bossip.com)
- Harris: It’s time to give Santa Claus a makeover (newsday.com)
How could you possibly celebrate the birth of a Saviour in a better fashion than mass consumption and environmental destruction? Well, perhaps you can. Christmas is all about generosity, and Jesus surely liked that, but the Christmas generosity seems to be about buying stuff that you primarily give to rich people, while the Jesus genorosity was about selling stuff and giving the money to the poor (Mark 10:21).
How about we use this season where everyone wants to buy stuff to sell stuff? It’s good for the environment and we will be able to give a lot more to beggars and aid organizations. Simply go to second hand websites or donate them to some charity driven second hand store.
It’s something that’s surely gonna make the reason for the season very happy 🙂 Merry christmas!
So it is Christmas, and once again we have celebrated the incarnation of Jesus Christ through destroying the climate even further with our hyper-consumption and meat eating, at least in the Western world. In the midst of shopping, Santas and stress, Christians try to remind their Facebook friends that it is Jesus who is the reason for the season. I’m convinced though that to make this message really effective, we have to split from the traditional consumerist Christmas celebration and point to the fact that the original Christmas was a revolutionary event that turned the existing political and economic structures up side down.
God Almighty became a baby. He was not born in the Holiest of Holies to the tones of choirs and harps, but among cows and hay and was laid in a food pot. Herod, the political ruler, got totally mad when he heard that the true King of Israel had been born, and so God was forced to become a political refugee. From this vulnerable and poor situation Jesus was then about to criticise the rich and privileged in His radical preaching, which His mother had prophesied about when He was laying in her womb: