Thus it begins

Christianity, Religion

“Today the Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord, was born for you in the City of David.” Luke 2:11.

Today we celebrate the birth of Christ and the hope that He brings to us. Some two thousand years ago, His birth went unnoticed by the elite and those in power; yet it was boldly proclaimed by the heavenly host to those who were weary, downtrodden, oppressed, and forgotten.  Christ brings hope to the hopeless, and so much more.

Christ’s birth signaled the beginning of the end of sin’s reign over man and man’s separation from God. This momentous occasion, overlooked by the masses, proclaimed to those without a voice, announced the implementation of God’s plan of salvation for mankind. This young babe, born in a manger in Bethlehem, would grow up and die for the sins of the world, and bring reunification with God to humanity. Through Christ’s death, we would have hope for the future, a purpose to live, and comfort in times of trial.

The child born in Bethlehem was sent to die for the sins of all mankind. Christ grew up and lived a sinless life and willingly laid down His life so that all those who believe in Him might live eternally with God. The end was nigh for sin and strife. The Messiah had arrived, and would begin to make all things right.

Remember those who are suffering and in pain today. Remember those who lack and are in need. Pray for them, comfort them, meet their needs.

Remember Christ brought hope and salvation to all, and that today marks the beginning of the road to Calvary.

The Real War on Christmas

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“King Solomon surpassed all the kings of the world in riches and wisdom…his heart was not completely with the Lord his God, as his father David’s  had been.” 1 Kings 10:23;11:4.

In recent years, many evangelicals cry out about a supposed “War on Christmas” being perpetrated by the media and businesses. Everything from Starbucks’ plain red cups to the use of the term “Happy Holidays” is cited as an attack on Christmas and sign of the degradation of western culture and society. Yet, while these same people snivel over trivial and insignificant suspected jabs, they actively participate in the real War on Christmas: the commercialization of the holiday.

In our capitalistic society, money and greed rule the day. The sole purpose of capitalism to make more money and to control the means of production in order keep costs low and profits high. The money that people in the Western world shovel out to retailers and other stores all in the “name of Christmas” lines the pockets of big business and helps to make corporate CEOs richer, while the poor wage slaves who work in the stores at hourly rates struggle to get by at, or maybe slightly above, the minimum wage.

God is not opposed to people being successful, but He is against the pursuit of material goods and money. Solomon was touted as being the wisest man who ever lived. He was the son of King David, a man who enjoyed a relationship with God that few else have ever experienced. Solomon was also loved by God, and Solomon accomplished many things during his reign over Israel, the most important accomplishment being the construction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Despite all of Solomon’s success, and his godly pedigree, he too fell victim to materialism. His heart strayed away from God as he focused on acquiring more and more wealth. 1 Kings makes it clear that this love of material goods is directly associated with Solomon’s turning away from God. The wisest man in all of history forsook his god for the pursuit of wealth. God does not tolerate such slights; 1 Kings 11:9 make this very clear, “The Lord was angry with Solomon because he is heart had turned away from the Lord God of Israel.” Solomon would live out the rest of his days as a bitter and calloused old man, given over to his own depravities.

The real War on Christmas has been waged and won by the capitalists and corporations years ago, and we are still capitulating to their terms of surrender to this day. We are active participants in their quest to acquire more and more wealth, and we forsake those around us in need. Shopping malls and retail stores are filled daily while churches have empty pews and shelters and soup kitchens lack volunteers to aid the less fortunate. We forget that Christ was born in a stable because His family could not gain access to shelter. Christ’s birth would be just as unnoticed by today’s society as it was in His society.

Many people stand in line to get into stores and to see Santa. Few stand before Christ in the manger. Fewer still will stand with Him at the cross.

Do Not Keep Christ in Christmas

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  “You are to name Him Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.” Matthew 1:21

 During this time of year, many people go about spreading good tidings of great cheer with trite little phrases such as “keep Christ in Christmas,” or “ Jesus is the reason for the season.” With all the commercialism and materialism that has become the mainstay of Christmas,  it is important to remember what the true meaning of the holiday is; so often Christ’s birth becomes secondary to our capitalistic distortion of Christmas. For many others, such phrases and tidings serve as a stand against  growing sensitivities for inclusiveness and political correctness.

The problem is, though, that too often we are too successful in keeping Christ in Christmas and we forget about Him the rest of the year. Babies are precious, they can bring people together, they do not demand anything other than love and care; people like the baby Jesus for these reasons. The infant Christ represents hope for the future and God’s redemptive promise. The baby Jesus is safe; he does not offend, nor does he convict. The baby Jesus does not make people uncomfortable. The baby Jesus does not challenge the system, nor does He assert His authority. The baby Jesus, like any other infant, is meek and mild and sleeps in heavenly peace.

If the story ended there, people would not have a problem with Jesus, and many more would follow Him. The story does not end there, and Christ, like all infants, grows up. Christ grows into a man who preaches the Kingdom of God and confronts sin. He grows up into a man who challenges the social, political, religious, and economic systems of His day. He grows into a man who was radical in His preaching, teaching, and ideologies; a man who clearly states that being associated with Him is not the ‘safe” choice. Christ grows into a man who demands complete and total allegiance from those who follow Him, and for the abandonment of anything that would interfere with following Him. Christ grows into a man who promises trial, hardship, and death to those who seek to be His followers. Christ grows into a man who was arrested, convicted, beaten and humiliated, flogged and degraded, whipped and mocked, and executed. Christ grows into a man who will die alone, forsaken by God and man, for the sins of all humanity. This is the Christ of the other 364 days of the year. This is the Christ that makes people uncomfortable. This is the Christ that many don’t want to think about or associate with. This is the Christ we forsake when we idolize the infant in the manger.  Thank God for sending Christ to the world, but thank God even more for the sacrifice of Christ’s death and the salvation that it brings. Christ did not defeat death and bring hope and salvation to man just by being born, that task was only accomplished through His suffering and agony.

Don’t put Christ in a box that you pull out once a year. Don’t keep Christ in Christmas; celebrate Christ every day of the year.

Festival of Lights.

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“Then the Festival of Dedication took place in Jerusalem, and it was winter. Jesus was walking in the temple complex in Solomon’s Colonnade.” John 10:22-23.

This evening marks the beginning of one of the most iconic Jewish holidays, Hanukkah. The Festival of Lights, or Festival of Dedication, as it is sometimes referred to as, celebrates a miraculous victory of the Jews over a foreign occupation of Israel and the dedication of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. Here in John’s Gospel, we see that Jesus, observant Jew that He was, in the Jerusalem Temple to celebrate Hanukkah.

The Jewish books of 1 and 2 Maccabees tell the Hanukkah story. In the time between the Old Testament and the New Testament, the Jews of Judea were conquered by the Seleucid Empire. A man named Antiochus IV came to rule the Seleucids, and he especially hated the Jews and their customs and culture. He went as far as to outlaw the practice of Judaism and performed sacrilegious practices in the Temple–even as far as to sacrifice pigs on the alter. During this time, many Jews quit practicing their religion, and some even began assimilating into Hellenistic culture. 1 Maccabees says that some men tried to “hide and reverse the marks of their circumcision.”

A righteous priest, Judah Maccabee, grew tired of the mistreatment of his people and the apostasy that was sweeping through Judea. The term “Maccabee” means “sledgehammer,” and Judah organized an armed revolt against Seleucid rule. This uprising came to be known as the “Maccabean Revolt,” and Judah and his followers, the Maccabees, fought to expel the Seleucids from Judea. This uprising went on for several years, and posed great problems for Antiochus IV. The Maccabees were ultimately successful; they reconquered Jerusalem, and retook their Temple. Several years after the rebellion, Antiochus IV was forced into exile where he died.

The Maccabees were faced with a serious problem when they retook the Temple. They had to cleanse the Temple and rededicate it so that they could again use it for worship. This ceremony would take seven days, and the candelabra in the Temple had to be lit for the entirety of the dedication ceremony. However, there was only enough oil in the Temple for the candelabra, or menorah, to burn for one day. Judah Maccabee knew that God would provide for His people, and he decided to proceed with the dedication ceremony. Miraculously, the oil in the menorah lasted for eight days, more than enough for the dedication ceremony, and Judah Maccabee proclaimed that all the Jews would commemorate this miraculous provision each and every year for eight days. Hanukkah is unique from all other Jewish holidays in the respect that it is the only one not given to the Jews in the Torah.

Hanukkah celebrates the Jewish victory over oppression and persecution, but it also reminds us that God provides for His people. In this world of sin and darkness, God’s holiness shines forth like a bright light. We, as His followers, must let His light shine through us and we must help to illuminate the world. During the Festival of Lights, dedicate yourself to God and His work, and let your light shine brightly to all around you.

Peace.

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“I  will both lie down and sleep in peace, for You alone, Lord, make me live in safety.” Psalm 4:8.

The great warrior-poet-king, David, is responsible for composing a majority of the songs and poems in the book of Psalms. David experienced many great highs and lows in his life, and, like any great author, he was able to convey his emotion into his writings.

Psalm 4 is a unique writing of David’s. This psalm, quite often entitled “The Night Prayer,” speaks of God’s infinite righteousness and David’s striving to be a holy man. David writes of those who oppose him, those who seek to do harm to him, and of God’s protection of David in all his comings and goings; if ever a man lived who knew of God’s deliverance in times of danger, it was David. For a great portion of his life, David was continually on the run, either from Saul, the Philistines, and even at one point, his own son. David knew first hand how God provided for those that sought Him. More importantly, David knew of the peace that God could provide, even in the midst of hardship and danger. This confidence of God’s provision of safety and peace is evidenced in David’s final line of his prayer, “I will both lie down and sleep in peace, for You alone, Lord, make me live in safety.”

Quite often when we are confronted with trials or hardships, sleep is a difficult commodity to come by. Our minds become focused solely on the infinite negative  possibilities of our situation, and the lack of restful sleep begins to take a physical toll on our bodies. The world hasn’t changed any since David’s time; sin and violence still abound, there are those who seek to do harm to good and innocent people. At every turn we hear of death and destruction, and our worries and fears may begin to get the best of us. Luckily, God hasn’t changed either; He still provides shelter and the promise of peace for those who love Him and seek after Him. God will provide peace for us and He will restore us. He will grant us a soothing reassurance of His presence and afford us the safety we need to rest without fear.