Why Do We Need Christmas?

Why Do We Need Christmas?
Why do we need Christmas? That’s a question worth asking. There are many people who dislike Christmas, and they have various reasons. I have some reasons why I think we need Christmas.

For those of us who live in the Northern Hemisphere, Christmas comes at the time of the winter solstice when daylight seems much too short. Christmas serves to cheer us up and get us through those winter doldrums. That leads to a second reason–the decorations and especially the lights which bring beauty and cheer, even on those cold, dark days.

A third reason is the emphasis on family at Christmas. It seems that everyone wants to spend time with family and those we love as we carry on the Christmas traditions we enjoy. Related to that is the fourth reason, and that is giving. We enjoy giving to others. Jesus said there is more joy in giving than in receiving (Acts 20:35). We naturally tend to want others to give to us. But when we give to others, we learn that what Jesus said was true.

Reason number five relates to giving. God’s love for us prompted him to give the greatest gift of all. God became a flesh-and-blood person and lived among us (John 1:14). Why do we need Christmas? The greatest reason for Christmas is to remind us of the gift God gave to us. He came to show us how to live and to give himself for us. If we could all follow the example Jesus gave and accept the gift he offers, the joy of Christmas would last all year long.
–Roland Earnst © 2017

The Secret of Gift Giving

The Secret of Gift Giving
Giving something of value (such as money) to someone for an item of equal value is buying and selling. Giving something of value to someone without requiring anything in return, while expecting that person to give something of similar value is creating an obligation. Giving something of value to someone who has done something to deserve it is compensation. Giving something of value to someone who does not deserve it, but who will appreciate it is love. Giving something of value to someone who does not deserve it, and who will perhaps not appreciate it is “agape.” That is the secret of gift giving.

“Agape” is the Greek term used in the Bible to describe God’s kind of love. It’s the “I don’t care if you spit in my face” kind of love. It’s the kind of love Jesus demonstrated when, as he was being murdered, he openly forgave those who were doing it. The gift of Jesus coming to Earth to live among those who would eventually despise and kill him is true “agape.” The gifts we give are lame by comparison.

The story of Jesus from his birth to his death and resurrection is a story of giving. It is truly the most amazing concept we can imagine, and a story nobody would dare to make up. The Creator of the universe takes the form of one of his creatures to bring them to himself. I can see why many people refuse to believe it. It’s incredible, but I believe it’s true.

When we realize it is true, we must ask ourselves, “What can I give in return?” What is the secret of gift giving? When it come to giving ourselves it is not holding hold back anything. That is not easy to do. God is the one who gives without holding back, but our giving has strings attached. We should say with the Jewish King David, “I will not offer to God that which costs me nothing.” In fact, we should offer to God that which costs us everything. That would still not match God’s gift to us.
–Roland Earnst © 2017

Christmas Date: December 25?

Christmas Date
One of the interesting questions about Christmas is why people observe it as the date of Christ’ birth, and how December 25 was chosen as the Christmas Date.

Many people spend a lot of energy condemning the observance of Christmas as the birth of Christ, because the Bible doesn’t tell us to celebrate it, and because it almost certainly is not the actual date of His birth. Paul dealt with this kind of issue in Romans 14, and he clearly indicated what our attitude should be. In verses 5 and 6, Paul wrote, ”One man considers some days to be more sacred than others while another considers all days to be alike. On questions of this kind, everyone must decide for himself. The man who values a particular day does it in the Lord’s honor, and he who does not regard it does so to the Lord.”

Biblical Archaeology magazine had an interesting summary of the December 25 choice of the date for Christmas in their November/December 2013 issue. It may be instructional for all of us to understand the selection of the Christmas date:

“Most (but not all) Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus on this date. It was first identified by Christian historian Sextus Julius Africanus in 221 A.D. In his five-volume treatise Chronographiai, he calculated the day of Annunciation (Jesus’ conception) to be March 25 in the year 1 B.C.–the first day of the calendar year and 5,500 years after the Creation of the world, according to his estimates–thereby resulting in Jesus’ birth on December 25 of the same year. Later historians came up with the date March 25 for the Annunciation believing there was a connection between the date of the crucifixion, March 25, and the Annunciation. The Eastern Church also linked Jesus’ conception and birth but placed his conception on April 6 and his birth on January 6. In Armenia, Christmas is still celebrated on January 6. For the rest of the East and liturgical churches in the West, January 6 came to be celebrated as Epiphany, marking the arrival of the magi to the Nativity. The 12 days between Christmas and Epiphany became ‘the 12 days of Christmas.’ Many countries–including Russia, Serbia, Egypt, and Ethiopia–celebrate Christmas on January 7 and Epiphany on January 19 because they hold to the older Julian calendar, which is 13 days behind the modern Gregorian calendar.”

Regardless of the Christmas date, we hope that you will remember to do as Paul wrote and honor the Lord on any and every day, all day.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Joseph’s Role in Christmas

Joseph's Role in Christmas
Many of us remember news broadcaster Paul Harvey, who had a series he called “The Rest of the Story.” He would tell us things related to a current news story that we might not be aware of, but which were significant to the story. I suggest that Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus Christ, is “the rest of the story” in this season as we look at Joseph’s role in Christmas.

Joseph was a Jew, as was Mary (Matthew 1:1-17). In the Jewish system, the marriage relationship was complex. The groom would make a verbal declaration to the bride of his intent to marry her. This promise involved a gift, it was made in the presence of two witnesses, and it could not be revoked without a formal divorce. The groom and bride would not have relations or live together for a year as the bride stayed with her parents. At the end of the year, the groom would come and take the bride to his family home and the marriage would be consummated. Part of the reason for this was undoubtedly to prove that the bride was not pregnant and that her claim to be a virgin was true. If it were established that the bride was not a virgin, she would be stoned to death by the men in the town according to Deuteronomy 22:20-21.

In Joseph’s case, it seemed clear that Mary was not a virgin because she was pregnant (Matthew 1:18-19). This meant that she could be stoned to death for violating the Jewish law. We see this in John 8:3-5. When the lawyers and Pharisees quoted the law, Jesus told the sinless ones to start throwing stones. They were all afraid to cast the first stone and one-by-one they slipped away.

Joseph loved Mary, and you have to know that his heart was breaking at the situation. He had a dream in which an angel told him that the baby Mary was carrying was a special creation of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:20-25). For that reason, Joseph should not fear that he was breaking the Jewish law. It would have been easy for Joseph to explain away the dream as a figment of what he wanted, or as a product of stress. Instead, he accepted the dream and went on with the marriage.

Joseph sets the standard of obedience to God by accepting Mary and the situation she brought into his life. He accepted being a father to Jesus and went through all of the painful experiences of a Jewish father (Luke 2:41-48). He did all of that even though he didn’t understand it all (Luke 2:49-50).

Joseph is an unheralded hero of the Christmas story. We need to follow his example of being obedient to the things God calls us to do, no matter what life and circumstances may bring upon us. Joseph’s role in Christmas should be the “rest of the story” for us.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

France Erases Christianity from Public View

France Erases Christianity from Public View
If you remember studying the history of France, you will recall that Christianity in one form or another had a major role in the history of that nation. In 2004 the French passed a law banning religious symbols in public. Now the French have decided that anything that reflects in a positive way on Christianity must be obliterated as France erases Christianity from the public view. Recent incidents are:

The government ordered that a cross atop a statue of Pope John Paul II in a town in Brittany sculpted by Russian artist Zurab Tsereteli must be removed. It conflicts with the law banning religious symbols in public.
Greek yogurt pots sold in a French supermarket chain were decorated with pictures of Greek villages. However, the Orthodox crosses on the churches in the pictures were removed because of the law.
A charitable organization wanted to place posters in the Paris transport system inviting donations for Christians suffering persecution in the Middle East. The transport system refused to allow them because of the Christian reference.
The attack on Christianity is unique because public religious activity for other religions is encouraged. The mayor of Paris staged an event at taxpayer expense to celebrate the end of Ramadan.

As France erases Christianity from public view, we see the beginning of that kind of government bigotry in the United States. It shows its ugly head when Christmas scenes are displayed.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Holiday Season and the Black Friday Kickoff

Holiday Season Black Friday
We are at the beginning of the so-called Holiday Season which is supposed to be a time of religious significance, good will, love for others, and gift giving. The chances are that you have had some kind of reaction to “Black Friday.” In 1952 Black Friday was the name given to the day after Thanksgiving because it was the day when shopkeepers balance sheets turned black (positive) from red (loss) for the year.

What began as a commentary on business profits and margins has become a time of greed and in a few cases, even violence. In 2008 a crowd of shoppers at a Walmart in Valley Stream, New York, broke down the door to the store and trampled a 34-year-old employee to death. On the same day, two people were shot to death in an altercation over a toy in Palm Desert, California. In 2010 in Madison, Wisconsin, police arrested a woman who threatened to shoot other shoppers who objected to her cutting in line. In 2011 a woman at a Walmart at Porter Ranch, California, used pepper spray on fellow shoppers to get to the front of a line to buy a discounted Xbox. The list of abuse and violence on Black Friday is long and tragic.

Some of us can remember a time when gifts at Christmas were hand-made or involved food. Thanksgiving was a religious day recognizing how blessed we are individually and as a country. Christmas was a time of Christian celebration in song and art. Our emphasis on things has pushed us to compete for whatever is the current toy of the year. Television ads show us how important it is for us to give our mate or child a new car or an expensive piece of jewelry. For many people paying for holiday gifts goes on for months or even years,

Christians should reflect on the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:25-33, “Take no thought for your life, what you shall eat or drink or even for your body and what clothes you shall put on. Is not life more than meat and your body more than your clothes? Look at the birds of the air, for they do not sow and they do not reap or gather into barns. Still, your Father feeds them. Aren’t you much better than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to your height? Why do you worry about clothing? Take a look at the lilies of the field, how they grow, and they don’t work at it… And yet even Solomon in all of his splendor was not arrayed like one of these… So take no thought saying what shall I eat or drink or what shall I wear. Your Father knows you have need of these things, but you should seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and then all these things will be added to you.”

Don’t allow atheistic materialism to rob you of the great joys that come from times of thankfulness, helping others, and spending time with the Lord in thankfulness and joy at the opportunity you have to be a Christian and to bring blessings to others. Let’s make this holiday season a holy season.
–John N. Clayton