Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Bethlehem Peace

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. – Luke 2:4-5 (KJV)

Bethlehem has been a focal point in our world for almost 2000 years.

It is the birthplace of Jesus the Christ. He is the Son of God and the savior of the world.

Here in America we mark the birthplaces of the famous – presidents, authors, movie stars, even fictional characters in popular movies and television shows.

Jesus is the most famous person in the history of the world and His birthplace is also marked.

Ironically, the birth place of the “Prince of Peace” (as Isaiah called him) is in anything but a peaceful area of the world. reported a few years ago, “Hundreds of thousands of tourists used to throng Bethlehem in the weeks before Christmas, and the large square by the church would fill with people on Christmas Eve. But during the past three years of violence, most potential pilgrims like most potential tourists have stayed away. The shriveling economy and continuing Israeli travel restrictions have dampened the celebrations for Palestinians as well this year.”

Why all the violence? Theories abound. How about this posting from a Usenet group on the internet – could this really answer the question?

“I hope you all enjoy whatever festive-occasion-based-on-a-fairy-tale you choose to celebrate around this time of year.”

Peace will not abound where people continue to reject the Prince of Peace.

But this is not a rant against unbelievers. It is rather, a plea to believers in Christ, the Prince of Peace, to get that message out! Tell the Good News!

Will you be rejected? Yes. I wish I could say differently, but the truth is, many in this world have been rejecting the Good News about Jesus Christ for thousands of years. It won’t stop happening here with us.

But just as some people reject Christ, others will not. There will be some who do not reject the Gospel and thus the Holy Spirit will create saving faith in their hearts through the Good News that you share with them.

Sharing the Good News about Jesus, who was born in Bethlehem and died on a cross a just a few miles north of his birthplace, will be the best thing that ever happens to anybody in this world.

On the day that you enter into heaven because of the grace of our God through the birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ, you will run into someone that you won’t quite recognize. It will not be a family member or a friend. It will be, for all intents and purposes, a total stranger. But that person will be in heaven because you shared the Gospel of Jesus Christ with them. Not that you are the reason they are in heaven – only God can and will take credit for that. But God will use your voice and life for His saving words.

This Christmas Eve, Bethlehem will most likely be relatively quiet due to violence and unrest in the Middle East. But if that teaches us anything, it is that we cannot be quiet with the Good News about Jesus lest violence and unrest take over our world.

I humble offer this prayer for Christmas Eve. May it the prayer of us all.

On Christmas night in Bethlehem there was born a babe in a manger that was Christ the Lord who was unlike any other creature, but yet the same.  He was born from the womb of his mother through pain, but yet He was born without sin and his mother was still yet a virgin.  Though He was pure and had done no sinful acts John baptized Him and at that moment the Holy Spirit came upon Him and His Father said that He was pleased.  Following the will of our Father by the power of the Holy Spirit is the prime example of what God wants us to try to achieve. Now let us pray.  Dear Lord, let us try to follow your example and live our lives that could be pleasing in your sight. Also that this Christmas would not be corrupted or blinded from the true story.  Thank you for sending your son Jesus Christ who was born on that Holy Night just for the purpose to die on the cross to save us from all of our sins.  Amen

[Prayer by Joshua Butler, a former catechumen I was honored to teach at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Mayville, Wisconsin.]

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

What is Christmas All About?

Christmas time is here
Happiness and cheer
Fun for all that children call
Their favorite time of the year

Snowflakes in the air
Carols everywhere
Olden times and ancient rhymes
Of love and dreams to share

Sleigh bells in the air
Beauty everywhere
Yuletide by the fireside
And joyful memories there

Christmas time is here
We'll be drawing near
Oh, that we could always see
Such spirit through the year
Oh, that we could always see
Such spirit through the year...
-          Vince Guaraldi – Lee Mendelson

This song has been a part of my Christmas my whole life – literally. I was born in 1965 and that was the same year that A Charlie Brown Christmas premiered on CBS-TV. It is hard to imagine a Christmas in the United States without watching this beloved broadcast. 50 million people are estimated to have watched it in 1965 and it has retained such ratings through the nearly 50 years since.

At the heart of A Charlie Brown Christmas is, ironically enough, depression. Young Charlie Brown finds himself in a deep funk at Christmas time. Even though it is a white Christmas, even though there are presents, decorations, and all that we’re taught goes into making Christmas Christmas, Charlie Brown is not happy. He feels he should be, but can’t quite figure out why he is not.

Even though Charlie Brown is 7 or 8 years old, he’s an “every man.” He embodies the feelings of so many at this time of year. It is sad that so many people are depressed at what is supposed to be a joyous time of year. It isn’t hard to imagine why, though, is it? The stress and anxiety caused by difficult economic times, or the sadness of facing a Christmas for the first time without a loved one, certainly can make Christmas a less-than-joyful time of year.

If you turn on the TV, you will be bombarded with the messages that all it takes to make Christmas Christmas will be “stuff.” A new car, new clothes, a bigger and better TV, cologne, perfume, a computer tablet, or simply money, money, money, will put you in the proper Christmas mood.

This commercialism is bemoaned of in A Charlie Brown Christmas and, before that, Miracle on 34th Street, and even A Christmas Carol.

Charlie Brown’s beagle, Snoopy, is getting into the commercial mood of Christmas. Then there is Charlie Brown’s little sister, Sally. Even his five- or six-year-old sister has been indoctrinated into the commercialism of Christmas. Even though she can’t write to Santa Claus herself, she does dictate the letter to her older brother and closes with a plan to make things easy on Santa, suggesting to him that he simply bring “$10’s and $20’s” as her Christmas presents!

I don’t have a problem with commerce. Bartering, buying and selling have been around for nearly as long as there have been people. And the topic of money is an important topic in the Bible, as it is mentioned over 2000 times (according to the website accessed December, 2012).

Like most things, the problem lies in the mire of over-indulging in commercialism. Sally has made Christmas all about “getting all you can get while the getting is good” (actually a quote from the sequel to A Charlie Brown Christmas called Its Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown). Snoopy also feels Christmas is another opportunity to win big prizes (by decorating).

Ironically enough, A Charlie Brown Christmas, was originally aired with several product placements by its original sponsor – Coca Cola – which made it difficult to edit for future airings (resulting in several scenes cut out entirely).

Charlie Brown seeks answers from Lucy – the neighborhood psychologist. Interestingly enough, Lucy diagnoses Charlie Brown’s problem as having to do with fear. She tries to find out what Charlie Brown is afraid of.

It seems to me that some people have trouble with Christmas because they are afraid – afraid of being alone, afraid of unrequited love, afraid of missing out of the joy they feel should be a part of the season. These are all understandable fears, to me at least. I feel that way because they are very real fears.

Lucy’s prescription for Charlie Brown is “involvement” – by which she means he should direct the Christmas Play. With this suggestion, Charlie Brown’s cold and fearful heart begins to melt and a genuine smile appears on his face for the first time.

Still, Charlie Brown hasn’t quite figured out what is missing. Even though it is clear that the Christmas play is the story of the Nativity of Jesus Christ (there are shepherds, animals, an innkeeper and his wife, who has naturally curly hair), something is missing. The kids seem to know their parts and the parts that go with the story, but all they are interested in is dancing (having a good time).

Charlie Brown tries to capture the proper mood to get the play going – by providing a Christmas tree. But upon presenting a real Christmas tree, his fear comes crashing in on him when all the kids ridicule him and even his own dog rejects his contribution to the play.

In a final, desperate, act of supplication Charlie Brown cries out “Isn’t there anyone that can tell me what Christmas is all about?”

Linus chimes in with the true meaning of Christmas. He recites – from memory – the immortal words of the Gospel:

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, “Fear not; for, behold, I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,” Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill towards men.”

That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

Yes, Christmas includes parties, presents, and poems set to music. It includes family and friends getting together, special movies and TV shows, lights and decorations.

But at its heart, Christmas is about alleviating fear. The fear of being alone, the fear of being rejected, the fear of being forever in despair.

Because those fears were exactly where the human race was, and was forever heading, unless God did something about it. And so God promised He would. And so God did as He promised.

Jesus Christ was born in the little town of Bethlehem. He grew up to live a perfect life. Then He took all the sins of the world on Himself and died on the cross. Three days later Jesus rose victorious from the dead – thus assuring all those who believe in Him would also rise from the dead one day. And then Jesus ascended into heaven but not before promising that He would return to take all those who have faith in Him to heaven with Him.

That’s what Christmas – that’s what Christ – is all about.