On Christmas

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Birth of Jesus Matthew 2:1

Birth of Jesus Matthew 2:1 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I think my favorite Christmas special is the Charlie Brown Special, in which Linus reads from the Gospel of Luke–the story of “what Christmas is all about,” and at the end the children sing “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.” The theme of the show was against the commercialization of Christmas. That trend has continued to the point that for retailers, “Christmas” begins in September. That is a shame. For Western Catholic Christians, Christmas begins December 25 and continues until January 5, and then there is the Feast of the Epiphany (the coming of the Wise Men) on January 6. The time before Christmas is Advent, a time of preparation for the coming of Christ, with the focus being on the Second Coming more than the first.

For orthodox Christians of whatever stripe, Christmas is about the coming of God into man, in which God Himself, the Logos, the Second Person of the Trinity, was born as a baby in a manger over 2000 years ago. The notion of a being who is fully God, fully man is an offense to many in the intellectual classes–Kierkegaard recognized this in his writings. The belief seems absurd. Yet the Christian faith teaches the coming of the eternal into time, the infinite into the finite, the God-man. Because of that, sin and death are overcome and human beings have not only the hope of salvation from sin, but of salvation from death. Salvation is far more valuable than anything than Santa Claus can bring! I have no problem with children believing in Santa Claus as long as they are taught the true meaning of Christmas–God, born like the rest of us, as a newborn baby who grew up, struggled as we do with temptation, taught a “more excellent way,” was crucified, died, and was buried, and was raised from the dead. Now God the Son remains incarnate, fully God, fully man, for all time. It is an incredible message, that is for sure. I believe it to be true. For those readers who also believe it to be true, consider the wonder of it and thank God for the gift of Himself for us.

Christmas and God Made Man

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c. 1490

Image via Wikipedia

In the Peanuts Christmas Special Charlie Brown asked, “What is Christmas all about?” Linus replied by reading the account of Jesus’ birth and the visitation of the shepherds in Luke 2. This was a proper and good response to Charlie Brown’s question. Christmas was set aside by the Church to celebrate God‘s coming into the world as a baby. God did not despise the world, but became incarnate as man, conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary, developed just as any human being would in the womb, from zygote to embryo to fetus, and was born just as any human child. But this child was Yahweh, the God of Israel and of the entire universe, Creator of all things–Christ, fully God, fully man, a complete divine nature and complete human nature in one person. This was a unique moment in history, the culmination of all history, the “scandal of particularity” that is offensive to modern man–yet the only means to our salvation. This newborn baby, born in a manger, is the one God, the one source of eternal salvation. This is such an incredible event that sometimes I wonder with Kierkegaard whether it is true because it is absurd–that eternity entered into the realm of space and time, of matter and flesh, and redeemed it–matter is good, not evil, and we should not try to, as Gnostics, both ancient and modern, try to do, escape the body. Because God came into history as a human being with a human body, so God in His mercy will raise us, body and soul, forgiven, flawless flesh totally under the control of our spirits. Thanks be to God for His coming into the world as a tiny baby in a manger!

Shop ’till you Drop….?

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Shopping carts in ABC Tikkula.

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Thanksgiving Day is nearly upon us, but instead of focusing on thanking God for blessings, television blares ads about the day after Thanksgiving. News outlets report the latest prediction about sales on Friday, the biggest shopping day of the season. And when Friday arrives, long lines will form around stores, with some people camped out the previous night in the cold to be the first shoppers to buy bargains.

Even apart from Thanksgiving or the second day of Christmas (December 26, which the secularized world calls the “day after Christmas”), consumption drives modern Western economies. Shopping becomes an obsession with some people, both men and women. Women look for the latest fashions, and men look for the latest gadgets. Both, underneath the happy surface on shopping days, are lost and miserable.

Shopping has become one way to run from death. If we’re out and about and busy, we don’t have to think about the finality of life. Maybe if we keep shopping, we’ll never drop and we’ll live forever! Perhaps late on some insomniac night a sane person will remember her inevitable doom and weep, but most people allow such thoughts to seep out of their mind, lost in the busyness of life. Now I’m not implying that everyone who enjoys shopping is running from death, but the extent of the bustle, the extent to which shopping becomes an end in itself, suggests that is exactly what some people do. It is almost as if finding a bargain becomes a substitute for the transcendent–and a paltry substitute. No matter what a person buys, one day those clothes, appliances, home decor items, and so forth will either travel to the local trash heap or to the nearest thrift store after the owner of those items lies beneath six feet of soil.

American culture is rapidly secularizing to the point that it may one day be as secular as Western Europe. In a world that does not believe in the truly transcendent, a God who loves mankind and calls us to repentance, all that remains is mindless bustle and lust for wealth, sexual fulfillment, fame, or the other false gods of the contemporary world. I suppose these gods are not as dangerous as the worship of the state, but while they may not take physical life, they will, if sought as ends in themselves, destroy the soul.

So shop if you enjoy it–but realize that shopping is not an end in itself. Otherwise, shopping becomes an idol that enslaves, like any other idol that is finite. As both Augustine and Kierkegaard recognized, only an infinite being can satisfy an infinite longing. Only God can fill an empty soul.