Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’


Repeat the Sounding Joy

Have you noticed lately that it’s the Christians who are often most cranky during the Christmas season? Complaining has almost become required. We hear sermons on how to deal with the stress of Christmas. We read ominous-sounding emails and Facebook posts on the so-called “War on Christmas.” And of course, cable news shows ramp up the debates on whether an elderly greeter in Dinkytown, USA, articulated her “Merry Christmas” greeting in a way that satisfies the Westminster Confession.

And let’s not even get into the tiresome annual debate about the chubby guy with the beard decked out in red from head-to-toe. Pastors, as part of their sober calling, are often summoned to decide whether using Santa wrapping paper is grounds for church discipline.

Is it just me, or have we Christians – the ones who know and believe God visited this sin soaked world in the form of a baby so He could save the world from sin – completely sucked the joy out of what should be the most joyous season?

My goal this Christmas season is to call Christians back to joy. Read five reasons why here:


What Advent is and Why We Should Celebrate

There is something really wonderful about the word, advent. When you Google the word, one of the definitions you get is: the arrival of a notable person, thing or event. We know this word from other contexts besides religions. We say things like, “Since the advent of the automobile . . . .” Or “Since the advent of the modern era . . . ”

Advent means something new is coming. The dawn of a new and better era. This is really what Christmas is about, isn’t it? It’s the celebration of the advent of a new era. God broke into time and space and entered our world. He is Immanuel, God with us. He broke in the midst of the sin and clamor and the fallenness. He came as a vulnerable baby in a poverty-stricken town to ordinary people, in a time of great political unrest. Advent–Christ’s Advent–means that God sees us in our distress, in our sin-ravaged condition, in all of our helplessness.

We’d like to think that we can save ourselves from ourselves. We’d like to think that with a few tweaks here and there, we can create the Heaven we long for. We’d like to think that with a bit more progress and education we can overcome evil. But alas, we know we cannot. If the tragic events in Sandy Hook tell us anything they remind us that evil invades even the safest, most beautiful environments on this earth. But the hope of Christmas tells us that Christ invades even the most evil, sin ravaged places on this earth.

The 1st Advent is worth celebrating with great joy because it tells us that a new day is here. Christmas is the dawn of something to come. It fills us with hope that the endless cycle of sin and violence and hopelessness of human history will someday be reversed. The curse that was put on mankind, on the universe is not forever. God broke in as man and God and by his life, death, and resurrection defeated sin and death. As hymnwriter Isaac Watts wrote:

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

We should celebrate Christmas joyfully with presents, with food, with singing, with festive decorations because Jesus has come. God is with us. And because the First Advent signals a second advent, a coming of a King whose Kingdom will end all other kingdoms and whose rule will create the world we all long for but can’t create. His glory will spread through the earth and sin and sickness and death will be no more. The enemy will be forever silenced.

So, celebrate Christmas, not as a scrooge, not as a scold, but with overflowing joy. Because the Lord has come.


Finding Christmas Joy

I’ve always loved the Christmas season. When I was a kid, my parents always made the season great. Our traditions were simple, but wonderful.

I especially enjoyed the two weeks off of school. Usually we chilled out at home or would go to a Christmas party or two at friends’ homes. When I was in high-school, I’d join with some other friends and go caroling in our neighborhood. Then we had to take care of our last minute Christmas shopping. My parents gave each of us some allowance and let us choose gifts for the family.

On Christmas Eve, we typically chilled out at home, then, after some cajoling from all of us kids and my mom, my father would relent and let us open our gifts that night, before we went to the Christmas Eve service at church. My Dad enjoyed being the position of deciding when the gifts would be open and enjoyed keep us in suspense. I suspect his plan was for a Christmas Eve “open” all along, but he liked the back-and-forth.

We enjoyed the Christmas Eve candle light service at our church. I remember it being very late, perhaps 11 pm. There was just something special and warm about gathering at church, singing a few carols, seeing friends, hearing a short message and exchanging gifts.

On Christmas we’d usually go to my grandparents house for a terrific feast. My grandmother and grandfather were Jewish, but would put on a huge Christmas spread in their condo. They’ve both since passed but I miss them every Christmas. I think I can still smell the Christmas smells of Grandma and Grandpa’s wonderful house.

Then we’d go to my father’s family and have another wonderful feast of food and gifts. I had many cousins on that side and it was always cool to catch up with them.

I love the way my parent’s “handled” Christmas. They raised us in the church, so we knew the real meaning of Christmas. Dad read Luke 2 every Christmas Eve. And yet, they weren’t at all scared by Santa Claus, shopping, gifts, and all the other parts of the season that Christians often lament. We weren’t stressed on Christmas, but we also weren’t grinches out to make sure everyone understood that Santa was a fake fat guy in a red suit. I guess they felt we were secure enough in our faith in Christ that we didn’t have to shoot down everyone’s Christmas joy.

Now that I’m a parent I hope to model my parent’s approach to Christmas–to simply let Christmas be what it is. The truth is that if we truly believe that what happened on Christmas is true, that the baby, the son of Mary was God in the flesh–then all the other stuff won’t bother us. In fact, the gift-giving, the food, the fun, everything–this is the overflow of the joy in the manger.

The idea that God could come to earth and become a baby is so wonderful and so out-of-this-world, it should be celebrated. Sure, sometimes the story of the Incarnation becomes obscured by the celebration, but that doesn’t mean we should consider the celebration wrong. Rather those of us who have been transformed by the baby in the manger might radiate with extra joy this season, to know that we give gifts, we feast, we listen to music, we gather with loved ones because we have been made right with God, our eternal destiny is secure, and we have a relationship with God through Jesus.

That’s why we can freely revel in the celebration that is a part of our regular Christmas celebration. We can give and receive gifts without guilt, realizing generosity and giving is a natural outgrowth of gospel joy. We can enjoy friendships with friends, cherish memories, eat cookies, love the music, and watch our favorite Christmas movies. Because at the heart of Christmas, the spring from which the celebration flows, is the gospel story, God’s good gift of Jesus the Son, sent to redeem us of our sins and offer us hope and eternal life.

Nobody is taking Christmas away. No fat guy in a red suit can rob us of Christmas. No signs bearing “Happy Holidays” can erase our joy. We don’t have to berate corporations to express Christmas how we think they should. Because our joy doesn’t come from someone’s forced expression of a faith they don’t understand, but from the knowledge that “unto us is a born a child, a Son is given.”



Return to Christmas Joy

I had the privilege of writing a piece on Christmas Joy for New Hope Digital. There is a tendency to either be cranky about commercialism or be caught up in it at Christmastime. Here’s an excerpt:

I think both approaches miss the majesty of Christmas. Yes, the Western world is increasingly secularized and dismissive of Jesus. But that’s why we are still here. We are the ones who have been eternally transformed by the Incarnation. And we are to bless others in His name.If we want the guy at the checkout to be excited about the real story of Christmas, why not let the gospel pour from us so he visibly sees Christ in us? If the message of Christmas is getting obscured, let’s shout it joyfully from our own little platforms. Maybe, just maybe, the secular world would take notice.

Read the rest here: Return to Christmas Joy :: New Hope Digital.


What Are We Singing?

This is a quote from my message for Sunday, “What the Angels Saw.” – From Luke 2:

Christmas is an interesting time, because it is the time when suddenly the entire world is singing songs about the birth of Christ—and yet they don’t know it. You often walk into a supermarket or drugstore and you hear the words of Hark, the Herald Angels Sing piped in. Or O, Holy Night. And you see people mouthing, even singing along with the words.

And you wonder—do these people know about what they are singing? Artists of all stripe come out with Christmas albums. It’s ironic, really. The created, some aware, most not, singing songs about their Creator, about the most incredible happening in all of the earth—God become man, coming in the flesh. And most, most don’t know it.

And I wonder even if the redeemed, that’s us, who have experienced the peace that comes to men of good will. The very people Jesus came to redeem. Do we know about what we’re singing. When you came in today and sang the carols, did you know what you were singing about. Or were your thoughts a thousands miles away, on the presents you have yet to purchase or wrap, on the parties you’re planning, on the rehearsals, etc. Do you know about what you’re singing today?

We get all upset—Christians do—because the world sometimes stops singing the songs of Christmas. We get mad because a Walmart greeter doesn’t say Merry Christmas. But do we sing of Christmas? Do the redeemed have Jesus on their lips? Are we accusing the world of doing something we’re just as guilty of—ignoring Jesus on Christmas?

Author Donald Miller said this week, “I really wish more stores would take Christ out of Christmas to distance Him from over-consumerism.”

We ought to do like the shepherds—we ought to make haste to Jesus. We ought to do like the wise men—spare no expense to be near the Christ. We ought to do like the angels—and worship with highest and loudest voice and sing praise to the One who came to live among us. We ought to do like Simeon and Anna and wait with eager anticipation as Jesus comes to us.

Let’s let this Christmas be one where we sing the story of Christmas—by our actions, on our hearts, in our actions. Because, as the angels said, “This child was born today –in time and space for you, for me. Not an isolated God who sat in Heaven while His creation rebelled. A God who intervened, who came down and submitted Himself to His own creation and orchestrated the greatest demonstration of love and the highest act of glory.

And maybe if we do this—those tired Walmart greeters and those marketing signs at the Gap and the frosted Windows at Macys will say, “Merry Christmas.”


The Monster of Christmas

The last three Decembers, I’ve preaching a series entitled The Characters of Christmas. I’m wrapping it up this year and hope to turn it into a special Christmas book to be released in 2012. I’d like to share with you one of my favorite messages in the series, a message, ironically, on the original villan of Christmas, Herod. I think it gives us a good overview of the plan of God and how it unfolded in the Bethlehem. I hope you enjoy:

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Christians and the War on Christmas

Thanksgiving was last week, which means we’re two weeks into the Christmas season. Feels like we’re starting Christmas sooner and sooner aren’t we? I think next year everyone will just dress up like Santa at Halloween and start in October.

Count me as someone who loves the Christmas season. I just love that in 2010, in a world messed up by evil, sin, and violence, we still stop to mark a holiday that celebrates the incarnation of Jesus Christ into the world.

There are certain things we can expect during the Christmas season.

Every other neighbor having better decorations.

Tins of sugar cookies and popcorn.

Really cool pageants by churches.

Christmas specials.


Lots of shopping and unneeded stress.

Pastors saying 1,000 times, “The real meaning of Christmas is . . .”

Churches and Christians doing toy drives and other outreaches to help the community.

Wall-to-wall Christmas music in every store and on every radio station.

No actual work getting done the last two week of December.

Christian and conservative organizations getting all hysterical about “The War on Christmas.”

Okay, I want to camp out there for a bit. In the last few years, it seems Christian organizations, Fox News, and some politicians use this opportunity to get all fired up about the seeming attempt to marginalize Christianity from Christmas.

Now I will admit there is a movement on the leftwing of this country to eliminate Christianity from the public sphere. There have been legal attempts to take down nativity scenes, crosses, etc from public displays. I hate this. Everyone hates this, and its silly.

But we Christians can also be silly about this as well, can’t we? Is it really a war on Christmas if a tired Walmart worker says Season’s Greetings? Do we really have to stomp around and demand that Walgreen’s says, “Merry Christmas.”

Christians hold the greatest story in the world, the story of God’s love for mankind, the redemption of His own people through the miraculous entrance of God into the world as a baby. Christmas is the time for us to lovingly tell our story, how the real story of Christmas, the heart of the Gospel, has the power to radically transform.

This is a story that is not so fragile that it must be affirmed by greeters at Walmart saying Merry Christmas. Honestly, why are we so sensitive. Rather than whining about the War on Christmas, let’s get out there and share the Good News of Christmas.

Maybe, then, people who work to push Christianity out of the public sphere might embrace it.

And then, yes, you might hear people at the store saying, “Merry Christmas.”