Monday, December 8, 2014

The Spirit of Christmas

When it comes to holy day celebrations I love the Old Testament feasts and my family and I have taken time to celebrate them and to teach our children, but Christmas is a time when our whole society stops to celebrate. So we do, too. I love Christmas. Over the years numerous people have asked me about the validity of celebrating Christmas, to which I respond that God can redeem anything, and without Jesus’ coming as a child we would not have had his life example, his sacrificial death, and his resurrection. So I think Christmas has merit. As for the materialism and excess, well, that is up to you. You don't change the holiday by railing about materialism or Roman sun god celebrations. You stop the spirit of materialism in your own house and you put the focus on Jesus.

Since the time our children were small we taught them that Christmas wasn’t about getting stuff, we didn’t make it about a season of coveting, so presents have always been secondary in our house. We sleep in and then we get up and eat a big breakfast together. We spend time reading the scriptures about Jesus’ birth and the passages about the coming of messiah and we sing. Then someone takes a special stocking off the tree that contains my grandmother’s rosary and tells the story of our family heritage of faith. They remind us of the pastors, nuns, church planters, and faithful Christians that make up that heritage of faith. Then we give Jesus a gift (since it is his “birthday”). We tell each other about how we intend to grow in our faith over the next year. When that is all done, sometime around noon we finally get to our presents. We don’t spend a lot of money either. We save up all year, so that we can pay cash for Christmas and we don’t charge anything because it is about Jesus not materialism. We watch each other open every gift. We celebrate with every person and the receiver of the gift hugs the giver after each gift is given. The gifts are mostly practical and it takes a long time for all of that loving and gratefulness to be expressed. That’s why we need that big breakfast! Then we clean-up the tree mess and head to the kitchen to prepare a feast. It's not spectacular but it has put Christ into our Christmas. 

My kids still tell me that Christmas is better at our house than their friends house. They didn’t miss 5 a.m. present grabs; they got the best gift of all, growing up with a Christ-centered Christmas. You don’t need to do what the Hester family does. You make your own traditions. But   let’s be the joy-givers in the holidays, not the joy-killers. Let’s not rail about what isn’t good enough, or what is too materialistic, or too secular. You be the Christmas spirit you want to see in the world around you.  

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Feast of Giving Thanks

As we head into this week of thanksgiving, we often think about being thankful for the things we have. The emphasis is on the material, and then we are surprised that people go out the next day and act so materialistic. Ha! Well, I propose something different. The original intent of thanksgiving. It was not at all about being grateful for stuff. It was a day to say thanks to God for what he had done in their lives. The original thanksgiving was not celebrated in the Americas as a result of surviving the winter. It was a feast in the Old Testament, a time to reflect on the goodness of God, and have fellowship with God. This biblical feast included a time of dining with God in the tabernacle (or temple) grounds. The animal was presented to God as an offering of thanksgiving, then they would have a feast with God is his honor. They literally sat down to eat at God’s table, as God’s guest, and the entire meal was eaten in the presence of God, on his terms, and everything about the meal was holy, and all the attention was on God. Notice I did not say it was formal, or rigid, or stuffy, like a bad religious experience. I said it was holy, meaning set apart from other meals, and God was understood to be present, that they were at his table, enjoying fellowship with him.  It could be done at any time of year, and some did it more than once a year. It included lots of wine and joyful celebration. The people stayed and ate until everything was gone. Sometimes it took several days. Sounds like fun doesn’t it? 

As you head into this thanksgiving, its good to be thankful for our blessings, all of our stuff, but the focus really is not what we have, but who has us. Who do we belong too? Who has given us life? Who invites us into his care? Who is worthy of all our attention? Its called thanksgiving not because of the stuff or the stuffing. Its thanksgiving because it is all about God and the great things he has done. 

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Remember & Observe

As we rush toward the holidays, I am reminded that the essence of holiday is holy days. Time and seasons that we set apart from the rest of the calendar to observe and remember. These two elements are key to making these days holy. I often hear people lament the loss of Christmas to commercialism, but I don’t share that concern because I know that my faith and my choices are not controlled by outside forces. My personal experience of these holy days are set and controlled by me. Years ago, Dawn and I made the conscience decision to remember and to observe. A  decision that met lots of resistance from our extended family.  So what do I mean by remember and observe?

By remember I mean to remember what God had done for us through Christ, to remember our heritage of faith handed down to us over the generations of faithful Christ followers in our family, and to remember the price paid by Christians in every generation so that the message of Christ could be transmitted to us. There is a lot to remember. We do this through specific traditions, and stories that we share with one another, and over the years we have handed-off the opportunity to our children to tell those stories back to us. No amount of commercialism has stopped us from doing that. 

By observance I mean that we have put into practice times of reading the Scripture, prayer, and song into our observance of these holy days. We have made sure that no matter how many people come, and no matter what agenda anyone else brings, at our home we observe these practices, and we do not go to anyone else’s home until we have observed our time with God.   

This past week my children thanked me again for our decision not to let what everyone else did determine our holiday celebrations. Turns out they didn't miss the commercialism either. Maybe being like everyone else isn't what it is cracked up to be?