Archive for December, 2013

All the Meaning of Christmas / J. Pritchett

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by Johnathan Pritchett
apologist, contributing writer to SBCToday

Let’s start with a prayer:

Dear Heavenly Father,
Thank you for Christmas. Thank you for sending Jesus to Earth, born of a virgin, to live   a sinless life, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Thank you for sending the Holy Spirit. Under his power, the disciples were able to transform an Empire in a few short centuries. Because of this, paganism was eventually toppled as mainstream, and regardless of the actual date and time of year Jesus was born, your Church declared victory over paganism by celebrating Christian events on dates that may have been pagan holidays. Thankfully, what we have now as Christmas, celebrating the birth of Jesus, the giving of presents, the singing of songs, and the time with family, is so much better than the stupid pagan nonsense that it could have been. Help us to keep what’s primary about Christmas, the advent, primary, and to enjoy     all that comes with Christmas because of it. Forgive those who celebrate the Christmas, but who are ungrateful to give praise and thanks that without Christ, there would also be no Santa,  presents, carols, or anything else they like about it.

In Jesus’ name, Amen

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This time of year is very special. We celebrate the birth of the Savior of the world. For Christians, this is the primary meaning of Christmas. It is because of this, all other meaning associated with Christmas is possible. In Christian circles, we are right to remind one another of what is often referred to as “the true meaning of Christmas.” But I like to call it “the primary meaning of Christmas.”

Christmas is about celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. It is because this gift of God, all the other things everyone loves about Christmas flows.  I love all of it. I love, first and foremost, Jesus and the celebration of his birth. However, I also, secondarily, enjoy the special worship services, the special time with friends and family, the presents, Santa, elves, Christmas trees, Christmas lights, Christmas decorations, Christian Christmas carols, secular Christmas carols, and everything else about it as well. It is important to remember that the “everything else” doesn’t distract or drown out the primary meaning of Christmas, unless one allows all of that to do so. The way one does not allow it to do so is to keep Jesus primary, not just as it relates to the significance of the advent, but remembering that without Jesus’ birth, there would be none of that other stuff that even non-Christians enjoy about Christmas. The lost need that reminder as well. Without Jesus, December 25 would either be some stupid pagan silliness, or nothing but another day on the calendar. This is something our secular friends need to be reminded of when they whine and cry about the phrase “Merry Christmas” or protest a Nativity Scene on public property somewhere. Seriously…get a life.

So note, Christmas is not complete without its Scrooges. We have Scrooges both inside and outside of the Church. This is where the apologist in me wants to rail against them, hoping that the Spirit, rather than ghosts, will show up to set them straight. I hear the following all the time: “Christmas was a pagan holiday…Christmas trees are pagan…people are too materialistic…Jesus didn’t celebrate Christmas…we don’t know when Jesus was born…” and so on. Some Christians, and many non-Christians and secularists alike make these sorts of complaints.

By way of response. I offer the following. Indeed, Dec. 25 may have been a pagan holiday. So what? Jesus is Lord, and the Church demonstrated his Lordship by declaring victory over pagan holidays by replacing them with Christian holidays. Christmas trees may have been pagan, but again, the star or angel or whatever we top them with points back to the birth narratives of Jesus, which also, again, points back to the victory of Jesus over paganism. Yes, people can be too materialistic, but that all that means is that we need to remind them of the primary meaning of Christmas, and remind them that every good gift is from God. Acts 20:35 records a teaching of Jesus that it is more blessed to give than receive. It never says it is not blessed to receive. Were it so, there would be no reason to give since accepting the gift would not be a blessing. We should be more blessed to give, and blessed and grateful to receive. God loves joy, and enjoys it when His people are merry. So, while materialism is a problem, it is not a killjoy problem, but on the contrary, it is a teaching and discipleship opportunity. Jesus was selfless. However, his parents, and his followers throughout the ages have celebrated his birth, and it is good to do so. Thus, this objection that “Jesus didn’t celebrate Christmas” is simply stupid and needs to be labeled as such. As for not knowing the exact date or season of his birth, this is irrelevant as well. What we do know, and what even many atheist scholars will affirm, is that Jesus was born. Celebrating it, and focusing our hearts and minds at a particular time of year for reflection of the incarnation is most welcome. December 25th is as good a day as any, and that it replaced some silly pagan thing as an act of declaring victory over it makes it all the better time to do it.

This and every Christmas, keep what is primary, primary, and enjoy all those other wonderful things that we love about Christmas in addition to the birth of Jesus. By keeping the primary primary, it comes with the recognition that without Jesus, none of the secondary meanings of Christmas would exist. Thus, all the truth, goodness, and beauty of this time of year can be embraced wholeheartedly with the joy, blessing, and thanksgiving that God wants us to have as we celebrate the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ. Certainly, God is blessed by us when we do so.

Merry Christmas!

Our Ultimate Home for Christmas / Dr. Eric Hankins

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by Dr. Eric Hankins, pastor
FBC, Oxford, Miss.

For years, I have loved re-reading Dylan Thomas’ “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” during this time of the year. It opens with a line so evocative of my own memories of Christmas:

“One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.”

As adults, we spend a great deal of energy trying solve the puzzle of our longing for the past, trying to recapture wholly those experiences that return to us only as a fleeting glimpse or a whisper just between our waking and sleeping. For me, these moments of “homesickness” are never more acute than at Christmas. I believe the reason for this is that these memories are uniquely imbued with the reality of my ultimate home, heaven. Christmas in a Christian home weaves the best of life (faith, hope, and love) around the deep reality of the gospel: God in Christ for us.

Thomas closes his poem with these words:

“Looking through my bedroom window, out into the moonlight and the unending smoke-colored snow, I could see the lights in the windows of all the other houses on our hill and hear the music rising from them up the long, steady falling night. I turned the gas down, I got into bed. I said some words to the close and holy darkness, and then I slept.”

It is the desire to connect to “the close and holy darkness” to which our lives are drawn, around which our memories orbit, that guides us to the solution of the puzzle of our past. The only way home is not backward, but forward, is not in the futile attempts to recreate what has disappeared, but in the faithful decision to believe and to share with others that the best is yet to come, that there is a Father, a Brother, a family, a feast, and a home prepared for us.

 

 

A Favorite Hymn @ Christmas,” by J. Ben Simpson

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by J. Ben Simpson, pastor
West Main Baptist Church
Alexandria, TN  37012

One of my favorite songs to think on at Christmas is not even a Christmas song per se.  I’m talking about “Come, Thou Almighty King,” which says in the first verse:

Come, thou almighty King; / Help us thy name to sing;
Help us to praise,
Father all glorious, / O’er all victorious; / Come and reign over us,
Ancient of Days!

(Listen the London Philharmonic Choir version here)

A king. That’s exactly what the world received when Jesus, God the Son, took on flesh and dwelt among us.  Although He was born of a virgin, Mary, in a cattle stall far—at least in quality if not in proximity—from palaces and golden crowns, that blesséd Babe was and is the King of all creation, deserving all of our laud and life.  Praise be to King Jesus!

The Apostle Paul through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit captured the Christ’s regality the following way in 1 Timothy 6:15-16:

15 …[Jesus Christ] who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen.

There are many powerful people in this world with vast fortunes, massive armies, and a supercharged ego, but they pale in comparison to our King.  There are indeed many kings presently and in history, but our Jesus is the King of kings.  The lords of the earth are undoubtedly powerful, but our Jesus is the Lord of lords.  To Him they all will bow in either glorious surrender or crushing defeat (Phi 2:9-11).

In our day of political upheaval and rising anxiety, we would be foolish to put our hope in any government or its leaders.  They are all corrupt in some level because they’re all made up of thoroughly corrupt human beings.  Furthermore, nations regularly rise and fall.  For some, there are centuries between their rise and fall like with Rome, but for others, there are just a few decades between like we saw with the Soviet Union last century.  In glorious contrast, our King has been promised by God to reign forever, “[Jesus] will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end,” (Luke 1:32-33).

Dear friends, we dare not put our hope into something that is lesser and destined to fail.  There is but one Sovereign.  His name is King Jesus, and He’s a blesséd Sovereign indeed.  He is King of kings and Lord of Lords!  It is in Him that we hope and rejoice this Christmas season, and it is to Him that we say, “Come again quickly, Thou Almighty King!”

What Will You Give to Jesus? / Adrian Rogers

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The Gifts of the Wise Men and Our Gifts to Jesus
by Dr. Adrian Rogers

It’s that time of year again…time for gift-buying, gift-wrapping, and gift-exchanging. What are the gifts we could bring Jesus this Christmas? One way we can discover that is to look at Matthew 2:1-12, which tells of the gifts the wise men brought Him on the night when God became flesh and dwelt among us.

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Applying the ‘Duck Test’ to A&E

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by Ron Hale

If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck,
and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.

That’s the “duck test.” Reasonable and logical. How does it apply to Phil Robertson and the firestorm that his interview created for Duck Dynasty? We’ll get to that.

I have never watched an entire episode of Duck Dynasty and that’s a fact Mack!  However, I have watched snippets of the show here and there, read articles, seen T-shirts and caps, and have recognized the show’s popularity. Suddenly, like a bolt of lightning from the sky, an interview with GQ magazine is released and Phil Robertson is fired from A&E network faster than green grass through a goose.

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