1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
Welcome to the season of Advent, A.D. 2018 !
This coming Sunday morning Worship service will feature the Advent wreath with its five candles, counting up toward Christmas Day. That evening, we’ll have our annual Chrismon service, in which we highlight the meanings of the handmade decorations on the tree in our Sanctuary. We are planning our church’s Christmas program for December 23rd and our traditional, candle-lit Service of Holy Communion on Christmas Eve.
You have heard a million times that we should remember “the reason for the season,” God’s radical decision to be born into poverty, to a single mother, in a backwards country, under the oppression of the cruel, pagan Roman Empire.
Do you agree that that is the reason to celebrate?
If so, what are you doing to act on your belief?
My family has celebrated Christmas in pretty much the usual way that our North American culture does: that is, with evergreen trees, colorful decorations, gift-giving, special meals and sweets, music unique to the season, pageants at church and in schools, and holiday greetings by cards or visits. I believe it’s been like that for most of the folks in our Bethel congregation.
You ought to at least be aware, that it was not always this way among Christians.
The first Christians did not show much interest in when Jesus’ birthday was, but they were extremely interested in getting ready for his return. In one of the earliest writings in the New Testament, Paul urges the Christians at Thessalonika to behave themselves, so Jesus would not be disappointed with them: may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. 1 Thessalonians 3:12-13
“Christmas” began to emerge as a holiday to mark the birth of Jesus Christ in the period of the A.D. 300s or 400s— after Christianity became a legally accepted religion in the Roman Empire.
Christians chose December 25, not because they thought it was Jesus’ actual date of birth, but in order to ‘hijack’ what was then a popular pagan holiday, the “Birthday of Sol Invictus” (the Unconquered Sun), which falls a few days after the Winter Solstice each year.
Before that, Christian holidays were basically the Jewish holidays, especially when Good Friday and Easter— memorials of Christ’s death and resurrection— coincide with Passover.
Fast-forward a thousand-plus years to some of our ancestors who made the Protestant Reformation. The Puritans (who later morphed into the Congregationalists) regarded as very wicked and sinful the festival of eating, drinking, caroling and carousing that northern European Christmas had become. In the 1600s they brought to the New World a solemn Christmas holy day, which they observed with fasting and prayer.
That may strike you as too stark an approach to this season we all have learned to enjoy.
But today, even most atheists enjoy the trappings of the Christmas season— which is not hard for them to do, considering how little our culture’s traditions have to do with the self-sacrificing God who came to share humanity’s misery and poverty.
What if we Christians were to limit ourselves to only those observances of Christmas that truly honor Jesus Christ ? What if we hijacked the current, pagan “Christmas” event ?
Here are some ideas for ways we can buck the materialistic, godless trend, and also find joy !
† Worship God ! – Take part in events where our God is worshiped, thanked, and served, instead of events where it’s all about glitter and getting stuff.
† “Buy Nothing Day”- Choose one of the prime “Christmas shopping days” this year: instead of descending like a locust in a swarm on our local retail temples, visit a shut-in or another lonely neighbor. There’s no present like the time.
† Buy from good stewards of human labor and of the earth- Check out the New Creation Shoppes, where proceeds go to combat human trafficking, and farmers’ markets, where you can look the grower in the eye and know that the price is going to sustain God’s good earth.
† Give to charities in honor of your loved ones.
“Recall Your mercies, O LORD,
and Your kindnesses— they are forever.”