Keep the “mass” in Christmas

Last time Christmas fell on Sunday it came out that a number of churches had decided to cancel services, which provoked some controversy.  I haven’t heard of churches doing that this year, whether because they have all come to their senses or because it has become no big deal.  (Does anyone know of churches that have cancelled Sunday services?)

The reason given was that if people don’t have to go to church they can spend more time with their families, and Christmas, after all, is a family holiday.  Do realize that this way of thinking secularizes Christmas just as much as crass commercialism.   Christmas is about Christ.  Specifically, it is about worshiping Christ and receiving Him sacramentally–hence the “mass” in “Christ+mass.”

So I urge you to go to church on Christmas.  Traditionally, this was the day that even casual Christians–a.k.a. “Christmas and Easter Christians”–would go to church, some of whom could be reached.  So more serious Christians certainly should go, if at all possible, whether Christmas falls on a Sunday or not.  Christmas Eve services count, since holy days technically begin after sunset of the day before, but I also urge you to receive Holy Communion if you can, the sacrament being traditionally offered on that day even in traditions that don’t celebrate it often.

The whole point, however you conceive this happening, is to not only celebrate the gift of Christ, but to receive the gift of Christ.   You don’t just celebrate the fact that people gave you presents.  You open them.

“Upon Christ’s Nativity”

I continue my custom of offering you a Christmas poem, poetry being “a trap for meditation.”  Here is one that I just discovered by the Welsh Anglican cleric Rowland Watkyns (1662):

Upon Christ’s Nativity, or Christmas

From three dark places Christ came forth this day;

From first His Father’s bosom, where He lay,

Concealed till now; then from the typic law,

Where we His manhood but by figures saw;

And lastly from His mother’s womb He came

To us, a perfect God and perfect Man.

Now in a manger lies the eternal Word:

The Word He is, yet can no speech afford;

He is the Bread of Life, yet hungry lies;

The Living Fountain, yet for drink He cries;

He cannot help or clothe Himself at need

Who did the lilies clothe and ravens feed;

He is the Light of Lights, yet now doth shroud

His glory with our nature as a cloud.

He came to us a Little One, that we

Like little children might in malice be;

Little He is, and wrapped in clouts, lest He

Might strike us dead if clothed with majesty.

Christ had four beds and those not soft nor brave:

The Virgin’s womb, the manger, cross, and grave.

The angels sing this day, and so will I

That have more reason to be glad than they.

via Rowland Watkyns: “Upon Christ’s Nativity”.

Whose job is it to keep Christ in Christmas–and in sermons?

Issues, Etc. host Todd Wilkens has posted a provocative point on his Facebook page on the perennial “keep Christ in Christmas” controversies.  Since I’m one of the ten or eleven Americans not on Facebook, I’m indebted to my friend Michael O’Connor for showing it to me and for asking Todd for permission to post it here:

I don’t expect the culture to keep Christ in Christmas; that’s the church’s responsibility.

Besides, the “Christ” of culture bears no resemblance to the Christ we find in scripture. So it’s probably best that the culture leave Christ out of the holiday.

What does disturb me is that many of the Christians worried about keeping Christ in Christmas have little problem with Christ being left out of the preaching they hear the rest of the year.

Did St. Nicholas slap Arius?

Happy belated St. Nicholas Day yesterday.  A piece I wrote for WORLD a few years ago has been going around again, in which I take up the account of jolly old St. Nicholas slapping Arius at the Council of Nicaea for denying Christ’s divinity.

Many historians dispute that this ever happened, and they may be right.  Still, legends have a meaning of their own, even if they leave history behind.   (Then again, it might have happened.  The alleged incident is better attested than the claim that the Bishop of Myra is currently living at the North Pole running a gift-manufacturing and delivery service.)

The point is, I have written a more thorough article on St. Nicholas for the latest Lutheran Witness, though it won’t show up online for a few months.  I discuss that article on Issues, Etc.

 

Courthouse Christmas displays gone mad

Christmas time is here, so it must be time for controversies over Christmas displays at the county courthouse.  Every year we have one here in Loudon County, Virginia.  Having a Nativity Scene, including one that had been donated by a local family and that had become a tradition, would seem to violate the separation of church and state.  Even Christmas trees have a Christian association.  So surely if the courthouse displays Christian symbols, it would be appropriate to display a Jewish menorah, since Hannukah takes place in the same season.  And we had better display an Islamic Crescent, even though no Muslim holidays are really at issue.  But now the imperative of being “interfaith” has given way to the imperative of including no-faith and anti-faith displays.

What the county officials did, to solve the annual controversy, was to agree to put up symbols of the first 10 people or groups to apply for a space.  So here is what we ended up with:

- The Welsh family nativity scene

- A sign calling Christian figures “myths” and promoting the Loudoun Atheists submitted by a Leesburg resident

- A banner promoting the separation of church and state by American Atheists and NOVA Atheists, submitted by a Leesburg resident

- A banner calling for “reason in the holiday season” submitted by a Lansdowne resident

- A holiday display possibly including the Tree of Knowledge from a Sterling resident

- A letter from Jesus submitted by a Middleburg resident

- A Santa Claus on a cross to depict the materialistic nature of the holiday, submitted by a Middleburg resident

- Two signs from the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, one from a Leesburg resident and the other from a Reston resident

The tenth application, which may or may not be allowed to present a display, is Christmas-themed and submitted by Potomac Falls Anglican Church.

via WMAL 105.9 FM/AM 630: Stimulating Talk – Breaking News.

So in this Christmas display, there will be at most three Christian symbols (depending on what the “letter from Jesus” says, and depending on whether the Anglicans get their display accepted).  Maybe just one, the traditional Nativity scene.   The others will be signs from atheists, either directly attacking Christianity (saying that Jesus is a myth), or mocking God (“the flying spaghetti monster,” which atheists pretend to argue for, as just as valid as the arguments for the existence of God), or just being blasphemous (Santa Claus crucified on a Cross).

If the county is indeed advocating Christianity by allowing displays of its symbols to mark a Christian holiday, then by the same logic  the county is now advocating atheism.

Wouldn’t it be better not to have anything?  Is there some other solution, such as allowing different religious groups to have displays, but not groups that are, by definition, not religious?  Or just leave it to churches to celebrate the birth of Christ, cutting the government out of it, even though that, of course, is what the atheists are trying to achieve?

The marvel of Christ’s service to us

In his All Saints Day sermon that is worth reading in itself, our pastor, Rev. Douthwaite, read a great quotation from Luther:

“There is no greater bondage than that of sin; and there is no greater service than that displayed by the Son of God, who becomes the servant of all, no matter how poor, wretched, or despised [we] may be, and bears [our] sins. It would be spectacular and amazing, prompting all the world to open ears and eyes, mouth and nose in uncomprehending wonderment, if some king’s son were to appear in a beggar’s home to nurse him in his illness, wash off his filth, and do everything else the beggar would have to do. Would this not be profound humility? Any spectator or any beneficiary of this honor would feel impelled to admit that he had seen or experienced something unusual and extraordinary, something magnificent. But what is a king or an emperor compared with the Son of God? Furthermore, what is a beggar’s filth or stench compared with the filth of sin which is ours by nature, stinking a hundred thousand times worse and looking infinitely more repulsive to God than any foul matter found in a hospital? And yet the love of the Son of God for us is of such magnitude that the greater the filth and stench of our sins, the more He befriends us, the more He cleanses us, relieving us of all our misery and of the burden of all our sins and placing them upon His own back. All the holiness of the [world] stinks in comparison with this service of Christ, the fact that the beloved Lamb, the great Man, yes, the Son of the Exalted Majesty, descends from heaven to serve me” (Luther’s Works, Vol. 22, p. 166).

via St. Athanasius Lutheran Church: All Saints Sermon.


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