Top cultural developments of 2010

What do you think were the most notable cultural events, trends, or developments of the fast-fading year?

By “culture,” I mean any combination of “high culture” (notable novels, works of art), “pop culture” (mass produced work such as movies and popular music) and sociological culture (develops in our society, such as the new and increasing social acceptance of homosexuality).

In defense of Christmas “materialism”

[It's still Christmas. . . .]

I keep reading articles and posts complaining about Christmas being too materialistic, criticizing all of the shopping and gift-giving.  Many Christians are indignant that non-believers have the presumption to celebrate our holiday.  Some are saying that we should just have two separate holidays, a spiritual one for Christians marking Christ’s birth and a materialistic Winter holiday for everyone else.

I reject that!  I take the highest satisfaction when non-believers glorify Christ, even against their knowledge or their will, by celebrating His birthday.  They give gifts, which are the sign of the Gospel.  They force themselves to be benevolent.

The so-called commercialization of Christmas does great good, helping the economy considerably (this was apparently a very good year this season) and bringing happiness to millions of children and grownups alike.  People may not fully realize what it means to give and receive gifts, but that gives Christians an opportunity to explain.  God’s grace is a gift. Salvation is a gift, not something you have to earn.  Christ is the gift.  Usually, the person who has the birthday gets the gift.  But on Jesus’s birthday everybody gets a gift.  Because He is the gift.

My fellow Christians, we don’t need to Christianize everything.  Everything is already Christianized!   Christ already reigns.  The secular world itself unwittingly testifies to Him.

That atheists, secularists, followers of other religions, and others not in the fold celebrate Christmas is a profoundly good thing.  It is powerful evidence for the validity of Christianity.

Let’s not separate the spiritual and the material  out of an excess of piety or hyper-spirituality.  That’s the way of Gnosticism.  The very meaning of Christmas is about the spiritual and the material coming together.

The top news stories of 2010

The week before New Year’s Day is always a time of retrospection for me, in which I look back on the soon-to-pass year and contemplate what it means, from a number of different perspectives.  I invite you to help me do that.  In the days leading up to New Year’s, we’ll discuss different facets of 2010.

First, let’s see what we can come up with in journalism’s annual wrap-up of the top news stories of 2010.  But with a twist:  What do you think were the most important news events of the year?

The Christmas story in Revelation

[It's still Christmas. . . .]

Ray Hartwig, who holds the office of the Secretary of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, draws attention to a Christmas account in the Bible that gets hardly any notice.  It’s in the Book of Revelation:

And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days.  (Revelation 12:1-6)

So what do you make of this?  The child is pretty obviously  Christ.  The woman is often interpreted as the Church, but the Church does not bring forth Christ, but the reverse.  Besides, the Church is His bride, not His mother.  Others say the woman is Israel, which is a possibility.  Others say she is the Virgin Mary, which seems most likely.  What does this account teach us about the meaning of Christmas?

UPDATE:  I had always heard that the veneration of the Virgin Mary was a displacement of pagan goddess worship, with one evidence being that in Roman Catholic iconography, the depictions of Mary as the Queen of Heaven showed her wearing a crown of twelve stars and standing on the moon.  Supposedly, this was how Diana the moon goddess was depicted.  But this text, with Roman Catholics do ascribe to Mary, shows that the imagery is Biblical.

And yet the text is also problematic to Roman Catholic Mariology. The woman is “crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth.”  But according to  Roman Catholicism, Mary was blessed with an immaculate conception, so that she did not inherit original sin.  Thus, she was spared Eve’s curse of enduring pain in bearing children.  And, indeed, this is how Roman Catholic accounts depict the birth of Christ.

I suppose the best interpretation is that the woman represents “God’s people”–both in the sense of Israel and the Church as the new Israel–which is what the Lutheran Study Bible says, but that, as Al Colver adds in Carl’s link,  both are represented in the historical Virgin Mary (who does bear the curse of the Fall, so that Christ can fully bear humanity’s Original Sin so as to atone for it).

If I don’t have the Roman Catholic position right, I’m open to correction.

A serious Christmas

We’ve been shaken by the death of our former colleague Kristine Luken. I’ve known lots of people who have died–by disease, by accidents–but I can’t think of anyone I’ve known who has been murdered. And as a missionary at the hands of terrorists of whatever variety. Also strange has been the “international incident” dimension, so that I’m reading about this in newspapers from all over the world.

Now we’ve learned that the father-in-law of my brother Jimmy (who has been making appearances on this blog) is dying of cancer. He’s in the hospital in critical condition and probably won’t make it to Christmas. I didn’t really know him, but I’m sad for my sister-in-law and the whole family. (Please pray for them in this hour of extremity and need.)

And yet, all this bad news by no means is taking away the joy of Christmas. It is just making my feelings more complex. The combination of soberness and joy is fitting, maybe making my Christmas more meaningful than usual. The tinsel sentimentality and nostalgia are stripped away, and I am reminded more powerfully why the Christ child came, to deliver us from precisely these maladies that are troubling me; namely, sin and death.

So I wish you a merry Christmas. Also, a serious Christmas, such as the one that I am having, only without the tragedies.

Why December 25 is Christmas

As I keep posting about, Christmas on December 25 is NOT due to there being a pagan holiday on that day.  Repeat:  Christmas is NOT based on the Roman festival of Sol Invictus.  Substantial scholarship has shot down that theory, but we keep hearing it–in the press, in books that try to debunk Christianity, in churches that oppose following the church year, and even in some comments on this blog.

Now the authoritative Biblical Archaeology Review weighs in, citing more evidence debunking the pagan origin of Christmas myth, showing how it got started, and–most interestingly–tracing how the December 25 date did get set aside as the date of Jesus’s birth.

To put it simply, the date is nine months after the Feast of the Annunciation, celebrating the appearance of the angel to the Virgin Mary announcing her conception by the Holy Spirit.  That date is March 25.  The reason for that date is the belief that great prophets died on the date of their conception.  We do know historically the date when Jesus died, since it is tied to the Jewish passover.   The church determined that date to be March 25, before Good Friday and Easter became floating holidays that always fall on the weekends.  The article in BAR cites how widely the attested in Jewish and rabbinic literature is the association between conception date and death date, and how this was also well known in the early church.

Please join me in correcting the myth of the pagan origins of Christmas whenever you hear it.

HT: Joe Carter


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