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

A Christmas Sermon From Luther (sort of)

Hear the estimable Rod Rosenbladt preach a Christmas sermon that consists of Luther’s writings on the subject, as constructed by Luther scholar Roland Bainton: Dad Rod Thursdays – A Christmas Sermon From Luther – White Horse Inn Blog.

HT:  Justin Taylor

Christmas tree as a “dangerous, rash act”

North Korea has backed off of its military threats, after shelling South Korean territory, but the South Koreans are still angry and defiant.  In addition to mobilizing their military, the South Koreans have resumed a practice that had been halted for seven years out of deference to the North’s sensibilities.  The South Koreans have allowed the lighting of a giant Christmas tree within sight of  communist territory.  The atheist regime is outraged.

As troops stood guard and a choir sang carols Tuesday, South Koreans lit a massive steel Christmas tree that overlooks the world’s most heavily armed border and is within sight of atheist North Korea.

The lighting of the tree after a seven-year hiatus marked a pointed return to a tradition condemned in Pyongyang as propaganda. The provocative ceremony – which needs government permission – was also a sign that President Lee Myung-bak’s administration is serious about countering the North’s aggression with measures of its own in the wake of an artillery attack that killed four South Koreans last month. . . .

Although the North has made some conciliatory gestures in recent days – indicating to a visiting U.S. governor that it might allow international inspections of its nuclear programs – Seoul appears unmoved.

Pyongyang has used a combination of aggression and reconciliation before to extract concessions from the international community, and the resurrection of the tree lighting at Aegibong is a signal that the South is ready to play hardball until it sees real change from the North. . . .

On Aegibong Peak, about a mile from the Demilitarized Zone that divides the Korean peninsula, marines toting rifles circled the Christmas tree as more than 100,000 twinkling lights blinked on. The brightly lit tree – topped with a cross – stood in stark relief to North Korea, where electricity is limited.

Choir members in white robes trimmed in blue and wearing red scarves and Santa Claus hats gathered beneath the steel structure draped with multicolored lights, illuminated stars and snowflakes. An audience of about 200 listened as they sang “Joy to the World” and other Christmas carols.

“I hope that Christ’s love and peace will spread to the North Korean people,” said Lee Young-hoon, a pastor of the Seoul church that organized the lighting ceremony. About 30 percent of South Koreans are Christian.

The 100-foot steel tree sits on a peak high enough for North Koreans in border towns to see it and well within reach of their country’s artillery. Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin said an attack from North Korea was certainly possible but unlikely.

North Korea, officially atheist and with only a handful of sanctioned churches in Pyongyang with services for foreigners, warned that lighting the tree would constitute a “dangerous, rash act” with the potential to trigger a war.

As a precaution, dozens of armed troops took up position around the site during the lighting ceremony. Ambulances and fire trucks were parked nearby. Instructions placed on chairs at the ceremony advised participants to take cover in case of an attack.

“The danger of the enemy’s threat still exists,” the leaflet read, suggesting that participants hide behind concrete walls, crouch between chairs and move quickly to shelters in case of an attack.

The event took place uninterrupted.

via South Korean Christmas tree sign of new propaganda war | Tulsa World.

Negative rights vs. Positive rights

E. Thomas McClanahan explains an important distinction in the context of the health care reform law and the economic turmoil in Europe:

During the health care debate, it was common to hear people piously assert that health care should be a right, perhaps unaware of the full implications. The ongoing strikes and riots in Europe, however, represent the long-term risks of the progressive vision, in which government-delivered social benefits are portrayed as personal rights.

No wonder they’re rioting in Europe. They believe their personal rights are being violated by budget cuts brought on by the sovereign debt crisis.

Government benefits expressed in this way are known to political scientists as positive rights, which differ from the negative rights with which we’re more familiar. Negative rights generally describe things the government cannot do — take your stuff without due process, stifle your right to express your point of view, lock you up without cause, etc.

Positive rights describe things the government says it will do for you. A good example was the Second Bill of Rights pushed by President Roosevelt. Everyone, he said, should have the right “to a useful and remunerative job … to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing … to adequate medical care … to a good education” and more. . . .

The problem is that elevating benefits to the level of rights confers an unlimited grant of power to the government. In the legislative process, laudable sentiments too often emerge as programs with unconstrained costs — or, in the case of the personal mandate in Obamacare, policies that rely on coercion. . . .
From government’s point of view, positive rights are marching orders. Heaven and earth must be moved to deliver the promises. The state grows rapidly and ultimately it outruns the capacity of the tax base to pay for it all, endangering the financial security of everyone.

Thirty years ago, Portugal’s government cost its taxpayers about 20 percent of GDP. Then a new constitution was written, chock full of positive rights — the right to housing, education, health, social security. The size of government doubled. Portugal’s borrowing costs, like that of Greece and Ireland, have ballooned.

It’s no coincidence that those who believe health care is a “right” were, like Pelosi, initially flummoxed by the notion that a serious constitutional challenge was even possible. Who could worry about legal niceties when the noble goal of universal health care is within reach?

Once upon a time, Barack Obama seemed to understand the kind of opposition a personal mandate would generate. That’s why when he ran for president, he was against it — and criticized Hillary Clinton for proposing such a thing.

via Obamacare and the risk of ‘positive rights’ – KansasCity.com.

Quarter of Army recruits can’t pass entrance exam

We apparently no longer have universal education in this country.  Even high school graduates cannot be assumed to have even the most basic educational skills.  That’s what the army is finding.  At least the army is maintaining its educational standards:

Nearly one-fourth of the students who try to join the U.S. Army fail its entrance exam, painting a grim picture of an education system that produces graduates who can’t answer basic math, science and reading questions, according to a new study released Tuesday.

The report by The Education Trust bolsters a growing worry among military and education leaders that the pool of young people qualified for military service will grow too small.

“Too many of our high school students are not graduating ready to begin college or a career – and many are not eligible to serve in our armed forces,” U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan told The Associated Press. “I am deeply troubled by the national security burden created by America’s underperforming education system.”

The effect of the low eligibility rate might not be noticeable now – the Department of Defense says it is meeting its recruitment goals – but that could change as the economy improves, said retired Navy Rear Admiral Jamie Barnett.

“If you can’t get the people that you need, there’s a potential for a decline in your readiness,” said Barnett, who is part of the group Mission: Readiness, a coalition of retired military leaders working to bring awareness to the high ineligibility rates.

The report by The Education Trust found that 23 percent of recent high school graduates don’t get the minimum score needed on the enlistment test to join any branch of the military. Questions are often basic, such as: “If 2 plus x equals 4, what is the value of x?”

The military exam results are also worrisome because the test is given to a limited pool of people: Pentagon data shows that 75 percent of those aged 17 to 24 don’t even qualify to take the test because they are physically unfit, have a criminal record or didn’t graduate high school.

Educators expressed dismay that so many high school graduates are unable to pass a test of basic skills.

“It’s surprising and shocking that we are still having students who are walking across the stage who really don’t deserve to be and haven’t earned that right,” said Tim Callahan with the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, a group that represents more than 80,000 educators.

via Nearly 1 in 4 fails Army entrance exam | Tulsa World.


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