Merry Christmas!

Today we will have no political arguments, theological debates, cultural lamentations, snide remarks, or forensic reconstructions. Just reveling in the fact that Christ the Savior is born.

So Christmas greetings to all of you readers. I appreciate that we have so many different opinions. That makes our discussions far more interesting than they would be otherwise. And yet I sense a kinship that we have anyway, a common interest in some of the same things and in most cases a common faith that ties us together with each other and with all Christians through all centuries.

May the blessings of our Lord Christ be with you and your families on this holy day and throughout the New Year. Peace on earth, good will towards men, and good tidings of great joy!

Christmas Eve is Christmas

In the ancient world, the end of the day was when the sun went down. The night time counted as the beginning of the next day. This is the Biblical reckoning: “The evening and the morning were the first day.” To this day, Jews begin celebrating the Sabbath as soon as the sun goes down on Friday night.

This means that Christmas begins with Christmas Eve. So if your custom is to open presents on Christmas Eve, as long as you do it after the sun goes down, IT’S ALL RIGHT!

The hometown of Jesus

Archaeologists have excavated a house in Nazareth from the time of Jesus. The story about it gives details about the tiny village in which Jesus grew up:

Days before Christmas, archeologists on Monday unveiled what they said were the remains of the first dwelling in Nazareth that can be dated back to the time of Jesus — a find that could shed new light on what the hamlet was like during the period the New Testament says Jesus lived there as a boy.
 
The dwelling and older discoveries of nearby tombs in burial caves suggest that Nazareth was an out-of-the-way hamlet of around 50 houses on a patch of about four acres (1.6 hectares). It was evidently populated by Jews of modest means who kept camouflaged grottos to hide from Roman invaders, said archaeologist Yardena Alexandre, excavations director at the Israel Antiquities Authority.
 
Based on clay and chalk shards found at the site, the dwelling appeared to house a "simple Jewish family," Alexandre added, as workers at the site carefully chipped away at mud with small pickaxes to reveal stone walls.
 
Nazareth holds a cherished place in Christianity. It is believed to be the town where Christian tradition says Jesus grew up and where an angel told Mary she would bear the child of God.
 
"This may well have been a place that Jesus and his contemporaries were familiar with," Alexandre said. A young Jesus may have played around the house with his cousins and friends, she said. "It's a logical suggestion."

Think of that! Nazareth was a tiny village of some 50 houses. Talk about a small town. But in this obscure, miniscule, and seemingly insignificant place, a young woman became the Mother of God, and God incarnate played in the streets.

Santa accused of promoting obesity

Santa is a bad role model for children and needs to lose weight, according to a wide-spread sentiment that has even reached the professional Santa community. A sample:

As the obesity epidemic has swollen, some public health experts have cast an increasingly critical eye on Santa's sprawl. Two years ago, acting Surgeon General Steven K. Galson said Santa's corpulence was setting a bad example. His remarks prompted howls of protest, with more than a few people accusing Galson of being politically correct in trying to make Santa physiologically correct.

An opposing expert opinion comes from Andrea Vazzana, a psychologist who specializes in weight management at New York University's Child Study Center. She says a svelte Santa "would be great for Santa, but I don't think children would benefit. The children who are believers in Santa, in that age range, they don't have a whole lot of say in what they eat."

Eating cookies that a billion or so children left for him would indeed put a strain on the waistline. Especially since he eats them all in one night.

UPDATE: In answer to Dan Kempin, a forensic reconstruction of the physically fit, non-smoking, fur-free Santa:

Jack LaLanne

Angels and Vocation

Anthony Carter quotes a book quoting Luther on what Mary was doing when the angel appeared to her (Luke 1:26-33):

Quite possibly Mary was doing the housework when the angel Gabriel came to her.  Angels prefer to come to people as they are fulfilling their calling and discharging their office.  The angel appeared to the shepherds as they were watching their flocks, to Gideon as he was threshing the grain, to Samson’s mother as she sat in the field.  Possibly, however, the Virgin Mary, who was very religious, was in a corner praying for the redemption of Israel.  During prayer, also, the angels are wont to appear (from Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus, ed., Nancy Guthrie).

Yes, during prayer and other spiritual exercises, but contemplate that second sentence for awhile. It’s when we are fulfilling our vocations–as spouse, parent, citizen, worker–that angels “prefer” to come to us and that God works with and through us most powerfully.

Garrison Keillor claims Christmas for Christians

Lake Woebegone sage Garrison Keillor has stirred things up with a column entitled Nonbelievers, please leave Christmas alone. An excerpt:

You can blame Ralph Waldo Emerson for the brazen foolishness of the elite. He preached here at the First Church of Cambridge, a Unitarian outfit (where I discovered that "Silent Night" has been cleverly rewritten to make it more about silence and night and not so much about God), and Emerson tossed off little bon mots that have been leading people astray ever since. "To be great is to be misunderstood," for example. This tiny gem of self-pity has given license to a million arrogant and unlovable people to imagine that their unpopularity somehow was proof of their greatness. . . .

Unitarians listen to the Inner Voice and so they have no creed that they all stand up and recite in unison, and that's their perfect right, but it is wrong, wrong, wrong to rewrite "Silent Night." If you don't believe Jesus was God, OK, go write your own damn "Silent Night" and leave ours alone. This is spiritual piracy and cultural elitism, and we Christians have stood for it long enough. And all those lousy holiday songs by Jewish guys that trash up the malls every year, Rudolph and the chestnuts and the rest of that dreck. Did one of our guys write "Grab your loafers, come along if you wanna, and we'll blow that shofar for Rosh Hashanah"? No, we didn't.

Christmas is a Christian holiday – if you're not in the club, then buzz off. Celebrate Yule instead or dance around in druid robes for the solstice. Go light a big log, go wassailing and falalaing until you fall down, eat figgy pudding until you puke, but don't mess with the Messiah.

I don’t remember hearing Keillor being so crotchety. I’m not sure I agree that only Christians should celebrate Christmas. I think it is a wonderful tribute to the Lord Christ that even people who do not know Him nevertheless unwittingly celebrate His birth, giving gifts and invoking Christmas blessings on their neighbors. It is a case of every knee bowing and every tongue confessing that Jesus is Lord.

UPDATE: Read Lars Walker’s comment on Keillor’s rant. Among other trenchant observations, he raises the important underlying question: Do we think that Christianity with its holidays like Christmas should impact the culture as a whole, or not? Political liberals like Keillor, as well as separatist Christians, say “no.” Christmas like Christianity should be a matter of personal reflection and private practice. But it should be kept out of the secular marketplace. What we see here is that some Christian theologies affirm culture, while others do not. Also, note the agreement on this issue between liberalism and fundamentalism.

ANOTHER UPDATE: And yet, I appreciate Keillor’s critique of Unitarianism, the cultural elite, and the influence of Emerson. I especially appreciate his affirmation of creedal Christianity and the Messiah.

HT: Cheryl at A Ropund Unvarnish’d Tale