Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

Merry Christmas!

December 25, 2014

How shall we celebrate this time of year? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Normally, I’d on Thursday put up a post about who’s going to be on the show this Saturday. Since today is Christmas, I’ll be different this week. As I write this, I am with my in-laws in Atlanta. We woke up this morning with the exchanging of gifts and then just got done having a lunch together. I’ve spent most of the day reading, especially since now I have a whole lot of new books to work through.

I did write a post earlier this month on if Christians should celebrate Christmas. Yet even late last night as I was surfing on Facebook I see yet another claim about how we should not celebrate man-made holidays. Now if someone does not want to celebrate Christmas, that’s fine, but when it’s made a matter of legalistic righteousness then I have a problem. You are not more righteous because you do not celebrate Christmas. You are not more righteous because you do celebrate Christmas.

What matters in all of these cases is your intent. You do not accidentally worship a pagan deity. Worship is an act of intention. It is not the case that you go to church and accidentally worship. When you worship something, you are intentionally giving of yourself to a higher being of some sort. If you are observing Christmas, unless you are intending to worship Odin or some being like that, then you are safe on that front.

So what if you are doing it to celebrate and honor the Son of God? Then you’re fine. Now obviously we could raise some questions about how we honor. One could not, for instance, have a big orgy on Christmas and say that that is done to honor God since that explicitly goes against what He said to do, but with freedom of days we are given great leeway in passages like Romans 14 and Colossians 2.

Did we exchange gifts here? We sure did and we had no problem with it. And you know what? The gifts are nice, but the older you get, at least in my experience, the more and more those don’t really matter as much. It’s not because people told you the gifts are less valuable. It just happens over time as you mature and you start to think more and more about what really matters in life.

Maybe that’s why the idea of Christmas can be so problematic for some. Perhaps it’s just that people get caught up in the secondary matters because we’ve never really emphasized thinking about the primary matters. Maybe in our churches we’ve made worship focus on feelings and actions instead of the intent of the heart. Feelings and actions are important, but they flow out of the heart. Maybe the reason some people can focus on gifts so much and what they get is because we’ve taught our society to do that in other areas.

Could it be in our society we’re already so self-focused and when we go to Christmas, it can bring out what’s already there? If we have self-focus already, Christmas will only show what is already there. We will be focused on the gifts. If we are not, then we can appreciate the gifts and not lose sight of what really matters. If we focus on the externals without dealing with the internals, then we’re not going to deal with the root problem.

And how will we get that kind of maturity? How about by improving what we’re teaching in our churches? If we want to be Christ-centered on Christmas, perhaps it would be easier if we were Christ-centered all year round instead of being so me-centered the way we often are in churches. Perhaps if we made worship more about the glory of God instead of being about our own personal experiences and how we feel, then we would be improving our condition overall.

Focus on Christmas as a problem is missing the real problem. Our problems with Christmas are symptoms of a greater problem, our lack of focus all year long. How about this Christmas we resolve that for next year?

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Should Christians Celebrate Christmas?

December 10, 2014

Is this the season to be jolly or is it the season to avoid? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I had originally set a post on this to be published today, but something seems to have gone wrong. If a similar post shows up again, I will deal with it and go with this one. Also, for those wondering where I’ve been, my wife and I both have had the stomach bug and so it had been a hard week. Today, we are resuming our regular schedule and it’s starting with a topic that came up with some friends.

You see, around the time of Christmas, one thing I can always predict on the internet is that there is a strong anti-Christmas crowd. Now these people don’t want to celebrate Christmas on their own. If that’s your choice, well I disagree and we can discuss it, but that’s your choice. An anti-Christmas person however is worse and no, my friends are not like this. These are the people who are not only convinced the day is pagan, but that if you are celebrating it, you are endorsing a pagan holiday. You are less Christian if you celebrate Christmas.

Look. If you don’t want to celebrate Christmas, that’s fine. We can talk about that. But if you want to go after others who do for not being as “Christian” as you are, I think that is in fact decidedly anti-Christian and not a biblical stance at all.

Most of us aren’t like that. Instead, many of us have simple questions. So I think of my friends who had the concerns many of us often have. Isn’t Christmas based on a pagan holiday such as Saturnalia? Doesn’t the book of Jeremiah condemn Christmas trees? Aren’t we caught up in a gross materialism this kind of year when it comes to the buying of and exchanging of gifts? What should we do about Santa Claus?

Let’s start with the first. Is it based on Saturnalia? Well, no. Consider this from the Commentary on Daniel from Hippolytus of Rome who lived from the late second to early third century.

For the first advent of our Lord in the flesh, when he was born in Bethlehem, eight days before the kalends of January [December 25th], the 4th day of the week [Wednesday], while Augustus was in his forty-second year, [2 or 3BC] but from Adam five thousand and five hundred years.  He suffered in the thirty third year, 8 days before the kalends of April [March 25th], the Day of Preparation, the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar [29 or 30 AD], while Rufus and Roubellion and Gaius Caesar, for the 4th time, and Gaius Cestius Saturninus were Consuls.

The text at this can be spurious, but my source is actually the excellent work of Roger Pearse and he defends it and shows it to be reliable. This would be an early Christian testimony to Jesus being born on December 25th. More on this can be found here.

Those wanting to say Christians did this based on Saturnalia will need to provide documentation on when the ancients celebrated Saturnalia and that the Christians either stole this or set up something in competition. The main sources I know touting this are those who already hold the position and just cite one another instead of pointing to an external source. The reality is Christians were extremely resistant to paganism. There was only one exception. Artwork. They would use the artwork, but that’s because that was reclaiming it for Christ as God is the original artist through creation.

It’s also worth pointing out that many people will claim Mithras, Dionysus, Horus, and other pagan deities were born on December 25th. As always, be suspicious of these claims. When they are given, do not ask for just a web site, but ask for primary sources. If you are given a web site, look and see if the site itself provides any primary sources for the claim. So far, the evidence for these claims has been negative.

Those wanting more on this are invited to read the excellent book of my ministry partner here.

Okay. But don’t we have pagan practices today? What about Christmas trees? I mean, look at the text in Jeremiah!

This is what the Lord says:

“Do not learn the ways of the nations
    or be terrified by signs in the heavens,
    though the nations are terrified by them.
For the practices of the peoples are worthless;
    they cut a tree out of the forest,
    and a craftsman shapes it with his chisel.
They adorn it with silver and gold;
    they fasten it with hammer and nails
    so it will not totter.

On the face of it, this can seem convincing. However, one problem with reading a text is that we often read modern notions and usages into the text. What we have to ask is “What was Jeremiah specifically talking about?

In the passage, he is talking about idolatry. Why would you cut down a tree? Because many people made idols from trees. Wood was easy, cheap, and renewable. Working with metal cost more and required special skill. Now of course adorning with silver and gold would cost something if you did that, but it was still far easier. They would also fasten it with hammer and nails because they didn’t have the same precision tools we have today necessarily. (Although they were quite good with those pyramids and the temple and other ancient works)

But Jeremiah was NOT talking about Christmas trees. If you are concerned that this is what is being talked about, well here are some criteria to follow.

If you bring us a Christmas tree into your house, you may not bow down to it to worship it. (Bending down to put gifts under a tree is not an act of worship and more than bending down to turn on an electric blanket by your bed or plug in your IPhone is an act of worship.) If you do this, you may not burn a sacrifice to it. You are to treat it as a tree and not hold any rituals of pagan worship around it. Avoid this and you should be fine.

But when Christmas trees were started, didn’t that come from pagans?

No. The pagans had long since been dead by then. Why Christmas trees? Picture yourself living in say the 16th or 17th century in Europe. It’s the time to celebrate the birth of Christ. You want to decorate your house some. How about a tree? Okay. What will you bring in. You have to use an evergreen! Every other tree is dead at the time. So to add a touch of beauty to your house, you bring in a tree. Does that sound odd? If it does, why do so many of us bring in plants to our own homes throughout the year for a touch of beauty? Why do so many of our wives like it when we bring home flowers to them?

Okay. What about the materialism?

Okay. Gifts can distract children at Christmas. I get this. However, let’s also remember children learn on a graded scale. If I want to raise my children to be Christians, I’m not going to start by reading them Aquinas’s Summa Theologica when they’re five years old. They have to work their way there. When we start teaching children right from wrong, we don’t give them a moral dissertation. We instead give them rewards, such as cookies when they do good, and punish them when they do wrong, such as going to bed early without TV. As they get older, we expect that with maturity, they will grow into a state where such rewards and punishments are not needed and even if they are, the rewards and punishments disagree. Sorry, but your 16 year-old will not be as happy at the prospect of getting a cookie as will your 6 year-old.

I have no problem then with you letting your children see this as a happy time of year by getting them gifts. In fact, there is a danger that if this is not done, they will come to see this as an unhappy time of year. They could see religion as something that is meant to keep them from other things and when they get old enough, they will be more than happy to break away from that religion. Do they have an incorrect view of religion? They sure do, but it is hard to get past the first impressions.

I was one who grew up looking forward to the gifts, but you know what happened? Now I still like the gifts. When you put a gift in my hands on Christmas day, I enjoy opening it and seeing what I’ve got, but that just doesn’t matter as much. In fact, aside from books, it is harder and harder to think of things that i want for Christmas. How did that come about? Because as I matured, I came to appreciate my Christian worldview even more on my own. No one had to tell me the gifts weren’t the focus. I just learned it.

Okay. So what about Santa Claus?

Now this one I understand can be a bit more difficult. We want to be honest with our children, and we want them to still have some magic about Christmas. My personal recommendation is that if you do the Santa Claus, then be sure to tell them also about the original Saint Nicholas. This was someone who was even said to have been at the Council of Nicea on the side of orthodoxy and according to legend, punched the arch-heretic Arius in the face.

puncharius ariusduck Santaclauspunch

In fact, you can have some fun by looking at Christmas traditions all around the world. Not every place has Santa Claus for instance. Some have a woman who gives gifts. Some have an animal. It can differ and looking into each of these can give insights into how different cultures celebrate Christmas. One culture even for awhile had a creature called Krampus, a devilish looking beast who was meant to be a sort of anti-Santa. He certainly was not worshiped and/or respected.

This can also bring us to another point. Christmas is celebrated all the world around. That makes Christmas an excellent time for the spread of the Gospel. It’s easier to talk about Jesus. You don’t just talk about God in a generic sense. You talk about Jesus specifically. This would be a great time to educate yourself some on the reality of the Christmas faith.

So what do you do in the end? Well if you choose to not celebrate. That’s your call. Don’t think yourself better than those who do and don’t consider them as if they’re giving into pagan celebrations. If these people are fully justified in their own minds, let them be. Again, by all means have discussions on the nature of Christmas and why you celebrate it. Even if you disagree, you could have a wonderful chance to learn why someone believes and practices the way they do.

If you do celebrate, don’t look down on those who don’t. Let them be fully convinced in their own mind. This is like the case of meat offered to idols in 1 Cor. 8-10 and in Romans 14.

But just like any other day, when December 25th comes, whether you have a tree or not, whether you give gifts or not, and whether you have visits from Santa Claus or not, do whatever you do to the Lord and for His glory.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

The Christian Who Cried Pagan

October 14, 2014

Are some Christians overplaying the danger in a field? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

In the story of The Boy Who Cried Wolf there is a little boy tending the flocks and he gets bored so he cries out that there’s a wolf coming. Twice the people of the town come out to help him deal with the wolf, and twice they find out that he was making it up. The third time he cries, he does so because there really is a wolf, and no one heeds the call, and the boy has to take responsibility for a destroyed flock.

A lot of Christians are like that boy, especially as we get closer to Halloween, although to be fair, most are certainly not intentionally or even unintentionally pulling a prank. What they are often doing is getting it so people will either not listen at all or will listen too much.

Let’s start with the danger of listening too much. How is that possible? What happens is often a pagan paranoia is developed where it is seen that most everything is pagan and we must avoid any mixture of Christianity with paganism. Now of course, I’m not for combining Christianity with pagan beliefs, but let’s make sure that’s what is really being done.

When it is said too often, a Christian unprepared will see paganism in everything around him and especially think that the Christians stole ideas from the pagans. What about Christmas? It was pagan! What about Easter? It was pagan! All this is believed usually on someone else’s say so. Halloween can easily fall into that category. What’s a possible end result?

Ever heard of Mithras?

If you go this route, then what is going to happen when Christians meet internet atheists who will be more than happy to tell them that Jesus is based on pagan myths of the time like the story of Mithras? They’ve believed you on Christians copying from the pagans in every other area so why not believe you on this one? The constant cry of pagan has led them to believe that indeed, everything is pagan.

Now what about the other end? I don’t deny there are some real dangers out there with people really trying to contact other spirits, like the usage of the Ouija Board, but the danger in this one is it does become a boy crying wolf and after awhile, people just don’t really listen. There are many things in my life that I assure you many well-meaning Christians have told me are pagan/demonic/etc. It has reached the point where it gets so bizarre I don’t even really listen any more.

That’s not as much to worry about if you think the person has discernment, but if they don’t, then when you make claims they are sure are absolutely ridiculous, they will be less prone to hear you on other claims. “Yeah. I know that person said that Transcendental Meditation is dangerous, but they also told me that watching that Disney movie was dangerous as well. They’re just scared of everything.”

The reality is that we are to be careful, but we are not to live in fear. Jesus is Lord of all and is claiming the world for Himself. That includes the days of the year. (By the way, those days of the week are named after pagans but I don’t see these Christians making a loud cry to change the names of the days of the calendar.) The main question I want to ask you is about your intent. Who do you want to serve?

For instance, let’s suppose you told me and convinced me that wedding rings were really pagan in origin. Let’s suppose you told me they were used to commemorate a pagan deity in a covenant.

Okay. That’s nice.

I’m still wearing mine.

Why? Because I know why I wear it. I wear it to honor my wife and to proclaim to the world that we are married. I didn’t make a covenant before a pagan god. I made it before the God of Scripture and fellow believers. I say the same for Halloween. If today on Halloween what we do is dress up in costumes and get candy, I think any pagan deities would be insulted. Here a day meant to worship them has turned into getting candy in costumes?

Sounds like if that were the case (And I’m not saying Halloween is a pagan holiday. I doubt that very much in fact.) then we’ve made a spectacle.

If you want to say something is pagan, make sure you have some real solid evidences for that. It can’t just be speculation. We’re to be people of truth, that includes not just representing ourselves, but representing others. To claim something is pagan when it is not is in fact to bear false witness and can only lead to more trouble.

In Christ,

Nick Peters

Christmas Eve Thoughts

December 24, 2013

What am I thinking on the eve of Christmas? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Christmas sure has changed over the years for me. As a kid, it was all about the presents. Was I going to get that new video game I wanted (Often two of them) and then spend the rest of the day hibernating in my room? Quite likely. I had a list made of various items that I wanted and eagerly awaited them. My family is Christian, but I don’t think I really thought too much of the religious aspect.

Today, it’s quite different. Now I won’t deny, it’s nice to get gifts, but for me, the greater joy is giving the gifts and seeing people open them, especially with my wife. She and I went to the mall together and would take pictures of items that we wanted, but I don’t really remember most of them.

My folks have a really big gift for me this year at least by looking at the box. Allie asks me if I know what’s in it. Of course, I don’t. She asks me if I wonder. Well I am curious of course, but I don’t spend much time thinking about it. I really have no idea what I’m getting tomorrow, and I’m fine with that. It’s nice, but that’s not my focus any more.

In fact, as I type this, my wife has the TV on a channel just playing Christmas music and I quite enjoy hearing them, most especially the ones about Christ. I listen more and more now to see if I can hear good theology in a song. Honestly, when a song like “Mary, Did You Know?” is played at my church, I just have to sit down. I can envision everything and it’s a powerful thought.

I also think back to great Christmases over the years.

I think it was the Christmas when I turned 17, but I remember I came downstairs as usual to get my gifts and after I had opened several, my Dad asked my Mom where the other gift was. She said his friend Kenny had brought it over and left it in the garage. Well he called to confirm and then went downstairs to the garage saying he’d bring it in. Turns out, he called from there saying he needed some help and asked me to come down. Odd. Today I weigh about 120. I probably weighed 100 then. What could I really do to help?

So I went to the garage.

That’s when I found out my folks had gone all out that year and my first car was sitting in the garage. For those interested, it was a Beretta.

Yes. I went to see all my friends that Christmas to show off my gift.

It would be hard to top a Christmas like that, but it is doable. This one I know the year easily. It was 2009. Allie and I had been dating for nearly four months, but I’d done a lot of work for this one. It was my turn to give the gift and I knew it was going to be one of the best gifts ever.

Allie was to spend Christmas with me and my family in Knoxville. I lived in Charlotte at the time and she in Atlanta. I picked her up at the airport and before we left, took her to the statue of Queen Charlotte right outside the terminal. She has always been my Princess after all and I wanted her to see something special.

And yeah, I had a hidden agenda.

While out there, I asked her if she’d ever thought about being a queen. She replied by saying “Only if you’re the king.”

“Well I guess you’ve made this easy for me.”

Then the silence from her as she opens her mouth in shock seeing me get down on one knee and open a little box with a little ring in it and ask “Allie Licona, will you marry me?”

And yes, I still smile thinking about it.

And I find it amusing that my cell phone went off at just that time.

Of course, I didn’t answer, but when we were done, I checked to see who it was thinking “Mom. You always call at the worst times. It figures you would call right now.”

Well, that was half-right.

It was Mom. It was just the wrong Mom. It was hers to let me know that Allie’s plane had arrived early. (Naturally, her parents knew all about this. I had asked their blessing beforehand)We’ve said that if we ever have kids, the story of what their grandmother did will be immortalized forever.

I guess I’ve just added to it right now by putting it up on my blog. (And in all seriousness as well, be praying for my mother-in-law. She has back surgery today)

Now Allie and I live in Knoxville and since we went to see her family last Christmas, this is the first Christmas where we’ll be here in our home and since we always went out of town in Charlotte for Christmas, this will be our first Christmas with our cat Shiro as well.

Christmas has certainly changed then from being a little boy with my own family to being a husband now with my own family, but there is something about Christmas that has never changed.

That would be Jesus of course.

Yet I can say my recognition of this holiday has improved over time. I now see it as a day of revolution. I see Christmas as God’s opening shot heard around the world. I see it as a call to arms. I see it as God setting in motion his plan to retake this world and deal with the problem of evil.

In the hustle and bustle of everything going on, it’s easy to lose sight of that reason for Christmas. I pray this year that I do not. Now that I have my own family, I have to be the one after all to help remember the focus. Being the one in ministry in my own family as well, I will often be looked to for the theological meaning and I have to hope to provide accurately.

So for me, Christmas has gone from being excited about getting gifts, to getting to share with other people gifts and to think about the greatest gift of all, the coming of Christ.

Merry Christmas everyone!

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 12/21/2013

December 19, 2013

What’s coming up this Saturday on the Deeper Waters Podcast? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

This will be the last show before Christmas comes, a time that I hope we’re all looking forward to. For my part, I look forward more to the time of getting to give the gifts more than getting. I have several gifts that are being given to me and my wife says “Do you wonder about what you got?” “No.” It seems shocking, but I can get curious at times, but really, there isn’t much I want for Christmas so most anything I get is a blessing. Maybe it’s an age milestone.

But yet, this is a joyous time of year still and my wife and I enjoy decorating the house (And yes, I did insist on hanging up mistletoe. Maybe I should keep that up perpetually…) and driving down the road looking for Christmas music on the radio. (And local radio stations, why is it a week before Christmas I have a hard time finding Christmas music?)

A lot of us also have Christmas traditions, but where did they come from? We tell our children about Santa Claus normally, but where did the idea of Santa Claus even come from? We have Christmas trees, but where did the tradition of Christmas trees start? Do some of these instead have roots in paganism? For this kind of question, you need someone with the scholarly authority to speak on the issue.

That’s why Anthony McRoy is my guest. Dr. McRoy is a visiting lecturer at the Wales University dealing with topics on Islam, but he has also dealt with questions about the nature of Christmas and other holidays. For those who don’t know, he was a guest on a special episode of Unbelievable? devoted to answering questions about Christmas. The link to that can be found here.

That’s why I plan to put to him the same kinds of questions that I am regularly asked about Christmas. There are several people out there who worry that the celebration of Christmas is in fact a celebration that Christians should not participate in and that the whole of it came from pagan traditions or at least a sizable part thereof. Are they right?

Some of you don’t have that concern and I think you are right in not having it, but still, like me, you like to know things and you want to know the history behind the traditions. Where did the big man in the red suit come from? Does this have any historical root in it at all? Why is it that we celebrate this on December 25th? Is there any evil in having a Christmas tree in one’s house?

I hope you’ll be listening in on the show as we discuss these questions and call in, especially for parents who might be wondering about questions involving Santa Claus, and I do plan on asking how parents should approach this subject. The show time is 3-5 PM EST. The call in number is 714-242-5180. The link to listen to it live and when it is archived, which is shortly after the show ends, can be found here.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Christmas is Pagan and Other Myths

December 9, 2013

Are we honoring paganism when we celebrate Christmas? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Recently, my ministry partner, J.P. Holding of Tektonics, released a Kindle Ebook called “Christmas is Pagan and Other Myths.” One of the benefits of being the ministry partner is getting to get copies of a book like this so I can personally review them.

Holding does say up front he’s not much of a holiday person. I, on the other hand, happen to love the Christmas season, but I’m also a guy heavily into traditions. Still, my desires have changed over the years. Normally as children we look forward to all we’re getting. Now, I look forward to all that I’m giving. Frankly, I have no real idea of what I’m getting this year. My wife and I went to the mall and looked at several items and took pictures and of course, I have an Amazon wish list, but other than that, no idea. I’m fine with that.

What I’m not fine with is that there are several who wish to hold over the heads of others that Christmas is something pagan. Now I have a great resource that they can all use. That’s the book by Holding on this topic.

A benefit of this book for several of you is that it’s a short read. You might think that this is right before Christmas and you don’t have time to read something like this. You do. I started it one night and had it easily finished the next day and that was even with just reading a little bit here and there.

Holding easily dispenses with much of the hype and hysteria on this issue and one that needs to be addressed considering how many horrible sources I see being cited by the opponents of Christmas. (Alexander Hislop anyone?)

This includes dealing with passages like Jeremiah 10 supposedly being about Christmas trees, Santa being pagan, and when Jesus was born. (Would shepherds really not be in the fields if Jesus was born on December 25th? The answer might surprise you.) He also deals with supposed NT contradictions on the nativity. Now this last section is not exhaustive, but it does deal with important material.

There are a number of reasons why I think this is important for the church today.

First, if the church throws around ideas that are foolish based on a cursory examination even, we show ourselves to be making claims that indicate we have not done the historical homework that we’re supposed to. I’m not talking about something that’s just somewhat controversial as there are no doubt disagreements in history. I’m talking about something that has no historical basis whatsoever.

This includes our use of sources. If we consistently use sources that are not reliable, we show that we have no criteria whatsoever for choosing a source except to say that the source is one that agrees with us. (Personally, I enjoy going through books by non-Christian scholars about the historical Jesus and highlighting points of agreement. Nothing like enemy attestation!)

Second, when we do this, we leave ourselves wide open for the pagan copycat hypothesis. “So you think Christmas is stolen from pagans? It gets worse! The whole system is stolen from pagans? Haven’t you ever heard of Mithras?!” (Holding rightly points to his own work “Shattering the Christ Myth” here where these views get demolished.

Third, we keep having a fear of paganism over and over. Excuse me, but isn’t the church supposed to be spreading the Kingdom of God? Why are we afraid of the enemy? I have been told, as an example, that wedding rings are pagan. If I found out this was true, you know what I’d do? Absolutely nothing. Why? Because I don’t wear a ring to honor a pagan deity. I wear it to honor my wife and show my covenant with her to the world. The God who set about to redeem the world and redeem fallen sinners can just as much redeem pagan customs and such that we still use today. (Anyone stopped saying Wednesday because the days of the week come from paganism?)

Finally, enough Christians struggle with guilt trips from self-righteous types. Why take one of the most joyous times of the year and use it as an excuse to bring about another guilt trip? If someone does not want to celebrate Christmas, fine, but they need to give a good reason why I shouldn’t as well, and so far they haven’t.

I highly recommend this book then in preparation for the Christmas season in dealing with the “Christmas is pagan!” crowd.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Should Newtown Celebrate Christmas?

December 18, 2012

Is there a place for “ho ho ho” this year? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

I have stated before that a tragedy such as what happened in Newtown, Connecticut, around the time of the holidays adds an extra layer to it. The holiday becomes associated sadly with the grief of what happened. I know people who have lost loved ones around Christmas. Indeed, my own grandmother died in November a couple of years ago. It was expected, but still a tragedy.

I have been told that some in Newtown are thinking of taking down their Christmas decorations, if they have not already. I can certainly understand why it is that they want to do so. At the outset, I wish to state clearly that there is a place for mourning. It is not non-Christian to mourn. If you lose someone who you love, you should be sad and hurt. When my own grandmother died, I had been expecting it and thought I would be able to handle it, until I went into the funeral home when I got back to TN.

It was at that point that I broke down. I don’t know how I would have handled it without Allie being there. It was so sad seeing so many people come in and offer their condolences. Of course, there was a joy in it thinking about how many people my grandmother touched with her life, but there was much sorrow. In fact, I was one of three ministers who was speaking at her funeral, which was my first one (And to this day my only one), and I was the last one meaning I had to be an M.C. of sorts so people could tell all their memories. It was one of the first times I thought I’d have to back down from a speaking engagement. Somehow, I did it. I’m thankful now that I did it.

It was a sad event, but when we started sharing what my grandmother’s life meant, our joy really returned. It was worth it. I think most people left the funeral actually in a good mood, which I think is what my grandmother would have wanted. She was a fun-loving and humorous person who would have loved to have seen people laughing.

Of course, the circumstances of Newtown are much more tragic. The life of these children was cut short simply because of some pain in the heart of someone else. This someone else, of course, is not worth mentioning. If anything, we need to be mentioning the names of those who died and the names of the heroes, some who died as well, who fought to protect the children. These are the people we need to remember.

In light of this tragedy, it’s easy to see why some would not want to celebrate Christmas this year. It’s easy to see that presents that were under the tree that were meant to go to happy boys and girls will not go to those boys and girls. There will be an empty spot at the table for Christmas dinner. Every year it will be a reminder. What is to be done?

To begin with, such pain is never recovered from entirely. In fact, it shouldn’t be. Today, my wife and I live in my grandmother’s old house. I’m typing this blog in it right now. We have our Christmas tree exactly where she had hers. Every now and then I can walk through here with the realization that I am living in my grandmother’s old house and there is sorrow with that. Recently, Allie found an old ornament of my grandmother’s on the attic and hung it on the tree. When I saw, she saw me getting sad and asked if she should have done that. I told her I was glad she was. It was a healthy sorrow that I needed to experience, for there was also joy remembering her life.

If we ever lose the pain, it is as if we are saying that we are completely over the loss of the person. That should not be. Scripturally, we must remember that death is an enemy. It is an evil. It is an intruder in this world and we dare not treat it as if it was something we should just get along with entirely. We should look forward to the day spoken of in 1 Cor. 15 where death is spoken of as an enemy to be defeated.

The only time the pain will be ended, is when we are reunited with our loved ones in eternity or understand better through God what has happened. I do not believe that the powers of Hell have veto power to override the joy of Heaven. (My view of the after-death in fact would mean one does see their loved ones still regardless, but their loved ones who are not Christian are not in a mutual loving relationship with YHWH. It’s complicated and for another blog.)

So what of the pain today?

My wife grew up experiencing bullying. Today, we know that this is a major problem. Bullies need to be stopped. Period. Today, she still believes things that the bullies said about her and can have a hard time enjoying many aspects of her life because of those memories. I always tell her the same thing.

When she fails to enjoy her life because of the past, the bullies win.

I would apply the same here. Don’t let the evil of one creep ruin the good for several. Yes. It will be hard, but still say we are determined to have what joy we can in the face of evil. We will not let evil hold us down. We will stand up and fight it and we will celebrate in the midst of our enemies. There will be plenty of time for mourning, but the promise of Scripture often is to turn our mourning to joy.

This does not necessarily mean an emotional event, but an awareness that this is what is going on. God will work it for good if you love the Lord. That is in no way saying that what has happened is good. It is not. It is evil. That’s it. We must look in the face of evil and call it evil.

At the same time, let’s not treat it as the dominant force. If we are Christians, let us say that the joy of God sending His Son into the world is far greater than the evil of a mad lunatic not worth mentioning. Let us celebrate that for the one who came into the world came into the world to overcome death and save us all. Let us celebrate that because He came into the world and died and rose again, we know that the story will end differently. We know that God is at work. We know His kingdom is spreading. We know that those who do evil will be judged. We are to be people of joy.

My encouragement then? Celebrate Christmas. The joy you have is greater than any sorrow that you can experience in the world. Our prayers are with you this year. May you find joy in the midst of sorrow.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

My Concern With Christmas Movies

December 13, 2012

What is the reason for the season? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Here at the Peters household, Allie and I have been watching a lot of Christmas movies this month, mainly on the Hallmark channel. Now on a level, I do enjoy them. They are touching and morally, much better than a lot of the other stuff on TV, but as we were talking last night, we were discussing a problem that we see with them.

In many of these movies, the movie is not really about Christmas. It is about getting a man and a woman together. I have no objection to bringing a couple together. Keep in mind I proposed to my Princess on Christmas Eve which made it a special holiday indeed, but when it comes to what I’m seeing, the main point of the movie is not Christmas, but it is rather the romance. Christmas is secondary. Santa becomes a matchmaker and Jesus is not mentioned at all.

In all of this, someone could wonder why we celebrate Christmas at all. In the films, it’s often a great time for family and friends to get together and we exchange gifts and we have the spirit of the season where we celebrate love and goodness. None of these are wrong in themselves of course, but did we just randomly pick a date on the calendar and say “We’ll call it Christmas and we’ll spend it doing good things!”?

My mind instead thinks back to an annual Christmas classic that I certainly love to watch which is the Charlie Brown Christmas special. Most of us remember the famous part where right in the middle Linus goes out on stage and recites from the second gospel of Luke and tells Charlie Brown that that’s what Christmas is all about.

It’s not about finding the perfect tree. It’s not about getting the perfect letter to Santa to get all the items. (And if you can’t, send cash. How about tens and twenties?) It’s not about getting romantic with a pianist and telling him how he should play Jingle Bells. It’s about Christ.

If this is a lack in the movie industry, the problem does not lie with the world. The problem lies with us. We’ve let it happen. Christians either don’t make good movies normally, or else they make them so cheesy that even most Christians won’t want to go see them. The main exception I can think of are movies done by a church such as Fireproof and Courageous. (Allie and I own a copy of Fireproof and it was the first movie we watched together as husband and wife)

If we want to see better, we need to get our viewpoint out there and we need to get it out there in a good way. We need Christians in the movie industry and the television industry. We need Christians in the music industry and not just playing on Christian stations where we minister to each other. As a gamer, I’d like to see some Christians in the video game industry.

We will be enjoying Christmas movies still of course as it is good time together, but I do hope that perhaps next year when Christmas rolls around, there will be movies out from a Christian perspective that will highlight the real reason for Christmas and not so overdone that no non-Christian will want to watch.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Where was Jesus Born?

December 11, 2012

Was there no room in the inn? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

There are a number of plays and such we’ve seen that have the idea that Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem and were forced to go to a stable because there was no room in the inn. The problem is that this story is likely wrong.

Mary and Joseph were both descended from David and because of that, they would be in a position of high honor. Because of this, there would be no desire to turn them down. Also, in that society, there would have been several relatives of Mary and Joseph living in the area. Today, we have to make arrangements for people to come by. In those days, that was not necessary. Hospitality was greatly important and you were expected to make room for guests.

Still, the census was going on and so there would have been cramped conditions in a small town like Bethlehem. Wouldn’t that mean Jesus’s parents went to the inn?

Well, no.

If Jesus’s parents had been turned away, it would have brought shame to the household. In order to avoid this, they will put them up. Yet does not the text say there was no room in the inn? No. It says there was no room in the Katalyma. What is that? It is the word that is used for the guest room. It is used in the book of Luke to describe the guest room where Jesus and his disciples were to celebrate the Passover.

Luke had a word for inn. He used it in the parable of the Good Samaritan. That’s pandocheion. Had Luke wanted to refer to an inn here, that would have been the word to use. Now to be fair, Katalyma can refer to an inn, but it doesn’t the other two times it’s used in the NT and it doesn’t when one of those times is in Luke. Keep in mind this does not mean that the Bible is in error. It means that the story we’ve heard has not been read right.

So where did the parents of Jesus stay? The idea was that there was not a guest room for Mary and Joseph, so they would have stayed in a manger room where there would be animals. Animals in the house? Yes. Animals would stay in the house as most people would not build a separate barn. There would be a guest room where the animals would have found shelter and it is in one of these that Jesus would have been born?

Something else along these lines, Matthew leaves out a lot of time. It is quite likely that some time had passed when the magi came to visit Jesus. Why would Joseph stay so long? He was a carpenter and in that time, you would leave your home for awhile and when you traveled and did work, you would do work in several areas before you packed up and the people would support you. Joseph had the chance to make a lot of income here while visiting his city.

Jesus was born in lowly circumstances, but let’s be as accurate as we can with the story. For an excellent look at this, I recommend Ken Bailey’s book “Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes.”

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Joseph The Skeptic

December 9, 2012

What kind of man was Joseph? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Last time we wrote about the virgin birth of Mary. Tonight, we’re going to be looking at Joseph. We said that the virgin birth would have only brought shame to Christianity. Now for the days of Mary and Joseph, a betrothal like they had was legally binding and it would require a divorce to get out of it. So Joseph hears from his wife-to-be that she is pregnant and that it is by the Holy Spirit. As we know from the text, his response was to say “Praise the Lord!” and take her in immediately excited that he gets to be the earthly father of the Messiah and the Son of God!

That doesn’t sound right does it?

No. Joseph’s response was that he was going to divorce Mary in private. He did not want to publicly humiliate her, which does show his nature very well. Joseph is an honorable man and he does not want to lower the honor of Mary any more than necessary. We can often think that God specifically chose Mary to be the mother of Jesus, but let us always keep in mind that Joseph would have been just as much chosen to be the earthly father.

Now why did Joseph have this desire to divorce her privately? It is because despite what people think, Joseph was a rational man and he knew even in this age where everyone was obviously ignorant of science, exactly what it took to make a baby and he knew that he had not done that with Mary. If he had not done that with Mary, for some strange reason, he did not punt immediately to a miracle. Instead, he just figured there had been some other man. We do not know if he believed it was a rape of some kind or if he thought that Mary had cheated on him. Either way, he wanted to be honorable to her.

What did it take to convince him otherwise? It took something else that would be just as miraculous. It wasn’t until an angel showed up and spoke to him that he decided to take Mary to be his wife and as the text says, he had no relations with her until the time came that Mary gave birth. (Personally, I find it difficult to think that Mary was a perpetual virgin. I just simply suspect Joseph was a guy just like most any other guy, that and the fact that Jesus had brothers and sisters.)

Still, when he heard from God, Joseph too responded appropriately, and let’s remember that he too made a sacrifice. He was sentencing himself to the life of a pariah. If it was not assumed that Mary had someone been unfaithful to Joseph, it would just as much be assumed that Mary and Joseph just didn’t have the self-control to wait and came up with this bizarre story of a virgin birth instead of admitting the simple fact. This would have been something that would have been talked about at social gatherings. People would point at Mary and Joseph and have people know that that was the couple that had that illegitimate child.

And this would be the kind of life that Jesus would grow up with as well.

When we read the Christmas story, we can often read about the birth and move on past that. We miss so much that would have gone on around the birth of Jesus. While we do not have as much as we’d like, let’s consider the kind of reputation Jesus would have had even before he started his ministry. That shame was part of the sacrificial life of Christ as well and we should remember it when we face our own shame, for as the Hebrews writer tells us, he despised the shame of the cross for the joy that came afterwards. When we consider our shame, let’s remember we too have joy awaiting us and be faithful.

In Christ,
Nick Peters