The pendulum is swinging

The pendulum is swinging

The pendulum is swinging - Part 19 - Christmas Cheer?

I was speaking at a Church last Sunday and asked the
congregation if anyone had met any weird Christians?? No one seemed to
respond, so I explained what I meant by weird Christians -– "those who
believe something you don't agree with". 'Oh, that type of weird
Christian'....hands shot up all over the auditorium. I mentioned a few
examples of wierdo's I've come across in my short experience...over the
top faith believers...manipulative religious control freaks...anti contraception
Christians...liberal boundary-less Christians...unusual end times fanatics...'raise
them from the dead' shouters (with no cases to back up their claims)... those
who don't celebrate Christmas...
! Wait a minute, does the weird formula
work in both directions? At the end of the service a lady came and saw me. She
described herself as one of these wierdo's who believes Christmas is a pagan
festival -– but, she was so blessed by the fact that she had seen for the first
time that we can remain close brothers and sisters and still choose to believe
different things! It was like a revelation to her -– and I just wish we could
all receive such a liberating, blessed revelation...but then of course I would
have nothing to write about in this 'Pendulum series'.

A simple but incredibly powerful truth would seem to be that
we finite humans will 'always' be subjected to error -– in the same way we
are subjected to finite life spans. Is it that we don't grasp this concept of
human frailty and absolute limitation that we continue to evolve and argue dogma
in a manner which separates rather than unifies? Not for a moment am I saying we
must all believe the same things -– or to throw away essential foundational
beliefs we build our faith on! I am stressing however the beauty of an open
mind, in accordance with the knowledge that we are all fallible. Provided we
each adhere to the simple essential truth of God's wonderful plan for mankind,
all of the extra stuff must not be given such a powerful position,
capable of causing division!!

I know, I know - you've got it all sussed and understand
the mysteries of life others struggle with...

Unless our religion is revealing 'JESUS', it is a dead
format! Furthermore, unless our 'JESUS' is revealing God's grace for
mankind, we are following an imposter, a mere cultural depiction.

This time last year I wrote an article covering the Christmas
topic, and since I have been questioned several times of late as to my opinion I
thought I would include it again for your perusal.

"Christmas cheer? We don't believe that here!"

"Ho Ho Ho" said Santa as he made his way down the sooty
chimney, his bag of gifts just squeezing through the narrowest of passages. His
mission as simple as ever, tonight he would bring joy to the children of this
home, and homes all around the world.

The season of good cheer, of giving gifts, of putting aside
individuality - just for a day, getting together and enjoying the precious
company of those we really love. We normally only get these blessed moments of
togetherness at family funerals where there is one less 'precious one'
present.

"Wait a minute" you say, "back up to the Santa Claus
bit. It's pagan and Christians should not include this in their annual
activities"! Before we continue I should mention a letter we received from one
dear person who had conceived the revelation that 'Santa Claus' was a coded
variation of 'satans claws' and that satan was out and about to claw every
child in the world'. Whilst there is possibly a skirret of truth veiled
somewhere in this revelation... perhaps it lacks a scriptural foundation.

We grew up in the tradition of an annual visit from Father
Christmas. To this day I half believe I ran into him in the hallway around
midnight 25th December 1970 on my way to the fridge.

As with every subject we discuss, where do you draw
the line?

Before we proceed, I must caution: I've been disappointed
many times by well meaning people who have told me the full time score of a
rugby game I have video taped to watch later...if you do not know the true
identity of Santa, please turn the page now!

Every year Saskia, myself and our four children play act our
Christmas Eve parts. We enjoy the fun of preparing a fruit bowl for Santa (if I
remember rightly Santa ended up with severe abdominal pain after overdoing the
fruit feast last year), a bucket of water for the reindeer and whatever other
goodies we can gather. The children know that there is no such being as Santa
Claus, but the event is an exercise of family ritual and enjoyment, a festive
adventure. It is not tied to pressure from society to perform pagan activities,
we don't need the affirmation from 'other pagans'. As we hang up the
Christmas stockings, the children giggle as they recall other Christmas's and
the joy of waking to their sack of goodies left by 'Santa'.

I just know I'm losing friends even as I write but I must
point out once again, for every topic in life, there is a pendulum of thought
swinging for each of us. We must each find the balance before God, and those we
love. You will give account of your life before God and I will
give account of mine. This is not to say we shouldn't speak our mind when we
believe somebody is delving into something which is against the Lord or His
Kingdom...but speak what we believe in love.

Back to my family. We choose to enjoy elements of this 'tradition'.
We acknowledge that to some it represents a pagan celebration -– to us it
does not
. We are a family, devoted to Jesus Christ, and we celebrate the end
of the Western year with several rituals which are adapted to suit us.

Upon a brief overview of the words of my critics, I had a
look at various historical writings with regard to Christmas, Santa Claus and
pagan festivals. There is lots to tell but I will just outline the areas which I
feel make the picture clearer.

All the way through history, men have decided to worship 'the
created' rather than the Creator. Some have worshipped the sun, others the
moon, still others worship various finite elements of this earth. A festive
season around December has existed for a long time -– even prior to the birth
of Jesus (around 4BC). The giving of gifts, feasts and making merry has
generally accompanied these seasons, which often marked the turning of winter or
ushering in of a new year.

It is known that in Iraq in around 2000BC, people celebrated
as mentioned above -– pre empting the end of winter. In Scandinavia, the winter
festival of Yule honoured the gods Odin and Thor -– bonfires, music and booze
parties were normal.

Most notably -– the Roman Empire typically indulged in
revelry, parties, huge feasts and immorality galore... This celebration was 'Saturnalia'
held in mid December -– 'the birthday of the sacred sun' or Dies Natalis
Invicti Solis (Latin). Houses were elaborately dressed up, friends traded gifts,
soldiers got a statutory holiday, no executions were permitted -– generally,
this was a season of good will (blended with lasciviousness). In the 4th
Century, December 25th became the accepted day for celebrating the
birth of Jesus Christ. Elements of the earlier heathen festival of Saturnalia
have been merged together with Jesus birthday, and hence the argument that
Christians should not celebrate Christmas, it is a pagan festivity.

The Jewish faith does not have a Christmas. The closest
Jewish feast is Hanukah -– 'the dedication of the temple' held in mid
December. It lasts for eight days and the lighting of candles symbolically
commemorates the victory of the Maccabees over Syria. Not so much a party
atmosphere.

When European Christians began leaving the Catholic church
following the reformation, many of the activities of the 'festive season'
were banned. In England, Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans outlawed Christmas
celebrations as heathen activity, Town cryers (the media of the day) shouted
their warnings that 'anybody caught celebrating Christmas would be punished'.
It was illegal! Another law in England in 1659 proclaimed "Whosoever shall be
found observing any such days as Christmas either by forbearing of labour,
feasting or any other way...shall pay 5 shillings as a fine to the Country".

'Christmas' found its way back into western tradition and
was reinstated during the Victorian era. Because humans are involved, excesses
have continued, revelry is a natural accompaniment to the season for some.
Others still hold firmly to the idea that because of its pagan roots
historically -– celebrating Christmas is wrong.

Back to my view -– and our Christmas activity. We
take December 25th to be a 'convenient' date to remember the
birth of Jesus. We prepare a big feast because we love to eat a big feast
together as a family. We give gifts to one another (just about any excuse to
give is a good reason if the gift is within your means...) because we love each
other. We tell the Nativity story, we thank the Lord for His wonderful gift to
us in coming as Jesus. We laugh, play games and eat some more...It is a
wonderful day!!!

"Ok, Ok. So you're not a sun or saturn worshipper, but
you're still pagan because you persist with the fat bearded man in the red
suit?" Lets finish by discussing the origins of Mr S Claus.

Around 400 yrs after Jesus, Nicholas, bishop of the city of
Myra (a Roman ruled city in Asia Minor) lived and performed some very impressive
works of benevolence, touching many lives. When Nicholas died in 326, he left a
fine legacy, caring for the poor and needy -– performing the work Jesus
instructed us to do. Religious folk turned Nicholas into a saint (which is a lot
easier than continuing on with the task of taking care of the poor and needy).
'Sanctus Nicolaus' in Latin becomes Sinterklauss in Dutch and the rest is
history. The Dutch added the red suit and many of the traditions of todays Santa
Claus although 'the image' has been evolving ever since. In 1809 Washington
Irvines'(American author) writings introduced a 'wagon in the sky' before
the myth was developed further by Clement Clarke Moore in 1823 in his poem "Twas
the night before Christmas".

It's your call now. We have a lot of family fun at
Christmas doing what we do. We are comfortable with what we do, and feel that
part of the strength of family life can be found in ritual and tradition...focused
on the greatest gift to ever come to men. The Christmas festival for us is a
good excuse to really enjoy each other.

2 Corinthians 9:15 "Thanks be to God for His unspeakable gift"