Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Three comments on Christmas

Many of the trappings surrounding Christmas have little or no relation to the Bible and Christianity -- Santa Claus, reindeers and Christmas trees, for example. There are three things that do -- the birth of Jesus Christ & songs about the event, and the spirit of giving.

1. The Birth of Jesus. Christmas purports to be based upon and a celebration of the birth of Christ. Most Bible students would agree that the events recorded in the New Testament likely did not occur during the winter months, and the 25th of December surely has little possibly of being the right date. Whatever connection there may not be, the birth of Jesus Christ is an historical fact. The body of Jesus Christ was mediated to us through the flesh of a human female, a virgin Jewish girl named Mary.

2. Songs about Jesus' birth. Songs about the birth of Jesus Christ abound in the season leading up to Christmas Day (and die out quickly thereafter). This leads to the singing of good songs. But the tradition of singing songs about the birth of Jesus only at Christmas has robbed many from singing good songs about the birth of Jesus Christ the rest of the year. Good songs shouldn't be relegated to once a year, and if they're bad songs perhaps we shouldn't sing them at all.

3. The spirit of giving. Certainly the spirit of giving is founded in and bears much relation to Christians and Christianity. Here perhaps the Christmas tradition really turns the biblical spirit of giving on its head. Children are told if they've been "good little boys and girls" that they will receive a gift. Not only is this usually lieing -- even though they've been bad they still receive gifts -- it rejects the spirit of unconditional love and unconditional giving modeled by Jesus Christ. Not because we had been good, BUT while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.

"There came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, 'Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.'"

We wise men from in the east are*
Bearing gifts; we traverse afar --
Field and fountain, moor and mountain --
Following yonder star.

Born a King on Bethlehem’s plain
Gold I bring to crown Him again,
King forever, ceasing never,
Over us all to reign.

Frankincense to offer have I;
Incense owns a Deity nigh;
Prayer and praising, voices raising,
Worshipping God on high.

Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume
Breathes a life of gathering gloom;
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying,
Sealed in the stone cold tomb.

Glorious now behold Him arise;
King and God and sacrifice;
Alleluia, Alleluia,
Sounds through the earth and skies.

O star of wonder, star of light,
Star with royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to thy perfect light.

Words (and music) written by John Henry Hopkins, Jr. (1820-1891) in 1857. Hopkins was the General Theological Seminary’s first music teacher (1855-57), and editor of the Church Journal (1853-68).

* original wording is "We three kings of Orient are"

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