A Christmas Day Essay

What does Christmas mean to me personally? Actually today is not really more significant as a day in the calendar than any other except for the fact that it allows many Christians to concentrate on one day out of all the others and focus on that day when The Christ actually came into this world in human flesh.

That is what the whole Christmas season means to me this year; a focus on the first Advent of Christ and I have been engaged in that for some time. For me it really is a case of Holy Obsession! Being possessed in my spirit by this great event in world history. Or as the Apostle Paul put it, being astonished in utter awe:

Great is the mystery of godliness:

God was manifested in the

flesh…seen by angels, preached

among the nations, believed on in

the world, received up in glory!  

( first letter to Timothy, chapter 3)

By considering what the Biblical narrative tells us about this “great mystery”, including the details of the event itself beginning with the announcements to Mary and Joseph, the journey to Bethlehem, the political context, the ancient promises to Israel fulfilled, and all that follows.

I am still learning the discipline required to not get lost on any of the details, such as the baby and his mother, as important as that is. But by keeping my obsession centered on Jesus Christ and the entire revelation of Him as it unfolds in the Biblical story from beginning to end. Certain selected Christmas music really enhances my obsession at Christmas, another reason why I love the Advent Season. Besides my all time favorite, which is to listen to Handel’s Messiah at this season (at least once), there are certain others that have become very special.

Several years ago my daughter gave us a Christmas album by the Irish Tenors. Of all the wonderful songs on that album, my favorite has become their version of “The Holy City”. I remember my dear Mother singing this song in Church more than once. The text is based on a ‘dream so fair’ that contains three different scenes. The first, is the glad occasion of Jesus riding into Jerusalem as the children sing Hosannah or what is now celebrated as Palm Sunday. The second scene is a very somber one which ends in the “shadow of a cross”. The final vision is of the New Jerusalem, the eternal vision of John’s Revelation, chapters 21 and 22. Listen to the music and see if you can sense the same “holy obsession” that I do on this Christmas day, 2010. And may I wish all those in the weblog family, a very obsessed Christmas!

Staying focused in the Lenten season is always difficult for me. There is so much to think about in a concentrated way this time of year in the Church calendar. It has helped me to basically reduce everything to two poles which my Christian life must always revolve around:

  • The one that really stands out during Lent is the practical one, the life I live in society with everyone else; the battleground of the life of faith, the world, the flesh, and the devil.
  • The other one is the rock of my salvation, the anchor of my soul, the Father’s provision of grace in the Son of His love- the Lord Jesus Christ.

So as we go through Lent emphasizing introspection and soul searching regarding the reality of our walk in this world, we must be careful to maintain the focus especially now, not on ourselves but upon the Captain of our salvation; the author and perfecter of every Christian life.

“Jesus Christ is the only food by which our souls are nourished; but as it is distributed to us by the word of the Lord, which he has appointed an instrument for that purpose, that word is also called bread and water. Now what is said of the word applies as well to the sacrament of the Supper, by means of which the Lord leads us to communion with Jesus Christ. For seeing we are so weak that we cannot receive him with true heartfelt trust, when he is presented to us by simple doctrine and preaching, the Father of mercy, disdaining not to condescend in this matter to our infirmity, has been pleased to add to his word a visible sign, by which he might represent the substance of his promises, to confirm and fortify us by delivering us from all doubt and uncertainty.”      – John Calvin

 

Readings from Saint Paul’s Writings

After one week of  meditating on chapters from Saint Paul’s epistles, I am having a very profitable Lenten observance. I have put a live link on the chapter to be read each day and if you move your mouse over the link you will see it takes you to that chapter over at the ESVersion of Holy Scripture. If you click on it you can read the chapter on-line or click on the listen option and it will be read for you. I find listening to God’s Word read very helpful.

I found at least one local church that has incorporated the observance of the “Year of Saint Paul” into their church calendar, Saint Paul Episcopal Church. I really like their introduction:

“It is impossible to overstate the effect and impact of Saint Paul the Apostle on the early Christian Church. His bold proclamation of the Gospel, his challenge to paul-called established thought, and his unwavering commitment to Jesus Christ changed the early Church and enabled it to spread to every part of the known world.

Our world today needs more Christians to act like Saint Paul. Our world, so filled with hatred, prejudice, violence, injustice, needs the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If we don’t become a Saint Paul for our world – who will?

Our Year of Saint Paul will celebrate Saint Paul the man – his power; his accomplishments; his writings; his mission; and his ministry. We will stand ‘boldy before the Throne of God’ and take pride that our parish family is named in honor of this great Saint of an undivided church.”

Week Two:

Wednesday – I Thess. 4  Taught by God

Thursday – I Thess. 5  Preserved blameless

Friday – Rom 2  The Coming Judgment of God

Saturday – II Thess 2   Mystery of Lawlessness

Sunday – I Tim 4  Why Godliness matters

Monday –  Titus 2  Adorning the Gospel

Tuesday – I Tim 6  Lay hold of eternal life                                         

FIRST SUNDAY of ADVENT

Around the world in many different traditions of faith, Christians this Sunday will all be worshipping in keeping with an accepted calender that designates it as the beginning of a new liturgical year. Literally millions of Christians will be “united” in spirit and that makes me very happy. Of course that does not include all Christians and by no means all traditions of the Christian Faith and no you won’t find this anywhere in the Bible. For instance the Orthodox Churches celebrate a different calender and then there are many non-liturgical churches that do not follow any christian calender.

LITURGY: What do I mean by the word?  liturgy

 Not infrequently in Christianity, a distinction is made between “liturgical” and “non-liturgical” churches based on the elaboration and/or antiquity of the worship, but this obscures the universality of public worship as a religious phenomenon. Thus, even the open or waiting worship of Quakers is liturgical, since the waiting itself until the spirit moves individuals to speak is a prescribed form of Quaker worship, sometimes referred to as “the liturgy of silence.” Typically in Christianity, however, the term “the liturgy” normally refers to a standardized order of events observed during a religious service, be it a sacramental service or a service of public prayer.

As a religious phenomenon, liturgy is a communal response to the sacred through activity reflecting praise, thanksgiving, supplication, or repentance.

I was not always aware of this reality simply because I was not brought up in a liturgical church. But over the years as I have become more and more aware of the other faith traditions, this one has greatly enriched my understanding of the universal christian family on earth. It’s a good thing; one of my sons is an ordained minister in a liturgical church and as a Chaplain in the military is recognized with a “liturgical” classification in contrast to non-liturgical Chaplains.

Most liturgical congregations also follow the Lectionary as a common source of prescribed Scripture readings for each Sunday of the Year insuring that there is a world-wide harmony on any given Sunday if not on the theme of the worship service, then at least in the Scriptures being considered.

As I looked at the orientations that are on the internet for the new Lectionary year and Advent Sundays, one especially caught my eye and I heartily recommend it to anyone who might want to join a large part of the Christian family in the season of celebrating in a special way, the Incarnation Event-the birth of Jesus, God’s anointed redeemer. The site is the worship page over at the United Methodist Church.

Worship well as you begin the New Year. adventseason

THE CROWN JEWEL of PAUL’S GOSPEL

Let Paul speak for himself: ACTS 20

Paul Speaks to the Ephesian Elders

17 Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. 18 And when they came to him, he said to them:

“You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, 19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; 20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, 21 testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. 22 And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by [1] the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. 24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. 25 And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. 26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, 27 for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.

FULL Gospel in this post must be understood in the same sense as Paul’s words “The whole counsel of God” has in Holy Scripture. It does not mean what it means in that tradition which today is known by this phrase. See  FULL GOSPEL Fellowship    cma_logo

As often the case, the article in wikipedia leaves something to be desired. I was ordained in the C&MA having encountered the tradition not through any local representation of it, but through my exposure to the writings of A.W.Tozer and it’s Founder, Albert Benjamin Simpson. See my humble honoring of Dr.Simpson in Saint’s Gallery. I disagree with the identification of Simpson’s work as belonging to “the holiness” movement. I have found a number of folks down through the years that have done that, but I think they are mistaken and greatly miss the “hybrid” gift from God that he represented . Dr.Simpson did not come from the holiness camp but from the Reformed, the Scottish Covenanters. He probably fits best in what we call “the deeper life movement“(Simpson called it the Higher Christian Life) but that movement is also misunderstood by most American christians today.

I’m getting away from the CROWN JEWEL of the GOSPEL- but not really. It should be clear from the above text alone, that the Apostle Paul was deeply and emotionally involved with what he believed to be his life task given to him by the risen Christ. Fulfilling that task was a matter of being “innocent of the blood of all…” before Christ when he would meet Him at the Judgement. He describes that task here as faithfully delivering to others a message that had been entrusted to him. Sound familiar? That is how Jesus himself described his mission on more than one occasion :

My meat is to do the will of Him who sent me, and to finish His work.

I can of myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and my judgement is righteous, because I do not seek my own will but the will of the Father who sent me.

(see the entire discussion of Jesus with the Jews who were seeking to kill him-Chapter 5, St.John’s gospel)

The CROWN JEWEL of Saint Paul’s life task and his Gospel was of course JESUS himself, or as Paul says, Our Lord, Jesus Christ. He describes the message which testifies to this Christ in various ways in this passage thus calling our attention to the completeness or the fullness of this CROWN JEWEL in the redemptive work of God on planet earth:” repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ”,  “the gospel of the grace of God”, “proclaiming the kingdom “.

For me this fulness, for example that shows up big time in the Ephesian letter (see Chapter 4), includes all that Christ is and has accomplished as God’s love gift to the ungodly and rebellious race of Adam. The CROWN JEWEL of Paul’s Gospel is nothing short of the perfect redemption we so desperately need in order to flee from the wrath to come. The four-fold Gospel Dr. Simpson saw with the eye of faith, he described as -JESUS as SAVIOR, SANCTIFIER, HEALER, and coming KING. It not only includes what God does for the sinner in the beginning, as he hears the Gospel and calls in faith on God to save him, repenting of not only his sins but of the entire life style of the sons of Adam living in rebellion, thereby repudiating the flesh and living according to the flesh; it includes also all that God begins to do in that believer both to will and to do His intended work of applying the full redemption which is in His Son, Jesus, and He will do this until the Day of Jesus Christ, the consumation of our salvation. He does all of this through His Son, the exalted King of Kings who is actively reigning TODAY.

I hope I haven’t lost anyone in the details-my apology to those reading this for example for whom english is not their mother tongue. You can see why I’m so excited about “The Year of Saint Paul” and the special opportunity this affords christians of every tradition to take another, serious look at this very special vessel of almighty God and the universal work of redemption that He launched in His Son Jesus Christ.