Three Reasons I Cringe at Christmas

Last week I shared Three Reasons I Delight in Christmas, and I stand by that post.  However, that is only one side of the coin.  I would suggest that one of the most important words in all of Christendom is ‘balance’.  It is a bland word, but it is vital.  Christians are called to walked a narrow path, and this is no more so than at Christmas time.  Yes, we are to exult in the Saviour’s birth – but we are to do it well and without compromising on the Gospel.  There is to be balance to the way we celebrate.  So, here is a little bit of balance to the celebratory tone of last week’s post.

Sentimentality

I am not a fan of sentimentality at the best of times!  But whenever it is sentimentality about the birth of the Saviour of the world, I am nauseated to the ‘n’th degree.  The usual culprits for this sentimentality are songs and poems, and predominantly those which are performed as solos.  A prime example of this is the song Mary Did You Know? (This has been helpfully combatted by a humorous meme).  But really there are many more, and many which are worse.

Now, we have to be careful about divorcing the nativity narratives from their historical realities.  Of course, Mary and Joseph’s worlds were rocked – we can only imagine how many late-night coguiltnversations it took for them to come to terms with it all.  But, we must be so careful with our presentation of Jesus in the midst of this sentimentality.  This is the Saviour we are presenting to people; this is God in the flesh; this is the pinnacle of redemptive history; this is a history-altering moment.  Do we really want people leaving our carol services thinking about two doting parents?

Sentimentality makes me cringe at Christmas.

Materialism

At the other end of the scale is materialism, a problem all year round, but particularly pronounced at this time of year.  Think about the first question that everyone asks you from Christmas morning onwards.  I would suggest that pretty high on the list is ‘what did you get?’  And there I was thinking that this was the season for giving!

More than that, think about the amount of money we spend on our children, family and friends.  Why does someone need a fourth new iPhone in three years, whenever there are millions of children without food and water?  It is not even just the cost, but also the volume of material things we give and get.  Why must we all buy everyone something whenever there are millions of people dying without ever hearing the good news that a Saviour was born?

We get very quickly caught up in our own small world.  Materialism at Christmas is rife, and so often rife within the Christian community.  We need to think a little bit more biblically about giving and receiving gifts at Christmas.

Materialism makes me cringe at Christmas.

Screwtape

What are we actually celebrating this time of year?  Our time is spent shopping, eating, planning, partying, some singing and a lot of watching movies or sleeping.  Is this really the in which we should worship our Saviour and celebrate his birth?  After all we celebrate his death by gathering around a table, praying, reading, singing and sharing bread and wine together.

In some ways, I think we can see the hand of Screwtape at work in how Christians celebrate Christmas.  We have been duped into believing that we are glorifying God, whenever in all reality we are doing no such thing.  Instead of communing with God, we are dandering in the other direction and completely oblivious to it.  This too makes me cringe.


I do love Christmas, and I enjoy all of the trimmings and trappings.  Perhaps, that’s why I cringe so much too.  All of what has been said above is what I see myself struggling with year in, year out, as I attempt to celebrate Christmas in a generous but Christian manner.  My prayer for you this year is that you will delight in Christmas, but as a Christian you will also cringe.  May our cringing produce a better celebration of Christmas, and may our delighting reflect some of the joy which came with that first Christmas!

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Three Reasons I Delight in Christmas

The Pagan Festival

Many Christians are rightly sceptical about terming Christmas time a “celebration of Jesus’ birth”.  It is often noted that in the past Christianity simply hijacked a pagan festival and infused a little bit of ‘Christian religion’ into it.  Additionally, can hardly be520296901 denied that this time of year is one of the most commercially lucrative.  In fact, in many ways it goes against so many Christian values – Christmas is now about what you want, eating way too much, and binging on boxsets.  Therefore, we may legitimately ask can the Christian actually delight in Christmas?  Is it possible in the midst of this madness to worship Christ?  Can Christmas be redeemed?

As I considered these questions, these are three of the (legitimate) reasons for delighting in Christmas that came to my mind.

God is with Us

The first reason I delight in Christmas is the carols!  I am not a huge fan of music, and don’t spend a lot of time listening to it beyond the month of December.  However, come Advent the Christmas CDs are on.  Like everyone else I am partial to a little bit of Cliff Richard, Wham! and Slade, but better than that are the carols.

Thinking and meditating on the lyrics of many of the Christmas carols warms my heart as I picture what it meant for God to dwell with His creatures in the flesh.  The image of a new born babe lying in a mother’s arms strikes a chord which brings the name Immanuel to life.  God physically presenced himself with His people.  And that is no less true today, in and through the power of His Spirit.

Christmas is a powerful reminder to me that God is with us.  At various times this was manifested physically: the tabernacle, the temple, and the Son.  Now it is not manifested physically – but it is no less true, magnificent or comforting.

Waiting builds Anticipation

Two of my favourite carols are O Come, O Come, Emmanuel and Come, Thou long-expected Jesus.  This is because the second reason I delight in Christmas is the reminder that waiting builds anticipation.  During the intertestamental period the Jews could very easily have sung the words of the two carols mentioned above – they anticipated, eagerly desired and in all reality were desperate for God to send His Promised One.

As the nativity narrative is heard again, we cannot help but have anticipation build, because we know that the waiting will be worth it.  Jesus will be born.  He will save His people from their sin.  He will offer them all that they have desired, just in a fashion they did not expect.  Living in the here and now this is a helpful encouragement.  Many of us would desire for Jesus to return and end all of the suffering, sadness and pain that we observe in our world.  But don’t be too eager, because waiting builds anticipation.

Just as we open one door at a time on our advent calendar, counting down to December 25th, and eagerly looking forward to the morning we can open our presents.  So we live one day at a time, with anticipation ever building, as we wait for Jesus to return and take us to be with Him.

Marvelling at the Strangeness of the Plan

The final reason that I delight in Christmas is because I am reminded once more about the strangeness of God’s plan.  In order to rescue the world from its sin, a baby was born of an unknown virgin, in a backwater town, under the guise of a scandal!  It is not how I would have planned it…and yet it is perfect.  Look at the nativity scenes, watch children’s faces as they hear the narrative recounted for the first time, and listen once more to the words of those mighty Christmas carols: “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see!”  What a strange occurrence.  “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law” (Gal. 4:4-5).

It is a mad time of year, and many of us do get our priorities in the wrong order – but in the midst of it all, see if you can’t find reminders of God’s remarkable rescue plan which might aid you in delighting in Christmas.

Six Reflections on Christians and Competition

Christianity prides itself on being a religion of meekness, humility and servant hood.  Jesus Christ himself is the epitome of this as, silently and without protest, he was led to his brutal death.  Therefore, naturally enough the question of Christians and competition may present itself: how can a Christian in good conscience compete?  Perhaps even if a Christian in good conscience compete?

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Here are 6 reflections to bear in mind when considering the question.

1) God gave us bodies.

First and foremost we should note that when God created us he gave us bodies.  Humanity has not created as some kind of spirit-being, or mystical material, but as a physical body.  Matt Reagan says, “The body is a staggering gift, and it enables us to be creators, achievers and accomplishers of remarkable things.”  Our bodies are capable of remarkable feats, whether it is with our mind or with our physic.  Indeed, our bodies appear to be created with competition in mind, we are gifted with abilities (both physical and mental) which allow us to struggle to be great at what we do.

We thus have the ability to compete, but should we?

2) What’s the motivation?

Motivation is a central issue in competition!  It has to be confessed that it is possible to compete for God’s glory with the remarkable bodies he has gifted us with.  But, it is also possible to compete for our own glory and fame.  It is this which is wrong and sinful.  For competition to be good, beneficial and permissible it must be for God’s glory alone.  “It’s his glory, shining in and from us, not our own. Not only were we made to create and achieve, but also to say gladly with the psalmist, ‘Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory’ (Psalm 115:1)” (Reagan).

So, what’s the motivation in your competition?  If your competition is for your own fame and renown it should probably be stopped.

3) Let the vertical relationship impact the horizontal relationship.

With respect to a Christian attitude in competing it is vastly oversimplified to say that we simply exert our efforts vertically instead of horizontally.  In other words, claiming that when we work hard, we simply do it “for God”.  This is not an appropriate way to talk about competition because competition by its very nature is between humans, it is naturally horizontal.  Rather, what we must be working at is having our vertical relationship with God impact how we compete in our horizontal relationships.  As we do that we make it possible to compete for God’s glory!

4) Giving Thanks.

This is closely related to the first reflection – God has given us the remarkable bodies we possess now.  Therefore, Reagan is correct to write:

Gratitude inherently deflects personal credit, as it acknowledges the Giver of every good and perfect gift (James 1:17). All achievers of anything, whether through talent or hard work or both (as is usually the case), should remember the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 4:7: “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” The subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) tendency of the athlete is to boast in his natural-born talent, which is perhaps the least reasonable attribute in which to boast.

Ensure you give thanks to those who deserve it for your ability to compete.

5) Enjoy yourself.

All that we have said so far should make it abundantly clear that it is possible to glorify God through competition, but there is more to it than that.  As we exert all of our muscle and intellect we should enjoy and take pleasure in God through what we are capable of.  Indeed, this is closely linked to giving thanks.

If competition does not bring you joy, then it is time to give it up.

6) Ensure God is ultimately what you’re competing for.

Competition must be put into its proper realm of value.  Competition is fine, as long as it is not our final treasure.  The value of competition is vastly less valuable than God who is all in all.  Clearly, because of their arbitrary and fabricated nature, competition itself is somewhere on the value scale beneath real war (where life and death are the line) and relationships (perhaps especially marriage), which deal with eternal souls. When competing is a person’s livelihood things are somewhat different, especially in the realm of sport or business whenever it is your job to win.  As Christians fulfilling our job responsibilities to the best of our ability is very important.  Therefore, one of the greatest testimonies that someone, say an athlete, can give to the glory of Christ is not only victory but a proper perspective.

“It’s just a game” is always one of the more helpful and God-glorifying responses a Christian competitor can offer.  We must be very wary of allowing competition to become our all and all – meaning more to us than other things, especially eternal things.

Conclusion

These reflections clearly show that competition is in many ways compatible with Christianity.  They evidence the fact that competition should be enjoyed and exercised.  However, they also come with the warning that we must be careful with competition.  While it is not inherently evil or unchristian, neither is it without its pitfalls.  Do not be fooled, we must seek to relate our competition to God – otherwise we have failed in living a life worthy of the calling with which we have been called in Jesus Christ.  While there is undoubtedly an element of being ruled by your own conscience in this area of life, there is also space to consider what the Bible says about competition.


This article has been inspired by March Madness, Athletic Achievements, and Christians in Competitive Sports by Matt Reagan.