(Dec. 1, 2020) — Whatever it is, Sweet Saturnalia, Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays, the stores have been at it since September. Someone has said Christians shouldn’t get all bent out of shape at this time of year. Neither should secularists. The department stores created all the hoopla about Christmas in the 1840’s and they can take it back, but Advent is the real thing.
Advent means arrival or coming. The Holy Scriptures are shot through with the theme of expecting Someone: the seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15), the prophet like Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15), the priest like Melchizedek (Psalm 110:4), the king like David (Jeremiah 33:14-16 and yet David’s Lord – Psalm 110:1), the redeemer (Job 19:25), the deliverer (Isaiah 59:20), the savior, the son of man, the servant of the Lord, the final Judge. Collectively, he is called Messiah, the anointed one – in Greek, the Christ.
You see Christ has come, Christ comes today, and Christ will come again. It is a time of preparation, of anticipation, of opening the door of our hearts to God. My pastor “opened” Mark 13 and Luke 21, the prophecy of Jesus. Jesus was asked to comment on the magnificence of Herod’s Temple. His response mixed two things together that prophecy buffs love to untangle: the current crisis (simmering Jewish Messianic nationalism and brutal Roman arrogance) and the promise of His return in judgment (the Day of the Lord) at the end of the age. Just as surely as the Temple was destroyed by Titus in 70 AD, Christ will come again. Pay attention, watch out and don’t be deceived. Hmmh! Read it for yourself.
For four Sundays between Thanksgiving and Christmas we have Advent. It means coming and anticipation. Christ came to Bethlehem 2000 years ago. Christ comes today to the hearts that are open to him. Christ will come again in glory and judgment any day now. I would add that He comes every day to take some of His children home through the veil of death. He came for my dear spouse six years ago. In Bethany Bible class – and perhaps in your church, too – we talked about the story of Zechariah in Luke 1. He was a devout priest, childless and nearing retirement, when his number came up for the honor of offering incense in the Holy Place – a once-in-a-lifetime privilege. To his astonishment, an angel appeared to him – it had not happened in 400 years – and told him his prayers are to be answered. He was to be the father of a son who was to announce the coming of the Messiah. He didn’t believe it and was struck dumb until his baby was named. This is a great story I have heard every year of my life about this time.
But it struck me. When God wants to do something really great, He makes us wait until it is humanly impossible – so we know it is Him. Abraham and Sarah waiting for a son, so did the mothers of Samson and Samuel, Abraham’s descendants waiting for the promised land, Israel waiting for Messiah. That last was one of Zechariah’s prayers, no doubt. But Zechariah had forgotten his other prayer – the one he had long given up on. Is there a prayer you have given up on? Don’t give up on Messiah’s return! A thousand years is nothing to Him. In the fullness of time He came in humility. In the fullness of time He will come in glory. Christmas is coming!
We are in another season of the Christmas wars. Yes, I am mildly offended by the pervasive effort to forget what Christmas is all about. Jesus is the reason for the season. And the determined efforts of some well-heeled Grinches to stamp Christmas out altogether are chilling. Some of us cannot help feeling that those stores which censor the word “Christmas” do not want our Christmas money, so we should not give it to them.
But this teeters on the brink of being the very kind of discrimination we are objecting to. How do our non-Christian friends feel about this? I do not think saying “Merry Christmas” would or should offend anybody but an anti-Christian bigot. After all, unless they are wearing a prominent sign that says “non-Christian,” you are just wishing them a good day. OK, if they don’t observe Christmas, you still want them to be just as happy on December 25th as if they did! However, scolding them or boycotting their store would be rude and not Christian at all = returning evil for evil.
Clearly, there is a strident hatred of Jesus and all things Christian abroad in our world. There have been more Christian martyrs in the last century than all nineteen centuries before combined. And at least the hatred is coming to public places near you. Christian martyrs bear witness, but do not fight back. Christianity is most powerful when Christians act like Christians.
Why is the name of Jesus becoming a wash-out-your-mouth-with-soap dirty word? Why do they hate Jesus so much? Are they afraid of Him?
Anyone who objects to gay marriage for any reason these days is called a homophobe. Perhaps there are those who have an unreasonable gut reaction of fear and revulsion to the expression of alternative sexual orientations. But I submit that Christophobia is at least as common. It is an irrational emotional reaction to you-know-who. I brought a Bible to work once to read on my break and the guy in the desk behind me went berserk! I assumed he was unique. Later he was taken away for threatening someone in the parking lot with a tennis racket. But now it is in the newspapers every day! We live in a nation where the majority of ordinary people who are not the entertainers and newscasters are – let’s call them – *ians. We should expect to see *ian symbols and hear *ian ideas – not to mention the name of the one *ians believe was God in the flesh who died for them – all over the place. During a *ian holiday season, we should expect to hear that season’s proper *ian name, *ian carols and the *ian story. We should expect public officials who happen to be *ians to act like and sound like *ians. Nor should we be surprised that, when asked to pray publicly, they should pray in the name of * – the only way they have a right to pray, according to their faith. If the majority of us are not free to be ourselves, none of us are free. Something is wrong with these folks. Christophobia. Excuse me – *ophobia.
Christ came, Christ comes, Christ is coming. The coming of the Lord is a wonderful and terrible thing. My Pastor opened up the Christmas story in Matthew 1. For a Jewish audience, we are given the legal genealogy of Jesus, through Joseph “the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.” There is another genealogy in Luke, presumably Mary’s – both are Davidic. Matthew makes the virgin birth explicit and refers to the prophecy of Isaiah 7.
Isaiah tells the story of King Ahaz (8th century BC), who was in a national crisis, facing invasion by his neighbors. God offered deliverance, if Ahaz would trust Him – deliverance symbolized by a virgin born child named Immanuel (God with us). Ahaz rejected the offer, choosing a “real” plan – alliance with Egypt. As Isaiah foretold, within 65 years Assyria laid waste to Judea. Now, at the end of the 1st century BC, Judea was given Immanuel again. God was present (Immanuel) but rejected on both occasions. Assyria came. The coming of Immanuel by virgin birth revealed Herod as a murdering tyrant. Again Immanuel was rejected and Rome came with destruction. We have the same choice today. Immanuel comes. Will we receive Him or choose judgment?
Dancing snowmen, flying reindeer, railroads through your front lawn, an abominable green furry creature who lives on Mt Crumpit – what will they come up with next? But only one “Xmas” story gets censored: the baby in the manger! Now that one is really threatening! During the previous administration I heard that He has been banned from our military bases overseas – by and for people who insist that He is imaginary! Like the Grinch isn’t? What’s the difference between a rubber doll in the straw and a plastic deer with a red lightbulb in its nose? Could it be that one is meaningful to a lot of people and the other – safely – is not? And what kind of people prefer a meaningless world? What sort would want to deprive others of something meaningful to them – and in the name of tolerance? These folks need treatment for Christophobia! The Grinch is evidently alive and well and unrepentant! And every year he hires lawyers to steal Christmas.
Speaking of the Grinch and National Ding-a-ling Day (December 12): the Christophobic are after the Salvation Army bell-ringers, persuading stores to ban them from their entry-ways and boycotting stores that don’t. The Salvation Army is the one church that really does practice what they preach in caring for the poor – to the point that we forget that they are a church – but somebody noticed that they do not believe in sex outside of marriage (homo or hetero) or performing same-sex weddings. Is there anything good that is not being attacked by the “tolerance” police these days? Nobody should help the hurting who doesn’t agree with you, right? Dear Grinches: if everything good is evil, then what does that make you?
Eight years ago we had a weekend of contrast. Friday morning, December 14 we were treated to the Sandy Hook massacre and on Sunday morning the children’s Christmas program. Sandy Hook used to be part of my territory when I worked for Post University, by the way, and I think I drove past that school in my travels. Innocence was smashed like a Halloween pumpkin and a baby was born to die on a cross. Remember the Holy Innocents? Herod the Great, in his paranoia, responded to the news of the wise men by killing all babies in Bethlehem to prevent Jesus from becoming King. Jesus escaped and is still King, but we are still trying to get rid of Him. At least Herod had a purpose. The Newtown killer had none that we can comprehend. You don’t need a purpose in a meaningless world.
Someone on Facebook the week before said they didn’t believe that evil was real. Explain that to me again, will you? If people are basically good and there is no devil – of course not! – where do these dark urges come from? Why do things like this keep happening? Tell me again what we have gained by banishing the Bible, prayer and anything to do with God from our schools. There was probably a lot of praying going on in Sandy Hook Elementary that Friday morning – ACLU, take notice!
Maybe the children’s programs and the babe in the manger do have something to do with the slain children in Sandy Hook – and the staff dedicated to serving them. The Christ child came to give meaning and significance to human life. Children have a special significance to Him. Is it time we let Him back in – not just into the schools but into our hearts.
But that is not the whole story. This is Advent! And Christmas is coming! The existence of Christianity tells us that Jesus did rise from the dead and that He will come again. The same Prophet that promised the birth of Emanuel, the suffering servant, promised the coming of the King and Judge of all the earth. A new heaven and a new earth – a new cosmos – is on its way, with a new nature that runs on the glory of God. It never runs down and is truly eternal. I am promised a place in it! Thanks be to God for the unspeakable gift of His Son! He came, He comes into my heart, and He will come to make all things new! That’s something to be Merry about this Christmas!
David W. Heughins (“ProfDave”) is Adjunct Professor of History at Nazarene Bible College. He holds a BA from Eastern Nazarene College and a PhD in history from the University of Minnesota. He is the author of Holiness in 12 Steps (2020). He is a Vietnam veteran and is retired, living with his daughter and three grandchildren in Connecticut.