Deconstructingthe “Holidays” to Uncover the Meaning of “Christmas”

 

It’s “Black Friday” in America. For me, yesterday’s wonderful day of feasting is now a day of healthy, moderate eating. I’m about to sit down for a bowl of cereal with bananas. I turn on the tv. “Holiday” stuff is on. So is a special on Christmas and the White
House. I actually heard, on tv, the word “Christmas” several times!

What we call “the holidays” has little to do with “Christmas.” It’s important to
understand this since the heart and soul of the original world-shattering
event has been lost. Here are some differences between “Christmas” and the
“holidays.”

#1 – Christmas has nothing to do with shopping. I’m not against shopping. I like to go to the mall with Linda and look around. I like the crowds and the lights and the music and the candy. Yet all these things have NOTHING to do with Christmas. What, then, is Christmas about? There’s a big clue in the word itself. Christmas has to do with “Christ.”
What does that mean? The word “Christ” means “anointed King.” Jesus is “the
Christ,” the anointed King. “Christ” is the Greek word for the Hebrew word
“Messiah.”

“Christmas” = Messiah has come.

#2 – Christmas has nothing to do with gift-giving. But what about the wise men who brought gifts? They came after Jesus was born. They did bring gifts to honor Jesus’ birth. They did not go shopping to buy gifts to give one another. Is it wrong to do that? I don’t think so. I love giving gifts to my family. But giving gifts to one another has NOTHING to do with Christmas. Except that, in Jesus, God gave a great Gift to all humanity. For that Gift, I remain eternally grateful.

Christmas” = A Gift, from God, to us.

#3 – Christmas has nothing to do with tree-decorating. Is it wrong to have a Christmas tree? I don’t think so. I like decorating the tree every year. I like the lights, especially old-fashioned large multi-colored ones. But decorated trees have NOTHING to do with Christmas. Read the original Christmas story in both Matthew and Luke and
see for yourself. There were no trees or lights or tinsel. And, it didn’t smell like fresh-cut pine.

“Christmas” = the birth of God’s Son, who would eventually be crucified on a tree.

#4 – Christmas has nothing to do with snow. When first-century Jews hoped for a
Messiah (a “Christ”), not one of them was dreaming of a white Christmas. Those
ancient people were under great political oppression. They could care less if it snowed or not.

“Christmas” = Messiah who comes to make us, righteously, “white than snow.” (Ps. 51:7)

#5 – Christmas has nothing to do with the economy. I have friends who are local
retailers, and I hope they do well. I like a stable American economy. But Christmas has NOTHING to do with a consumer economy. The angels were not rejoicing because Christmas sales were up as a result of the Christ being born. Get this: God’s Son was born into radical poverty. Mary ended up singing about how God would now finally help the poor and the hungry and the marginalized and the oppressed.

“Christmas” = the beginning of the “Great Reversal,” where the proud, mighty, and rich are brought down and the poor, hungry, and lowly are exalted. (See Luke 1:46-55, e.g.)

I like the holidays. They remind me of times with my parents and brother when I was growing up. And times Linda and I had with our sons. They remind Linda and I of a son of ours, David, who died, which made one holiday season not so jolly.

I like the holidays, but I love Jesus. When I became a follower of Jesus I left a life of
drug and alcohol abuse forever. I doubt I’d be alive today if not for Jesus. Jesus still fills my life, now more than ever as I grow older. This time of the year is yet another opportunity to experience and encounter and think about the Christ, my Savior, and your’s too.

“Christmas” = love, worship, and adoration of Christ the Lord, King, Savior, Redeemer, Rescuer, Bondage-Breaker, Lamb of God, Revolutionary, promised Messiah, my Lord and my God.

On Taking Potato Chips for Granted

 

There was a man in our church whose name was Floyd. Floyd died several years ago, and it was my privilege to do his funeral. When I met with Floyd’s wife Grace she shared something that I’d never heard before. Floyd, she said, was a thankful person  who was always thanking God for what he had been given. Floyd had not come from
a wealthy family. As I heard about Floyd and his thankful heart it reminded me of my mother who, as a young girl, sometimes got only an orange for a Christmas present, and cherished it and savored it and was thankful.Here’s how deep Floyd’s heart of thanks ran. “Whenever we had snacks, like potato chips,” said Grace, “Floyd would stop, bow his head, and thank God as the bag of chips
was passed to him.”

“You’re kidding me, right?” I said. “Floyd would give thanks, in front of everyone, for potato chips?!!”

“Yes. He was grateful to God for anything that came his way.”

As I sat there I thought, I’m not that thankful. I take way too many things for granted.

“For granted” – to expect someone or something to be always available to serve in some way without thanks or recognition; to value someone or something
too lightly.To “take something for granted” – to expect something to be available all
the time and forget that you are fortunate to have it.

A “for granted” attitude presumes. A “for granted” attitude has a sense of
entitlement. Like: “I am entitled to these potato chips.”

“For granted” – to fail to appreciate the value of something.

“Entitlement” – the belief that one is deserving of or entitled to certain privileges. Like: “I
deserve these potato chips.”

Floyd, it seems, had no sense of entitlement, as if God owed him something. He didn’t take provision, in any form, for granted. From that framework giving thanks logically follows. And, in yet another “great reversal,” God is deserving of and entitled to our praise and thanksgiving. God, for Floyd, was not some cosmic butler whose task was to
wait on him and make sure he was satisfied with the service.

The apostle Paul wrote: Always give thanks for everything, in the name
of our Lord Jesus Christ
(Ephesians 5:20). “For everything” is all-inclusive. Nothing exists outside the realm of “for everything.” Everything is a gift from God, even our very life, even your eyes as you read this and your breath as you now breathe. If we gave thanks for everything we’d be stopping in front of people all the time and saying,
“Thank you God, for this…”

If we realized how God-dependent we actually are we’d stop now and say “Thank you.” And then, a few moments later, we’d say it again.

The Fine-Tuning Argument for God’s Existence


 
Fountain, at Monroe County Community College

(I’m giving this argument in my
MCCC Logic class today as an example of reasoning by inference to the best
explanation. Adapted from William Lane Craig and Robin Collins.)

THE FINE-TUNING ARGUMENT FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD

The argument can be stated this way.
  1. The fine-tuning of the universe is due to either physical necessity, chance, or
    design.
  2. It is not due to physical necessity or chance.
  3. Therefore, it is due to design.

Define “fine-tuning”

Almost everything about the basic structure of the universe – for example, the fundamental laws and parameters of physics and the initial distribution of matter and energy – is balanced on a razor’s edge for life to occur.
Our fine-tuned universe is an event that demands to be explained.
Examples of fine-tuning
  1. If the initial explosion of the big bang had differed in strength by as little as one part in 10\60, the universe would have either quickly collapsed back on itself, or
    expanded rapidly for stars to form. In either case, life would be impossible.
    (An accuracy of one part in 10 to the 60th power can be compared to firing a bullet at a one-inch target on the other side of the observable universe, twenty billion light years away, and hitting the target.)
  2. Calculations indicate that if the strong nuclear force, the force that binds protons and neutrons together in an atom, had been stronger or weaker by as little as five percent, life would be impossible.
  3. If gravity had been stronger or weaker by one part in 10\40, then life-sustaining stars like the sun could not exist. This would most likely make life impossible.
  4. If the neutron were not about 1.001 times the mass of the proton, all protons would have decayed into neutrons or all neutrons would have decayed into protons, and thus life would not be possible.
  5. If the electromagnetic force were slightly stronger or weaker, life would be
    impossible, for a variety of different reasons.

And so on…

Premise 1 seems to exhaust the alternatives. The soundness of the argument depends on the plausibility of premise 2.
Premise 1
Can cosmic fine-tuning be plausibly attributed to physical necessity?
By “physical necessity” we mean: the constants and quantities must have the values they do. If this is true, there was really no chance of the universe’s not being
life-permitting.
But this alternative seems extraordinarily implausible. Because it requires us to believe that a life-prohibiting universe is physically impossible. But surely a life-prohibiting universe seems possible. That, e.g., the universe might have expanded just a bit more slowly does not seem physically impossible.
A person who claims that the universe must be life-permitting is taking a radically position that requires strong proof. But as of now there is no such proof.
NOTE: support for the idea of “physical necessity” being false is given, inadvertently, by multiverse theorists. Such theorists use multiverse thinking to show that, while nearly all
possible universes are life-prohibiting, it’s possible that one or more could be life-permitting.
Can cosmic fine-tuning be plausibly attributed to chance?

Philosopher John Leslie gives an example, as an analogy, to show the implausibility of the universe coming into existence by chance.

Suppose you line up against a wall and 50 sharpshooters take aim at you and fire. All of them miss. This event demands an explanation, for their missing me is needed for my
survival. I shouldn’t at all be surprised that I observe that all the bullets missed me, since I am alive to observe that they did all miss me. There is nothing improbable about that at all. But I should be very, very surprised that in fact all the bullets missed me. That seems very, very improbable.
It seems reasonable to infer: design. That is: the sharpshooters missing me was planned for my continued existence.
This is a case of “inference to the best explanation.”
Analogically, the fact of the fine-tuned universe means the universe is life-allowing rather than life-prohibiting. This is very imporbable on atheism. This is not improbable on theism.
The main atheist objection to this is: multiverse theory. “If there is only one universe,” British cosmologist Bernard Carr says, “you might have to have a fine-tuner. If you don’t want God, you’d better have a multiverse.” (Discover, December 2008)

Who Are You?

Sometimes, when I meet
with a person for the first time, I ask them the question, “Who are you?” This
questions is not, “What do you do?” in the sense of “Where do you work?” or
“What are you studying in school?” The question “Who are you?” is not the
question of a person’s doing, but is the matter of a person’s being. It is a question of the heart.

Who are you…, really? Upon hearing this question most people pause. Many do not know what to say. For a variety of reasons.

First, no one asks them a question like that. Only lovers want to know the heart of the other, and only a few lovers at that. Most “love” is externally focused on things like material possessions, wealth, and physical beauty. Most lovers don’t go deeper than this. Shallow “love” asks, “What can your doing do for me?” “What benefit will
I gain from loving you?” Most “love” is not other-centered. Here in America real loving is a lost art, the lostness being driven by our media. With few exceptions.

I remember feeling awkward when Mr. Rogers looked into the camera at me and spoke to me about me. Psychologist Carl Rogers called this “unconditional
positive regard.”
“This is an attitude of grace, an attitude that values us
even knowing our ailings. It is a profound relief to drop our pretenses, confess
our worst feelings, and discover that we are still accepted. In a good marriage,
a close family, or an intimate friendship, we are free to be spontaneous without
fearing the loss of others’ esteem.”

When asked “Who are you?” the questionee [sic.] wonders, rightfully, “Do they really want to know?” “Do they really have time to understand me?” “Do they find me interesting?” Most people do not care. Not really. Because caring takes time, and most don’t have it. When the solicitor calls on the phone and asks “How are you today?” they are not expecting us to begin to tell them about our current
heart-condition.

Secondly, most people are out of touch with their inner self, their heart. So they cannot answer the question. They view their own lives as essentially conjugated by the verbs to have and to accomplish rather than to be. So they respond to the question of their being with words like “I have ______,” I do ________ for a living,” “I
live here _______,” and so on.

At this point I assist them by asking, “What do you like to do?” Now I am going after their heart, because what a person truly likes and values reveals their heart. Proverbs 20:5 says, “The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out.” To draw out of the deep waters of the heart a person’s purposes, a person’s telos. Not as a way of psychoanalyzing them, which treats the
other as an object or an “it,” but to understand them, to know them.

I have had some people in my life who were interested in me. They drew “me” out of
my heart’s deep waters. I don’t expect everyone to have this interest, or to be
able to do it. Yet I feel certain that we all need someone, some person or
persons, in our life to show a deeper care for us. In short, we all need to be
loved, really loved. Love understands, and we all need to be truly understoood
by someone.

God knows who you really are. Jesus was a man of understanding. In a way, this was what Jesus was all about. Jesus understood, and still understands. “Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit… what they were thinking in their hearts…” (Mark 2:8) The love of Jesus is compassionate, meaning he “feels with” us.  God knows you. God searches out the human heart, your heart, my heart. To know you is, in this sense, to love you. Jesus loves you, and has the time to do it.

All who desire to love like Jesus must themselves respond to the question, “Who are you?” Really? Deep in your heart. To know, we must ourselves first be known.

We who long for this can sing, right now, the heart-longing words of Psalm
139:

1 You have searched me, LORD,
and you know me.
2 You know when I sit and when
I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
3 You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
4 Before a word is on my tongue
you, LORD, know it completely
.
5You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.

7 Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths,
you are there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.

13 For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand—
when I awake, I am still with you…

23 Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

There’s Plenty of Room on the “Thank God Ledge”

A few weeks ago I watched a “60 Minutes” segment that fully engaged me. I dvr-ed it, and have shown it to several people. It was on rock climber Alex Honnold’s “free solo” of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park.

Half Dome is a nearly vertical 2000-foot sheer granite wall. Alex climbs it… without the assistance of ropes or harness. It’s just him, his hands, and his tennis shoes. It made me nervous watching him, even though I knew he survived. The shots of him clinging to the wall, with the trees and river a half mile below him, are astounding.

No one else in the world has done this. Perhaps no one else can. Alex’s focus is amazing! One cannot help but think: one mistake and you are dead. No second chance. It’s either perfection and completeness or total failure. This sport is unforgiving. To conquer Half Dome you have to be perfect.

Nine-tenths of the way up Half Dome there is a place climbers call “Thank
God Ledge.”
This ledge is a 35-foot-long ramp that is anywhere from 5 to 12
inches wide. If a climber can get himself on this ledge he can jam his fingers
into small cracks in the wall and “take a break.” “Thank God Ledge” is a place
of relief. It’s a slim moment of mercy, grace, and forgiveness.

Alex Honnold on Thank God Ledge

Fortunately, when it comes to God, it’s all about forgiveness. In Matthew 18 we read: “Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”” (vv. 21-22) Which means: we just
keep on forgiving other people when they fail and when they fall. Why? Because
we have been forgiven. Of much. Paul writes, in Colossians 3:13: “Forgive as you
have been forgiven.”

Thank God that he is forgiving! His forgiveness is not narrow. God’s love is wide. Back in the 70s I wrote a song called “How Many Times?” The words go: “How many times we all fall down, broken and bent by the wind. How many times His love comes down, lifts us up again.” In the forgiveness of the Cross God has placed us on “Thank God Ledge.” When we experience his forgiveness we are lifted up to this place of beauty and rest. It is a place of restoration and healing. When experienced and understood, it provokes praise. When we forgive others we invite them to join us in this place. Unforgiveness lets people fall to their destruction. Forgiveness
rescues.

In the Cross of Christ you have been conquered by God.

There’s plenty of room on Thank God Ledge.