|My back yard, on a snowy day|
“Black Friday” and “Cyber-Monday” are over. The Thanksgiving days of feasting are now days of healthy, moderate eating. I’m about to sit down for a bowl of oat meal.
I turn on the TV. “Holiday” stuff is on. I see nothing about Christmas.
#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. I like eating red and green M&Ms. 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.” The word “Christ” means “anointed King.” Jesus is “the Christ,” the anointed King. “Christ” is the Greek word for the Hebrew word “Messiah.” Christ – mass. The festival of the arrival of the anointed King.
“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. Remove them from your manger scene and place them somewhere outside the house, perhaps down the road a ways. 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. I like opening gifts. 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. I enjoy going to Bronner’s, just 75 miles north of us. 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. I’m looking out my window and it is snowing lightly. I like this. For me, it would be nice to have snow on Christmas Day. But when first-century hoped for and had dreams and visions of 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. “Snow” is neither an essential attribute nor a contingent attribute of “Christmas.”
“Christmas” = Messiah who comes to make us, righteously, “whiter 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, the holy days. 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. They remind me of Linda’s father Del, who lived with us for 6 1/2 years, until he died on New year’s Eve 2012. (Deck the halls with melancholy…)
I like the holidays and I love Real Christmas Music (like “Trio Mediaeval,” which I’m listening to right now). But mostly, 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 fills my life, now more than ever as I grow older. He is my raison d’etre, my reason for being. This time of the year is 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.
My book – Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God – has just been published.
I entered a convenience store in Joliet, Illinois. It was 1975. Some people in front of me were purchasing lottery tickets. When it was my turn to pay for my items the attendant asked, “Do you want to buy a lottery ticket, too?”
“No,” I replied.
“Aww, come on! You could win the big jackpot!”
They pressed a little further. That’s when I said, “Only fools play the lottery.”
And a great silence came over the convenience store.
“Fool” here means: people who are ignorant of probability and statistics. “Fool” means someone who falls prey to the “Gambler’s Fallacy.”
I may be a fool, but not when it comes to the lottery. I have never played it, never bought one single ticket. Playing the lottery is throwing money away.
In 1842 Honoré de Balzac wrote:
“This mania, so generally condemned, has never been properly studied. No one has realized that it is the opium of the poor. Did not the lottery, the mightiest fairy in the world, work up magical hopes? The roll of the roulette wheel that made the gamblers glimpse masses of gold and delights did not last longer than a lightning flash; whereas the lottery spread the magnificent blaze of lightning over five whole days. Where is the social force today that, for forty sous, can make you happy for five days and bestow on you—at least in fancy—all the delights that civilization holds?” (La Rabouilleuse)
USA Today asked the question, “Is the lottery the new American Dream?” Probably. But by probability, it’s as likely to happen as fairies landing on your head.
Linda and I invite you to join us in January for 3 Nights of Marriage Strengthening!
WHEN: January 17, 24, 31
6 – 8 PM
WHERE: Redeemer Fellowship Church
Sign up in the church lobby or by calling our office at 734-731-1709.
We’re working on hopefully providing babysitting. TBA.
We’ll be using the “I Love You More” video + workbook curriculum by Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott.
In I Love You More, a video-based study, Doctors Les and Leslie Parrott show you how the same forces that can chip away at a marriage can instead become the catalyst for new relational depth and richness–provided you make wise choices. Whether the problem is major or mild, you’ll learn how to transform nettlesome issues into loving opportunities.
We’ll do 2 17-minute sessions per evening. The topics are:
Most of my writings appear here – johnpiippo.com.
If you are interested – thank you!
|Photo of a plaque I saw in Columbus, Ohio|
“In 1941 at the age of twenty-six, [Thomas] Merton sought refuge in the Trappist monastery of Our Lady of Gethsemane. Kentucky, “in revolt against the meaningless confusion of a life in which there was so much activity, so much movement, so much useless talk, so much superficial and needless stimulation,” that he could not remember who he was.” (“Introduction,” by James Finley. In Merton, A Book of Hours, 16)
I wonder what Merton might say were he alive today. The phenomenal explosion of media technology functions as a gigantic amplifier of ever-changing banality and stupidity. There’s really no more ignorance under the sun than when Merton lived. It’s just more known.
The result is that people no longer know who they are. This is why dictionary.com’s word of the year is “identity.”
Lacking knowledge of their identity the wandering herd creates personas in whatever images they happen to like, and imagine their social media friends admiring. Huddles of self-congratulatory selfies text to applaud their life wisdom, little of which has been thought out. Never before in history has the meaning of non sequitur found so many instantiations.
Thanks to the twin gods Google and Siri everyone is a Renaissance polymath, an unreflective mass of omniscient beings lacking knowledge in precisely nothing. And all this without being able to think critically about anything.
T.S. Eliot wrote:
That was in 1925. By comparison Eliot’s hollow men would be viewed today as seers.
Both Merton and Eliot saw the total absence of identity coming. We’re not quite there yet. But I think I see the tipping point that will take American humanity over the abyss and into the unhuman. Welcome to the Book of Revelation.
That’s the point of the Zombie Apocalypse, right? Bodies without souls, with hopefully some remnant still alive to revolt against the masses.
|Some of our Redeemer kids|
“We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.”
Gratitude is greater than bitterness. Thankfulness is better than resentment.
Colossians 3:15 says:
Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.
A heart of thankfulness positively affects one’s entire being. Many scientific studies confirm this. Here are some of them.
From “Giving Thanks Can Make You Happier” (Harvard Medical School)
- “Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.”
- Dr. Martin Seligman (University of Pennsylvania) says most studies on showing gratitude to others support an association between gratitude and an individual’s well-being.
- Gratitude can improve relationships. “For example, a study of couples found that individuals who took time to express gratitude for their partner not only felt more positive toward the other person but also felt more comfortable expressing concerns about their relationship.”
- Gratitude is associated with emotional maturity.
- “Gratitude is a way for people to appreciate what they have instead of always reaching for something new in the hopes it will make them happier, or thinking they can’t feel satisfied until every physical and material need is met. Gratitude helps people refocus on what they have instead of what they lack. And, although it may feel contrived at first, this mental state grows stronger with use and practice.”
Here are some ways to cultivate gratitude on a regular basis.
- Write a thank-you note.
- Thank someone mentally. (“It may help just to think about someone who has done something nice for you, and mentally thank the individual.”)
- Keep a gratitude journal. I make lists of things I am thankful for and carry them with me.
- Count your blessings.
- Pray. “People who are religious can use prayer to cultivate gratitude.”
Research reveals that gratitude can have these benefits.
- · Gratitude opens the door to more relationships.
- · Gratitude improves physical health. “Grateful people experience fewer aches and pains and they report feeling healthier than other people, according to a 2012 study published in Personality and Individual Differences.”
- · Gratitude improves psychological health. “Gratitude reduces a multitude of toxic emotions, ranging from envy and resentment to frustration and regret. Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., a leading gratitude researcher, has conducted multiple studies on the link between gratitude and well-being. His research confirms that gratitude effectively increases happiness and reduces depression.”
- · Gratitude enhances empathy and reduces aggression. “Grateful people are more likely to behave in a prosocial manner, even when others behave less kind, according to a 2012 study by the University of Kentucky. Study participants who ranked higher on gratitude scales were less likely to retaliate against others, even when given negative feedback. They experienced more sensitivity and empathy toward other people and a decreased desire to seek revenge.”
- · Grateful people sleep better. “Writing in a gratitude journal improves sleep, according to a 2011 study published inApplied Psychology: Health and Well-Being. Spend just 15 minutes jotting down a few grateful sentiments before bed, and you may sleep better and longer.”
- · Gratitude improves self-esteem.(Acc. to a 2014 study published in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology.)
- · Gratitude increases mental strength. (Acc. to a 2006 study in Behavior Research and Therapy, and a 2003 study in the Journal of Personality and social Psychology.
From “Giving Thanks: The Benefits of Gratitude” (Psychology Today)
Psychologists Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough “point out the benefits of expressing gratitude as ranging from better physical health to improved mental alertness. People who express gratitude also are more likely to offer emotional support to others.”
- “Expressing gratitude in your daily life might even have a protective effect on staving off certain forms of psychological disorders. In a review article published this past March (see below), researchers found that habitually focusing on and appreciating the positive aspects of life is related to a generally higher level of psychological well-being and a lower risk of certain forms of psychopathology.”
- Increase your gratitude-ability by looking for small things to be thankful for.
From “Expanding the Science and Practice of Gratitude” (University of Berkeley)
- It’s easy to take gratitude for granted. “That might be why so many people have dismissed gratitude as simple, obvious, and unworthy of serious attention. But that’s starting to change. Recently scientists have begun to chart a course of research aimed at understanding gratitude and the circumstances in which it flourishes or diminishes.”
- Recent studies on people who practice thankfulness consistently report a number of benefits:
- Stronger immune systems and lower blood pressure;
- Higher levels of positive emotions;
- More joy, optimism, and happiness;
- Acting with more generosity and compassion;
- Feeling less lonely and isolated.
From “Thanksgiving, Gratitude, and Mental Health” (Psychiatry Advisor)
Gratitude can have a positive effect on a person’s emotions in four significant ways.
- First, gratitude magnifies positive emotions by helping us to appreciate the value in something; thus gaining more benefit from it.
- Second, it blocks toxic, negative emotions, such as envy, resentment, and regret – emotions that can destroy happiness.
- Third, gratitude fosters resiliency.
- And lastly, gratitude promotes self worth.
From “5 Proven Health Benefits of Gratitude” (Shape)
- Gratitude is good for your heart. “According to a recent study at the University of California, San Diego, being mindful of the things you’re thankful for each day actually lowers inflammation in the heart and improves rhythm. Researchers looked at a group of adults with existing heart issues and had some keep a gratitude journal. After just two months, they found that the grateful group actually showed improved heart health.”
- · You’ll smarten up. “Teens who actively practiced an attitude of gratitude had higher GPAs than their ungrateful counterparts, says research published in the Journal of Happiness Studies.”
- · It’s good for your relationships. “Expressing gratitude instead of frustration will do more than just smooth things over—it will actually help your emotional health. Expressing and attitude of gratitude raises levels of empathy and abolishes any desire to get even, found researchers at the University of Kentucky.”
- · You’ll sleep more soundly. “ Writing in a gratitude journal before turning in will help you get a longer, deeper night’s sleep, says a study published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being.”
- · You’ll have better sex. “Couples who regularly say thank you to their partner feel more connected and more confident, according to a study published in the journal Personal Relationships.”