Living Out the Why of Christmas

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” ~ Luke 4:18-19 NIV

A note to my readers:

Okay, so, I am not a big fan of self-promotion.  To be perfectly honest, I loathe it with every fiber of my being. However, I do want to let you all know that I recently wrote a devotional based on the book of Colossians. It’s called Rooted: 29 days in the book of Colossians. It’s available on Amazon in a softcover for only $3.75. It would make a good stocking stuffer. If you have already purchased the book (and you don’t hate it) please consider writing a review. I would really appreciate it!

Rooted Book

Being a Christian and a blogger is tough at Christmastime. 

 At this point in history everyone knows that December is the month the early church chose to celebrate the advent (arrival) of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 12:2). If one is both a Christian and a blogger (and I am both of those things) then the season of Christmas is legitimately a very big deal that warrants at least a mention in said blog.

However.

For whatever reason, Christmas in the Western world has become more of a cultural celebration than a spiritual celebration and that makes Christmas tough for me personally as a Christian writer. Do I write a syrupy-sweet post lauding the shallow but still Christian aspects of the season? Or, do I go the more prophetic route and demand in a cantankerous tone that everyone ditch the fun stuff and worship Jesus in spirit and truth sans the materialistic, godless razzle-dazzle? Or, do I simply pretend there’s no such thing as Christmas and continue on with business as usual?  

It’s my annual Christmas conundrum. 

The soul-searching/navel gazing began early this year when I was asked to speak at a Christmas event in early December. As I prepared for the event I did a lot of thinking about Christmas in general and why we celebrate Christmas in particular. Ultimately, I decided that Christians have (for the most part) lost sight of the “why” of Christmas. In the midst of the feverish gift-giving, cookie-baking and decorating many of us have forgotten that Jesus’ first coming was more than just an excuse to make merry. 

It was the biggest game-changer in the history of forever.

 The birth of Jesus paved the way for the death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus’ death and resurrection, made it possible for every human who has ever lived to to get free from the penalty of sin (eternity in hell), the fear of death, the prison of idolatry, and the spiritual oppression that began at the fall (Genesis 3). Furthermore, the values of compassion, charity, justice and equality that Jesus brought to earth caused humanity to do some collective soul-searching. As a result, human rights, women’s rights, poverty programs, egalitarianism and the whole concept of religious freedom eventually became things human beings take seriously enough to fight for.  

That is worth celebrating. 

However, too often at Christmastime we get so caught-up in the hullaballoo that surrounds Christmas that we lose our sense of wonder and astonishment at the beauty that lies at the heart of the Christmas story.  We lose something of infinite value anytime we cease to rejoice and wonder at the crazy-truth that the God of the universe willingly left the comfort and majesty of heaven simply so that He could give a bunch of mostly ungrateful, clueless sinners an opportunity to get right with Him. 

Keeping the why of Christmas in mind this time of year is no easy task and no one needs another to-do list this time of year. That said, there are three really basic things we can all do to keep our hearts in the right place at Christmastime:     

Free yourself from the weird bondage that surrounds Christmas-

 Jesus’ primary purpose in coming to earth was to free humanity from bondage (Romans 6:18, Galatians 5, Luke 4:18, John 8:32). Yet for some inexplicable reason every December millions of people (mostly women) celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior by freely putting themselves into bondage over a bunch of (mostly stupid) stuff that has absolutely nothing to do with God, Jesus, or why we celebrate Christmas. Those things include (but are not limited to) baking billions of cookies, writing newsletters, decorating, gift-giving and unnecessary people-pleasing. None of those things are sinful but neither should they be done out of obligation or in place of the things that help us and other people grow closer to Jesus.    

Read through the book of Luke before Christmas day- 

Weirdly enough, Jesus (the whole point of Christmas), can (and does) get lost in the celebration of Christmas. Reading the book of Luke is a powerful weapon against secularism and spiritual complacency at Christmas.   Luke’s passion for the person of Jesus shines in his writing. He uses words like awe, surprised, marvel, amazed, wondered and astonished almost excessively, sometimes two or three times in a single sentence. As you read through the book take the time to highlight those words. Pray that God will fill you with wonder and amazement as He empowers you to see His hand working in your life and in the lives of the people around you. This tiny act will help you to see Jesus in fresh new way this Christmas. I promise.

Be purposeful about being grateful- 

The materialistic focus of Christmas oftentimes keeps us from being grateful for the things we already have (and most of us have a lot). When we take the time to be thankful for what God has already given us our gratitude serves as a reminder that there is more to life than stuff and more to feeding our souls than getting stuff and we could all use a little bit more of that this season. 

Why Every Christian Ought to Observe Lent-

So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them and prepared the Passover~ Matthew 26:19 NIV

 I am a Protestant Evangelical.

 It’s not that I feel Protestants or Evangelicals or Protestant Evangelicals have the market cornered on truth. I don’t. Nor do I believe Christians who practice their faith differently than I do are immoral, evil or misled in some way.

 I do believe Jesus is the only way to God (John 14:6). However, I also believe that there are many methods available to learn about and worship God. As long as the worship and learning is done in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24) I am generally pretty cool with it.

 That being said.  I like, most human beings gravitate towards the familiar and comfortable and the Evangelical world is familiar and comfortable to me.

 I became a Christian in a Protestant Evangelical Church and over the years I have come to appreciate (for the most part, more on this later) the no-frills approach to Christianity that Protestant Evangelicalism offers.

 Back in the day I was the executive director of a Pregnancy Care Center in a small town. One of my responsibilities was to visit the Churches that supported our ministry at least once a year and update them on our progress. As a result I have attended just about every classification of Christian church imaginable. From Catholic to Baptist to Oneness Pentecostal, if a denomination worships Jesus and supports pro-life causes I have probably had the pleasure of worshipping there at least once.

It was during those years that discovered how much I love the minimalism of the Protestant experience. I like the fact that I don’t have to approach some Saint and have them forward my prayers to Jesus or confess my sins to a third party to get them forgiven.

 I love that Evangelicals love the Bible and hold it in such high regard. I also love that Protestant Evangelicals believe that all Christians are capable of reading, understanding and interpreting the Bible for themselves. I am a straightforward girl and I appreciate a straightforward approach to the faith.

 However.

 There is one day out of the year when I truly envy the formality, pageantry and ritual of the Catholic and Orthodox Christian traditions.

 Easter.

 I’m just going to go ahead and say it.

 Protestants are remarkably terrible at making the Easter season as spiritually meaningful as it deserves to be. Sadly, Evangelical Protestants take the terribleness to a whole new level.

 In most Protestant Evangelical churches the actual church service is memorable and distinctive. There’s a special sermon, thematic music and some churches even put on a passion play. That said, I have found that generally the season of Easter comes and goes with all the heralding of a drive-by shooting. The lack of spiritual preparation and lead-up to Easter inevitably causes Jesus to take a back seat to the bunnies, candy, egg hunts and ham.

 In an effort to end the madness, I recently decided to rip a page from my Catholic and Orthodox friends’ playbook and partake in the season of Lent.

 Contrary to popular opinion, Lent is not nor has it ever been a strictly Catholic or Eastern Orthodox thing. Nor was Lent intended to be a Christian weight-loss plan or a second-shot at abandoned New Years resolutions. Lent is one of the oldest customs of the Christian faith; and I for one believe it merits a comeback in Evangelical circles.

 The original intent of Lent was to set aside a time of spiritual preparation, self-examination and repentance prior to Easter Sunday. Traditionally, Lent involves forty days of fasting (a meal or a particular food), reading through at least one of the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke or John) and an increased level of prayer.

 Christians have been practicing Lent since as early as the beginning of the second century. Sadly, sometime around the 15th Century Lent became associated with Catholicism and the act of fasting. Protestants who wanted to dissociate themselves from Catholicism stopped doing it, and many Catholics lost touch with the point of Lent and as a result some of the significance of Easter season has been lost for all of us. 

 The official start of Lent is today (Ash Wednesday). Today is the day to begin preparing your heart for the most significant day on the Christian calendar. Choose something to fast from, dust off your Bible, do some in-depth spiritual self-examination and pick a few topics to pray about from now until the Wednesday before Easter.

 Then trust God to do something really big and really meaningful in your life this Easter season.