I have been driving around town looking for the Easter banners put up by the local civic authorities with the word Believe on them like they did at Christmas. But apparently they had forgotten to put them up.
I was at the mall looking for the mass of shoppers preparing for Easter Day, and thought I would wander through the store looking at and enjoying the Easter decorations. It must have been an economic malaise that has recently hit the country, because except for the card store it seems everyone forgot to check their calendar. Easter is just a few weeks away.
On the drive back to my house, I turned on the radio to listen to some Easter music on the easy listening pop channel that each year plays holiday music. There wasn’t any. I clicked on the Christian radio station to catch a couple of hip updated versions of “He is Risen.” But alas nothing.
I know that Easter has not been completely forgotten. There was a nice collection of dresses for little girls at the department store. I got an advertisement from a local church on special services. And I did read that the average family spends $200.00 on Easter each year for candy, decoration, and dinner. But lets just be honest here, society just doesn’t change like it does at Christmas. There is no Easter Spirit among the community at large.
Like it or not, people have a tendency to be different at Christmas. More prone to be generous, secular musicians sing songs about Christ, and profound atheists have symbols of a Turkish Bishop named St. Nicholas all over their children’s rooms. But at Easter…it…well…just doesn’t happen.
Is it that bunny that lays eggs and decorates with pastels? Or is it that secular society says enough is enough. We will go along with you on Christmas and give you the virgin birth. But raised from the dead, that we call a halt on. I just don’t know. It is just that, be honest, for most of America Easter doesn’t have it.
However, one of the great problems with Christmas is that it doesn’t stick around. All those good feelings slide away as the credit card bills come at the end of January. Those who catch the Easter vision. It is more than just catching a wave of societal goodness. The realization that you have been chosen by God for eternal life. That Christ died and rose again for you is permanently life changing, and the spirit doesn’t quit two weeks into January.
Christmas is the biggest yearly event in the world. But it is full of myths and misunderstandings. Here are five common misconceptions about the Christmas celebration and one prayer asking for God’s help in celebrating it with real purpose.
Misconception #1 Christmas is just another of many winter holidays and a takeoff of the ancient roman celebration of Saturnalia. Author Gerry Bower makes a well documented case in his book Christmas in the Crosshairs that the reason that Christmas was organized by the early Christian church was in order to emphasize the legitimacy of the Biblical narrative and the virgin birth which the Gnostic’s (people with special knowledge) were promoting doubt about. Today, this still remains the main and greatest mission of Christmas.
Misconception #2 A Visit from St. Nicholas commonly known as Twas the night before Christmas is just a cute little poem for kids. Yes, it was a poem written for Clement Clark Moore’s children, but it became much more. It turns out to be arguably the most influential poem ever published in the United States. (You may be able to find a more noble American poem and a more noble author but not a more influential one.) Effects from this poem and conjunctive works by Washington Irving were major reasons Christmas was transformed from a raucous party and a time of “misrule” to a family focused affair. In a very odd and indirect way, it was a small precursor to the prophesy in the book of Malachi. That is the turning of the fathers toward their children and children to their fathers.
Misconceptions #3 A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens was a topping off or an “add on” to a great writing career. In fact, his career was suffering at the time he wrote A Christmas Carol and Christmas was at one of its lower points in its popularity. The book reignited both Christmas and Dickens career and placed a greater emphasis on charity and giving. A Christmas Carol helped make Christmas what it is today. It was not just one more story thrown into the mix but was a story that helped redefine the celebration.
Misconception #4 The wise men showed up with the shepherds at the birth of Jesus. Although it makes for a great story and painting, it isn’t true. The birth of Jesus is by far the most fictionalized part of the Bible many times over, the wise men absolutely did not show up at the birth and most likely showed up a year and a half to two years later. God often works slower than our fictionalized minds can bear.
Misconception #5 All Christians celebrate Christmas. Though it is rare to find a few these days, the Puritans and many of the Reformers did not celebrate Christmas because at the time it was seen as just one more of the many saints days promoted by the corrupt Catholic church. The emphasis was more on drinking and extortion of gifts than Jesus. When Christmas became more of a family celebration due to social changes, even in New England where Thanksgiving had reigned supreme, Christmas picked up steam and most Christians dropped their concern an adopted the day to celebrate Christ and family with believers all around the world.
I pray that we would enter Christmas with the joy and amazement that the shepherds must have shown that first night in Bethlehem. I pray what really excites each of us this Christmas is that when we walk through the Grocery store and hear the hymns playing it warms our hearts and encourages us more than the price and quality of the goods for sale. That hearts of the families would be turned to their children and hearts of their children would be turned into toward their families during this season and for the rest of the year. I pray that believers in Jesus Christ would unite all around the world to proclaim the amazing arrival of the incarnate Christ and understand its impact and importance. I pray in our hearts that what is amazing to us is that God himself came to rescue us from our own self destruction as a baby born in poverty who overcame, transcended, and will eventually crush the greatest powers of this world.
The Dutchman Adrianus Valerius wrote in 1597 what is now known as the Thanksgiving hymn “We Gather Together” to celebrate the freeing of the Dutch people from the oppressive rule of the Spanish. It was redone in English by American Theodor Baker in 1894 and became popular in the 1930’s. It is about two things that are worth celebrating: the ability to gather together as God’s people and the freedom from oppression and the opportunity to worship as the Bible directs.
How precious it is to intertwine two of the most important battles for religious freedom. The Dutch against the inquisition, and the English separatists known as Pilgrims, against the state controlled church in England. One of the most undersung events in the great battle for liberty and religious freedom was the battle fought by William of Orange who gave up a life of relative ease to save the people of God in Holland. These brave Dutchman were willing to seek out God despite the oppression of Spain, who had distorted word of God for self-gain and political power, keeping God’s word separated from the people and oppressing them in what is today known as the Catholic Inquisition. It was a time when the devil literally ran the church. A time when families were burned to death for merely “gathering together” and reading the Bible.
Forty years later, another group seeking liberty and religious freedom had fled England to Holland. These were the separatists that are known today in America as the Pilgrims. After arriving in Holland from England, they found religious freedom but a difficult life. They found the Dutch culture by that time had become worldly. Those who were able to leave made the famous and harrowing journey on the Mayflower to the accidental location of what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts. Here they created the Mayflower Compact and beginning one of the greatest experiments in liberty, faith in God, bravery, and perseverance the world had yet to see.
Today, faith seems to be growing most in the third world, but a small but significant remnant of Americans, and others in the western world hold steady to this faith. That the beginning of wisdom is fear of the Lord, that the word of God or the Bible written through inspired men over 1500 years should be the basis of law and dictate how we should live, that our greatest focus in life should be the sharing and spreading of the Good News of Jesus Christ and repentance of sin. That the great news is that we are not helplessly in bondage to sin. In repentance, and through faith in Jesus Christ, we can gather together today and celebrate that the Lord has made us free in many ways.
Let us first give thanks this season for those who have sacrificed greatly to give us what is still a large amount of liberty and freedom. We thank you Lord for William of Orange and the Dutch who gave their lives in the reformation. We thank you Lord for the small band of English Separatists, of whom over half died on the first winter alone, to worship you. We thank you Lord for the hundreds of thousands who have given their lives to protect freedom from oppression against a multitude of oppressors including the German fascists, the Marxists, and radical Islam. We thank you Lord for those who still today who stand up against mockery in the western world, and risk prison and death in 3rd world countries, to proclaim the word of God.