Augustine on Christmas

“Rejoice, you just;” it is the birthday of the Justifier.
Rejoice, you who are weak and sick; it is the birthday of the Savior, the Healer.
Rejoice, captives; it is the birthday of the Redeemer.
Rejoice, slaves; it is the birthday of the one who makes you lords.
Rejoice, free people; it is the birthday of the one who makes you free.
Rejoice, all Christians; it is the birthday of Christ.

From Proclaiming the Christmas Gospel, page 32


Our Savior, dearly beloved, was born this day. Let us rejoice. No, there cannot rightly be room for sorrow in a place where life has been born. By casting out fear of death, life fills us with joy about the promised eternity. No one has been cut off from a share in this excitement. All share together, a single reason for joy. Our Lord, finding no one free of guilt, has come to liberate all.

Let saints exult, for victory lies within their reach.
Let sinners rejoice, for they have been called to forgiveness.
Let heathens take heart, for they have been summoned to life.

Leo the Great (400-461)
From Proclaiming the Christmas Gospel

Christmas Encouragement

On this day, dear brothers and sisters, Christ was born to us. Let us prepare for him in our hearts a dwelling full of obedient service. Let us prepare a crib, a cradle brilliant with the flowers of a good life and the perpetual sweetness of its fragrance. Let us receive the tiny little Lord in our hearts. May he grow and make progress there, nourished by faith; may he ascend to youth there on the steps of life; and may he exercise the powers which are mentioned in the Gospel.

Caesarius of Atles, 471-543 AD. Quoted from Proclaiming the Christmas Gospel, by John D. Witvliet and David Vroege. Page 44

Lessons Learned

I've mentioned a number of times that while I've served here at Faith Church for over 25 years, it was not until 2003 that I became the Senior Pastor. I've learned a lot over the last three years, but there are still things that sneak up on me and surprise me a bit.

One of those happened yesterday. I conducted a funeral for an 89 year old lady in our church who passed away last week. Her death was not unexpected, due to illness, nor was the service particularly emotional. Attended by maybe 30-40 people at most, it was a simple 25 minute service followed by the burial (man was it cold standing in the cemetery!). But for some reason funerals take it out of me. I found it really hard to focus yesterday afternoon, and am a bit toasted this morning too.

The other lesson re-learned has to deal with Christmas sermons. Though I have taught adults extensively over the course of my time here, I was not in a situation to have to teach seasonal series. The first year of preaching Christmas was easy - I had never done a Christmas series. Last year was a bit more difficult. This year was harder yet. Make no mistake - there is a lot to say about Christmas, but I am finding that coming up with something fresh for three or four weeks straight is not always easy. I don't know how you guys who have been preaching for 10, 20 or 30 years or more do it, except that you must rework past sermons. I'd be interested in hearing what some of you more experienced preachers do.

At any rate, for my own edification, as well as to prompt my thinking, I've been reading a book entitled Proclaiming the Christmas Gospel. It is a collection of sermons by different pastors and teachers through church history, beginning with Jerome and ending with Calvin. Some of them are particularly rich, and each chapter is followed by the lyrics of a Christmas hymn. Highly recommended.

I'm going to share a few quotes with you during the next few days. In the meantime, today's slate includes putting the finishing touches on Sunday's message on the reason behind the incarnation. I leave you with this quote from Bede (673-735 AD): In a wonderful manner he began to be what we are, while continuing to be what he had been, assuming our nature in such a way that he himself would not lose what he had been.

By the way, Al Mohler is doing a series on Why We Preach. I liked this quote from yesterday's entry:

Preaching did not emerge from the church's experimentation with communication techniques. The church does not preach because preaching is thought to be a good idea or an effective technique. The sermon has not earned its place in Christian worship by proving its utility in comparison with other means of communication or aspects of worship. Rather, we preach because we have been commanded to preach.
Have a good day!

Arguing Over Christmas

As a teen and young adult, I can remember the annual round of articles in Sunday School papers (remember them - those 4-8 page mini magazines that we got for attending Sunday School each week). It seemed that each year they ran an article that championed people who didn't celebrate Christmas for their family, but gave all of their time, efforts and gifts to others. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but does everyone have to do that?

In my first pastorate there was an older couple whose large family of grown children had never experienced Christmas. Instead of the tree, gifts, songs of the season, etc., Mom and Dad had opted to "celebrate Christmas in our hearts all year long." None of the kids, to my knowledge were believers, and I always wondered if this somewhat dour approach to Christian faith pushed them in the wrong direction. I'm not saying that not getting presents kept them from Christ, but you wonder about the long-term impact of their choice.

On the other side you have those who go out and go nuts. There are some kids who are getting Xboxes, iPods, new computers, AND a bunch of other stuff. Mom and Dad will be in hock until the next ice age, but the kids will have a wow day.

You are no doubt aware of the current fuss over how the bad liberals are trying to take away Christmas. Christians are supposed to boycott Target and other stores, do battle with townships over nativity scenes, and heck, we're even supposed to be ticked off at the President for not sending Christmas Cards but sending Happy Holiday cards instead. I just read a headline on MSN about this. Are we serious. The President betrayed us? Who do we think we are?

To me, the silliness of the thing with the merchants is that we want them to recognize Christmas by calling their sales pitches and enticements to excess CHRISTMAS SALES. Yup. Put that word back in the circulars and thousands will be swept into the kingdom.

I hate the encroaching secularism, but I'd rather have that than put a false face on what really exists. What bothers me more than the secularism, though, are fellow Christians. I'm oh-so-tired of the "reclaim America and give me my rights" rhetoric. You can troop the founding fathers out dressed in elf suits to sing Hark The Herald Angels Sing until the cows come home, and that doesn't make us a Christian nation. Never has. Never will.

Frankly, I think that the political evangelical watchdogs want more than "our rights." My deep-seated suspicion is that they not only want a secular society to affirm our rights, they want that same society to affirm that they (the society) are actually better off with us around. In other words, don't just accept that we are here. Be glad! Don't just tolerate us. Like us!! We're good for you!

Someone in our church asked me what I thought about this whole thing. "What will we do if they take Christmas away?" Here's my answer: I guess we'll have to be Christians anyway.

The curmudgeons aren't going to spoil Christmas for me. Neither are the "I'll be broke until July" yuppies. And this year, neither are the evangelicals. I'm going to use the season to listen to music that uplifts the Savior. I'm going to spend time with friends and family, and enjoy their company. I'm going to try to lead our people to contemplate again the wonder that God became man to die for us and as us. I'm going to spend some money to care for the needs of my family (Christmas is a good time to replenish what has worn out) and some of their wishes too. And along the way I'm going to pray that more and more, with each succeeding secularizing year, that there is such a contrast between the way the pagans deal with this holiday and the way God's children do, that people may wonder if they are missing something. And I also hope that when that time comes, that we we'll be known more for the answer we give about the Savior than we are for our ability to picket, protest and petition.

So Merry Christmas. And Happy Holidays too.

Random Musings at the End of the Week

My wife teaches at a Christian School near us and they have been having some discussions among their faculty about the potential hazards of kids and weblogs. I was talking about the same issue with Ron Smith, our youth pastor. Dr. Al Mohler has an excellent article on the subject of teens and the internet that you must read and share with those who work with kids.

There is no better non-biblical proof for human depravity than simply observing how nearly everything becomes corrupted. Every medium that can be put to good use ends up being put toward sinful uses. Give us a new gadget and someone will find a way to put porn on it.

Phil Johnson posts about his first six months as a blogger. There ARE a lot of us sharing our opinions, and frankly, the two dozen blogs I skim through (I use an RSS aggregator) result in only a couple of posts that are meaningful to me, but they are worth sorting through for the insights, recommendations and resources that are discussed. One major benefit of blog reading for me has been the ability to be kept up to date on issues and trends in the Christian world and in theology.

Milton Stanley, always resourceful, points to a post about personal devotions at Gratitude and Hoopla. Worth the read, along with the Pimp My Devotional Time that I shared about the other day.

If you are a Pastor and have a Youth Pastor who would NOT use this kind of nonsense, get down on your knees and be thankful. And then thank them. From some of the stuff I read, this kind of thing proliferates youth ministry. Oh well, it gives me a good sermon illustration of what we do when the glory of God gets shelved.

I was encouraged by this post by Phil Ryken, Pastor of 10th Presbyterian Church in nearby Philly. They have been involved in a major roofing project. We're facing some major building projects of our own - original (read 60-year old!) heating system and air conditioning systems need to be replaced, and we are likely to need a new roof - all within the next three years. For a congregation of 250 that is a pretty tall order, and there are inevitable discussions that weigh the value of spending on these kinds of projects as opposed to other things. My biggest concern has been that we not forget that while we need to care for these things, we also need to continue to spend for ministries that are essential to our central purpose. We all agree on that, of course, and so we will manage our funds very very carefully. But I liked Phil's last sentence: And if Jesus returns in the meantime, he will be pleased -- I think -- to see that we have a good roof on our building and are planning to serve our city as long as we, by the grace of God, are able.

Have a wonderful weekend ministering and being ministered to. I am preaching on the last of the Solas - Soli Deo Gloria.

Soli Deo Gloria!