Category Archives: Christmas
‘Tis the season for the hysterical fearful to retreat into their separatist caves and worry about the secularization of the Christmas Season.
This isn’t a post about that. Sorry.
(Just one pet peeve – the “X” in Xmas is the Greek letter chi, and is the abbreviation for “Christ.” It has been since the first century. So everyone relax.)
OK. Now I’m done with that particular pet peeve.
So, here is what I would like to advise. Put Christ back into Christmas.
No one has beheld God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. (1Jo 4:12)
It is God’s will that Christ be seen in the world NOT by images, not in words only, not in traditionalism or icons, but in love.
No one has seen God. Not in a nativity scene, or a living Christmas tree, or in your very thoughtful rebuke of the poor Starbucks barista, but in love.
YOUR love, as a Christian, in particular. We love, because he first loved us.
So put Christ back into Christmas by your love.
Give a smile and an encouraging word. Look into the eyes of that image-bearer of God that is different than you are, and show her respect and dignity and honor, because Christ died for you.
Give a glass of cold water, clothe the naked, feed the hungry. Give a kind word, a timely prayer, a good tip, a thoughtful gift.
Put off your fear, your anger, your contempt. Quit fretting about your neighbor, and love them. Quit ranting about “Happy Holidays” and “Xmas” and trees and lights and malls and commerce, and rejoice.
Be cheerful, be happy – for God now accepts your works. Be at peace, for nothing can take you from his hands.
Look at the beauty of the lights and the joy of the trees and snow. (Or fake snow, for Northern California people).
When you come to a work party or a family dinner, does everyone say, “Ugh. That guy”? Or do they rejoice, because you are coming?
Help people walk a little taller. Bear a burden. Be kind. Be the kind of person that people want to be around. Be generous.
Put Christ back into YOUR Christmas. Love one another fervently, for God is love.
Recently I’ve been meditating on the rape of Tamar and the coming of the Christ. These two are connected.
This might need some explaining. King David was anointed by God Himself. He was the king “after God’s own heart.” After the oppression and abuse against him by King Saul in 1 Samuel, your heart is cheering as David is finally anointed king. The good guys won! You expect the fairy tale ending, “And they all lived happily ever after…”
But the accounts of Israel’s history rarely end that way. Ever since sin entered into the world, our stories never end well. David was a righteous king – compared with Saul. But he was never really the point of the account. If salvation could come by government, David’s kingdom would have succeeded and Christ need not have come. But the problem with the world is universal. Not even David is immune. The sin that lies in the heart of every man also lies in the heart of David – and not “sin” in the mild “everyone sins” kind of way, but hateful, ugly, destructive and vile sin.
Like every good story teller, the author of 2 Samuel doesn’t just give us a treatise on total depravity and our need for a greater king and greater savior; instead, he shows us. David’s fall into murder and adultery has consequences for his whole family, including his virgin daughter, Tamar.
Tamar is beautiful, which means she is a target for the kingdom of the devil who hates beauty. Her half-brother Amnon is consumed with lust for her. His lust is not a lust for her beauty, but the lust of a hungry wolf in the presence of a sheep. His lust to kill, consume and destroy has been sexualized, which is what rape is.
He is constricted by Tamar’s position as a daughter of the king and one thing a man like Amnon hates is to be restricted by anything. He has two conflicting beliefs going on. First, he believes as the crown prince that he is entitled to whatever he wants. And second, the king has the authority to command. So what happens when the king’s rights conflict with the prince’s “rights”? It is this conflict that consumes Amnon and makes him sick. To Amnon, Tamar’s personhood and will don’t even enter into it. She’s just an object to be used.
Amnon, like all wicked men, has an advisor that promises to help him through the dilemma. Jonadab says, “Go to your sick bed. When your father comes to visit, ask him to send Tamar to nurse you back to health.”
And Amnon does. We are not told why David didn’t see through such a ridiculous ruse, but based on simple observation, we can make an educated guess. People have no problem confessing total depravity when it comes to people that are different than they are. If one is outside of your circles, you have no problem with confessing their corruption. It is easy to see the sin of Philistines, Moabites – even those of other tribes. The sins of Benjamin are easy to see if you are from Judah.
But where it hits hard is when you are confronted with the total depravity of your children, your brothers, your sisters, your church. “Those kinds of things don’t happen in Israel!” “Not in my church. Not in my family. Not in my tribe.”
But sin doesn’t give us a pass because of who we descended from. In fact, it is the opposite. It is precisely because of who we descended from that we are all conceived and born in sin.
Even Amnon. Would David have allowed a non-family member to be alone with his daughter under such a flimsy excuse? I think not.
At any rate, David commands Tamar to attend to her brother. Tamar makes food for poor, sick Amnon and he watches her. She brings the bread to him, but he refuses to eat. Then he sends everyone else out of the room.
Tamar stands there alone, afraid, powerless. He commands her, “Come here. Lie with me.”
She protests strongly. “A thing like this shouldn’t be done in Israel!”
She begs him. She pleads for him to remember pity. “Where will I take my shame? I will spend the rest of my life ashamed and reproached. Unable to marry. Unable to live. What will I do? Who will take this shame away from me if you do this horrible thing.”
She pleads with him to remember his own reputation. “You will go down as a fool in Israel! Why would you do such a thing?”
She even gives him a desperate alternative, “Ask our father to give me to you as wife. He won’t withhold me from you!” It seems desperate, but it is her only option in that culture before Christ. If she is raped, no one will marry her. She will be cut off without children, without protection, without support. She will have nothing but shame and reproach. Even today, in many cultures a girl who is raped faces excommunication from her family, her people, and sometimes is even tried and punished as an adulterer. The devil’s kingdom is ugly, hateful and cruel. How many women do we know who have been driven from their churches and families even in America because they were raped?
Amnon refuses to listen. He wants to destroy her innocence and beauty. His destructive desires are sexually charged. He is not lusting after her beauty. He is lusting after her destruction. So he forces her, because he is stronger than she is. And he rapes her.
The word “forces” is the Hebrew word, ‘anah, which means to afflict, oppress, humble. We will come back to that word.
After Amnon is done with her, he hates her. He hated her before, but now he has what he wants from her. He says, “Get up and get out.”
She weeps. She pleads. It is now clear to Tamar that it was not an act of extreme love gone bad, but an act of hatred and destruction. All rape is about destroying the image of God. It is never about love or even desire. It is about hatred and defacing God’s image.
Amnon calls in his servant and has her thrown out of the room. She leaves the room in tears. She tears her robe – the special robe of honor worn by the king’s daughters – and flees to Absalom’s house. Absalom is Tamar’s full brother.
Absalom immediately knows what happened and tells her, “Be quiet. Don’t take it to heart. He’s your brother.”
God gave men and women a wonderful gift when he created them. It was a gift of communication. Words and thoughts, the ability to hear, to meditate, to express. It is unique to man out of all creatures under the sun. We can open our lips, choose words and fellowship with one another and with God. We can talk about our feelings, our likes and dislikes.
We can use words like “love”; “joy”; “peace” – as well as “hatred,” “ justice,” “abuse.”
But the devil and his kingdom hate God and hate his image. He seeks the destruction of the voice, of the personhood, of the will. He seeks the annihilation and defacement of beauty and love.
The most effective way to achieve all of these goals of the devil is through rape. For this reason a rapist was not allowed to live in Israel under Moses’s law. There wasn’t anything to be done with him. A man who rapes is a man completely given over to the power of the devil and must be removed from society.
And rape removes the voice. Where will she take her disgrace? Does she have two or three witnesses? Does she have the courage to stand up to her attacker in an assembly of men who in her mind are just like her attacker? She tells her church, and is told to just be quiet. Don’t rock the boat. Don’t ruin the ministry. She tells the magistrate, and is often left just like Tamar. David knew about it. He was angry, but did nothing.
Her choice is gone, because he is stronger than she is. Her voice is gone – silenced by threats, intimidation, coercion. Where will she take her shame?
This is the hopelessness of the kingdom of the devil. After Absalom takes Tamar into his house, we are left with this: “And Tamar lived with Absalom, desolate, in her brother’s house.” She then disappears from the sacred record – except in the mind of God.
Her question still hangs in the air, leaving us empty and hungry for a solution. “Where will I take my shame?”
Many centuries later, Isaiah comes on the scene. He writes,
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
2 to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn;
3 to grant to those who mourn in Zion– to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified. (Isa 61:1-3 ESV)
The good news, the gospel, is proclaimed to the “poor”. The Hebrew word, as you may have guessed by now, is ‘anah – Afflicted, forced, humiliated, poor
And who is this one of whom Isaiah speaks? Does he speak of himself or does he speak of another?
When Jesus of Nazareth began to preach in Capernaum, he opened his Bible to this passage and read it. Then he said,
“Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luk 4:21 ESV)
Do you see? Do you see that Isaiah is giving the answer to Tamar’s question? Do you see those for whom Jesus came? He came into this world in the womb of another virgin daughter of Israel. He came for all who have been broken, bowed, and afflicted. He came for those who have been abused, raped, and humbled. He calls to the broken-hearted, those with no strength, and those who have been the victims of every Amnon of this present world. His gospel is for the weak, the downtrodden – those who mourn.
He never told the outcasts to “be quiet”. He spoke with them. He listened to them. But more importantly than all of that, he brought to them good news. He came to set his people free. He came to give a voice to the voiceless, justice to the oppressed, mercy to the repentant. He came to set the prisoner free.
I know that the world is full of those who are like Tamar. I know many of you personally and see the gospel of Jesus alive in you. Christ has indeed fulfilled his promise and proclaimed the good news to you and has called you his own.
If Tamar’s story is yours and you do not know Jesus, learn of him. His yoke is easy and his burden is light. He hates Amnon, and destroyed the power of the one behind Amnon on the cross. He bore the curse in his own body and then rose from the dead, proclaiming the season of God’s favor to all who are hopeless and voiceless. He came to restore the damaged image of God in you – to restore your beauty, your voice, your will, your courage.
You are fearfully and wonderfully made, a daughter of the king who will never look away and refuse you justice. You have your voice restored to confess his name. You have your will restored to choose for yourself whom you will serve. Have the courage to come out of the kingdom of oppression and darkness and bondage and follow your savior.
If we call ourselves Christians, should we not strive to imitate our Lord? Do we follow him and give the gospel to the Tamars of the world – justice and mercy and renewed hope? Or are we more like Absalom; “Be quiet, sister; don’t take the matter to heart.”
May God give us the courage to proclaim faithfully the gospel of the kingdom of Christ, even when the kingdom of the devil threatens and fumes. May we stand firm.
It’s inevitable this time of year. People seem obsessed with “putting Christ back into Christmas”. They seem to mean by this that we should put Nativity scenes up instead of Christmas trees, and that we should rant incessantly about spelling the holiday “Christmas” instead of “xmas”. Soon we will be asked to share memes if we agree that Jesus is the reason for the season.
Even now, perhaps there are some that are concerned that I might be taking too light a view on changing Christmas to “xmas”. No, I’m not. “X” is simply a Greek chi, and for 2,000 years it has stood for the name “Christ.” Everyone relax.
I agree that at many times the holiday seems overdone, vain and aesthetically offensive. Christians are not immune to this charge. There are only so many times that you can hear “Jingle Bell Rock” or “Mary did you know?”
On the one hand, people become obsessed with gifts, wrapping presents and staying busy to ‘get into the Christmas spirit”, and the marketplace takes advantage. On the other hand are those who decry the commercialism of Christmas, and shout to “remember the true meaning of Christmas”. Movies and stories abound, teaching us that the true meaning of Christmas is family, doing good to others, sharing, and basically remembering that we can make a difference with sacrificial works and putting others, primarily children, first.
But did God send His Son into the world in the womb of the virgin in order to teach us better ways of being better people? Did God really become flesh and dwell among us so that we could go to Walmart and buy plastic idols to put on our front lawn, patting ourselves on the back for putting Christ back into Christmas? Not according to the Bible.
People have tried for thousands of years to “make a difference” and after a few well-meaning spurts of outward displays of charity they immediately return to their vain, shallow, cruel and abusive lives. The fact is that we are all so hopeless, powerless, vain, shallow, self-centered and sinful that there was absolutely no hope in humanity whatsoever. Every single one of us from the fall of man until now is subject to death and misery. We aren’t smart enough, loving enough, strong enough or good enough to do anything about it.
But our natural religion says that we can fix this mess by greater motivation, or bigger acts of charity. We can make a difference by doing better things better, by loving more, by “remembering the true meaning of Christmas all year round”, or by electing people smart enough to fix all of our problems.
It never works and never has. But as a dog returns to his vomit, we return to our folly. Every year at Christmas we offer our incense to the plastic gods of our self-righteousness, pat ourselves on the back for being basically good people, cry over “It’s a Wonderful Life”, and try to convince ourselves that we really can make a difference if we just try harder.
But what if we really aren’t good enough? What if there really isn’t anything that we can do to make a difference? What do we do when something happens in our lives that leaves us devastated, and there isn’t anything that we can or could have done about it?
What sacrifice will you offer to your gods that will take away the pain, misery and emptiness of the vanity of life?
Now we can begin to see the true meaning of Christmas. The angel told Joseph “You shall call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins”.
It isn’t about the spirit of giving. It isn’t about the message of Santa inside of each one of us. It isn’t about our basic goodness and kindness, for we have none. The fact is this: We are so hopeless, vile and corrupt that there is no possibility of saving ourselves in any way. If there is any hope for man, God must save him. So God became flesh in the womb of the virgin Mary in order to take the curse of death upon himself. He gives us His righteousness, for we have none of our own. And He takes our vile rags on Himself, dying under God’s curse, so that we might live.
When He rose from the dead, He showed the world that the curse was finally taken away, and He now reigns until all of His enemies are put under His feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
Fellow professing Christians, please quit fretting about “secular humanists” or Hollywood taking Christ out of Christmas. We have been managing the mangling of the gospel just fine without their help. When we send the message that it’s about nativity scenes, “xmas”, Merry Christmas versus Happy Holidays, giving and works of charity, all we are doing is enforcing man’s natural religion: that we can make a difference by our efforts and good will.
If we could have made a difference in this world, Jesus would not have had to come. The baby in the manger was the eternal, almighty, glorious Son of God, “whose goings forth are of old”. Instead of teaching us the inherent goodness of man, it teaches the opposite. We were so lost and helpless that it came to this. God became flesh and came to save us. He became poor, despised, rejected of men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief in our place. That was what we deserved – the outer darkness of hell. But Jesus took it upon Himself. Every child but one was born to live. Jesus was born to die.
Only when we get that figured out can we eat our bread with joy, drink our wine with a merry heart, live joyfully with our wives, and do what we can to relieve some of the suffering around us. But this is only possible if we aren’t trying to save the world. God will not give his glory to another, and there is only One Savior. We will never save the world. We will never HELP God save the world. Only Jesus is strong enough, wise enough, good enough and loving enough. All we can do is offer our lives to Him with gratitude and awe. All we can do is wait and see the salvation of the Lord.