Now, taking a break from current events – These are the exhortations I have delivered so far during Advent at our church. They address some of the commonly misunderstood Christmas traditions we enjoy.
November 27, 2011 – The Advent/Christmas Season
Today is the first Sunday of Advent. This four-week period builds to Christmas Day, on which we celebrate the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ; not because He was born on December 25th, but because we ought to celebrate His birth. I have said this before, but it is not burdensome for me to repeat these things to you, that how we mark our calendars says a lot about us. We know this to be true; that time spent marks a priority. So, every year, we mark out this season to focus on the Incarnation of our Savior.
God became man to die for the sins of man, that out of His death and resurrection, we might have life, eternal life. So, it is for that reason that, in the middle of winter (the “dead of winter”) – a season of death; when the grass browns and the leaves are all gone, when frost bites and ice forms – we wear bright red and green, decorate our houses, throw parties and have feasts, and we give gifts. We are, whether we realize it or not, laughing at death in the name of Jesus.
Yes, the season is overly-commercialized and even the legends that have great meaning are made to sound trite. So what? Does the lie of man make the truth less true? Let God be true and every man a liar! So, eat, drink, and be merry, not because tomorrow we die, but because even in the season of death we have eternal life.
December 4, 2011 – O Christmas Tree!
Today is the second Sunday of the Advent season, a season full and rich in traditions, some understood and many not. Traditions can be great blessings, but they can lose their meaning and simply become a source of empty ritual; gradually giving rise to the idea that they have no “real meaning.” Some, having forgotten or never knowing the real reasons behind some Christmas traditions have attributed just the opposite meanings to them.
One of the clearest examples of this is found in the Christmas tree, which has been condemned by some as having pagan origins. As a result, some Christians refuse to engage in the pagan practice of having a Christmas tree. The real story is literally the opposite. St. Boniface was an 8th century missionary to modern-day Germany, a region controlled by the Norsemen (Vikings) who brought their religion with them. They worshiped many gods, Thor being the chief of them and they had a gigantic oak tree in Thor’s honor located at the top of Mt. Gudenberg. They would gather around the tree for feasts, idol worship, and animal sacrifices. St. Boniface, in the company of these pagans, chopped down the tree. Angry at first, the response of the Norsemen turned to repentance – if Thor could not defend his own holy place, what good was he?
Boniface then used that tree as an object lesson to tell them of a tree that actually does save, not because the tree was magic, but because on that tree, Jesus Christ died for the sins of men. That tree, Boniface said, is an evergreen, an eternal tree. The Norsemen were converted to Christ and it was there that they began the practice of bringing evergreen trees into their homes to decorate and light in celebration of the birth of the Savior. It became the focal point of the home and gifts were laid under it, not in honor of the tree, but in honor of the Savior who died on the tree.