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Christmas and my Christianity

by Caroline Seawright

 

Christmas Customs

Coming up to Christmas, there have been a lot of discussions on a message board I post at regarding Christmas and Christianity. From this, I can see why some people really dislike Christians - some are somewhat... overzealous. But, then, I've seen some of the anti-Christian posts, and they are the same. But I digress.

I'd like to share some of the messages that I've been posting, especially the ones that are related to Christmas, or the ones that have become a 'hot topic' on the board.

Christmas Day did not officially come into being until 354 when Pope Gregory proclaimed December 25 as the date of the Nativity. In doing so, he was following the early church's policy of absorbing rather than repressing existing pagan rites which, since early times, had celebrated the winter solstice and the coming of spring.

The pagan festival most closely associated with the new Christmas was the Roman Saturnalia, which honoured the god of the harvest, Saturn, on December 19 and was marked by seven days of riotous merrymaking and feasting. At the same time in northern Europe a similar winter festival known as Yule was celebrated in which giant logs, trimmed with greenery and ribbons, were burnt in honour of the gods and to encourage the sun to shine more brightly.

Having incorporated these elements, the Christian church subsequently added, in the Middle Ages, the Nativity crib and Christmas carols to its customs... All this came to an abrupt end in Britain at least when in 1552 the Puritans banned Christmas, a move followed in Massachusetts seven years later. Although Christmas returned to England in 1660 with Charles II, the rituals all but died out until revived in Victorian times.

Christmas as we know it today is thus a 19th-century invention. The decorated Christmas tree, common in German countries for centuries, was introduced to Britain by Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's Consort. Carols were revived and many new ones written, often to traditional melodies... The familiar image of Santa Claus, complete with sled, reindeers, and sack of toys, is an American invention which first appeared in a drawing by Thomas Nast in Harper's Magazine in 1868, although the legend of Father Christmas is ancient and complex, being partly derived from St Nicholas and a jovial medieval figure, the "Spirit of Christmas"...

-- Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia

In ancient times, Romans gave gifts on New Year's Day. The custom of the decorated Christmas tree was thought to have begun in medieval Germany. Unlike the custom of exchanging presents, it is the Christmas tree that some Christians seem to have a problem with. Some don't celebrate Christmas as most people do, because of the pagan history involved. Others take a verse out of the bible to say why they don't have a Christmas tree:

Pastor Richard P. Bucher believes that the tree mentioned in the bible was what the people used to make an idol, perhaps an idol of the goddess Asherah. He doesn't believe that the verse has anything to do with an ancient Christmas tree, and even says that "there is absolutely nothing wrong with using a Christmas tree".

The point of celebrating Christmas is to remember Christ. Traditions such as the ones we've spoken of must be held in perspective for what they are... symbols and remembrance. There are some denominations that forbid traditions such as the tree, others choose not to celebrate Christmas at all. Either is fine, since this is a man-made holiday (not required by God).

-- Jeremiah 10 and the "Pagan" Christmas Tree, Pastor Richard P. Bucher

One important point that he makes is to remember the context of Jeremiah 10:3-4.

1 Hear what the LORD says to you, O house of Israel. 2 This is what the LORD says:
'Do not learn the ways of the nations
or be terrified by signs in the sky,
though the nations are terrified by them.
3 For the customs of the peoples are worthless;
they cut a tree out of the forest,
and a craftsman shapes it with his chisel.
4 They adorn it with silver and gold;
they fasten it with hammer and nails
so it will not totter.
5 Like a scarecrow in a melon patch,
their idols cannot speak;
they must be carried
because they cannot walk.
Do not fear them;
they can do no harm
nor can they do any good.'

-- Jeremiah 10:3-4

Christmas trees do neither harm nor good. It's only obsession with Christmas trees (or obsession with anything else, for that matter), which does harm.

Christian Behaviour

On to the other part of what's been going on with the whole Christmas discussion. This is the attitude of Christians towards people of other religions, or of no religions. It's a difficult subject, because we're all people, and no-one is perfect. Christians are not perfect, which is why we follow Jesus... we believe that he will wash away out imperfections and enter our names in the Book of Life so we can enter Heaven.

But the problem is the Christians who seem to be being obtuse, or who don't realise how they come across. Some don't realise that how they present themselves might drive away the very people who they are trying to convert - even those people who may have had a genuine interest in hearing about Jesus.

In my opinion, instead of sounding harsh, and saying such things like "You are evil!" (I have read this too many times from a few Christians!)... wouldn't it be better for them to be praying to God regarding the situation, and speaking to non-Christians in a gentle way? There is no use condemning them! We're we all sinners, to begin with?

When I write about my faith I try to pray about what I say (even if it's a little late, and I pray after the event - God does, indeed, work in mysterious ways!), and leave it up to God to prompt the people reading or not. Jesus didn't force things on people - God gave us all free choice for a reason!

I hope that all of us Christians act in the way God wants us to act... but it is very hard, I admit. We're not perfect. That's why I pray that God will lead me, and help me to follow his will instead of my own. But it's still a hard thing to do... But praying does help.

Please remember what Jesus said about judging of others:

1"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. 3"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.

-- Matthew 7:1-5

47"As for the person who hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge him. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save it. 48There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day. 49For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it. 50I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say."

-- John 12:47-50

Remember - Jesus didn't judge people. As Christians aren't we meant to be more like Jesus?

As for getting insulted by others, because we mention that we're Christians? Well, that happens, too. Unfortunately there is nothing we can do about that (other than praying for the people insulting us)... the only thing we can do it to change ourselves, and to learn to forgive these people, too.

Heaven and Hell

One final topic. Heaven and Hell. Often discussions come to this - many don't understand why we believe that Jesus is the only way to Heaven.

The old testament in the bible talks about Sheol, which was "the grave and the temporary home to the soul"... everyone goes to Sheol (the grave) when they die. I seems to be a 'holding place' for the dead.

Then there was Abaddon (The Pit), which seems to be part of Sheol, but the lowest part where all of the wicked souls went. Again, this is, like Sheol, a Jewish concept.

(As a side note, the ancient Egyptians didn't have a hell - instead they believed that one could be completely and utterly destroyed. Either by Ammut, "Great of Death, Eater of Hearts, The Devourer", or by having one's image and one's name destroyed in the living world.)

These two places were both thought to be 'down', while heaven was thought to be 'up'. (Like in ancient Egypt - there was an underworld, but there was also a world in the 'imperishable stars' up above... though the entry way to the land of the dead was to the 'west' in Egypt.) The Jewish concept was that the spirits of the righteous could rise up from Sheol to heaven.

In the new testament, they used the term Hades, as the new testament had a lot to do with Greek people, moving away from the Hebrew. It was, again, a holding place for the dead.

They believed that there was a great lake of fire in Tartarus (similar to Abaddon), which caused a "second death". (Like the Egyptians believed that the soul(s) could be destroyed in various ways, this was the souls being thrown into the lake of fire that caused the second death.) Tartarus is where it was believed that God sent his fallen angels when they sinned.

Again, the souls were thought to go to heaven - Paradise, which again was thought to be 'up'. This is where it is believed that God lives, and is a spiritual place.

Both the Jewish and the Greek parts of the bible mention that, in the future, God will create a new heaven and a new earth:

21 And I will select some of them also to be priests and Levites," says the LORD.
22 "As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me," declares the LORD , "so will your name and descendants endure. 23 From one New Moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before me," says the LORD.

-- Isaiah 66:21-23

... 12as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. 14 So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him...

-- 2 Peter 3:12-14

1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband...

-- Revelation 21:1-2

I believe that currently Hell is a place where Satan and the demons are, a spiritual world place. I don't believe that, currently, it's a place where the spirits of the dead people go. I don't believe that the deceased go straight up to heaven, until after the day that God raises them from the dead to stand before his throne for judgement.

As for the burning lake, I believe that Satan will be the first to be tossed in there.

But this is what the bible says about the Judgement:

11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. 15 If anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

-- Revelation 20:11-15

But it's up to God to decide what happens in the end.

Merry Christmas (or whatever you are celebrating this season!), and God bless!


It's Christmas-time again... but why!?

The Smell of Christmas

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© Caroline 'Kunoichi' Seawright 2000 - present

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