Friday, November 30, 2018

A Presidential Christmas Proclamation Quiz

It's time for a little quiz about which one of our last four presidents said the following things on the occasion of Christmas or the lighting of the Christmas tree. Ready? Here we go!

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A. "Warm greetings to everyone celebrating Christmas. The Christmas story is dear and familiar to us all—shepherds and angels, Wise Men and King Herod, Mary and Joseph, and, at the heart of it all, a Child. This Child was born into poverty in a city too crowded to offer Him shelter. He was sent to a region whose people had endured suffering, tyranny, and exile. And yet this Child brought with Him riches so great that they continue to sustain the human spirit two thousand years later: the assurance of God's love and presence in our lives and the promise of salvation. Each year at Christmas, we celebrate these gifts with family and friends. We place candles in the window as a sign that there is always room for Christ in our homes. We put angels and stars and twinkling lights on the Christmas tree to remind us of the glory and mystery of Christ's birth. We sing the old and beloved Christmas carols to express the joy filling our hearts, and we share special gifts with those we love, just as God shared His Son with us. And, in contemplating the nativity scene under the tree or in a neighbor's yard, we realize that children hold a special place in God's heart, since He sent His only Son to us as a little Child."

Monday, November 26, 2018

The Birthday of the Sun/Son: How Saturnalia Became Christmas, Saint Nicholas Became Santa, And A Holiday Became A War

How did Christmas start? Why do we celebrate the way we do? What do all the symbols mean? Is it a Christian holiday or not?  Why is there a "war" every year? And should there be?

For better or worse, here is my attempt to sort through the history of this popular holiday. Keep in mind that there is a LOT of competing information out there about the history of Christmas. I have worked to find the truth, but my presentation is only as good as my sources, which I hope are reliable. 

Thursday, November 22, 2018

The Discipline Of Thankfulness

We are blessed here in America in tremendous ways. If I forget to be thankful here in beautiful Northern Michigan, it’s because I get distracted by and used to good things I shouldn’t take for granted. In other places and in other times, this easy thankfulness is challenged because there are circumstances that make the good in things hard to find.

Recent events remind us that this world is in need of repair (California fires, the war in Yemen, the shootings, the Caravan). We don't have to watch TV to know this is true. Our own communities, our own homes, our own souls remind us this is true. As I say this, my cousin’s husband is recovering from a horrifying farm accident. The unfolding of human history, while full of beauty, has also been pretty grim. Bankruptcy. Divorce. Death. Illness. Depression. Loneliness. Pain. Suffering. Persecution.

Paul once wrote to the persecuted church in Thessalonica to give thanks to God no matter what circumstances you find yourself in.  When we talk about thanksgiving, or giving thanks, we are not just talking about an emotion or feeling (though it can be that). I wonder if more often than not thanksgiving is a decision, a perspective, a commitment to finding God in our story, a search for God in every memory. It’s being thankful for what God has done in us in the midst of all these things. 

A very short poem caught my eye a while ago.  After his barn burned down, Japanese poet Masahide wrote, "My barn having burned to the ground, I can now see the moon." That's brilliant. I’ve read other similar perspectives along the same lines.

“I thank Thee first because I was never robbed before; second, because although they took my purse they did not take my life; third, although they took my all, it was not much; and fourth, because it was I who was robbed and not I who robbed.” - Matthew Henry, on the night he was robbed.
“Oh, what a happy soul am I although I cannot see, I am resolved that in this world contented I shall be. How many blessings I enjoy that other people don't. To weep and sigh, because I'm blind? I cannot and I won't.”- blind hymn writer Fanny Crosby

On Thanksgiving at least, I want to take Paul seriously. I want to find God in the story of my life, to revisit the places where some kind of barn burned down. I wanted to know if, after the smoke cleared, the moon (or perhaps the Son) would bring even a little light to that dark corner of the world. I want to be a more disciplined kind of thankful this year, the kind of person that commits to finding God at work even in the chapters of my life that I don't want to re-read.