Archive | Christmas

Santa Claus – The Modern vs Historical Figure (Video)

Portrait of Santa ClauseTim Kimberley joined us at Credo House for Coffee & Theology recently to dispel common myths around Santa Claus.

If you like the movies which cover the “origin story” of your favorite superhero you’ll enjoy this video.

The real Santa Claus bears little if any resemblance to the St. Nicholas of church history.

As with so many aspects of church history the reality of who St. Nicholas was far more inspiring than the modern conception of a jolly fat man who gives presents to everyone.

Episodes of Coffee & Theology are only made available in the members’ area of Credo House online. We’ve made an exception for Christmas.

Santa Clause and Christmas Articles

Christmas is the biggest holiday in America (measured economically). Beyond it’s economic impact it’s also a time when Christian families set aside time to reflect on “the reason for the season”.

 

Deep Songs of Christmas: Hark the Herald Angels Sing

It’s that time of year where deep theological songs about Jesus are allowed full access. If we pause and listen we just might allow the music at the mall to take us deep into our Jesus.

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Background

Hark the Herald Angels Sing was written by Charles Wesley. It first appeared in a 1739 collection of hymns. Wesley had desired for the hymn to be accompanied by slow and solemn music. Wesley’s co-laborer, friend and also theological nemesis, George Whitefield, got hold of the hymn and changed some of the lyrics.

A hundred years later the composer Felix Mendelssohn wrote a cantata to commemorate Johann Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press. English musician William H. Cummings took Mendelssohn’s cantata and fit it to the old lyrics of Wesley and Whitefield. Cummings’ form of the hymn is the popular one we love and hear today.

Theological Meditations

A great deal of deep theological meditation can happen through the following lyrics. Nearly every major field of systematic theology is covered in the lyrics.

The first stanza reminds us of the excited participation of the angels seeing God and sinners reconciled. We forget so many times that angels are not humans. Jesus did not become an angel to redeem fallen angels, he became a human to redeem humans. Yet angels are singing triumphantly of the world-wide power of the reconciliation started by the arrival of Jesus.

That’s just the first stanza. This is a hymn capable of taking us through many deep theological aspects of Christmas.

Pause. Relax. Please take just a few minutes to slowly read through the following lyrics. Please comment on stanzas that jump out to you reminding you of the glorious depths of Christmas. It will be great to see everyone’s observations in the comments section from this simple Christmas hymn.

Lyrics

Hark the herald angels sing
Glory to the newborn King
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled
Joyful, all ye nations, rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
With th’ angelic host proclaim
Christ is born in Bethlehem.

Hark the herald angels sing
Glory to the newborn King.

Christ, by highest heaven adored;
Christ, the everlasting Lord;
Late in time behold him come,
Offspring of the Virgin’s womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail the incarnate Deity,
Pleased as man with man to dwell;
Jesus, our Emmanuel.
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Should Christians Play Santa?

santa

Some people will argue that playing Santa has many negative effects. I would like to respond to some of these objections:

1. Playing Santa takes away from the real meaning of Christmas, the birth of Christ.

Kylee, my 13-year-old daughter, when she was 10 years-old asked me, “Daddy, what is your favorite holiday.” I looked at her with the look that says, “Do you even need to ask?” Of course it is Christmas! The Christmas season, I believe, is an act of common grace upon our society that carries with it a mood that blesses both believers and non-believers. Having said that, the beauty for us Christians is that it is a celebration of what we believe to be the most important birth in human history. If Christians lose this focus, I do think that we have compromised. But this compromise is not so much a compromise of truth (as Christians do believe in the birth of Christ whether they focus on it or not), but of joy. Christians can fail to take part in the common grace of the mood Christmas evokes.

Having said that, I don’t think that playing Santa need to take away from the true spirit of Christmas anymore than family gatherings, football, gloriously wrapped presents, and good food. Christmas is ultimately not about families getting together, great food, giving gifts to others (including the poor), taking a break from work, building snow men, putting up Christmas trees, decorating with lights on houses, or any other ancillary aspect that no one complains about. If you take Santa away, then take away all these other traditions.

Sadly, I am sure that there will be some who advocate just this. They are left with only Christ in a manger. “Good,” someone says. “That is how it should be!” The problems with this type of attitude are many. Let me give you two: 1) We are never commanded to celebrate Christ’s birth on any particular day. Our entire lives, every day, are to be one of devotion and celebration of the incarnation. It becomes legalistic when someone says that we must celebrate Christ’s birth this way at this time to be more godly. 2) It takes away from the ancillary common grace of Christmas. To take away family, food, Christmas lights, gifts, Christmas trees, Santa, and the like does nothing but quiet the celebration. These things provide the ambianic grace of God in Christmas.

In the end, there is no reason why playing Santa must take away from the focus on Christ’s birth anymore than going to grandmas for a Christmas feast does.

2. Playing Santa is a lie Continue Reading →

The Angel Gabriel


The Angel Gabriel

Angels make a couple appearances in the Christmas story. The first is told by Luke:

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” – Luke 1:26

Is your pulse quickening? Are your eyes wide with wonder? Have you moved to the front of your seat? Of course not, you are too familiar with this part of the story. It’s easy for us all to think, “I’ve heard this a million times. I’ve seen the cute little angels floating above the nativity scene. Blah, Blah, Blah, Got it, let’s move on…”

If you quickly pass over Gabriel you will miss some of the significance of Christmas. We can become so accustomed to the appearance of Gabriel in the Christmas story we no longer see his meaning. Our minds are no longer blown. This whole part of the story is now cliché.

The Christmas season I hope you will appreciate the role of Gabriel. Can you believe it? Ladies and Gentlemen…we have an angel on our hands. Not just any nameless angel, however, Gabriel is standing in Nazareth and has just spoken to a little teenage girl named Mary!

Angelology

Let’s back up a little bit. I wish we knew a lot more about angels. The Bible provides only a few clues about them. Here’s what we know for sure:

Angels and humans are the only two self-conscious intelligent beings in all the universe. Put another way, God created two types of beings within which he could have an intelligent conversation. Humans are not and never become angels.

Humans are created in a way where we procreate. God created Adam and Eve, they had the hots for each other, and here we are several thousand years later. God designed angels completely different. All angels were created around the same time. We know there are innumerable angels (Hebrews 12:22). Every one of these innumerable angels are extremely old. How old are the angels?
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Who Really was Santa Claus?


Who Really was Santa Claus?

Many Christians ignore Santa. He is believed to have nothing to do with the “real” reason for Christmas. Much like the Easter bunny, Santa seems to be a pure distraction. Eliminate Santa and you will hopefully be able to more clearly see Jesus. This Christmas season, however, I am trying to allow every sighting of that big jolly fellow to take me deeper into Jesus.

I think you should actually increase your discussions about Santa. I think you should teach your children more, not less, about Santa. I think you need to get to know the real Santa. By getting to know the real Santa, every sighting of him will remind you of the real reason for the season.

The real name of Santa Claus is Saint Nicholas of Myra. The name Santa Claus is a Dutch version of the name Saint Nicholas. His actual life is far more interesting than the whimsical stories made up later.

Early Life

A Christian man named Epiphaneas and his wife Nona always wanted to have a child. They lived on the northern coast of the Mediterranean Sea in modern-day Turkey. They prayed many times for a child but Nona remained barren. They determined if the Lord would work a miracle and provide a son they would, like Hannah in the Old Testament, devote the boy to the Lord. After 30 long years of praying a boy named Nicholas entered the world around 275AD.

Life was not easy in the 3rd century. In the ancient world, without modern medicine, most any disease could prove crippling or fatal. The local and federal government of the day did not provide social services. If people could not take care of themselves they would starve. Christians made a huge difference by loving those forsaken by other people. They provided hospice care for the sick, support for widows, orphans and the unfortunate. While Nicholas was still a boy a plague swept through his area. His parents, unfortunately, were both killed by the plague. What would become of Nicholas?
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The Virgin Birth: Why It Is Important

The reality of the Virgin Birth has been affirmed by the church at least as far back as when the Gospels of Matthew and Luke were written.  It is affirmed in the Church’s earliest creedal affirmation, The Old Roman Symbol  (or the Roman Baptismal Creed), dating from no later than the second century (during which time it is cited by both Tertullian and Irenaeus).[1]

The only real debate in which the virgin birth played a central role was the translation of Isaiah 7:14 by the RSV (Revised Standard Version) in 1952.  The translators rendered the Hebrew term alma (עַלְמָה) as “young woman.”  Conservatives railed against the translation as trying to discredit the virgin birth.  But in point of fact, while the term may refer to a virgin, that is not a necessary nuance of alma.  When the translators of the RSV translated the Matthean passage citing Isaiah 7:14, Matthew chose the Greek term parthenos (παρθένος), which does mean virgin.[2]  Clearly Matthew understood the conception of Christ to have been both virginal and a divine miracle.

The fact of the virgin birth is key in understanding the importance afforded Mary in both the Catholic and Orthodox communions. The Catholic Church has taught the immaculate conception of Mary (that she was born without original sin) to further theologically guard the sinlessness of Jesus, i.e., that he was born into unfallen Adamic humanity.  While Protestants have eschewed the Immaculate Conception, they too have asserted that Jesus inherited unfallen humanity from his mother.

 In general[3], throughout the centuries, only pagan critics of Christianity and rationalists have denied that Jesus was born of Mary without a human father.  Discussions of the virgin birth over the past two centuries have fallen largely in the realm of apologetic defenses of its reality.[4]

For example, Charles Briggs (who, in 1893, was convicted by the Northern Presbyterian Church of denying inerrancy) saw the virgin birth as a touchstone doctrine, the denial of which put one on the proverbial “slippery slope” towards theological apostasy.

It is not merely the virgin birth that is in ques­tion, in the interest of the more complete hu­manity of our Lord; it is also the doctrine of original sin and the sinlessness of Jesus; it is also his bodily resurrec­tion and ascension. . .  It is the whole nature of the atonement and Christian salvation with the doc­trine of sacrifice and propitiation.  All these doc­trines are hanging in the balance in those minds which doubt or deny the virgin birth.  Those who give up the virgin birth will be compelled by logical and irresistible im­pulse eventually to give up all of these. [5]

Indeed, Briggs desired to have A. C. McGiffert, his former student and later President of Union Seminary New York, fired from his post at Union for denying the Virgin Birth.[6]

During the 1930s, J. Gresham Machen published his magisterial The Virgin Birth of Christ, a volume that has never been equaled in comprehensiveness and scholarship on the topic. It too was apologetic in nature.

During the era of the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy, the Virgin Birth attained a quasi-official touchstone status as one of the five fundamentals of the faith.  The rationale was that accepting the virgin birth was a quick and easy test to see if someone believed in miracles.

Surprisingly, despite its professed importance as being foundational to the Christian faith, relatively little profound theological reflection has taken place regarding the virgin birth.  In fact, prominent evangelical theologian Millard Erickson (who does accept the truth of the virgin birth) denies its necessity, as does Wayne Grudem (who also accepts the doctrine), to name just two. Erickson says,

But, we must ask, is not the virgin birth important in some more specific way? Some have argued that the doctrine is indispensable to the incarnation. Without the virgin birth there would have been no union of God and man.38[7]If Jesus had been simply the product of a normal sexual union of man and woman, he would have been only a human being, not a God-man. But is this really true? Could he not have been God and a man if he had had two human parents, or none? Just as Adam was created directly by God, so Jesus could also have been a direct special creation. And accordingly, it should have been possible for Jesus to have two human parents and to have been fully the God-man nonetheless. To insist that having a human male parent would have excluded the possibility of deity smacks of Apollinarianism, according to which the divine Logos took the place of one of the normal components of human nature (the soul). But Jesus was fully human, including everything that both a male and a female parent would ordinarily contribute. In addition, there was the element of deity. What God did was to supply, by a special creation, both the human component ordinarily contributed by the male (and thus we have the virgin birth) and, in addition, a divine factor (and thus we have the incarnation). The virgin birth requires only that a normal human being was brought into existence without a human male parent. This could have occurred without an incarnation, and there could have been an incarnation without a virgin birth. Some have called the latter concept “instant adoptionism,” since presumably the human involved would have existed on his own apart from the addition of the divine nature. The point here, however is that, with the incarnation occurring at the moment of conception or birth, there would never have been a moment when Jesus was not both fully human and fully divine. In other words, his being both divine and human did not depend on the virgin birth[8] Continue Reading →

Too Cool for Christmas

We’re in the Christmas spirit at the Credo House. We probably have the world’s largest fake tree proudly decorated to the max inside. I’m not kidding, it’s over 20 feet tall! We’re serving all sorts of Christmas season special coffee drinks. Our St. Nicholas frappuccino is flying off the shelf. The other day I was sipping on our egg nog Latte, listening to Christmas music bounce off the Credo walls, watching Elf playing on our largest flat screen t.v. when one of our baristas walked in the door for his shift. This barista is probably our most “hipster” of all our baristas. I love this guy.

He came up to me with a look on his face I hadn’t seen before. It reminded me of the look that must have been on the face of Jesus when He said, “How long must I be with these people?” Our barista surprised me by his question. He said, “Are we really going to be playing Christmas music all month?”

I must admit I was taken back a little bit. I responded, “Probably.” Once again I got the, “How long must I remain with these people?” look. In an instant my mind was filled with other times in my life where I’ve encountered scrooges in training. We can all be scrooges in training. Here are several ways we can be too cool for Christmas:

1. Too Unique for Christmas

I think our barista fell into this category. No one wants to feel like they’re just a 9-digit social security number. Out of the 7 billion people on the planet we each want to be valued for our individual worth. It’s easy to get into the mindset, “If other people like it I don’t.” If everyone loves a certain musical artist, I’ll find an indie group no one has ever heard of. If everyone loves a certain team, I’ll set myself apart by being too unique to lower myself to the bandwagon. If everyone wears a certain style of clothing, I’ll differentiate myself with an eclectic wardrobe. I want people to remember my unique contribution to the world.

The people in this group continually think, “I am unique and need to stay that way in all areas of life.” If millions of people love Christmas, not me. I’m out, give me a break. I’m too cool for Christmas.

The problem with this mindset is Jesus. Jesus is the unique One. Do you know any other God-mans? Do you know anyone else who invites you to be adopted into the family of God? Do you know anyone else who bids you to throw your life away and take His life. And it is truly an upgrade? If you want to set yourself apart, follow the only God-man who has ever stepped foot on this planet. Christmas is the only time when the arrival of Jesus rightfully takes center stage. Don’t be too unique for Christmas.

2. Too Old for Christmas

If we aren’t careful we will all start thinking Christmas is just for kids. Yes, I’m planning this coming Saturday on taking my three little kids to sit on the lap of Santa. Did you know he’s going to be at Quail Springs Mall in Oklahoma City, OK? My kids are so excited they can barely see straight.

My two year old daughter screams every time we’re driving around at night and she sees a house with Christmas lights up. She’ll say, “Lights! Dad! Lights! Dad!” as loud as she can until I acknowledge her. Then 5 seconds later we drive by another house and it starts all over.
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The First Christmas: Myths and Realities

I. A Reality Check

Here’s a true-false quiz:

1. Mary and Joseph had to travel as quickly as possible to Bethlehem because Mary could have given birth at any moment.
2. The Bethlehem innkeeper was fully booked, and so Mary had to give birth to Jesus in the barn/stall nearby/behind the inn.
3. Initially, this experience must have been frightening and lonely for Mary and Joseph.
4. “The little Lord Jesus no crying he makes.”
5. The angels who appeared to the shepherds had wings.

How’d you do on the quiz? Check your answers below. (Some of these thoughts are taken from a talk I gave on what really happened that first Christmas.)

Marcus Borg, a member of the liberal Jesus Seminar, claims that the Gospels are in serious conflict: Jesus was born “in a stable” in Luke but in a home in Matthew (Marcus Borg [and N.T. Wright], The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions [San Francisco: HarperSF, 1999], 180). As it turns out, this isn’t really a conflict at all. Contrary to the traditional Christmas story, Jesus was indeed born in a home! Borg’s claim is based on the notable King James Version’s mistranslation of Luke 2:7: “there was no room for them in the inn.” But the KJV rendering goes against Luke’s in(n)tention.

Over the centuries, the Christmas story has been re-cast and romanticized into a kind of Christian “mythology.” But what do the Scriptures really tell us about Jesus’ birth?

1. There would have been no inns in a backwater town like Bethlehem. They would be found along main roads or in cities.

2. The word for inn (katalyma) is the same one as the “guest room (of a private home)” mentioned in Mk. 14:14 and Lk. 22:11—the room where the last supper was eaten.

Mark 14:13-15: “Go into the city, and a man will meet you carrying a pitcher of water; follow him; and wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher says, “Where is My *guest room* [katalyma] in which I may eat the Passover with My disciples?”’ And he himself will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; prepare for us there.” Continue Reading →