Christmas: Promise and Purpose December 19, 2013Posted by Daniel Downs in Christmas, family, marriage.
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By Daniel Downs
Christmas is a multifaceted story about real events wrapped in two narratives. The two narratives are found in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. Like a new train and its track, these two narratives are part of one colorfully packaged gift given to humanity by God. Together they show the meaning of Christmas.
Some scholars and teachers rightly say the reason for the season is God’s love, peace, and forgiveness of sin.
The first gospel begins with teen pregnancy. Yes, it’s true the Hebrew word translated virgin actually means young woman or teen girl. It’s equally true that in ancient Jewish culture teenage girls were expected to marry and then bear children. Out-of-wedlock pregnancies were as unlawful as immoral. The social stigmatism would have been as illiberal as Scarlet Letter puritanism. Just as a barren wife, a young unwed mother would have experienced the discriminating scorn of a religious society. Therefore, it is reasonable to interpret the transliterated Hebrew word almah as virgin (Mt. 1:23; Isa. 7:14).
Rabbinical literature originating in Babylonia portrays young Mary as mistress of a Roman soldier. Whether because of sinful consent, seduction or rape, Mary’s pregnancy was conceived by rabbis opposed to the gospel message as adulterated sin. The Palestinian view, as scholars call it, is considerably different. It lacked any negative diatribes against Mary or her son. Just as the Palestinian Talmud reflects its local context, the two gospel narratives were rooted in local events and daily life in Judea and Samaria.
We also will find the meaning of Christmas grounded in the same geographical, cultural, ideological, and historical situation of then current events.
While reading our two narrative gifts, two bright themes twinkle like lights reflecting off shinny wrappings. Those themes are promise and purpose. As if sitting prominently under a Christmas tree, the two themes are wrapped with bright colorful interpretations of unfolding events. Those events appear to be fulfillment of promises made by God through even more ancient prophets. As such, they reveal as well as affirm the purpose of God.
For example, the gospel of Matthew begins the story of Jesus’ birth with marriage. “Mary has been betrothed to Joseph…her husband (1:18, 19). In ancient Jewish culture, engagement was regarded as the beginning of a marriage. While Joseph was thinking about divorcing her, an angel told him to keep his wife because her pregnancy was God’s doing (1:19-20). Why would God do such a thing? The angel continued telling Joseph that Mary’s son would save his people. At that time, most Israelis were expecting a Messiah that would deliver them from the oppressive rule of the Roman Empire and puppet kings like Herod. That was not God’s purpose. Jesus was adopted and formed in the womb of Joseph’s virgin wife to save his people from their sins (1:20-21). This was seen by ancient writers like Matthew as fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy about the Messiah (1:20-21; Isa. 7:14). As evident in writings like Psalms of Solomon, 1 Enoch, and Dead Sea Scrolls, the Messiah of David would represent the holy presence of God and lead all Jews into sinless living. In fact some believed the law would pass away when the true Messiah began to reign. For the law not to be needed meant all had to live holy lives at all times. Being capable of doing so meant the Messiah had to be as holy and sinless as those he would make holy or sinless. That is what the name “Immanuel” or “God with us” meant to those same ancient people.
If we trace the biblical history of God’s redemption, God chooses marriage and family as part of the means to its end.
The purpose of marriage is narrated in Genesis (2:18-25). After their moral crime, Adam and Eve were given a promised future in which God’s purpose would continue. Adam and Eve would create a society of families who would make God’s creation productive and who would overcome temptation and immorality (Gen. 3). It was for married society that God offered the first animal sacrifice in order to cover the naked guilt and shame of the first traditionally married couple. The clothing also served to minimize temptation (Gen. 3:21-23). Nevertheless, sibling rivalry and sexual perversion motivated by jealousy and lust followed (Gen. 4:1-24). One result was the rise of the first walled urban city, according to archaeology. Beginning with Adam’s grandson, the descendants of Adam began seeking God’s redemption (Gen. 4:25-26). Why? Because human decadence also continued until it dominated society. This was followed with the family of Noah being saved from the flood as well as the continuation the covenant of redemption that began with Adam (Gen. 6-8 & 9-10). The fulfillment of God’s redemptive purpose was given greater specificity with the family of Abraham. Through this family, God promised to bless the entire world (Gen. 12-17). At the same time, the sterile couple, Abraham and Sarah, was promised a son, Isaac, through whom the promise would be fulfilled in history (Gen. 15, 18). Yet, the promise was The same could be said about the family of David and the promised Messiah (2 Sa. 7:12-16; Rom. 1:1-4). Not only through a specific descendant of David would Israel’s redemption be realized but all people across the globe would have access to it as well. With the virgin birth of Jesus, the promised redemption began to be fulfilled.
As we have seen, God chose a young married couple to bring His adopted son into the world. The fact that an angel visibly announced God’s adoptive purpose for Jesus’ life before his conception gave them a solemn mission of parenting. Their purpose was to raise God’s son to fulfill his life purpose—the salvation of Israel as well as rule of the kingdom (Lk. 1: 32-33). All of this was affirmed first by the priestly shepherds who were told by a host of angels that the salvation this new born King would bring was for all people (Lk. 2:10-14). Further affirmation came at Jesus’ dedication by the temple priest Simeon (Lk. 2:21-32). Simeon again affirmed that Jesus was salvation for both Jews and gentiles according to Isaiah 49:5-6. Finally, the ambassadors of Parthia, the Magi, came escorted by a military regiment to pay homage to the newly born Messiah (Mt. 2:1-6). Consequently, Mary and Joseph were parents with a holy mission to deliver God’s gift of salvation holy and sinless for both Israel and the world. They had godly relatives and friends as well as a culture defined by God’s word (however tainted by sin and the influence of Rome’s presence) to assist them.
This was God’s Christmas gift to all people for all times. Jesus’ parents wrapped him in a Hanukkah candle wick because God wanted all people to see that His son is true light of the world (Lk. 2:12-14). While his destiny was to suffer the shame and judgment for all sins of all people on the cross and in hell, God saw the fulfillment of his redemptive purpose advance toward final fulfillment (Isa. 53). Having fully satisfied divine justice, God raised His son from hell, from death’s tomb, and from the rejection of ignorant men. And, by lifting His son up to His side in heaven, the light of His peace, grace, and holy life forever shines for all to behold and embrace. God’s just forgiveness, His presence and empowerment, and His acceptance are continually held out by our gentle risen Shepherd and Lord Jesus. The gift only has to be received and lived. When all parents and their children do, society will finally realize the common good of God’s will. Then peace will then reign on earth.
Chronicles on Christmas December 25, 2008Posted by Daniel Downs in Chrisitanity, Christmas, conservative, culture war, Jesus Christ, news, politics, religion, secularism.
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While Tom Flemings was musing about his Christmas nightmares, Tom Piatak was rehashing some of his earlier commentary on the culture war against Christmas. Both intellectuals were sharing their complaints and insights in the December edition of Chronicles : A Magazine of American culture, which is a publication of the Rockford Institute.
Uh, that is not an institute of Hollywood’s private detective series The Rockford Files starred by James Garner as Jim Rockford. No, the Rockford Institute is a conservative think-tank seeking to honor the founder’s view of American life and politics.
Fleming’s takes his readers on a dark journey from the blessings of Halloween to the paganization of Christmas. This trip began with childhood perceptions to the more matured and educated perspective of that critical period known as adulthood. The contrasts between the developments of Halloween and Christmas, especially between various movies like The Nightmare Before Christmas and A Christmas Carol are astounding. That is not as astounding as the general trend of among Christians who have adapted a pagan version of Christmas. After all Christmas is about baby Jesus being born not to escape infanticide or poverty but to die so that all humanity could have eternal life.
It cannot be said that Chronicles is not balanced. As mentioned earlier, the other Tom offers more than dark trends of modern culture that should give all conservatives nightmares about our materialistic Christmas season; he offers solutions under the banner of “How to Win the War Against Christmas.”
In addition to giving readers a brief history of the problem such as schools who forbid the Christmas classic Handel’s Messiah or the bigger war against Western culture, Piatak presents some ideas how collectively we can win the war against Christmas.
Before doing so, we should back up a little to explain the above. In Columbus Ohio, school officials refused to allow the school’s music departments to perform the Christmas classic Handel’s Messiah. The reason was to appease an anti-religious policy engendered by the ACLU, who resemble Russia’s KGB and the thought police in Orwell’s book 1984. They are among the warriors fighting against the traditions of Western culture that is largely the product of Christianity, which is to say of Jesus Christ and his followers’ biblical theological and political views. Multiculturalism, moral relativism, political correctness, and cultural Marxism are a few of arsenal employed by the ACLU, public education, and others in this war.
While quoting Thomas Cahill, he reveals something I never knew or at least didn’t remember. The familiar manger scene of Christ at his birth originated when Francis of Assisi created the first live crèche celebrating the lowly beginnings of the world’s only true savior. Another unknown historical fact is much the renowned artists and musical composers like Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael, and Caravaggio as well as Bach, Mozart, and the grand master Handel.
The great artistic traditions that have inspired generations of Americans are the result of Christianity and its Jewish Messiah.
If the secular gulag is allowed to sanitize Christmas, as Piatak says, we will also lose all of our historical heritage and the inspiration for much of the great art, music, and yes, even science– not to mention the legal, political, and economic principles that guided our ancestors to our Constituted federal and republican form of governments. The development of those principles go back to the Protestant Reformation and ultimately to the biblical Exodus.
What then is Piatak’s solution to the secularist war against western culture and its tradition of celebrating the birth of the Messiah? He says we could start saying to one another Merry Christmas. That’s should be pretty easy. We could also stop patronizing politically correct retailers. We could only buy cards that mention Christmas. We could use only USPS Christmas stamp in December. By telling why we are doing so, those retailers and our local postal service would get the message and change their views and practices.
The good news is that the numbers are on our side, according to Piatak. He reports that polls show 96 percent of Americans celebrate Christmas.
My personal opinionated conclusion to Tom and Tom’s opinionated Christmas musings is just this: Join the pursuit for a Merry Christmas every day of the year and forever.
NY Times, The Grinch That Trashed a Christmas Classic December 25, 2008Posted by Daniel Downs in Christmas, culture war, media bias.
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Don Feder commentary of the New York Time’s view of Christmas is worth reading. It was first published on his activist website called Boycott The New York Times, which something everyone who loves America and Christmas should consider doing. (Why? Go to Feder’s website and find out). For now, please read the following:
The headline on a critique in today’s New York Times says it all: “Wonderful? Sorry, George, It’s a Pitiful, Dreadful Life.” Nothing more clearly illustrates the paper’s hatred of normalcy than its revisionist perspective on “It’s A Wonderful Life.”
The moral of the 1946 Capra classic — life has meaning. Even if we don’t achieve our dreams, even if our existence is seemingly hum-drum, those who lead good lives will never know how much good they’ve done.
George Bailey does, by glimpsing what his world would look like if he’d never been born. He discovers (to paraphrase the film) that every life touches so many other lives — and, if it’s not there, it leaves a terrible void. This hopeful message is why the film has charmed audiences for over 60 years.
Wendell Jamieson, author of The Times’ diatribe, hates nearly everything about the film. George Bailey is pathetic for sacrificing his dreams for the greater good of his family, friends and the depositors of the Bailey Savings and Loan. Jamieson finds the film’s nostalgic vision of small town life embodied in Bedford Falls boring and stultifying.
He much prefers Pottersville in the alternate reality. “The women are hot, the music swings, and the fun times go on all night.”
Yes, and George’s wife is a mousey, spinster librarian; his mother is a bitter, dried-up hag who runs a dilapidated boarding house; brother Harry died as a child because George wasn’t there to save him (consequently, all the men on Harry’s ship died because he wasn’t there to save them); Uncle Billy loses his marbles when the Saving and Loan closes its doors, and so on.
Jamieson’s piece reflects The Times’ worldview — individuals should live primarily for themselves; self-sacrifice is stupid; fast women, gambling and loud music are fun; and life is ultimately meaningless.
People who are world-wise are attracted to one type of cinema; those who are world-weary are drawn to the opposite. One is tempted to describe The New York Times as the Grinch who trashed a Christmas classic. But it probably likes the Grinch too.
And now, it’s back to playing with my toys as if that had ever ceased.
The State of Santa Claus December 24, 2007Posted by Daniel Downs in children, China, Christmas, family, global trade, Jesus Christ, news, offshoring, polls, religion, Saint Nicholas, Santa Claus, science, secularism, survey, toys, United Nations, United States, Universal Postal Union.
In a December 19 Newsmax article, Charles R. Smith reported Santa’s was on a return trip from China when his sleigh went down somewhere in the South China Sea. As reported by officials of both the Chinese government and the North Pole, one of several Chinese military escorts was blinded by Rudolph’s bright red nose when he temporarily lost control of his plane and accidentally fired a missile that collided with Santa’s sleigh. (more…)
Fun Family Christmas ‘the best gift’ December 19, 2007Posted by Daniel Downs in children, Christmas, faith, family, giving, God, news, relationships, religion, research.
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A December 17 report by BBC News revealed two-thirds of UK citizens looked forward to spending time with family this Christmas. In the same poll conducted for the Children’s Society, 40% of respondents said they had already gone over budget on presents.
Do you remember the song Money can’t buy me love? Giving great Christmas presents can’t buy love or happiness either. (more…)
A Presidential Candidates Financial Campaign Christmas December 16, 2007Posted by Daniel Downs in Barak Obama, campaign finance, Christmas, elections, Fred Thompson, Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, John McCain, Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, political campaigns, presidential election, Ron Paul, Rudy Giuliani.
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Christmas is only few days away and presidential candidates want Santa Claus to bring them more campaign funds. Actually, they want Santa to bring them a guaranteed win in the primaries beginning January 3 and ending June 3. Nonetheless, presidential candidates require lots of money to advertise their superior leadership qualities and issue solving plans to every person in every state and the entire nation. (more…)