Is there a better way of celebrating Christmas?

Christmas in its true origin and meaning is about God being with us in the person of Jesus to break us free from our ridiculous, empty-headed, humanity-draining idols. It’s about a human being who lived the life of God’s world in our world to show us what works instead of the nonsense we’ve created. And there’s probably no more effective and visible illustration of that than the way we celebrate Christmas.

On the one hand, Christmas has its good side. It nibbles round what God created us for, to live and practice the ways of heaven on earth. It’s a valiant attempt at self-giving love, which is at the heart of who God is and how he lives. It tries to create a little light in the darkness by grabbing the one time all year when it’s possible to break free from the daily grind to get together, revive relationships, and enjoy the beauty of family. And for many people it’s lovely. They love buying gifts, love seeing the children’s eyes gleam as they unwrap presents, love cooking up a storm, love the buzz of a house full of relatives, and love the warm fuzzy feelings Christmas creates.

But admit it: It is exhausting. We’ve created a monster that instead of freeing us from our idols has enslaved us to more of them. We must buy presents. We must wow the children. We must make Santa Claus magical. We must make the Christmas meal a work of art. We must do all these things or what will people think if we don’t? It also requires massive planning for large families, as to who goes where and when, and it risks all sorts of offence if some in the family feel cheated of the Christmas they had imagined. Gifts are a nightmare too: Who should you buy gifts for? And what do you give to someone who has everything? But anyone daring to say, “I’ve had enough of this malarkey, it’s driving me nuts,” is in for a verbal bashing and family shame.

Christmas was never meant to be this way, but we’ve painted ourselves into a corner and we’re stuck with it. We’re stuck with obligated giving, stuck with the rush to buy more stuff nobody needs, stuck with having to please children by feeding their selfishness, stuck with the stress and exhaustion of it all.

Is there a better way of celebrating Christmas, then? No, not while we’re stuck with idolizing rituals and customs that have no attachment whatsoever to why Jesus was born. Jesus was born and died to break the back of our cultural idols, not increase them.

Advertisements

Is homosexual love really love?

Homosexuals ask a good question, which is: “How can there be anything wrong or harmful or even religiously offensive in our relationship as same-sex couples, when we love each other?” What on earth is wrong with love? Surely, love is what Christians believe in too.

But it’s love according to what, or whose, definition? And that’s a good question too, because there are a lot of definitions of love floating around. You hear of men, for instance, who say they love their wives while openly flirting with other women and even having affairs with them. I imagine these men think they really are in love, with both the women they’re flirting with and their wives as well, but on whose definition of love are they operating by? And would it matter to these men if their wives hate what they’re doing and don’t think it’s love at all? Oh, but it is love, these men say, and they are utterly convinced of it too. But is it really love?

And what about the girls who end up pregnant because of boys who said to them, “If you love me you’ll have sex with me.” In the boy’s mind, and maybe even the girl’s mind too, it seems like a fair definition of love, but where did they get that idea from in the first place? And did either of them consider the risk of pregnancy or give a thought for the children who might be born? Oh, but we love each other, they say, and that’s all that matters. But is it really love?

But if we reply to these kids, “No it isn’t love at all,” and they shout back, “Who says?”- then what do we say? And that’s a good question too, isn’t it, because on what authority are we basing our own definition of love in return? We say it isn’t love what these kids are doing, or what husbands with roving eyes are doing, but what do we say next if they disagree? To whom or to what do we now turn to prove or demonstrate which definition of love is correct?

And that’s our problem, isn’t it? We’re all stuck in a culture that demands the right to make up its own definitions. But on what are those definitions based? On changing fads? On minority group demands? On what some people say is love and we’d all better agree – or else?

And some people even dare to say that God would approve of their love, when it’s clear from the Bible that their definition of love is not his at all. What does he really say is love, then?

We don’t play by the devil’s rules

The devil plays a simple game with two simple rules: Get people to hate God and hate each other. Whereas Jesus said the whole point of human life and law is to love God and love each other, the devil tries to turn people off God and turn humans against each other.

It’s a game the devil’s played with great success from the moment humans first appeared. How many days of peace did he allow Adam and Eve to enjoy with God and each other, for instance? Pitifully few, it sounds like, because Eve already thinks God can’t be trusted by Genesis 3:6, she and her husband hide their nakedness from each other in verse 7, Adam hides from God in verse 10, and he’s accusing his wife in verse 12 of forcing him to eat the forbidden fruit. By verse 24 they’ve upset God enough he banishes them from the paradise he’d made for them.

It’s a frightening tale of how easy it is for the devil to get humans playing by his rules. And look how many people are turned off God today too, thinking he’s an ogre out to get us every time we mess up, and he’ll throw us in an ever-burning hell if we don’t repent. The world hates God, wants nothing to do with him, and creates its own gods instead. And as far as turning people against each other, it’s been a skip in the park for the devil to get us killing and maiming each other in hate and revenge.

Christians don’t play by the devil’s rules, though, do they? Disciples of Christ are known instead for their love for each other (John 13:35). They wouldn’t condemn other Christians, therefore, would they? Or use and expose the foibles and weaknesses of their fellow Christians to elevate their own spiritual superiority, right? They wouldn’t dare say their own denomination and its doctrines, rituals and traditions are the only way to be Christian. They would much rather just call themselves “Christian” rather than by some human name like Catholic, Baptist, Pentecostal, or Presbyterian, etc. Perish the thought that any Christian would think his own castle of Christianity was the one and only bastion of strength and accuracy against the devil’s deception.

Christians play by different rules, because the reason why we “purified ourselves by obeying the truth,” as Peter writes in 1 Peter 1:22, is to “love one another deeply, from the heart.” We loved God by obeying his truth, which then led to loving our fellow Christians, regardless of what they believe or do. And that’s what identifies us as Christians; we love God and we love each other, the only rules we play by.

The only thing that counts

When we hear the right gospel and believe it, the Spirit begins to work miracles in us. What miracles? Galatians 5:3, “by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope.” The Spirit works the miracle of righteousness in us. And it’s a miracle because we can only “hope” for it since we can’t create it ourselves.

But what does Paul mean by “righteousness” in this verse? In context, verse 6, he’s talking about “faith expressing itself through love.” The miracle we’re trusting the Spirit to produce in us, and the “righteousness for which we hope,” is love.

And to Paul that’s “the only thing that counts,” (verse 6 still), because, verse 14“The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.'” This was the great hope and ultimate goal the Galatian Christians were trying to achieve too, but they thought they could love by their own efforts, and by keeping the law.

“But the scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe,” Galatians 3:22. No way could we achieve the righteousness God had in mind for us, or love our neighbours as ourselves, because we were all prisoners of sinful human nature. But the gospel gave the solution: What we can’t do, the Spirit does for us – by working the miracles of love and righteousness in us. And how do we receive this Spirit? By believing the gospel, that Christ took our sinful nature to the cross and crucified it, so that what was promised, the Spirit, would be given to us instead.

Paul summarized how this works in Galatians 2:20 – “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Christ crucified our nature on the cross, so that the old life we lived, totally at the mercy of our sinful nature, is over. We are out of that prison. Christ, through the Spirit, now lives his life in us, so that we have his nature in us now. And all he asks of us is to believe this is what’s happening to us every day, because this is what he gave himself willingly for.

The Galatians did believe it too, that Christ was doing what he died for, working the miracles of love and righteousness in them by his Spirit, and because of their belief the miracles really happened (Galatians 3:5).

God loves us, yes, but what makes us loveable?

We know God loves us, because he “demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us,” Romans 5:8. And it was “when we were God’s enemies that we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son,” verse 10. And it was “because of his great love for us that God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions,” Ephesians 2:5-6. What better way could God have proved his love for us than Jesus dying for us at our worst?

OK, so we’re loved, but what makes us loveable? What turns us from being rabid enemies of God to actually becoming really nice children of his? What does he deeply appreciate in us? We know it’s not trying to win his favour by good works, or trying to impress him with how pious we are, or by how many rituals, disciplines and rites we perform, but what “IS to my Father’s glory,” Jesus said, is “that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples,” John 15:8. That’s clear: what makes us loveable to the Father is when we follow his Son. And Jesus adds a note of affection of his own to that when he says, “You re my friends if you do what I command,” verse 14. Follow Jesus and he loves us to bits too, verse 10.

So how do we follow Jesus? We do what he commands, just as he did what his Father commanded him. So what does Jesus command us to do? “Love each other as I have loved you,” verse 12. It’s all about love: God loves Jesus, Jesus loves us as God loves him, and we love each other as Jesus loves us. And this is clearly what the Father loves because “all of what I’m telling you,” Jesus says, “I learned from the Father,” verse 15. Father and Son, they love us to bits when we love each other. And to show how much our Father appreciates us loving each other he’ll give us whatever we ask for in Jesus’ name, verse 16.

It’s only just dawning on me, then, what kind of relationship we’ve got with the Father when we follow his Son. We are totally loveable to him. I realize that Jesus has to live his love in us for us to be loveable, but we can rest assured that even if just the desire is there in us to love others, we are utterly loveable to the Father. And knowing we’re loveable, as well as loved, is where our joy comes from, verse 11.