12-12-12; A day like no other day ever before in History. As a dyslexic man who gets numbers mixed up I thought today was the last day according to the Mayan calendar. I was looking forward to heaven, but I woke up when it was dark and waited for another day. The TV tells me there are many specials to be watched these coming weeks. Mayan calendars and Frosty the Snowman, Rudolf the red nosed ….. Apocalyptic shows of the real wise men of Christmas on the History channel. I can’t wait to watch them and in the end I am always disappointed by the volume of commercials. Christmas is a season of anticipation, we all know that.
I especially like to watch kids at Christmas as they can’t wait to open presents. I have heard stories of kids who snooped for their presents; some that found them opened them and played with them only to re-wrap them again. Like a try-out period. Sometimes I wonder if Christmas can be like that for a casual Christian. Christmas is a great time for songs, sounds, and images of Christmas. The gifts are good, the cards and letters about who is doing what and what people got to do in the last year are nice. But the reason for the season is Jesus’s Birthday celebration. But we are drawn to come back to Jesus. Jesus is always the pull even for the casual Christian.
Matthew1:21-23 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).
God with us is a good thing. But in order for it to make a difference we can’t just be casual in faith. God does not ask us to believe something supernatural or other worldly, without showing us something worthy of believing in.
In Jesus – the one who will save us from our sins, we have Immanuel – God with us. Jesus is more than a Christmas card background. He is more than an excuse to give gifts. He is God and as God He does not expect us to have blind faith (faith that exists without support). He gives us the gift of faith and invites us to get to know Him. He shows His power in personal stories of miracles. He is like a magnet, He draws us to Himself. We just know there is more to the story imprinted on the cards, more than the season of the year, more than the tree, even more than the presents.
We can go the next step in faith; that is more than the assent that He actually did live and die and rise again. We can have a faith that is even more than a commitment to an ideal or a church. We can have a confident personal trust that grows as our relationship with Him grows.
We have a trust that has a gravitational pull because of who He is. Jesus, Immanuel- God who shows Himself to us. We just know in our hearts He is more than the story of baby Jesus in the manger. We have personal knowledge, confidence, belief, and personal trust; because He is reliable and has shown Himself trust worthy. We are drawn to Jesus at Christmas.
I have learned over the years not to take anything for granted. These things include knowing traditions. Traditions in many families are not practiced and unknown in others. I grew up in the protestant church (Lutheran) with many traditions. One of these traditions was an Advent wreath which had candles that were lit in a specific order in the front of the church. Each week people read Scripture and prayed. Some of the families would tell a story or give an explanation like a devotional. So to keep us all better informed I have taken a page from Wikipedia and edited it to fit my liking.
Advent is a season observed in many Western Christian churches as a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas. Advent starts on the fourth Sunday before December 25, which is the Sunday from November 27 to December 3 in the following Churches: Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Moravian, Presbyterian and Methodist calendars. These churches have a calendar of Scripture lessons that the leader and readers are supposed to follow. We here at Valley Bible Church don’t have a set schedule on a year to year basis.
The term Advent is an anglicized version of the Latin word adventus, meaning “coming.” It is the beginning of the Western liturgical year and begins on Advent Sunday. The Latin term adventus is the translation of the Greek word parousia, commonly used in reference to the Second Coming of Christ. For Christians, the season of Advent anticipates the coming of Christ from two different perspectives. The season offers the opportunity to share in the ancient longing for the coming of the Messiah, and to be alert for his Second Coming.
Christmas trees and wreaths: According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, “The use of evergreen trees, wreaths, and garlands to symbolize eternal life was a custom of the ancient Egyptians, Chinese, and Hebrews. Tree worship was common among the pagan Europeans and survived their conversion to Christianity in the Scandinavian customs of decorating the house and barn with evergreens at the New Year to scare away the devil and of setting up a tree for the birds during Christmastime. Its 16th-century origins are sometimes associated with Martin Luther.
The first evidence of decorated trees associated with Christmas Day is trees in a guild hall (craftsman, workers, and apprentices- often called Brotherhoods) decorated with sweets to be enjoyed by the apprentices and children. On the last night of the celebrations leading up to the holidays, the tree was taken to the Town Hall Square where the members of the brotherhood danced around it. A 1570 report states that a small tree decorated with “apples, nuts, dates, pretzels and paper flowers” was erected in the guild-house for the benefit of the guild members’ children, who collected the goodies on Christmas Day. In 1584, pastor and historian Balthasar Russow wrote of an established tradition of setting up a decorated spruce at the market square where the young men “went with a flock of maidens and women, first sang and danced there and then set the tree aflame”.
After the Reformation, such trees are seen in the houses of upper-class Protestant families. This transition from the guild hall to the family homes in the Protestant parts of Germany gives rise to the modern tradition as it developed in the 18th and 19th centuries. In the 19th century, the Christmas tree was taken to be an expression of German culture especially among emigrants overseas.
Several cities in the United States with German connections lay claim to that country’s first Christmas tree: Windsor Locks, Connecticut, claims that a Hessian soldier put up a Christmas tree in 1777 while imprisoned by British soldiers. “The First Christmas Tree in America” is also claimed by Easton, Pennsylvania, where German settlers purportedly erected a Christmas tree in 1816. Regardless of where and when it started it has become a tradition. That is honored in many Christian homes. To the extent that the lighting of The United States’ National Christmas Tree each year on the South Lawn of the White House has become a major holiday event at the White House since 1923.
Advent has a true Christian meaning – anticipation of the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The ancient Israelite people waiting for the first Advent and we today waiting for the Second Advent. The reign and ruling of Jesus as King is the hope of both. As for the Christmas tree and wreaths- the evergreen being a symbol of something which does not die – eternal- there is often a mixing of symbols and traditions. Some traditions that didn’t start out with Christian values were adopted and mixed with Christian beliefs. Some come from family and national traditions, which are kept because we have always done them that way. Symbolism while borrowed and adapted to fit our belief system may be a tradition we would like to keep. Some like the symbolism of Jesus being the true light- like a candle; set in eternity – like an evergreen wreath. But the real focus must always be on the Jesus who is coming and the anticipation of His return.
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