Christmas: Winter Holiday or Divine Encounter

                                                                                                        Essentials for Christmas

When Nancy and I moved to Ukraine, we knew we were in for a lot of surprises as we learned the culture. But one of the surprises we did not expect was the believers’ questions about how to celebrate Christmas. Each time we would say, “We celebrate Christmas by…” they would respond. “We do that for New Year’s. So what special do you do for Christmas? You see, their culture had created a winter holiday that sounded to them almost identical to Christmas.

So how would you answer? What is the difference between Christmas and a winter holiday? For many people, there is none. Christmas, for them, is a time to spend with family, eat lots of food, enjoy the good life, and maybe get away from the routine to do something you especially wanted to do. In short, exactly what Ukrainians called a winter holiday. For many people – even Christians – that is Christmas. Our culture has influenced us to substitute a man-made festivity for a divinely orchestrated event.

A biblical Christmas does not require beautiful lights, gift exchanges, human relationships, or even vacation time. There is certainly nothing wrong with any of those, but they are not the key elements of Christmas. So what are the essential elements of a biblical Christmas?

The message of Christmas repeatedly occurs throughout the Old Testament, almost like dress rehearsals for the main event. And whenever it does, it seems to me that three significant themes always are involved:
     1. An unsolvable personal/human dilemma.
     2. A reminder of God's Promise.
     3. A vibrant but tested human faith in that Promise.

There are many narratives in Scripture where those three themes converge to create the spirit of Christmas. I want to mention three of them. I will only give you the outline, so you can enjoy filling in the blanks.

Event #1 – Mt Moriah (Gen 22)
1. An unsolvable personal/human dilemma.
2. A reminder of God's Promise.
3. A vibrant but tested human faith in that Promise.

Event #2 – The Choice of Ahaz (Isaiah 7-9)
1. An unsolvable personal/human dilemma.
2. A reminder of God's Promise.
3. A vibrant but tested human faith in that Promise.

Event #3 – Bethlehem (Luke 2; Matthew 2)
1. An unsolvable personal/human dilemma.
2. A reminder of God's Promise.
3. A vibrant but tested human faith in that Promise.

Conclusion:
Come to think of it, those three themes are present in your happiest memories of Christmas.
     a. There was a need/want that seemed impossible.
     b. There was a promise – likely from an earthly parent – that "something good is going to happen"
     c. There was a faith – however child-like – that the problem could be solved.

If we deny or ignore the unsolvable human dilemma we are facing, we will never again have Christmas. If we find our satisfaction in anything other than God's Promise, we will never again have Christmas. If our faith is in our own resources rather than God's provisions, we will never again have Christmas.

The church at Laodicea illustrates the point. They admitted no personal/human dilemma. They said, "We are rich, increased with goods, and have need of nothing." The result was spiritual disease rather than delight in the Promise.

The angel told Joseph, "His name shall be called Immanuel – God with us." The great human dilemma is that humanity is separated from God! God's promise from Eden on is that someday The Promise would come – the separation would end. The challenge for Joseph, and for us, is to believe that Jesus is that Promise. If we fail to join those three elements, all we have left is a winter holiday.



2022-11-22T17:21:41+00:00December 1st, 2022|Categories: Banner Editorial, Uncategorized|Tags: , , , |0 Comments

November Banner Editorial: Truths from the Harvest

Originally, Thanksgiving Day was a time to celebrate the harvest of grain, fruits, and vegetables. As the United States became more urbanized, the emphasis shifted to a general time of expressing gratitude to God for His goodness. And while this change may be fine, it may also be helpful, at this Thanksgiving time, to return to the original meaning of the day – the harvest.

This Thanksgiving Day can be enhanced if we consider some Scriptural truths about the harvest. For the average person, the harvest just means having enough to eat. But a survey of Scripture suggests that the harvest has a greater meaning.

 

TRUTH #1 Harvest is an EXPRESSION of God’s MERCY.

I think you would all agree that humans are naturally very vain. We consider ourselves very important. We love to take credit for success, even if we had little if anything to do with the success. I do understand that there is a human element to the harvest. Without the work of the farmer, very little food would be available. But here lies the danger.

Jesus illustrated it well when he told about the farmer who had harvested an excellent crop. So great was the crop that he did not have a place to store it. And one night, Jesus heard the old farmer talking to himself. And he was saying, “Look what you have done!” And what did Jesus say? “Thou fool!”

According to Jesus’ definition, there are a lot of fools in our world – people who think that the harvest's success is all to their credit. They forget that harvest is an expression of God’s mercy - the fulfillment of God’s promise. Notice the context of the promise that there would always be a harvest - Genesis 8:22.

The harvest does not come because we are so good - just the opposite. It comes even though humanity is so flawed. Jesus declares in Matthew 5:45 that God sends sunshine and rain on the just and the unjust. I know you worked hard for your fruits and vegetables. But don’t be deceived into thinking that you deserve them. They are an expression of God’s mercy. Through them, God has given us a few more days in which we may prepare to meet Him.

Let us give Him thanks.

 

TRUTH #2 Harvest is an EMBLEM of God’s LAW

We often talk about the laws of nature as though there was a person by that name. We talk about the laws of science as though they existed due to their own effort. And some people criticize the Church for being too full of laws. But may I remind you that the laws of nature and science are just as surely the law of God as are the laws found written in his Word.

Our God is a God of order. And we like that, as long as it allows us to do as we please. But when God’s law reprimands us for stepping out of order, the natural man becomes upset. Jesus asked the question in Matthew 7:16, “Do men gather grapes from thornbushes?” The harvest illustrates the law that declares that you receive what you give.

The harvest reminds us that what we receive back from God is related to what we gave Him. That is both a comforting and frightening thought. There will be abundant results for those who have sown a little faith. Jesus said that even mountains could be moved with just a little faith. But for those who have sown selfishness instead of selflessness, there will be an abundant harvest of pain. God will give us what our lives ask for, even if it is to our hurt.

The harvest always yields more than was put into the ground. The harvest forces us to ask an important question. What kind of seed am I sowing in my life?

 

 

TRUTH #3    Harvest is a PICTURE of God’s PLAN

Throughout Scripture, the harvest is used as a figure of speech. The New Testament refers to the resurrection as a harvest.  Jesus is called "the first fruits of the dead." Harvest is also used to refer to the results in our lives. In Galatians 5, Paul talks about the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit. But probably, the dominant idea of harvest as a picture of God’s plan can be seen in Jeremiah 8:20, where the prophet cries, “The harvest is past; summer is ended, and we are not saved.”

The harvest we celebrate at Thanksgiving reminds us that a greater harvest day is coming. It is the day that God will reap the fields of the earth, taking the wheat to His barns, but burning the chaff with unquenchable fire. As Christians, we have a part in this harvest. We are to pray for reapers. We are to prepare the ground. We are to plant the seed. We are to respond to the call to reap.

It is sad to see grain, fruits, or vegetables waste because there is no one to gather in the harvest. But there is something infinitely sadder. And that is, souls lost forever, because the Church did not respond to the call to harvest.

 

Connecting Thanksgiving Day with the harvest takes Americans back to their roots. Harvest time is a time to rejoice for the abundant food supply from God. But it is also a time to ponder the truths that the harvest teaches us.

Harvest is     a REFLECTION of God’s mercy.

an EMBLEM of God’s law

a PICTURE of God’s plan

 

2022-10-27T15:57:49+00:00October 27th, 2022|Categories: Banner Editorial|Tags: , |0 Comments

February 2020 Banner Editorial: Sent By God

“I have been sent to you by God!” How do you respond to those words? Excitement? Skepticism? I must admit that my response is more toward the latter. Specifically, I want to know what evidence there is that you have been sent by God. Now please understand, I realize that the God of the Bible is a sending God. And I also understand that a part of the mission of God’s people is to go when and where we are sent. But how am I to know that God sent you?

My preacher father introduced me to an Old Testament story in 2 Samuel 18 that involves this idea of sending. The context is the rebellion of Absalom. Chapter 17 records how God thwarted the wise counsel of Ahithophel. Being right does not always ensure success! And when Ahithophel realized his wise counsel was not going to be followed, he knew his time was up (2 Sam 17:23), so he goes home and commits suicide. Chapter 18 opens with David planning the final battle of the rebellion. He is confident of victory, but he is also worried about the fate of his son. So he clearly charges his generals to treat Absalom kindly (18:5). (Whether this was wise advice is another matter!) Joab, however, pays no attention to David’s order and kills Absalom as soon as he has an opportunity. Now comes the tough part. How does he tell David what he has done? A messenger needs to be sent.

In David’s time, the message to be sent determined the messenger. Bad news was carried by messengers of low social status. Good news was carried by people of high social status. Clearly this message will not be received by David as good news, so Cushi, maybe a name, but more likely an ethnic description, was chosen and sent with the ominous message (2 Sam 18:21). But Ahimaaz, the son of the priest Zadok, wants to be sent to! In fact, he insists on being sent. He keeps bugging Joab to send him, and Joab keeps explaining his reasons for not sending him. Joab knows that Ahimaaz is a better runner, and knows the area better. But the message does not fit him! At length, however, and in what seems to me exasperation, Joab relents and lets Ahimaaz run, thinking that Cushi surely has had enough of a head start to beat Ahimaaz to David.

But Joab underestimated the zeal and skill of Ahimaaz. And when David’s watchman looks out across the valley, the first runner he sees is Ahimaaz. David is encouraged. “He is a good man, and cometh with good tidings” (2 Sam 18:27). And in fact, Ahimaaz does indeed have what should have been welcome news to David. “All is well.” But that is not the news David wants to hear. How does that news relate to Absalom? But when David asks for clarification, Ahimaaz responds, “I don’t know.” The problem was that Ahimaaz had sent himself, and only knew what he wanted to tell. David’s disappointment can be felt in v. 30. “Turn aside, and stand here.” Or in my paraphrase, “Get out of my sight, you are worthless!”

Did Ahimaaz feel like he was sent by God, or at least Joab? I think so. He had the message he thought was needed, and the skill to deliver it better than the one actually sent. But the message he brought did not meet the need of the heart. So regardless of how valuable the message was, it was rejected with extreme disappointment.

As Ahimaaz stands back and watches, Cushi arrives. It seems likely that Ahimaaz looked on him with some disdain. But Cushi had the message David needed. And even though the message caused David great grief, it met the felt need in David’s life.

As Christians, we are to be messengers of God – sent by Him. But we need to be sure that the message we are carrying is God’s message for the person at that point in time, and not our message for that person. Our message may be correct without being timely, and we will be dismissed as worthless. If we feel God is sending us, let’s tarry long enough with God to make sure the message we are going to convey is His and not our own. God may want that person comforted before they are confronted!

 

Dr. Gordon L. Snider

Editor

Church Herald & Holiness Banner

2020-01-31T17:04:02+00:00February 2nd, 2020|Categories: Banner Editorial|Tags: , |0 Comments

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