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Comments on Previous Christmas Issues
By Gary F. Zeolla
This issue of Darkness to Light newsletter will present comments I have received on previous issues where the main article addressed issues related to Christmas in some fashion. Follow the title links for where these articles are now posted on the Web site. The emailers' comments are in black and enclosed in greater than and lesser than signs. My responses are in red.
Nativity Scene Misconceptions
Volume II, Number 11; December 2004
The article Nativity Scene Misconceptions looked at how different the actual Biblical narrative is from how nativity scenes commonly depict things.
>By God's grace I was allowed to be in church when your latest mail was announced. Since I use only a Blackberry (a push-type system I was alerted immediately). This caused no problem since I routinely put the unit on "vibrate only" at such times. I studied your message here in my pew and found it most informative and uplifting. Thank you for including me.
We are having a special Christmas program this A.M. made up mostly of the youth. Riveting only if you have a kid in the program, so I am surreptitiously typing this reply while the young ones act out the story you wrote me about in front of me. There are, not surprisingly, three "wise men" in this version, complete with golden crowns.
Thank you again for thinking to include me. Have a great day and may God richly bless you in your work and your life.
In Christian love,
I am glad to hear that you read and liked the newsletter I sent you. And Merry Christmas to you.
A Tale of Two Holidays
Volume VI, Number 12; December 2008
The article A Tale of Two Holidays looked at what some churches are doing today in offering alternative celebrations in the place of celebrating Halloween. It then compared that practice to what the early Church did in substituting the celebration of Christ's birth via Christmas in place of the pagan holidays that were then being celebrated around the time of the winter solstice.
>Subject: thank you and quick comment
Thank you for your website, translation and newsletter. I do not know how you find the time but I appreciate all the hard work. Your newsletters are often a source of encouragement and reflection.
Just a quick thought regarding the article – A Tale of Two Holidays. What our church does and we do at home [on October 31] is simply have a happy "Reformation Day." We get together and enjoy food and fellowship as well as do a quick reading or other activity to remind us what it stands for. Now that I am a new dad (son is 20 months old) I am still figuring out what "Reformation Day" traditions I want to have as a family.
>Subject: Re: Darkness to Light - Vol. VI, No. 12
Of course, Hallow E'en is only so called because it is the day before All Saints (or All Hallows) day. In many European countries, people place candles on the graves on November 1st. (Wikipedia confirms my own experience in several European countries).
Some stores run by Christians in England refuse to stock Hallow E'en witchcraft paraphernalia, just as they refuse to stock Harry Potter books at any time.
Two other reasons for not encouraging children to go from door to door after dark are (a) some children have been enticed into the house by pedophiles; and (b) conversely, some (particularly elderly) house holders have been intimidated by children throwing eggs, flour, and even stones at their windows.
So, all in all, I would prefer that churches commemorate the departed saints at that time of the year, and include families (parents and children) in those commemoration activities.
Personally, I think the winter solstice is a very bad time for crowds of people to gather together indoors, as (a) travel is often made very difficult by severe weather conditions; and (b) people are more likely to carry infectious diseases at that time of year.
>Subject: Re: Darkness to Light - Vol. VI, No. 12
You have some interesting points. It is interesting how the Christians could not ignore the Roman Saturnalia festivals so they decided to celebrate the birth of Jesus. History shows how Christmas eventually overshadowed the Saturnalia festivals.
This gets to a Reformation era debate. John Calvin wanted to do away with everything that was not commanded in the Bible, leading to abolishing festivals and instrumental music (melting organ pipes for scrap tin). To this day some Calvinist churches are very austere in their music. In contrast, Luther allowed it if there was no Biblical prohibition. You may know the Lutheran church was blessed with a great musical heritage (e.g. Heinrich Schütz, Andreas Hammerschmidt, Johann Pachelbel, Johann Sebastian Bach and other members of that family, Felix Mendelssohn).
Finally, a good idea for October 31 is to do what they do in Germany and in American Lutheran churches, celebrate Reformation Day.
>Subject: RE: Darkness to Light - Vol. VI, No. 12
The problem is the "Christmas" trees and other decorations that Christians still hold near and dear to their hearts instead of--or along with--Jesus. Our Christian friends put up Santa decorations. Santa seems a fine substitution for God. "He knows when you are sleeping, He knows when you're awake. He knows if you've been bad or good, so be good for goodness' sakes." Big long white beard? Lives somewhere "up there"? Write him lists (prayers) for stuff you want, without really expecting an answer?
We do our children and ourselves a great disservice to teach them about Santa. Santa makes God appear like a childhood fantasy. I don't have a problem with gifts. I don't have a problem with celebrating the birth of Christ, though we are nowhere taught in Scripture to remember His birth--we are instructed to remember his death. I have a problem with the Catholic Church carrying paganism into their churches and calling it Christianity. They didn't just make up Christmas so the children would have something to do. They made up Christmas so the pagans would join the church, give money, and wouldn't be too unhappy because they could still worship their own gods too. I'm not telling you anything new, I don't guess.
We have explained to our church the reasons we do not celebrate Christmas.
And still the teenagers come caroling to us every year. This year my husband is
going to tell them beforehand to not come, so as to not confuse our children
(and entice their flesh by sparkly sweaters, pretty lights and such), and out of
respect for our convictions.
All that being said, I am not in favor of stores calling Christmas just a "winter holiday" because of their reasoning behind it. They're not trying to take paganism out of America; they're trying to take what they consider Christianity out of America. Although I don't support Christmas, their reasons for ignoring it are totally different from mine.....does that make any sense?
Thanks for your newsletter. I always enjoy reading it even if I don't reply.
>Subject: Re: Darkness to Light - Vol. VI, No. 12
GREAT edition of the newsletter, Gary.
I have to admit I started out with more fundamentalist roots and have been moving away from that steadily for many years, to the point that, I'm beginning to realize I share most of the values of those identified as the "Christian Left". I've sort of felt that, for whatever reasons in my makeup, God had to get me interested through an immature faith filled with absolute certainties (many of which were actually wrong), before He could bring me into a more contemplative faith with less absolute certainties.
Anyway, I'd never heard the bit about Jesus being born in September (I'd heard spring, which might also have lots of holes) but I did have trouble enjoying Christmas because it "wasn't right" for all these reasons and more.
For example I've heard this one from Jeremiah 10:2-4 being applied to Christmas trees!
"Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them. For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not."
Of course this really in reference to a wooden idol, and nothing at all to do with Christmas trees. Anyway, unfortunately around Christmastime this awful misapplication of Scripture goes through my mind while I instead should be rejoicing at the celebration of the coming of the Son of God.
I once had a pastor who said, "fundamentalists are no fun, and damn mental." Paying attention to their "mental" ideas has cost me years fuming at the inaccuracies of the Christmas tradition that don't matter, and forgetting all about the things that matter most at Christmastime.
I repent, Lord, I repent.
Thanks again for a great one.
Hail Mary: Part Two
Volume II, Number 2; February 2004
The two-part article Hail Mary was not specifically about Christmas. But the main stanza of the prayer being evaluated is taken from the Christmas narrative in Luke chapter one.
>Subject: Hail Mary Part II
Great article. You have been navigating the Sargasso Sea of the many layers of issues. I noticed that you used Mary's confession of needing a savior like I had responded to Part I. I also noticed your use of Jesus' sidestepping the praising of Mary when the woman praised Mary, and the incident where Jesus called his mother / brother to be those who do the will of God. I find the ecclesiastical history and backdrop very enlightening too. I save most of these articles.
I had prepared a reply beforehand (and did not finish) on your Jesus Born in September article, as well, that had something to do with Mary which incidentally used some of the same scriptures of this Part II article on Hail Mary.
Interesting, because I noted that due to the intensity of Jesus ministry, and that Mary had very little voice, the only opportune moment for her to share the secrets about Jesus' birth, flight into Egypt, and return likely was in the upper room noted in Acts 2. It was at that time when ministry was at a "dead stop" where Mary could tell the tidbits of what happened around Jesus' birth before the early church ministry exploded again. She was the last living primary witness to Jesus' birth as all the other family, priests, prophets, wise men and kings were either dead from old age, or too far away to testify of it. So, I reason that our scriptural references of the birth of Christ are rather sketchy because the only living, primary witness remaining, Mary, was rather not looked to when Jesus had spellbound crowds with teachings and miracles; as well as, Mary knew that some things are better left unsaid as Jesus taught, "do not let the right hand know what the left hand is doing."
Mary certainly was aware that people simply would not believe the story and would subject her to needless ridicule, objectification, and accusation for "playing the harlot" or even for blasphemy. I simply do not see Mary and Joseph, either, saying much about it in Jesus' youth for they knew that people in power would want them dead; and after Joseph had passed on, and Jesus' ministry bursting at the seems, Mary would even say anything of it, or that anyone would even think to ask such wild questions. They all assumed that Jesus was born in Nazareth and Mary simply followed the "don't ask, don't tell" policy.
So scriptural text on the birth of Christ probably is from the huddled, perplexed masses in the upper room that were in need of encouragement. Mary certainly had opportunity to provide encouragement in that upper room, for what it seemed to be a dark hour for Christians, by confessing some (but not all) of the events surrounding the birth of Christ. The miracles that pertained to the telling would not be written down until after the early church ministry had been well in motion. So the broken story lines on the birth of Christ is understandable as being from the testimony of a sole witness who likely had no opportunity to elaborate ever again (and passed on herself) and was so profound to the ears of the disciples that they could not fathom it all. So we have a rather sketchy Christmas story to put together today.
Interesting theory on when Mary related the birth narratives to the apostles. It's plausible.
>Subject: Scriptures on the Secret Birth of Christ
Here are some scripture that supports my position Mary probably kept the birth of Christ to herself for a long time.
Luke 2:42-51: Even though that verse on "his mother kept all these sayings in her heart" does not tie in to the birth of Christ specifically, it is in the same chapter concluding the birth of Christ on to the transition to the next chapter that opens upon the ministry of Christ. It seems reasonable that Mary simply was wise not to tell secrets about Jesus, even to not telling it to the rest of her children that were born afterwards. The following somewhat indicates that Jesus' own brothers did not believe on him (likely because they thought Christ was born the son of a carpenter in Nazareth just like they.)
John 7:3-5: Then we see how the brothers of Christ (who were not his disciples) went to the feast of tabernacles in Judea and Jesus went also; but privately.
John 7:10-11: Christ's brethren may had opportunity to reply to the Jews who asked "where is he?"; then again they may not. But they probably knew that the Jews were looking for Jesus; and as far as they knew, Jesus remained back in Galilee. So any "complaint" and "talking behind Jesus' back" they may have thought to be an opportunity, they sure had opportunity to answer some of the Jews.
John 7:40-43: We can reason, upon considering the scriptures just presented, several things. Jesus' own flesh and blood brothers were present at the feast. Jesus' own disciples went to the feast (as the brethren of Christ had expected Jesus to go with his disciples), and we have one disciple, John, who wrote the Gospel of John, who was able to give account of the details of Jesus' secret visit to the feast, and then the subsequent preaching Jesus said in the temple. So we have Jesus' brethren there, and some of his disciples there, and a number of the Jews and the people there.
When some of the people argued against Christ by saying "Shall Christ come out of Galilee [Nazareth]? Hath not the scripture said, That Christ cometh...out of the town of Bethlehem." We see general population did not know that Christ was indeed born in Bethlehem. At that time, we can surmise that there was opportunity for Jesus' own brethren, or his disciples, to correct the "misinformation" on Christ, but they apparently did not, because they apparently had no knowledge of the birth of Christ.
The scripture seems to portray that the birth of Christ was a well kept secret because the dominant assumption was that Christ was just another kid born in Nazareth. If it was not a secret, then the testimony of Christ would not have been by revelation to those of faith but would have come by carnal understanding. This, and the possible threat to the life of Christ, was God's wisdom in keeping the origin of Christ hid from even His very own kindred.
Thanks for the Scriptures and comments. It's all interesting, and as I said previously, plausible.
Comments on Previous Christmas Issues.Copyright © 2010 by Gary F. Zeolla of Darkness to Light ministry (www.dtl.org).
The above article first appeared in the Free Darkness to Light
It was posted on this site November 20, 2010.
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