Dear Santa

Dear Santa,

It has been a while since we last talked. I would like to think I have grown up from the times I asked for world peace, an end to poverty, or peace and goodwill to all mankind, but this year, I would like to ask for a little Christmas miracle again.

You still do these, yes? I mean, besides annually violating the space-time continuum visiting every house in the span of a single night, and monitoring the behaviour of all of earth’s children without parental consent or supervision like a red-vested NSA, you still perform miracles right?

This year, for Christmas, I wish us Christians would stop being so precious.

We complain about the war on Christmas, as if it is surprising that a generation of non-believers obsessed with stuff would dare turn a celebration about the birth of Jesus into the pursuit of happiness via shopping and family time.

We complain about the Greens’ latest push to remove the Lord’s Prayer from Parliament Houses, as if it pleases God to hear non-believers utter empty prayers.

Many church leaders refuse to cooperate with other churches to host combined Christmas services or carols, because they’re concerned that the product might advance other congregations at the expense of their own efforts to build ministries.

We invented the term “sheep-stealing”, for crying out loud.

(Did the person who came up with that end up on your naughty list?)

This isn’t the spirit of Christmas. This is the spirit of entitlement that pursues advancement.

Certainly, most of the people caught up in these behaviours fervently desire to advance the kingdom of God. And they appreciate that the kingdom of God extends into public spaces, parliament house and local church initiatives. But we are so eager to further God’s kingdom that we spend more energy defending the prestige of the efforts we’ve already made than actually advancing the kingdom of God. This can happen either in the public arena (such as insisting others say “Merry Christmas” and not “happy holidays”) or on a denominational scale (like when we are outraged that a cooler congregation has poached all our youth).

Like a spoilt three year old who sees the latest toy under their tree as a forgone conclusion, we are precious about our efforts and their historical cultural prominence.

Cultural prominence isn’t a God-given birthright, not to any group or tradition. Cultural prominence is merely the natural by-product when something becomes entrenched in a people’s way of life. We can predict it will decline when the factors that produced that popularity decline. In modern Australia, more toddlers believe in you than adults believe in the Christ that the original Saint Nicholas followed so devoutly.

This year all I want for Christmas is you. I want Saint Nicholas. I want a church of Saint Nicholases, people who focus so much on speaking truth and loving their neighbour they forget to fret about their position in society. Ironically, that’s the Christianity that created our now fading social dominance in the first place, so perhaps this year everyone can really get what they want for Christmas after all.

Season’s greetings,

Joshua

PS: I imagine Blitzen doesn’t get much fanmail because Rudolph is a glory hog, so please send him my regards.

 

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Nature Religions, Anti-Nature Religions, and the Redemptive Religion

According to C.S. Lewis there are three kinds of religions.

There are nature religions, anti-nature religions and Christianity.

The nature religions are essentially the religons that believe in enjoying the creation around you. It’s about having a good time, and doing what comes naturally. The old pagan religions were like that (you actually got drunk at Bacchan rituals in old pagan Rome). Much of modern atheism (“there’s probably no god, so stop worrying and enjoy your life”) would be like that.

The anti-nature religions are the old Greek stoics, or the eastern mystics like the Hindus and Buddhists. They believe in starving the flesh, and denying those natural impulses that the nature religions revel in. There was a school of Greek philosophers called the stoics- I can best describe them by saying that the word has now passed into the English dictionary as a byword for ignoring pain, soldiering on, and suppressing emotion. Much of the eastern mysticism you see glorified in Hollywood (hardly the place to go for self-denial!) fits into this school- ignore the body, the mind is key and so forth.

But Christianity is not like this.

Christianity is not a nature religion. It does not admit that whatever you feel is good. In fact, it goes to strenuous lengths to remind you that many of our natural desires are very bad, and must be defeated. Christianity believes that the created order is racked by the consequences of sin, and therefore cannot be a good standard of good and bad.

But Christianity is also not an anti-nature religion. The things that God made are valuable just because God made them, and although everything around us may be ruined by the side affects of sin, it is not beyond redemption. Rather, the whole point of the story of the universe is the redemption of it.

Jesus cried at Lazarus’s funeral. He healed the sick. He fed the hungry. He partied with the socialites. Jesus did not live an ascetic life, shunning nature. Nor did he come approving of nature.

He came to redeem it.

And He came to redeem it in a rather funny way. Rather than arriving as an all-conquering king, master of all (which He is), he came as a servant, to help and to heal. He had to die and to suffer to save and rise again. The whole thing is upside down and everything at once.

That’s quite a good description of Christianity on the whole, really. The whole thing is upside down and everything at once.

God doesn’t condemn the physical world to be destroyed by hellfire, nor does He sit and let it run riot. He comes and suffers in order to revolutionise it.

The created world (CS Lewis’ “nature”) is both loved and judged at the same time, and the solution is not what either love or judgement would suggest, but what you get when you have complete love and complete justice at the same time: redemption.

It’s exciting to think that as Christians, we’re part of that redemptive plan. And that’s a whole other blogpost entirely.
 

 

It’s Not About the Food, the Presents or Even the Family- Or Is It? A Christian Perspective.

Looking back at this Christmas, I have a confession to make.

This year, Christmas hasn’t been about baby Jesus coming in a manger. Not for me. Not this time. Well, not exactly.

For when I thought about how Christmas was coming up, the first thing that came to my mind wasn’t the religious implications of Christmas. It was this feeling that Christmas was going to be a special day; a day spent with good food, lovely presents, good company and basically the good life, shared with those I loved. That special feeling was what Christmas meant to me.

At first, that sounds kind of bad. Every year, we Christians thunder, “Jesus is the reason for the season!”  Christmas isn’t about Santa, or presents, or even family time, but about Jesus, we say.

So what does baby Jesus coming in a manger mean?

It means, like the angel said, Emmanuel. God with us. God coming down amongst all the sin and the suffering and vowing to change all that. This is the chance for a redeemed life.

It means the Prince of Peace, our Wonderful Counsellor, is here.

It means “Joy to the world, and peace and goodwill to men, on whom His favour rests.”

It means that with God with us, we can have a relationship with God that restores our broken world and gives us peace; peace with God, peace with our neighbours, peace with ourselves. Joy, peace, goodwill. All this through friendship with God made possible by God-with-us.

That’s the theology of Christmas we’re supposed to think about on Christmas day.

But if that’s the theology of Christmas, then I guess my family-time, Christmas-party, food-guzzling, present-shopping, present-giving Christmas was my moment of Christmas theology.

Bear with me here.

I can spend the whole day in my family’s house peacefully and quietly because God, the Prince of Peace, is with us.

I can go to church and sing the same old songs again with the same old people I meet every week, and have a real sense of community because Jesus, our shared King of Kings, is among us.

I can go to a Christmas party and just hang out with my friends, goofing around, having deep chats, shallow chats, good food and basically a good happy time, at peace with God and man, because Jesus is God with us.

I had joy, peace, goodwill this Christmas. I experienced a taste of what it means to have God with us.

So even if I haven’t thought about it theologically, maybe, just maybe, the theology of Christmas has revolutionised my life anyway. These good times, these joyous times, this shared goodwill I have with my friends and family, is the point of Christmas when it is the fruit of God with us.

I know not everyone has a Christmas like that (for some people, Christmas is just plain horrible), and it’s rude of me to presume it’s the normal experience, but isn’t that kind of the point? This is definitely not the normal human experience.

This peace and joy and goodwill is only possible because Jesus, the Prince of Peace, is with us. It’s the theology of Christmas after all.

And maybe for all our talk about how Christmas isn’t about presents, or good food, or good company, or even family, maybe it is. Maybe it is about how all these things are made richer and better because of what Christ has done for us.

And he will be named Emmanuel, which means, God with us.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest, And on earth, peace, goodwill toward men!”