Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Christ-Mass

I ran across these two quotes from one of the most respected historical Christian theologians and authors – Charles H Spurgeon.

“We have no superstitious regard for times and seasons. Certainly we do not believe in the present ecclesiastical arrangement called Christmas: first, because we do not believe in the mass at all, but abhor it, whether it be said or sung in Latin or in English; and, secondly, because we find no Scriptural warrant whatever for observing any day as the birthday of the Savior; and, consequently, its observance is a superstition, because not of divine authority.” (Charles Spurgeon, Sermon on Dec. 24, 1871).

“When it can be proved that the observance of Christmas, Whitsuntide, and other Popish festivals was ever instituted by a divine statute, we also will attend to them, but not till then. It is as much our duty to reject the traditions of men, as to observe the ordinances of the Lord. We ask concerning every rite and rubric, “Is this a law of the God of Jacob?” and if it be not clearly so, it is of no authority with us, who walk in Christian liberty.” (from Charles Spurgeon’s Treasury of David on Psalm 81:4.)

I found them very surprising, considering the source! A friend of mine recently did a little research on when the birth of Christ might have occurred by studying Scripture and she gave me permission to share it:

“’Luk 1:5 There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth.’

“We know what ‘of the daughters of Aaron’ means, right? Elisabeth was a high priest’s daughter. Obviously Zacharias was a priest. What does ‘of the course of Abia’ mean? Who is Abia? Obviously a priest, but which one? Why does God even tell us about him at all in this passage? I won’t claim to know all the reasons why, but I do believe it at least helps us to ascertain when Messiah was born. I’ll show you how.

“1Ch 24:7 Now the first lot came forth to Jehoiarib, the second to Jedaiah,

“1Ch 24:8 The third to Harim, the fourth to Seorim,

“1Ch 24:9 The fifth to Malchijah, the sixth to Mijamin,

“1Ch 24:10 The seventh to Hakkoz, the eighth to Abijah,

“1Ch 24:11 The ninth to Jeshua, the tenth to Shecaniah,

“1Ch 24:12 The eleventh to Eliashib, the twelfth to Jakim,

“1Ch 24:13 The thirteenth to Huppah, the fourteenth to Jeshebeab,

“1Ch 24:14 The fifteenth to Bilgah, the sixteenth to Immer,

“1Ch 24:15 The seventeenth to Hezir, the eighteenth to Aphses,

“1Ch 24:16 The nineteenth to Pethahiah, the twentieth to Jehezekel,

“1Ch 24:17 The one and twentieth to Jachin, the two and twentieth to Gamul,

“1Ch 24:18 The three and twentieth to Delaiah, the four and twentieth to Maaziah.

“If you read that whole chapter, you will see that King David divided the high priests into sections. This helped determine when a certain high priest’s family would serve in the temple, to divide the work more evenly. You see that Zacharias is in the 8th section (Abijah, which is pronounced a-bee-yah in Hebrew, just like Abia in the Greek). There are 12 months in a year. There are 24 sections of high priests. That gives each high priest’s family about 2 weeks. The Biblical year starts in late March/early April usually. (Exo 12:2 “This month shall be unto you the beginning of months: it shall be the first month of the year to you.” –The rest of the chapter describes Passover, which obviously normally happens in early April.) This loosely puts Jehoiarib and Jedaiah in April, Harim and Seorim in May, Malchijah and Mijamin in June, and Hakkoz and Abijah in July. Abijah is more in the second half of July or early August, specifically.

“Luk 1:23 ‘And it came to pass, that, as soon as the days of his ministration were accomplished, he departed to his own house. 24 And after those days his wife Elisabeth conceived,’

“In Lev 15, it says that if you have relations with your wife, you’ll get struck dead if you go into the temple before the next sundown. So we know it’s been a minimum of 2 weeks since Zacharias and Elisabeth have been together. It’s not that far of a stretch to consider that they likely had relations when he got home, and that would have been when she conceived. This puts John the Baptist’s conception at late July/early August.

“Luk 1:26 ‘And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, 27 To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary…. 41 And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: 42 And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.’

“So we’re told that when Elisabeth is 6 months along, Mary goes to visit her. Elisabeth refers to the ‘fruit of [Mary’s] womb’ which means Mary has conceived. 6 months from late July is late December” (around Hanukkah/Christmastime; they sometimes intersect). ‘Considering that a pregnancy lasts about 40 weeks (closer to 10 months than the common count of 9), this puts John the Baptist’s birth right around Passover.’ We’re back at the first part of the Biblical year again. Since we know that Messiah was born 6 months after John the Baptist, then it’s more than likely that Messiah was born in late September/early October.

1135_Christmas%202007%20B%20010“Now, I’m sure you’re thinking, ‘DUH! I already knew He wasn’t born on December 25!” My question is, ‘Then why do you celebrate it on that date?’ I know the usual answer is, ‘Because we don’t know when He was actually born.’ That answer used to be good enough for me, but now I wonder why. I wonder why I never thought to ask who came up with that date.” Why don’t we just pick a date in September or October to celebrate His birth if we really want to do so? “If the study can’t be refuted, then there is no Biblical reason not to. In fact, there is no Biblical reason to celebrate it in December at all. There is only Catholic tradition. Doesn’t Protestantism pride itself on non-conformance with Catholic tradition?”

I happen to agree with my friend. Why don’t we, as Protestants, step away from the Catholic traditions? Why don’t we leave the Christ-mass to the Catholics? We hold to the claim of “Sola Scriptura!,” so why aren’t we? Just a little food for thought…and maybe a little fire under the pot.

Open-mouthed smile

If you are interested in learning more about these Catholic traditions, you can click the link to watch a video called Truth and Tradition.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Merry Happy Jolly Ho Ho Holly Christmas Day That Wasn’t Always So

To Christmas or not to Christmas…that is the question in some (well, a few) circles these days. However, the “few” circles seem to be growing in number each year.

Lucia-13_12_06Christmas is a celebration that most modern Americans grew up looking forward to every year. It is often a time for gifts, family, food, gifts, decorations, shopping, celebrating, more gifts... I love listening to Glenn Beck, being the unashamed freedom-celebrating conservative that I am. In a very recent show, he pointed out that Christmas became a civic holiday in the late 1800s. Glenn’s motivations are to de-materialize this day that has lost virtually all of it’s religious meaning for much of the general public, so he’s attempting to put faith and family back into the day. While I respect his noble motivations, here I have to stop to disagree with Glenn. Usually he’s very well researched, but this is a topic I had to consider further when he said that the day wasn’t widely celebrated (or at least it wasn’t made a national holiday) before the late 1800s because it was too sacred a day. I believe there are virtually always two sides to every story so I’m sure that may have been the reasoning for some Americans not celebrating the day, but there is a dark side to this day that was the reason that it had been previously outlawed by some of the foremost of our founding fathers.

Christmas is a “holiday” essentially created by the Roman Catholic church, it’s name deriving from “Christ-Mass.” Early medieval Catholicism essentially made-over pagan religious celebrations into a new “Christianized” holiday. It is not a Biblical holiday. While it has been “Christianized,” it is a day found nowhere in the Bible. I saw a church bulletin board the other day that quoted something along the lines of, “Holiday Means Holy-Day, Remember to Whom It Belongs.” This is a beautiful sentiment, but the application to Christmas is fallible. I’m going to jump right in and get both feet wet here. In the Bible, the word holy essentially means “set apart.” So in a way, it is true that Christmas is set apart, but it is set apart by man. There is absolutely no Biblical mandate made by God for people to celebrate Christmas. In the Bible, God sets apart several days that are to be celebrated, but Christmas is not among those.

Some of the earliest Americans knew this. Here comes the history lesson:

puritan-womanFollowing the Protestant Reformation of the 16th Century, new religious sects sprang up in England based on the strict teachings of John Calvin and John Knox. Following the rise of Oliver Cromwell and his “roundheads” in 1642, Christmas festivities, considered a “heathen practice” were outlawed, including singing Christmas carols, nativity scenes and any other obvious attempts at celebration. The Puritans made a point of abolishing the calendar of Christian feasts and saints’ days, which included Christmas, Easter, Whitsunday, and other saints’ days and holy days.

Puritans arriving in Massachusetts during the 17th Century brought this same disdain for Christmas with them. While Thanksgiving was an acceptable holiday in New England, Christmas certainly was not. In 1620, Governor William Bradford forbid any of the Pilgrims to observe the holiday. Instead, he noted that they felled trees and worked on building houses. Business as usual.1

The outlawing of Christmas persisted through the 17th century. Boston was among those banning it’s celebration.2 New England did eventually have many people who celebrated Christmas, especially as more and more settlers began arriving from Europe through the 17th and 18th Centuries. This trend is apparent in 1686 by a repeal of a 1659 law that fined people five shillings for feasting or any other perceived merriment on December 25th. Despite people’s growing acceptance of Christmas, it wasn’t made a civic holiday in New England until 1856.

The current practice of Christmas gift-giving and merriment did not start until the late 1800’s. People usually worked on Christmas. Newspapers of the era are filled with disturbing accounts of what Christmas was really like in those days: widespread rioting and drunkenness, and in the Puritan mind, Christmas was associated with the “Lords of Misrule.”3

The Puritans were on to something. The original roots of Christmas go back much farther than the 19th century to early days of medieval pagan worship practices, many of which are still practiced today in the pagan Wiccan religion.

The modern version of Christmas is a mixture of many pagan traditions from early civilizations, especially that of the ancient Romans. In modern times, the day is associated with decorated trees and gaily lighted houses, get-togethers with family and friends, feasts and parties, and of course weeks or months of shopping for the perfect gifts. Among some Christians, the day is celebrated as marking the birth of Jesus Christ, and entails masses, hymns, and other religious observation. The Christmas of the Middle Ages combined a mixture of secular, pagan Druid customs with the evolving religious Christian traditions. The Christmas celebrations of medieval times included roaring fires, Yule logs, and boar's head on a platter. Many of our modern traditions originated from that time with holly and mistletoe and carolers going door to door. But what most Westerners recognize as Christmas has a very long history, one that originated in pre-Christian rites and rituals.

December 25th

The winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, has been commemorated by ritualSymbolPagan_All probably since neolithic times. By the modern calendar, the date of the solstice falls around December 21st; ancient peoples, noticing the sun appeared not to move for three days before its re-ascent into the northern sky and the lengthening of days, celebrated the solstice — from the Latin meaning “sun stands still” — as a sort of rebirth of the sun. Many cultures recognized the event as a sort of birthday for their particular gods — the Egyptian sun god Horus, for example, was purported to have been born on December 25th. In fact, the ancient Romans, from the year 274, celebrated the festival of Sol Invictus, the “birthday of the unconquered sun,” on December 25. The Christian Church did not fix the date of Christmas at December 25th until the fourth century, and the celebration was not actually called Christmas until the ninth century. Prior to that, it was simply known as the Midwinter Feast, and celebrated as a combination of Saturnalia and the Norse Yule Festival.

Gifts, Feasting and Santa Claus

The ancient Romans are also responsible for most of the merrymaking associated with the modern version of Christmas. Saturnalia, a week-long festival celebrating the dedication of the temple of Saturn, featured feasting, drinking, slaves switching places with kings, and gift giving. The festival was immensely popular, and as Christianity overtook the Roman Empire, it added its own customs to the already existing pagan traditions to ease conversion. This blending of myths may also be responsible for the figure of Santa Claus, whose origins are believed to lie in the Norman Lord of Misrule, a red-robed character who oversaw the festivities of Saturnalia, mixed with the Christian St. Nicholas, patron saint of children.

Christmas Trees and Mistletoe

56343300CF008_Christmas_MisThe earliest recorded instance of a lit tree being erected to celebrate Christmas dates from 16th century Germany, in particular to a church in Strasbourg in 1539. But the veneration of evergreen trees as a symbol of fertility and rebirth dates back to pagan times. Likewise, the custom of hanging mistletoe is pagan in origin; the Druids considered it a sacred plant, and Vikings hung it on the doors of their houses as a welcome. Kissing under the mistletoe is thought to be associated with Saturnalia and with ancient Roman marriage rites.4

So it seems the Puritans and many other early Americans, in their desires to reform and worship the God of the Bible in an unadulterated manner, refrained from participating in Christmas for good reason, not because it was too sacred at day. Rather, they despised the day that was taken from pagan worship practices and “Christianized” to become a religiously observed holiday. It’s roots, however, are not so holy according to what the Bible regards as holy. It’s a day full of tradition and meaning for many, but to many others, the pagan rituals and origins of this celebration are too numerous too overlook.

To learn more:

1 http://www.suite101.com

2 http://www.americanheritage.com/articles/magazine/ah/1967/1/1967_1_107.shtml

3 http://askville.amazon.com

4 http://www.suite101.com

Friday, December 3, 2010

Hanukkah: MJ Style


This is simply a repost taken from Messianic Jewish Musings.  I just loved it so wanted to pass it along.


71139_175398885820274_4210763_nThe first candles of Hanukkah will be lit on December 1 (a Wednesday night). People are already searching for Hanukkah articles and information. Here is a Messianic Jewish Musings Classic, a telling of the Hanukkah story Messianic Jewish style. Enjoy.

The actual miracle of Hanukkah is not about burning oil that lasted longer than was naturally possible. The story of the miraculous oil is a very late one and almost certainly didn’t happen.

The miracle of Hanukkah is like the miracle of Purim. It’s the kind of miracle we see in our world today. Bodies of water do not stand up in two heaps as caravans pass through. Theophanies from the midst of a storm do not speak down from mountains. But God is saving, healing, and preparing all things to be renewed. He preserves his people Israel and he spreads his name among the nations of the world as well.

The miracle Hanukkah is the preservation of God’s people Israel and preparing his people for the days of Messiah. If it had not been for Hanukkah, there might not have been a Jewish people for Messiah to be born into. The covenant promises of God would perhaps have failed. But history will never work out this way. Seen or unseen, God’s hand drives history in the direction of the world to come.

Great empires rose and fell. The Israelite prophet, Daniel, spoke of four kingdoms succeeding one another. Babylon fell even while Daniel was living there. The Medes and Persians arose and Persia covered almost the whole earth. Greece came later with the sudden and overwhelming conquests of Alexander as Daniel describes in his eleventh chapter. After the Greeks would come a fourth kingdom, but only in the days of Messiah’s birth, and our story does not take us there as yet.

Daniel said that Alexander would be a mighty king with great dominion. But his kingdom would be broken four ways very soon after it arose. And two of the four parts of the Alexandrian legacy were the Ptolemies of Egypt and the Seleucids of Babylon and Syria. In between them were the people of Judah, those who had returned from exile in Babylon and dwelt with a rebuilt Temple in their midst.

All around Judah the world was changing. Hellenism was the fashion. Cities built hippodromes for public chariot races and horse races. Stadiums were built for games and the fashion was for athletes to participate without clothes. Races, wrestling, and other games entertained the people of the cities. The city was called a polis and there were libraries, courts, temples, and places for discussion and learning.

Judah was a backwards sort of place and for the most part the people wanted nothing to do with Olympian Zeus, nude games, and the Greek way of life.

But among the nobility, there were compromisers, people who wanted to see the old traditions disappear. Circumcision, they said, was barbaric. It was embarrassing for Jewish young men to participate in nude games where all could see their circumcisions. Some had unreliable and dangerous surgeries to try and reverse their circumcision. And many wanted to see the end of Torah study and Hebrew and Aramaic writing and conversation. The common Greek which was growing to be the world language was the language of sophistication.

Meanwhile, the Seleucids came to rule over the territory of Judah and put the Ptolemies back into Egypt. Eventually a new Seleucid monarch arose in 175 B.C.E., Antiochus Epiphanes. He called himself Epiphanes, manifestation of the gods. The Jews called him Epimanes or crazy one.

Antiochus Epiphanes put in his own high priest, someone not from the line of Aaron at all. He strongly supported the nobility in their desire to Hellenize the Jews. Antiochus loved Olympian Zeus. In time he built a hippodrome and made decrees forbidding circumcision. He installed a statue of Olympian Zeus in the Temple and had priests, many of whom were already Hellenized, offer swine in the holy Temple of Hashem.

But Antiochus read the whole situation wrongly. The enthusiasm for Greek ways was only a thin veneer or nobles who aspired to greater wealth and power. The people of Judah were not with these changes.

So, when a envoy came to the town of Modi’in to enforce the new ways, Mattathias and his sons rose up. There were already Torah-faithful groups who had given martyrs and formed bands in the wild places of Israel. Mattathias and his sons became the leaders of these groups of Hasidim, pious ones. It would be Hasidim versus Hellenists in Israel.

The Hasidim quickly grew and the Hellenists would have been in trouble except that Antiochus had the greatest armies in that part of the world. But God had already been at work and there was another factor in the favor of the Hasidim. The armies of Antiochus and the wealth of Antiochus had already been harmed by trouble with Rome. Rome was not yet an empire, but they were already a force to be reckoned with, having defeated Hannibal and the Carthaginians in a great battles in Africa. Antiochus’ father had supported the wrong side and made an enemy of Rome. Rome had demanded a huge tribute from the Seleucids and had greatly reduced the military which Antiochus had available.

In many battles the Hasidim, led by the sons of Mattathias, who were now called the Maccabeans, the Syrian mercenaries were defeated. Eventually the Maccabeans took the Temple back. They cleansed it and declared an eight day celebration, since the people had missed Sukkot. Hanukkah is eight days because it was in that year a late celebration of the Feast at the Temple.

Hanukkah is about the time the Jewish people were almost exterminated. There was no Haman or Hitler here, but something more subtle. Even Antiochus was not as much the bad guy as the temptation among the Jewish people to assimilate and adopt the ways and customs of the world.

We know from the Israelite prophet Daniel that other Antiochuses will arise. In the last days there will be a ruler who also makes decrees against the ways of God. People will be tempted to go along with economic advantage and the pull of popular power.

But God promises that Israel in the last days will be circumcised in heart and will not give in to the wickedness of smooth things. And in the history of Israel there have been some leaders whose voices called for a renewal within that would bring such renewal to Israel in the here and now.

The greatest of these was Yeshua, the son of Joseph the Nazarene. One Hanukkah he stood in the Temple and challenged his generation to a renewal which was far more important than war, kingdoms, and power. Who are your shepherds, he asked his people, the kind who rob and steal or the kind who lay down their life for the sheep?

Yeshua said that his sheep would hear his voice. His sheep would have the eternal life of the last days here and now. At Hanukkah he declared that he was the good shepherd, the last David, who would bring his people home. But his generation was not ready. When he declared that he was not only sent by God, but also one with God, the people around him wanted to kill him for blasphemy.

Yet Yeshua did have disciples, Hasidei Yeshua, the pious ones of Yeshua. And the early ones became men and women of great renown. James, the leader of the Yeshua-followers in Jerusalem, was a man of unimpeachable reputation amongst the Jewish leaders and Torah-faithful of the time.

H-100-Hanukkah-LampThe miracle of Hanukkah is the preservation of Israel’s people and the continuation of the covenant promises that God will heal and deliver Israel. The one who heals the people of Israel is Yeshua, the man who said at Hanukkah he was one with the Father, the one who said he is the good shepherd of Israel who leads his people to circumcised hearts and eternal life.

When a new Antiochus will arise, as foretold in Daniel, and will greatly trouble Israel again, it will be Yeshua who comes to deliver his people. In the meantime, we are the Hasidei Yeshua, the pious ones of Yeshua, who stand firm in faithfulness to God’s ways and who do not compromise. Great movements of salvation do not usually look impressive, but when the times get difficult, the ones who shine are revealed.