Merry Christmas

nativity

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.

(And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)

And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem (because he was of the house and lineage of David) to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

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, good will toward men.

And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.

And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.

And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.

And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.

But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.

And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.

Luke 2:1-20

 

Magi

Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit.

Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly.  But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.  And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”

So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.”

Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son.  And he called His name Jesus.

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem,  saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”

When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.  And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.

So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet:

‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
Are not the least among the rulers of Judah;
For out of you shall come a Ruler
Who will shepherd My people Israel.’”

Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared.  And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.”

When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was.  When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy.  And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way.

Matthew 1:18-2:12

 

Merry Christmas.

Walter Russell Mead’s Concluding Thoughts on Advent

Walter Russell Mead concludes his thoughts regarding Advent and its religious implications on his blog Via Media, on the American Interest website.  Once again, both are well worth reading.

The Coming, Part Three- Advent: The Grand Entrance

shutterstock_63809449“My family has always had a low taste for over the top hymn lyrics. My mother’s favorite line in the 1940 Episcopal hymnal came from James Russell Lowell’s protest against the Mexican War: “By the light of burning martyrs, Jesus’ bleeding feet I track.” As I kid, I was struck by a couple of verses in Charles Wesley’s “Lo He Comes with Clouds Descending” in which the poet seems a little too happy about the wretchedness of sinners who realize, too late, what is coming to pass…”

 

The Coming: Advent Part Four

“It’s the fourth Sunday in Advent today and even the crustiest and most Christmas-resistant among us are beginning to thaw. The Mead family is preparing its Christmas Day get-together and though sadly some beloved faces are no longer with us at the holiday table, new arrivals by birth and by marriage keep increasing our tribe. I was in Allen, Texas a week ago for a family wedding and a visit to my eldest niece and her young and growing family; my iPad still has the grease marks from four year old fingers playing Angry Birds…”

The Spiritual Emptiness of Atheism

This is the time of year when belligerent atheists corral their fellow freethinkers together to partake in emboldened attempts to legally prevent and disrupt the displays of the Nativity wherever possible. Wherever these innocent- and usually welcomed- nativity scenes present themselves, there’s a bitter and selfish atheist threatening or attempting to sue local authorities or governing bodies because somehow, the public display of the baby Jesus in a manger is “offensive” to their irreligious sensibilities.  In their nonsensical pursuits, these litigation-minded atheists continually cite the so-called separation clause of the First Amendment as a justification for their actions at the expense of the free-exercise clause contained within the same law.  To the shock and dismay of a decreasing number of people, the God-less intentions of atheism appears to be gaining credibility due to the number of legal decisions in their favor.

Notice that this is the only time of year (for now) these atheists present themselves or their cause.  I’ve seen a few atheists plead their empty cases during the Easter season, but Christmastime is when they’re the most aggressive.  And the question is why? After all, if atheism had any inherent and practical worth as a belief system, these atheists would attempt to engage the wider culture based on the philosophical merits of their belief system on a year-round basis rather than offending and insulting the devout by poking their collective finger in the eye of believers. It appears as if atheists endeavor to make those who revere the religious aspect of Christmas as miserable as they are.

Also notice that it’s only against the God recognized and worshipped in Christianity that these militant atheists take offense. They don’t seem to display the same religious fervor during the month of the Hajj or Ramadan probably because it’s easier to bully and intimidate those who employ “turn(ing) the other cheek” as a central tenet of their belief system than it is to bully those who employ “kill the infidel.”

But notice something else.  Last week after 20 children and six adults were massacred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Connecticut, many people in the media, on social networking sites and in the city of Newtown itself were sending their prayers to residents of the town- victims, families of victims and residents alike.  On Facebook and Twitter, many people offered Bible verses in sincere and sympathetic attempts to provide comfort and understanding to those directly and indirectly affected by what happened. Stories were written how clergy members were discarding their prepared sermons to discuss the tragedy and how suffering and evil is an unfair part of life.

Likewise, since that horrifying tragedy occurred, numerous religious leaders have been interviewed by the media regarding the nature of God, suffering, evil and justice and how we make sense of it all.  Among the clergy have been several Catholic priests, several rabbis and Jim Solomon, pastor of New Hope Community Church in Newtown Connecticut. The local community, still in shock and struggling to understand what had happened, gathered Friday night for a prayer vigil at St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church. Several more vigils at local churches were planned for the following Monday evening.

Yet of all the ecclesiastics interviewed and of all the vigils planned, there was no mention of any clerical skeptics or freethinking clergymen represented or invited. Of all the vigils, none were held in non-descript buildings devoid of religious or spiritual accoutrements- and for good reason.  Atheism is an empty belief system that doesn’t offer its adherents comfort, hope, emotional solace or spiritual sustenance when the world goes bad; in other words, it has no understanding of- or response to- sin and the product of sin, which is evil.  Atheism doesn’t provide a notion of divine justice- reward or punishment, heaven or hell- for acts of goodness or overwhelming evil, respectively whereas Christianity does. Atheism simply…is.

It would be insincere and offensive to claim that there aren’t atheists who sympathize with the grief felt by the citizens of Newtown.  It would also be disingenuous to suggest that many atheists don’t celebrate the joy of Christmas because to do so would be absurd.  And it would be equally disingenuous to say that atheists aren’t or can’t be decent people.  There are numerous atheists who celebrate Christmas and atheists who in their heart-felt sympathy have compassion regarding what happened in Newtown- and I know some of them and they’re good people. But atheism as a belief system represented by those whose purpose is to agitate, bully and offend, it’s spiritually and morally bankrupt and found wanting.

Psalm 46:1 says, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”  Indeed he is.

May God bless the Christmas season and may he bless and comfort the city of Newtown, Connecticut.