Wednesday, December 21, 2011

From "Christmas Devotions From Denver Seminary;" Dr. Noelliste,

Nativity window, St. Luke's Episcopal, Atlanta 

From “He is Born!: Christmas Devotions From Denver Seminary.” A meditation by Dr. Dieumeme Noelliste, Professor of Theological Ethics and Director of the Grounds Institute of Public Ethics.

“…Though he was rich…for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” 2 Corinthians 8:9

Perhaps, like me, you’ve heard people wonder whether it is proper for Christians to observe Christmas.  Perhaps, like me, you’ve heard them give reasons for their suspicion such as our ignorance of the date of Christ’s birth, the pagan origin of some of the feature of Christmas, and the many Christmas-related celebrations which have nothing to do with the birth of the Savior.

How should we respond to these objections? Is it enough to say that our ignorance of Jesus’ birth date doesn’t matter, since our celebration focuses on the fact that He was born?  Does it suffice for us to say that whatever cultural coating may overlay our observance is offset by numerous references made to the name of Jesus at Christmastime?

There is merit in these responses. But I believe something much more compelling needs to be said.  Our response must be more than a clever argument for the continuation of a cultural festival.  For me, that response is not made verbally, but in the manner in which we celebrate the Savior’s birth.

How do we do that?  By putting the values and attitudes that characterized His life at the center of our celebration.  2 Cor. 8:9 brings to light helpful principles which make our observance Christ-like and authentic.  First, our celebration reflects Christ when it minimizes self-enjoyment.  In our culture, Christmas has become synonymous with materialistic self-indulgence.  Our Christmas is joyous if our wants are satisfied and our desires gratified.  In stark contrast, self-enjoyment was not the dominant characteristic of our Savior’s life.  Self-denial was!  His coming to our world and dwelling with us were acts of self-renunciation.  We honor Him in celebration when we resist the pull to self-indulge.

Second, a Christmas that resembles Christ maximizes self-abasement.  The coming of Christ to the earth was a costly journey. It involved self-demotion and self-condescension.  His birth and life were marked by self-giving.  What have we given up as we remember Him?

Third, a Christ-like Christmas observance emphasizes the enhancement of others.  Christmas has to do with the great exchange—a transaction carried out in our favor and Christ’s disfavor! He, rich became poor, so that we, poor, may become rich!  Who are we blessing by our celebration?

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