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JoeBob

Merry Christmas! (I&P Version)

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Here is a little something I prepared for a peace dinner a couple of years ago. A friend asked if I would open a discussion on Christmas tradition with some international students ... mostly from Arabic countries ... a few weeks before the fall term closed.

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Eid Milad sayeed.
 
The holiday of Christmas has been a topic of debate, even among Christians. We find ourselves in discussions of ... When to celebrate?  December 25th?  My orthodox family says January 6th.  But, if you are surrounded by college students? My church says Start this Saturday! The lady who called us together told me, "Christmas dinner: tonight!"
 
How to celebrate? Prayer and reading. Okay.  Food, sure. Nativity scene, maybe. But trees, lights, Saints dressed like elves, ghost stories, flying deer, with glowing noses? What songs to sing? What if we are too religious, or not religious enough.
 
If to celebrate? Some Protestants in 18th century England took the scripture's warning to not  elevate one day above other quite literally. Other Christians opposed them fiercely, there's a carol about it "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen ..."
 
How best to understand all of these movements? Well I'd like us to go back a millennium and a half ... 
This time of year in ancient Northern Europe was desperate and lonely. It felt like all light and warmth was being lost. That your frailest family and weakest animals would not survive. That your food would run out. That God was leaving you ... Maybe this time forever.
 
As do people without God's word everywhere, many feeble schemes were tried: Logs that burned brightest were put in the fireplace. Druid priests carefully watched the Sun's movements. Local spirits were called upon. So when Christians arrived with news that God brought light into the world, that news meant the most during this darkest time of the year. The story of Jesus was used to combat hopelessness and fear. It was hope-giving news that  God was not ashamed to form life in a virgin's womb  ... No sex ... No spirits involved   ... Just creation. It was a freedom-giving idea that the Holy Spirit would live in a person and God would go to any length to be with that person.
 
This was cause to celebrate. With Evergreens to remind of God's eternity. Mistletoe to remind of God's love. Lights to remind of God's hope. Nativity to remind of God's peace. Songs to remind of God's joy. Sharing food to remind of God's provision.
 
The rise of industry (manufacturing, electricity, entertainment) has overwhelmed the season. Some want to "take it back" for the pagans,  Some want there to be something for everyone,  Some want to put "Christ" back in "Christmas."  Some want more lights, louder, music , bigger presents. Some want to believe the other person wants the wrong things.
 
You may wonder what you want to do.
 
But, what does God want you to do? This dinner is a good start! I take young people camping in bear country. A night in the winter wilderness. Under stars helps noisy teens to settle.  God is probably asking you to do something like that, but different: If your life is too noisy, maybe you need to find a little quiet. Too quiet? Maybe God wants you to sing. Too fearful? Maybe pray for the presence of the Holy Spirit. Too angry? Read how much you are loved. Too dark and cold? Seek light and warmth.
 
If you've just arrived here, American Christmas can be a little too much all at once. So contemplate on what you need for this season, and join the celebrations that you think will help you meet those needs.

Sean's greetings to all!

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