IMPORTANT CALENDAR CORRECTION!
Annual Chili Dinner!
Join us this Friday evening after the Whitewater Christmas Parade for our annual Chili and cookie dinner!
“ He was created of a mother whom He created. He was carried by hands that He formed. He cried in the manger in wordless infancy, He the Word, without whom all human eloquence is mute."
In defiance of bitter Wisconsin cold, for five years I walked two miles to work, and at the mid-point along that daily journey, I would happen by a modest avian-topped memorial to The Great War. One of the earliest, and thus formative, lyric verses to pass my youthful ears was "In Flanders Fields" by John McCrae, a memorial poem about the generation lost in the Great War. My grandfather being a veteran of that particular skirmish, it was treated in my home with rightful awe. And with each passing of the monument on my laborious trek to class, I would doff whatever headgear I happened to wear, in deference to those lost to the Great War's maw.
Men used to remove their hats for honoured things, remember. Trained in the Ancient Ways, we were!
People probably drive past that monument daily without so much as a sidelong thought, as is what happens via desensitization, but it makes one wonder if it would go as unnoticed if each was taught to doff their hats in its proximity. This leads to the inevitable question: why do we remember? And what are the vehicles of our remembrance?
When Joshua led his people across the Jordan with the miraculous parting of its waters by the hand of Almighty God (Joshua 4), he erected twelve stones as a memorial of the deliverance and faithfulness of God, and named the monument Ebeneezer, thus declaring "here hath God helped us," but it leads to the question: to whom did the monument declare this? Joshua knew it: it was his construction. Israel knew it: their dry ankles testified to it. God certainly knew it: He isn't one to forget things, and anyway it was His idea. Who then needed the declaration?
Every Israelite who hadn't yet been born. And you. And me.
Heaven knows we are temporal beings, and fallible, at that. We forget easily the deliverances of God. Thus we erect memorials, that we might take our sons and daughters to them and explain why it is they stand.
When a generation walks away from the Lord, it is not the fault of the memorials any more than it is the fault of the Scripture; it is the fault of the fathers who never told their sons why it is the memorial exists in the first place, never walked them down to the Jordan, nor showed the proper reverence for an occasion that he himself was not even alive to witness, never taught them to doff a hat, or why one ought do so.
Joseph Campbell famously compared rites and rituals, in any culture, to participating in a sacred event, a way of passing on both the importance of and form of something worthy of remembrance, and before the reader objects by virtue of rejecting such things as rituals, consider Communion. The Sacrament of the Lord's Supper was instructed to be done in "remembrance" of Jesus. Why not suffice with the story itself? Why participate in the practice of communion? Foremost, because we were commanded to, of course, but why? Every Believer who participates in Communion takes part in the event, if symbolically, but it is not simply symbolic. It is, definitionally, an active, living symbolism, not a placid, hollow recitation. We act in order to remember, to make real the temporally intangible. We build our twelve stones as war memorials, drink to the honoured dead, and toast the living.
On this point, neither make mistake, nor chock it up to nostalgic sentimentality: we are at war. Or rather, war is upon is, whether we would have it or not.
I'm not referring to this week's crisis on the television we're all supposed to panic over, but about the reclamation of Christ's Kingdom, in which we play the role of both soldier and of sword. The enemy would rob the Bride of Christ of every good thing He ordained and erected. In this tenor, mirth becomes an act of war. Family meals become an act of war. Prayer is certainly an act of war. Worship service and prudent business practice and forgiveness and humility are acts of war, and the Gospel is a fission bomb.
This is what holidays are for; they are monuments, monuments to the slain, All-Saints Day, monuments to provision, Thanksgiving, monuments to Christ's deliverance of all men who would call on His name, Christmas, monuments to His glory and our salvation, Easter. Like taking our sons to Jordan, these can be as hollow or meaningful as anything else, taken to full measure or pointless recitation by how much we pour into their importance and observation. Charlie Brown learned this in 1965.
In case this is all too cryptic, I'm leading towards the contemporary Christian proclivity to reject and detest ground once taken for Christ, in this case, Christmas.
Yes, we're going there. Or, I am, and it's your choice to accompany, assuming you keep reading.
Remember the cries and signs and stickers and sermons to "Keep Christ in Christmas?"
It has come into vogue in recent years to persuade the Church to finish the job that the Secular world began decades ago, eradicating a monument to the birth of Christ like the liberated Europeans tore down statues of Lenin after the Wall fell. One expects this in Secular Society, but in the Church? Since the advent of the Internet, Christian "Discernment" ministries have erupted in both popularity and quantity, and while many such ministries (they shall remain nameless for the point of this essay), surely have pointed out many evil things buried in plain sight (Enneagrams, inverted theology in much "Christian" music, Liberation Theology), they have—inevitably—eaten their own.
More on that next time.
With the prevalence of mass information's availability, it has become commonplace to hear echoed in Christian circles and even pulpits that Christmas is a Pagan holiday (it isn't), that Christmas trees are condemned in Isaiah (they're not), that Christ wasn't born on December 25th (everybody knows that and it doesn't matter), or even that "Easter" stems from worship of "Ishtar" (it doesn't).
Please refrain from sending me YouTube videos.
Initially, the temptation on my part was to pen a full defense of the holiday and keep us here for hundreds of dull pages, but others have beaten this pugilist to that particular haymaker, and besides, there is a broader question to be asked here: how did we get to this place in Christian Discernment? When did "Discernment" become "Reactionary"?
And more importantly: what should Christian Discernment look like?
And how do we reclaim it?
That last part is the endeavour. Believers are inundated with warnings about every film and book and piece of music, decrying everything as demonic, so much so that we're likely to miss the actually demonic because the boy has cried wolf just one too many times. And sometimes, there is a wolf (anyone who's endured my diatribe about Disney's Frozen should know this), but discernment ministries so often proceed in condemning with ... I'll be nice here ... inadequate arguments, inadequate research, and inadequate comprehension of the material. Yes, that's being nice.
But the larger leaven in the discernment lump is that we are failing to train up Believers in how to discern and what to discern, preferring to tell them what is and isn't godly from the safe vantage of our keyboards.
Teach a man to fish, anyone? Or to doff a hat for the honoured dead?
This Scriptural notion is what changed my mind of addressing the question of Christmas, in favor of spending a few episodes of this blog addressing discernment as a whole. And who knows? Maybe we'll make a Sunday School class of it! Stay tuned for more as we next explore the State of Christian Discernment and its strengths and many, many problems. I'm off to find some eggnog and read Dickens' Christmas Carol. Again. To my children.
What are the warm tables of Christmas dinners in the glow of our hearths, if not the memorial stones of victories won by the blood shed by Christ the Lord upon a Cross at Calvary?
ON THE HORIZON AT LWF:
Appropriately, it is the season of Advent at Living Word, culminating at our Christmas Eve Service. Since the blessed day falls upon a Sunday this year, we'll be meeting twice, once for our normal Sunday worship, and again at 4:00 in the afternoon. See you all then!
Until next time! God go with you, brothers and sisters in Christ.
~The Preacher - Daniel Holly