Wednesday, November 28, 2018

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas!

Dear Friends,

Riots. Violence. Fighting. Stabbings. Shootings. Killing. No I’m not talking about Nigeria or Syria. I’m talking about Walmart. That’s the most dangerous place to be on Black Friday and where 60% of the violent incidents occur as we usher in this season of Christmas cheer. Since the marketing concept of Black Friday was created, there have been 12 deaths and 117 major injuries that occurred at retail stores on Black Friday, and the majority of them occurred at a Walmart. Has this become the true meaning of Christmas in our Nation? A Walmart worker is trampled to death after an “out-of-control” mob of frenzied shoppers smashed through the locked front doors. On a Thanksgiving evening at a Walmart in Norwalk, two women get into a fist fight over a Barbie Doll. At another Walmart, two women scuffle over the last big screen tv and one of them is seriously injured when it falls on her. At a Kohl’s in Orange County, five women get into a brawl in the baby section –three are arrested and two go to the hospital. When a Victoria’s Secret store opened on Black Friday, a stampede of over a hundred people pushing and shoving in the doors injured dozens. It’s a riot! For underwear! This year’s Black Friday violence included three mall shootings and two people stabbed in the men’s department at a Macy’s. Please join me in singing: “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.. Each and every day...”

I don’t know about you but I’m so old that I remember when Christmas was a church holiday. Times have changed. The official start of the Christmas season is no longer determined by the church but by the National Retailers Association and Christmas officially starts on Black Friday. There’s an old fashioned accounting term “in the black” meaning there was a profit. So Black Friday means that the stores have now taken so much of your money that they are operating in the black – at a profit. For our Nation’s retail corporations this is the miracle of Christmas! It’s the magical moment when we max out our credit cards and the retailers rejoice because your money truly is the “reason for the season.”

The birth of Jesus Christ has been transformed by secular America into a “holiday” season of spending money and acquiring more things. And now it’s time for the church to redeem America. About seventeen hundred years ago, the church redeemed a pagan holiday called the winter solstice by changing it into a celebration of the birth of Jesus. Christmas is becoming a pagan holiday again and we need to be the “modern reformers” that will change it back into a celebration of the Baby in the manger. And maybe the best way to do that is to stop celebrating the secular holiday season and start celebrating Advent. Next Sunday (Dec 2nd) is the first Sunday in Advent and the four weeks leading up to Christmas day is the season of Advent that celebrates the coming of Jesus Christ.

For the ancient church, Advent was at the end of the Christian year and it was a quiet season of reflection that looked toward the second coming of Jesus. The word Advent comes from the Latin “adventus” which is the translation of the Greek word “parousia.” Parousia is used seventeen times in the New Testament and always refers to the Second Coming of Christ. 1 Thess 2:19 The season of Advent reminds us that the coming of Jesus is triune. Jesus came to earth 2,000 years ago and He comes into our lives today when we repent and put our trust and faith in Him. And we are then reminded of Christ’s “parousia” – His second coming. So.. what if we were to abandon the secular celebration of the Christmas season? What if we started celebrating Advent and just kept Christmas Day? What would that look like?

If Christmas in our American culture is about spending more money, Advent is about spending less. Christmas is about acquiring material things. Advent is about spiritual things. Christmas is about Santa Claus, who is called the “father” of Christmas. Advent is about God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. We teach our children that Santa makes magic happen for all those who believe. According to the Bible, Jesus makes genuine miracles happen for all those who believe. Christmas is about the inflatable Grinch in the front yard. Advent is when we set up the manger scene. Christmas is about giving gifts. Advent is about giving more of yourself. Christmas is about two adult women fighting over a Barbie doll in Walmart. Advent is about giving a Barbie doll to a homeless child. Christmas is about sleigh bells ringing and snowmen singing. Advent is about “Silent Night. Holy Night. Son of God, love’s pure light. Radiant beams from Thy Holy Face. With the dawn of redeeming grace. Jesus Lord at Thy birth...”

Celebrating Advent means a time of reflection that leads to a gladdened heart that our Savior was born. God incarnate. God in the flesh. Jesus is here and He is coming again! Paul ends his letter to the church at Corinth with the Aramaic phrase, “Maranatha” which is translated as “O Lord come.” 1 Corinthians 16:22 Jesus has come to earth and He’s coming again. The whole meaning of Advent can be summed up in that one word: “Maranatha.” It’s our creed and our prayer. We redeem Christmas with His Maranatha. We are redeemed – the world is redeemed – through His Maranatha. And as we journey through Advent toward Christmas day, we need to take frequent, holy timeouts to take a deep breath and come into His presence. Every so often let’s stop in the middle of our preparation for Christmas to remember God’s “reason for the season” and pray:

“Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus come!”

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