A United Methodist Pastor's Theological Reflections

"But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory (nikos) through our Lord Jesus Christ." - I Corinthians 15:57

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

We Need All Three - Manger, Cross, & Empty Tomb

Dr. Bruce Forbes has written a book, "Christmas: A Candid History" in which he puts Christmas in it's proper context.  If you love Christmas and especially if you really, really love Christmas, this book might not be for you. :)

He expains that for the first two hundred years, the church did not focus on Christmas and the nativity.  The key focus for those centuries was the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Thanks to the Puritans in England, the celebration of Christmas became illegal because they felt that it was too focused on partying and not enough on celebrating the birth of Christ. 

When the Puritans came to the New World, they continued their deemphasis on Christmas.  As a result, the early Methodists in America did not celebrate Christmas.  When our Lancaster First UMC was formed in 1812, those first church members would have been alarmed at how much focus we give Christmas today.

Christmas in the church didn't start to become a major celebration on the church calendar until the middle of the 1800s thanks to the Victorian influence which has German roots. This is where we get the Christmas tree tradition. A Christmas Carol and The Night Before Christmas also served as the building blocks for the popular Christmas culture that we experience today.

As I've been thinking about Dr. Forbe's history of Christianity and the celebration of Christmas, it helps me to put the celebration of Christmas in perspective.  Only two of the four gospels refer to the birth of Christ, but all four gospels tell in great detail the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.  The gospel writers clearly want the primary focus to be on Good Friday and Easter and not on Christmas.

I tend to prepare worship services and sermons about three to four months ahead of schedule.  This helps our worship planning team to plan far enough in advance so that we can offer our very best in worship.  This means that around the middle of December, I am spending time thinking about Holy Week and Easter.  This parallel focus on Christmas and Easter each year helps me to keep Christmas in it's proper context.

Maybe this is why Advent, the fours weeks leading to Christmas includes a focus on the second coming of Christ.  Jesus will come again because he has defeated sin and death through his death and resurrection.  The manger only makes sense when we keep in mind the cross and the empty tomb.

We need all three.

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