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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.






25 December 2008

Getting Christmas to Add Up


Many Christians have problems with the world’s celebration of Christmas. Baby dolls overwhelm the Baby Jesus in TV advertising. Violent video games replace “peace on earth” on too many wish lists. “Save Twenty Percent or More,” drowns out mention of the Savior of the nations. An edgy film asks What Would Jesus Buy? and demands that we provide a proper answer.

What Would Jesus Buy?

The characters in A Charlie Brown Christmas illustrate many of the wrong attitudes and actions: Crabby Lucy is in it for the presents. Snoopy glorifies himself by competing in (and winning) the home decorating contest. Schroeder looks at the pageant as an opportunity to show off his musical abilities. Linus sees the season through a lens of fear of standing on stage in the Christmas program. And Good Ol’ Charlie Brown knows that something’s wrong — something’s missing — only he can’t figure out just what.

Christians enjoy seeing Linus figure things out and recite the Christmas story from Luke 2. We smile as the arguing and misunderstanding disappear and the kids decorate the ratty little tree and sing Hark! The Herald Angels. Finally someone “gets” Christmas!


We hear others (or ourselves) say, “Let’s put the ‘Christ’ back in Christmas.” Some even spell the word “CHRISTmas,” with the capital letters pointing out the Savior. Nothing is wrong with increased emphasis on Jesus. Indeed, any proper focus on Him over worldly things deserves our attention. Yet when we get to the common name for the holiday (holy + day = holiday), we dare not forget that “Christ + Mass = Christmas.”

What does this mean? That the Christian holy day celebrating the Nativity of Our Lord deserves more than a tree and some colored lights. “Mass” is an ancient word for Christian worship: Specifically, it means the Communion service. We cannot go to Bethlehem to find Christ, nor to Calvary or the empty tomb. We find Him where He says He will be, in the midst of our gathering (cf. Matthew 18:20), in His Word and His Supper.

“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.... (John 1:14a)”

He “was incarnate [made flesh] by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary (Nicene Creed).”

“She gave birth to her firstborn Son and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths and laid Him in a manger.... (Luke 2:7a)”

Nativity

That Word, the eternal Son of God, gives us His forgiveness through the preaching of His Word, the Gospel. He who became flesh and was lain in the bin where the animals ate has become our food as we come to His altar. While we might stay home thinking nice thoughts about Jesus — we may even take time for Bible reading, devotions, songs, and prayers — it’s in His house, in His divine service, where we truly see “his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14b)”

The carol Angels We Have Heard on High urges, “Come to Bethlehem and see Him whose birth the angels sing. Come adore on bended knee Christ the Lord, our newborn King.” If you would do this, then come to His house. Come not merely to give gifts and honor, for He already has all things under His divine control. You can give Him nothing that isn't already His — including yourself, your life, and your love. Come instead to receive. Receive the Christ. Receive forgiveness. Receive peace and reconciliation with God and carry this peace into a strife-torn world. Receive the fullness of His grace and truth and receive eternal life. Ask God to help you keep the “Mass” and the “Christ” in Christ-Mass.


God isn’t calling you to a cold, dark stable. More likely, He’s inviting you, your family, and your friends to a nice, warm church. You probably won’t have to spend time with dusty hay or smelly animals; you can sit in nice, clean clothes among well-bathed people. Yet He still calls you to see and receive the same Savior those shepherds met during a Bethlehem night over two thousand years ago. Will you make excuses to stay away, or will you go “with haste” to meet Him and then make known what you are told “concerning this child (Luke 2:16-17)”?

On Christmas Day, come see the Gift God gives you — not one under a tree, but One who was nailed to a tree, shedding His blood to set you free. Not a gift you’ll bury in a closet, but the Gift who was buried in a tomb only to rise on the third day. Not a gift you’ll hasten to exchange for something better, but the Gift who worked a great exchange, taking your sins and giving you His righteousness. How could Christmas be merrier than in knowing that God loves you so much?

Merry CHRISTmas. Merry ChristMASS. Merry CHRISTMAS!

Nativity

On Christmas Eve, I get to listen to the youngsters tell the story of Jesus’ birth through our Children’s Christmas Eve Program. On Christmas Day, in sermon and Supper, I have the joyful task of “unwrapping” the Gift that Mary “wrapped ... in swaddling cloths and laid ... in a manger (Luke 2:7)” for those who gather for worship at our Carol Communion Service.

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

Send email to Ask the Pastor.

Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

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Newspaper column #577

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