Gary Swisher

Posts Tagged ‘Christ’

Is Christmas a Holiday Befitting Christ?

In Chrisitan Right, Christ, Christianity, Christmas, Flesh, Materialism, Sensualism on December 28, 2011 at 10:14 pm

Christians often express satisfaction that Christ is remembered by the world at least one day each year. But is it really possible for the world to do something that commemorates Christ? The world, in its ignorance, offers up a season that glitters and tantalizes its own sensual nature–largely in direct contrast to what Jesus truly embodied and taught. How did such an extravagant season ever come to symbolize Christ?

One may argue as to what Christmas should be, whether they think it is about Christ, helping our fellow-man or a pagan feast day. Yet each year Christmas proves that it truly belongs to the world, no matter how much goodwill is used for its window dressing. Who can argue that the Christmas season is anything but the most sensual and materialistic time of year for our society? It twists everything about Christ to reflect it’s own carnal nature. I recently saw a TV commercial in which this statement was made, “It is better to receive than to give.” Hmmm… what season is it again? Whose name are we attaching to it? This is the season by which the world measures commercial and financial success. It’s the time of year when we indulge ourselves in everything that feels good, tastes sweet and brings us pleasure and material increase.

At Christmas we go to great lengths to please our senses, adorning pine trees with shimmering ornaments and decorating our houses with colored lights. Stores are decked with the most enticing holiday displays and gifts are wrapped in beautiful colors, with bright foils and bows. And under every Christmas tree we pile up presents to satisfy our greatest material desires. I am not saying such things are blatantly wrong. But how exactly does this reflect Christ?

He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Where is the glitter in this passage? Where are the wrappings and decorations? Where is the extravagance and indulgence of every desire? The true Christ is not popular with the people. He is not appealing in the way of Santa Claus. Christ is not about pleasing the flesh. But everything about Christmas appeals to the natural man and the nature of the world.

All that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.

As Christians we often overlook the materialism because Christmas is perceived as the season of giving, but in reality it is the season of gift exchanging. While a few people give to the poor in connection with Christmas, the majority spend hundreds or thousands on gadgets and gizmos for their own families, and fully expect gifts in return. The apex of the Christmas celebration for Christian and non-Christian alike is the morning when all the presents are unwrapped. With church programs out of the way, we’re free to move on to the good stuff. And after we have exchanged gifts with each other, we go back to the stores and exchange them again for what we really wanted.

What does any of this have to do with the nature and character of Christ? The kind of giving Jesus had in mind was not the merchandise that tends only to please the flesh. Jesus was born in a barn and laid in an animal’s trough. He had no place to lay his head and no worldly possessions. He spoke often of forsaking the world’s treasures and having riches toward God. He taught that we should not covet possessions and serve wealth, but Christmas fosters these very things. He taught us not to give feasts for people who have no means to return the favor; that giving is better than receiving. Giving is also better than exchanging, which is the true practice for most on Christmas. It is easy to give rich gifts to those in our family, or to friends who will give back to us in exchange. But true giving has no expectation of return.

Each year Christmas shoppers become mob-like, trampling and even attacking whoever comes between them and their Nike Air Jordans. Would they get up at 4:00 in the morning for some spiritual purpose? We stress about what to give to the man or woman who has everything. Why do we give more material goods to someone who already has more than they need? Is it because Christmas has much more to do with materialism? Some even buy Christmas gifts for themselves. In spite of getting what we want, our gadgets are isolating us from others and our endless entertainment is making us spiritually numb. Why do we keep investing our lives in things that distract us from what is important? Such is this holiday of Christmas.

The word “holiday” once had a far different meaning. It was contracted from the words “holy day.” If that were ever applicable to Christmas, it’s hardly the case anymore. The word “holy” means to set apart for a special, higher purpose. But Christmas is commonplace and full of every worldly craving. A true holy day is associated with things like fasting, rest and regaining perspective. But most of our society gorges itself at Christmas like no other time. There is nothing wrong with gathering and eating, but why is this season known for such overindulgence? Why do Christmas parties involve even more excessive drinking and wild behavior than normal?

What is it about this time of year that engenders such excess? Is Christ the root of it all? Why is pleasing our taste buds such an important part of observing Christ’s “holy day”? The weight gain associated with the holidays is an appropriate picture of what Christmas truly is–a feeding frenzy for our flesh. So much of Christmas is about acquiring things and pleasing the senses for our families and ourselves. It is the flesh, not the spirit that Christmas magnifies.

To set our minds on the flesh leads to death, but to set our minds on the Spirit leads to life and peace.

While Christians may hold Christmas as holy, 90% of their energies perfectly reflect the mindset of the world. Any common person in our society will set up a tree, bake cookies, shop, decorate, listen to Christmas carols, wrap presents, spend time with family and perhaps even give to the needy. A Christian does all of the same, but also attends a Christmas Eve service and implores everyone to keep Christ in Christmas.

And just why should we mix Christ with everything that is contrary to his nature? Nothing in scripture upholds the world’s approach to honoring Christ. You would think reindeer and gift exchanges were found in scripture, with all the pleas to make Christmas about Christ. Christians should wake up from their sugar-plum-fairy dreams and realize just how far off-the-mark this holiday season is from the things that honor Christ. Rather than putting Christ in Christmas, Christ should be set apart from the world’s most glorious day. Why do we insist that the world continue to confuse and mix him with it’s own values and desires? The world cherishes Christmas as much as Christians, but not because of Christ.

As children, the first thing we learn about Christmas is a lie. But the lies don’t end when we discover there is no jolly man delivering toys around the world. Those who defend Christmas as a day that honors Christ betray the extent to which they are held under its delusion. The world itself is enmity with Christ and it demonstrates it most graphically in the season affixed with his name.

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Old Man at the Cross

In Christ, Christianity, evangelical, Theology on April 29, 2011 at 2:39 pm

Last weekend I saw a few channels airing The Passion which Mel Gibson produced several years ago. Most Christians have seen it, but if you have not, The Passion is a very graphic portrayal of the trial and crucifixion of Christ. It can be very hard to watch if you are sensitive to blood and trauma on the screen. When the movie first came out our next-door neighbor commented that Christians should see the movie in response to what Christ did for us. I tend to agree that we need to have an appreciation of the horrible punishment Jesus endured, but for many, including my neighbor, I sense more of an obligation to view this movie–similar to required reading for a class.

I think this element of obligation might actually show a lack of appreciation for the cross and what it means. How can I say this? As with many things we hold and believe, there are different ways to understand the cross. There is a natural view and a spiritual view. I once heard a pastor rightly comment that if we had been able to witness the actual crucifixion of Christ, it would have had an enormous impact on us, yet it would ultimately not cause any effective change in us. As wrenching as it was, the impact of the crucifixion must go beyond our natural ability to respond.

I get the sense that many want to look at the cross for their motivation; retelling it, reliving it as a way to renew commitment, ignite devotion and respond as God would have us. This thinking holds that the more we see the brutal torture borne by our innocent Savior, the more we, who were truly guilty, will be inspired to go out there and live like never before.

How we perceive the cross will greatly determine the power it has in our lives. Our tendency to find motivation from what Jesus did may actually work against the intent of the cross because our natural man wants to “live up” to the sacrifice. Our human reaction is to feel compelled to respond with remorse, passion and fervor. But fervor, like all things, fades. This may be why we need a more graphic portrayal of the crucifixion. Perhaps we have lost sensitivity to the event, having become so familiar with it. Yet, I don’t know that my middle-aged heart will ever relive the impact the cross had on me when I first digested the great injustice that brought mercy to me. What will happen, then, after the graphic effects of The Passion also begin to lose their impact? Having watched the movie, one key thought occurred to me. The scriptures do not go into very explicit detail about the crucifixion. This is not to minimize the immense suffering Jesus endured, but it may minimize the relative effectiveness of focusing on just the natural impact of the crucifixion.

What effect does the cross produce in us? Is there a great sense of inadequacy? Good. Is there a desire to learn from the heart of Christ? I think that is good too. But is there also a desire to “rise to the challenge”? Is there a sense that we can use the crucifixion to produce more sorrow for sin, and a greater resolve to do better? Could there even be, heaven forbid, an attempt to defray the cost to Jesus by virtue of living better? This is not good, I believe, because it fuels the fire of self reliance and ultimately is rooted in self justification. Our old man may feel obliged to respond with all his muster. It is the tendency of our flesh to try to live up to and do justice to Christ’s sacrifice.

Part of us thinks we need to justify Christ’s offering. We need to change and become worthy of such a sacrifice. We should not be surprised that such a lofty aspiration comes from the most corrupt nature. This very nature undermines grace and the utterly helpless state we occupy without Christ. What’s more, it neglects the true power of the cross. Since Christ died for us when we were powerless we cannot attempt to reform the “undeserving nature” after the fact. We need to let that nature be crucified with Christ and stake no claim to it. There is no use for a reformed old man. Christ is victorious when our life ends on the cross with him.

For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh; so that the righteousness of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Rom 8:3 -4)

Paul also said he was (past tense) crucified with Christ so that the true life and nature of Christ might live in him. This was not his aspiration, it was a done deal. He reckoned himself dead, having been baptized, not just into some pool of H2O, but baptized into the very death of Christ. Christ did not just do away with our sins, he did away with ourselves, the old man, with all his reforms, improvements, remorse and fortitude, was wiped out. Only by complete removal of the corrupted nature can the way be cleared for Christ to rise up in us.

The cross should not produce a sense of guilt–since by it, all guilt is crucified–in order that we can walk in newness which is the nature of Christ. As much as Christ suffered for sins, it was Adam (the old man) who died there. That was me and my old ways up there–both the good and the bad–all together crucified. My agenda is not to work and improve myself, but to give up my agenda, to let it be crucified for the sake of taking on the life of Christ. Here we take on a life which is not our own. No longer directing our own steps. Nothing needs to be salvaged or rescued from the old man. In the crucifixion we need to realize our own death.

Or are you ignorant that all who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore, we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, so also we may walk in newness of life. (Rom 6:3-4)