According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

Monday, December 26, 2011

5 Myths of Christmas

Confusion Regarding the Yuletide is Common
posted Dec. 24, 2011 05:10 PM

No matter your religious beliefs -- whether you're devout, doubtful or downright atheist -- you're probably familiar with the Christmas story.

But its history, significance and traditions are sometimes misunderstood. Let's clarify what the yuletide is all about by examining five myths.

1. Christmas is the most important Christian holiday.

Adoration of the Shepherds by Gerard Van Honthorst, 1622
For all the cards sent and trees decorated -- to say nothing of all the Nativity scenes displayed -- Christmas is not the most important date on the Christian calendar.

Easter, the day on which Christians believe Christ rose from the dead, has more religious significance than does Dec. 25. Christ's Resurrection means not just that one man conquered death, nor was it simply proof of Jesus' divinity to his followers; it holds out the promise of eternal life for all who believe in him.

The two holidays' relative importance is even reflected in the church's liturgical calendar. The Christmas season lasts 12 days, as all carolers know, ending with Epiphany, a feast day in early January commemorating the Wise Men's visit to the infant Jesus.

The Easter season, on the other hand, lasts 50 days. On Sundays during Eastertide, Christians hear dramatic stories of the post-Resurrection appearances of Christ to his astonished followers.

The overriding importance of Easter is simple: Anyone can be born, but not everyone can rise from the dead.

2. There is biblical consensus on the story of Jesus' birth.

Life of Christ Window 1-6: Birth Narratives

From bottom left: Annunciation, Visitation, Nativity, Annunciation to Shepherds, King Herod, Three Magi.

Panels 1-6 at the bottom of the Life of Christ Window, the center lancet beneath the west rose window. Dating from about 1150, it depicts the early life of Christ from the Annunciation to the Triumphal Entry.

Even knowledgeable Christians may expect to find the familiar story of Christmas in each of the four Gospels: the journey of Mary on a donkey accompanied by Saint Joseph, the child's birth in a manger surrounded by animals, shepherds and angels, with the Wise Men appearing shortly afterward.

But two of the Gospels say nothing about Jesus' birth. The Gospel of Mark -- the earliest of the Gospels, written roughly 30 years after Jesus' Crucifixion -- does not have a word about the Nativity. Instead, it begins with the story of John the Baptist, who announces the impending arrival of the adult Jesus of Nazareth. The Gospel of John is similarly silent about Jesus' birth.

The two Gospels that do mention what theologians call the "infancy narratives" differ on some significant details.

Matthew seems to describe Mary and Joseph as living in Bethlehem, fleeing to Egypt and then moving to Nazareth.

The Gospel of Luke, on the other hand, has the two originally living in Nazareth, traveling to Bethlehem in time for the birth and then returning home.

Both Gospels, though, place Jesus' birthplace in Bethlehem.

3. Jesus was an only child.

Catholics, myself included, believe that Mary's pregnancy came about miraculously -- what we call the "virgin birth." Catholics also believe that Mary remained a virgin her entire life, though many Protestants do not.

So, when Catholics stumble upon Gospel passages that speak of Jesus' brothers and sisters, they are often confused.

In the Gospel of Luke, someone tells Jesus, "Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you." In Mark's Gospel, people from Nazareth exclaim: "Is not this the carpenter's son?... Are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us?" Even Saint Paul called James "the Lord's brother."

These passages are sometimes explained away by saying that these are Jesus' friends, relatives, half brothers or, most often, cousins.

But there is a perfectly good word for "cousins" in Greek, which Mark and Luke could have used instead of "adelphoi," meaning "brothers."

Many Catholic scholars maintain that Jesus indeed had brothers and sisters -- perhaps through an earlier marriage of Joseph. So, a virgin birth, but step-brothers and-sisters.

4. The secularization of Christmas is a recent phenomenon.

Worries about diluting Christmas' meaning go much further back than recent memory. Gift-giving, for example, was seen as problematic as early as the Middle Ages, when the church frowned on the practice for its supposed pagan origins.

More recently, some religious leaders in the 1950s fretted about the use of the term "X-mas" (which, depending on whom you believe, either substitutes a tacky "X" for Christ or uses the Greek letter chi, an ancient abbreviation for the name).

The first few Christmas stamps issued by the U.S. Postal Service in the early 1960s featured not the familiar Madonna and Child, but a bland wreath, an anodyne Christmas tree and sprigs of greenery.

And some of the most beloved "Christmas" TV shows from the 1960s -- "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" -- have little to do with the birth of Christ and are more about vague holiday celebrations and, mostly, gifts.

Linus' famous recitation from Luke's Gospel in "A Charlie Brown Christmas" is the exception in pop culture, not the rule.

The overt religiosity of that scene, which flowed from the faith of Charles Schulz, drew criticism even at its first airing in 1965, as David Michaelis detailed in his 2008 biography of the cartoonist, "Schulz and Peanuts."

5. Midnight Mass is at midnight.
Midnight Mass, traditionally the first celebration of the Christmas liturgy, is also when Saint Luke's account of the birth of Jesus is read aloud. Recently, however, many churches have moved up their celebrations -- first to 10 p.m., then to 8 p.m., and now as early as 4 p.m.
Why? For one thing, churches are packed on Christmas Day.

Second, the elderly and families with children may find it easier to attend services on the 24th, so as not to conflict with the following day's festivities.

As a result, some parishes are cutting back on Masses on Christmas Day.

James Martin, a Jesuit priest and culture editor of "America" magazine, is the author of "Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor, and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life." This column was published in the Washington Post.

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