Tag Archives: Advent

Some Thoughts on Cats and Dogs, Candles, and Romans 14

Getting ready. That’s what Advent is about.

At church we lit the first candle of Advent this morning, and, as I write on this Sunday evening, I’m sitting in a quiet house, enfolded by the warm glow of the light from our Christmas tree.

I didn’t grow up observing Advent or, for that matter, any of the other seasons of the “Christian calendar.” I was unaware that there was such a thing, and in our non- or anti-denomination denomination, there most certainly was not. I was blessed by “our” folks and still love them, but our bunch back then wasn’t even very sure about celebrating Christmas as a “religious” holiday. We weren’t the only ones. Chalk that, and a lot of this, up to our common Puritan ancestors, I think, who tended to be suspicious of both color and celebration.  But, honestly, I need to read more history to be sure I’m being fair with them.

As I grew older, I suppose I became vaguely aware that Lent was a time preceding Easter and, I thought, seemed to have something maybe to do with eating fish on Fridays. What else? I didn’t know.

As is the case with all of us pretty much all of the time, I needed very badly to learn a little more history to be able to make more sense out of the present and plot a wise course for the future. And, as a Christian, I desperately needed to read more church history for the very same reasons.

I also needed to learn some things other members of Christ’s family could teach me if we’d just try to cross over our walls occasionally and visit a bit. Not only do we honor our Lord by doing so (he prayed poignantly for the unity of God’s people, you know, in John 17), we also put ourselves in a position to learn some things. We might or might not choose to make some changes in our own situations, but at least we might come to understand more about the decisions and practices of other folks who love and honor their Lord every bit as much as our own little group does. The guy who said that cats and dogs who try spending more time with each other often find it to be a very broadening experience was on to something.

Differences among Christians regarding the keeping—or not—of special days is nothing new. When the Holy Spirit made it clear that God wanted the doors of his church opened wide to both Jews and Gentiles (the gulf between them was vastly wider than that between, say, a Baptist and a Lutheran) well, you never saw cats and dogs have a harder time figuring out how to live under one roof.

Ironically, then it was the more conservative folks who felt duty-bound to observe special feast days, and folks on the other end of the spectrum who felt perfectly free not to. Read the amazing Romans 14 to see God’s incredible counsel to his kids about dealing with differences. Don’t stand in judgment on each other, he says. Make a decision that you believe honors Christ. In love, let your brothers and sisters do the same. And don’t you kids dare look down on each other or try to make laws for one another! You’ve got one Master. You’re not him.

By the way, it turns out that Lent has precious little to do with fish. Advent does have something to do with candles (and I like candles). But both have a lot to do with preparing our hearts to more fully receive what God is doing. Personally, I like that a lot. Personally, I need that a lot.

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

Copyright 2017 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


From the Turkey to the Manger

I’m writing on the Sunday evening after Thanksgiving. Though most of us still have a bit of turkey left, we’re well on the way through the “My, what a wonderful bird!” stage and on into the “Let’s slap a hunk or two of turkey between bread” stage. We’ll soon belly up to Stage III: “Okay, let’s grind up what’s left and make turkey salad sandwiches.” Not for me, thanks. I’m okay with the first two stages, but I’ll pass on the third. After the poor bird hits the fan, I’m not much interested in him.

And now, though Madison Avenue started weeks ago (it’s a wonder Santa doesn’t end up skewered by a witch on a broom since some stores jump into Christmas almost before Halloween) and some folks are getting a jump on things by stringing and plugging the lights in a tad early, it really is time to start thinking about pulling out the Christmas stuff.

We’ll soon pull the plastic made-in-China tree out of its box and get busy, and it will be beautiful yet again. Still, I’m glad I grew up when getting the tree meant going to a tree lot, almost freezing but warming up over a wood fire lit in a 55-gallon drum, crunching snow underfoot as we walked down the rows of trees to pick just the right one, and then tying it onto the top of the family car to get it home. It smelled wonderful. It smelled like Christmas, and I love that smell.

For years, each year at about this time, I tempted fate by hanging over the eaves of our two-story tall house to put up the Christmas lights. A nose dive off a single story dwelling would be no fun, either, but there’s a word for a swan dive off our roof: FATAL. So nobody was happier than I was when I decided to build and light up some fiberboard shepherds who, along with their sheep, hang out just about halfway up the front of the house and who, I am relieved, pleased, and need to think, would look odd surrounded by additional Christmas lights.

Storyteller Garrison Keillor says that the folks in his Lake Wobegon town charged with setting up the city’s Christmas decorations at about this time each year still curse the volunteer handy man who built the decorations years ago out of 3/4-inch plywood! My fiberboard shepherds aren’t that heavy, and hanging those gents is a lot more fun than hanging string after string of lights at high altitude.

So I guess I’m about ready for the transition from “We Gather Together” and “Over the River and Through the Woods” to “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!”

The “early church” of the first century was way too early to know anything about Thanksgiving American-style, but they could teach us a lot about giving thanks in general. The heart of their thanksgiving was this Advent sort of truth, a truth that bridges the gaps between all seasons: “For God so loved the world that he sent his Son.”

Which means he loves you. And me. A thought which makes it even easier to be truly thankful for that turkey, stages one, two, or even three.

 

       You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

Copyright 2017 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

 

 


“The True Light . . . Was Coming Into the World”

 

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“The true light that gives light to everyone,” writes the Apostle John, “was coming into the world” (John 1:9).

And so each year at this time, we drape our trees, our homes, our churches, our cities and towns and villages, with innumerable lights. Every one of them, even if it’s nothing more than a glowing red light on Rudolph’s nose, is silent testimony to the bright truth that “the light shines” even “in the darkness.” Not only has the darkness “failed to put it out” (The Message), it’s precisely when darkness deepens that the light seems to blaze every more brightly.

Ah, it must be maddening indeed for the prince of darkness and his joyless slaves to see their night-shrouded malevolence so quickly burned into oblivion by even a little light from the Son. One word of truth and dictators tremble. One word of hope and fears melt away. One word of joy and sowers of dissension are struck mute. Even the slightest current of light’s warmth spells approaching and certain defeat for a cold ocean of darkness. The light always triumphs.

Whether we live largely oblivious to that truth, or whether we embrace it with all of our hearts, every light we hang burns in silent tribute to the reality that the light that night seeping into the darkness surrounding a Bethlehem stable is the light of the victory of the Father of Lights.

That little trickle of light would become a wave of luminescence, and that wave would surge inexorably into a tsunami of brightest joy. Even the worst that Satan could do with a cross would three days later be brilliantly overcome by the light of life blazing forth from a vacated tomb.

So we hang the lights at Christmas. Call them Christmas lights. Call them holiday lights. Call them whatever you wish; all of them are His.

Maybe it’s just me (I bet it’s you, too!), but I can’t walk into the quiet church sanctuary, the living room at home, or even  out onto the porch in the chill of night—any  place where Christmas lights and electricity are available—and not plug them in so as to bask in the glow. Were I embarrassed (and I’m not) about being childish, I might say we’ve hung all these lights mostly for the grandkids—and I do indeed love seeing the light reflected in those beautiful eyes—but I’d hang the lights and trim the tree if I was the only kid in the room.

One might say that it’s all basically illusory, artificial and pretty pathetic, just light we ourselves engineer and string and plug in to lift our own spirits and make ourselves feel better as we and all of humanity muddle through life mostly in the dark. Many say that whatever small glimmers of light we get here will be what we strain to create.

All I have to do is glance at our Christmas tree and see the little cross hanging in its branches, completely surrounded by light, and I know better. I plug in these little lights not in a pathetic attempt to defeat this world’s night but as a proclamation that darkness has already been mortally pierced and that even the smallest glimmers and twinkles of joy proceed from the brilliance of His grace, His truth, His Son.

All light is His.

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com! And for a Merry Christmas, any three-CDs for $35 (plus shipping), just use the contact form there to let me know you’d like to order (or message me on Facebook). Merry Christmas!

 

 

Copyright 2016 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


Christians Can Celebrate Christmas with Deep and Genuine Joy

Christmas 001

I hope Christmas is a wonderful, “wonder-filled,” time for you. If our hearts are prepared and ready for it, it can be. Hence (and this is fodder for another column), the very good sense of having a time of real preparation before Christmas. (Look up “Advent” if the word jingles no bells.)

I know. A lot about the way our society “celebrates” Christmas is nothing to celebrate. In fact, as Andrew Greeley writes, some aspects of the sometimes-not-so-holy “holy-day” might make us tempted to run from the whole thing: “It might be easy to run away to a monastery, away from the commercialization, the hectic hustle, the demanding family responsibilities of Christmastime. Then we would have a holy Christmas.”

He warns, though: “But we would forget the lesson of the Incarnation, of the enfleshing of God—the lesson that we who are followers of Christ do not run from the secular; rather we try to transform it. It is our mission to make holy the secular aspects of Christmas. . . . And we do this by being holy people—kind, patient, generous, loving, laughing people—no matter how maddening is the Christmas rush.”

By George, I think he’s got it!

C. S. Lewis wrote similarly, observing that a small child cannot really separate “the religious from the merely festal character of Christmas or Easter.” Lewis appreciated both the poetry and the piety of the little boy reported to have gone about on Easter morning muttering a poem he’d made up about “chocolate eggs and Jesus risen.”

“Of course,” Lewis writes, “the time will come when such a child can no longer effortlessly and spontaneously enjoy that unity.” One day, Lewis says, the child will realize that the spiritual aspects of Easter are different from the festive aspects, and he will have to put one or the other aspect first and choose what is most important. We all get to that point. Do we major on egg-hunting or on the Resurrection? Or, for us at Christmastide, do we major on Santa Claus or on God in the flesh at Bethlehem?

In making the choice, people tend to make two mistakes.

One serious mistake is to choose rightly to major on the real reason for the season but to decide that necessitates also adopting a dour pseudo-piety that says, “Out with lights and Christmas trees and all the other festive trappings of the holiday. Humbug!”

But the other mistake is even worse—to refuse to celebrate such days as religious holidays at all and focus only on egg hunts and Rudolph.

As Lewis writes, “If the child puts the spiritual first he can still taste something of Easter in the chocolate eggs; if he puts the eggs first they will soon be no more than any other sweetmeat. They will have taken on an independent, and therefore a soon withering, life.”

Christians who know the real meaning of the holy days should celebrate everything that is good about them with more joy than other people and not less. If we truly love Christ more than Christmas, then we’re free to love Christmas with a freedom and genuine joy we could never have otherwise. God is so good!

It’s nonsense to thank Santa for God. It may be very good sense indeed to thank God for Santa!

 

 

      You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

 

 

Copyright 2015 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or profiteering is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


Christmas Is the Season of Hope

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“The Season of Hope.”

Those are the words emblazoned across the gift bag I just puttered past in our bedroom.

And so it is, this great season of Christmas. A season when hope takes center stage.

And, sorry if this is picky, I really do think the season is a good deal more hope-full when we realize that it’s a season, not just a day that ends on the last gasp of December 25 and vanishes once the wrapping paper hits the floor. (Google it. Many centuries of history are on my side.) It’s a season that begins on the Day and runs for twelve days. Hence the song.

You know, “lords a-leaping” and “swans a-swimming” and “French hens,” etc. And how many “golden rings”? Five, I think. I’ve always been partial to that “partridge in a pear tree.”

Go with Madison Avenue if you want to. Trot out Christmas decorations for sale sometime around the end of August, run up to a fever pitch, jump off the cliff, and jerk to a stop at the end of your rope sometime by about noon on December 25. Then Christmas goes back in the box (or the attic or the garage or . . .). The poor partridge gets shafted.

More to the point, we tend to miss the point by getting the cart before the horse.

If Christmas is just about Santa and Rudolph (I’m on good terms with them both), it doesn’t make much difference when we jingle the bells.

But if Christmas really centers on the coming of the One whose name this good season bears, then the wisdom and practice of the ages can come to bear quite nicely and bring in some real blessing.

Strange how often, having forgotten the past, we rediscover wheels that have been rolling along for centuries. A “wheel” called Advent (from the Latin “adventus,” meaning “a coming,”) a time for preparation and repentance (and historically even, brace yourself, some fasting, though I’ve not tried that part) before the celebration of Christ’s coming has roots as far back as the fifth century and a history many centuries longer than our “box the whole thing up at the end of Christmas Day” practice.

Oh, I know. This very old practice might seem a little nutty and new if you’ve never heard of it. If anyone in the church where I grew up had mentioned such, we’d have been sure they were conspiring to stick our church key in an envelope and mail it to the pope. Ah, well. Now, it seems, lots of Christians from lots of traditions are discovering that a little preparation before the season is not nutty or eccentric at all. It makes very good sense. New it’s not.

All to say, Christmas is a season, not just a day. And here’s the real point: It centers on hope that mankind could not engineer in any season and only God could give. Not a single spark of the light he brought into this dark world at Bethlehem, light that shines most brightly even in darkness, comes from us. It’s his gift, completely undeserved.

Is Christmas a season? Yes. Of hope? Oh, yes!

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

Copyright 2015 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


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