Saturday, December 15, 2012

Christmas Lights

It has been years since we have bothered with a Christmas tree or lights.

When I was young, I enjoyed the Christmas tree and lights very much.  It was a chore, but an enjoyable chore, to set up the tree and lights and ornaments.  It was relaxing and pleasing to watch the lights.

Taking them down and storing them again was not much fun, but it seemed worth the effort.

However, as I have grown older and as the world has usurped the control of Christmas and has moved the season ever farther forward, even beyond Advent, even beyond Thanksgiving, and now beyond Reformation Day and the demonic Halloween, so as to extend time to promote the so-called Christmas spirit, the trees and lights and ornaments have lost their appeal for me, for us.  We just don’t have any desire for such things anymore.

For us it is like having someone steal our candy cane, roll it around on the ground, and then hand it back to us.

There are some truly marvelous displays of Christmas lights around town.  One is set up as a drive-through display available to the public every night.  It is very nicely done.  Much effort was expended in setting up the various parts of the display.  It takes 15 to 20 minutes to drive it and see it.  It is a very lovely display.

Yet when we saw it, it left us cold.  Yes, we found it to be bright and colorful.  Yes, we considered it to be very lovely.  Yet even with the cheery colors and lights it did not move us, neither did it cheer us.

But the Christ Mass does move us and cheer us.  It rescues us and brings us back again into the Communion of the Lord, who renews us and lifts our hearts from the worldly mire around us.  The Christ Mass officially is Christmas Day, but every offering of the Mass is the Christ Mass.  Every time that Christ’s Church gathers by the urging of the Holy Spirit so that the saints draw near to the Lord’s Table and receive His body of unity and blood of forgiveness and life, it is the Christ Mass.

This is the light that God has set on a hill for all to see.  It shines in a dark world of loneliness, despair, struggle, and confusion.

     Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.  (Matthew 5:14-16)

     Judge me, O God, and plead my cause against an ungodly nation: O deliver me from the deceitful and unjust man. For thou art the God of my strength: why dost thou cast me off? why go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy? O send out thy light and thy truth: let them lead me; let them bring me unto thy holy hill, and to thy tabernacles. Then will I go unto the altar of God, unto God my exceeding joy: yea, upon the harp will I praise thee, O God my God. Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.  (Psalm 43:1-5)

Often people quote these, and especially the first text, forgetting who it is who sets the city upon the hill.  It is the Lord who sets the city upon the hill.  It is the Lord who gives us the light of His Word that shines first in us and then through us for all to see.  It is the Lord who works the miracle of conversion in our hearts and engenders the faith to take root in us and to grow so that we hear His voice and follow Him in our daily sojourning.  It is the Lord who transforms our wills so that we stop seeking to be choice makers and begin instead to enjoy the freedom of His blessed commandments.  Then we seek not to make our own way through the darkness, because we walk in the light.  Then we are free to traverse our daily paths without fear of stumbling.  And even when our distracted hearts do cause us to stumble, the Lord continually calls us again to the regular reunion of His body at the Table of His forgiveness and renewal in His Communion.

It is disheartening to hear the many self-proclaimed representatives of the Lord preach to people how they must struggle to draw near to God.  After all, the Gospel teaches us that God took the struggle for us.  He came to us in our wretchedness, made Himself to be born of the virgin, suffered our troubles and sorrows, proclaimed forgiveness, established Baptism and the New Testament in His blood, suffered and died in our place with our sins in His own body, rose again in victory against the powers of sin, death, the world, our corrupt fleshly natures, and the devil, and ascended to heaven from whence He shall come again in glory.  All this God Himself did for us.  He took the struggle and completed it for us so that we would be free to live by grace through faith.  To insure that we would receive this purely as a gift, He established the life of the Church as the continual Communion in His body and blood, where He alone takes action, feeding us the very means of our salvation and renewal in His kingdom.

There is no struggle for those who desire to draw near to God.  He has come to us as Immanuel, which means, With Us God.  This is the name that His holy angel declared so that we would know God for who He is.  He is the one who makes Himself With Us God.  He promises that this is so through His means of grace, means which we do not do for ourselves, nor even in obedience to Him.  These are His means, His gifts, His acts on our behalf.  No one can baptize himself.  Each person must be baptized.  The water and Word are applied for us by another appointed for that task, and through this God pours out His Holy Spirit to the person and thereby converts and regenerates and justifies and sanctifies the person.  The person is made all over again to be a perfect and holy child of God, regenerated to the new life of the true faith.  This person then has been made to be part of God’s kingdom, His Church on earth, where the ongoing Communion is the new life enjoyed by those whom the Holy Spirit congregates.  Through the Holy Supper, God continues to draw near to His saints, doing what they cannot do for themselves, not even through their most earnest efforts.

Once upon a time, Christmas trees and lights were used and enjoyed as symbols of this.  The evergreen, as a symbol of the everlasting life made possible through the birth of Jesus, the Savior, or as the Paradise tree.  A very interesting and informative article on this subject can be viewed at O Christmas Tree: The Origin and Meaning of the Christmas Tree.  Another account is The Chronological History of the Christmas Tree.  Interestingly, some legends, such as is shared at The History of the Christmas Tree, claim:

Martin Luther began the decorating of trees to celebrate Christmas. In the year 1500, one crisp Christmas Eve, Martin was walking through snow-covered woods and was struck by the beauty of a group of small evergreens. Their branches dusted with snow shimmered in the moonlight. When he returned home, he set up a little fir tree indoors so he could share the story with his children. He decorated it with candles, which he lighted to simulate the reflections of the starlit heaven – the heaven that looked down over Bethlehem on the first Christmas Eve.

How Luther could have done this in 1500 for his children is hard to understand, since he was not married until 1525.  Nevertheless, the fact that this legend exists shows that people did consider this to be the symbolism that they were embracing with their own use of their Christmas trees and lights.

This type of symbolism is vastly missing in the general use of Christmas trees and lights today.  Sometimes the marketers still like to include “Christmas carols” in their selection of Muzak to help promote the spirit of giving and buying, but this is usually a mere appeal to people’s sense of tradition and nostalgia.  In fact, nostalgia is the primary focus of the usurped Christmas season: nostalgic decorations, nostalgic foods, nostalgic parades, nostalgic church services, nostalgic family gatherings, nostalgic gift giving.

For this reason, we find that we no longer have any real sense of desire to do this in our home and life.  We don’t have any desire for the candy cane that has been rolled in the dirt.  Certainly those who do find salutary use for these decorations we do not blaspheme.  But for ourselves, we simply find that our hearts are led farther and farther from these things so that our desire is the simply proclaimed and administered means of God’s grace within His holy family gathering, a.k.a., the Church.

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