Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

“Exmas”: a satirical essay by C.S. Lewis

Posted: December 23, 2010 by limabean03 in The Christian Life
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I found myself chuckling out loud a few times during this great piece of satirical writing. Lewis’ fictional country of Niatrib represents Great Britain but it could just as easily be present day America. I’m sure you can figure the rest out on your own. Enjoy!

In the middle of winter when fogs and rains most abound they have a great festival which they call Exmas , and for fifty days they prepare for it in the fashion I shall describe. First of all, every citizen is obliged to send to each of his friends and relations a square piece of hard paper stamped with a picture, which in their speech is called an Exmas-card . But the pictures represent birds sitting on branches, or trees with a dark green prickly leaf, or else men in such garments as the Niatirbians believe that their ancestors wore two hundred years ago riding in coaches such as their ancestors used, or houses with snow on their roofs. And the Niatirbians are unwilling to say what these pictures have to do with the festival, guarding (as I suppose) some sacred mystery. And because all men must send these cards the market-place is filled with the crowd of those buying them, so that there is great labour and weariness.

But having bought as many as they suppose to be sufficient, they return to their houses and find there the like cards which others have sent to them. And when they find cards from any to whom they also have sent cards, they throw them away and give thanks to the gods that this labour at least is over for another year. But when they find cards from any to whom they have not sent, then they beat their breasts and wail and utter curses against the sender; and, having sufficiently lamented their misfortune, they put on their boots again and go out into the fog and rain and buy a card for him also. And let this account suffice about Exmas-cards.

They also send gifts to one another, suffering the same things about the gifts as about the cards, or even worse. For every citizen has to guess the value of the gift which every friend will send to him so that he may send one of equal value, whether he can afford it or not. And they buy as gifts for one another such things as no man ever bought for himself. For the sellers, understanding the custom, put forth all kinds of trumpery, and whatever, being useless and ridiculous, sell as an Exmas gift. And though the Niatirbians profess themselves to lack sufficient necessary things, such as metal, leather, wood and paper, yet an incredible quantity of these things is wasted every year, being made into the gifts.

But during these fifty days the oldest, poorest and the most miserable of citizens put on false beards and red robes and walk in the market-place; being disguised (in my opinion) as Cronos. And the sellers of gifts no less than the purchasers become pale and weary, because of the crowds and the fog, so that any man who came into a Niatirbian city at this season would think that some great calamity had fallen on Niatirb. This fifty days of preparation is called in their barbarian speech the Exmas Rush .

But when the day of the festival comes, then most of the citizens, being exhausted with the Rush , lie in bed till noon. But in the evening they eat five times as much supper as on other days and, crowning themselves with crowns of paper, they become intoxicated. And on the day after Exmas they are very grave, being internally disordered by the supper and the drinking and reckoning how much they have spent on gifts and on the wine. For wine is so dear among the Niatirbians that a man must swallow the worth of a talent before he is well intoxicated.
Such, then, are their customs about the Exmas. But the few among the Niatirbians have also a festival, separate and to themselves, called Crissmas , which is on the same day as Exmas. And those who keep Crissmas, doing the opposite to the majority of the Niatirbians, rise early on that day with shining faces and go before sunrise to certain temples where they partake of a sacred feast. And in most of the temples they set out images of a fair woman with a new-born Child on her knees and certain animals and shepherds adoring the Child. (The reason of these images is given in a certain sacred story which I know but do not repeat.)

But I myself conversed with a priest in one of these temples and asked him why they kept Crissmas on the same day as Exmas; for it appeared to me inconvenient. But the priest replied, “It is not lawful, O Stranger, for us to change the date of Crissmas, but would that Zeus would put it into the minds of the Niatirbians to keep Exmas at some other time or not to keep it at all. For Exmas and the Rush distract the minds even of the few from sacred things. And we indeed are glad that men should make merry at Crissmas; but in Exmas there is no merriment left.”

And when I asked him why they endured the Rush, he replied, “It is, O Stranger, a racket, using (as I suppose) the words of some oracle and speaking unintelligibly to me (for a racket is an instrument which the barbarians use in a game called tennis ).

But what Hecataeus says, that Exmas and Crissmas are the same, is not credible. For the first, the pictures which are stamped on the Exmas-cards have nothing to do with the sacred story which the priests tell about Crissmas. And secondly, the most part of the Niatirbians, not believing the religion of the few, nevertheless send the gifts and cards and participate in theRush and drink, wearing paper caps. But it is not likely that men, even being barbarians, should suffer so many and great things in honour of a god they do not believe in. And now, enough about Niatirb.

Read it yourself in C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock “Xmas and Christmas: A lost chapter from Herodotus”

I recently read a post from a pastor who I respect enormously.  Unfortunately, I found myself disagreeing with him!  Much like Calvin used to do when he disagreed with Luther, I will decline to name this pastor.  Rather than draw attention to the man, I will draw attention to his words for on this point they fall short of the mark.

He writes:

During this time of year, it may be easy to forget that the bigger purpose behind Bethlehem was Calvary. But the purpose of the manger was realized in the horrors of the cross. The purpose of his birth was his death.

I must admit that I am sympathetic with this statement.  I’ve attended too many Christmas Eve worship services where the pastor made warm fuzzies of the babe born in the manger while neglecting the larger purpose of redemption.  Make no mistake about it, Jesus is born in the shadow of the cross.  He is a child whose fate is sealed.  He is a babe of destiny.

And if I were being honest, I would say that it is the crucifixion and not the incarnation which is the focal point of New Testament thought.  The cross is the thing that the New Testament authors continually return to.  Even John’s Gospel, which is the Gospel with the most mature articulation of the incarnation,  makes clear that the reason Jesus came was to suffer and die on the cross (John 12.27).

And while the cross must be given its due honor so must the manger.  The miracle in Bethlehem is not simply a stepping stone to Golgotha.  I am much more comfortable saying that Bethlehem and Golgotha are two sides of the same coin.  Each in its own special way reveals the glory of God.  Let us follow the argument of the Apostle Paul:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. (Philippians 2:5-7 ESV)

In this passage, the Holy Spirit through Paul gives us a backstage pass to the person of Christ.  In this passage we get to know his mind, how he thinks.  Now to fully illustrate this it would be worth reflecting on our mind.  Most of the people who will read this post today are what we might call small fish in a big pond.  But this is not how most of us consider ourselves.  Most of us consider ourselves to be big fish and we feel entitled to all the benefits that big fish are entitled to.  But this is not the mind of Christ.  He is a big fish.  He was in the form of God.  But he doesn’t have the mind of a big fish.  He has the mind of a small fish.  He “made himself nothing.”  He takes on the form of a servant.  Even though he’s God, he becomes a human.

Now I know a few college grads who have been looking for work for years.  They could get a job in the service industry but they won’t.  “I’m a college grad,” they say which is just another way of saying “I’m too good for that kind of work.”  All of us on some level have this operating in our hearts.  “I’m too good for that.”  Imagine a Doctor who willingly leaves his practice to become a garbage man.  Imagine this and you will not have even begun to plumb the depths of Bethlehem.  Imagine a King who willingly becomes a worm and you might be getting closer.  God willingly made himself nothing and became a man.

Paul does not view God making himself a man as merely a stepping stone to the cross.  Rather he sees this as part of larger project to reveal the mind of Christ.  Paul goes on to say:

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:8 ESV)

Now what is Paul drawing attention to here?  The cross?  Not so fast.  Rather it is the humbling and condescension of Christ that Paul is drawing attention to here.  Christ humbled himself by becoming obedient to death.  Mark the astounding nature of this.  God became a man.  More than that he became a man who would die.  More than that!  He became a man who would die on a device designed to shame and torture those who hung upon it!  All this to say, mark the humility of the Son of God!

Paul concludes this section of Philippians by saying:

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11 ESV)

Now why has God highly exalted him?  It is tempting to say “because of the cross!”  But this would be to miss the thrust of this passage.  The exaltation of Christ is not a Medal of Honor.  By this I mean, the exaltation of Christ is not a reward for one brave action.  Rather the exaltation of Christ is more like a lifetime (an eternity!)  achievement award.  God exalts Christ because of his character, his mind and how his mind is made manifest throughout eternity.  And what is his mind?  His mind is that even though he is the creator, if necessary he would take on the form of a created thing.  Even though he had a home in heaven, he would be born in a stable.  Even though he is Lord of all, he would become a servant.  Even though he is immortal, he would submit himself to death.  And even though he is sinless, he would die for sinner’s sake.  That is who he is.  That is the character of the God we worship.

Bethlehem does not acquire our redemption.  But make no mistake about it, the same character that moved the Son of God to be born in a stable is the same character that moved him to die on the cross.  Understood this way, both Bethlehem and Golgotha are stepping stones.  But stepping stones to what?  Stepping stones to see the glory of God in his loving mercy, his sacrificial kindness, and his unbelievable humility.

What do we learn from Bethlehem and Golgotha?  We learn a little something about ourselves.  If it took so much from God to recover us, we must have fallen very far from him.  The more serious the treatment the more serious the disease.  How terrible must have been the disease that necessitated Bethlehem and Golgotha!   But the good news is that the character of the Son of God is such that there is no place too low, no shame too shameful, no sin too sinful, no pain too painful, to keep the Son of God away from pursuing those he loves.  That’s just who he is.  That just might be the best news of all.

a very cool video

A sermon from Luther’s Church Postil for Christmas Day from (Luke 2.1-14).  Notice how Luther distinguishes those who lived in plenty and comfort from Joseph, Mary and Jesus on the night of the savior’s birth.  This distinction is hammered home by his convicting series of questions at the end of the second paragraph.  “What has Bethlehem when it did not have Christ?  What have they now who at that time had enough?  What do Joseph and Mary lack now, although at that time they had no room to sleep comfortably?”  Indeed.  If you don’t have Christ, you have nothing. 

The Evangelist shows how, when they arrived at Bethlehem, they were the most insignificant and despised, so that they had to make way for others until they were obliged to take refuge in a stable, to share with the cattle, lodging, table, bedchamber and bed, while many a wicked man sat at the head in the hotels and was honored as lord. No one noticed or was conscious of what God was doing in that stable. He lets the large houses and costly apartments remain empty, lets their inhabitants eat, drink and be merry; but this comfort and treasure are hidden from them. 0 what a dark night this was for Bethlehem, that was not conscious of that glorious light! See how God shows that he utterly disregards what the world is, has or desires; and furthermore, that the world shows how little it knows or notices what God is, has and does.

See, this is the first picture with which Christ puts the world to shame and exposes all it does and knows. It shows that the world’s greatest wisdom is foolishness, her best actions are wrong and her greatest treasures are misfortunes. What had Bethlehem when it did not have Christ? What have they now who at that time had enough? What do Joseph and Marylack now, although at that time they had no room to sleep comfortably?

Martin Luther, Church Postil  1.1.138

Many people who otherwise ignore God and the church have some religious feeling, or feel they ought to, at this time of the year. So they make their way to a church service or Christmas program. And when they go, they come away feeling vaguely warmed or at least better for having gone, but not disturbed.

Why aren’t people disturbed by Christmas? One reason is our tendency to sanitize the birth narratives. We romanticize the story of Mary and Joseph rather than deal with the painful dilemma they faced when the Lord chose Mary to be the virgin who would conceive her child by the power of the Holy Spirit. We beautify the birth scene, not coming to terms with the stench of the stable, the poverty of the parents, the hostility of Herod. Don’t miss my point. There is something truly comforting and warming about the Christmas story, but it comes from understanding the reality, not from denying it.

Most of us also have not come to terms with the baby in the manger. We sing, “Glory to the newborn King.” But do we truly recognize that the baby lying in the manger is appointed by God to be the King, to be either the Savior or Judge of all people? He is a most threatening person.

Malachi foresaw his coming and said, “But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap.” As long as we can keep him in the manger, and feel the sentimental feelings we have for babies, Jesus doesn’t disturb us. But once we understand that his coming means for every one of us either salvation or condemnation, he disturbs us deeply.

What should be just as disturbing is the awful work Christ had to do to accomplish the salvation of his people. Yet his very name, Jesus, testifies to us of that work.

That baby was born so that “he who had no sin” would become “sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” The baby’s destiny from the moment of his conception was hell—hell in the place of sinners. When I look into the manger, I come away shaken as I realize again that he was born to pay the unbearable penalty for my sins.

That’s the message of Christmas: God reconciled the world to himself through Christ, man’s sin has alienated him from God, and man’s reconciliation with God is possible only through faith in Christ…Christmas is disturbing.

This was quoted from a post by C.J. Mahaney that you can find here

santa1Thanks to Charlie Jordan for forwarding this thought provoking article.  The author’s logic is the type that makes me squirm while simultaneously perking my interest.  At the end of the day, I like it…I think

I suspect that fairy tales and Santa Claus do prepare us to embrace the ultimate Fairy Tale, the one Lewis believed was ingrained in our being. New research from the Université de Montréal and the University of Ottawa indicates that children aren’t overly troubled upon learning that Santa is a myth. But the researchers remained puzzled because while children eventually abandon Santa, they keep believing in God. Lewis would say this is because God is real, but Mr. Dawkins fears it is the lasting damage of fairy tales. While Mr. Dawkins stands ironically alongside Puritans in his readiness to ban fairy tales, Christian apologists like Lewis and Chesterton embraced them, precisely because to embrace Christian dogma is to embrace the extrarational.

Today’s Christian apologists, by contrast, seek to reason their way to God by means of archaeological finds, anthropological examinations and scientific argumentation. That’s all well and good, but it seems to miss a fundamental point illuminated by Chesterton, which is that, ultimately, belief in God is belief in mystery.

read it all here

Thanks to Iain for highlighting this bizarre mess of a situation.  In increasing amounts, being Anglican is just downright embarrassing. 

From Westminster Abbey:

“The Rev Jane Hedges, a canon at the abbey, said that it was important to encourage people from other faiths to join in the celebrations.

“We’ve done this as it creates a good opportunity for Christians to meet and hear about the stories of people of other faiths,” she said.

“Christmas is an opportunity for everyone to stop and think and is a great opportunity for the different faiths to talk to one another.

“Wherever you’re coming from there should be something to celebrate at Christmas.”

She pointed out that for Muslims they can appreciate the story of Christ’s birth because it is included in the Koran, adding that the Hindu snowmen were not an attempt to dumb down.

“Strictly speaking, the message of Christmas is about the birth of Christ, but it has a much broader message of peace and goodwill.”

Here’s the problem.  There is nothing even remotely multicultural about Christmas.  Christmas is a Christian celebration.  Rather than respecting other faiths by letting them stand on their own, the Church of England has actually chosen to disrespect other faiths by acting as if the fundamental differences between the religions are not important or don’t exist.  Well, they are important to some because it is a matter of faith and a matter of identity.  To suggest these differences either don’t exist or aren’t important can actually be offensive to some people of non-Christian faith traditions. (more…)