Another View of Christmas

24 03 2010
Truth Matters Newsletters – December 2009 – Vol. 14 Issue 12 – Another View of Christmas – By Rev. Robert Liichow

Discernment Ministries International

Another View of Christmas

By Rev. Robert Liichow

The following comments are drawn from the following website: http://www.preces-latinae.org/thesaurus/InTemporibus/Adventus.html. The bold type and underlining were added for emphasis.

The word Advent comes from the Latin words, ad venire (to come to) & adventus (an arrival), and refers to Christ’s coming into this world. The Advent season is a time of joyful expectation and preparation for Christmas, the day upon hich Christ’s birth is celebrated and His first coming into this world. The focus of Advent is upon the centuries of waiting and preparation by God’s chosen people which preceded the coming of the Messiah. As such, it is a time marked by expectation, hope, preparedness and penance. The later being mindful of John the Baptist’s cry to prepare for the coming of the Lord with repentance. (see Matt. 3:3, 11:10, Mark 1:2-3; Luke 1:17, 1:76, 3:4).

Also, while Advent is the season before Christmas, the focus of Advent is by no means limited to just Christ’s first coming. An equal, if not more important, theme found in the Advent Liturgy is the Second Coming of Christ when He comes again to judge the world. The Advent Liturgy looks to both the past and future. In the past Christ came amongst us as one of our own. He was born of a woman into this world and of humble means. In the future He will come again, not as a defenseless infant, but as the Judge of all the living and the dead. Thus the Liturgy looks back over thousands of years to when the human race waited for its Redeemer and then to the future when this world will end and He will come then as our Judge. This dual theme, the first and second coming, is easily observed in the hymns for Advent given below. Also, while it is not part of the Advent Liturgy today, it is useful to note that Dies Irae was originally not a hymn associated with death and burial, but a hymn that was composed as a sequence for the first Sunday in Advent. Its sober tone was designed to remind us of both Christ’s first coming and His Second Coming at the end of the world.

It is difficult to pinpoint in time exactly when Advent was first celebrated by the Church. Advent itself is the season prior to Christmas and is thus intimately acquainted with the celebration of Christ’s birth. Since the celebration of Christ’s birth has evolved over time, so too has the season of Advent. The earliest documentation we have on the season comes to us from the fourth century and the earliest Advent hymns we have come from roughly that period as well (Prudentius.

By the late sixth century the season is well established at least in the Latin West. St. Caesarius, Bishop of Aries (502-542) mentions a time of preparation before the celebration of Christ’s birth in his homilies. A sermon given by Pope St. Gregory the Great on the Second Sunday of Advent has come down to us as well. Advent was evidentially a western tradition before it became an eastern tradition. It is not until the eighth century that we have the first record of the season being celebrated in the East.

In as much as Advent is the season of preparation it is very much a time of penance. It is regrettable today that the penitential dimension to Advent seems to have been largely forgotten by many Christians. Today, Christmas decorations go up after Thanksgiving (if not before) and Christmas parties begin shortly thereafter. Penance and the word Advent seem to have become an oxymoron in today’s holiday rush. It has not always been so and this is really a relatively recent development of the 20th century. As almost anyone born early in the 20th century will tell you, Christmas decoration and parties were generally limited to just that, the Christmas season. The decorations did not come up until Christmas Eve and then stayed up for the entire Christmas season which lasts for 12 days, from Christmas to Epiphany. Parties started after Christmas, not before. The popular song, The Twelve Days of Christmas, echoes some of this traditional mode of celebration. Today I is not uncommon to see Christmas trees readied for trash pickup the next day and the only Christmas season party is the one held on New Year’s Eve, which is hardly a Christ-centered celebration.

In as much as Advent is a penitential season and fasting is invariably a part of traditional penitential disciplines which date back to the Old Testament, fasting has been a part of Advent from very early times. It is regrettable that the point of fasting is often forgotten these days. Fasting has a twofold objective. By abstaining from a legitimate pleasure of some sort, one is strengthening on’s self control in preparation for the day in which serious temptation may have to be faced. Fasting is push-ups for the will, so to speak. Secondly, in choosing food as the item to abstain from money is saved that otherwise would have been spent on more expensive foods. Such savings were intended to go to the poor as alms. Thus the penitential fast of Advent was used as a method by the Christian community to save up resources that would be used for works of charity during Advent and especially during the Christmas season.

It is sort of funny when you hear the phrase “Keep Christ in Christmas” bandied about by evangelical believers decrying the current state of our holiday when you know the true history of Advent and Christmas as taught and practiced by the early Christians.

The vast majority of practices taking place in congregations all over America and much of the world have absolutely nothing to do with the original meaning of Christmas — a penitential season of increased prayer, church attendance and personal reflection with fasting. Try selling American Christians (especially our youth) on the concept of mourning our shortcomings while eagerly looking for the promised rescue from despair by the coming Messiah. Or how about fasting some of those gluttonous meals we engorge ourselves with. How about putting all the money for the decorations and special foods (much of which gets wasted) aside to give to the poor?

Bah-humbug brother Bob! God will not love me any more or any less if I celebrate Christmas all month long in true American Evangelical fashion! You are right! However, Advent is not about afflicting your soul so as to impress God with your piety (if it is, then all your efforts are in vain). It is not about trying to get God to love you more. It is about making room in your heart to love Him more by confessing and forsaking things that have been weighing us down (see Heb. 12:1).

I am all for “keeping Christ in Christmas” and maybe if we, the Church, had not joined the maddening herd in their rush to spend money they do not have to buy things that are often unwanted or unneeded by the recipient — our testimony before the world as followers of Jesus might be more powerful. So do not be offended when the clerk is forced to say “happy holidays” vs. “Merry Christmas” because that store and any other shop have nothing to do with the true meaning of Advent of Jesus Christ. I do not expect the world to know how to behave in the light of such a glorious truth —holy God coming as a sinless man to save ungrateful sinners from a well deserved eternity in hell. The world does not acknowledge Christ so why should it acknowledge His birthday? What is sad is that the Church too often acts just like the world and if we are not careful we too can be guilty of thinking of Jesus as an afterthought as opposed to the main event of the season!

Copyright 2009 Robert S. Liichow





Rhythm of the Saints – Celebrating Jesus Through the Church Year

8 01 2010
Truth Matters Newsletters – January  2008   Vol. 13   Issue 1 – The Rhythm of the Saints- Celebrating Jesus Through the Church Year – by Rev. Robert S. Liichow

Discernment Ministries International

The Rhythm of the Saints

Celebrating Jesus Through the Church Year

By Rev. Robert S. Liichow

Sadly, one thing most “evangelical” and charismatic congregations have lost is the spiritual rhythm of the Church Year. Oh sure most congregations sill celebrate Advent, Christmas and Easter, but that is about the extent of it.

Our relationship to Christ and His Body becomes far more meaningful when we live and worship with a conscious awareness of exactly where we are at in the Church “Year.” I’ve come to have a deep respect for the flow of our services within confessional Lutheranism. Every aspect of the worship service is defined by where the Church is at in respect to the season of the Church Year. I’ve come to have a deep respect for the flow of our services within confessional Lutheranism. Every aspect of the worship service is defined by where the Church is at in respect to the season of the Church Year. By every aspect I mean the colors used on the altar and that are worn by the pastor (each color corresponds to a specific time in the Christian calendar), the theological content of the hymns that are sung during each season is specific to that time, even the portions of Scripture from the Old Testament, Epistles and Gospels concern themselves with the time of year along with most of the sermons delivered….all of these ingredients working together in harmony point to Jesus Christ! Since the Reformation the basics of the Church Year follow this pattern:

Advent: Advent marks the beginning of the church year and is a time of preparation for the Lord’s coming; which is what the word “advent” means: “coming”. We prepare our hearts and homes not only for the Lord’s coming at Christmas (His Incarnation) but also for His Second Coming, when He will come again in Glory. We make an evergreen wreath which symbolizes God’s eternity and our joyous hope of eternal life through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. We place four candles around the wreath, decorate it and light one candle for each Sunday in Advent until four candles are lit, announcing brightly: “The Lord comes!” The first candle symbolizes Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the second, represents John the Baptizer who prepared the way for the Messiah’s coming by preaching repentance, the third candle is pink to depict a less penitent mood and represents John’s testimony to Christ, and the fourth candle represents the angel Gabriel foretelling Jesus’ birth. The color for Advent is purple, reminding us to reflect on our own sin and to turn back to God in repentance, seeking forgiveness, thus preparing our hearts for the Lord. Often a large, white candle (Christ Candle) is placed in the center of the wreath and is lit at Christmas.

Christmas: Following Advent we come to the celebration of Christmas. Christmas is next to Easter and Pentecost the highest festival in the church year. The Lord has come! Immanuel – God with us. We turn to God in thanksgiving that almighty God in thanksgiving, that almighty God loved us so much, that He sacrificed his own Son, Jesus Christ, to become man, live among us, take all our sin and guilt onto himself and pay the ultimate price for our sin: His death on the cross so that we need not be damned but have eternal life through faith in Him! What joy! Christmas celebrates Jesus Christ, eternal God with the Father and the Holy Spirit, becoming a human baby, thus starting His divine work of salvation.

Epiphany: The season of Epiphany starts on the festival of Epiphany on January 6th and extends over a period of between two and six weeks, depending on Easter being early that year or late. “Arise, shine for Thy light is come.” (Is. 60:1) This is the theme for Epiphany: Christ is the glorious, saving light of the world, illuminating the lives of us sinners caught in the darkness of sin. We reflect mainly on the Wise Men following the star to Bethlehem, on Christ’s baptism and on the Transfiguration of Christ. Epiphany means “manifestation” and it refers to when Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordon and Christ was revealed to all by the voice of His Father!

Lent: Lent is the period of about 6 weeks before Easter, starting with Ash Wednesday and ending with the climactic “holy week”, the week before Easter in which Maundy Thursday (where our Lord institutes the Lord’s Supper) and Good Friday (the day of our Lord’s death on the cross) are celebrated.

During the season of Lent the color violet or purple represent somberness and solemnity, penitence, and prayer. That is due to the somber mood created by the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ. We contemplate His suffering and death on the cross He endured on account of our sin. Our Lord Jesus Christ wore a violet cloak just before His death. His mockers, knowing violet to be a highly valued color worn by kings, tauntingly clothed him in a King’s purple cloak and jeeringly called Him “The King of the Jews”. Violet is the color of inward reflection or repentance. Lent encourages one to be conscious of one’s sin and short comings and turn back to Christ to receive forgiveness and to be made at peace with God again.

Easter: Easter is, in contrast to the somber mood of Lent, a joyous festival. We celebrate the triumphant Resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ. All over the world we hear the joyous exclamation on Easter morning: “He is risen! He is risen indeed!” We celebrate with such joy because Christ’s resurrection means that we also will be raised from the dead and ascend into heaven. The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Cor. 15:17 ff. “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, so in Christ all will be made alive.” White is the color of Easter. What color, other than white, represents purity, innocence, absolute perfection, joy in its purest form and triumph over darkness as well as white does? None; only white does. White is the color of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world; He is snow-white, without blemish, perfect. This perfect Lamb forgives us our sins, be they as dark and damning as they may, and we may have the comfort in His words: “Your sins are forgiven you” and know that He has made them as white as snow.

Ascension: After His resurrection at Easter, our Lord Jesus Christ stayed with His disciples for another 40 days. Then, in their presence, He ascended bodily into the glory of His Father in heaven. Luke reports in his Gospel: We are comforted by Christ that He went up into heaven to prepare a place for us there. “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” (John 14:2-3). The post-Easter season, including Ascension, is therefore one of joy and spiritual excitement. Throughout thee days, sermons, readings, prayers and hymns reflect the mood of thanks and praise. The liturgical color for Ascension Day is white because it is a festival celebrating Jesus Christ.

Pentecost: Only 10 days after the Ascension of our Lord, 50 days after Easter, we celebrate Pentecost, the climax of the whole Paschal season. On this day, we commemorate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the disciples. Prayers and hymns at Pentecost are an invitation for the Holy Spirit to come to us and enter our hearts. The Holy Spirit calls us to faith through the Gospel and keeps us in faith. We are filled with joy, peace and hope. Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit and we daily ask Him to come because we constantly push Him out through our sinfulness. “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10). The liturgical color at Pentecost is red, symbolizing the flames that came to rest on the disciples’ heads. The mood is that of joy, thanks and praise, which carries over from Ascension.

Trinity Sunday: Trinity Sunday, a week after Pentecost, is a festival celebrating the Holy Trinity of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three distinct persons in one divine being. At the baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Trinity is most clearly noted: Christ standing in the river, God the Father’s voice from heaven and the Holy Spirit descending on Christ in the form of a dove. There are a number of popular symbols which represent the Holy Trinity: the triangle, three interlocking circles, a triangle surrounded by a circle, the shamrock and others, each depicting the three persons of the Trinity equally. The liturgical color for Trinity Sunday is white, representing the purity of the Holy Trinity.

Season After Pentecost: The second half of the church year begins with Pentecost and ends on the Sunday before Advent. Whereas the church year begins with Advent and includes all the major church festivals like Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter and Pentecost, celebrating what Jesus Christ has done for us and our salvation, the second half focuses on Christ’s teachings and the Holy Spirit’s work among us. The liturgical color, therefore, is green. Green represents growth of the church and growth in faith. The overall focus in the “green period” is on the work of the Holy Spirit who “calls, gathers and enlightens” people. He brings them to faith, nurtures and strengthens their faith through Word and Sacrament. The “green season” concentrates on our response to what God has done for us. We therefore concentrate on missions, reaching out to the un-churched and announcing God’s Grace to the people that they may also be “called and gathered” by the Holy Spirit and receive the forgiveness of sins.

Reformation Day: Ok, I admit this celebration is not part of the ancient orthodox “Church Year” per se, yet we celebrate it because of what God restored through His servant Martin Luther. On Reformation Day, we commemorate the reformation of the church which began on All Saints Eve, October 31, 1517 in Wittenberg, Germany, when Dr. Luther an Augustinian monk and professor of theology at the university there, posted 95 points of discussion (theses) on the Castle Church’s door. What prompted Dr. Luther, was mainly the “letters of indulgence” which the Roman Catholic Church at the time was selling to the people, promising them forgiveness of their sins. It became so bad, that people were “buying forgiveness” for sins they had not yet committed! Dr. Luther deemed this to be an outrage as Holy Scripture clearly teaches that God alone forgives, and only a repentant sinner receives forgiveness and salvation from God by grace alone.

All Saints Day: On All Saints Day, we give thanks to God for the examples of faith of all those who have gone before us. This is not a celebration about certain “anointed” individuals such as is seen in Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy, it is a celebration of all those who love and serve Jesus from a heart made pure by His blood.

Copyright © Robert S. Liichow