Celebrating Christmas

Christmas is the day that we choose to honor the birth of Jesus.   In this special edition of the  Scripture and Spice Podcast, Micah Spicer and Curtis Hannah discuss the purpose of Christmas and contemplate the way we choose to spend it.

The Spirit of Christmas

The Christmas season is designed to be merry and bright.  Christmas lights, trees decorated with ornaments and angels, carolers singing hymns of the Messiahs birth, and figgy pudding make up the ambiance of the season.  Gift exchanges and family gatherings highlight our favorite time of year.  More importantly we celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Messiah, on Christmas.  Children’s Christmas plays reveal an adorable portrayal of Jesus’ birth surrounded by angels, shepherds, sheep, and wise men offering gifts to the newborn king.  Nativity scenes also reveal the charming nature of the event that would alter the cosmic course of history.  This Christmas I would remind you that the first Christmas was anything but merry or bright.

Jesus was born an illegitimate child, according to his peers, to Joseph and Mary, a poor couple from an undesirable neighborhood.  In order to prevent their newborn from being slaughtered at the hands of Herod the Great, the migrants smuggled the infant across the Egyptian border until it was safe to return to Israel.  Growing up in Nazareth Jesus would, no doubt, have been relentlessly teased as a child for being poor and having a “scandalous” mother.  This reality brings a whole new meaning to “treat others the way you want to be treated” (Luke 6:31).  This is the harrowing tale of Christmas, the colossal event often referred to as the Incarnation.  In this way God joins the human race to demonstrate His unending love and offer His perfect peace.

The story of Christmas is not as pretty as we present in children’s plays or pose in our nativity scenes.  It is a frightening tragedy.  The Christmas story should even challenge our own preferred holiday traditions.  When we swipe our credit card to purchase that final stocking stuffer, are we sharing the Christmas spirit?  What about when we order that Barbie doll for that special girl in our life, you know the one who already has 14 Barbie dolls?  Is this how Jesus really wants us to celebrate his birthday?  Some say we should make every effort to “put Christ back in Christmas,” but I wonder if we have corrupted Christmas to the point where Jesus would rather sit the holiday out.  “Let Satan have this one,” I can imagine Jesus saying.

Christmas is a vital part of God’s redemptive plan for humanity.  Christmas calls us to worship God, welcome the stranger in our midst, root out prejudices, and love others like God loves us.  Christmas is an invitation to Trust God, Bless Others, and Celebrate Grace.  Only when we do this do we reclaim the theological truth and the spirit of Christmas.  Merry Christmas!

Jesus: our Prince of Peace

For Christians, Jesus is our Prince of Peace.  In this world that celebrates violence, what can we learn from the ways that Jesus handles violence?  During Advent, we celebrate the peace that God gives to the world through Christ.  In this episode Micah and Curtis contemplate ways to achieve peace in our world today.

Also in this episode:

  • We consider Jesus our Prince of Peace, but there was another Prince of Peace in the ancient world.  Who was this hero?
  • What do the disciples think about achieving peace?
  • How do we achieve peace in our world today?
  • Scripture of the Day:  Isaiah 9: 6-7

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon[d] his shoulder,
    and his name shall be called[e]
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
    there will be no end,

Hope of Christmas

Why is the season of Advent is a special time to recognize the anticipated arrival of the Lord Jesus?   The festivities and family traditions of Christmas serve a purpose, but cannot match the hope God grants us through the coming of Christ.  Micah addresses the underlying message of comfort that arrives on the first Christmas.

Also in this episode:

  • Why is Advent a celebrated season given that Jesus’ birthday is not specified in the Bible?
  • What is God’s message to those who suffer?
  • What lessons did God teach Micah with the passing of his father?
  • How can churches remember the sufferings of their parishioners during Christmas?
  • Scripture of the Day:  Isaiah 40:1-5

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
    and cry to her
that her warfare[a] is ended,
    that her iniquity is pardoned,
that she has received from the Lord‘s hand
    double for all her sins.

A voice cries:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord;
    make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
    and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
    and the rough places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
    and all flesh shall see it together,
    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

Messiah in the New Testament

Matthew 1 & 2, Luke 1 & 2

  • What does the term Christ mean?  Is it the last name of Jesus of Nazareth?
  • What is the difference between “Messiah” and “Christ?”
  • Cyrus as Messiah?
  • What does it mean to say that Jesus is the Christ?
  • What do the birth narratives in Matthew and Luke tell us about Jesus?

 

Messiah in the Old Testament

Isaiah 7:14, Micah 5:2, 2 Samuel 7

  • What does the biblical term “messiah” mean?
  • How does the faith community evolve in their understanding of messiah?
  • Does the Old Testament hint at or predict Jesus as Messiah?
  • How does the Old Testament shape our understanding of Christ?

 

 

Immaculate Conception or Virgin Birth

As we approach Christmas, I am enjoying my time spent preparing for a sermon series on Jesus’ family tree.  Each week, I examine another woman listed in Jesus’ family tree according to the genealogy in Matthew’s Gospel.  Five are mentioned: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Uriah’s wife, and Mary.  As we read the introductory verses in the New Testament, the regular drumming pattern of a list of male names is jarred by mention of these women.  Simply put, they do not belong in a formal genealogy of the royal family.  The author purposefully injects these women into this lineage.  Strikingly, these women share a common thread – sexual promiscuity.  Tamer, a widow desperate for a child, purposely got pregnant by dressing up as a roadside prostitute and enticing her own father-in-law.  Rahab was a prostitute.  Ruth was a Moabite woman who crawled into the bed of Boaz after getting him drunk one night.  Bathsheba had an adulterous affair with King David and ended up pregnant, bringing shame on the Great King of Israel.  Mary is an unmarried teenage girl who becomes pregnant.  Such scandal!

Unlike the women whose stories are told in the Hebrew Bible, Mary becomes a focal figure in Christian theology very early in the life of the church.  The earliest creeds affirm, based on Scripture, that Jesus was “conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary.”  A friend told me that he listened to his preacher deliver a sermon on his belief in the “immaculate conception.”  This friend, a biblical scholar, then had the audacity to correct the preacher by saying, “you do not believe in the ‘immaculate conception;” instead, you support the ‘virgin birth” theory.  It is easy to confuse the “immaculate conception” with the “virgin birth.”  I would like to end by sharing the distinctions with you.  The Immaculate Conception, as taught by the Roman Catholic Church, refers to the conception of Mary by her mother, not to the conception of Jesus.  This teaching holds that Mary was born without “original sin.”  Because she was without sin, she was able to give birth to Jesus in a special state of moral purity.  The “virgin birth,” on the other hand, is the belief that Mary, without a man, became pregnant through the agency of the Holy Spirit.  It refers more to the source of pregnancy than to the birth itself.

– Micah Spicer