Thursday, November 28, 2013

CHRISTMAS SPIRIT

Well, it has all kicked off again. This weekend marks the beginning of December and with it the countdown to Christmas. For the last month or so, more and more festive-related messages have been appearing in the newspapers, on the street, on TV, in shopping centres and on Facebook. Chances are you’ve already posted some Christmassy updates yourself. And from this weekend until December 25th, it will be full steam ahead. Everybody wants to talk about the holidays.

Nevertheless, alongside this festive cheer, one can already witness the upsurge of the never-ending ‘Christmas Wars.’ The typical disputes over Christmas trees, manger scenes and crosses in public spaces are causing plenty of ink to flow (and plenty of tempers to flare). Should we say ‘Merry Christmas’ or ‘Happy Holidays’? Is Brussels’ new Christmas tree a vile abomination or a stunning symbol of aesthetic art and culture? Did Santa Monica’s federal judge do right in banning the church’s nativity display in the local park or did he mess up? Is Christmas nothing more than a Christianized pagan tradition? Is it not just a lame excuse for shame-faced commercialized materialism in the capitalist world? The debates seemingly never end.

My concern about all the aforementioned is how we as the church are acting in the midst of this social argy-bargy (sorry, that’s an old Scottish term: it simply means a verbal dispute or a lively argument). Are we acting within the sphere of Christendom or Christianity? There is a world of difference. Christendom seeks for an authoritative space within society. Its desire is public power and influence because its only longing is to survive. Just last week the Spanish evangelical Jaume Llenas wrote that the institutional church, “wants its name on the streets, its Christmas symbols in the public sphere, it wants subventions and benefits from the State, it wants crosses in public schools, it wants big buildings to symbolize its power.” This mentality, he argues, is wrong. I agree. It is resurrected Christendom.

Christianity is markedly different. Its focus is not institutional, but missional. Its identity does not reside in socio-political symbols of power and statistics, but in the Great Commission of the resurrected Christ. Such a church does not need worldly glory and honour to get a sense of satisfaction; but the approval of the Lord Jesus. Jesus didn’t seek to make a name for Himself in the social arena. He was committed to doing His Father’s will, and that certainly didn't entail Pharisee-like glory hunting from men. Jesus lived above that nonsense. He had His eyes set on that which was before Him. And that destiny involved the cross i.e. death- that’s right- raw, cold, spine-chilling and bloody death. Try convincing an institutional Christian to die! 

Back in the sixteenth century Luther made a sharp distinction between theologians of glory and theologians of the cross. And the same two spirits are at work today. The theologian of glory only sees God in the power structures of this world; whereas the theologian of the cross sees the glory of God in the bloody mess of the cross. Only the theologian of the cross has true saving faith. And therefore, only the theologian of the cross is enabled to carry out Christ’s mission on earth of preaching the Gospel to every creature in the correct Spirit.

The theologian of the cross is not bound by church budgets and financial capacities, but he is set free in the liberty with which Christ has set him free. And the only socio-political ‘symbols’ he has are passion in his heart, a fire in his belly, a consuming love for lost men and women and the constant infilling of the power of the Holy Ghost. After all, is that not what Jesus’ coming to this world was really all about?


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