Thursday, December 27, 2012

Merry Christmas

I hope that everyone has enjoyed a wonderful holiday and a chance to celebrate the birth of our Lord!

There's been little time for blogging in the Hixon home lately, on account of special Christmas services and sermons, holiday traveling, a spouse having her wisdom teeth out, and, I'm sorry to say, a death in the family (and I truly appreciate everyone's concern and prayers over the last few weeks).

So, for those of you looking for something to read, until next week all I can say is: 1) the previous post, about some holiday practices that are mindful of God's creation, is more relevant now than when it was posted, so please scroll down and check it out if you have not; and 2) I was one of three pastors featured in an article in the Natchez Democrat (our local paper) about the meaning of the Christmas story, and you can check it out online here.

May this Christmas season continue to bless you and fill us all with the love, joy, peace, and hope of Jesus.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

a green Christmas

Apparently, Christmas wrapping paper is not very recyclable.

I learned that just recently. According to Earth911, the lamination, dyes, non-paper additives that often show up, and some other factors make wrapping paper "typically non-recyclable." This might not be a big deal, except that we use millions of tons of gift wrapping material every year in the US! Suddenly the cool Frosty the Snowman paper Emily and I picked up on sale last year is much less exciting.

Christians should care about recycling. This planet is God's creation. He took pleasure in it long before humanity came along (Gen 1:12), and when we finally did come on the scene, God charged us with tending the Earth (Gen 2:15). So we can't think of the world as simply a resource at our disposal, to use as we will--that's certainly not a biblical perspective. I've written about these questions before, and I'm not going into it all again here.
Instead, let's skip straight to the next question: what can we do? What steps can Christians take to ensure that our celebrations of Christ's coming don't do further harm to the world Jesus made?
Well, surprise, surprise: you can find all sorts of creative, alternative wrapping ideas online. Some of them we're all familiar with--for instance, newspaper wrapping. This is what I usually did in college, not because I was environmentally conscientious, but because there were always free copies of The Daily Reveille available on campus, and that meant free wrapping paper. I'm sure saving money on gift-wrapping would still be prudent for a lot of us, but this is also a great way to make sure you're not just adding to the landfills.
Another obvious trick (...I never think of the obvious ones myself) is to reuse wrapping paper. Yes, that means you can't just rip it to shreds when you open your presents. But that's a pretty small price to pay for a more creation-friendly practice.

For some more wrapping options, check out Eco-Chick.

Of course there's one terrific option for those of you who really want to use wrapping paper and really want to rip it to shreds: you can find recyclable wrapping paper. Only watch for the little recycle emblem on the packaging; we can't just assume that this stuff is recyclable. Sure, eco-friendly paper is going to cost a little more. But with Christmas only a week away, we're eight days from the post-Christmas shopping season and the great wrapping paper sale. When you go to stock for next year's holiday season, search out the recyclable stuff--a little more expensive, but still a bargain.

And wrapping paper isn't the only thing we can think about! I saw an ad in the Natchez local paper just the other day highlighting all sorts of recyclable holiday waste: Christmas lights, boxes, cans from Christmas meals. Even old Christmas trees are accepted!

For tips on recycling your tree, check here.

So this holiday season, let's think before we trash. White, blue, whatever color your Christmas turns out to be, with a little planning and consideration, you can make the celebration green. That's one important way we can be faithful to Christ this Christmas.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

some tips for surviving the war on Christmas

Last week on the blog we talked about finding Christmas peace. But "peace" isn’t the only buzzword this time of year—“war” is a big one too. Just about the time the Christmas music starts to play, the “war on Christmas” hits the news. ‘Tis the season.

 If I’m understanding everybody correctly, the “war on Christmas” is the perceived efforts on the parts of certain groups—atheists and other secularists, Muslims, whomever—to eliminate explicitly Christian forms of Christmas observance from the public sphere. For the most part this is done by complaining against government-sponsored Christmas events or decorations: a “holiday tree” is okay; a “Christmas tree” is bad, because it has the word “Christ” in it, that sort of thing. This, they would argue, amounts to government support of a particular religion, and it violates the rights of non-Christian Americans. Christian Americans respond to all of this in force, rallying the troops to protest generic ‘holiday’ celebrations, making their own, faith-centered observances bolder and more visible, and just generally ‘putting Christ back in Christmas’.
This is all on a lot of people’s minds this time of year, and there are earnest concerns on both sides of the battle. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem like much of the attention this 'war' is getting in the news is very helpful, or very Christian. So I thought I'd offer a few, quick tips of my own for people who feel like they're caught in the line of fire in all of this.

  • If you want to 'put Christ back in Christmas', you should start by going to church. I simply can’t think of a better way to center your Christmas celebrations around Jesus than gathering together with other members of Christ’s body and worshipping the one whose birth you’re supposed to be celebrating. A lot of people will drop in at church this time of year, but if you're really concerned about the Christian message of Christmas, maybe more than the bare minimum would be in order. Why not look at your church’s schedule, and go to every service you can? Normal Sunday services during December will probably be full of Christmas hymns and scripture readings and sermons about the coming of Jesus—that’ll be a great way to get into the Christmas spirit. There will probably be special services on Christmas Eve or Christmas day you can attend too. What better way to focus your family’s Christmas celebration on Jesus? There will be a live nativity or two in your area, maybe a Christmas cantata: go! Take your kids, take your spouse, go with some friends, just go, immerse yourself in the story and message of the season. And tell everyone you know! If you want to share the reason for the season with the world, the best way to do it isn’t by putting a Nativity scene in front of the local court house; it’s by telling friends and acquaintances what Christmas means to you and inviting them to come be a part of that with you. 

  • If you’re worried that the Christian celebration of Christmas is being taken over by secular, consumerist interests and being reduced to a generic time of ‘joy’ and ‘peace’, winter, and presents, then do something different in your household. Some people refuse to let Santa Claus or songs about him in their home; I guess that’s one way of doing it. I had something more drastic, and arguably more appropriate, in mind. Downplay Christmas gifts. If you want your children to see the meaning of Christmas and take that meaning with them to the Christmas celebrations of the next generation, don’t cloud their vision with presents. Keep it simple: just give one or two things. Don’t let the Walmart or Toys’R’Us catalogs that come in the mail rule your December. Gifts are fun, but if they’re distracting get rid of them. Or reorient them. There are plenty of ways you can give during Christmas time while also reflecting God’s purposes in sending Jesus. Watch for angel trees and a chance to give to people who don’t have the financial means to celebrate Christmas this year. Trade your Target catalog for a World Vision catalog: in it you’ll find the opportunity to give livestock, clean water, jackets, or school supplies (among other things!) to people around the planet who need them. Practices like that can change the way Christmas is celebrated in your life. 

  • If you're worried about the holiday losing it's holiness, one safeguard is don’t listen to anyone in the media, left-wing or right-wing, talking about this. Some conservative voices will just make you afraid of vague threats to the future of society and paint over-simplified targets on large, diverse groups of people who aren’t actually all out to get you. On the other hand, some liberal voices, like a Jon Stewart, will only make you callous to so many people’s honest concerns and cynical about their supposed naivety. None of this is good; none of this is Christian. If you really want to spend time concerning yourself with this issue, spend your time praying about it. Or maybe try to find someone who has a different view than you and be his friend, ask him what he thinks about it and why. Having differences and not going to war over them may offer him the best Christmas witness he’ll ever see.

Monday, December 03, 2012

peace and the Christmas crazies

8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 
      14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth
           peace to those on whom his favor rests.” 
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
Luke 2:8-15

Peace is one of those holiday buzzwords. You’ll find it on the front of countless Christmas cards; you’ll see it in big, red, inflatable letters in your neighbor’s yard. It’s from the story of the angel appearing the shepherds in Luke 2, but it’s vague enough when taken out of context that everyone, Christian or not, can get on board with it. Peace on earth, goodwill towards men! That’s something we can all agree on.

And sometimes it really seems like the Christmas season can bring out the best, most peaceable qualities in all of us. You hear stories about Christmas time in the trenches of World War I, when soldiers, for just one day, would stop fighting, maybe even share some rations together. Of course, on December 26th the bullets would start flying again, and the blood would start flowing again. Maybe the world hasn’t seen the kind of peace the angels were talking about yet.

Personal peace can be hard to find in the Christmas season too. Shopping, decorating, travelling—it can all be pretty stressful, pretty crazy. I’m sure a lot of children miss the peace of Christmas day while they’re speeding from Christmas lunch with Mom’s side of the family to try and catch Christmas dinner with Dad’s folks. Or the kids won’t leave you at peace until they know that you know the difference between this video game and that one, this doll and the other one. There can be all sorts of pressure on us around Christmas.
And maybe it’s not the family and friends we’re celebrating with who deflate our peace. It could be the ones we aren’t celebrating with, the people we’ve already had our last Christmas with. The ghosts seem to wake up around the holidays, stirring memories and making old woes new again. There’s just no peace to be had.

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace…
Where’s the peace to be found?

I have no doubt that the peace we couldn’t find in the trenches is going to elude us until Christ’s second Advent to the world, when all things are made new, and all wars cease. That’s the day when the ghosts and loss will finally fall silent too—when we’ll know the peace of eternal life, with no more mourning or crying or pain, and all of God’s people will worship Him together in the Kingdom. There is some peace that only Jesus can really bring. And he will.

But what about that special Christmas busyness and anxiety? What about the personal peace this holiday above all can wrestle away from us?

One of the great devotional books in all Church history is The Imitation of Christ, by Thomas à Kempis. In the book, during a long, imaginary dialogue between Jesus and a disciple, Christ offers to teach “the way of true peace” to his followers. He goes on:
Try, my child, to do the will of another rather than your own. Always choose to have fewer riches rather than more. Always seek the lowest place and desire to be subject to all. Always wish for and pray that the will of God be accomplished in you. Such a person enters into the abode of true peace and inward rest.

This Christmas season, I hope you can find some peace. Not in presents or good food, or even in loving company, but in following Jesus—denying yourself, taking up the cross, and following. On that road, whatever else happens, you can know that your real aims and desires are being fulfilled. God’s using you as a light to the world. Give all your other worries and fears and anxieties to Jesus. Then you can rest easy in the busyness and hurry because none of the Christmas crazy will keep the Father from using you to shine that light of his love and peace to others.