Dec 21, 2007

Christmas In The Park

He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord!

Last week, I had the pleasure of visiting Christmas in the Park in upgraded downtown San Jose California. According to recent census data, San Jose is the 10th largest city in the United States of America. Christmas in the Park is situated in a partly octagonal, tree-lined, beautifully decorated plaza that sits adjacent to the luxurious Fairmont Hotel in downtown San Jose (if you ever get a chance to stay in the Fairmont either in San Francisco or San Jose, don’t miss out).

The theme of Christmas in the Park, as you have probably already guessed, is that of a winter fantasy wonderland that is there for children and adults alike to stroll through and enjoy the exhibits while drinking hot cider, and ingesting other winter treats and comestibles. There are elves, fake snow falling from above, Christmas trees, snowmen, caricatured toy soldiers and hundreds of displays depicting the wonders of Christmas.

In the center of the wonderland there is a theater stage on which groups, dancers and bands from all over the Bay area come to volunteer their time in order to assist others in celebrating Christmas. In fact, not only do many local church choirs and groups perform on the stage; in addition to organizations like Cisco Systems, many churches filled the park plaza with Christmas trees and meaningful displays that carried the Jesus message about Christmas.

Scrooge showed up on one of the days that I visited the wonderland, in the person of a Christian group that was equipped with microphones and speakers that could be heard blasting throughout the park plaza. This Christian group elected to exercise their 1st Amendment right, and protest Christmas. And they did so masterfully. How? By yelling and screaming into microphones. Their message was heard throughout the park plaza, even by all of the little children in the park plaza (even as Christian and other groups performed on center stage). Their message was simply this: Christmas is a pagan Holiday and a sham, and it should not be celebrated.

Over the years I have struggled myself wondering whether or not Christians should celebrate Christmas and other Christian holidays, particularly the ones that have replaced pagan Holidays. However, I have evolved.
The writing of St. Paul, in the book of Romans Chapter 14, verses 4-10 settled it for me. Paul wrote the following:

Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? To his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand vs 4.

One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind vs 5.

He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord, and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks, and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks vs6.

For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself.
For whether we live, we live unto the lord, and whether we die, we die unto the Lord, whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s vs.7.

And in vs. 10 it is written...
But why dost thou judge thy brother? Or why doest thou set at nought thy brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.

When writing into a minister’s blog that I participate in, last year I reminded several ministers of this text and its context. Some of these minister’s had been especially critical of those Christians who continued to celebrate Christmas. I reminded the ministers of the good will that is often exhibited during Christmas, and of the one time of the year when many in the world celebrate, more or less, something that has to do with Jesus Christ. I reminded them that Christmas can be a wonderful witnessing tool. I will share a portion of Christmas day with a wonderful family in the area on Christmas day, and having said that, we will talk about Jesus Christ – I will, in a non-threatening way, see to that!

In the age of political correctness in America, many American institutions are forbidding their employees from even mentioning Christmas to their customers, and many institutions have stopped the practice of allowing Christmas displays on their premises. In other words, unlike in the past when a clerk at a retail store might wish you a merry Christmas at the conclusion of your transaction at any department store; wishing you a merry Christmas today, for many retail employees is a forbidden practice. I ask you, isn’t this the spirit of anti-Christ? And should the spirit of anti-Christ be bolstered, supported, or championed by Christians?

If some Christians who have unwittingly joined in with the secularists get their way, I can foresee see a time when neither secular nor religious organizations will be celebrating Christmas on the 25th of December and don't forget, most Christian churches don't celebrate the holiday now; well at least they don't celebrate Christmas at church. Just imagine a country without Christmas, or if all of our other holidays were outlawed and subsequently replaced with pagan holidays. If some Christians aren't careful, they might get what they have been asking for, the elimination of one of Christianity's foremost religious Holidays.

Now if that were to occur, then the tables would take another not so ironic turn. How? Those same Christian groups that protest Christmas today would likely launch into future protests, this time yelling in their microphones at the government, arguing that their 1st Amendment rights to hold free speech Christian celebrations (in civic venues) have been violated. Can they have it both ways? Christian protesters should really reconsider their positions, for if Christmas is replaced by some other Holiday, what will it be replaced with, and would there be any future Christmas in the Park celebrations?

I can see it now, Christmas would likely be replaced by 'Atheist Day', 'Coming Out of the Closet Day', 'Stuff the Stocking and Yourself Day', 'Celebrate Your Wealth Day in America', or would the day return to the kind of debauchery that once preceded it on the 25th day of December of centuries past!

Isn’t it sad that the one holiday that we have (and many European and other nations celebrate it too), the day when the entire nation arguably comes to a screeching halt (in honor of Christ’s birth), that the one’s who ignore and criticize the day set aside to honor his birth the most are Christians? Just think about it again, Christmas is the number one holiday of the year in America, and it had been set aside in order to celebrate the
birth of Jesus - the lamb that was provided to procure the salvation of the world.

Sadly, on this Christmas day the majority of church doors in America will be locked shut, while the majority of Christians celebrate the day at home imbibing on food and egg nog, and by consuming gifts and presents for themselves - it is not your birthday Christians! I realize that some Christians and non-Christians alike are genuinely conflicted about Christmas day. I realize that some don't believe that it is Christ's birthday, yet, they seem to believe that it is 'their day' to be showered with gifts and stuffing. Again, it is not your birthday Christians!

Here is an interesting tidbit that I learned on Christmas day. Someone asked, what is the difference between dressing and stuffing? The answer that followed was, 'dressing becomes stuffing after you have consumed it', just think about that for a minute. Even Christians are stuffing not only stockings on Christmas Day, they are using it as a day to stuff themselves. Could it be that like the world, many Christians simply do not wish to go to church on the Christmas holiday? Several years ago, I celebrated Christmas by joining in with an army of other volunteers at the Glide Memorial church in San Francisco, where we helped to feed the poor. And last year I celebrated a multi-cultural, ecumenical Christmas at the National Cathedral in Washington DC.

I won’t get to celebrate by volunteering with Glide this year because I got back into the state of California too late to get on the volunteer list. But it is kind of bittersweet. Just think about it, so many people signed up to volunteer this year in honor of Christ that Glide simply could not take on any more volunteers. What a problem to have? Here is just another example of how Christmas brings out the best in people!

Am I guilty of judging? Well, perhaps, however, on the other hand isn’t it rather thought-provoking when you consider the fact that Muslims have Mecca and Ramadan, the Jews have Hanukah and Jerusalem, and other religious groups have their special days and sacred places. Wouldn’t it be more prudent for Christians to support rather than denigrate the few holidays that we have left like Christmas (and those celebrants who celebrate those days), as opposed to what this unnamed Christian group chose to do and say in Christmas in the Park in downtown San Jose California?

Well as I close, I recommend that you be persuaded by God’s spirit that should be working in your ‘own renewed mind’, and at the very least, if you elect to celebrate Christmas or any other special day celebrate it as unto the Lord. On the other hand, if you elect not to celebrate Christmas, don’t celebrate it as unto the Lord. But whatever you do, stop judging God’s servants, instead allow them to enter into free expression as they are doing it hopefully unto Christ. I suspect that God will receive their expressions of honor, affection and adoration, as well as the ones who have chosen to honor, worship and celebrate what Christ’s coming into the world has meant to mankind in the form of a Christmas day celebration.

Some will argue, Reverend, we don't know what day Jesus was actually born on, and December 25th is not Christ's birthday anyway.My response to the 'what day was Jesus born on argument' is simply this:No man knows the day or hour when the Son of Man will return to the earth, so don’t place too much emphasis on the fact that we really do not know the exact day that Christ made his first advent into the world as a newborn babe. Again, we don't know the day that Christ will make his return and we are looking forward to, anticipating and celebrating that day in advance!

As I conclude, I leave you with this: whatever you do in word or in deed, even celebrating a Holy Day, do it all in the name of Jesus Christ. And if non-believers elect to carry on a fight against a Christian holiday, when there are so many other issues that they could be protesting against, let them do so without our help. Besides, in 21st century America, Christmas remains a Christian holiday whether some individuals, even Christians, like it or not!

Merry Christmas
Rev. C. Solomon

Addenda: Wouldn't it be grand if someday, someone determined the exact date and time of Jesus' birth, the sages in scripture using astral charting and predictive forecasting apparently figured it out. My question is, then would it really matter, or would the doors of most churches still be locked, and most Christians find another reason to remain at home on Christ's birthday?

P.S. For Marylanders: If you want to worship Christ in a church building on Christmas, drop by the First Baptist Church, formerly of Glen Arden, just relocated to their new building in Mitchellville Md. I worshipped with them on Christmas Day, two years ago. I was pleasantly surprised to arrive at 6:00am, to find the parking lot completely full. The service lasted for about 3 hours, and many testimonies came from those survivors whose lives were spared in the Pentagon during the 9/11 attack on America. We had a blessed time in the Lord, and no one, not even the children, were in any hurry to leave! Pastor Jenkins will welcome you!

In Washington DC: Go and worship with at the National Cathedral. The service begins at around 10:00am, don't be late. And in the day of reverse religious political correctness, wear your finest attire, top coat, hat and all, and go and worship Jesus - you won't be criticized for not 'dressing down'; besides, it will be cold in the District!

In The Bay Area: I just got back, but next year, come to the Rev's church and worship or feed the poor on Christmas Day!

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