Reasons for the Season

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  1. HerHubby

    HerHubby The SF Poet Laureate
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    Hannukah
    The Festival of Lights
    by Holly Hartman

    Hannukah Dates
    (from sundown to sundown of the following dates)
    2005 Dec. 25-Jan. 1
    2006 Dec. 15-Dec. 22
    2007 Dec. 4-Dec. 11
    2008 Dec. 21-Dec. 28
    2009 Dec. 12-Dec. 19


    Hanukkah, the “Festival of Lights,” starts on the 25th day of the Jewish calendar month of Kislev and lasts for eight days and nights. In 2006 Hanukkah begins at sundown on December 15. With blessings, games, and festive foods, Hanukkah celebrates the triumphs—both religious and military—of ancient Jewish heroes.

    Hanukkah is a relatively minor holiday in the Jewish year. In the United States, however, its closeness to Christmas has brought greater attention to Hanukkah and its gift-giving tradition. Amid the ever-growing flood of Christmas advertising, it may seem especially fitting that the Hanukkah story tells of Jewish culture surviving in a non-Jewish world.

    The Hanukkah Story
    Nearly 2,200 years ago, the Greek-Syrian ruler Antiochus IV tried to force Greek culture upon peoples in his territory. Jews in Judea—now Israel—were forbidden their most important religious practices as well as study of the Torah. Although vastly outnumbered, religious Jews in the region took up arms to protect their community and their religion. Led by Mattathias the Hasmonean, and later his son Judah the Maccabee, the rebel armies became known as the Maccabees.

    After three years of fighting, in the year 3597, or about 165 B.C.E., the Maccabees victoriously reclaimed the temple on Jerusalem's Mount Moriah. Next they prepared the temple for rededication—in Hebrew, Hanukkah means “dedication.” In the temple they found only enough purified oil to kindle the temple light for a single day. But miraculously, the light continued to burn for eight days.

    The Menorah
    The lighting of the menorah, known in Hebrew as the hanukiya, is the most important Hanukkah tradition. A menorah is a candlestand with nine branches. Usually eight candles—one for each day of Hanukkah—are of the same height, with a taller one in the middle, the shamash (“servant”), which is used to light the others. Each evening of Hanukkah, one more candle is lit, with a special blessing.

    The menorah symbolizes the burning light in the temple, as well as marking the eight days of the Hanukkah festival. Some say it also celebrates the light of freedom won by the Maccabees for the Jewish people.

    The Dreidel
    Long a favorite Hanukkah toy, the dreidel once had a serious purpose. When the Syrians forbid study of the Torah, Jews who studied in secret kept spinning tops—sivivons, or dreidels—on hand. This way, if they were found studying, they could quickly pretend that they had only been playing.

    Outside of Israel, a dreidel has the Hebrew letters “nun,” “gimel,” “hay,” and “shin” on its four sides. These letters stand for “Nes gadol haya sham,” which means, “A great miracle happened there,” referring to Israel. An Israeli dreidel has the letter “pay” rather than “shin.” This stands for “poh,” meaning “here”—“a great miracle happened here.”

    The Hebrew letters also represent Yiddish words that tell how to play the dreidel game. Each player starts with the same amount of candies, chocolate coins (gelt), or other tokens, and puts one in a pot. Players take turns spinning the dreidel, waiting to see which letter lands face up. Nun is for “nisht,” nothing—do nothing. Gimel is for “gants,” whole—take the whole pot. Hay is for “halb,” half—take half. Shin is for “shtel,” to put in—add to the pot. The game ends when a single player wins all the tokens.

    Hanukkah Foods
    Many traditional Hanukkah foods are cooked in oil, in remembrance of the oil that burned in the temple. In the United States, the most widespread Hanukkah food is latkes, or potato pancakes, a custom that may have developed in Eastern Europe. In Israel, the favorite Hanukkah food is sufganiya, a kind of jelly donut cooked in oil. Israelis eat sufganiyot for more than a month before the start of Hanukkah.

    Eating dairy products, especially cheese, is another Hanukkah tradition. This is done in memory of the Jewish heroine Judith, who according to legend saved her village from Syrian attackers. Judith fed wine and cheese to the Syrian general Holofernes until he became so drunk that he fell to the ground. She then seized his sword and cut off his head, which she brought back to her village in a basket. The next morning, Syrian troops found the headless body of their leader and fled in terror.

    More from Winter Holiday Roundup
    Fact Monster™ Database, © 2006 Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.
     
  2. HerHubby

    HerHubby The SF Poet Laureate
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    December 2006 - Vol. 3




    The Real Meaning of Christmas

    What the Incarnation means for us

    by Steve Clark


    The Presentation, a painting by Michael O'Brien






    What is the true meaning of Christmas?
    Every year as the Christmas season comes around, we hear a great deal about the real meaning of Christmas. But it is not always clear just what that real meaning is.

    For some people, the true meaning of Christmas is the warmth and love of our families, a celebration of the home. For others, the real meaning of Christmas is love for other people – “Peace on earth, good will toward men.” And of course, many Christians think the true meaning of Christmas is that it is the birthday of Jesus.

    All these things, and especially the celebration of Jesus’ birth, have something to do with Christmas. But the full meaning of Christmas is something bigger – bigger than the love of our families or good will toward men, even bigger than remembering the birthday of Jesus. For when we celebrate Christmas, we are celebrating one of the greatest truths of our faith – the incarnation. We are not just celebrating the fact that some 2,000 years ago Jesus of Nazareth was born; we are celebrating the far greater fact that in Jesus of Nazareth God himself became man.

    Most of us are familiar with the word ‘incarnation’ and know that it has something to do with Jesus’ being both God and man. But many of us have not reflected on the full meaning of this doctrine and on the consequences it has for us.

    Among Christians today you can hear a lot of strange things said about the incarnation. One common idea is that the Word became flesh to show us that we really ought to be flesh. The meaning of the incarnation, according to this way of thinking, is that we ought to be as much flesh as we can possibly be.

    I do not know about everyone else, but I at least do not feel that I need to become any more flesh. Nor does anyone else I know really need to become more flesh. We human beings were born flesh. We do not need to do anything in order to become flesh – whether flesh in the good sense or in the bad.

    Some of the early Christian teachers in the Greek-speaking world spoke of the incarnation in quite different terms that I believe come much closer to what the scripture itself says. They said that the Word became flesh – God became man – so that we might become God. That is a spectacular statement and could easily be misunderstood. But compared to the modern notion, I think it gets us a lot closer to the truth.

    God did not become flesh so that we could learn to be flesh. God became flesh so that we might become more like God. Jesus did not come into the world in order to tell us, “You’re all great just as you are. Just do more of the same.” Jesus came to change us. He came to give us a life that we could not achieve of our own flesh.

    How does the incarnation make us more like God?
    To begin with, we should understand that the incarnation is not simply a call to imitate God. The Word did not become flesh just to give us a model of godlike behavior. Of course, if we are going to become like God we have to imitate certain elements of God’s character as they are revealed to us in Jesus – his love, patience, strength, perseverance, and so on. But the incarnation means more for us than that.

    The truth is that God became man in order to make us godlike. He came to give us something that would make us like himself. God became man because we did not have it in ourselves, in the weakness of our flesh, to become like God.

    St. Paul explained what the incarnation means for us when he wrote to the Colossians, “For in Christ the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness of life in him who is the head of all rule and authority” (Col. 2:9-10). In other words, everything that is in God, the fullness of deity, is in Jesus of Nazareth. And now we, through Jesus, have come into the fullness of the life of God. We have been filled with what is in Jesus.

    Not that we become the second person of the Trinity incarnate; not that we have the omniscience or omnipotence of God. There is a difference between us and Jesus, a difference we know only too well. Yet Jesus shares with us what he himself is. He shares with us his divine life.

    We may find all this easier to understand in terms of another idea the New Testament gives us: God became man in Jesus Christ, and as a result of that incarnation God has poured out his Holy Spirit on us to give us the power actually to live the life of God. He has poured out his Spirit so that there may be a body of people, the body of Christ, who truly live like God himself. Other people should be able to see us and say, “Here is a type of human being different from all other human beings. Here is a kind of life that no other human has.” What they should be able to see in us is the very life of God himself.

    The Word of God becoming flesh and dwelling among us
    The Gospel of John states these same truths in another way: “The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not. He came to his own home, and his own people received him not. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:9-13).

    That passage describes the incarnation – the Word of God becoming flesh and dwelling among us. He was not recognized by most people, the passage tells us. He was rejected even by many of his own chosen people. But we who do receive him receive a new life, a life as children of God. We have been born in a different way, not by natural means but by the Spirit of God. We have been born with a life that puts us on a different plane than our natural life. That is an extraordinary truth.

    How many times have we heard those first verses of the gospel of John? How many times have we heard about God becoming man and our becoming children of God? It is all so big that we almost stop thinking about it. If we do think about it, we think of it as something that happens in some “spiritual” world, not here on earth where we live our normal life. Here we have enough to do, just trying to get dinner on the table for the family, or trying to get to work in the morning, or wondering when to do the Christmas shopping, or how to get the car fixed so we can visit the family on Christmas Day.

    Maybe, we think, being children of God in the midst of all this just means that we should be a little kinder to our wife, or stop getting irritated with the kids, or try to relate to our boss better. It is easy to end up thinking that Jesus came just to tell us that we need to behave a little bit better than we are naturally inclined to behave.

    Yet that is not what Jesus came to do. He did not come just to tell us to become better than we thought we had to be. He came so that we can become better than we thought we could be. God’s purpose in becoming man was to give us his own life, making us better than we ever thought we could be.

    It would be easy to misunderstand what it means to say that Jesus came to make us godlike and give us a life different from other human beings. We could take that as meaning we become something more than human. I think it is more accurate to say that we become fully human. If we are to be truly human, if we are to be all that a human being is meant to be, we need the life of God.

    Our condition as we are born into this world is actually subhuman. That is not a slight on our parents; it simply reflects the fact that the human race itself is under the power of sin. The present “natural” condition of humanity means living according to sin, living in the flesh as Paul used the word flesh (see Rom. 7:13-25).

    In the image and likeness of God
    That was not, however, the condition in which God made us. When God made Adam, he did not make a sinful man. He did not intend his creation to live the way most people live now. He made us to live a life like his own; he made us like himself. That is what scripture means when it says that human beings are made in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:27). Human beings are supposed to be something a lot greater than what most of us are right now.

    Some Jewish rabbis used to say that Adam was created with the glory of God upon him, and that when he fell he lost the glory of God. The New Testament teaches that in Jesus, the glory of God was restored to humanity. You can look at Jesus of Nazareth and see what God is like. As Paul says many times in the New Testament, “He is the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:l5).

    Jesus wants to share God’s glory with us. He wants to glorify us so that here and now we can start looking like God himself because we live the life of God himself. He wants to restore in us the image of God.

    At the beginning of this article, I said that Christmas is not simply a celebration of the birthday of Jesus. That may seem a rather strange idea, since Christmas is the feast of the Nativity, the birth of Jesus. What I mean, however, is that in celebrating Christmas we do not just look back to what happened 2,000 years ago when Jesus entered our world; we also look forward to what will happen when Jesus comes again to complete the work of the incarnation.

    Obviously, none of us have yet achieved the fullness of the divine life Jesus came to give us. We can experience much of our new identity as children of God right now, in our life on this earth. But there is a great deal more we will not experience until the Lord comes again to judge the living and the dead and to establish his kingdom.

    On that day, what we truly are will be revealed, and as John says, “We shall be like him” (l John 3:2). It will be manifest that we are truly sons and daughters of God, bearing his image and likeness, bearing his glory. Everything that was to be accomplished by Jesus becoming incarnate will be accomplished. Everything God wants the human race to be, we will be.

    On that day the true and everlasting feast of Christmas will begin.

    [Steve Clark is President of The Sword of the Spirit.]



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    (c) article copyright 2006 Stephen B. Clark; web page content copyright 2006 The Sword of the Spirit
    publishing address: Park Royal Business Centre, 9-17 Park Royal Road, Suite 36, London NW10 7LQ, United Kingdom
    email: editor@swordofthespirit.net
     
  3. HerHubby

    HerHubby The SF Poet Laureate
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    The birth of the Messiah
    Scripture: Luke 2:1-20
    1 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled. 2 This was the first enrollment, when Quirin'i-us was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be enrolled, each to his own city.4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered. 7 And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
    8 And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. 10 And the angel said to them, "Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; 11 for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger." 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!"

    15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us." 16 And they went with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it they made known the saying which had been told them concerning this child; 18 and all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

    Meditation: In the Roman empire censuses were taken every fourteen years for assessing taxation and ascertaining who were elgible for compulsory military service. Joseph and Mary traveled eighty miles from Nazareth to Bethelem. This was a most inconvenient time and a physical ordeal for Mary since her baby was due any day now! And as luck would have it, Bethelehem was overcrowded. They had to settle for the most primitive of accomodations -- an open stall for animals. Why would the Messiah have to be born in such pitiable conditions and in total obscurity? God's ways are different from our ways. He, the Most Exalted One, condescends for the sake of the lowly and the opprest. The Lord descended not in pomp and majesty befitting a King, but in meekness and lowliness to show us the way of perfect love. The only room for Jesus was the cross he came to bear for our sins. In Jesus lowly birth we see the foreshadowing of the greatest sacrifice God would make for our sake when his only begotten Son willingly embraced death on the cross for our salvation.

    Mary and Joseph were both from the line of David, King of Israel. Jesus's birth in Bethelem fulfilled the prophecy that the Messiah would descend from David and be born in David's city, Bethelem (Isaiah 9:6-7, 11:1-2; Micah 5:2-4). Why did the angels announce the birth of the new-born King of Israel to shepherds, rather than to the Jewish populace at large or to the leaders of Israel? God chose to come in lowliness to show his loving-kindness and power to those who were humble of heart and ready to receive him. Does the Lord find an eager welcome in your heart and home?

    Why did the Word of God become flesh? In the Creed we profess that "For our sake and for our salvation he came down from heaven". Augustine, the great 4th century bishop said: Closed in darkness, it was necessary to bring us the light; captives, we awaited a Savior; prisoners, help; slaves, a liberator. Are these things minor or insignificant? Did they not move God to descend to human nature and visit it, since humanity was in so miserable and unhappy a state? Jesus is true God and true man. The Son of God assumed a human nature in order to accomplish our salvation in it. The Son of God ...worked with human hands; he thought with a human mind. He acted with a human will, and with a human heart he loved. Born of the Virgin Mary, he has truly been made one of us, like to us in all things except sin (Gaudium et Spes).

    What is the significance of the Incarnation for us? The Word became flesh for us in order to save us by reconciling us with God our Father. God loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins (1 John 4:10). The Father sent his Son as the Savior of the world (1 John 4:14). The Word appeared to take away sins (1 John 3:5). The Word became flesh that we might know and experience the love of God. God's love was revealed to us in the way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him (1 John 4:9). For God so loved the world that he gave us his only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).

    There is a great paradox in the mystery of the Incarnation, the Son of God taking on human flesh that we might be clothed in his divinity. Scripture says "he became poor that we might become rich" (2 Cor. 8:9) -- rich not in material things which pass away, but rich in the things that last -- eternal life and happiness with the Triune God-- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Incarnation is the mystery of this marvelous exchange: "O marvelous exchange! Man's Creator has become man, born of the Virgin. We have been made sharers in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share our humanity." (Antiphon I of Evening Prayer for January 1st)

    "Lord our God, with the birth of your Son, your glory breaks on the world. As we celebrate his first coming, give us a foretaste of the joy that you will grant us when the fulness of his glory has filled the earth."


    (c)1999 Don Schwager
     
  4. HerHubby

    HerHubby The SF Poet Laureate
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    "What God has joined together, let no man put asunder"

    Scripture: Mark 10:1-12

    1 And he left there and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan, and crowds gathered to him again; and again, as his custom was, he taught them. 2 And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?" 3 He answered them, "What did Moses command you?" 4 They said, "Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce, and to put her away." 5 But Jesus said to them, "For your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. 6 But from the beginning of creation, `God made them male and female.' 7 `For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, 8 and the two shall become one flesh.' So they are no longer two but one flesh. 9 What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder." 10 And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11 And he said to them, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; 12 and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery."

    Meditation: What is God's intention for our state in life, whether married or single? Jesus deals with the issue of divorce by taking his hearers back to the beginning of creation and to God's plan for the human race. In Genesis 2:23-24 we see God's intention and ideal that two people who marry should become so indissolubly one that they are one flesh. That ideal is found in the unbreakable union of Adam and Eve. They were created for each other and for no one else. They are the pattern and symbol for all who were to come. Jesus explains that Moses permitted divorce as a concession in view of a lost ideal. Jesus sets the high ideal of the married state before those who are willing to accept his commands. Jesus, likewise sets the high ideal for those who freely renounce marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven (see Matthew 19:12). Both marriage and celibacy are calls from God to live a consecrated life, that is to live as married couples or as singles who belong not to themselves but to God. Our lives are not our own, but they belong to God. He gives the grace and power to those who seek to follow his way of holiness in their state of life. Do you seek the Lord and his grace in your state of life?

    What did Jesus have in mind when he said that a husband and wife are to be "one flesh"? He likely intended it to mean more than just a partnership for establishing a family or intimate companionship between two individuals. Marriage involves a partnership of not just two persons -- a husband and wife, but a third as well. It is God who joins with a husband and wife when they become "one flesh". That is why Paul the Apostle used marriage as an analogy for Christ and the church, his bride (Ephes. 5:31). God wants an unbreakable union between himself and his people. And this is only possible through the gift and working of his Holy Spirit who purifies us and makes us one in Christ. Tertullian, an early second century Christian author, wrote the following to his wife: "Where are we to find language adequately to express the happiness of that marriage which the church cements, the oblation confirms, the benediction signs and seals, the angels celebrate, and the Father holds as approved? For all around the earth young people do not rightly and lawfully wed without their parents' consent. What kind of yoke is that of two believers who share one hope, one desire, one discipline, one service? They enjoy kinship in spirit and in flesh. They are mutual servants with no discrepancy of interests. Truly they are 'two in one flesh.' Where the flesh is one, the spirit is one as well. Together they pray, together they bow down, together perform their fasts, mutually teaching, mutually entreating, mutually upholding. In the church of God they hold an equal place. They stand equal at the banquet of God, equally in crises, equally facing persecutions, and equally in refreshments. Neither hides anything from the other. Neither neglects the other. Neither is troublesome to the other." What can be more profound than the union of man and woman in marriage? Our union with God. We are called to be one with God, in a union so intimate and a bond so strong that nothing can separate it or destroy it, not even death itself (Rom. 8:35; Song of Solomon 8:6). Do you seek intimate fellowship and union with God?

    "Lord Jesus Christ, your call to holiness extends to all in every state of life. Sanctify our lives — as married couples and as singles — that we may live as men and women who are consecrated to you. Make us leaven in a society that disdains life-long marriage fidelity, chastity, and living single for the Lord".

    (c) 2000 Don Schwager