12 Gripes of Christmas – part 4

This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series12 Gripes of Christmas

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4. For the fourth gripe of Christmas I will give to thee: Poinsettias, Mistletoe, and Holly

All of these interesting plants represent the Christmas season in some way.  We have all seen bright red Poinsettias in every house or church, kissed under some mistletoe, or sung the words, “deck the halls with bows of holly.”  They are pretty green plants in the middle of Winter.  But did you know these plants also have something else in common?

All three are poisonous.  Yep, that is right, they will make you go poo-poo something awful.  That is, if they don’t kill you.  The one you have probably heard the story about most is actually the least deadly.  Poinsettia can give you a pretty painful stomachache, but that is about all.  The other two can put you in the hospital with some serious vomiting and a case of the fire-pigoo.

Add to the mix that mistletoe is a vampire.  Mistletoe grows as a sap-sucking parasite in tree branches.  Of course, that inspires you to let your loved one suck on your own face as you stand beneath it this yuletide.–Ryan

12 Gripes of Christmas – part 3

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3. For the third gripe of Christmas I will give to thee: Neighbors crappy Christmas lights.

Christmas lights are actually one of my favorite parts of the whole season.  When it comes time to set up the tree and other decorations, I enjoy heading outside and getting all the lights up on the outside of the house.  I like driving through the streets of town and seeing other people’s houses decorated as well.  It can be beautiful.

But, then there are displays like this, and every neighborhood has one—one wonderful family that ruins it all for the whole block. I know, because this video was taken in my own neighborhood:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qhj1ghyq44Q
About a mile from my house is an area of a few blocks where all the houses are decorated with a common theme.  One of the highlights of the season is driving down that block.  It is peaceful.  It is serene.  There are houses with lighted reindeer, houses with lights on almost every square inch of the roof, and there are homes with cardboard cutouts of snoopy and inflatables all over the lawn.

You know what you won’t see in that neighborhood?  Blinking lights.  That’s right.  No one has ever said, “Wow, that house with all the blinking lights really makes me feel all warm inside and peaceful.”

The blinking lights send a different message entirely: “Gamble Here!”  When anyone turns down the main street to my neighborhood, the first sight they see is much less O Holy Night and far more Live Dancing Girls.

There is a reason that light red blink-inducing bulb comes in a hermetically sealed bag when open your new stringlights.  It is a warning.  If you want your lights to cause seizures, keep it inside your own house, and stop terrorizing your neighborhood.–Ryan

12 Gripes of Christmas – part 2

This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series12 Gripes of Christmas

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2. For the Second Gripe of Christmas, I will Give to Thee: A mall Santa in front of JC Penney.

I generally like Saint Nick, particularly the German version who either rewards good children with fruit or takes them to sell into slavery.  But as I don’t want to sound too much like Dwight Shrute, I will let that be.

My issue with Santa is actually quite extensive.  First, there is the typical complaint that Santa is a huge distraction from the whole point of Christmas, and while that is definitely true, I am not a big enough grinch to advocate kicking Santa entirely out.  But there has been a clear effort to kick Jesus out of his own birthday party.

When I was a child, my mom told me that Santa was good, but that Jesus was the real reason to celebrate Christmas.  Now we have “progressed” to the point where even acknowledging Christmas at all is frowned upon generally.  Instead, we call it Holiday.  But, while Jesus has been largely thrown out of the party, Santa is still allowed.

The problem is that Mr. Claus is pretty much an anti-Jesus figure in many ways.  Santa makes a list and checks it twice in order to separate the good children from the children whom Santa’s NSA network has built a strong enough case against.  The children who have acquired enough good karma are rewarded with gifts.

The story of Jesus is that He came to give free gifts to those who especially don’t deserve it.  Jesus is specifically showing the message that God is not making a list and checking it twice.  This is especially true when you exegete the song a bit.  If he is “making a list and checking it twice,” then he is specifically doing it to properly identify the bad kids.  If he were only checking his list once with the kid’s behavior, then some kids who were naughty might actually get gifts anyway.  Instead, he is making doubly sure to weed out the bad.  But God in Christ, is sowing grace prodigally.

But Santa is even more confusing than that.  In my childhood, we lived in a house for a while that had a fake fireplace which had been boarded up years ago.  I was very concerned about how Santa would get in.  My mom offered to keep the door unlocked, a proposition that I felt was unsafe.  She told me that Saint Nick had his secret ways.  That led to a realization, and many sleepless nights.

Santa is basically the same as a cat burglar.  He sneaks in through the chimney or some other weak point in the home.  He brings a giant bag, and only enters if everyone is properly asleep.  He has the perfect getaway vehicle.  At the end of the night he will sneak out of the country.  He goes by several assumed names, and he has been casing your family for a long time.

The fact that Santa leaves things instead of taking them is a minor detail he may work out at any time.  And how do we know he hasn’t actually been stealing stuff for years.  You know all those socks you think the clothes dryer has been swallowing?  You can’t prove that he hasn’t been taking them all along.–Ryan

12 Gripes of Christmas – part 1

This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series12 Gripes of Christmas

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I know that I might upset a few people with this one, but really when has that ever stopped me…

I have always been kind of a bah-humbug type when it comes to much of the Christmas festivities.  I could do without most of it, and skip the entire month of December entirely.   And I am not alone.  Many people feel this way.  We are all just afraid to say it.  Why, you ask?  It is because all of the Christmas Nazis out there will shame us as if we threatened all of existence by not liking the holiday.

Now, let me make myself clear.  I love the idea of celebrating the birth of Christ.  I like spending time with friends and family, and I have some fond memories from my childhood.  I also do not wish to ruin other people’s joy in any way.

But that being said, there are a few things I need to get off my chest.  Let’s call them my 12 Gripes of Christmas:

1. On the first gripe of Christmas, I will give to thee: Awful Christmas melodies. 

Christmas music is terrible.  There, I said it, and I won’t take it back.  Yes, yes, there are some really good songs that are emotionally powerful, and some fun to sing.  But the only reason that any of us enjoy most holiday songs at all is that we have heard them every single year for our entire lives…every year…for a month straight.

Think about that.  If you imagine your five favorite songs of all time, would you really want to hear them every year for a month non-stop?  Would you like to hear the Beatles Day in the Life as an all-instrumental version in every mall?  How about Billy Jean done by the cast of Duck Dynasty?  And these are actually good songs.  Instead we get to listen to:

The 12 Days of Christmas: A twelve-verse hymn consisting of a lover gifting his beloved with wildly inappropriate items such as farm animals, overly expensive jewelry for every finger, and apparently slaves.  I don’t care who you are, if you love me please do not gift me with maids-a-milking.  I do not need that much cow juice, I have nowhere to put the accompanying cows, and owning another person has been illegal since the Civil War.

No one knows all the words to this song, and no one wants to hear this song all the way through.  It should be permanently banned and used only for torturing terrorists.  If you think about it, there is nothing even remotely Christmas-y about this song except that the writer wants to inform you that the obsessive stalker is using this particular holiday as the cover for his psychotic behavior.

Baby It’s Cold Outside: This is a more recent addition to the songbook, after people started looking frantically for years in desperation for a new Christmas song that is halfway decent.  “Decent” is probably the worst word to use to describe this song.

All one has to do is read the lyrics in order to see that this song is about a man trying to use every means at his disposal to get this somewhat unfamiliar girl to stay with him overnight, including: giving her a spiked drink, bribing her with cigarettes, frantically changing the subject, flattering her, and indirectly threatening her life.  If a man talked like this to your daughter, there would probably be a homicide.  And we listen to this on the Christian music station.  Also, this song doesn’t mention Christmas even once.

We Wish you a Merry Christmas: This song does get bonus points for mentioning Christmas—over and over and over again.  Essentially, that is all the song points out, at first.  The bulk of the song is just “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.”  It is a festive sentiment, meant to evoke the idea of some carolers coming door-to-door singing.

But once the listener opens the door, we realize that this is actually a home invasion robbery.  The second verse demands, now that we are successfully inside, that you bring us plenty of food (and everyone knows how much we love figgy pudding) or else we will trash the place.–Ryan

Grinchoversy

GrinchoversyHeaderThe following is a reprint of an article published by Ryan Shinn in his channel on Examiner.com

This year the keep Christ in Christmas debate has heated up anew with First Baptist Church of Dallas pastor, Robert Jeffress, new website listing businesses that are refusing to acknowledge Christmas.  He has appeared on Fox News as well as local news outlets discussing this apparently controversial site.

The current debate seems to have three sides, those who support Jeffress for taking a stand on this issue, secularists who are attacking Jeffress for various reasons, and Christians who think the whole debate is distracting from the purpose of Christmas.

Eric Wallace’s blog, The Unwasted Life, summarizes this last perspective quite well with a list of reasons why Jeffress is off-base.  Yet while Eric makes very good points about why Christians should not take part in this debate at all, most of the discussion seems to be missing the point.

Most of the anti-Jeffress discussion falls into three basic categories.  The first is that while Christmas is about the birth of Jesus, it has always been primarily a secular holiday with most of its elements derived from pagan sources that have little to do with the actual birth of Christ.  People have pointed out that elements such as Christmas trees do not have Christian beginnings, but most of these things were adopted by early Christian missionaries as cultural touch points used to relate the gospel to the people’s pagan traditions.  This sort of evolution is happening currently with Halloween.  Many churches celebrate the holiday as a Harvest Festival and exchange the day’s original purpose with a Christ-centered message.

The second attack is that Christians have no business getting involved with political debates that play into the hands of the secularists. The problem with this argument is that it misses the point entirely.  Many Christians are simply tired of the expectation that they will spend a lot of money for gifts at stores that refuse to even mention Christmas.  The message is, “give us money while we disrespect you.”  Many Christians are responding with their dollars.  This is not as much a sign of protest, but capitalist democracy.

Finally, they attack Jeffress directly for more controversial statements he has made, particularly regarding homosexuals and Muslims.  This is not surprising.  When people have little of value to say in defense of their positions, they often resort to ad hominem attacks.  Whether Jeffress is against homosexuality or Islam, or kills puppies, it has no bearing on this issue.  -Ryan

Of Holly and Mistletoe

Holly and Mistletoe HeaderYoung Timmy stared wide-eyed at the mountain of tightly wrapped presents under the tree.  It all looked so beautiful to his young eyes.  Each little light reflected off of an ornament.  There was the small glass globe that he had received from Ma-ma two Christmases ago—‘May the glory of advent fill you with tidings of great joy.’  Next to it, the small brass shepherd shape from some time before his birth.  Then there was his favorite, a small Woodstock with a Santa hat, that he sometimes delicately removed to play with when no one was looking.  This was just a sampling of the keepsakes that decorated each branch, a growing beacon to the promises of great joy that lay in each parcel underneath.  They were all reminders, and each Christmas, one more was added to the tree.

“You know the rule, Tim.  You can pick one to open up tonight before we go to Christmas Eve service,” Dad said as he sat down the book he was reading.  Mommy came into the room with her new red sweater and green dangly earrings, now ready to go to church.

“I want the red one in the back!”  Timmy bounced.

Mommy shook her head. “Why don’t we leave that one for later.  It is so far back, we’d mess up the whole living room,.”  That one was the show-stopper for tomorrow morning, the Red Rider BB gun of Timmy’s wish list.  This year, they had to visit 4 stores before they found the singing little bear-thing that all the commercials had convinced every child in America they had to have.  Timmy would certainly shriek in joy when he tore off the paper.  He would forget all about it by mid-January, most likely.

“Before we open anything though, let’s talk about why we celebrate Christmas,” said Dad.  “Come up and sit next to me.”

Timmy crawled up, as Dad opened the Bible that always sat under the coffee table below the current issue of O magazine Mommy received every month, yet seldom actually read.  He grabbed the little ribbon marking the book of Luke, chapter 2.

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

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.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Dad closed the Bible and returned it to its proper place.

Timmy understood a lot of this.  He had heard this read each Christmas in church and on the DVD they watched a week ago.  He knew that it was the same story that was illustrated by the Nativity figurines on the little table by the front door.  He had heard that Jesus was the reason for the season. But the story did have a lot of big and weird words, and he didn’t get what shepherds had to do with it all, or even why everyone kept discussing a baby from long ago that was born in a barn.  But this is what they were supposed to talk about before they went to that little church full of people he didn’t know.

The adults made sure that all of this was done before they got to do all the fun parts of Christmas that he looked forward to.  If they didn’t read this part and light the candles at the church, maybe Santa wouldn’t come, the presents would never get opened, and they’d have to throw away the cookies now cooling on the kitchen counter.  Sometimes, you had to do the stuff the adults wanted to do before you could have fun.

“Who else was there at the manger, T?”  Dad asked.

“There were those 3 smart guys with camels,” Timmy answered proudly.

“Yes, the Wise Men,” Mommy said, smiling.  “And what did they bring?”

“They had gifts for the baby,” he answered.

“Right, and that is why we get gifts on Christmas,” said Dad.

“Santa brings us gifts because of that?”

“No, Santa is different.  He brings you gifts if you’ve been a good boy.  But yes, Santa is bringing us gifts because of that story.  See Jesus is the reason for the season.”  Dad looked at Timmy with a smile and a pat on the head.

“Can I open that one, then?” Timmy jumped off the couch toward the tree.  -Ryan