Redeeming Christmas: Yes, Virginia, We Are Free to Celebrate the Incarnation. And Please Stop Whining About Paganism.

img_5182To celebrate or not to celebrate — Christmas. That is the question. I am tired of hearing that it is pagan.

Wait. Before we start, let’s throw ChristMASS out. But not the whole thing!

I’d rather refer to it as the Celebration of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. The Roman Catholic church made a mess…er, mass of it. Protestants do it different. But some Reformed Protestant denominations have held to the Puritan view. They claim the Regulative Principle would not have us add anything to our worship that God did not institute. Thus, since God never told us to make the incarnation a holy day, we simply should not. It is not a part of our corporate worship.

When Divorce Stole Christmas

At one time, I was the ultimate Grinch.  When I was going through my divorce, I didn’t feel like being festive. Our family was split up. There was no Christmas Eve feast with in-laws and no one came over on Christmas Day. It was one of the most miserable times of my life. Joy was at an all-time low. As a new member in the OPC, I researched the origins of Christmas. I know all about Saturnalia and all the other claims ad nauseum. I bought the whole Christmas is pagan thing. Yes, Christmas is pagan when it is celebrated by pagans. But I did hold to that view, albeit briefly. It was convenient to throw away Christmas at that time, so I did. But my heart ached.

From 2004 to 2009, I did not put up a tree.

In 2010, my granddaughter was born with neuroblastoma, a rare childhood cancer. She had two surgeries and three treatments of chemo before her first birthday. After our Lord brought her (and us) through that, I decided it was time to rejoice at Christmas. Thankful to my God and Savior, I picked out my first tree in five years.

Yet I still had guilt when I read my beloved Spurgeon’s Christmas quotes. I was shocked to find that he abhorred the holiday.

Gradually, I embraced my Christian liberty to celebrate the Incarnation in a way that is God-glorifying. I would not want anyone to think I was in some cult, like Jehovah’s Witness or something. As Christians, we should be true light, knowing that Satan is an imitator and false light-bearer. I’m thrilled to see many ministries refuting the Christmas is pagan myth this year.

If ‘Christ is the reason for the season‘ make it so!

If our government takes away the crèche, the cross and the ten commandments, who cares? Let them all go. Personally, I think nativity scenes are graven images. And I prefer to dwell on Christ as King of Kings and Lord of Lords and not the helpless babe in the manger.

What do you fear, Christian? If you are in Christ, He should be the reason you LIVE. Not for one day. Not for one season, but every day. Are not His Words written on your heart? Could Jesus ever be taken from you? The Beast can’t take the Holy Spirit from me. Forget the tangibles. Forget the temporal.

The following is the absolute BEST sermon I have ever heard on the subject of Christmas. Please listen while you finish wrapping those presents or while you bake those cookies. And I do hope, dear Christian, that there are presents and cookies, and mostly the JOY OF THE LORD this time of year.

https://www.sermonaudio.com/saplayer/player_embed.asp?SID=1226111531554

From Grace Gems, Don Fortner writes:

We must not, and I trust do not, worship Christmas trees and lights, or even attach spiritual significance to Christmas day. However, I do suggest that we seize this opportunity afforded us by Divine providence to tell people who Christ is, why he came into this world, what he did, and how they may obtain his salvation. It is no accident that once every year every human being in the world is confronted with the fact that the Son of God assumed human flesh and came into the world to save men.

Jesus Christ stooped down toward us. He took on human flesh to redeem us. We should rejoice over this as the shepherds and angels did in that day!

Virginia, stop believing lies. Sorry, but Santa needs to go. The truth will set you free.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! He Jesus lives and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, he Jesus will continue to make glad the heart of childhood  hearts of His redeemed saints. -my revised version of that famous NY Sun letter

He came and dwelt among us. And that is something to celebrate. With feasting!

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Joyous Incarnation Celebration to All!

Dead Men Know Best: The Wisdom and Wit of the Puritans (and other dead men) on Marriage. Part 2: William Secker

Two gold wedding rings with gold heart.
The wedding rings of covenant marriage in Christ.

Our very alive but dead man of the moment is William Secker, seventeenth century divine. In 1658, he gave the following wedding sermon in London (see link below). It is the deepest, most analytical and poetic scriptural treatise on marriage I’ve ever read. This sermon is full of wonderful analogies and metaphorical language that makes beautiful sense. Here is some background on Secker and this wedding sermon from Wikisource :

“SECKER, WILLIAM (d. 1681?), divine, preached at Tewkesbury and afterwards at All-Hallows, London Wall. He may have been the William Secker who was appointed rector of Leigh, Essex, on 30 Aug. 1667, and died there before November 1681 (Newcourt, Repert. Eccles. ii. 384).

Secker’s sermon on ‘A Wedding Ring fit for the Finger, or the Salve of Divinity on the Sore of Humanity, laid open at a Wedding in St. Edmunds’ (?Edmonton), London, 1658, 12mo, was very popular, and was often reprinted (cf. edits. at Glasgow, 1850, 12mo; New York, 1854, 16mo). It was translated into Welsh, ‘Y Fodrwy Briodas,’ Brecon, 1775 (two editions), and as ‘Y Cristion rhagorol,’ Bala, 1880, 8vo. Secker also dedicated to Sir Edward and Lady Frances Barkham of Tottenham, who had befriended him, a volume of sermons entitled ‘The Nonsuch Professor’ (London, 1660, 8vo). This was republished (Leeds, 1803, 12mo; London, 1891), and was edited, with ‘The Wedding Ring,’ by Matthew Wilks, London, 1867, 12mo; it was several times reprinted in America.”

Note that it was reprinted in America several times. We should reprint it again. I doubt anyone in America would care to sit through such a lengthy sermon at a wedding today. How unfortunate. Thankfully, it can be found online at Grace Gems, with the link provided in the title below. It prints out to fourteen luscious pages. Married couples: print a copy and keep it under your pillow.

The Wedding Ring

“The Salve of Divinity – on the Sore of Humanity”

Here are some of my favorite parts of this message:

The subtitle: “The Salve of Divinity on the Sore of Humanity”.  What is a salve? Wikipedia says it’s a medical ointment used to soothe the surface of the body. Free Merriam Webster dictionary says it’s a a remedial or soothing influence or agency. Dictionary.com says it’s a a medicinal ointment for healing or relieving wounds and sores. The wedding ring, or marriage itself is the salve provided by God for the sore of man’s solitary condition. Secker starts with Genesis 2:18 – It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him. God provides the cure – marriage. If only every man and woman thought marriage was a remedy, a blessing, a gift of God. Nowadays we hear how men feel trapped in marriage and women feel stifled. Marriage was intended to be a healing balm and both spouses a help for one another, as we saw previously in William Gouge’s work.

This dead man speaks much wisdom in the following quotes:

“Human misery is to divine mercy, as a black foil to a sparkling diamond, or as a sable cloud to the sunbeams.”Blue Diamond

“Marriage is like water, to quench the sparks of lust’s fire.”

“Husband and wife should be as two milk cows – which were coupled together to carry the ark of God. Or as the two Cheribim, which looked upon one another, and both upon the mercy-seat.”

“The wife is often to the husband, as the ivy is to the oak – which draws away his vital sap from him.”

“Husband and wife should be like two candles burning together, which make the house more lightsome; or like two fragrant flowers bound up in one bouquet, which augments its redolence; or like two well-tuned instruments, which sounding together, make the more melodious music.”

“How many women are there, who are not laboring bees – but idle drones! They take up a room in the hive – but bring no honey to it! They are moths to their husband’s estates, spending when they should be sparing! As the man’s part is to provide industriously, so the woman’s part is to preserve discreetly!”

The last portion of this sermon is instruction to men on how to choose a wife. Here are some great quotes from this section (my comments in italics):

Wedding still life with brid's jewellery“Choose such a one that will be subject to your dominion. Take heed of yoking yourselves with untamed heifers.”    How would that first sentence sit with feminism? Hmmm. And untamed heifers cracked me up.

“Marriage is just like a sea voyage; he who enters into this ship must look to meet with storms and tempests!” Yes, indeed.

“Choose such a one as may be serviceable to your salvation. A man may think he has a saint – when he has a devil! Take heed of a harlot who is false to your bed; and of a hypocrite who is false to your God.”

Great wisdom. Another dead man has spoken. Take heed and listen!

Dead Men Know Best: The Wisdom and Wit of the Puritans (and other dead men) on Marriage. Part 1: William Gouge

Of Domestical Duties (1622) sounds like a boring read. It makes me think of housework. This huge work by seventeenth-century Presbyterian William Gouge has been edited and modernized by Scott Brown and Joel Beeke and separated into three volumes entitled Building a Godly Home. The RHB publication is Gouge’s biblical exposition of family life and relationships in updated understandable language. Move over, Dr. Phil – this is all we need! I have Volume Two: A Holy Vision for a Happy Marriage. Oh my, don’t we all want a happy marriage? Especially the second time around, when all odds are against us. These two points are my favorites:

Gouge on Remarriage After Divorce

Gouge mentions desertion and proclaims, “…liberty is given to the party forsaken to marry another.” Aha! Here’s some backup for my argument in a previous post: Can Two Divorced People Remarry? Thank you, Mr. Gouge, for further validation. Since Gouge has given his approval of remarriage after divorce in the particular circumstance of abandonment, I’m confident he’d approve of my second time around. In fact, I can conclude that the following quote applies to me as well:

The Present Pledge of God’s Favor

“This other must be as close clung to as if they have never been joined to a former. The living husband or wife is the present pledge of God’s favor. He is now your own husband, and she is now your own wife, and not the party that is dead.” –William Gouge

I love that! My husband Mike is the present pledge of God’s favor in my life. What an encouraging little phrase. And close clung to as if they have never been joined to a former. Wow. My marriage is a blessing, especially the second time around, because it is the present pledge of God’s favor in my life now. I must memorize this phrase when I feel those negatives discussed in Yours, Mine, And Ours – Not. And that close clinging really inspires me.

Even though the quote refers to widows/widowers remarriage in Chapter 4: Living Together in Love, I’m sure Gouge would consider my deserter ex-husband as ‘dead’. After all, Gouge was a member of the Westminster Assembly of Divines, who collaborated on The Westminster Confession of Faith, which declares the offending spouse ‘dead’. Gouge explains how we must never look back or think of that dead spouse nor draw comparisons between the dead spouse and the new. Such mind wanderings only cause contention and bring misery. It’s funny how that former spouse creeps up (pun intended) in my mind and causes me to project creepy behavior onto my poor dear new Mike. I have to keep checking myself on this.

European Historic Alley At NightIt doesn’t surprise me that something written in the seventeenth century is so relevant for today. And why not? Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. From the days of Eden, male and female had the same issues. While Beeke has turned Gouge’s antiquated expressions to more modern language, the Biblical basis remains. This marriage manual reeks with complementarianism and I love that! There are no feminazi leanings here. For those who aren’t familiar with the term, complementarian means men and women are equal with God, but have different roles. I believe the Bible teaches the complementarian view. Perhaps there will be a future blog post on complementarianism vs. egalitarianism.

thanksgiving-pilgrim-man-character-in-vector-format_MkB0P4od
Is she the one for me?
thanksgiving-pilgrim-woman-character-in-vector-format_MJTJ_Vo_
I wonder if this bloke will get Father’s approval.

Gouge begins with very pertinent chapters: Seeking Marriage and Getting Married. In Seeking Marriage, Gouge makes a good point about marrying someone around your own age, social status, and most especially equal in piety. The updated Gouge explains:

“Happy is that family where both the husband and wife are mutual members of Christ’s body”

I am reminded of the Bible verse:

“Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?”

– 2 Cor. 6:14

This is the most important requirement in choosing a mate. Being of one mind and one accord, with Christ as the head of household, is mandatory. I don’t think we’re hung up on social status as they were at that time. (Gouge explains that it’s unsuitable for a man of great authority to marry his kitchen maid). I think it more important for two people to be similar in intellect so they can communicate well and enjoy intelligent conversation. That’s just my two cents. But without shared faith in Christ, marriage is doomed. Yes, there are many marriages of other faiths or no faith that survive happily. Of course it’s possible to have agreeable arrangements. But we’re talking about God’s standard here. We’re talking about the marriage dynamic expressed in Scripture; the sacrificial relationship of Christ and the Church displayed in us mere mortals.

Which brings me to Chapter 5: Caring For Each Other’s Souls where Gouge gets into all the spiritual helps spouses provide for each other. We are to help each other grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We are to hinder sin in one another. We are to exhort one another to read the word, pray, and sing Psalms together. This is a favorite part of the book. How often we neglect this type of help in our marital relationship. Yet, it’s the most important kind of help we can give each other.

This is followed by Chapter 6 : Guarding Each Other’s Health, Reputation and Property. Of particular note here is Gouge’s wonderful expose on Husbands and Wives Managing Together the Possessions of the Family. The practice of good stewardship is expressed in this chapter. I love the references to Proverbs 31 concerning the wife.

“…she  may by her planning and diligence bring much profit to her husband. Therefore, in this, among other respects, the good wife which Solomon describes, is said to do good to her husband all the days of her life, for by her hard work and planning did she preserve and increase his possessions, that the heart of her husband trusted her, and he had no lack of gain.”

cooking-stove_GJyH5LdOIs this not a most important function in the marriage dynamic? Maybe she is loading digital coupons onto her supermarket card, cooking from scratch and ditching the hairdresser. Maybe she’s crocheting and selling on Etsy while the baby naps. She’s careful with her husband’s hard-earned money. She’s also an entrepreneur. She’s wise and savvy. This is not a woman needing fulfillment outside the home. This is not a woman doing her own thing apart from her husband. This is a true helpmeet. She complements her husband. And I don’t mean “you look so handsome today, dear.” A complementary role. Working together for the same end.

The last eleven chapters are directed at individual spouses. Five are for the wife. Six are for the husband. It looks like husbands need a bit more instruction! Clearly, just from reading the titles of these chapters, we see differing roles in husband and wife. Here are the key words to the wife: RESPECT, NOT GOING AGAINST HUSBAND’S WILL (2 chapters on this!), OBEDIENCE, SUBMISSION. Here are some key words to the husband: AFFECTIONATE AUTHORITY, HUMBLE GENTLENESS, PATIENT, KIND, PROVIDING, SINCERE STEADY LOVE. That speaks volumes to me and I haven’t finished reading the book yet. But for now, it’s time to get ready for Thanksgiving. Let’s take time to thank God for the gifts He’s bestowed upon us. Instead of turning on the TV Thanksgiving evening, gather the family around and read dead men. They know best!thanksgiving-day_10065509-031914

Upcoming Blog Series: Dead Men Know Best! The wisdom and wit of the Puritans (and other dead men) on marriage

autumn-leaves-and-two-birds-kissing_GygqJcduSo many books, so little time! Most new “Christian” books don’t entice me. Though I occasionally order a good reformed book from Christian Book Distributors, their thick catalogs full of Arminian authors usually get recycled without a look. Contemporary evangelical marriage help books pale in comparison to their venerable counterparts. While waiting for my prince charming to arrive on the scene, I read dead men. What a treasure of wisdom I found! I thought it would be refreshing to resurrect the Puritan writings (and later authors such as J.R. Miller and J.C. Ryle) on the subject of marriage. I’d like to share them on the blog in the coming weeks. I’ll include the links to the various works and discuss portions I love best.

This Thanksgiving Mike and I will be blessed to have two of our six children and their families at our table with us. The Storybook House will be warm with pumpkin and cinnamon scents and the laughter of two granddaughters playing. Faith, our 10-month-old, does a mean turkey impression. I am thankful.

thanksgiving-day-vector-elements_QyEf7zI am also thankful for dead men. Truly, they are very alive – more alive than dead works of some contemporary authors. I don’t mean to broad brush all contemporaries. There are many excellent writers in the reformed camp published by P&R Publishing, Reformation Trust Publishing and Cruciform Press. But I’m most thankful for such publishers as Reformation Heritage Books where Joel Beeke updates Puritan writings so all can understand. Let me also mention Solid Ground Books, where owner Michael Gaydosh also publishes resurrected gems. Banner of Truth is another excellent discerning publisher – yes, the Truth and nothing but! Forgive me if I left anyone out, but you get the idea. Reformed and only reformed. Dead reformers best.

So as we contemplate our many blessings this Thanksgiving, get ready to enjoy a cornucopia of gospel nourishment from brethren of Thanksgivings past. While I’m busy cooking and baking this holiday season, I will let dead men speak.