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Of the Father’s Love Begotten

Dec 19, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

Aurelius Clemens Prudentius was born in Spain in 348 A.D. He was loyal to the Roman Empire and considered it an “instrument in the hands of Providence for the advancement of Christianity.”

Thirty-five years prior to his birth, Christianity had been granted full toleration under the Edict of Milan. With Constantine’s conversion, Christianity became the favored religion of the Empire, a change that is oft maligned by younger evangelicals suspicious of “Christendom,” but must have been a welcome relief and answer to prayer for the beleagured saints in the fourth century.

Prudentius was trained to be a lawyer and rose to high office, serving as a powerful judge. He rose through the ranks of the state and finished his civil career as a court official for the Christian Emperor Theodosius.

At the age of fifty-seven, at the height of his power and prestige, Prudentius grew weary of civic life and considered his life thus far to have been a waste. He was having a midlife crisis (or, given the age span at the time, more like an almost-at-the-end-of-my-life crisis). So the successful lawyer, judge, and civil servant retired to write hymns and poetry. For the last decade of his life, before his death around 413, Prudentius wrote some of the most beautiful hymns of his day.

His poetry was treasured throughout the Middle Ages. His collection of twelve long poems (Cathemerinon), one for each hour of the day, became the foundation for several of the office hymns of the church. But without a doubt, Prudentius’ best known hymn today is Corde Natus Ex Parentis–Of the Father’s Love Begotten.

It was translated into English by John Mason Neale and Henry Baker in the 1850s. It was included in the book Hymns Ancient and Modern and given the plainsong chant-like melody Divinum Mysterium (Divine Mystery), which may date back as far as the twelfth century.

The hymn/poem originally contained nine verses. The song tells the story of redemption. Verse one speaks of the Son’s eternal nature. Verse two is about creation. Verse three chronicles the fall. Verse four moves into redemption with the virgin birth. Verse five links the Christ child to ancient prophecies. Verse six is a chorus of praise to the Messiah. Verse seven warns of final judgment for the wicked. Verse eight tells of men, women, and children singing their songs of praise. And verse nine concludes the hymn with a song of victory to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Most Christians will recognize many of the verses, but sadly not all.

Of the Father’s love begotten,
Ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega,
He the source, the ending He,
Of the things that are, that have been,
And that future years shall see,
Evermore and evermore!

At His Word the worlds were framèd;
He commanded; it was done:
Heaven and earth and depths of ocean
In their threefold order one;
All that grows beneath the shining
Of the moon and burning sun,
Evermore and evermore!

He is found in human fashion,
Death and sorrow here to know,
That the race of Adam’s children
Doomed by law to endless woe,
May not henceforth die and perish
In the dreadful gulf below,
Evermore and evermore!

O that birth forever blessed,
When the virgin, full of grace,
By the Holy Ghost conceiving,
Bare the Saviour of our race;
And the Babe, the world’s Redeemer,
First revealed His sacred face,
evermore and evermore!

This is He Whom seers in old time
Chanted of with one accord;
Whom the voices of the prophets
Promised in their faithful word;
Now He shines, the long expected,
Let creation praise its Lord,
Evermore and evermore!

O ye heights of heaven adore Him;
Angel hosts, His praises sing;
Powers, dominions, bow before Him,
and extol our God and King!
Let no tongue on earth be silent,
Every voice in concert sing,
Evermore and evermore!

Righteous judge of souls departed,
Righteous King of them that live,
On the Father’s throne exalted
None in might with Thee may strive;
Who at last in vengeance coming
Sinners from Thy face shalt drive,
Evermore and evermore!

Thee let old men, thee let young men,
Thee let boys in chorus sing;
Matrons, virgins, little maidens,
With glad voices answering:
Let their guileless songs re-echo,
And the heart its music bring,
Evermore and evermore!

Christ, to Thee with God the Father,
And, O Holy Ghost, to Thee,
Hymn and chant with high thanksgiving,
And unwearied praises be:
Honour, glory, and dominion,
And eternal victory,
Evermore and evermore!

I couldn’t find a real good rendition of the song online. The clip below is not much to look at (ok, there’s really nothing to look at), but the sound is lovely.

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Best Books on the Best Sermon

Dec 18, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

Lord willing, I’ll finish my semester long series on the Sermon on the Mount next Sunday. It’s been a joy to preach from these three familiar chapters. I’ve been alternately challenged and comforted as I’ve studied Matthew 5-7 each week.

One of the great things (and difficulties) about preaching through the Sermon on the Mount is that there are so many resources available in English. I used no fewer than ten books regularly in my sermon preparation. Four books stood out above the rest.

D.A Carson, Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Matthew 1-12 (Zondervan). This was the first commentary I read each week. Rarely did any of the other commentaries cover exegetical ground that wasn’t covered by Carson. There is no fluff here (Carson doesn’t do fluff!), and yet the content is communicated crisply and succinctly. There are only a few commentary writers you need to read no matter what they write on: Moo, O’Brien, and Carson are three of my must haves, and this is vintage Carson.

Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Sermon on the Mount: Kingdom Life in a Fallen World (Banner of Truth). This little book is, not surprisingly, more sermonic and less scholarly. The second half of the book moves almost too quickly through Matthew 6 and 7, but the first 100 pages on Matthew 5 (especially on the Beatitudes) are terrific.

 

John R. W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (IVP Academic). I’ve used a lot of Stott commentaries over the years, and I think this is his best. No one has better outlines than Stott. That’s the preacher’s problem: you have to come up with your outline before you read Stott, or you’ll always use his outline! From time to time, Stott chases rabbits that don’t seem as relevant now (i.e., taking time on multiple occasions to refute Tolstoy), but overall this is Stott doing what Stott did so masterfully: profundity of thought in economy of expression. If it’s not been done already, someone should start a @JohnStottSays twitter handle. I bet you could find several hundred tweets in this book alone. If I had to use just one book in preparation for these sermon, I’d probably use this one.

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount (Eedermans). It’s rare that a book published in the last fifty-five years can, without exaggeration, be called a classic, but this one certainly deserves the label. I first read this book when I was in college. Later I fell in love with my wife because, among other great qualities, she was reading the Doctor on the Sermon on the Mount. Yes, the book is repetitive, but so much of it bears repeating. It’s hard to read multiple sermons every week in sermon prep, so just read the book at at a reasonable pace for your own spiritual good. You won’t regret it.

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The Eagles Are Coming! The Eagles Are Coming!

Dec 17, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

J.R.R. Tolkien famously described the gospel story as a eucatastrophe–a good catastrophe, or, the joy of a happy ending coming out of seeming defeat. David Mathis has written a great piece on this point. In a similar vein, Jonathan Witt and Jay Richards explain Tolkien’s vision of good news in a sad world:

Tolkien goes on to elaborate his point about the evangelium. The perfect tale of the “good catastrophe”, the one that “entered History and the primary world”, is the story of the Incarnation, Crucifixion, and when all hope was lost among the apostles, the Resurrection of the Son of God.

In Tolkien’s secondary world of Middle-Earth, it’s the eleventh hour and a happy reversal when the old thrush lights on Bard’s shoulder when all seems lost and the arrow from the great Yew bow speeds through the air and finds the hollow on the belly of the dragon.

It’s the shout of hope, “The Eagles are coming! The Eagles are coming!” just when all hope seems lost.

And it’s Frodo, defeated by the ring in the final pinch, placing it on his finger only to have the wicked Gollum tackle him, bite the ring off his finger, and, cackling in victory, stumble and fall into the flames of Mount Doom, destroying Sauron’s ring and saving the West—not by mere chance but rather, as Gandalf explained to Frodo, because another and higher purpose, quite apart from the workings of darkness, is also at work in the world.

A perfect healing and an immortality, beyond the tiresome longevity offered by the rings of power, is the faith and hope of Frodo, Bilbo, Gandalf, and the elves who together set sail from the Grey Havens at the end of The Lord of the Rings. On this voyage, when the elven ship has “passed on into the West, . . . on a night of rain” and with a sweet fragrance in the air, suddenly, “The grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back”, and the wounded Frodo beholds “white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise.”

Here is a glimpse of something indispensable; but not just here in Tolkien. His life and work, taken as a whole, clearly reflected his belief in “a far green country”, in a “better country” beyond death—a belief, moreover, that a steadfast hope in both it and its maker could lend on the courage to pursue good in the face of evil, to work patiently and humbly in whatever plot of ground one is tending by choice, calling, and circumstance; and that, in looking forward to that better country, where our good works will find their full flowering, we will have the patience and wisdom to avoid the folly of pursuing a Heaven here on Middle-Earth, even as we labor creatively for the greater good. (183-84)

That’s a beautiful picture. And Tolkien’s books are even better. And the Reality to come is better still.

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Top Ten Books of 2014

Dec 16, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

This list is not meant to assess the thousands of Christian books published each year, let alone every interesting book published in 2014. I read a lot of books, but there are plenty of worthy titles that I never touch (and never hear of). This is simply a list of the books (Christian and non-Christian, but all non-fiction) that I thought were the best in the past year (including the last months of 2013).

When I say “best” I have several questions in mind:

•    Was this book well written and enjoyable to read?
•    Did I find it personally challenging, illuminating, edifying, or entertaining?
•    Is it a book I am likely to reread or consult often?
•    Do I see myself frequently recommending this book to others?

Undoubtedly, the “best” books reflect my interests and inklings. This doesn’t mean I agree with every point in all these books, but it does mean I found them helpful and insightful. There is nothing scientific about my list, but here goes:

Honorable Mentions:

Adam T. Barr and Ron Citlau, Compassion Without Compromise: How the Gospel Frees Us to Love Our Gay Friends Without Losing the Truth (Bethany House)
Daniel I. Block, For the Glory of God: Recovering a Biblical Theology of Worship (Baker Academic)
Andrew B. McGowan, Ancient Christian Worship: Early Church Practices in Social, Historical, and Theological Perspective (Baker Academic)

Top Ten

10. Robert R. Reilly, Making Gay Okay: How Rationalizing Homosexual Behavior Is Changing Everything (Ignatius). A frank and unsparing examination of the push to legitimize homosexual behavior in science, in law, in education, in the military, and in the political process. Eye opening.

 

 

9. Yuval Levin, The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left (Basic Books). Akin to Thomas Sowell’s Conflict of Visions, Levin shows how issues like justice, nature, history, order, and reason can be understood differently depending on your frame of reference. Although himself a man of the right, this is not a partisan book. Levin’s analysis is evenhanded and judicious.

 

8. John L. Allen Jr., The Global War on Christians: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Anti-Christian Persecution (Image). Although many people still think of Christianity as a powerful agent of repression in the world, Allen shows that from a global perspective, Christians are much more the oppressed than the oppressor. Read, weep, pray, act.

 

7. Jonathan Witt and Jay W. Richards, The Hobbit Party: The Vision of Freedom that Tolkien Got, and the West Forgot (Ignatius). More people should be talking about this book. It’s full of excellent background information on Tolkien and the worldview that shaped his creation of Middle Earth. Even LOTR enthusiasts will see things they hadn’t seen before.

 

6. Anthony Esolen, Defending Marriage: Twelve Arguments for Sanity (Saint Benedict Press). Exceptionally well written and full of cogent arguments (including some you may not have considered). This is not a book on Scripture or scientific research, but a deft cultural analysis that makes sanity look sane again.

 

 

5. J.V. Fesko, The Theology of the Westminster Standards: Historical Context and Theological Insights (Crossway). The last few years have a seen a steady stream of high quality books on the Westminster Standards. This is one of the best–theologically nuanced and historically sensitive. Less scholarly, but more accessible, is the volume by Chad Van Dixhoorn, Confessing the Faith: A Reader’s Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith (Banner of Truth). I haven’t had the opportunity to read Van Dixhoorn’s book yet, or it would likely be in my top ten.

4. Thomas S. Kidd, George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father (Yale). Scholarly yet readable; detailed yet not overwhelming. I expect this edifying and instructive book will be used for a long time by serious Christians and interested academics.

 

 

3. David F. Wells, God in the Whirlwind: How the Holy-love of God Reorients Our World (Crossway). After years of pointing out the shallowness of evangelicalism, this is Well’s masterful summary of what should be our depth, our ballast, our center. If you’ve never read David Wells before, you can now start here.

 

 

2. David Helm, Expositional Preaching: How We Speak God’s Word Today (Crossway). This little book is simply outstanding. It’s the best short book on preaching I’ve read. Helm’s advice is unfailingly wise, theologically informed, and extremely practical.

 

 

1. Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th Centuries in English Translation, Four Volumes (Reformation Heritage books). Although this set has been around for several years, the fourth and final volume was only published this last year. The result: a remarkable collection of 127 Reformed confessions from 1523-1693. While the Westminster Standards and the Three Forms of Unity may be the most well known, the other 100+ documents must not be ignored. These four volumes are full of rich theology and history. Pastors, raid your book budget and get this invaluable resource in your study.

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Monday Morning Humor

Dec 15, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

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Sinners Are Also Sufferers

Dec 12, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

It is always true: we have sinned against God more than anyone has sinned against us. Which means our suffering does not excuse our sinning.

And yet, it is also true that every sinner is in some way, often in profound ways, a great sufferer.

This does not justify the sin, but ought to give us some compassion for the sinner.

Have you ever wanted people to give you the benefit of the doubt? Have you you ever had “one of those days,” and hoped that others would cut you some slack? Have you ever gone through a hard time that left you exhausted, frayed, and afraid? Have we ever considered that we may not know everything going on in someone’s life?

People tire of the slogan: hate the sin and love the sinner. Maybe we can get at the same idea by saying: hate the sin and hate the suffering. Life is hard, and the hardest people have often had the hardest life. Confrontation and consolation–that was the ministry of Jesus. It should be our ministry too.

What good news that God is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

Are we?

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Is the State of Michigan Considering a “License to Discriminate”?

Dec 11, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

In the last few days, we’ve seen a lot of local news (and some national press attention) about the Michigan Religious Freedom Restoration Act (MiRFRA). The bill has passed the Michigan House of Representatives and now heads to the Senate for consideration.

Not surprisingly, reports differ widely on what the bill aims to accomplish. One popular article, which has been widely distributed on social media, alleges that if passed, the law would allow “an EMT to refuse emergency treatment to a gay person or a pharmacist to refuse to refill HIV medication, because God decreed gays and lesbians should be put to death.” The piece claims that “the act is so broad it would let a Catholic high school refuse to hire a Muslim janitor, and a DMV clerk deny a new driver’s license to someone who is divorced.” A staff attorney for the ACLU has argued that the language in the bill would give a man the right to beat his wife if that’s what his religion calls for. Clearly, this kind of law would be extreme and extremely wrong.

But is that what MiRFRA would allow?

As always, it’s a good idea to read the actual bill. It’s a little more than four pages long and takes less than ten minutes to read. The Michigan bill is modeled after the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which was signed into law by President Clinton in 1993. The federal RFRA arose as a response to the 1990 Supreme Court decision Employment Division v. Smith which greatly reduced the government’s requirement to justify placing a burden on religious exercise. At the heart of MiRFRA (like the RFRA before it) is this provision:

Government may substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion only if it demonstrates that application of the burden to that person’s exercise of religion in that particular instance is both of the following:

(a) In furtherance of a compelling governmental interest.

(b) The least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest. (Sec. 5.2)

The bill does not allow for anyone to do whatever he or she wants to do so long as they claim that religion made them do it. There will always be a delicate balance between religious freedom on one hand and the interests of the state on the other. On the religious side, persons falling under the provisions of MiRFRA must demonstrate their “act or refusal to act” is “substantially motivated by a sincerely held religious belief.” I can’t make up the Religion of Kevin to justify my whims and wishes. On the other side, the state may not infringe upon the free exercise of religion unless it can demonstrate that there is a compelling governmental interest in doing so and that the path chosen is the least restrictive means available.

The compelling interest test has been set forth in prior court rulings, including Porth v. Roman Catholic Diocese of Kalamazoo, a 1995 Michigan appellate court decision. At issue was whether a Catholic school had the right to insist that all its teachers be Catholics (they had failed to renew the contract of a Protestant teaching a fourth/fifth grade class). The court cited the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act in siding with the school: “After applying a strict scrutiny test, we conclude that the state does not possess a compelling interest in prohibiting religious discrimination in the employment of teachers in church-operated schools.” Because the case involved someone with educational responsibility (as opposed to a janitor), the court decided that the state did not in this instance have a compelling interest in burdening the free exercise of religion of Catholics who wanted their school to be Catholic.

The bill approved by the Michigan House does not give carte blanche license to refuse services to gays and lesbians (the legislation does not even mention homosexuality). There is already a federal law which ensures public accesses to emergency medical services; MiRFRA would not change that (indeed, the federal law allowing access to emergency medical services has coexisted with the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act since 1993). Likewise, a DMV clerk, as a state employee, could not deny services to a divorcee without being guilty of the kind of government-sanctioned religious discrimination prohibited under the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution. Simply put, the bill before the Michigan Senate would not allow for the worst case scenarios tossed around online. Neither is there evidence from the federal statute that passing such a bill would enmesh the state in a long litany of frivolous court cases.

Michiganders have the right to agree or disagree with any piece of legislation. Even Christians may come to different conclusion. But we should do more to understand what’s at stake and what isn’t. And we should all be able to agree that sometimes the political process is not exactly what Facebook and Twitter make it out to be.

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I Heard the Bells On Christmas Day

Dec 10, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

Justin Taylor explains the origins of the song:

The lyrics originate from the poem “Christmas Bells” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, written on Christmas day in 1863. But the original was not a feel-good song but one born in grief. Longfellow’s wife had died in a fire in 1860. And on December 1, 1863, the widower received the news that his eldest son, 19-year-old Charley, had been nearly paralyzed by a gunshot wound fighting for the Union in the Civil War. It was with that background that he penned this poem about the dissonance between the Christmas bells, the singing of “peace on earth,” and the world around him of injustice and violence—ending with the hope for eschatological peace.

A sobering poem with a haunting, but hopeful melody. May the Prince of Peace reign on earth far as the curse is found.

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Who Was St. Nicholas?

Dec 09, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

The unsatisfying answer to the title of this post is that nobody knows for sure.  To quote one Nicholas scholar “We can grant a bishop of that name who had a great impact on his homeland.  We can also accept December 6 as the day of his death and burial.  These are all the facts we can hold to.  Further we cannot go.” (Gustav Anrich quoted by Charles W. Jones in Saint Nicholas of Bari, Myra, and Manhattan).

According to the best estimates, Nicholas, was born around 280 AD in Patara, in Asia Minor.  He later became bishop of Myra in modern day Turkey. Nicholas, it seems, died about 343 on or near December 6.  That is the date of his Feast Day in the Catholic church.

There is no record of his existence attested in any document until the 6th century.  By that time Nicholas, whoever he had been, was already famous.  The emperor Justinian dedicated a church to him in Constantinople.  Initially, Nicholas was most well known in the East.  But by 900, a Greek wrote “The West as well as the East acclaims and glorifies him.  Wherever there are people, his name is revered and churches are built in his honor.  All Christians reverence his memory and call upon his protection.”  In 1087, Italian sailors stole his supposed relics and took them from Myra to Bari, Italy.  This greatly increased his popularity in Europe and made Bari one of the most crowded pilgrimage sites.  It is said that Nicholas was represented by medieval artists more than any other saint except Mary.

The Man and the Myth

Why was Nicholas so famous?  Well, it’s impossible to tell fact from fiction, but this is some of the legend of St. Nicholas:

He was reputed to be a wonder-worker who brought children back to life, destroyed pagan temples, saved sailors from death at sea, and as an infant nursed only two days a week and fasted the other five days.

Moving from probable legend to possible history, Nicholas was honored for enduring persecution. It is said that he was imprisoned during the Empire wide persecution under Diocletian and Maximian. Upon his release and return, the people flocked around him “Nicholas! Confessor! Saint Nicholas has come home!”

Nicholas was also hailed as a defender of orthodoxy. Later sources claim he was in attendance at the council of Nicea. According to tradition, he was a staunch opponent of Arianism. Writing five centuries after his death, one biographer wrote “Thanks to the teaching of St. Nicholas, the metropolis of Myra alone was untouched by the filth of the Arian heresy, which it firmly rejected as a death-dealing poison.” Stories of his courage abound, one claiming that Nicholas traveled to Nicea and, upon arrival, promptly slapped Arius in the face. As the story goes, the rest of the council was shocked and appalled, so much so that they were going to remove Nicholas from his bishopric, that is until Jesus and Mary appeared to defend him. According to the same legend, this apparition changed the minds of the  delegates who quickly recanted of their outrage.

As you might have guessed, Nicholas was also revered for being a generous gift giver. Born into a wealth family, he inherited the fortune when his parents died.  Apparently he gave his vast fortune away.  The most famous story involved three girls who were so destitute that they were going to be forced into a life of prostitution.  But Nicholas threw three bags of gold through the window as dowries for the young woman.

Over time, Saint Nicholas became the patron saint of nations like Russia and Greece, cities like Fribourg and Moscow, and of children, sailors, unmarried girls, merchants, and pawnbrokers (the three gold balls hung outside pawn shops are symbolic of the three bags of gold).

Christmas and St. Nicholas

In honor of St. Nicholas the gift giver, Christians began to celebrate December 6 (his feast day) by giving presents. The tradition developed over time.  For good boys and girls, St. Nicholas would come in his red Bishop’s robe and fill boots with gifts on the night of December 5.  For bad boys and girls St. Nicholas was to be feared.  In highly catholic parts of Europe, St. Nicholas became a deterrent to erring young children.  In Germany, he was often accompanied by Knecht Ruprecht (farmhand Rupert) who threatened to eat misbehaving children.  In Switzerland, St. Nicholas threatened to put wicked children in a sack and bring them back to the Black Forest.  In the Netherlands, St. Nicholas’ helper would tie them in a sack and bring them back to Spain.  In parts of Austria, the priest, dressed up in Christmas garb,  would visit the homes of naughty children and threaten them with rod-beatings. At least nowadays, he only checks his list!

Not surprisingly, the Reformers were less than friendly towards the traditions that had been built up around the saints. Luther rejected the saints’ days, believing they were built upon legends and superstitions (and a virulent strain of moralism we might add). In Germany, Luther replaced Saint Nicholas’ Day with a different holiday, Christ Child, or Christkindl.  Ironically, Kriss Kringle which derived from Luther’s Christ Child holiday, has become just another name for St. Nicholas.

From St. Nicholas to Santa Claus

The cult of St. Nicholas virtually disappeared in Protestant Europe, with the exception of one country: the Netherlands. If you love Christmas with all the trappings of Santa Claus and stockings and presents, thank the Dutch. If you despise all that, try to ignore my last name for the time being. The Puritans had done away with St. Nicholas and banned Christmas altogether.  But the Dutch held on to their tradition and brought it with them to the New World.  In the Netherlands Sint Nicolaas was contracted to Sinterklaas.  According to Dutch tradition, Sinterklaas rides a horse and is accompanied by his helper Zwarte Piet, or Black Pete.  Many people consider Black Pete a racist stereotype derived from slavery, although others claim he is black because he goes down the chimney and gets a face full of soot.

At any rate, it is easy to see how Sinterklaas evolved in America to Santa Claus. Santa Claus became the Santa we know in the United States only after the poem “Twas the Night Before Christmas” was written in 1823. Possibly the best known verses ever written by an American, the poem has greatly influenced the tradition of Santa in the English speaking world and beyond.

Jolly Old St. Nick and Jesus

How should Christians relate to the traditions of Santa Claus? C.S. Lewis embraced them and so included Father Christmas in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Other Christians, fearing syncretism, stay clear of Santa, reindeer, and a tree full of presents. I’ll leave it to you and your family to form you opinions on observing the Christmas holiday (see Rom. 14:1, 5-6). Personally, we try to walk in the middle of the road on this one: we don’t teach our kids about Santa, but we are happy to enjoy It’s a Wonderful Life, a couple Christmas trees, and a little Bing Crosby. And if the kids, picking up bits and pieces from other places, end up listening for flying reindeer landing on the roof, we’re not going to introduce the laws of physics to crush their anticipation. Most of all, of course, we try to press home that Christmas is about Christ.

But if you have a lot of Santa Claus around, why not use him to your benefit and talk about the real St. Nicholas. We don’t know a lot about him, but we know he lived and was revered. According to legend-one of those stories that probably isn’t true, but should be–when Nicholas was little boy he would get up early in the morning to go to church and pray.  One morning, the aging priest had a vision that the first one to enter the church in the morning should be the new bishop of Myra.  When Nicholas was the first to enter, the old priest, obeying the vision, made the young boy bishop right on the spot.  But before he consecrated Nicholas a bishop, the priest asked him a question. “Who are you, my son?”  According to tradition, the child whose legend would one day become Santa Claus replied, “Nicholas the sinner.” Not bad for a little boy.

With what little we know about St. Nicholas, it is safe to say he would not be pleased to know he had eclipsed Christ in the hearts of many as the central figure of Christmas. For the Bishop of Myra no doubt knew the angel’s words to Joseph: “Mary will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” So this Christmas, give gifts if you like. We will in our family. Receive them all with thanksgiving.  But do not forget what we need most–salvation through substitution. This is one gift the real St. Nicholas would not have overlooked.

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Monday Morning Humor

Dec 08, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

A great story, told with flair (in a special service, not a part of the sermon).

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