The New Law: Matthew 5:17-20

(Note: As I catalogue the Laws of Jesus in the New Testament, I will “report” on my findings on my Saturday entries, so as not to bog down my weekday entries with statistics.)

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.
Matthew 5:17 (NIV)

This verse may not technically qualify as a “clobber passage,” but it has certainly been quoted to me as a biblical argument against homosexuality. Typically, this is the Christian way of saying, “Hey! The Old Testament still counts!” And for all the ambiguity contained within the pages of the Bible, this passage reads extraordinarily clear. Jesus even goes on to say “Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven” (19).

Oof. That’s damning. Literally.

Reading this passage really bummed me out, particularly after a few days of categorizing the values that Jesus touts. You might (but definitely don’t) recall that I spent a little more than three weeks cataloging all of the Law in the Old Testament, ending up with more than 550 statutes spanning the five books of the Torah. With only Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount on record, I have noticed so far a stunning amount of behavior-based laws, almost all with positive language. This both aligns and contrasts with the Old Testament. While almost a fifth of those laws also concerned behavior, most of them utilized negative language in order to make their point. That tonal difference is important as a reader – it is much less aggressive to be encouraged to act well than blocked from so-called selfish behavior.

As I mentioned yesterday, the Old Testament rules were almost entirely aggressor-based, highlighting the wages of our sinful behavior and how we must atone for our actions. Jesus’ focus is much more victim-based. We must do better than our enemies, he says, and to live via the Holy Spirit means to forgive, forget, and love.

If his approach is so different, then why does Jesus affirm the Law? Why not “abolish” them?

This passage bummed me out because of its clarity. How can the most devout Christians use this to justify homophobic beliefs while simultaneously disregarding the less “sensible” laws – like keeping kosher and forbidding period-ridden women from walking in our presences?

I’m bummed out, because I’m irritated. I’m irritated, because I don’t understand. But what is new there?

Check out the new “Law of Jesus” tab, complete with my categorizations! 23 rules so far, most of which regarding God-like behavior in unfortunate situations. No sexuality laws yet.

Aggressor v. Victim: Luke 6:27-49

Some Words to Live by.

If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them.
Luke 6:32 (NIV)

The opening chapters of the gospels have been sprinkled with some historical context followed by miracles performed by Jesus. All of this is done to simultaneously prove his Messiah-status as well as establish the landscape of the world he wishes to transform. A man born of a virgin mother running around performing miracles is a good story, but it does little to explain his reasoning.

So now, finally, the meat. The philosophy. Let’s see what is exactly so radical about this Jesus guy.

Here is a smattering of some of the adages that come through in his first sermon:

…Love your enemies.
…Do not demand back what is stolen from you.
…Do not judge.
…Forgive.

Enclosed within these pages are also three of the Bible’s most famous values:

…If someone strikes you on the cheek, turn the other.
…Do to others as you would have them do to you.
…Don’t look at the speck in your brother’s eye when you have a plank in yours.

Many say that Jesus came down from Heaven and just shattered everything in the Old Testament, but by what I have read in this passage, that idea just does not hold up. Instead, what we are getting in these “rules” is a way of approaching the old “Law” with a new mentality – namely:

IT IS BETTER TO BE HUMBLE THAN TO DEMAND WHAT YOU DESERVE.

This last part, “what you deserve,” is not a trick term. You ought to hate your enemies. When someone wrongs you, it is natural to feel angry. If someone steals something from you, you deserve to get it back. In fact, the Old Testament law says so. Numbers tells us to add a fifth to any debt or financial restitution owed. We also often hear of how killers must be killed for their sin. More broadly, blood for blood (or “eye for eye”) is one of the most widely recurring themes.

But those rules all fall onto the aggressor – what they deserve for their sin. They do not refer to the victim.

Jesus speaks to the victims, to those who ought to get retribution. But he informs us that there is much glory in withholding vengeance. Maybe that act of mercy does far more than any exacting revenge would do.

Quite the paradigm shift indeed.

And as of right now, I see no contradiction between this and the Old Testament laws.

Family Ties: Mark 3:7-35, Luke 6:12-26

Jesus Crowded. The Twelve Appointed. Detractors Emerge.

Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”

Mark 3:20-21 (NIV)

Who wouldn’t chase after a man who could heal all ailments with the mere touch of a hand?

So Jesus is extraordinarily popular. We have already seen that desperate followers will go so far as lowering their disabled brother from the rafters of the ceiling, just for a moment of the Messiah’s time.

Not all appreciate Jesus’ newly acquired celebrity status, particularly his “family.” Up until now, the only family we know of is Mary, his mother, and Joseph, his sort of father, and since this passage is particularly vague, we truly have no idea who exactly Mark refers to. Here’s what we do know: Jesus barricades himself inside of a house with his disciples, and his family does not appreciate the crowd that followers him around. They go to “take charge of him,” telling him in particularly impolite terms that he must stop the charade (the exact phrase: “He is out of his mind”). Not the most encouraging words from “family.”

I fully came out as queer to my family about a year ago. My reason for the qualifier “fully” is that I believe I actually came out much early, when I told my parents that I had been in a longish relationship with a man. They believed this was merely just an “art school phase.”

Either way, I cemented my status later, and it devastated them. I had heard many horrorifying coming out stories. I briefly dated a man who after coming out to his father, was immediately sent halfway around the world to live with his mother; it was his father’s belief that only she could “fix the damage” within him. For every gay individual I meet with a particularly negative experience, I know another with a complete non-experience; so many gay people go years without telling their family for fear of such a response. And even for every one of those, I meet yet another who has completely supportive parents – ones who “knew all along” or “could not care less who they love.”

My family fell right in the middle. Non-supportive but also non-reactionary. They “do not agree with the lifestyle” but love me “no matter what.”

What do I do with that? A lesbian friend of mine said that this blog felt like a love letter to my parents. I found that ironic considering they viewed it as narcissistic nonsense at best (and deceptive and cruel at worst). She told me that it was time to create my own family – one that was fully supportive of me – with my close friends. Others told me to latch on, to not give up, to accept them for who they are, to love my parents unconditionally. Initially, I gave them an ultimatum – accept this or leave me alone. I balked shortly thereafter – I just couldn’t stomach it.

How does Jesus react to his family calling him insane?

The crowd informs him that his mother and brothers are outside waiting for him. Jesus tersely asks, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” (3:33) He then looks around the room, declaring his mother and brothers are already sitting next to him, because “whoever does God’s will” is his family (3:35).

Jesus made his own family when his was unsupportive. But I cannot think that these situations are parallel.

Christ Exceptions: Mark 2:23 – 3:6, Matthew 12:1-21, Luke 6:1-11

Jesus “Works” on the Sabbath.

Church was always casual; in general, I never really viewed Sunday as the “Sabbath.” After all, Sundays typically began early in the morning – not much rest going on there. Also, chores and homework tended to land on Sundays; that is the exact opposite of rest. Church was a ritual, sure, but it was a far cry from the sanctity-filled affair of the Orthodox Jewish “Shabbat.” They actually listened to the rules; they performed no work from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.

One of Jesus’ great “transgressions” during his ministry, and one that the Jewish leaders will eventually bring against him in order to crucify him, is his seeming indifference towards Sabbath regulations. Here’s the example our gospel writers give us:

Jesus and his disciples were hungry on the Sabbath, and so they picked up some heads of grain in a field. Immediately, the Pharisees go nuts, claiming that their actions are unlawful. Technically, they are correct; remember the man stoned to death for building a fire on the Sabbath back in Moses’ day. Jesus quotes a passage in Hosea in defense, eventually declaring “the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” (Matthew 12:8) Then, as a way to show his the ultimate rejection of their ideal, Jesus heals a man with a shriveled hand – on the Sabbath – in the temple. That’s some good old-fashioned passive aggression right there.

This might appear to be a blanket rejection of the Sabbath ideals (and by proxy, many of the Old Testament laws in favor of situation-specific logic), but it is ultimately unclear what exactly the Messiah means to imply by ignoring these statutes. When confronted with the seeming contradiction of his actions and his words, Jesus makes two declarations as his defense. The first is a quote from Hosea that God desires “mercy, not sacrifice.” (12:7) The second is mentioned above – that the Son of Man is the Lord of the Sabbath. The latter example cannot possibly be carte blanche permission for anyone to do whatever he or she wants on the Sabbath. The point of this is merely “Jesus can really do whatever he wants, so no complaining.” The former example, however, is far more open to interpretation.

When Jesus mentions God’s desire for “mercy, not sacrifice,” he is referring to the following passage in Hosea:

For I desire mercy, not sacrifice,

    and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.

Hosea 6:6 (NIV)

In its context, this passage refers to a rather useless state of Israel, which has all but lost their faith in God. They perform all their “duties” but have abandoned their hearts for the Lord. Simply, they are hypocrites – much like the Pharisees that Jesus so openly criticizes.

So God wants our hearts, not our rituals.

But then why the rituals in the first place? Why the rules?

Is Jesus the radical that everyone believes him to be? If he is in fact so revolutionary, why is he quoting the Old Testament? Do all the answers lie there?

Is one man’s action on the Sabbath a sin while a similar man’s same action permissible?

Yes. I can make a fire on the Sabbath and be stoned, while Jesus gathers grain and be exalted. And that can happen without even a hint of contradiction.

So I have to ask the question: Can two homosexuals who approach a romantic relationship with the utmost glory to God be, in fact, blameless while a similar homosexual couple be held to a different standard?

I don’t know.

Looks like the Minor Prophets are not so useless after all! Thanks Hosea!

Messianic Quibbles: Matthew 4:23-25, Mark 1:21 – 2:22, Luke 4:30 – 5

Healings and Exorcisms. Disability = Sin. Doctors for Sick. Disobeyed Commands. Jesus Seeks Solitude.

“Go away! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”
Luke 4:34 (NIV)

Jesus storms out the gate with his ministry, performing miracles, preaching, and healing the sick and disabled. I am incredibly grateful for my slackened New Testament pace, as these disciples know how to keep things concise. In only a chapter and a half worth of narrative, we hear eight short anecdotes about the beginning of his travels. In these stories, Jesus…

…drives out an “impure spirit” (Luke 4:31-37) (Mark 1:21-28)
…heals many people (Luke 4:38-44) (Mark 1:29-34)
…calls on some more disciples (Luke 5:1-11) (Luke 2:1-12)
…heals a man with leprosy (Luke 5:12-16) (Mark 1:40-45)
…forgives and heals a paralyzed man (Luke 5:17-26)
…eats with sinners (Luke 5:27-32) (Mark 2:13-17)
…is questioned about fasting (Luke 5:33-39) (Mark 2:18-22)
…prays in solitude (Mark 1:35-39)

Thus guy sure knows how to hit the ground running when it comes to discipleship. Or maybe these writers just know how to compose a compelling testament (no tee, no shade Old Testament).

I want to square my focus onto two of these stories, for my own brevity’s sake.

Jesus Forgives and then Heals

Jesus is one popular man, and when he visits Capernaum, a large crowd forms in order to see him. Seeing the people overflowing from outside, four friends carry their disabled friend and lower him from the ceiling of the home, so that Jesus will see and heal him. Jesus admires their faithfulness and forgives the man of his sins. When the “holy” men secretly judge this, Jesus quips, “Is it easier for me to say ‘you is forgiven,’ or to say ‘take your mat and go?’” He is thus healed.

This story strikes me oddly, and it is difficult to articulate my particular hang up (but here goes). There is a point being made here that has nothing to do with faithfulness, bravery, or disability, but rather, about sin in general. By forgiving the man, Jesus heals him, which highlights an important facet of Christianity: all of our suffering comes directly from sin.

Why then, though, doesn’t receiving forgiveness guarantee healing? And why doesn’t outright sin always result in injury or sickness of some sort? Because what the Old Testament said still applies – God does as He wishes and mortality and morality are not always related (remember Job).

I think my issue comes from the obvious misinterpretation that could arise when others read this – that a sickness or disability present in a person means that that particular individual “got what he or she deserved.” Call this a pre-emptive strike, but I worry that others may draw that dangerous conclusion.

Jesus Dines with Sinners

Jesus encounters a tax collector (who were known to steal money at that time) named Levi and asks him to follow him. They hold a large feast, complete with more tax collectors and other “sinners.” When the Pharisees (holy men) see this, they wonder why he would demean himself in this way. Jesus replies that the sick, not the healthy, need a doctor.

I comment on this, because this example is often brought up in modern culture of how we are meant to approach societal difference. Jesus is often lauded for this quality – for spending time with those on the fringes of society. However, let’s not forget that he just referred to them as “the sick.” Do not mistake his presence as an approval of their lifestyles.

My qualm is that for a book that so frequently levels the playing field (“all sinners are equal”), I am surprised that Jesus implies that these men are sinners while the Pharisees are not. Is this just wordplay to mean, “I’m hanging with the people no one wants to hang with”? I don’t know exactly.

I like that Jesus seems to be actively flipping cultural norms on their head. I just love that.

Some stories tomorrow.

Stay on Message: Matthew 4:12-22, Mark 1:14-20, Luke 4:14-30

Repent. Calling the Fisherman. First Rejection.

“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
Mark 1:15 (NIV)

Jesus begins his service with one simple command: “Repent.”

First, he comes across a few fishermen, and he asks them to drop their nets and follow him, so that they may begin to “fish people.” All hilarious visual jokes aside, the men honor his request, sensing something great with him. And with these four followers – Simon, Andrew, James, and John – close behind, Jesus kicks off his ministry.

The first snag in the road occurs during a visit to Nazareth on the Sabbath. At first, Jesus wows the crowd with a reading from Isaiah that predicts his arrival on Earth, and the act convinces the worshippers around him of his divinity. However, immediately afterwards, he comments that ‘no prophet is accepted in his hometown,” implying that he will do little to help the residents of Nazareth during his ministry (Luke 4:24b). They immediately become a horde and grab him, threatening to toss Jesus over a cliff, but miraculously, he just walks “right through the crowd” and goes on his way (30).

These initial interactions reveal some of the cultural and ethical distinctions between the worlds of the Old and New Testaments. Here are few I noticed:

“REPENT AND BELIEVE THE GOOD NEWS!”

Jesus uses this as a strategy to motivate the future disciples to join his team. The striking facet here is how positive this language is. Infrequently in the Old Testament was someone encouraged to follow God – most of the times, it felt much more like a threat – do this or die. Yes, horrible fates will befall each and every disciple (my Bible memory reminds me that they are all eventually martyred for their faith), but the tone used to motivate is so positive that it is almost disarming.

PEOPLE ARE EXCITED TO BELIEVE

Jesus impresses the parishioners of the temple in Nazareth without doing much. By standing in front of them and reading a passage from Isaiah, he converts them – albeit momentarily – into ogling fans of his. Why? What was so dynamic of reading a few verses, and how could that so easily convince a crowd? We don’t know. But it seems like this group of people, disciples included, all needed someone to follow. I think that speaks to a cultural shift that has occurred between the Testaments. The 400 Years of Silence have taken their toll on the motivations of the people.

THE MOB MENTALITY BROKEN

Jesus performs his first miracle here by disarming an angry horde bent on tossing him off a cliff. In the text, it says simply that he walked through and away from them. This speaks both to the power of Christ, but also to his pacifism. No punches are thrown, and no battles are needed. He just… walks away.


 

Tomorrow, we finally begin to dive into some of Jesus’ miracles as well as a taste to his laws and standards for living.

Philosophical Quips: Matthew 4:1-11, Luke 4:1-13

Jesus Is Tested in the Wilderness.

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.
Matthew 4:1 (NIV)

Immediately following his baptism, Jesus wanders into the desert and fasts for forty days, all the while being tempted by the devil himself. Matthew and Luke provides similar accounts of what occurred, including three examples of the tests Jesus received. The first: an offer of bread. The second: an offer of respite. The third: an offer of power. Each time, the tempter utilizes scripture in a logical way, and Jesus refutes the temptation with additional scripture. Let’s take a look at these three instances and see exactly what is going on here:

TEST 1: ARE YOU HUNGRY, PUNK?

After fasting for forty days, we are told that Jesus is quite “hungry” (who could imagine?). The devil appears with a solution. “If you are the Son of God,” he says, “tell these stones to become bread.” (Matthew 4:3) But Jesus retorts with an Old Testament adage, that man should not live by bread alone.

The real temptation here has nothing to do with testing God’s powers to turn stones into food or even about eating bread in general. Satan means to tempt Jesus into breaking his fast; he wants to weaken his resolve. So the counter-argument from Jesus that “man should not live by bread alone” is much more of a quip than an actual defense. Satan was not asking Jesus to eat bread alone for the rest of his life, so the comment that comes after is moot. It’s a joke. It must be a joke, or else Jesus has some comprehension issues.

TEST 2: WANNA FLY?

Back within the city gates, Satan leads Jesus to the peak of the temple. He coaxes Jesus to fling himself off, quoting a passage from Psalms guaranteeing Jesus angelic protection from injury. Jesus quotes a different section, a law from Deuteronomy: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” (6:16)

This is much more straightforward and understandable. Satan is asking Jesus to test the power of God, which is forbidden according to Rabbinic Law, while twisting a different passage out of its context. Satan might be right; perhaps angels would have swooped down to save Jesus from destruction. Or maybe God would have sidestepped it Himself, letting Jesus fall for His disappointing behavior. Probably not though.

TEST 3: EVERYTHING THE LIGHT TOUCHES IS OUR KINGDOM

Finally, they trudge up to a tall mountain and observe the land around them. Satan offers Jesus all that he can see, if all he will do is bow down and worship him. This one is just silly. First of all, if Jesus is God, then this land already belongs to him anyway. Can we view this as a temptation, if Satan offers Jesus something he does not even have? It’s like me offering you ten dollars if you worship me. I don’t even have ten dollars, so the joke’s on you. Jesus mocks Satan’s attempt and sends him away. Easy.

As someone who has had the “the word of God is literal” argument beaten into my very, very weary head, I take issue with the first temptation rebuttal. “Man should not live by bread alone.” It just feels like a cop out to me – a misuse of scripture for the sake of a small joke. I am not opposed to Biblical jokes, or even Biblical levity, and I realize I may be making a big deal out of a small verse. However, it does not jive well with me that Jesus uses a verse out of context to justify something that could have been easily accounted for otherwise.


 

To break the tension, here’s a picture of Mufasa and Simba. Up to you who decided who is Satan and who is Jesus.

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Crazy Preacher: Matthew 3, Mark 1:1-13, Luke 3

John the Baptist Prepares the Way

John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey.
Matthew 3:4 (NIV)

Ahead of Jesus, God calls upon another youngster named John the Baptist in order to “prepare the way,” and everything about his physical appearance as well as his demeanor just screams “crazy preacher.” As exhibit A, take his clothing and diet (quoted above). He wears a tunic made of camel hair and eats locusts and honey. Then when the religious zealots walk by, he refers to them in a yell as a “brood of vipers.” Finally, he takes some water and tells people about this new-fangled sign to God called “baptism” – where followers can receive forgiveness and dedication through invoked water. After all of this, he tells us of a Savior yet to come, who is most assuredly “coming soon.”

Yep. Sounds like every single crazy, sidewalk, megaphone-touting, Bible-quoting preacher I have ever seen walking down the streets of New York City or Los Angeles (or my college midway).

I spent part of my Junior year in college participating in a short study abroad program in England, and our teacher required us to go to the “Free Speech” corner of Hyde Park. With the vast rolling greens in the background and under a few speckled trees, lookie-loos gathered to listen to crazy people spout whatever crazy crap popped into their heads that morning. We had our standard rigmarole of priests and pastors talking about the end of the world mixed with a racist white man talking about how Asians need to go back to “the Asian place,” but the winner of the Crazy Award of the Day went to a older woman with a soapbox, who I have affectionately named “The Trouser Lady.”

“Women who wear trousers are an abomination!” She shouted for her little box. She was dressed head to toe in layers of fur and feathers and cloth, much like a Downton Abbey character, only in the year 2011. A few of the women on our trip had pants on, so she began leveling her accusations against them specifically, calling them “American harlots.” I snapped back, “What if a man wore a dress?” This completely baffled her, “Why would any man ever want to do that?” That made me think… So men would never dream of wearing dresses, because they symbolized… weakness, perhaps? So woman who wear pants must be trying to move beyond their “status,” which is an abomination. Right?

Anyway, we beat this woman into submission with our arguments. The term “crazy” was thrown around quite often. Someone may have said “bitch.” After a few minutes of receiving our insults, she pursed her lips and sat down on her box, completely sullen. We moved on to a guy talking about the coming robo-pocalypse, and it was done.


 

In Sunday School, we were taught that John the Baptist represented the alienation we may feel for our radical faiths. John the Baptist looked nuts to everyone on the outside, but he could rest easy knowing the status of his heart and salvation.

However, these same teachers told us to ignore false prophets on the street corners, shouting warnings of end times. They are crazy, fallen souls. Hm. Very difficult to discern the difference, both back in Sunday School as well as today…


 

We felt incredibly guilty. For about five minutes, we stood with our backs to the Trouser Lady as she sulked on the ground. One of my friends tapped me on the shoulder and gestured towards her; I followed. “We want to hear what you have to say,” we said. She told us to go away. “No really,” we said, “We won’t interrupt or mock you this time.” She looked at us, defeated but curious. Maybe we meant it, or maybe we were just setting her up again. She took the risk and stood up on her box.

She said she missed the old. Within her dwelt a profound nostalgia for the way things were, a feeling in many ways unexplainable. Things moved too fast, she said. Things flew by. Must we change so radically? She mentioned the trousers and admitted that they must be comfortable. There was nothing wrong with the trousers themselves. It was just one more thing that kept changing. What was wrong with the old? Things were understood and comfortable then, and now everything is confused. I am confused. I want to be grounded.

I reached out my hand to hers. I understood it all so clearly.

Adolescent, Abandoned: Luke 2:22-52

Jesus Visits the Temple.

After three days they found [Jesus] in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.

Luke 2:36-37 (NIV)

My father abandoned me in a Dick’s Sporting Goods store when I was eight-years-old. He disappeared. It took me about ten minutes to realize. I cried and then sprinted out into the parking lot. His car was gone. A young couple found me balled up on the macadam, wailing.

None of that story is true, but that was how it felt to me in the moment.

In reality, my father and I had gone into a Dick’s Sporting Good store during a family outing to the mall. My mother had split off with my sister to a different store, which required them to drive over there (it was a very big mall). My dad sauntered down the golf aisle, telling me to stay put while I stared at the camping gear. After a few moments, I turned around forgetting his instructions, and panicked. Without searching the store, I flew out as quickly as possible to find our car, but it was gone. Not because my father had abandoned me, but rather, because my mother and sister had taken the car and parked it elsewhere. But I was eight and alone and hell, do you blame me for overreacting?

As this happened, I recall going over the story of young Jesus at the Temple in my head. We do not get much in the way of information about Jesus’ upbringing; it’s glossed over much in the same way that the Lion King just jumps over all of Simba’s time as a teen lion in the jungle (until we got Lion King 1 ½ that is). For Passover, Joseph and Mary take Jesus to their busy temple in Jerusalem. After the event ends, Jesus secretly stays behind while his family trudges on back towards home. After a day of travel, they realize their mistake and rush back to find him, only to discover that he has been happily bopping around the with the priests and holy men. When they ask him about it, he replies simply, “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” (2:49)

Many Christian boys and girls know how to call upon this story in order to reverse-justify some rebellious behavior. “Why did you run away?” “JESUS RAN AWAY AND IT WAS NO BIG DEAL.” That strategy rarely worked.

More importantly, this is Jesus’ first example of bending the rules in order to adhere to a more logical approach. Technically speaking, Jesus disobeyed his parents by choosing to stay behind without them, and he must have understood the worry that such an action would cause them. But we all know Jesus is blameless, so this cannot be seen as a sinful action. He bent the rules for a good reason – in order to seek out God more fully and begin his ministry on Earth.

Interesting… The “rules” are already starting to find some exceptions…

Finally, here’s a picture of adolescent Simba:

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(War on) Christmas: Matthew 1:18 – 2, Luke 2:1-21

The Birth of Jesus. Gifts of the Magi. Flight to Egypt.

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.”
Luke 2:10 (NIV) 

Christmas was never a religious holiday to me for one major reason: presents. No child is going to give a crap about celebrating the day Jesus was born when presents are at stake. My mother always made a big deal out of the holiday – her entire family would come over on Christmas Eve for a near all day affair. First, antipasto; then, wine and dinner and television. Finally, presents. My father tried to institute an “open one gift every 15 minutes” rule that never flew. He also always hid one of his presents so that he was the last one to open his gift – a cruel way to twist the knife in our sides once post-present depression set in. After all the drink and food and presents were done, the extended family dispersed until no one but the five of us were left. Then, on Christmas morning, we ate brunch and saw a movie – depending on the year, most likely an entry in the Lord of the Rings series. That was Christmas.

Easter felt religious to me. We got up super early and went to church – wearing suits and dresses. Sure we got candy, but that was hardly worth getting up at 7 am on a weekend. Then, there was the script: “He is risen,” and the reply, “He is risen indeed.” No anticipation necessary for Easter – just pre-emptive exhaustion. It never felt even remotely celebratory – much more solemn and revered. Take that anecdote for what it is.

Some religious pundits (read: the Fox News Channel) have mentioned a “War on Christmas” in recent years – it even has its own Wikipedia page. I am sure the majority of you are familiar with this fight, but for the uninitiated, the gist is that we as a culture are secularizing something that ought to be left wholly religious. This all feeds into a larger argument about our religious nature as a country – namely if we are at our core values are a “Christian nation.” As someone who grew up in a Christian household that revered this holiday, I have trouble remotely identifying with this supposed “war.” I knew intellectually the Christ-based importance imbued onto this day, but none of it felt even remotely spiritual to me. In fact, the emotion I most commonly associate with Christmas is nostalgia.

Who knew that the “War on Christmas” began all the way back at the first one?

King Herod rules right at the time of Jesus’ birth. When the Magi come through town in order to tend to the new Messiah, Herod catches word, calling on them secretly to keep him updated on Jesus’ whereabouts. They ignore this command at the warning of an angel and travel back home via a different route. Meanwhile, Herod issues a decree to have all baby boys born under the age of two to be executed, and the baby Jesus and his family flee to Egypt to escape his death grip.

Now THAT’S a war on Christmas, ladies and gentlemen. A round of applause please. These silly liberals just try to remove Christmas ties and pray around festivus poles, but they are wusses compared to the tyrannical King Herod. He actually did something. He killed thousands of babies for no reason, just to stop Christmas.

I did not go home for Christmas this year. No one did anything wrong – there were no arguments or dramatic hair pulling. I just needed a small respite after coming out. A “holiday from the Holidays.” This hit my parents hard. The tradition of Christmas just wouldn’t be the same without all of us together. I agreed. It would be a change on Christmas. But for a few moments, it felt like a “war.”

Let me be clear, there is no “War on Christmas.” There is a “Change on Christmas.” Some people don’t associate this day with religiosity, because we as a culture have already secularized it.

Scoot over Christians, other people have celebrations as well. What a war.

Call me when they start burning the nativities in effigy.


Here is a link to one of Bill O’Reilly’s segments on the “War on Christmas.”