Assemblies of God Theological SeminaryDecember 2013
News Flash: Mr. Grinch Will Not Steal Christmas!


I was chatting over dinner recently with a European friend. As a follower of Jesus, he marveled at such things as Christian bookstores and Christian media so readily available here in our nation. Then he pointed out an irony that got me thinking. He observed the aggressiveness with which many people in our society press the "all-inclusive" greeting of Happy Holidays! He laughed and said, "In secular Europe, no one thinks twice about wishing you a Merry Christmas; even Ascension Day and Pentecost Sunday weekend are holidays in Europe." He mused: I really want to ask some American who greets me with Happy Holidays, "So, what holidays are you referring to?"

My friend's observations reminded me that this time of the year has become increasingly disappointing to me. The standard chatter about the consumerist face of Christmas or the secularist voice that dulls the message of Christmas into a non-descript theology of nice are just a few of my concerns. This next year will provide reinforcement to the looming challenges that now face followers of Jesus and seem to loom on the horizon every Advent season. The rapids we are about to traverse are highlighted in a recent LA Times op-ed piece by Notre Dame law professor, Richard Garnett. He begins his commentary on the current Supreme Court's acceptance of the cases of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood with a reference to a law passed 20 years ago that now seems like ancient history. In a bi-partisan and near unanimous vote, Congress passed and President Clinton signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Clinton commented that "the power of God is such that even in the legislative process, miracles can happen." He continued, "Let us never believe that the freedom of religion imposes on any of us responsibility to run from our convictions." Garnett's editorial begins with his observation that at the heart of these pending Supreme Court cases is the straight-forward argument that federal law does not require us to "check our faith at the door" when we pursue vocations in business and commerce. A plethora of rhetoric will surround this case and it will certainly include both vitriolic and substantive arguments. My guess is the Supreme Court may not provide any considerable clarity on these landmark cases.


The Notre Dame law professor's op-ed piece frames a context for the looming court intrigue and my European friends' comments provide a microcosm of our present situation. Both references clearly reveal the influences that make this season of the year so stressful for many people. However, this Advent season is not unlike many other Advents in which the world's contemporary conflicts have provided incredible challenges to the Gospel story. Even a cursory reading of the Gospel narratives reveals the social, political, and economic intrigue that faced Mary and Joseph. We face our own versions of those challenges during Christmas 2013. I'm old enough to realize that the challenges to following Jesus are increasingly lethal. Age also requires me to opt for a response to these looming realities that seeks to understand the power of the Gospel in very real terms--accepting certain limitations while affirming my belief in the inevitable victory of Christ's Kingdom.


We live in a nation that is wrestling vigorously with the notion of whether or not religious faith should be limited to individual worship in private or be allowed to express itself in the woof and warp of commerce. The powerful forces involved in this debate will exert considerable influence. Frankly, it is just a twenty-first century version of the world in which Joseph and Mary lived. Their lives were spent in the context of religious and political forces sparing over whether or not religious faith could or should be contained in the sacred spaces of worship or turned loose on everyday life. That controversy was not civil, just, or easy to navigate; our experience will be no different. But the good news that is "for all the people" sinks deep in my heart. Like Christians throughout the centuries, I rejoice that despite the clear and observable opposition to the gospel that comes with various levels of painful existence, my affirmation of the gospel connects me to an historical trajectory that lives in the great anticipation that "every valley shall be exalted and the crooked places made straight" (Isa. 40:4).


My thoughts are not merely a case of mind over matter. My affirmation isn't that of an aging church official whose professional life is connected to an increasingly outdated cause. This is what it has come to: as we travel through the twenty-first century at the marker called Advent 2013, there's going to be some tough sledding ahead, but that's fairly normal for countless Christians over the last 2100 years. However, when I think of the powerful lyrics and the soaring musical score of Handel's Messiah, I listen with full awareness that the powers that want to neutralize the vibrancy and reach of our faith are formidable. Nevertheless, the sphere of influence that the Christ child comes to empower has neither been neutralized, vanquished, nor thwarted. For the Lord God omnipotent reigns and the kingdoms of this world have become the Kingdom of our Lord and His Christ and He shall reign forever and ever!


Byron D. Klaus, President
Assemblies of God Theological Seminary

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