A Charge to Two-faced Christians


(Spectrumbot) #1

I’m not really big on Christmas. I wasn’t always that way. Some of my most precious childhood memories are centered around Christmas in our small family home in South Norwood, London. Hundreds of greeting cards were neatly hung on strings that stretched from corner to corner in the living and dining rooms. These were accompanied with colorful decorations and balloons. As we got closer to Christmas day, we would be comforted each evening with the smell of roasted sweet chestnuts and other baked treats. Christmas day itself was the climax of the experience as the twelve of us huddled together in the tiny living room to open the hundred plus neatly wrapped packages that were filled with budget appropriate gifts. I cherish those memories.

But, I’m not really big on Christmas. It’s not that I don’t celebrate during the season. Together as a family, we have created our own traditions and I am thrilled when our out-of-town daughter arrives to complete our family quartet. My disaffection with Christmas occurred a few years ago when I tallied the amount I had spent on gifts and was forced to admit that I had been bamboozled by the true “spirit” of Christmas. Yes, I know the clichés about the “real meaning of Christmas” and Jesus being the “reason for the season.” But lets admit it. These are just marketing slogans to ease the guilty consciences of Christians who are fully aware that the festival is steeped in pagan symbols and traditions.

Come to think of it, I’m not really big on Easter either! That’s another highly commercialized holiday that brings back warm and fuzzy childhood feelings, but is also deeply rooted in paganism. Decades ago, archaeologists in Syria discovered a Jewish synagogue with a mosaic featuring the twelve signs of the zodiac on the sanctuary floor. Scholars were initially taken aback by this seemingly act of syncretism. However, once the initial shock died down, some have suggested that it may have functioned as a simple calendar that allowed the congregants to relate to the broader community. Sometimes, even the most ardent opponent to paganism has no choice but to embrace pagan symbols in society.

Think about it. As we transition from December to January, have you ever wondered how the months were named? There was a time in the west when the months were simply numbered from one to twelve. This was the era when the year was reckoned by the agricultural cycle, and begun in the month that we currently call March. In fact, remnants of this order of reckoning still exist in our current month names, particularly with September, October, November, and December, the names of which are derived from the Latin for seven, eight, nine and ten: septem, octo, novem and decem.

Of course, not all of the month names reflect this numerical pattern. Some have been influenced by other aspects of Greco-Roman culture. For instance, July and August are named after two Roman emperors: Gaius Julius Caesar and Octavius Augustus Caesar. Other months have been dedicated to Greco-Roman gods. March was named for Mars, the Roman god of war. April memorializes Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love. June commemorates Juno, the chief goddess of the Roman pantheon. And January takes its name from Janus, the two-faced Roman god of gates and doorways.

Janus was not “two faced” in the hypocritical sense, but he literally had two faces! The faces were positioned on the opposite sides of his head, which gave him the benefit of looking in both directions at the same time. It was for this very reason that when Numa Pompilius decided to reset the order of the months in 713 BCE, he thought it appropriate to designate the first month after the Roman gatekeeper god. Although he had two faces, Janus only had one body. This meant, that when he moved in a certain direction he could not help but see everything behind him. It must have taken every ounce of concentration for him to avoid being distracted by the things he was leaving behind.

As we reflect on the events of 2014 and prepare to step into the uncertain waters of 2015, it would do well for all of us to adapt Janus’ posture. It’s hard sometimes not to look back. For some of us, 2014 was a year filled with happiness and success. This was the year in which we stuck to our resolutions, fulfilled our goals, and witnessed the “enlargement of our territory.” Others look back on a year punctuated by death, disappointments, and despair. For these, 2014 was their annus horribilis, if I could borrow the words of Queen Elizabeth II when describing her recollection of 1992.

Whatever our memories of 2014, we cannot allow our past experiences to distract us from our future goals. We cannot rest on past laurels, nor can we wallow in painful defeats. 2015 comes with its own challenges and opportunities, and we must be focused enough to encounter each one with renewed strength. We must be willing to learn from the Apostle Paul, who encourages us to “forget those things that are behind, and reach for those things that are ahead” (Phil 3:13). We must learn the discipline of the mythological Janus who teaches us to keep the past in perspective as we strive for God’s future promises.

As you learn to live with your two faces upon entering the gateway to January, 2015, always remember that “a tree is known by its fruit.”

Keith Augustus Burton directs the Center for Adventist-Muslim Relations at Oakwood University, where he also serves on the Faculty of Religion.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6532

(Thomas J Zwemer) #2

One learns from the past, but one does not live there. The past gives one the maturity to face the future with confidence. Wm Miller learned that well. Christ was our High Priest from the fall of Adam in anticipation, He became our High priest in full even as He assured the thief on the cross. So we can face a new year in the Glory of His Grace. read broadly, love widely, rejoice always, share openly. Happiness is of its own making. Tom Z


(jeremy) #3

discipline and striving are definitely two important concepts that need to be revived in our church…for now, these are generally equated with legalism, but perhaps this year the pendulum will swing away from that unfortunate notion…


(Rb Wilcox) #4

Let me testify that discipline and striving are alive and well in the SDA “Ghetto” of Loma Linda.


(jeremy) #5

is that discipline directed towards achievements in spirituality or a comfortable living…


(Elaine Nelson) #6

jeremy, why question why people discipline themselves? Must tthe first thought be of legalism? Many people make New Year’s resolutions hoping to improve themselves for no religious or legal reasons. Why not give them the benefit of doubt?


(jeremy) #7

my original observation had to do with the equation of effort and striving with legalism in the church…i agree that effort and striving aren’t generally directed towards spiritual attainments…


#8

Wouldn’t discipline be admirable in both spirituality and in trying to achieve comfortable living? I think so…


(Rb Wilcox) #9

Thank you for fulfilling my expectation, Jeremy.


(Peter Marks) #10

Keith,

Like you I’m not big on Christmas although my childhood memories are festooned with memories of playing Christmas carols in a brass band around the community, and of course finding the six pences in mother’s plum pud. I can only wish that the Hope channel and 3 ABN would desist from taking up the whole of the Advent season for their Christmas programming. However, it appears to me that the opportunity to consider the incarnation is never out of place, even on December 25 or thereabouts. Imagine my chargrin when my local church this year was absolutely of two minds about Christmas. In our family worship service, our elder rose to welcome us and encouraged us to escape from the commercialism of the silly season and instead put Jesus as the reason for the season. We sang one or two christmas carols. As the preacher rose, he launched into a sermon about the evils of television and video games (oh, and porn for good measure). Nothing positive and uplifting. No focus on Jesus. Just to be absolutely certain that this was not an oversight, I immediately asked our head elder cum pastor if we ‘did Christmas’ here. The answer, without a moment’s hesitation was NO. I then proceded to greet the pastor, asked the same question and received the same reply. Thank the Lord that a new pastor is coming shortly. (At least the Poles and the Africans in our congregation were comforted in Zion that morning).

Also like you, until recently I had assumed that the case for our Christmas celebration having pagan origins was watertight. At least until I read a recent essay referenced on the GC Office of Archives, Statistics and Research website. This essay was originally from the British Union Conference website. http://adventist.org.uk/news/2014/2014-buc/christmas-pagan,-christian,-or-convenient

The author, Andrew Wallis, addresses the very relevant question ‘Christmas: Pagan, Christian, or Convenient?’ He concludes that “the Donatists [a Christian group in North Africa] are recorded as celebrating the birth of Jesus on 25 December. This group, who were studious in their avoidance of anything that looked like compromise with the world or any hint of paganism, were following an old tradition of remembering the birth of Jesus on the same date most Christians celebrate today… So even though they didn’t know the real date of Jesus’ birth the Early Church, following Jewish traditions, choose a date when they celebrate the fact that God loved the world enough to send His Son as a baby. This date had no connection to pagan gods or ideas - these were invented years later.”


(Steve Mga) #11

A New Year thought for us who are striving for “perfection”. Here is Ellen’s definition of “Perfection” that no one WANTS to Talk About.

“The Completeness of Christian Character is attained when the impulse to help and bless others springs constantly from within. It is the atmosphere of this love surrounding the soul of the believer that makes him and her a savor of life unto life and enables God to bless his and her work.
SUPREME Love for God and Unselfish Love for one another ---- THAT is the best gift that our Heavenly Father can bestow.” — Acts of the Apostles, page 551.

Use of the Spiritual Disciplines.

  1. Prayer
  2. Spiritual Reading – Silence to prepare for the reading, Reading/Receiving, Processing through Thinking, Responding to God from the heart, Contemplating and yielding and waiting upon God, then Living out the Text.
  3. Liturgy — Simple Orders of Worship, Spontaneous celebrations, Corporate relationships with one another, Faithful response to God in our daily lives. Liturgy includes Worship, Daily Bible reading [suggesting OT, NT, Psalm, Gospel], Study, Fasting, Retreat. Liturgy should be an act of Festivity, of Joy,of Liberation, an act in which the power of the age to come are Celebrated in anticipation.
  4. Daily Office-- includes such elements as personal quiet time with God [or several such time during the day – morning, mid day, evening, or a combination], prayers before meals, moments of prayer dispersed throughout the day at planned points, gatherings with others for daily worship, prayer, Bible study, Christian fellowship. What ever the form of our daily office, we need such discipline if we are to live our lives in a growing experience of the wholeness of Christ and in increasing faithfulness as God’s person for others.
  5. Fasting — The essence of Fasting is the separation of ourselves from something in order to offer ourselves in greater measure to God. One of the main purposes of Fasting is to wean us from our dependence upon God’s Gifts and enable us to become dependent upon God alone.
  6. Retreat – is the discipline of setting apart a time, individually or corporately, to step aside from the normal flow of life and give God our full and undivided attention.
    CAUTION-- It is possible for the practice of these disciplines to become a subtle form of Works of Righteousness in which we come to think that by our faithful exercise of the disciplines we are Transforming Ourselves in to the Image of Christ. We need to stand aside and allow God to show us what we are doing and what we ought to be doing.
    ---- Invitation to A Journey: A Roadmap for Spiritual Formation, M. Robert Mulholland, Jr, [Inter Varsity Press, Downers Grove, IL], pages 102 to 119.

Paths Of The Journey
The Simple Path –
The fruit of silence is Prayer.
The fruit of Prayer is Faith.
The fruit of Faith is Love.
The fruit of Love is Service.
The fruit of Service is Peace.
---- Mother Theresa

Have a wonderful and joyous New Year.


(Carolyn Parsons) #12

Keep an open mind, that is what I try to do too. We should not fall into the trap that we know everything and close our minds to new information.

Whether Dec 25th is or is not the birth of Jesus, the way the holiday is celebrated now in much of the world is a commercial consumerist holiday. I prefer to bring an evergreen into my house, light candles in celebration of the solstice and celebrate the changing of the seasons, than to put a big emphasis on Christmas. I still love spending the holidays with my family giving and receiving gifts. It is indeed a blessing to be with them.


(Steve Mga) #13

Carolyn
We as SDAs miss so much enjoyment and pleasure with God.
We miss the whole Advent Season, six weeks in the anticipation of the 1st visit of Jesus to earth and the anticipation of the 2nd visit of Jesus to Earth to take His family Home.
We miss the Season of Lent – 40 days to think about our relationship with God.
We miss the Season of Easter. A time to experience through reading and thought, and eating in silence together the Last Supper experience. To stay up all night and Watch With Him in the Garden. Good Friday. Holy Sabbath. The celebration of His Resurrection.
We miss The Birthday of The Church — Pentecost. Celebrating the Gift of The Holy Spirit.


(Elaine Nelson) #14

Isnt’ it strange? We neither know for certain the date of Christ’s birth or the Resurrection; so because we don’t know the exact dates some believe they should be ignored. But without both they and no one would be Christians today. Rather strange.

Maybe it’s because Adventists are so certain that the seventh day which is held sacred is believe to be continuous since creation. But there is nothing that can be shown that the seventh day is always Sabbath around the world. The exactness of dates is of ultimate importance in determining the “right” day to worship rather than a “wrong date” is possibly the reason for eliminating Christmas and Easter because the lack of certainty of the date!


(jeremy) #15

yes, it would be admirable…i think it’s fair to say that the qualities that make for success in spirituality make for successs in earning a living, although there seem to be many genuine spiritual giants who were poor in this world’s goods…


(Steve Mga) #16

Elaine
At least my Jewish Friends know the dates for Passover, LOL!!


(Yoyo7th) #17

Let’s see. 3000 years ago, God didn’t drop manna on the Israelites each week for 40 years on the Sabbath day.
Jesus got hassled by Jewish clergy for correct Sabbath observance 2000 years ago.

The Jews must have been going to synagogues for the last 2000 years every Sabbath in spite of trying to be eliminated by the likes of Hitler, etc.
I don’t have any doubts about the day because the 1st day crowd has been keeping the day after for 2000 years too.


(Yoyo7th) #18

What I can do without, during December, is the whole month of Sabbath sermons dealing with the shallow baby Jesus stories.

I actually learned what a manger was this year and it was at a non-denom church where the pastor really presents a bunch of content. Never heard that for over 40 years at an Adventist church.


(Elaine Nelson) #19

Didn’t it ever bother you that in Lev. 23 God sets aside all the important Jewish days, including Passover and yet Christians only observe the seventh day and ignore all the rest?

God didn’t separate them as some being inconsequential; but Christians did and the apostles of Christianity never exalted any day for sacred worship. Why should only one of those important Jewish events be celebrated when no Christians were ever instructed to observe any?


(k_Lutz) #20

Not really. I think we see here many who are so self-constrained that they can’t make it to first base in communication. And outside of here, perhaps @GeorgeTichy and/or @elmer_cupino could cite more than a few examples whose focus is so finely tuned that they cannot get out the front door, IOW take one step towards fulfillment.

This is not to say self-discipline is inessential in any endeavor, but there is a legitimate reason for scoffing at kindergarten graduation ceremonies - those kids had no choice in whether mom was dropping them off day after day.

Trust the Process.