Did You Know? Christmas Tidbits

Familiar Christmas Traditions

Where or when did these items become a part of Christmas?

candles—One of the earliest records of candles being used at Christmas is from the middle ages, when a large candle was used to represent the star of Bethlehem.

candy canes—In the mid 1800s, candy canes were hung on Christmas trees for the first time.

Christmas cards—Sending Christmas cards originated in the UK in 1843 by Sir Henry Cole.

Christmas carols—Christmas music wasn’t typically used in religious services until St. Francis of Assisi in the 12th century. At times, some felt Christmas music was inappropriate for the holiday, and so carols were sung on streets more than in churches.

Christmas light displays—Thomas Edison created the first strands of electric lights and strung these outside of his Menlo Park Laboratory during the Christmas season of 1880.

Christmas tree—Germany receives credit for the Christmas tree tradition as we now know it when in the 16th century devout Christians brought decorated trees into their homes.

nativity scene displays—St. Francis of Assisi staged the first nativity scene in 1223. According to his biography, he set up a manger with hay and two live animals—an ox and an ass—in a cave in the Italian village of Grecio.

presents—The pagan tradition of gift-giving during the winter solstice became associated with Christmas around the year 336 AD because of the gifts the Magi gave to baby Jesus.

Santa Claus—St. Nicholas was a Bishop who lived in the fourth century in Myra (in modern Turkey). A very rich man, he had a reputation for helping the poor and giving secret gifts to people who needed it.

wreath—The Advent wreath was first used by Lutherans in Germany in the 16th century. In 1839, Lutheran priest Johann Hinrich Wichern used a wreath to educate children about the meaning and purpose of Christmas, as well as to help them count its approach.

Yule log—The Yule log, of Germanic origin and once linked to the winter solstice celebration, became one of the most widespread Christmas traditions in early modern Europe. Its first recorded appearance was in 1184.

Learning a little about the history of the Christmas traditions that have become common in many parts of the world, can be fun. What about bells and mistletoe? Holly or stockings hung by the chimney with care? What about fruitcake and eggnog? Maybe you know the history of some favorite tradition. Feel free to share in the comments.

Published in: on December 10, 2018 at 4:52 pm  Comments (3)  
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God Speaks However He Wants

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus coverOne more story, this passed along from the Ravi Zacharias International Ministry newsletter–a Muslim who came to Christ after experiencing a dream or vision (in this man’s case, three dreams and a vision). I’ve heard a proliferation of such stories, from disparate sources, all reputable.

It’s enough to convince me that God is on the move in parts of the world that we once thought were closed to the gospel, simply because missionaries weren’t welcome. But God is not limited the way we so often think He is. Yes, He chooses to use His people to declare His message, but He’s not limited by our weakness or unwillingness.

However, listening to some faithful believers–pastors who have studied Scripture–you’d think God was working with both hands tied behind his back and a gag over his mouth. Consequently, the only means at his disposal to bring people to Christ is the preaching of God’s Word.

I believe in preaching, and I know God works through the proclamation of His Word. But the fact is, that very Word tells us about the Apostle Paul who came to Christ, not after hearing a sermon or studying God’s law and prophets. He came to Christ because he saw a vision.

Not only that, the Apostle Peter saw a vision that led him to believe that faith in Christ was not limited to Jews, but that Gentiles were welcome also.

In addition, Scripture tells us there will be a time when

[God] will pour out My Spirit on all mankind;
And your sons and daughters will prophesy,
Your old men will dream dreams,
Your young men will see visions.
And even on the male and female servants
I will pour out My Spirit in those days . . .
And it will come about that whoever calls on the name of the Lord
Will be delivered. (Joel 2:28-29, 32a)

I’m not quite sure how the people who believe God’s miraculous works such as prophecy have ceased, resolve the places that Scripture seems to contradict this idea. Are they saying dreams and visions ceased . . . until they didn’t? But when did this ceasing begin? Certainly not before Paul’s conversion. And if it ceased when the cannon of Scripture was closed, who told the leaders of the church this fact? I mean, I think it’s a stretch to make Scripture say that the gifts of the Spirit that are miraculous would be done at some future, undisclosed date–until they wouldn’t be done, at some other distant undisclosed future date.

I know this is controversial. And it’s potentially dangerous. Because as soon as you say, God can work through visions, then you have all kinds of wack jobs claiming they’ve had visions and met with angels and received a new and more complete word from God.

Except, the people in Muslim lands who are seeing visions and dreaming dreams are being pointed to the Bible and to Jesus Christ. This latest which I heard about today is Dr. Nabeel Qureshi, formerly a devout Muslim who authored the book Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus which is due to release tomorrow. Here’s part of the description of his conversion from the RZIM newsletter:

Growing up in a devout Muslim family, Qureshi read the entire Quran in Arabic by age five, memorized more than a dozen chapters by his teens and boldly proclaimed Islam to his friends of other religions. “We are Qureshis, descendants of the Quresh tribe—Muhammad’s tribe. Our family stood sentinel over Islamic tradition,” he describes. “Islam was the lifeblood that coursed through my veins. Islam was my identity, and I loved it. I boldly issued the call of Islam to anyone and everyone who would listen, proclaiming that there is no God but Allah and that Muhammad is his messenger.”

Qureshi’s love for Islam defined and directed his life until a close college friend defended the Christian message with compelling evidence and disrupted everything he knew about religion, faith and meaning. Shaken by the potential that Christianity might be true, he turned to God for direct guidance and was given a vision and three dreams that led him to Jesus.

“That led him to Jesus.” That’s the key, I think. Any visions or dreams that lead a person elsewhere or to a different personality, to a different gospel, to a “new” understanding, is patently false.

But what an exciting truth: God is not limited in the way which makes Himself known. That He chooses to use us in the proclamation of His truth is awesome, but we’re not the only means at His disposal. He can have a personal, direct conversation with an individual if He chooses–or so Paul tells us in the book of Acts. As does the Apostle John in the book of Revelation.

Oh, that was Scripture times, someone may say. Things are different now. God doesn’t work that way any more.

Do we believe this because we think God isn’t as strong as He once was? Or because the people who claim “special knowledge” have started cults or tricked people into giving them money or convinced others the end of the world was on a certain day? Do we believe this because WE haven’t seen any visions or had any “pointing to God” dreams? Do we believe this because we say we believe the Bible but filter it based on our own assumptions or traditions that have been passed down to us?

It’s the latter that I think influences a lot of evangelical, non-charismatic, western Christians today. We are quick to judge the Pharisees for the traditions they held on to over God’s clear word, but I tend to think we cling to our traditions pretty strongly, too.

Time, I believe, to read God’s Word with fresh eyes and let Him speak however He wants.

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