Wednesday, December 22, 2010

always winter, never christmas

"Cause when it's always winter but never Christmas
Sometimes it feels like you're not with us
But deep inside our hearts we know
That you are here and we will not lose hope"
With the above lyrics, Relient K depicts a frigid wintry scene that closely parallels the way we can feel about life in general as it drags and refuses to resolve.  We've had a particularly cold, bitter beginning to winter in North Carolina this year.  And not the cool kind where it snows and everything feels magical but just the steely trudgery of freezing winds and plunging temperatures.  The season hasn't felt unlike what Relient K is alluding to and C.S. Lewis crystallizes in his description of the fictional world of Narnia.  It is upon her first meeting with Mr. Tumnus, a faun ally of Narnia's three child heroes, that Lucy is informed of the evil White Witch who has asserted control over Narnia.
“The White Witch? Who is she?” [asked Lucy.]
“Why, it is she that has got all Narnia under her thumb. It’s she that makes it always winter. Always winter and never Christmas; think of that!”
“How awful!” said Lucy.
Frozen Narnia is a symbol for the world in which we inhabit.  Where dreams sometimes are frustrated and hopes fall flat and dissolve.  The White Witch is a depiction of an enemy that desires our destruction either through obliteration or slow, inevitable monotony and hopelessness.  I know that sometimes I feel the tug of Narnia's gravity at my feet in this world.

The beauty of Narnia, however, is that underlying the harsh conditions there is an obvious but subtle magic.  Like the first snow of the season, just below the untouched crystals, it almost feels like anything is possible there.  So how do we escape the doldrums of winter and look expectantly toward a promised Christmas?


The story of Christmas is the story of great faith in the face of great adversity.

It's the story of Mary subjecting herself to God's plan despite an uncertain future saying, "Let it be done to me according to your will."  It's the story of Joseph putting faith in God and in his young wife-to-be and choosing to raise Jesus as his own son regardless of his supernatural origins.  It's the story of shepherds and kings and wise men being drawn to a place and a child for unknown reasons and heeding the nagging in the minds and souls.  It's the story of a young family on the run protecting their son and fleeing a tyrant into exile in a strange land. 

In uncertain times and harsh realities, faith isn't just good.  It's essential.  But faith cannot exist on its own.  It must have an anchor, a source.  In the Christmas story, the article of faith is obvious: Christ.  However, faith extends beyond just the birth of a child.  Mary's faith, Joseph's faith, the faith of shepherds and kings and wise men and all the people of Israel was found in a promise.

It was a promise given to David, the King of Israel, many years before that a new king would rise from the ranks of the people and that his dominion over the Earth would forever transform our cold winters with the promise of Christmas.
"When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom.  He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.  I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me; when he commits iniquity, I will correct him with the rod of men and the strokes of the sons of men, but My lovingkindness shall not depart from him..."
Even in the ancient prophecy that foretells the birth of Christ, we see he is different type of king.  Not only is no White Witch-like tyrant bent on our exploitation and bondage, he is not like David either simply driven by power, glory, honor for his own name's sake.  He is the servant king.  And although he never commits iniquity, he bears the punishment in our place.  Our coldest winter, our sin that separates us from God, is lifted in the Christmas promise that is the faith of Christ that drives Him to a cross so that we can be restored to God and creation.

Christmas is not easy.  But it is certain.


A promise provides a pathway toward faith but it is hope that lights that path and guides us along the way.  Faith is a choice but hope is an attitude.  It is a belief in the face of contradicting circumstances that deeper realities are at work in the world around me.

As a man subjected to all types of torment and sacrifice and as a man of great faith, the apostle Paul is keenly aware of the dual realities of what we can see right before us and what exists that we do not yet perceive.
"We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently."
...and later he sums this up connecting faith and hope simply by saying...

"Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”
Faith is a choice but hope is an attitude.

We face tough times, economic hardships, lost jobs, broken relationships, unreliable families, jilted hearts, and deferred dreams.  We can choose to face these realities with resignation or we can dare to hope.

And hope is the magic of Christmas.  It's the feeling of waking up to snow on Christmas Day.  Hope rewarded and faith proved true are the hallmarks of the Christmas spirit.

Lewis depicts this living hope in the person of Father Christmas.  After all, who is more a symbol for the combination of magic and belief for children than Santa Claus?
He was a huge man in a bright red robe (bright as holly berries) with a hood that had fur inside it and a great white beard that fell like a foamy waterfall over his chest.…

Now that the children actually stood looking at him… he was so big, so glad, and so real, that they all became quite still. They felt very glad, but also solemn.
“I’ve come at last,” said he. “She has kept me out for a long time, but I have got in at last. Aslan is on the move. The witch’s magic is weakening.”
And Lucy felt that deep shiver of gladness that you only get if you are being solemn and still.

The story of Christmas is a love story.

I don't know if it's the magic of Christmas or the desire for warmth and familiarity that comes with the season or the gathering of families or the amount of time we spend watching couples in airports or what but something about Christmas makes people want to fall in love.  I also think that's part of the reason so many couples get engaged at Christmas.  I think this is the natural tendency of the Christmas story.  At its heart, Christmas is about the love of a groom for his bride.

Christ the groom.  He, in heaven, without want or need at the right hand of his Father with pleasures forevermore.  In perfect community, family with the Father and Holy Spirit.  Riches beyond measure and joy beyond comprehension.  But deep in his heart, there is a love that cannot be extinguished.  It gnaws at his soul begging for release and always desiring the good of his bride.

His bride the church.  The prodigal, disgraced, dirty church.  We with our fallen natures, our sinful choices.  We have run as far away as we can from our groom.  Seeking our own pleasures and own kingdoms, we've not only taken our relationship for granted, we've renounced it altogether. 

And yet, Christ emerges with hope for rekindled love.

The confessions of love found in all the sappy, romantic Christmas movies ever made can never compare to Christ's love for his bride.

"For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich."

Without fear of consequence or regard for his own fate, he puts himself on the line for his bride.  Beat that, Love Actually.

But what Christ offers is not an earthly love that will lead to its own winters but an eternal acceptance that can never be tainted or corrupted.  His love melts our perpetual winters and makes way for a new springlike reality.  His acceptance is the promise of Christmas.

So at Christmas, we wait.  We have faith.  We hope.  We love.

Friday, December 3, 2010

ultimate christmas mix vol. 6

As you probably know, mostly because I hype this thing up to now end as we near the holidays, it is time for the ultimate christmas mix once again. Going on my fifth year (the first year was a double album), I am still making very entertaining and *unique* playlists to enjoy as we enter the Christmas season.

This might be my favorite one ever. Fair warning though. While last year's mix was heavy on pop music and could easily serve as the background music at a holiday-themed party, this mix is more likely to be listened to while cuddled up to a warm fire and hot cup of your preferred winter beverage. Listening to these songs is kind of like being at a Christmas party then walking out to get lost in the woods. Full track listing is below.

ultimate christmas mix vol. 6
1. “Christmas Party” - The Walkmen
2. “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” - The Raveonettes
3. “Peppermint Winter” - Owl City
4. “Winter Wonderland” - Jason Mraz
5. “All I Want for Christmas is You” - Dave Barnes
6. “O Holy Night” – Glee Cast
7. “Silent Night” – Alexi Murdoch
8. “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” – Matthew Perryman Jones
9. “What Child Is This” – Parachute
10. “Jinglebell Rock” – Arcade Fire
11. “Go Tell It On the Mountain” – needtobreathe
12. “Oh Little Town Of Bethlehem” – Bright Eyes
13. “When the Leaves” – Ingrid Michaelson
14. “Ho Ho Hopefully” – The Maine
15. “Wishlist” – The Ready Set
16. “Boots” – The Killers
17. “Christmas Lights” – Coldplay
18. “When I Get Home for Christmas” – Snow Patrol
19. “Tracks in the Snow” – The Civil Wars
20. “We Are Snowmen” – Matthew Ryan
21. “Hey Parker, It’s Christmas” – Ryan Adams

You can preview the songs on the ultimate christmas mix vol. 6 above but if you want a full copy, you'll just have to see me. I'll be the one spreading holiday melodrama cheer.