Links for the Weekend (12/18/2020)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

Is Christmas a Pagan Rip-off?

Kevin DeYoung addresses the idea that Christmas is a copycat of a pagan holiday. Though this is a longstanding and accepted argument, DeYoung says that it’s just not true.

Unlike Easter, which developed as a Christian holiday much earlier, there is no mention of birth celebrations from the earliest church fathers. Christian writers like Irenaeus (130-200) and Tertullian (160-225) say nothing about a festival in honor of Christ’s birth, and Origen (165-264) even mocks Roman celebrations of birth anniversaries as pagan practices. This is a pretty good indication that Christmas was not yet on the ecclesiastical calendar (or at least not widespread), and that if it were, it would not have been tied to a similar Roman holiday.

Advent I: The Face of God

Brad East has written a nice Advent meditation on the face of God over at Mere Orthodoxy.

Advent is the season when the church remembers—which is to say, is reminded by the Spirit—that as the people of the Messiah, we are defined not by possession but by dispossession, not by having but by hoping, not by leisurely resting but by eagerly waiting. We are waiting on the Lord, whose command is simple: “Keep awake” (Mark 13:37). Waiting is wakefulness, and wakefulness is watchfulness: like the disciples in the Garden, we are tired, weighed down by the weakness of the flesh, but still we must keep watch and be alert as we await the Lord’s return, relying on his Spirit, who ever is willing (cf. Mark 14:32-42).

Liturgy for a Pandemic Christmas

To quote a part of this would be to ruin the whole, so I will just urge you to read this lovely poem written by Jessica Merzdorf at Fathom Magazine about Jesus coming for (and identifying with) his people.

On the WPCA Blog This Week

This week on the blog we published an article I wrote called A Contrast of Kings at Christmas. If you haven’t already seen it, check it out!


Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

A Contrast of Kings at Christmas

Secular Christmas scenes are full of snow, wreaths, lights, and cookies. The roaring fires and flannel pajamas that appear on so many cards paint the holiday as one of coziness and warmth.

While there’s nothing wrong with these seasonal elements, none of them capture the biblical reality. Christmas is the time to rejoice in the Incarnation, the birth of Jesus.

But even in the Bible, Jesus’s birth was not an occasion for universal joy. While there was great celebration, the Christmas narratives are also serious, dark, and cautionary.

Herod the King

The second chapter of Matthew’s Gospel offers a stark contrast. Right from the beginning, we read that in the days of Herod the king the wise men came looking for the king of the Jews. This contrast seems intentional, as Matthew refers to Herod as “king” a total of three times (Matt 2:1, 3, 9).

While the wise men traveled a great distance to worship this new king (Matt 2:2), they went to Herod only for information. The wise men rejoiced when approaching the house where Jesus was, and they brought extravagant gifts, falling down in worship. Since God warned them away, the wise men didn’t even speak to Herod again.

Herod was “troubled” by this talk of a new king (Matt 2:3). The Jewish religious leaders reported that prophesies pointed to Bethlehem as the birthplace of a “ruler” who would “shepherd” the people of Israel (Matt 2:6). This was not good news for Herod.

Jesus the Child

The contrast between Herod and Jesus is heightened by the difference in their ages. Herod was an adult; Jesus had just been born. In fact, Jesus is referred to as a “child” nine times in this chapter.

Given the difference in physical ability and political power between Jesus and Herod, it seems bizarre that Herod was threatened by this baby. But Herod was so enraged when the wise men did not report back to him that he ordered the death of all male children in and around Bethlehem under two years old.

We should pause here and note the violence and devastation that Herod caused. His fear and his lust for power proved to be a murderous cocktail. These deaths were unspeakably cruel, selfish, and senseless, and they must have left Bethlehem residents horrified and empty with grief.

While Herod took drastic, human steps to eliminate Jesus, Matthew’s text shows us the supernatural elements used to honor and protect Jesus. The star that the wise men followed (“his star” in Matt 2:2) appeared both before and after their visit to Jerusalem (Matt 2:9–10) and led them directly to Jesus. Additionally, God acted through dreams to warn the wise men (Matt 2:12) and to direct Joseph and his young family (Matt 2:13, 19, 22).

Finally, notice the role of prophecy in this chapter. In his birth in Bethlehem (Matt 2:5–6), his exile to Egypt (Matt 2:17), and his settling in Nazareth (Matt 2:23), Jesus fulfilled what the prophets had spoken. On the other hand, the prophecy that Herod fulfilled was one of tears and lamentation (Matt 2:17–18).

Worship Christ, the Newborn King

Jesus was declared a king at his birth. And the contrast between Jesus and all other kings continued through his earthly life and beyond.

Because Jesus is the great, high king, he is a threat to all who hold power. God demands (and deserves) our undiluted worship, and this is a problem for anyone who craves any glory that belongs to God.

This is a warning to all in authority: Worship Jesus as the high king willingly while you can. One day every knee will bow, whether willingly or not (Phil 2:9–11). Your power is delegated power and should be used to help those around you to flourish.

And for everyone, this is a call to worship Jesus. He is no mere human king; he is the Lord of all. And as Lord, he shows himself to be vastly superior to Herod.

Though he is powerful and his authority is absolute, he is merciful and gentle. We have all grasped for power; we have all neglected and rejected proper worship. But king Jesus offers love and forgiveness for those who turn to him.

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Links for the Weekend (12/11/2020)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

The Surprising Ministry of Encouragement

“Gospel doctrine creates gospel culture.” Ray Ortlund writes that encouragement is essential to this gospel culture that the best churches cultivate.

Encouragement is what the gospel feels like as it moves from one believer to another. The ministry of encouragement, therefore, isn’t optional or just for people with a knack for it. Real encouragement has authority over us all. It deserves nothing less than to set the predominant tone of our churches, our homes, our ministries. So, let’s think it through. And then, let’s get after it.

Christmas in a Minor Key

If Christmas is merely a superficial celebration, this might be a year to pitch it. How can we drum up interest in tinsel when the pandemic has made life so hard and so sad for so many? Doug Eaton argues that these miseries give us a greater reason than ever to celebrate this year.

The arrival of Jesus into our world is the answer to a world lost in darkness. Christ, God incarnate, entered our sin-riddled world. From his first breath, he was to be known as the Man of Sorrows, and he would endure it all because of his great love for us. We have a Savior who can sympathize with our weakness, and he went to the cross to atone for our sin.

The Gentle Tug of Spiritual Disciplines

I enjoyed the way Craig Thompson contrasted his dog’s need to go outside with his practice of the spiritual disciplines.

There is more. Your spiritual disciplines will not usually yell at you, but when you neglect them, there are reminders. Learn to tune your heart and mind to the gentle tug of spiritual disciplines. Do you feel stressed and overwhelmed? Could it be that you have allowed the noise of the world to drown out God’s love in your life? The gentle tug of spiritual disciplines is a bit more like a hunger or a longing than a begging and demanding.


Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

Links for the Weekend (12/27/2019)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

5 Potential (Year-Long) Effects of the Christmas Season

Jason Seville suggests that there are rhythms of the Christmas season that we would be wise to stretch out over the whole calendar year. One of the areas he writes about is hospitality.

At Christmas we buy gifts, bake cookies, send cards, extend meal invites, and throw parties. We get to know fellow church members better, and we welcome strangers. We have people over with the clear intention and purposes of extending Christ’s love.

But hospitality ought to be the Christian’s perennial disposition. We ought to, as Paul wrote, “welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Rom. 15:7). Let’s circle dates in those first 11 months as well. When will we plan a dinner party for a group of coworkers? When will we invite that new couple from church for dinner? When will we randomly bless the widow down the street with a plate of cookies?

God with us

This article in Fathom Magazine is a short, lovely meditation on the life of Jesus.

He enters into our hearts, flames flickering above our heads as he tears down the old, rotting walls of our souls, the structurally unsound, cracked, termite-ridden foundation. He takes his carpenter’s hands and he rebuilds.

Ten Questions for a New Year

The beginning of the year is a great time to prayerfully consider our ways. Is there anything you should add to your life this year? What should be changed or removed from your life? Don Whitney provides some good questions for us to ponder.

The value of many of these questions is not in their profundity, but in the simple fact that they bring an issue or commitment into focus. For example, just by making a goal to encourage one person in particular this year is more likely to help you remember to encourage that person than if you hadn’t set that goal.


Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

Links for the Weekend (12/21/2018)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

Look Forward to a Better Christmas

Matt Chandler has a great article at The Gospel Coalition connecting his personal story about cancer to Christmas. Here’s a sample.

Christmas finishes quickly each year. What we look forward to soon lies behind us. But you can look forward to a day that will never end and a future that will never disappoint. The decorations will get packed away. But this year, hope and joy need not. You can look at the God who came and lay in that manger. And you can look forward to the day when he comes again.

Joni Eareckson Tada and Suffering

At Breakpoint, John Stonestreet writes about Joni Eareckson Tada, suffering, and the gospel. Only the true message of the Bible is big and sturdy enough to handle the deep suffering that often comes our way.

This type of Christianity, that’s focused on giving us a positive experience and making us feel good, is a small shriveled vision of the Gospel. This kind of Christianity will crumble in the face of true suffering. It won’t withstand the assaults of quadriplegia, of terminal illness, or of a child with a severe disability. It certainly won’t disciple it’s people to withstand the social disapproval of an angry culture, or a school full of angry peers. It leaves us poorer and anemic.

Internet Church Isn’t Really Church

It’s refreshing (if a little surprising) to see this argument in a column in the New York Times. Laura Turner argues that while live-streaming a church service may be necessary for some, choosing to do “church via app” when you could be there in person misses the point of church.

In an era when everything from dates to grocery delivery can be scheduled and near instant, church attendance shouldn’t be one more thing to get from an app. We can be members of a body best when we are all together — we can mourn when we observe and wipe away tears, just as we can rejoice when we can share smiles and have face-to-face conversations.

On the WPCA Blog This Week

At the WPCA blog this week, Sarah Wisniewski wrote about what God has been teaching her through the book of Hosea. Check it out!


Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the groups referenced here.