Friday’s Column: Brent’s Biblical Bytes
Are you hoping for a “white Christmas” like the ones that Irving Berlin alleged to know? If so, I have some disappointing news for you. The reality is white Christmases are rare. They have always been rare, at least as long as we have been keeping meteorological records. Yet, what of the picturesque scenes painted by Currier and Ives? What about the romantic notions of a snowy Christmas extolled by Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Danny Kaye, and Vera-Ellen in Michael Curtiz’s “White Christmas?” Yes, those are likewise a fabrication of Hollywood too.
There are two reasons that the belief in a “white Christmas” is faulty. First, there is the fact that Britain was a late adopter of the Gregorian calendar (1752). Hence, December 25th used to be January 6th. That makes a big difference from a meteorological standpoint. Second, Charles Dickens, the man who gave us our concept of the “modern Christmas,” lived during the coldest, snowiest part of the Little Ice Age (1805 to 1820). If one is prone to indulge in nostalgia, he allows his youth to color his perceptions of the present and future. So, young Charles Dickens enjoyed very snowy Christmases. In his earlier days, the snow fell and stuck around for some time. From his perspective, then, idyllic Christmases were white. America, in turn, blindly accepted the Dickensian Christmas as its role model.
It is not charming to learn that we have founded our hopes on a myth, correct? At least the desire for a white Christmas is innocent. Yet, how many are investing their hopes in salvation based on the equivalent of tradition or myth? In Philippians 2.12, Paul tells us to “make an end of your own salvation with fear and trembling” (GNV). I chose this early English translation (Geneva) because it well-conveys the message from the Holy Spirit. Though salvation is a gift from God (Ephesians 2.8-9), we must endeavor to receive it. Thus, we make “an end” to it. Like the football thrown by the quarterback, we must catch the ball, tuck it in securely, and run to the endzone.
Why would someone purposely mislead another? The real answer, perhaps, is something known only by God. One of the most tragic narratives of the Old Testament is that of the young and old prophet. 1 Kings 13 records how God dispatched a young prophet to cry out against Jeroboam’s idolatry. Jeroboam wanted the young prophet to intercede on his behalf with God. God told the young prophet that even if Jeroboam offered half of his house, he would not dine with anyone but go straight home following a different route. So, the young prophet rejected Jeroboam’s request, repeating what God said.
The story does not end there, however. An old prophet living in Bethel asked the young prophet to dine with him. The young prophet repeated what God had told him. In response, the old prophet lied and told the young prophet that an angel spoke to him, permitting him to dine with him. In a sense, the young prophet did not “make an end of (his) salvation with fear and trembling.” Rather than consulting God about the truth of what the old prophet said, he accepted the old prophet’s invitation. While sitting at the old prophet’s table, the old prophet told the young prophet that he would die since he disobeyed God. The young prophet finished his final meal and traveled the road towards home, where he met a lion that killed him. And despite being the instrument of his destruction, the old prophet lamented the young prophet after retrieving his dead body.
Just as with white Christmases, there are other myths we want to believe. We want to think that older people sharing kinship with us have our best spiritual interests at heart. For example, most people have “saintly” mothers and grandmothers who took them to a particular church in their youth. They paid attention to some preacher at those services who told them to believe in Jesus to receive salvation. And he calls himself a preacher, correct? Hence, he should be someone you can trust. As with the young prophet, there is a failure to learn the truth directly from the source: God. Jesus promises that we can know that truth (John 8.32) and identifies that knowable truth as God’s word (John 17.17).
However, rather than God’s truth, many would instead believe the doctrines of men, like Calvinism’s predestination, dubbed “the most comforting doctrine.” And they may embrace this false teaching as sincerely as Saul had embraced Judaism before meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus. Ultimately, their rationale has the same fragile foundation as a Dickensian novel or a Currier and Ives lithograph. Warm, fuzzy feelings serve as the basis for belief. That feeling is related to nostalgia for the “faith” of mom or dad or the beloved preacher, not truth. It is a feeling predicated on the myth that a loving God would not condemn any sincerely religious person even though Jesus said that those failing to obey the Father would depart (Matthew 7.21-23).
In conclusion, I’d advise you to heed Solomon’s counsel. “Buy the truth, but sell it not: likewise wisdom, instruction, and understanding” (Proverbs 23.23 GNV). Make sure your salvation has a better foundation than a white Christmas.
Staveley-Wadham, Rose. The Truth Behind the White Christmas Dream, Findmypast, 10 Dec. 2020, blog.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/2020/12/10/truth-behind-white-christmas-dream/.
“Traditional ‘White Christmas’ Thought to Be a Myth.” Traditional’ White Christmas’ Thought to Be a Myth | Century Ireland, RTÉ ,www.rte.ie/centuryireland/index.php/blog/traditional-white-christmas-thought-to-be-a-myth.
Ferwen. “A Christmas Carol: Dickens and the Little Ice Age.” Letters from Gondwana, Letters from Gondwana, 19 Dec. 2015, paleonerdish.wordpress.com/2014/12/24/a-christmas-carol-dickens-and-the-little-ice-age/.Ortiz, Diego Arguedas. “How Dickens Made Christmas White.” BBC Future, BBC, 21 Dec. 2018, www.bbc.com/future/article/20181217-how-dickens-made-white-christmas-a-myth.