A Myth We Want to Believe 

A Myth We Want to Believe 

Friday’s Column: Brent’s Biblical Bytes

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Brent Pollard

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.

Further Reading

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.

Ebenezer!

Ebenezer!

Neal Pollard

No, not Scrooge (though my favorite version starred George C. Scott)!  That Ebenezer is the one even most Christians are more familiar with. The Ebenezer I’m referring to is from the Bible. You’ll read about it between 1 Samuel 4-7. The first two references are to an existing village (4:1; 5:1). But, it’s the last reference that Robert Robinson makes use of in his well-known, 1758 hymn, O Thou Fount Of Every Blessing.

In the thread of Jewish history, Eli is rejected as High Priest for the corruption perpetrated in his house against the people in their priestly functions. Samuel is chosen to be his replacement. Due to the terrible leadership of Eli’s sons and their influence over the people (2:24), God allows the Philistines to rout them in battle (4:2). The Israelites try to form their own solution by bringing the Ark of the Covenant from Shiloh to Ebenezer as an icon of power (4:3-4) and perhaps to intimidate the Philistines (4:6-9). This backfires, the Philistines steal the ark (4:11), and keep it in the house of their god, Dagon, for seven months (5:2; 6:1). This brings what might have been Bubonic Plague on the Philistines until they, desperately, return the ark to Israel (6:12). Except for the over 50,000 people of Beth Shemesh who look into the ark when it was returned to them and were destroyed (6:19), things were much improved for Israel.

By now, Eli’s successor has been named. Eleazer cares for the ark, safeguarding it for 20 years at Kirjath Jearim. Samuel leads a Restoration Movement to free Israel from Philistine oppression. The people repent when they gather at Mizpah. The Philistines hears of Israel’s prayer meeting and prepare to fight them.  Samuel urges prayer and sacrifice (7:8-9). It was then God made His appearance and confused the Philistines so much that Israel utterly defeats them. There, between Mizpah and Shen, Samuel takes a stone and laid it on the ground, calling the place Ebenezer. This means, “Thus far the Lord has helped us” (7:12). Israel regains cities lost to Philistia and were relieved from their oppression. The place where Israel had been defeated twice became the place where God helped His people win with finality!

Why would Robinson use such a relatively obscure Old Testament moment to talk about God’s guidance and assistance? First, Israel had to come as far as they could from wickedness to salvation. But, it was not by their goodness or power that they were delivered. Far from it! God “thundered with a loud thunder upon the Philistines.” The Lord “confused them.” So, Samuel sets up a memorial in an attempt to remind Israel of their dependence on Him.

Because of human nature, we still need that reminder today. The Lord’s Supper is a memorial of dependence, a continual reminder of our need for a substitute sacrifice to save us from hell. Prayer is an inherent reminder that we’re preserved only by the Lord’s help. Even our bodies remind us we are finite. When we look at the incredible world of nature, our souls sing out, “How Great Thou Art!” The next time you sing that Robinson hymn, remember that “it is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not” (Lam. 3:22).

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