The Most Wonderful Time of the Year | Influence Podcast


Andy Williams sang that Christmas is “the most wonderful time of the year.” He was right, though for the wrong reasons. Now, don’t get me wrong! “Parties for hosting, marshmallows for toasting, and caroling out in the snow” are great and everything, but they’re not what Christmas is ultimately about.

In Episode 161 of the Influence Podcast, I talk to Joseph Castleberry about the real reason why Christmas is such a wonderful time of the year. We also debunk a few myths people believe about Christmas.

Dr. Castleberry is president of Northwest University in Kirkland, Washington, an ordained Assemblies of God minister, and a former missionary to Central America. More germane to this podcast, he’s author of 40 Days of Christmas, published by Broadstreet (which I reviewed here).

Advertisements

40 Days of Christmas | Book Review


Christmas doesn’t begin at my house until Thanksgiving is over. But once the turkey is digested, the tree goes up, Mariah Carey’s Christmas album gets played on endless loop (it’s that good!), and the countdown to December 25th begins. Literally. The kids have a chalkboard that says, “Santa comes to our house in _____ days.” (As of today, it’s 28 days, in case you’re wondering.) For my family, Christmas is a season, not just a day.

Joseph Castleberry’s family and mine are evidently of like mind about the Christmas season. In his new book, 40 Days of Christmas, he provides a daily devotional to guide individuals and families from November 28 to January 6. In the traditional Christian calendar, November 28 is the earliest date Advent can begin, and January 6 is the Feast of Epiphany — a total of 40 days to reflect on the humble birth of Jesus Christ at Bethlehem and to hope for His glorious Second Coming.

Castleberry — “Joe” to his friends, among whom I count myself — is president of Northwest University in Kirkland, Washington, a Pentecostal minister, and a former missionary. He brings scholarly erudition, pastoral insight, and intercultural sensitivity to bear in these short daily devotions. Even if you don’t follow the traditional Christian calendar, these devotional thoughts are certain to inspire your celebration of the Savior at this time of year.

I appreciated three things about 40 Days of Christmas in particular. First, the book skillfully handles Old Testament prophecy. At Christmastime, we too often detach messianic prophecies from their original contexts. But as Castleberry reminds us, “Old Testament prophecies [such as Isaiah 9:6–7] usually had a near-term meaning that related to the time in which they were given, but the prophecies would carry a ‘surplus of meaning’ — elements that contemporary fulfillment did not exhaust.” By noting both the “near-term meaning” and “surplus of meaning,” Castleberry’s devotions help us better understand and appreciate the prophecies Christ fulfilled.

Second, 40 Days of Christmas debunks several Christmas myths. There was no “inn” at Bethlehem that refused Joseph and Mary service. The Greek word refers to the extra room at a house. Christ was not born on December 25, but the reason we celebrate His birth on that date is not because early Christians sanctified pagan holidays. And, there’s nothing wrong with Christians singing “secular” holiday classics like “White Christmas” or “Jingle Bells.” For Christians, even Santa Claus is OK. “He’s a good brother, and he does good work,” as one Pentecostal “prophesied” after his pastor excoriated St. Nick in a sermon — a funny and true story Joe got from my dad, as it turns out.

Third, and most importantly, the book keeps its focus on Christ. Bing Crosby memorably sang, “I’ll be home for Christmas,” and many of us associate Christmastime with going “home for the holidays.” But as Castleberry notes, this isn’t what Christmas is really or ultimately about. Ironically, he writes, Christmas “has everything to do with leaving home on a noble and holy mission to save those who have become lost and helpless without God, who face the danger of losing their heavenly home for eternity.” Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. That’s the reason for the season.

Castleberry concludes the book with a brief nod to Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, which speaks of the “Spirit of Christmas.” For Dickens, the spirits of Christmas Past, Present and Future showed Ebenezer Scrooge what his life could have been and still could be. For Castleberry — good Pentecostal that he is — the Spirit of Christmas is the Holy Spirit, who played such as prominent role in Christ’s birth (see Luke 1–2) and who “continues to deliver every good and perfect gift that comes from the Father.” If we want to celebrate Christmas all year long, we must be filled with the same Spirit who filled Jesus Christ.

If you’re looking for a devotional to read personally or with your family, I highly recommend my friend Joe Castleberry’s 40 Days of Christmas. Here are his closing words: “My prayer for you is that God will fill you richly with the Holy Spirit, bringing miraculous help to your everyday life throughout the year to come, and indeed throughout your whole life.”

Amen to that!

Book Reviewed
Joseph Castleberry, 40 Days of Christmas: Celebrating the Glory of Our Savior (Savage, MN: BroadStreet, 2018).

P.S. If you liked my review, please vote “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

P.P.S. This review is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

An Outline of the Christian Faith, Part 3: Atonement and Advent (Revelation 1:5–7)


John follows his statement about revelation (Revelation 1:1–3) and his trinitarian greeting (verses 4–5) with a doxology to Jesus Christ (verses 5–7). A doxology is a word (logos) in praise of the glory (doxa) of God, or in this case, of Jesus Christ. There are several doxologies in Revelation (e.g., 4:6–11, 5:9–13, 7:12, 19:1–2). The sequence of verses 1–7 is instructive. Theology gives rise to doxology, faith to praise. A man or woman who thinks correctly about God but fails to worship him wholeheartedly has not understood him at all.

Why praise Jesus Christ? Two reasons: Atonement and advent.

Atonement: Of English coinage, and first used in the sixteenth century, the word atonement—literally, at-one-ment—refers to “God’s act of dealing with the primary human problem, sin…through Christ’s death.”[i] Verses 5–6 speak of the motivation, means, and purpose of atonement.

Love is the motivation for the atonement. We give our praise “to him who loved us.” Someone once asked Karl Barth, the great Swiss theologian, to state the heart of the Christian faith. He responded with the words of the children’s song: “Jesus loves me, this I know / for the Bible tells me so.” A simple statement, I admit, but truth need not be complex.

Death is the means of the atonement. John writes that Jesus Christ “freed us from our sins by his blood.” The Bible portrays sin as a power that oppresses us. Consistent with the metaphor, then, salvation is God’s power that liberates us. But liberation comes at a cost: The Liberator dies to set us free. His death, in fact, is evidence of his love: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

The church is the purpose of the atonement. Jesus Christ died “to make us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father.” The image of the church as “a kingdom of priests” derives from Exodus 19:5–6. From the first books of the Bible to the last, it is God’s stated purpose to create a community that receives his love, acknowledges his lordship in all things, and gives him praise.

Advent: Jesus Christ freed us from our sins one Friday afternoon in A.D. 30 (or 33), when he died on a cross in Jerusalem. This was the purpose of his first advent, or coming to earth. But the New Testament promises that Jesus Christ will return. “Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him.” John, realist that he is, acknowledges that “all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him.” The time between the first and second advents is a time of opportunity for us to experience at-one-ment with God the Father through Jesus Christ his Son. If we do so, we will greet the return of Jesus Christ with hilarious joy, not delirious sorrow.

In verse 5, John describes Jesus as “the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.” Have you accepted the testimony of Jesus Christ’s love for you? Have you experienced the power of his atoning death and resurrection on your behalf? Is he Lord of your life? Now is the time to give an affirmative to these questions, for Jesus Christ is coming again. “Even so. Amen.”

 

[i] “Atonement, atonement theories,” in Stanley J. Grenz, David Guretzki, and Cherith Fee Nordling, Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 17.