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Friday, December 9, 2011

CHRISTMAS CARDS, HEROD, AND MORE

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Christmas Cards:
Let's try and hold on to this old tradition
by Victor Schukov
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This week I saw a giant ad depicting a joyful Santa reading
a text message on his new “whatever” phone. It stirred something inside me.

And as there are often no coincidences in life, when I came home, my wife gave me a box of blank Christmas cards.  She said, “Give them to all of your friends and colleagues at the office.”

When I was growing up, I sent Christmas cards to everyone I knew; it was just done. It was an integral part of a preparation, the first step in kicking off the the great holiday celebration of Christmas.

The sending of cards made us start to think about friends and family we haven’t seen - for too long - even if they lived close to us.

Nothing is nicer than to receive something in the mail
that is not another bill to pay or an advertisement poking you to buy the latest whatever. As we drag our feet through the mundane demands of daily life, we sometime forget what a downer it is to be reminded by a letter that says
“buy me” or “you owe us this many dollars by whenever.”
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It is a constant, stressful bombardment of money-draining in one direction.  No matter how much of a grinch you may be, it is a pleasant surprise to receive a colourful card with a handwritten note inside that says,
“Wishing you all the best and thinking of you.”
And it is even more special when it is from someone you didn’t expect.  A Christmas card kicks off the upcoming holiday’s person-to-person connection,  the being together in thoughts if not in body. That is the message of Christmas.

It is the sending of good will that puts you in the spirit.
 We do it from the heart, even if we have not received a card from that someone in a long time. It should not be about reciprocation, but of setting an example with a stitch of love attached.  My wife tells me that when she was a child, her mother would pick up cards with just the right message. Her father would then sit down a few weeks before Christmas Day, and write out each personal wish.

And everyone gets into it at a different level.
Some write long, deep letters, some just a few words and a signature. It doesn’t matter, it is the thought that counts and Christmas is all about the thinking of others.
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Christmas cards are also mementos that some people save for all of their lives, opening them up every few years to remember friends and loved ones who may have died or moved away forever. The magic of reminiscence  keeps us connected to people who have touched our lives. And when we hang the cards up around the home, it fills every corner of the room
with the essence of people who are dear to us.
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When it replaces Christmas cards, texting on a machine
defeats all of the blessed messages that give this season its’ warmth.  Too busy to sit down and write a card? Cards too expensive?  Some of us have a million reasons,
 but there are no excuses.
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Make the time from your heart. Texting your best wishes is cold.  Emails are impersonal, without a spot of effort compared to handwriting.  How lazy. How sad. We must not let the sending of Christmas cards be a dying tradition.
Now get away from your desktop and go out and
 buy some cards.
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From The West Island Gazette
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From "The Visited Planet"
 by Philip Yancey, American Evangelical
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Sorting through the stack of cards that arrived
at our house last Christmas, I note that all kinds of symbols
have edged their way into the celebration.
Overwhelmingly, the landscape scenes
render New England towns buried in snow,
usually with the added touch of a horse-drawn sleigh.
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Angels have made a huge comeback  in recent years,
 and Hallmark and American Greetings
now feature them prominently,
though as demure, cuddly-looking creatures,
not the type who would ever need to announce
"Fear not!"
The explicitly religious cards (a distinct minority)
focus on the holy family, and you can tell at a glance
these folks are different. They seem unruffled and serene.
Bright gold halos, like crowns from another world,
hover just above their heads.
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When the Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci went to
 China in the sixteenth century,
he brought along samples of religious art
to illustrate the Christian story for
people who had never heard it.
The Chinese readily adopted portraits of
the Virgin Mary holding her child,
but when he produced paintings of the
crucifixion and tried to explain that the
God-child had grown up only to be executed,
the audience reacted with revulsion and horror.
They much preferred the Virgin and insisted
on worshiping her rather than
the crucified God.
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As I thumb once more through my stack of
 Christmas cards, I realize that we in Christian
countries do much the same thing.
We observe a mellow, domesticated holiday
purged of any hint of scandal. Above all,
we purge from it any reminder of how the story
that began at Bethlehem turned out at Calvary.
The earliest events in Jesus' life, though,
give a menacing preview of the unlikely struggle
now under way. Herod, King of the Jews,
enforced Roman rule at the local level,
and in an irony of history we know Herod's name
mainly because of the massacre of the innocents.
I have never seen a Christmas card depicting
that state-sponsored act of terror, but it too
was a part of Christ's coming.
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Although secular history does not refer
to the atrocity, no one acquainted with the
life of Herod doubts him capable. He killed
two brothers-in-law, his own wife Mariamne, and
two of his own sons. Five days before his death
he ordered the arrest of many citizens and
decreed that they be executed on the day of his death,
in order to guarantee a proper atmosphere of mourning
in the country. For such a despot, a minor
extermination procedure in Bethlehem
posed no problem.
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From THE URANTIA BOOK
Part IV, 122, 10
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HEROD ACTS
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But the watchers for Herod were not inactive. When they reported to him the visit of the priests of Ur to Bethlehem, Herod summoned these Chaldeans to appear before him. He inquired diligently of these wise men about the new “king of the Jews,” but they gave him little satisfaction, explaining that the babe had been born of a woman who had come down to Bethlehem with her husband for the census enrollment.
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 Herod, not being satisfied with this answer, sent them forth with a purse and directed that they should find the child so that he too might come and worship him, since they had declared that his kingdom was to be spiritual, not temporal. But when the wise men did not return, Herod grew suspicious. As he turned these things over in his mind, his informers returned and made full report of the recent occurrences in the temple, bringing him a copy of parts of the Simeon song which had been sung at the redemption ceremonies of Jesus. But they had failed to follow Joseph and Mary, and Herod was very angry with them when they could not tell him whither the pair had taken the babe. He then dispatched searchers to locate Joseph and Mary. Knowing Herod pursued the Nazareth family, Zacharias and Elizabeth remained away from Bethlehem. The boy baby was secreted with Joseph’s relatives.

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 Joseph was afraid to seek work, and their small savings were rapidly disappearing. Even at the time of the purification ceremonies at the temple, Joseph deemed himself sufficiently poor to warrant his offering for Mary two young pigeons as Moses had directed for the purification of mothers among the poor.
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When, after more than a year of searching, Herod’s spies had not located Jesus, and because of the suspicion that the babe was still concealed in Bethlehem, he prepared an order directing that a systematic search be made of every house in Bethlehem, and that all boy babies under two years of age should be killed. In this manner Herod hoped to make sure that this child who was to become “king of the Jews” would be destroyed. And thus perished in one day sixteen boy babies in Bethlehem of Judea. But intrigue and murder, even in his own immediate family, were common occurrences at the court of Herod.
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 The massacre of these infants took place about the middle of October, 6 B.C., when Jesus was a little over one year of age. But there were believers in the coming Messiah even among Herod’s court attachés, and one of these, learning of the order to slaughter the Bethlehem boy babies, communicated with Zacharias, who in turn dispatched a messenger to Joseph; and the night before the massacre Joseph and Mary departed from Bethlehem with the babe for Alexandria in Egypt. In order to avoid attracting attention, they journeyed alone to Egypt with Jesus. They went to Alexandria on funds provided by Zacharias, and there Joseph worked at his trade while Mary and Jesus lodged with well-to-do relatives of Joseph’s family. They sojourned in Alexandria two full years, not returning to Bethlehem until after the death of Herod.
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