Please Join Us for:
Thursday, November 24, 10:30 AM
Saturday, December 24, 7:00 PM
Sunday, December 25, 11:00 AM
Christmas - Reflections on the Religious and the Secular
Christmas, in the world that most of us
become a strange
mixture of the religious and the secular. The Christmas cards that people send to family and friends contain images and words that range from scenes taken directly from Scripture, to ones that are purely secular in tone. A card with an artist's rendering of the manger scene might be displayed next to one depicting reindeer and snowmen. Indeed, many people's houses are decorated with this blended message. Is Christmas, in people's minds, a time of celebrating the wonder of the Lord's advent, or is it a time for other enjoyable but non-religious trappings and celebrations? Perhaps, in reality, at least at this time in history, it can be both.
Christmas, as a religious and cultural institution has evolved over time. Indeed, the type of Christmas that we know today in the U.S. and other parts of the Western w
orld probably looks quite different than it did during the lifetime of Emmanuel Swedenborg. Swedenborg lived in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The books of New Church theology began being penned by him in the mid-seventeen hundreds. Just a century or so before, Christmas trees began for the first time to be brought into people's homes. Martin Luther, the 16th-century Protestant reformer is often credited as being the one who added lighted candles to one of these trees.
The Christmas Puritans, who represent an important part of the establishment of the European presence in the New World, despised such extraneous additions to the celebration of Christmas. The pilgrim's second governor, Willian Bradford, is said to have tried hard to stamp our such "pagan mockery." Further, in 1659, the General Court of Massachusetts enacted a law making any observance of December 25, other than a church service, a penal offense. However, back in Europe, these additions to Christmas became ever more common. Indeed, it became a challenge for the puritans in the American colonies to kee
p pushing back against the practices that came with the German and Irish immigrants.
The New Church movement began to take shape immediately after Swedenborg's death in 1772. In those early days, and indeed for many years afterwards, there seems to have been a concerted effort to try to keep the every-growing secular influences out of the observance of Christmas. These influences, particularly in the U.S. took a fresh new step with the publication of Clement Clarke Moore's now classic poem, "An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas." This is the poem that begins with the well-known words, "'Twas the night before Christmas, when all thro' the house..." With this poem, the European celebration of Saint Nicholas' life of serving the poor, morphed into a whimsical account of a magical elf delivering presents to children. The twentieth century added Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman and so much more.
Some, in the early New Church speculated that the following teaching was a direct negative reflection on decorating Christmas trees and other secular tr
appings. It is a teaching from the work True Christian Religion and it says that, the goodwill that is attached to faith rather than being an integral part of faith, "is like fruit that did not grow on a tree but were nailed there instead." Earlier in the same work (number 185:5) an account is given of a Christian preacher who declared that we are all like a log of wood that God might someday choose to pour salvation into therefore making us a living tree. He is reported to have gone on the say that: "Pieces of fruit, which are good works, do indeed hang from that tree (which is a symbol of our faith), but they are not integral to it. The value of the tree is not based on its fruit." His point here, is that in understanding, good works, reflected by the fruit, were nice additions to the life of a saved person, but were essentially irrelevant to the salvation that has been the product of faith.
New Church teachings repeatedly rebuke the notion that faith alone saves. Instead, a person is only saved, meaning being made ready for an eternal life in the Lord's heaven, through faith in the Lord inseparably linked to a truly charitable heart and the works of charity that a person does within the reasonable limits of their physical and other capacities. All this said, in the early days of the New Church, many people seemed to have shunned secular things such as Christmas trees, because in their eyes, a decorated tree was symbolic of faith alone.
Today, many good hearted religious people, i
n the New Church and beyond, continue to wrestle with the question of what place, if any, the secular signs of Christmas should take in their homes and elsewhere. A recent question posted online by someone outside of the New Church asked: Have we lost the true meaning of Christmas? Here are two opposing responses:
It really has lost everything... I do think Christmas has lost its religious meaning as the world around us is developing faster, the meaning of true, religious beliefs is slowly slipping away and Christmas is a key example of this. It is taken over by all material things-presents, going shopping. People nowadays are forgetting the real reason Christmas is here; not for the money and gifts, it's to celebrate the birth of Christ, the moment for people all over the world to be connected by the birth of someone who changed many things in the past.
No, it hasn't...
Christmas has a different meaning to everyone. Some people think Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Christ. Some others think it means love or friendship, or giving and receiving presents. To some it's an opportunity to visit family or friend
s. To others it's a time of feasting and resting. Everyone has another opinion about its true meaning and everyone celebrates it how they think it should be done. Many people donate money to charity for Christmas, to help people in need because they think that Christmas is about love and peace.
A great many people truly love Christmas, and it is good that they do. For some people, there might be purely secular reasons for why they love the season. For others, it is because at Christmas there can be an enhanced sense of hope that there really can be peace on earth, and goodwill toward men. Still others set their hearts and minds squarely on the wonderful gift of the Lord's physical coming into the world, the advent that opened the door for the potential salvation of all mankind.
It seems clear from religious teachings that the proper weighing of a person's focus and priorities s
hould see the wonder of the Lord's advent come first in their heart and mind, a generalized longing for peace and goodwill second, and the secular trappings of the season third.
Still, we might wonder whether, if the Lord in His infinite wisdom and providence had not allowed the secular aspects of Christmas to flourish, would the country, and to some extent the world, pay the type of attention to Christmas that it pays today? Sometimes, it seems, getting the world to pay attention for imperfect reasons opens the door for people to understand that the real reason for the season is something much more profound and wonderful.
End of Life Education
At the time of writing we are running our most recent End of Life Education program. This program runs at the church from 1 - 4 PM on Tuesday afternoons from November 8 through December 13. There is no need to have been at previous classes to fully participate in and enjoy future ones.
We anticipate that the first program that we run in the new year will be at a different location on a weekday evening. We are currently looking for an appropriate site in the Tempe-Mesa area.
Please stay tuned for more information.
As before, the next course will be advertised on the internet site Meetup under the heading
End of Life Education
The Launch of our new "Journey" Spiritual Growth Program will be January 29 !!
We are looking for people to lead and/or host small groups.
Here is another overview of the program.
Welcome to the upcoming program!
Is it true? Kind? Useful?
Sometimes it's hard to know how to share ourselves authentically. The Mindful Communication Challenge offers structure to help us improve how we connect with each other. Paying attention to how our words, tone, and actions affect others, and asking ourselves "Is this true? Kind? Useful?" can help us speak from the heart. These tools help us weed out any thoughts and feelings not grounded in reality or love, and helps us dig beneath words to see our common humanity, with our deeper, universal needs.
Since true connection feels heavenly, Mindful Communication Challenge is grounded in symbolism from various Parables found in the New Testament that explore "The kingdom of heaven" as well as descriptions of what a heavenly community looks like from the works by philosopher and theologian Emanuel Swedenborg.
Join us as we support each other on a journey of true self-expression, and help nourish connections with those we love in our lives. Because what could be more beneficial in the long run?
Our local launch date again is
January 29, 2017
Please call or email the church if you would like more information.
September and October
Birthdays and Anniversaries
Patsy Burns - Nov. 13
Carol Cronlund - Nov. 18
Aurelius Machado - Nov. 18
Keith Rydstrom - Nov. 23
Tryn Rose Seley - Nov. 26
Ashley Walsh - Nov. 27
Emily Cowley - Nov. 30
Natalie Henderson - Dec. 12
Doug Odhner - Dec. 13
Sashila Mistiuk - Dec. 22
Wes Openshaw - Dec. 25
Marion and Barbara Bellamy - Nov. 25
Kevin and Lois Taylor - Nov. 26
Don and Joan Smith - Dec. 19
Garry and Laurel Walsh - Dec. 28
If you or someone you know is not on this list but should be, please contact Garry at (480)991-0048 or email@example.com
Vision & Purpose
(Divine Providence 27)
"The Lord's Divine Providence has as its end a heaven from the human race."