The Last Night of Christmas

Tomorrow is Epiphany, or the 12th day of Christmas, or “Old Christmas.” It’s also Christmas Day for the Orthodox Church.

That means tonight is the last night of the Christmas season. Tomorrow our tree will come down.

Sigh.

I’ve enjoyed our tree this year. Makes me a little sad to take it down.

On the other hand, our living room will seem significantly more spacious now!

And we’re leaving up our Christmas lights while the evenings remain dark.

Our 2021 Christmas tree in all of its decorated and lit up glory!
At least COVID gave us another humorous ornament!
Didn’t even watch the “A Charlie Brown Christmas” this year.

When Do We Pray at the Window?

This may or may not surprise you, but pastors don’t have all the answers–even when it comes to what the Bible means and when it comes to how we apply Scripture to our present day lives and circumstances.

But sometimes it’s just as important to ask good questions as it is to provide good answers.

Case in point. One evening when my family and I were doing our Advent devotions, the story we read was from Daniel 6. At this point in the story, Daniel–who was an exile in pagan Babylon–had become very important to King Darius and was about to be placed in a position of even greater authority. But he had also made some enemies. These enemies conspired to trap Daniel by convincing the king to sign an edict which stated that for 30 days prayers could only be offered to Darius. Anyone caught praying to any other god would be thrown into the lions’ den. Essentially, they wanted to catch Daniel praying to the God of Israel in order to have reason and opportunity to get rid of him. Here is how Daniel responded to the situation:

When Daniel learned that the document had been signed, he went into his house. The windows in its upstairs room opened toward Jerusalem, and three times a day he got down on his knees, prayed, and gave thanks to his God, just as he had done before. 

Daniel 6:10

The passage strongly implies that after learning of the edict, Daniel proceeded to pray as he had always done: at his window which faced the city of Jerusalem. Whatever edict Darius had signed, Daniel was going to practice his faith exactly as he had always done.

My family had quite a discussion about this passage. Since that evening I’ve not been able to get this story out of my head. In particular, I was left wondering whether Daniel could have prayed differently. Did he have to pray in front of the window? Is that how he was found out? Did he do so knowing he could be caught and be thrown into the lions’ den? Were his actions not only an act of faithfulness to the God of Israel but also an act of defiance in relation to the nation of Babylon? Could he not have prayed differently, out of view?

Unfortunately, the text doesn’t seem to tell us. And my limited commentary selection indicates that Daniel–who was probably around 80 years of age by this time–knew what he was doing. Daniel faced a dilemma: be faithful to God or obedient to Babylon. And so he knelt in front of the window in his home facing Jerusalem and prayed three times a day just as he had done before.

Perhaps doing it any other way wouldn’t even have occurred to Daniel. And if it did, he clearly chose to go ahead anyway and pray just as he had done before.

Here are some questions that have been on my mind because of this passage.

Could Daniel have prayed faithfully without engaging in the specific physical posture of kneeling before the window? Why or why not?

Is it only explicit calls by governing authorities to deny what we believe–that is, deny that Jesus is Lord and Savior–that we are called to disobey? Or is it also possible to deny our Lord via our actions? How do we know when that is happening? Can I deny Christ with my body as well as with my beliefs, thoughts and words? Under what conditions do we, like Daniel, practice our faith just as we had done before?

Plenty of Bible passages and historical liturgical practices point to the physicality of worship, to postures and actions that are assumed to be inseparable from the beliefs which underlie them. There are also direct commands in Scripture to lift our hands, to bow, to kneel, to sing, and to come together in fellowship. Is it always possible and right to separate our worship from our bodies? What connection exists–and should exist–between our faith and our physical actions?

Put another way: When do we pray at the window?

Those are my questions. I’m not sure how to answer them. Maybe you don’t agree that all of my questions are relevant or fair ones to ask. Maybe you have more clear answers than I do. If so, I’d love to hear from you.

Things COVID Has Shown Christians Can Take for Granted

Our church buildings. We complain about them and cling to them, sometimes in equal measure. But at least they’re a place to meet together.

Church potlucks. C’mon, you know you miss them! Where else can you find finger sandwiches, gelatin-based desserts, and casseroles at the same meal?

Congregational singing. A recent development, but very noticeable. I miss hearing a group of not altogether in tune with another people belting out hymns.

The human face. More specifically, smiles. When was the last time you saw the lower half of most peoples’ faces?

Human touch. Especially hugs. Waving or the patented COVID elbow bump simply aren’t the same.

Church business meetings. How many Baptists and others have experienced quorum and voting and making motions withdrawal?

The internet. WiFi, digital technology, and Zoom (we all should have invested in Zoom!) have turned obscure pastors into YouTube sensations!

Embodied presence. Just being around more loved ones, of course: family, friends, neighbours, and fellow believers. Not having to be suspicious or anxious about human contact. Not that it takes COVID to be this way, but the pandemic has definitely made it worse.

What about you? What do you think our churches have taken for granted? What have you taken for granted? Add a comment and let me know!

May We Pray

May we pray that brothers and sisters in Christ—and church leaders especially—would give grace to one another even in the midst of our differences as we face these challenging times.

May we pray that our churches would become sanctuaries for the fearful, the lonely, the otherwise unaccepted, the spiritually undecided and curious, the hurting, and everyone needing the hope of the good news of Jesus.

May we pray that our pastors would find the encouragement, patience, friendship, and wisdom they require while providing care to their congregations and communities.

May we pray that our neighbours would turn to Christ as the one source of peace and hope in this tumultuous season.

May we pray that the people of God would be free to follow their consciences and obey the dictates of their faith while also respecting governing authorities.

May we pray that our governing authorities and political leaders would have the discernment and willingness to balance the various concerns of their constituents while making decisions surrounding COVID.

May we pray that our gracious Lord and God would see fit to hasten the end of the pandemic, the restrictions we have to follow, bring healing to people and relationships that have suffered as a result, and do so in a way that brings glory to his holy and wonderful name.

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Amen and amen.

A Prayer for New Possibilities

At a time when everything COVID seems endless and inescapable, I long for light at the end of this tunnel. In the meantime, I pray for strength and patience. In all of this, God is our only hope. To that end, let us pray:

Creator God, who formed us from dust, breathe in me again. Give me fresh imagination to perceive new possibilities today. Amen.