Tuesday, December 9

Spam Ban

The House of Representatives has sent a bill to President Bush that would allow penalties of up to $6 million and five years in jail for sending some of the most noxious forms of e-mail spam. About 13 million pieces of unsolicited commercial e-mail are sent each day, which represents about half of all e-mail sent. I can confirm that from personal experience!

Senators Conrad Burns, a Montana Republican, and Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, cheered the House's passage of the bill as a bipartisan, bicameral effort and an important step towards stopping the "kingpin spammers and stemming the flow of garbage into America's in-boxes."

The House, by unanimous consent, approved an amended version of the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing (CAN-SPAM) Act of 2003, which had been bouncing between the House and Senate as both houses of Congress made changes to it. Most political watchers have said they expect the bill to be signed into law by the President by the end of the year.

Critics have said CAN-SPAM will allow "legal" spam to continue because it requires that e-mail users opt out of receiving commercial e-mail, instead of requiring that spammers receive opt-in permission before sending e-mail. Nevertheless, all across the board, experts agree that an initial counter-blast on the ponography spewers, Viagra hawkers, and mortgage brokers has been made at long last. And that is a very, very good thing!

Why Yuletide Traditions?

The holiday season--what we generally just call Christmastime--is actually a long sequence of holy days, festal revelries, and liturgical rites that are collectively known as Yuletide. Beginning with Advent, a time of preparation and repentance, proceeding to Christmas, a time of celebration and generosity, and concluding with Epiphany, a time of remembrance and thanksgiving, Yuletide traditions enable us to see out the old year with faith and love while ushering in the new year with hope and joy.

It is a season fraught with meaning and significance. Unfortunately, it is also such a busy season that its meaning and significance can all too easily be obscured either by well-intended materialistic pursuits--frenzied shopping trips to the mall to find just the right Christmas gift--or by the less benign demands, desires, wants, and needs which are little more than grist for human greed. The traditions of Yuletide were intended to guard us against such things--and thus, are actually more relevant today than ever before.

Recently, a dear friend wrote me to ask how I was able to reconcile my relish for such ancient Christian practices with my obvious commitment to the Reformed faith? After all, didn’t the Scots reformers (among my dearest theological heroes) adamantly eschew all such holiday practices? Wouldn’t they have considered such traditions tainted by Catholicism? Indeed, wouldn't they have argued that the liturgical bent of Advent, Yuletide, and Epiphany are quite contrary to the most basic tenants of Protestantism?

Excellent questions. Here is how I answered:

First, the glory of the Reformation has always been the a reliance on Scripture and a willingness to be "Reformed yet ever reforming." Thus, as we continue the process of recovering the richness of the Scriptural approach to worship and the marking of time, shouldn't we mature beyond the days of mere reaction to the empty ritual of Medieval Catholicism. None of us want to dredge up the old bath water of works righteousness and empty ritualistic superstition, but lots of us are starting to wonder whether or not we ought to recover the baby of a Biblical worldview we threw out with it! This is, as Philip Schaff argued, the very "principle of Protestantism."

Second, there are innumerable Reformed legacies that have always joyously embraced the sheer beauty and intentional substantiveness in worship through the seasons. Some of these rich legacies are Dutch, some are Scottish, and some are Continental. We ought to look to them all to inform how we should be growing up in faith in these difficult times. Edith Schaeffer has written, “There is something about saying, 'We always do this,' which helps keep the years together. Time is such an elusive thing that if we keep on meaning to do something interesting, but never do it, year would follow year with no special thoughtfulness being expressed in making gifts, surprises, charming table settings, and familiar, favorite food. Tradition is a good gift intended to guard the best gifts.”

Third, celebrations are inescapable. So the only question for us really is, which celebrations will we make a part of our lives? Why the pastor's anniversary and not Christ's anniversary, for instance? Why the immediate building program and not the timeless Kingdom program? Why birthdays or national holidays or significant current events and not those aspects of the Gospel tied to the calendar? Corrie ten Boom once said, “When I think of Christmas Eves, Christmas feasts, Christmas songs, and Christmas stories, I know that they do not represent a short and transient gladness. Instead, they speak of a joy unspeakable and full of glory. God loved the world and so, sent His Son. Whosoever believes in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life. That is Christmas joy. That is the Christmas spirit.”

Finally, it is difficult for me to get past the incredible depth, symbolic richness, and adorned texturing of the worship of Heaven as portrayed in passages like Revelation 4-6. Why shouldn't our worship, our celebrations, and our passing of time look more like that than say a philosophical lecture or an Amway rally or a political convention or an educational conference or a night club act? Charles Haddon Spurgeon said that, "It is during Yuletide that the Church begins to catch a glimpse of the glory of true worship. As we adorn our homes and our villages with the evidences of incarnation, we adorn our lives and our worship with the majesty of heaven."

Thus, it is without apology that I declare "Good news and great joy!" It is Biblical theology, not merely a nostalgic appetite for Yuletide goodies that prompts me to say, "Joyous Advent to all! And bring on that Christmas pudding!"

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