December 10, 2011 Commencement at Oklahoma Wesleyan University.
As you graduate today, I would like talk to you about something pretty basic to education and learning: the power of ideas and the power found in our expressions of them—the power of our words.
For example, let’s take a word pertinent to this time of year: the word holiday. What is its etymology, its origin and purpose? What does it mean?
Well, at first glance you might recognize that it’s pretty obvious. The word holiday is actually the combination of two words: “holy” and “day.”
Holy—A religious word: something that is sacred and set apart for God. Something that must be preserved and kept whole, untransgressed, inseparable, and inviolate.
Holy: sanctified and righteous, pure and right and real.
Holy: uncompromised and worthy of respect and worship. “Holy, holy, holy” is the Lord God Almighty, for He alone is holy!
Day—A reference to a 24-hour period of time. The acknowledgment of past, present, and future. The awareness of the clock; that the minutes and hours are passing and that ultimately they are God’s to give and to take, and that humans have nothing to say about their longevity or brevity.
Day: self-limitation; knowing that our days are numbered. Yesterday’s memories. Today’s responsibilities. Tomorrow’s dreams. Made in the image of God, humans stand alone in our awareness of time and the divine dictate that this is the Day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it, honor it, and know that we alone of all God’s creatures are obligated to keep it holy.
Isn’t it ironic that the “wise” who wish to secularize our culture actually do so by demanding that we abandon “religious words” like Christmas while at the same time arguing in favor of an even more religious word like “holiday”?!
Which leads me to a second word: Christmas.
Since the 12thcentury this word has meant “Christ’s mass”:
Christ—An obvious acknowledgment of the deity of Jesus, the Child born in Bethlehem.
Christ: the Savior of all mankind; Emmanuel, God with us.
Christ: the Messiah, “for He will save His people from their sins.”
Christ: born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, crucified, risen, and coming again; the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.
Christ: the Lion of Judah, the Lamb of God; “Joy to the world, the Lord has come!” Christ!
Mass—A statement to go forth under a singular banner.
Mass: a message.
Mass: unmistakable clarity; vision casting; an unapologetic sermon that guides and directs and says you are dismissed to go walk the walk and talk the talk.
Mass: not a time of man’s mushy manipulation; not a time of postmodern opinions; not a time of political popularity.
Mass: the message of the Messiah; the mission of God’s chosen One—the Word made flesh and dwelling among us. Mass!
So as you celebrate your commencement today, I want to encourage you to remember that, yes, this is indeed a holiday; that this day, your graduation day, is holy and set apart by God for you to begin anew and be born again in the knowledge that God is God and you are not, and that truth is given by Him and not made up by you. Remember that this is not your day but His, and that it is your responsibility is to seek justice and love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
Also remember that this is the Christmas season. Remember that this is Christ’s Mass. Not Buddha’s mass. Not Mohammed’s mass. Not Hare Krishna’s mass. It’s not Pelosi’s or Reed’s, Obama’s or Bush’s, yours or mine. It is Christ’s mass! We can commercialize it, homogenize it, politicize it, and compromise it, but in the end the bottom line is this: Christmas means something and all our attempts to spin it, manipulate it, and change it are nothing more than the pouts of spoiled children who don’t like their Father’s gifts.
Thousands of years ago a Jewish psalmist sang out, “Teach me your way, O Lord; I will walk in Your truth!” Later, Jesus Christ Himself proclaimed that by following His way the blind would see and the oppressed would be set free. Perhaps there is some wisdom in these words, these time-tested and ancient words.
Perhaps during this holiday season—this holy-day season—and on this holy day, we would all do well to remember that our words are indeed powerful and that the ideas they express are like predictable paths that always lead somewhere.
Maybe, just maybe, the magic of Christmas—of peace on earth and good will toward men; of Emmanuel, God with us; of joy to the world; of silent night and holy night—can only be had by choosing the right ideas and the right words: God’s words.
We are warned that there is a way that seems right to man but in the end it leads to death. But Jesus gives us confidence to know that there is a way and a truth and a life, and that it is found only in His words and His definitions and on His path—and not ours.
Congratulations on your graduation, your holy-day.
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About Dr. Everett Piper
Dr. Piper is the President of Oklahoma Wesleyan University. Associated with Chuck Colson’s Breakpoint and Centurions programs, Dr. Piper is the author of "Why I am a 'Liberal' and Other Conservative Ideas" http://www.whyiamaliberal.com/. He has also authored "The Wrong Side of the Door: Why Ideas Matter. Piper is a frequent speaker on Christian education, Biblical worldview, and applied apologetics in both regional and national venues. For more information go to www.okwu.edu or go to www.everettpiper.com .
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