This blog has since 2006 to provide resources for Bible teaching and study, a forum for the arts of writing and film, and a space for ranting about politics. Barbara G. Tucker is the mind and heart behind this blog and solely responsible for the content, which
does not reflect the views or mission of her employer, church, or affiliations. She has many personal (wife and mom to start with) and professional roles (related to higher education and writing.) Enjoy and participate.
This is my 762nd post on this blog over about five years. I have decided to take a hiatus, a sabbath rest, from this blog, for a number of reasons. Number 1 is to devote time to my other writing; number 2 is that I'm not getting the attention from it that I would like, and feel that I am screaming into the void of cyberspace; number 3 is that I may just be posting without really thinking through and really editing my work. So I will from time to time post but not on a daily, or even weekly, basis. I still hope people leave comments, which come to my email box at work.
Before I start, rum really adds something to fruitcake.
I have become aware in this last year that the living of Christ's life is more than an inward, self-focused spiritual experience. Without it becoming political, because politics is about government power, living the Christ life is about community and a larger impact in the world; and yet God is big enough to let those who are introverts, and more gifted at the small, serve that way. Anna and Simeon were serving in quiet ways but not for their own sakes, and they saw the Jesus the Messiah was for everyone, not for themselves or their group alone. The two intersect.
I was just reading about the waste of money we spend in mission trips for kids and adults to do work that locals could be hired to do for much less and that would provide dignity and income. There are the helpless, and then there are the poor who are not helpless and should not be so encouraged. It makes the middle class feel good, that's all. Another exa…
One of the most neglected parts of the Christmas story is the visit to the temple forty days after the birth. There are two very old people, the woman at least 84, who served in the temple as good Jews but who recognized the Messiah when he came. Why? Perhaps becasue their hearts and minds were ready to receive what is to be revealed. I thik we do not recieve a word from the Lord, or gifts of his grace, because we are not ready, and these two were ready.
Simeon prophesies. He approaches Mary and Joseph by the Holy Spirit; they do not appraoch him. He makes it clear Jesus is for everybody, but that he will be divisive. Joseph and Mary marvel. I can see Luke interviewing Mary about this episode. She might have thought it was as amazing as the three wise me (who, incidentally, came later than this scene).
Simeon says that his coming is so that "the thoughts of many will be revealed." The word of God is sharper and than a two-edge…
I just finished Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry. It is a book I would recommend, with caveats. The caveats have more to do with the potential readers than the book itself, which I found lovely.
My past experience with Berry is reading What are People For? , hearing him speak at the Southern writer's conference that is held every two years in Chattanooga (it has a more proper name, which I am ignoring), and being aware of his viewpoints. My take on his viewpoints is irrelevant. He is anti-war, anti-big farm, anti-nuclear power, anti- a lot of things, which sort of makes him on the verge of being a curmudgeon. He is also anti-computer, and raised a lot of ire a few years back by saying he refuses to use a computer to write and that he uses an old typewriter (that's a technology). Knowing these things about Berry makes me a little too aware in the novel of when he is "preaching," letting his main character Hannah be a mouthpiece for his views. That is my first i…
If you are wondering what happened to #26, I realized that I have two number 13s, so this straightens out my list. I have no idea if anyone is reading these posts, but they serve as drafts for me for future writing, if nothing else. I am shouting into cyberspace.
This morning I finished Wendell Berry's Hannah Coulter, a elegiac memoir, and will quote one of its sweet passages. This is from a chapter in which the voice of the main character, Hannah Coulter, is speaking about her husband's experience in Okinawa in World War II, something he never spoke to her about and which she had to research in books after he died.
"To read of that battle when you love a man who was in it, that is hard going. I read in wonder, believing and sickened. I read weeping. Because I didn't know exactly what had happened to Nathan, it all seemed to have happened to him.
You can't give yourself over to love for somebody without giving yourself over to suffering. You can't give …
I post this as my advent reflection because they emphasize the bodily presence that is a necessary part of Christmas, the Christian world view, and Christian practice. We cannot celebrate Christmas apart from one another. "I'll be home for Christmas" is not just a song we hear on the radio; it is the longing of our hearts. We know we cannot really celebrate Christmas via skype or Facebook, any more than a baby can be born that way.
However, my husband and I were laughing about the title of a movie on TV: Escape from Christmas. How bad must we have made Christmas if we have to escape from it!
What am I learning this advent season? To slow down, to listen. And to reflect on peace on earth.
The song "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" was played twice at church yesterday; it was written in a time of despair for Longfellow, and during the Civil War. "There is no peace on earth, I said. For hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth good will to men."
Yes, hate is strong, and hate is the enemy of peace. Hate is the core of what destroys shalom, wholeness, which is the biblical idea of peace. But just saying to replace hate with love is kind of shallow. Hate is a disease, a symptom of sin, and sin is rebellion against God. Jesus didn't just bring peace in the form of a verbal message, but by bringing a way to be forgiven and to submit ourselves to his authority. If we submit ourselves to his authority, we are no longer hating and rebelling. Peace comes from law and order, not the other way around. Authority and power and justice lead…
The elephant in the room in regard to Christmas is the virgin birth.
No one has to have a hart time believing in refugees, a birth in a cave, and visiting shepherds. Of course, angels stretch the imagination, but if you can accept a virgin birth, you can accept angels and an unnatural star. The virgin birth is necessary as a sign and fulfillment of prophecy, mainly. But there is some theological necessity, at least I have been taught, about the virgin birth. It is, in this teaching (which I am not disputing, only repeating) that because there was no earthly father involved in Christ's birth, that he had no sin nature, that the sin nature comes through the father. I don't know about that. The question of how Jesus was sinless has plagued the faith for centuries. Was he sinless because he had no sin nature (obviously if divine he could not have had one) and/or because he did not sin by choice? Well, both.
It all comes back to the nature of the trinity. Jesus was not ha…
This morning our church choir sang a beautiful arrangement, accompanied by the bell choir and other orchestra, of the old hymn, I heard the bells on Christmas Day. They sang it to a different tune, the name of which escapes me right this minute, but that added to the beauty. Reflect on these words. They are as true today as 160 or so years ago when Longfellow wrote them.
I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
And in despair I bowed my head:
"There is no peace on earth," I said,
"For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men."
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men."
Today is my birthday, but I am not revealing the year for security purposes. Thoughts:
It is so easy to say "I'm old" and give up on what God could do with you and through you. That is just plain laziness and self-centeredness, not realism. However, I don't have the energy or agility I had ten years ago, and I am not going to keep a garden this year because it's not enough bang for the buck, not enough produce for the process.
Why do all the commercials for chocolate show women, by themselves, eating the chocolate in some sort of ecstasy that is almost sensual (sexual) in nature? Check it out--Dove Bars, Giradelli, Godiva, etc. Is chocolate that much of a temptation that it is raised to the level of sex? And all these women are thin!
If I see one more perfect, middle class family of a boy and girl (that look the same age) and two gorgeous parents wearing clothes that look like a Dillard's ad, standing in the snow or watching TV while it snows or trimm…
The nativity story usually stops with "the night that Christ was born ....." The wise men show up, supposedly, and it's one big happy worship party. This is not what Matthew records, but Matthew's narrative does not make for a good tableau, so we pretty much ignore it. However, it's an important and interest read.
My first thought is that the heart of the king is in the hand of the LORD, as Proverbs states, but that doesn't justify the great evil political leaders can do. I have written about this elsewhere, but Christianity was apolitical for the first 300 years, and we should maintain a healthy skepticism of all things political. Herod is not the first or the last to use sincere religious seekers and finders for his own evil purposes. Individuals may pursue politics, as did Daniel and some New Testament characters who apparently worked for Rome, but not the body of Christ as a whole. The last forty years of American history has been a chronicle of th…
A little off the topic of observing the "coming," I want to reflect on Christmas movies. 95% or more of them are dreck, but some of the older ones are charming enough. Some of them are not really Christmas movies; they just take place against the backdrop of Christmas, like "The Little Shop Around the Corner," which is adorable.
Everyone lists "It's a Wonderful Life" as a favorite Christmas movie, and it is durable, but I always found it slow, and a little tedious. I like "The Bishop's Wife" quite a bit; I would have to put it at the top of the list, mainly because although it is hardly biblical in its depiction of angels, it does have a good message about simplicity and calling. Not that we can expect much of spiritual depth from Hollywood, but at least in the old movies we hear real Christmas songs, carols, about the nativity. Not much of that on the Hallmark Channel.
Of course, any version of "A Christmas Carol" is a mus…
In churches that celebrate advent (why many evangelicals don't, I don't understand), there is a tradition of candle-lighting. The candles stand for hope, peace, joy, love. These are the most beautiful words in the English languages, and they are among the most misused. Advent is a touchstone for understanding what these words should mean, spiritually speaking.
Hope - expectation
Peace - wholeness, harmony, not just absence of conflict. Absence of conflict can also mean death!
Joy - unquenchable lightness of spirit; unstoppable happiness
Love - following what is best for others in the long and short run.
The rest of the New Testament doesn't make many references to the birth of Jesus in the manger, the magi, the shepherds, or even to Mary. Where does it? Galatians 4:4-5. "But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who are under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons." Law is either the law of sin in Paul's writings or the law of Moses.
The authors of Scriptures do not want us to get so caught up in the story that we miss the consequences. In Acts, Peter's first sermon, he says, "Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles,wonders, and signs, which God did through Him in your midst as you yourselves also know--" and his birth is one of them.
Yesterday I made a big dent in my Christmas preparation. The tree is up and lighted; almost all the gifts are bought and wrapped (some need to be mailed), and some Christmas cards are ready. My preparations will ot be full-blooded this year, but they are coming.
Christmas is a gentile holiday, but it is rooted in Jewishness. We cannot understand the birth of Jesus without understanding Jewish customs culture. Everything is about Israel, but for the world. Jesus' parents are not revolutionaries; they do everything according to custom. Custom and culture are not bad things, despite what some Christians think. They are created indirectly by God, who set the boundaries of mankind's existence. We only need to change custom when it directly violates Scripture, which I think is usually rare. Some Christians look for every opportunity to buck culture, spending a lot of energy on activities that don't matter. Fussing about Christmas is one of them. Most Christmas customs…
We think of God as the Great Giver, but He is also the Great Receiver. He receives us, our praise, our worship, our needs, our feeble faith and feeble works done in feeble faith, and our selves. There is an art to receiving as well as to giving, and it is common and easy for us to miss them both.
I am reading John's birth account (there isn't one, really). It's the prebirth, and the meaing, and it is beautiful, especially in the old KJV. You can't accept the narratives of Luke without accepting the analysis of John. "He was in the world, and world did knot know Him." As the old spiritual puts it, "We didn't know who you was." "Forgive them, for they know not what they do."
The "light" of John's gospel is prefigured by a star, a natural generator of light, so it is interesting that God included the star in the narrative in Luke. In verse 11, John says "he came into his own, the Jews, and his own received him …
I am almost caught up with my numbers on these advent reflections (I think I'm one behind) and can start to enjoy Christmas myself.
According to Luke, the only witnesses at the birth of Jesus (other than a midwife, which I am convinced was there, of course--these silly ideas that Joseph delivered the baby or that he was born without a need for assistance are crazy) were the shepherds and the angels, and the shepherds were really only there to visit, not see the birth. The shepherds are the first ones to hear the news, and their response was downright Pentecostal: they praise and they tell everyone.
The shepherds remind me of those beggars in the Old Testament story of the famine in Jerusalem during a siege. "We might as well go." They were terrified at first, which means the heavenly display must have been a lot more overwhelming than we assume. The aurorea borealis times one hundred. They leave their flocks--not something they would do unless the phenomenon was …
I read the Luke narrative 1:5-45. Four angel appearances: To Zacharias, who doubts; to Mary, who asks for an explanation; to Joseph, who obeys; at the birth, when all praise. By then the humans involved get it, that humble as they, the least important people of all, are at the center of history. We are all trying to be important; we all want security and significance, and they are surprised by it in their humble walk of life. Totally surprised. Of course, this will not happen again in history, but the the world is much bigger than we are, and God is much bigger than the world, and both are ready to surprise us.
In Matthew's gospel, the genealogy is not specific in terms of the actual numbers of levels or generations, but it is a rhetorical and memory device, marking the Jewish history into three periods. Abraham to David, David to exile, exile to Christ. Luke even more want us in real time, not Jewish time alone. it seems to me that anyone who denies the existence of Jesus Christ on the earth in history really would have to deny anyone's existence prior to modern times. Faith is not a blind leap. It is a step forward.
Matthew's gospel, as we have seen, begins with a genealogy, which includes 5 women: "he begot X by woman." is said four times. All were shamed. Tamar, who pretends to be a prostitute and goes a god job of it, getting pregnant by her father-in-law in one of the most sordid "I'll make him pay" stories imaginable. Rahab the independent businesswoman of Jericho, a woman who definitely took things into her own hands. She also appears in the hall of faith, so sticking "the harlot" on her name seems unnecessarily. Interestingly, she is that in Joshua but not called that in the New Testament. Ruth the Moabite, Bathsheba the adulterer. And Mary the virgin. The first four were hardly virgins. Matthew does not have to include these wmen, so we can speculate that it is to prove that while God worked through the Jews, He was by no means only the God of the Jews, or of men. God is for everybody; He is inclusive in that way.
The beginnings of the gospels are crucial. Matthew begins with the genealogy of Joseph. Matthew wants to root this gospel in historical reality a la Jews, and this is the way Jews did history. It may not be the way modern historians do it, but that is not the problem. the main thing is to provie Jesus is a legal descendant of Abraham and David on his "father's" side, and this is code, meaningful to Jews of the time, if not so much to us. Then he goes on to proive the circumstances of Jesus' birth are in line with Isaiah and other Old Testament prophecies.
We cannot take the story of Jesus on our own terms, but on the terms of the historical reality in which is is set and in which it happened. No pandering, and no whitewashing. Joseph's response to Mary's pregnancy is natural, but we don't read every word spoken. Yes, it's a supernatural event, but the existence of the supernatural in this world does not negate the existence of the real, the n…
While we wait for the coming of Christ at Christmas, symbolically, we also must occupy, just as we occupy until he comes the second time. Not like the occupy movement--occupy means to be in an occupation, occupy yourself with productive work, not disrupt traffic and those with real occupations. so I have a hard time treating December as one long Christmas holiday. I don't think it honors the Lord much to do so. I could have attended four or five parties so far--but only two did I really go to, because I'm being occupied with life. As it is, I have at least four ahead of me! I am not sure why everyone has to have a party for Christmas.
It would make more sense to have that many worship services.
For example, my dog earned her second certificate of completion for obedience class--a diploma. I just got back from a five-day business trip. I have lots of grading to do. My house is a mess. Etc. Etc.
That is why advent must be the focus, not food and shopping and materialism…
Why do Matthew and Luke say so much about the birth of Jesus (although not as much as we would like!) and Mark and John say nothing? Would the Romans, to whom Mark allegedly writes, be impressed with a miraculous birth or care about Jewish genealogy? And John, the mystircal theologian writing to the Greeks, doesn't want to focus on the birth but where Jesus was before he came. It is interesting to me that Plato said we were all in heaven before birth, so Jesus emphasizes that Jesus really was in heaven before his natural birth--the only one of us humans who was! But Matthew has to validate Jesus' lineage, and Luke the scientist has to put it in historical context. I may be reading something into them, but reading the first three to five verses of each gospel.
Mark begins with John because John's baptism of Jesus started the public ministry and proclamation of the gospel by Jesus. Luke stalks about his research method--eyewitness accounts. And he isn't humble abou…
I have a hard time getting into the “Christmas spirit.” Music helps, but part of the problem is that women are expected to do so much for at Christmas, and maybe I’m just lazy. How much more wonderful it would be if we could celebrate the coming without running around? I just got home from Orlando, Florida, where I attended a conference. I'm tired and see so much to do before Christmas! And that's the problem.