Monday, December 30, 2013

Stop Saying These! Or Not?

Interesting blog about cliches.

http://jasonjohnsonblog.com/blog/5-things-christians-should-stop-saying#.UsH90fs_jYQ

I often post things here I find of interest.  I hope others do, too.  

TCM Remembers

I have always enjoyed the TCM Remembers Tributes at the end of the year.  This website lets you look back at some of them.  The music is always so interesting.  Kudos to this blogger. 

The song being sung this year is "In the Embers" by Sleeping At Last.  (I am amazed by all the indie bands and their creative music, and then we are bombarded by the Lady Gagas and Katy Perrys and Kanye Wests, who seem more about celebrity hood and outrage than interesitng music.)  Here they are.  I found them touching.


We live and we die
Like fireworks
Our legacies hide
In the embers
May our stories catch fire
And burn bright enough
To catch God's eye

We live and we die

Like fireworks
We pull apart the dark
Compete against the stars
With all of our hearts
Till our temporary brilliance turns to ash
We pull apart the darkness while we can

May we live and we die
A valorous life
May we write it all down
In cursive light
So we pray we were made
In the image of a figure eight

May we live and die

Like fireworks
We pull apart the dark
Compete against the stars
With all of our hearts
Till our temporary brilliance turns to ash
We pull apart the darkness while we can

Like fireworks
We pull apart the dark
Compete against the stars
With all of our hearts
Till our temporary brilliance turns to ash
We pull apart the darkness while we can

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Jesus Christ, Shine Into Our Night



 The church I attend (not MY church) holds, like many, a contemporary and a traditional service.  I always attend the traditional (because I'm already in that building, for one reason), but today I attended the contemporary because I had heard some interesting things about it and was, honestly, curious.  There were no dancing girls or outbursts of religious ecstasy; we sat in the dark, I didn't know the songs, the girl who sang with the band was wearing jeans with unnecessary rips in them, there were colored lights, and the pastor was on a screen.  Nothing that surprised me that much though.  We did sing the song below, which touched me so I include it here.

We are not what we should be
We haven’t sought what we should seek
We’ve seen Your glory, Lord, but looked away
Our hearts are bent, our eyes are dim
Our finest works are stained with sin
And emptiness has shadowed all our ways

Chorus
Jesus Christ, shine into our night
Drive our dark away
Till Your glory fills our eyes
Jesus Christ, shine into our night
Bind us to Your cross, where we find life

Verse 2
Still we often go astray
We chase the world, forget Your grace
But You have never failed to bring us back
Reveal the depths of what You’ve done
The death You died, the vict’ry won
You made a way for us to know Your love

Two Poems for Reflection

In reflecting on my life, I think I need more poetry.

I read two poems today,  both on themes of death, and both referenced on an NPR show today. 

The Mole by Christian Wiman.  This poem, which is posted elsewhere and I will not infringe on copyright by posted to my blog, is about death from cancer.  It has some startling images and figures but since the poet himself is living with cancer, it is real and human and not an experiment in word play.

Sunday Morning by Wallace Stevens.  Again, posted elsewhere and well known, I read it for the first time this afternoon.  Despite having a M.A. in English, I have huge gaps in my literary knowledge and poetry is one of them.  I am a novelist and tends toward that genre, regretfully or no.  This poem fascinates me because it clearly is saying that the pull of Christ, and the cross, and the church is strong despite the poet's own advocacy of some sort of neo-paganism or earth/nature worship.  That gravitation pull of the traditional faith takes a lot of momentum to break from, at least in the early 20th century.  Now, I am not sure; culture seems to have broken from orbit. 

Both are fascinating and as with all good poems, need, demand, repeated reading. 

Old Age and Death?



Maybe it’s because of the radio programs I was listening to on the way home from church this early afternoon (To The Best of Our Knowledge on NPR).  Maybe it’s because I recently had a birthday that brings me closer to the big 60, and the big 70, and the big no more “0’s.”  Maybe it’s because the year is coming to an end; maybe it’s because of the quotation in my Franklin planner this morning, “A man is not old until his regrets take the place of dreams.”  Maybe it’s because of some of the wisdom my colleagues are sharing through the interviews I am conducting with them for my doctoral dissertation.  Maybe it’s because of the odd skin blemish that has appeared on my forearm, an area of my fair body that has gotten way too much sun over the years.

But I am thinking about old age and death.

One of my students asked me the other day when I would be done with my “education.”  I made some comment that your education is not over until you are in your coffin.  That was an offhand remark but worthwhile.  Many people die twenty or thirty years too early—their minds die, and their goals and dreams, and their hope and vision and interests, decades before their hearts stop beating.

I am old enough to have several grandchildren but don’t.  I am old enough that under the “old system,” when people retired at 62 and started drawing Social Security, I could start contemplating that.  I am old enough to be getting knee surgery (my knees are fine, thank you very much).  I am old enough to accept life as it is and make no plans to change it.
But thinking that way is as foreign to me as—as what?  Getting a tattoo, perhaps, or bungee jumping (a friend in his 60s recently did that!), but beyond those kinds of things I have lots of dreams, goals, plans, hopes, and visions.  I may get my teeth fixed!  I may stop eating meat! I want to take swimming lessons at the Y, and guitar lessons!  I am in a doctoral program!  I want to spend the summer in a country where I can help missionaries by teaching English! 

To anyone reading this, please don’t think this post is about me.  It is my encouragement to you to shake off, whatever your age, the belief or feeling that your life in over, or on the downhill slide, or that you should plan for retirement (other than financially, of course), or that you should sit and watch TV.  Whatever time you have left, and absolutely none of us knows how long we have left to live, make plans, execute the plans, don’t sit down (metaphorically speaking), turn off the TV, go for a walk, learn something. 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Big Night

I was pleased to find this film on NetFlix last night and watched it, finishing up at 1:00 a.m. It was worth it.  I had wanted to see it for years. 

It was worth the wait.  It was very much like Babette's Feast in its "foodiness" but the enjoyment of food is not the center of the film.  It is about lost dreams, longing, and the power of sibling relationships.  It is about paying for one's mistakes as well, and it is a feast to look at with all the '50s props and clothing.  The actors, except for Ian Holm (who could have calmed down) were perfect and understated.  And I was impressed with Monk's ability to speak Italian.  (Sorry, I know his name is Tony Shalhoub, and he's Lebanese). 

The last scene is priceless.  In one long tracking shot (meaning that the camera doesn't move and the actors move in front of it, restrained in the space) the brother with the dreams (Secondo) comes in and finds the waiter, the only employee, asleep after the debacle, the feast, the fights, the drama, on the the counter.  Secondo makes him an omelet, really, it just looks like scrambled eggs.  They sit down and eat bread and eggs, and Primo (the master chef) comes in and Secondo serves him.  There is no dialogue really; Primo reaches over and puts his arm on his brother's shoulder.  Will Primo go back to Italy?  Will Secondo go work for the sinister but successful Pascal, the restaurant owner across the street who has betrayed him?  Will they keep trying to find the American dream, and find it?

It is one of those films one might call perfect, although it's hard to believe anyone could eat that much!

Babette's Feast is another food movie with a totally different feel.  Philip Yancey writes about it magnificently in What's so Amazing about Grace?  which made me want to see it.  In this case, the food is French rather than Italian (the Italian being my preference to eat and to prepare if I were to learn to be a real cook), and the message, if that term may be used, is that "God gives us richly all things to enjoy."  The people for whom Babette, a famous French chef who has been exiled to a remote Danish village, cooks are a group of strict evangelical Christians.  They have never seen, smelled, or eaten anything like what Babette prepares them (I won't say "fixes"--that's what you do with boxed mac and cheese--or cooks).  They are introduced to how rich life can be, the richness of God's world.  They go out and look up at the stars and see them for the first time, really see them, having been released by the food to see the world in a new way.

In the case of Big Night, though, it is the simple eggs and bread at the end that says to me "God also gives us richly all simple things to enjoy."  One does not need turtle soup or timpano (an incredible dish in Big Night), or a full suckling pig to enjoy the richness of God; at the same time, He is happy to see us enjoy the variety of His beautiful world. 

Note:  On the IMDB webpage, someone said that Big Night was listed in a book about movies to use for Bible studies.  I think the name of the book is Jesus at the Movies.  Some doofus on the board said it wouldn't be something evangelicals would want to watch because of the sex and the language, which is raw at times.  Then another person wrote about "holy rollers" and another about "the gullibility" of Christians.  Ah, the wonders of anonymity on the Internet--the power to be as stupid as you want to be without consequence. 

Advent Reflection #23: Real Oppression Vs. Fake

For the last week all I have heard is Duck Dynasty this, Phil Robertson that.  Oppression this, hypocrisy that.  Cracker Barrel this, A&E that.  Free speech this, bigotry that.

I've written about this already and haven't changed my view, except to say that there is more of opinion than oppression in this whole matter. 

It is probably safe to say that almost every evangelical in the country has heard about this matter and has expressed an opinion, probably on Facebook.  I can see why Bobby Jindal weighed in, since the show takes place in the state of which he is governor (and the state probably makes a lot from the tax money).  Why every other conservative did, I am not sure.

In the last post I quoted the lyrics to "O Holy Night," "Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease."  We Americans have two views of oppression.  There is the oppression we consider inappropriate for us to endure.
Our oppression amounts to any backlash on free expression of opinion about anything.  And then there is the oppression we say tsk, tsk about and turn our heads from, the persecution of Coptic Christians in Egypt and believers in Syria; there are many other examples I could give. 

I really don't care about the Robertsons and the show, and I don't have much concern about free speech.  I do care about the power of the media both politically and psychologically, and the power of aggrieved groups to control the debate.  I heard Condi Rice (one of my heroes) say on TV the other day (it was a forum from three years ago on C-Span) that aggrievement leads to entitlement.   And I do care about free speech, either way.

The best thing I've read about this was by Russell Moore, one of the head Southern Baptists and a very smart man.  Here it is.  

Advent Reflections #22: Deep Christmas

I have skipped a day on these reflections, and will share a hymn below.  As this is the day before Christmas, I feel as if I am deeply in the Christmas season.  It is too late too shop, too late to send cards (I have not sent any but will send a letter on Thursday, too late to do much but eat and watch movies and visit.  Fortunately, we can attend Christmas Eve service, which I will do at 6:00 at my church.  

Deep Christmas reminds of the two songs about "night."  "O Holy Night" and "Silent Night."  I love to hear a good soprano sing the first.  However, I doubt most churches where it is sung really listen to the words.  They are political.  The night wasn't really divine; at best it was sanctified.  And we have no reason to think Jesus was actually born at night.  The lines "Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother./And in his name all oppression shall cease."  Do we really believe that? Are we obliged, commanded to make sure the oppression ceases?  Perhaps, truly, to the extent we can, to the extent it is within our power.  See my Advent Reflection 23.

O Holy Night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Saviour's birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining.
Till He appeared and the Spirit felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices!
O night divine, the night when Christ was born;
O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!
O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!

Led by the light of faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
O'er the world a star is sweetly gleaming,
Now come the wise men from out of the Orient land.
The King of kings lay thus lowly manger;
In all our trials born to be our friends.
He knows our need, our weakness is no stranger,
Behold your King! Before him lowly bend!
Behold your King! Before him lowly bend!

Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
With all our hearts we praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! Then ever, ever praise we,
His power and glory ever more proclaim!
His power and glory ever more proclaim!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Advent Reflections #21: Art of Christmas

As mentioned earlier, sometimes lyrics come to my mind that work against the spirit.  The main one I think of is a song we used to hear when I was a kid, "We three kings of orient are, smoking on a rubber cigar." 

Therefore, I have never been a fan of that song!

The identity and actions of the "three kings" has been one of the myths that moderns like to bust about Christmas.  There weren't necessarily three (they just brought three gifts), where were they from (the East, so were they Persian, African, East Asian, etc.), where they pagan astrologers, etc.  I like to think of them as a down payment on the ultimately nonJewish nature of Jesus' extension of salvation.  He's for everybody, and from his birth that was true.

But, clearly, they weren't at the manger a day after his birth, as Matthew clearly says, but in a house, and it must have been within two years of his birth. 

So, since I like Rembrandt so much, I'll post a link to his painting but not the words of the song.  Click here.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Advent Reflections: Hymns and Art


I missed yesterday because we were traveling.

My favorite artist is Rembrandt, so I will share one of his paintings, the Adoration of the Shepherds, below.

http://www.wikipaintings.org/en/rembrandt/adoration-of-the-shepherds-1646

It has occurred to me that there may not be any Christmas songs about the shepherds.  Perhaps it is time to write one? "While Shepherds Watched their Flocks by Night"

1. While shepherds watched their flocks by night,
All seated on the ground,
The angel of the Lord came down,
And glory shone around.
"Fear not," said he, for mighty dread
Had seized their troubled minds;
"Glad tidings of great joy I bring
To you and all mankind.
2. "To you, in David's town, this day,
Is born of David's line
A Savior, who is Christ the Lord;
And this shall be the sign:
The heavenly Babe you there shall find
To human view displayed,
All meanly wrapped in swaddling-clothes
And in a manger laid."
3. Thus spake the seraph,--and forthwith
Appeared a shining throng
Of angels, praising God, and thus
Addressed their joyful song:
"All glory be to God on high,
And to the earth be peace;
Good will henceforth from Heaven to men
Begin and never cease."

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Ducking Questions

Why do I feel compelled to weigh in on this manufactured controversy over Duck Dynasty?  I guess I feel like this blog is my own little free speech zone, my little turf in Cyberspace, so I'll say my piece.

A Christian can simply say, "The Bible (and give verses) says that some kinds of sexual behavior are wrong."  And leave it at that.  No comparisons, no gradations of right and wrong. No need to defend it; the Bible is a lion and defends itself.  He stepped in it.  An experienced hunter should have watched where he was walking.  Anyone who knows about conservative Christians knows their views on this.

If A&E wants to censure (as opposed to censor, a governmental action) him, I have no problem with that because they are a company giving them a platform.  Of course, A&E will also suffer because of all the show's fans.  A & E is no friend to wholesome programming.  If they have made a stupid business decision, they'll pay for it.  The Robertsons will probably go to a network like CMT that will embrace them.  That's life in the business world.

If I went somewhere as a representative of my employer and started giving controversial opinions, I would expect censure, too.  But on this blog I am my own spokesperson.

And giving an interview to GQ?  That was a trap.  Again, a hunter should watch where he's going.

No one disputes his right to say what he believes.  Well, obviously some do.  I don't.  Free speech is the foundation of our civilization.  But free speech doesn't mean we aren't responsible for what we say or everyone has to like it all the time.  It does take some courage to say what is not acceptable in the media today, and of course there are overreactions and faux outrage.  But I have a hard time feeling too sorry for them when there are Christians losing their lives in North Korea for just being who they are.

Addendum:  After some thought and reading the flurry of "concern" for Phil, I alter my opinion.  He may have known exactly what he was doing.  People want to treat him like he's a dumb cluck (or quack) but he's a savvy person.  I mean, they already had money and talked A&E into their show, and I can't go anywhere without seeing their faces on products.  He's not going to be hurt financially by this, and A&E, purveyors of Hoarders and similar shows, will be the losers.     

Advent Reflections: Art of Christmas

These are the words of the Polish carol, Infant Holy, Infant Lowly
 
        Infant holy, infant lowly, 
 for his bed a cattle stall; 
 oxen lowing, little knowing, 
 Christ the babe is Lord of all. 
 Swift are winging angels singing, 
 noels ringing, tidings bringing: 
 Christ the babe is Lord of all. 

        Flocks were sleeping, shepherds keeping 
 vigil till the morning new 
 saw the glory, heard the story, 
 tidings of a gospel true. 
 Thus rejoicing, free from sorrow, 
 praises voicing, greet the morrow: 
 Christ the babe was born for you.
 

This an early depiction of the nativity.  I got this from http://revbickers.blogspot.com/2010/12/nativity.html









Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Advent Reflection: Hymns of Christmas, Venid Fieles Todos

I posted the Spanish title of this one because for some reason, lodged in my brain, those are the words that come to me when I hear the tune, just like "Noche de paz, noche de amor, todos duermen endoredor" is what comes to me when I hear "Silent Night."  I took Spanish for years and regret that I have not kept up with my conversational skills in it. 

The original title was Adeste Fideles as it was first written in Latin and translated two centuries ago.

O Come All Ye Faithful
Joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem.
Come and behold Him,
Born the King of Angels;
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

O Sing, choirs of angels,
Sing in exultation,
Sing all that hear in heaven God's holy word.
Give to our Father glory in the Highest;
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

All Hail! Lord, we greet Thee,
Born this happy morning,
O Jesus! for evermore be Thy name adored.
Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing;
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Advent Reflections: Hymns of Christmas

These songs are typically called carols, which has its origins in Britain and before that, the word "choros" from which we get choreography; the original meaning was a song to dance to.

Many times we think of the term Christmas carol as referring Dickens' wonderful novella.  I have a student from China who did not know that work, and I told her she had to read it to understand Christmas in America.  I would have given her my copy but couldn't find it.

I tried to write a similar Christmas novel, which is available on Amazon.  

Here is my song for the day.  As with the others, we only sing some of the verses and the most interesting ones are left out in our public worship.  I have noticed that more traditional and liturgical churches sing all of the verses, and Baptists leave them out.  HUMMMMMM.

Angels from the realms of glory,
Wing your flight o’er all the earth;
Ye who sang creation’s story
Now proclaim Messiah’s birth.
Refrain
Come and worship, come and worship,
Worship Christ, the newborn King.
Shepherds, in the field abiding,
Watching o’er your flocks by night,
God with us is now residing;
Yonder shines the infant light:
Refrain
Sages, leave your contemplations,
Brighter visions beam afar;
Seek the great Desire of nations;
Ye have seen His natal star.
Refrain
Saints, before the altar bending,
Watching long in hope and fear;
Suddenly the Lord, descending,
In His temple shall appear.
Refrain
Sinners, wrung with true repentance,
Doomed for guilt to endless pains,
Justice now revokes the sentence,
Mercy calls you; break your chains.
Refrain
Though an Infant now we view Him,
He shall fill His Father’s throne,
Gather all the nations to Him;
Every knee shall then bow down:
Refrain
All creation, join in praising
God, the Father, Spirit, Son,
Evermore your voices raising
To th’eternal Three in One.
Refrain

Monday, December 16, 2013

Advent Reflections: Hymns of Christmas

The following is not totally a Christmas hymn: I've heard it sung at other times of the year, but it mentions Bethlehem.  It is a good old one, dating from the 1800s.  Singing about the first coming with the second seems to be a theme of these old hymns. 


Thou didst leave Thy throne and Thy kingly crown,
When Thou camest to earth for me;
But in Bethlehem’s home was there found no room
For Thy holy nativity.
Refrain
O come to my heart, Lord Jesus,
There is room in my heart for Thee.

Heaven’s arches rang when the angels sang,
Proclaiming Thy royal degree;
But of lowly birth didst Thou come to earth,
And in great humility.
Refrain

The foxes found rest, and the birds their nest
In the shade of the forest tree;
But Thy couch was the sod, O Thou Son of God,
In the deserts of Galilee.
Refrain

Thou camest, O Lord, with the living Word,
That should set Thy people free;
But with mocking scorn and with crown of thorn,
They bore Thee to Calvary.
Refrain

When the heav’ns shall ring, and her choirs shall sing,
At Thy coming to victory,
Let Thy voice call me home, saying “Yet there is room,
There is room at My side for thee.”
My heart shall rejoice, Lord Jesus,
When Thou comest and callest for me.

Advent Reflections #16: Hymns of Christmas

Wexford Carol

Good people all, this Christmas time,
Consider well and bear in mind
What our good God for us has done,
In sending His belov├Ęd Son.
With Mary holy we should pray
To God with love this Christmas Day;
In Bethlehem upon the morn
There was a blest Messiah born.

The night before that happy tide
The noble virgin and her guide
Were long time seeking up and down
To find a lodging in the town.
But mark how all things came to pass:
From every door repelled, alas!
As long foretold, their refuge all
Was but a humble oxen stall.

Near Bethlehem did shepherds keep
Their flocks of lambs and feeding sheep;
To whom God’s angels did appear
Which put the shepherds in great fear.
“Prepare and go”, the angels said,
“To Bethlehem, be not afraid;
For there you’ll find, this happy morn,
A princely Babe, sweet Jesus born.”

With thankful heart and joyful mind,
The shepherds went the babe to find,
And as God’s angel has foretold,
They did our Savior Christ behold.
Within a manger He was laid,
And by His side the virgin maid
Attending to the Lord of Life,
Who came on earth to end all strife.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Advent Reflection #15: Hymns of Christmas

One of my favorites.  We usually only sing verses 1 and 3, but the others are meaningful.  

Day-Spring is a reference to the dawn, Luke 1:78, the Dayspring on high has visited us.

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan's tyranny
From depths of Hell Thy people save
And give them victory o'er the grave
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death's dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, O come, Thou Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai's height,
In ancient times did'st give the Law,
In cloud, and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Advent Reflections: Personal Thoughts

A break from the norm here.  Yesterday I finally got my tree up.  Two weeks of a tree is usually enough for me.  It looks good.  I have two kinds of ornaments:  "secular" and "religious," broadly speaking.  This year I went with the secular ones, snowflakes, bows, balls, etc, rather than angels and manger scenes.

However, I have far too many Christmas decorations.

I have far too many of everything.  Two closets of clothes.  Not enough places to put my kitchen utensils.  A basement full of everything imaginable.

I want for nothing, and therefore I want nothing for Christmas.  Not really.  I want the CD player in my car fixed.  I want a DVD of the noir classic Laura.   Mostly, I want time to tackle the pile of work I have to do.

Academics seem to think that once they get the grades done, they can disappear for three weeks until class starts again.  Or that is the party line.  I will be working 8-10 hours a day every day except Christmas and Christmas Eve.  I have a real problem with work-life balance. 

But that does not mean I won't enjoy the season.  I am. But I let other people entertain and I go along.  And I've caught up on my sleep and feel rested.

So, what is the message for today?  Slow down.  Just sit and look at your tree (the lights on ours are so bright I think you could land a plane with it).  Sip cocoa and put a dash of rum in it (did I say that?)  I once heard someone say that Christians would be a lot happier if they drank some alcohol.  Kind of kidding, there.  As alcoholism is a problem in our families, I do not take drinking lightly.

Play Christmas music.  Take a walk.   Stop spending money.  Pray that Christians in jail for their faith will know God's presence especially in this season of incarnation.

Give money to help the truly poor (not the "needy," as we are all needy). 

The rest of my advent reflections will be hymns.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Advent Reflections: Art of the Nativity

"The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the father, full of grace and truth."

This is of course from the first chapter of John, but it is also a Christmas verse.

However, "he came into his own, and his own received him not. . . "

I like the image below, a modern equivalent of the standard nativity.  

The nativity set in a bus shelter, courtesy of the Churches Advertising Network


Advent Reflection #13: The what of Advent: Theme of New Beginnings



Today is the birthday of my son.  I won't mention the year because of privacy issues.  He is out of town on a business trip.  But my theme for the day in terms of Advent reflections is "new beginnings," because birth is just that.  Surely his birth was a new beginning for us.  I was going to text him happy birthday with "Happy birthday from the people who made it possible," but his father said no.  I was an obedient wife for once on that score.  Actually, God and God alone made it possible. 

I have posted below a depiction of the nativity that I believe is from Chartres Cathedral or looks as if it is.  Perhaps not. I like it because it is more historically accurate than depicting the visiting kings at the manger, since the Bible says the family was in a house at the time and Jesus was older. 


Birth is a new beginning.  That might be the point of being "born again," that we begin anew.  We are to believe, as the angels proclaimed, that something momentous was taken place, not just any birth but the birth that would start a new paradigm, a new kingdom, a new way of thinking.  Not that the past was unimportant or of no value, but that now it was to be interpreted and understood in a new way. 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Advent Reflections #12: The What of Advent--Truth



I don’t think we think of truth as a theme of Advent.  I haven’t, until now, and it’s not because I’m just going through a random list of Christian themes.  It’s because I’m teaching Sunday School (I get to teach the words of Jesus Christ!  What is cooler than that!) this week to my small class and the passage is John 14.  Unequivocally Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”  Can’t get much more absolute than that, folks. 

Truth claims are exclusivistic, and today we want Advent and Christmas to be inclusive.  Any truth claims are divisive, and we want unity at this time of year, because unity brings peace and good will, right?  And truth as a theme of Advent means we have to take seriously all that stuff about a virgin having a baby and angels and a birth in a stall/cave (which isn’t that far-fetched at that time in history, or even today; most women in this world have pretty low-tech, primitive conditions for their births, just not in the developed world).  We have to accept it as truth and not just an inspiring story that symbolizes how much God loves us. 

The accounts in Luke and Matthew are pretty straightforward, to-the-point, and take for granted that these things happen, and place them in a real world.  The miraculous within the day-to-day requirements of the Roman Empire’s taxation system; the unbelievable within the Jewish laws of divorce.  Is that not how it is today?  We simply don’t see the miraculous intervention of God every day.

Yes, truth is a theme of Advent; otherwise it’s pretty meaningless, right?  Then any other inspiring story we can make a holiday around (and there have been others).  We only  have problems with truth being exclusivistic when it involves our responsibility to God, maybe.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Advent Reflections #11: The What of Advent: Peace



The theme of peace at Christmas brings to mind the old hymn, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”

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."

Till, ringing singing, on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,
Of peace on earth, good will to men!

The two middle stanzas of that song are so profound, the core of our existence, I think.  This was written before the Civil War, and I don’t think we appreciate the turmoil of that time.  Yet today hate is still strong and still mocks the song of peace on earth. 

The message of Christmas and the Christian faith is one that really takes faith to believe, not a mamby-pamby (I sound like an old codger now), uninformed easy faith.  God is not dead or sleeping or “watching us from a distance” (thank you to that great theologian, Bette Middler) or a “stranger on a bus, a slob like one of us.”  The wrong shall fail, the right prevail. Then there will be peace on earth, because righteousness and sin cannot coexist, not really.

Fresh Look at Matthew: Matthew 18 in total

I have decided to post all of my thoughts on Matthew 18 at once.  After this I will take a short break from posting about Matthew, not becau...