My daughter said those fateful words the other night…here’s the story before you get all bent…my eldest daughter in Colorado in the wonderful mom of 3 of my granddaughters. They went to church and caught one of those "bugs" that float around in the germ infested children’s ministries of most local churches. The bug spread through their family like wildfire. Sick through Christmas…throwing up, colds, etc. Not only did the snows of Denver prevent them from making their way to our home to be with the rest of the family, but the sicknesses took care of what the snow could not. It pulled out of them any desire to hit the road with three sick girls not to mention themselves feeling just as bad. So, our family wasn’t together at Christmas! Darn church! (editors note: please understand that this was written tongue in cheek…I hate hate-filled emails!). Frankly, I love that line…"church" ruined my Christmas! Talk about something that could preach!
Many religious folks insist on answers that are always
true. We love closure, resolution and clarity, while thinking that we
are people of "faith"! How strange that the very word "faith" has come
to mean its exact opposite.
People who have really met the Holy are always humble. It’s
the people who don’t know who usually pretend that they do. People
who’ve had any genuine spiritual experience always know they don’t know.
They are utterly humbled before mystery. They are in awe before the
abyss of it all, in wonder at eternity and depth, and a Love, which is
incomprehensible to the mind. It is a litmus test for authentic God
experience, and is – quite sadly – absent from much of our religious
I think he’s on to something, is he not? I especially love the part
about the word "faith" becoming its exact opposite in our culture
today. Perhaps there are things that are beyond reason and certainty.
Those are the places where faith and mystery intersect.
140 Term Paper and Final Exams…OK, I did this to myself! I am the professor and I don’t HAVE to assign these things. But, hey, it is academia and it is supposed to be a challenge for students. Before you get too weird, you should see the assignments though…they are not that bad. And the final exam, is actually "fun". If you don’t believe me, email me and I’ll send you one. So, I’m taking a few days to immerse myself in papers and exams…I’ll return with some other thoughts before the middle of next week. Peace – OUT!
We were studying the Parable of the Sower in Luke 8 this past Sunday in community…I shared a quote from one of my favorite study books on the Parables, Helmut Theilke’s book, The Waiting Father. This quote came in reflection on that seed that is choked out by weeds:
"everyone has a hidden axis around which his/her life revolves – every person has a price for which he/she is prepared to sell themselves and their salvation".
I don’t know about you, but that gets to the core of the issue, doesn’t it? There are hidden things in all of our lives that would be on the "non-negotiable" list even if we were looking Jesus right in the eyes. We would all have that look on our face, "who, me?" I guess that’s one of the reasons why we need to be transparent before the Lord. Do you think God is fooled? Don’t be mistaken! We might be willing to sell our "soul" to keep that axis hidden, but God isn’t taken back. We’re just fooling ourselves, keeping stuck, and allowing that axis to keep us from experiencing the power of God in new ways. Take a look at the parable yourself…the story is not about four different types of people as much as it is about the dangerous seed, the demanding seed and how we are all four types of soil at different seasons in our lives. Oh, I know that there are many ways to look at this parable…that’s why the story of scripture is worth the time to take fresh looks.
Did you know that there are 58 different verses that mention "sleep"? I just found that mindless fact out by doing a word search on my computer. Yeah, it is a useless search in some respects…I mean, there’s not much deep meaning about discovering more about what the Bible has to say about sleep. Unfortunately, I’m NOT sleeping. Not now despite the fact that it is way past my bedtime…at least for a guy who is over 50. My mind doesn’t shut off at night. It has been that way for a long time. It is probably a biological thing but it is still a reality for me these past months. Sweet sleep would be on the top of my list of items to covet. I don’t need much these days…I love my wife who is absolutely the most precious person in my life; I love my kids, all of them and their interesting lives; I have 5 grandkids, all girls…what’s better than that? I have some incredible friends sharing my journey in life and giving me a glimpse of the Kingdom daily…why not sleep in the midst of those types of blessings? Who knows. All I know is that I would love to have the peace in body and mind to be able to let go of the stress of life and live in the peace of sweet sleep. I’m praying these days for something as simple as sleep. Sleep means that I am resting in a new way…resting in God’s grace…resting in God’s guidance…resting in God’s power and utter faithfulness. I think I’m going to try to give up right now…give up trying to manipulate my life into fitting some image of who I should be and what I should be doing. I think I’ll just lay down now and say two words, no, not "good night" but "good God".
I read the following on the "House Church Blog"…I adapted some of it to fit my community’s "ears"…only for the purposes of making sure that they read it and find encouragement. This is most certainly true:
Chris Marshall wrote: "I often say that church is not someplace you go but it’s a people you belong to."
Some Background on the Shared Life
It seems to me that nothing is more basic to “ekklesia” than sharing life with others. In this context we are able to live out the "one-another" aspect of the Christian life:
* Honor one another
* Bear with one another in love
* Encourage one another
* Accept one another
* Serve one another
In the context of this type of community life healing takes place. Henri Nouwen suggests that "when we are willing to confess both to ourselves and the other that we too are broken, that we too have a handicap, and that we too need a place to grow, we can build a home together and offer each other an intimate place." It is this intimate place that provides the seedbed for healing and transformation!
In addition, this type of community life provides an environment where we learn to root for each other to discover and enter into God’s very best. Eldredge coined the term "intimate allies" to describe the way in which we support each other in our personal journeys as well as find ways to "go on quests together."
Challenges with the Shared Life
Ah, but there are also the challenges. The times when community life just seems to make you want to pull out your hair (if you have any) and scream "aaaaggggghhhhhhh!!!!!" Perhaps I should avoid specifics here (I never know who ends up reading one of my blog posts) and just say that there are times when all of us want to make community life all about our self: "What’s in it for me?" "Why isn’t anyone paying attention to my needs?" "Why are others being so self-centered?" "Why is so-and-so being so hurtful?"
None of us absolutely love working through conflicts, dealing with difficult people, or persevering when community life is less-than rewarding. But that is all part of the package. The good, the bad, and the ugly.
Hang in there because community is God’s purpose for transformation and because it is, at times, an indescribable life-supporting gift.
Everytime I flash the "Batman" sign in the sky (i.e. place another entry on my blog), the irreplaceable comic crusader Chris Yambar chimes in with his usual wit and bravado. Here are Yambar’s comments on the "Christmas facts". As usual, classic Yambarian! Check out more Yambar for your own sanity and righteousness.
1) I’m serious about these questions: When Mary was found to be with child this was before she and Joseph were married, right? If so does this mean that Christ was carried by an unwed mother? Would that make God Christ’s baby daddy? Did this lead Joseph to eventually leave them for some milk and smokes later in Jesus’ life? New mysteries of the church?
2) I’m thankful for the blessing of cookies.
3) I’m impressed by Santa’s missionary position.
4) Happy holidays or as they say at Wal-Mart: "Merry Christmas. Will that be cash, check, or charge?"
Looking forward to working with you in 2007.
Naughty but nice, Rev. Chris Yambar
It’s amazing to me how little people really know about Christmas. Yes, we should know that it is all about Jesus and his birth. That’s really the only truth that really matters. But there are many other things that are fun to know. Consider the following:
The word “Christmas” comes from the Old English, “Cristes maesse”, which means "Christ’s mass." From the very beginning of the use of the word, it meant “worship”. The Christ-mass was a festival service of worship held on December 25 to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ. While most of us accept that Jesus was born in the small town of Bethlehem a few miles south of Jerusalem, we really don’t know information about the exact date of his birth or even of the specific year. Calendars differed at the time when Jesus was born.
Or how about the infamous, “Xmas”? Some people get offended when they see others call ‘Christmas’ xmas. However, the X in Xmas, still stands for Christ. The X comes from the first Greek letter in the word, “Xristos” (which translated is Christ). Hence came the word Xmas. It was not intended to take Christ out of Christmas…just to be able to be a bit shorter to write in notes and letters. In fact, many people use the Greek “X” for many other things…Xn (Christian), Xnity (Christianity), etc.
We celebrate Christmas on December 25th…do you know why? Because there was no knowledge about the date of Jesus’ birth, a day had to be selected. Early on, there was a bit of a divergence in dates. The Eastern Orthodox wing of the Church in the early centuries of Christianity chose January 6. That day was eventually named Epiphany, meaning "appearance," the day of Christ’s manifestation. The Western church, based at Rome (i.e. Roman Catholic Church; Catholic meaning universal) chose December 25. It is known from a notice in an ancient Roman almanac that Christmas was celebrated on December 25 in Rome as early as AD 336. The actual season of Jesus’ birth is thought to be in the spring, but when the date of Christmas was set to fall in December, it was done at least in part to compete with ancient pagan festivals that occurred about the same time.
What about gift giving? How did that become a part of Christmas? The truth of history is that gift giving is one of the oldest traditions associated with Christmas. Some people actually believe that it is older than the holiday itself. The Romans, for example, celebrated the Saturnalia on December 17. It was a winter feast of merrymaking and gift exchanging. And two weeks later, on the Roman New Year–January 1, houses were decorated with greenery and lights, and gifts were given to children and the poor. As the Germanic tribes of Europe accepted Christianity and began to celebrate Christmas, they also gave gifts. In some countries, such as Italy and Spain, children traditionally do not receive gifts on December 25 but on January 5, the eve of Epiphany. In several northern European nations gifts are given on December 6, which is the feast of St. Nicholas, the patron saint of children. Yet, you have to remember, gifts were given the moment the newborn Savior was born. The Magi bought gold, frankisense and myrrh. The Shepherds brought their hearts in prayer and praise. The angels gave praise to the King as well.
There are some things you should know about trees and decorations. Ancient, pre-Christian winter festivals used greenery, lights, and fires to symbolize life and warmth in the midst of cold and darkness. The use of evergreens and wreaths were symbols of life and aspects of a wide-array of ancient cultures.. Tree worship was a common feature of religion among the Teutonic and Scandinavian peoples of northern Europe before their conversion to Christianity. They decorated houses and barns with evergreens at the New Year to scare away demons, and they often set up trees for the birds in winter. I’ve been putting up trees for years and there are still “demons” (usually in the form of teenagers) that haunt my house. The modern Christmas tree seems to have originated in Germany during the Middle Ages. The tree was the main prop in a medieval play about Adam and Eve. The “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” was a fir tree hung with apples. In these plays, the tree was called the "Paradise tree," and it represented the Garden of Eden. German families set up a Paradise tree in their homes on December 24, the feast day of Adam and Eve. On it they hung wafers, symbolizing the bread distributed at the celebration of the Eucharist in churches. Because the Christmas holiday followed immediately, candles representing Christ as the light of the world were often added to the tree. Eventually cookies and other sweets were hung instead of wafers. The Christmas tree was introduced into England early in the 19th century, and it was popularized by Prince Albert, the German husband of Queen Victoria. The trees were decorated with candles, candies, paper chains, and fancy cakes that were hung from the branches on ribbons. German settlers brought the Christmas tree custom to the American colonies in the 17th century. The use of evergreens for wreaths and other decorations arose in northern Europe. Italy, Spain, and some other nations use flowers instead. Holly, with its prickly leaves and red berries, came into holiday use because it reminded people of the crown of thorns worn by Jesus on the way to his execution–the berries symbolizing droplets of blood. Two hundred years before the birth of Christ, the Druids in the pagan side of Celtic culture (British Isles) used mistletoe to celebrate the coming of winter. They would gather this evergreen plant that is parasitic upon other trees and used it to decorate their homes. They believed the plant had special healing powers for everything from female infertility to poison ingestion. Scandinavians also thought of mistletoe as a plant of peace and harmony. They associated mistletoe with their goddess of love, Frigga. The custom of kissing under the mistletoe probably derived from this belief. The early church banned the use of mistletoe in Christmas celebrations because of its pagan origins. Instead, church fathers suggested the use of holly as an appropriate substitute for Christmas greenery.
How about the Manger scene? This is interesting – a custom originated in southern Europe centuries ago where people erected what was often referred to by its French name, a crèche. This is a small model of the stable where Jesus was born, containing figures of Mary, Joseph, the infant, shepherds, farm animals, and the three wise men and their gifts. The custom is said to have been started by St. Francis of Assisi. On a Christmas Eve in 1224 he is supposed to have set up a stable in a corner of a church in his native village with real persons and animals to represent those of the first Christmas.
When it comes to the celebration of Christmas, history tells us some more provocative truths. In ancient times, the last day of winter in the Northern Hemisphere was celebrated as the night that the Great Mother Goddess gives birth to the baby Sun God. It was also called “Yule”, the day in which a huge log is added to a bonfire around which everyone would dance and sing to awaken the sun from its long winter sleep. In Roman times, the Yule party became something that honored Saturnus (the harvest god) and Mithras (the ancient god of light). Essentially, the celebration had morphed into a form of sun worship that had originated from Syria a century before with the cult of Sol Invictus. These festivities announced that winter was not forever, that life continues, and was a yearly invitation for people to stay in good spirit. The last day of winter in the Northern Hemisphere occurs between the 20th and 22 December. The Roman celebrated Saturnalia between 17 and 24 December. As Christianity emerged into the Roman culture, Christmas as we know it started to take shape. To avoid persecution during the Roman pagan festivals, early Christians decorated their homes with Saturnalia holly. As Christians increased in numbers and in influence, their customs prevailed and the ancient festivals started to take on a distinctly “Christian” feel. Something you should know – the early church actually did not celebrate the birth of Christ in December. It wasn’t until Telesphorus, who was the second Bishop of Rome from 125 to 136AD, declared that Church services should be held during this time to celebrate "The Nativity of our Lord and Savior." However, since no one was quite sure in which month Christ was born, in the earliest of celebrations, the Nativity was often held in September (which was during the Jewish Feast of Trumpets, modern-day Rosh Hashanah). In fact, for more than 300 years, people observed the birth of Jesus on a wide variety of dates. It wasn’t until the year 274 AD, when the winter solstice fell on 25th December, that the Roman Emperor Aurelian proclaimed the date as "Natalis Solis Invicti," the festival of the birth of the invincible sun. That gave occasion for the Church to act. In 320 AD, Pope Julius I specified the 25th of December as the official date of the birth of Jesus Christ. It became official but still not generally observed. It wasn’t until 325AD that Constantine introduced Christmas as an immovable feast on 25 December. He also introduced Sunday as a holy day in a new 7-day week, and introduced other movable feasts days (e.g Pentecost, Easter, etc.). In 354AD, Bishop Liberius of Rome officially ordered his members to celebrate the birth of Jesus on 25 December. However, even though Constantine officiated 25 December as the birthday of Christ, Christians, recognizing the date as a pagan festival, did not share in the emperor’s good spin on things. Because of that, Christmas failed to gain universal recognition among Christians until only recently (of course, this is relative given the span of history). Even in “religious” England, Oliver Cromwell banned Christmas festivities between 1649 and 1660 through the so-called Blue Laws, believing that Christmas should be a solemn day not associated with paganism. Christmas “took” when many Protestants escaped persecution by fleeing to the colonies all over the world. It was only then that interest in a joyous Christmas celebration was kindled. Still, Christmas was not even a legal holiday until the 1800s.
The popularity of Christmas was spurred on in 1820 by Washington Irving’s book The Keeping of Christmas at Bracebridge Hall. In 1834, Britain’s Queen Victoria brought her German husband, Prince Albert, into Windsor Castle, introducing the tradition of the Christmas tree and carols that were held in Europe to the British Empire. A week before Christmas in 1834, Charles Dickens published A Christmas Carol (in which he wrote that Scrooge required Cratchit to work, and that the US Congress met on Christmas Day). That book became so popular that neither the churches nor the governments could further ignore the importance of Christmas celebrations. In 1836, Alabama became the first state in the US to declare Christmas a legal holiday. In 1837, T.H. Hervey’s The Book of Christmas also became a best seller. In 1860, American illustrator Thomas Nast borrowed from the European stories about Saint Nicholas, the patron saint of children, to create Father Christmas (Santa Claus). In 1907, Oklahoma became the last US state to declare Christmas a legal holiday. Then it became a landslide across the world. Year by year, countries all over the globe started to recognize Christmas as the day for celebrating the birth of Jesus.
And last but not least – Santa Claus! The original Santa Claus, St. Nicholas, was born in Turkey in the 4th century. He was a very pious and spiritually upright man who, from an early age, devoting his life to Christianity. He became widely known for his generosity to the poor. In other words, he was a Missional Christian! Even with his generous and loving heart, the Romans held him in contempt. He was imprisoned and tortured. When Constantine became emperor of Rome, he allowed Nicholas to go free. Constantine is said to have become a Christian (that can be debated in some instances) before his famous, “Edict of Milan” which proclaimed Christianity as the official religion of the empire. After that, he convened the Council of Nicaea in 325. Nicholas was a delegate to the council. He is especially noted for his love of children and for his generosity. He is also the patron saint of sailors, Sicily, Greece, and Russia. He is also, of course, the patron saint of children. The Dutch kept the legend of St. Nicholas alive. In 16th century Holland, Dutch children would place their wooden shoes by the hearth of a fireplace in hopes that they would be filled with a treat. The Dutch spelled St. Nicholas as Sint Nikolass, which became corrupted to Sinterklass, and finally, in Anglican, to Santa Claus. In 1822, Clement C. Moore composed his famous poem, "A Visit from St. Nick," which was later published as "The Night Before Christmas." Moore is credited with creating the modern image of Santa Claus as a jolly fat man in a red suit.
Remember, Christmas is all about memories, gifts, celebrations, and love. Yet, isn’t it true – if it wasn’t for Jesus, why even know the facts about Christmas? You see, once you know about Jesus, that’s really all the facts you need to know.
Our buddy, Scot McKnight put a good review of the movie, The Nativity, on the Relevant Mag’s website. I thought I would include it on this blog as well…worth reading and worth seeing. Hey, it’s between Borat and The Nativity, isn’t it? As has been said in the past, "choose wisely!".
I love dramatic presentations of biblical
narratives, and I confess as well that each one provides the
opportunity to compare my view with the views of others. The Nativity Story
lived up to my expectations and beyond—not only was it faithful to the
biblical text, it added material—such as the scene of the woman
teaching the little Jewish children about Elijah and the coming
Messiah—it was realistic, historically reasonable and illustrative of
the themes inherent to the Bible’s own storyline.
The First Magnificat Christmas by Scot McKnight
I have a claim I ask you to consider. Here it is: I claim the first
Christmas, the one experienced by Mary and Joseph, was a Magnificat
Christmas. The Magnificat, Mary’s famous song that begins, “My soul
glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke
1:46-47, TNIV), expresses the yearning of the pious poor for God’s
redemptive justice and for the day when the world will be put to
rights. The themes of the Magnificat, which express what Mary thinks
God is doing in her son, are ending injustice and establishing justice,
bringing peace and ending poverty. Those are the themes of a Magnificat
In some ways The Nativity Story offers to us the hope of a Magnificat Christmas. Only the Magnificat explains The Nativity Story’s
obsession with messianic hope as dramatized in the woman who teaches
little children about the return of Elijah, in Herod’s maniacal phobia
with Jewish hopes for the Messiah and in the interwoven hopes of the
Magi as they travel from afar. The movie opens with a
Messianic-focusing citation of Jeremiah 23:5-6: “‘The days are coming,’
declares the Lord, ‘when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch
How odd, then, that the director chose not to give us one word of
Mary’s rich and evocative Magnificat until the end of the movie. As
Mary and Joseph travel to Egypt we get snippets, well-chosen to be
sure, of lines from the Magnificat—not the opening lines of
heart-opened praise and not the closing lines about God’s faithfulness
to Abraham—but still well-chosen lines about the messianic hope of the
poor for God to bring justice. But they serve as a capstone of the
themes of the people and Herod but not lines that derive integrally
from the characters of Joseph and Mary.
Joseph and Mary
Because I have spent time researching the parents of Jesus and how
Jesus’ own ministry and teachings were formed by them, I have developed
more fixed views of them than most. The Nativity Story’s
presentation of Joseph was fulsome—he was a man of steady Torah
observance and a man of mercy. When he discovers that Mary is pregnant,
his commitment to Torah convinces him that he must not continue the
covenanted relationship and decides to divorce. Only after being
convinced in a dream does Joseph surrender—his own “may it be”—to the
plan of God, and he marries Mary.
Alongside his commitment to Torah, Joseph is a merciful man. The
biblical text tells us only that Joseph chose not to expose Mary to
public humiliation through public accusation of adultery but chose
instead to divorce her privately—from which biblical scholars have
often inferred (accurately I believe) that Joseph was a man of mercy.
Mike Rich, the screenwriter, beautifully attends to this theme of mercy
in Joseph. Joseph is moved to mercy by fellow travelers when their
donkey falters, by bloodying his feet as he walks so Mary can ride atop
their donkey, by constant attentiveness to Mary and then by scrambling
to find a place for Mary when they arrive in Bethlehem.
We fall in love with Joseph. But not with Mary—at least I did not. I liked their relationship, but I wanted more from Mary.
Mary’s character moves through two phases: she is confused and
bewildered and pondering what all this might mean when she discovers
she is to be prematurely pregnant as the Messiah’s mother. That
confusion on her face lifts either as a result of her time with
Elizabeth or, and it was not clear to me, as a result of Joseph’s
acceptance of her condition as the Lord’s plan. The character moves
from confusion to security.
Had the movie given attention to the Magnificat up front, as Luke’s
first chapter does, we might have been given three dimensions that
would have reshaped Mary’s character: first, because the Magnificat is
so dramatically hopeful and messianic, we would have seen a Mary more
in touch with her own people—who are clearly depicted in the movie as
longing for the Messianic days; second, we would have been given a more
robust character because we’d have a Mary who was more than pious; and
third, if we had the Magnificat up front we would have watched a Mary
more in line with the Bible and less in line with the history of
Christian art. Art reveals—in statues, icons and paintings—a pious,
pensive, pondering, passive Mary.
But, the Magnificat reveals a woman who is alert, active and even (if I
may be so bold to suggest so) a bit aggressive. She longs for the
kingdom; she is ready to say, “May it be!” And she is willing to go
toe-to-toe with Herod and Caesar by announcing that God is about to
strip rulers from their thrones and enthrone her very son. By delaying
lines from the Magnificat until the end, the movie permits a pensive
Mary to overtake an activist Mary.
There is nothing controversial and nothing exaggerated in this attempt
to make the 1st Century come alive—in fact, at times I felt I was there.