Incarnation

The Marrow Road

Photo: Jesus healing, © V. J. Matthew / Shutterstock.com

Photo: Jesus healing, © V. J. Matthew / Shutterstock.com

I've been thinking, as Advent goes on, what it meant for God to lay aside infinity and put on a body that was not just tiny, inarticulate, and helpless, but also already marked, to the marrow of its little bones, with the seeds of death.

He must have felt in his own flesh this dramatic comedown — from omnipotence and omnipresence to a being that had about threescore and 10, max, even if it hadn’t going to be cut off halfway by self-sacrifice and Roman capital punishment. And that must have given Jesus infinite tenderness and patience towards the waves and waves of people who, during his short ministry, were always coming up to him and asking, directly or just by their presence, for him to heal their bodies. In Luke, the Gospel focus of the new liturgical year, there are more than 20 healings by my count, compared to two times when someone asks Christ how to get eternal life (and only one of them actually wanted to know).

Those healings of all those bodies matter, millennia later. One big reason they matter is because healing matters. Another is because, by showing God's power over death as well as by going through death ahead of us, Christ teaches us not to be dominated by fear of it.

God Occupies a Baby Crib

Photo: Depiction of a baby Jesus, © R. Gino Santa Maria / Shutterstock.com

Photo: Depiction of a baby Jesus, © R. Gino Santa Maria / Shutterstock.com

There is a line from a Gerard Manley Hopkins poem about the Virgin Mary that describes the baby Jesus as “God’s infinity, dwindled to infancy.” The line captures perfectly the beautiful but also shocking idea, central to Christianity, that the infinite God who created the universe also chose to descend, dwindle, become small, become helpless, become dependent on human beings.

Hopkins is right: the baby Jesus is not merely a sentimental or cute idea but is potentially radical, transformative, and controversial.

 

Phone Foul: The Importance of Being a Good Listener

If I hadn’t been so concerned about what I was going to say to the vet when the receptionist answered the phone, I would have heard the receptionist tell me loud and clear that I was through to a dental practice.

I hadn’t listened. In not listening I got everything I said wrong.

In the business I am in, of ministry and pastoral care, listening is such an important thing. I can prepare all the fancy theology and exegesis imaginable but if I don’t listen I might be getting it all wrong and embarrassing myself in the process.

The Gospel According to Charles Dickens: Charity worth Laughing At

Illustration of Dickens' "Christmas Carol." Photo by Tim King.

Illustration of Dickens' "Christmas Carol." Photo by Tim King.

Scrooge repented, promised to “honor Christmas in his heart” all year long and to never forget the lessons of the three spirits.

He celebrated Christmas day with his nephew, sent the Cratchit family a prize Christmas turkey and then given Bob Cratchit a raise. He became a second father to Tiny Tim, was known as a good man in the city and was remembered for his ability to keep Christmas well.

But, as Dickens pointed out, this didn’t come without some laughter and derision.

Some people who knew Scrooge as a misanthrope before, now saw the old, mean man as a fool. The radical conversion Scrooge underwent  caused some to question whether this new Ebenezer was still of sound mind.

This is as it should be.

A Christmas Reflection: Grace

"Lying in a manger." Image via http://bit.ly/rD9s7H

"Lying in a manger." Image via http://bit.ly/rD9s7H

At the center of the nativity picture is that baby in the manger.

That baby Jesus will be many more things as his life, death, resurrection and eternity continues but here in the straw, and central to everything he will do and be, he is a symbol of grace.

This is what Christianity boils down to. This is it at its most naked. Shed the tragedies of Christian history, the boredom of what you’ve experienced in Church (how was that possible!), the legalism that has oppressed your youth or whatever else has damaged your perspective of God and you are left with this amazing concept of grace.

Put most simply, grace is the “unmerited favor” of God.

Hit the Hallelujah Button: With the Cathedral Choir from New Jersey

Each day leading until Christmas we will post a different video rendition of the "Hallelujah Chorus" for your holiday enjoyment and edification.

Today's entry is a traditional orchestration and performance of Handel's famed chorus by The Cathedral Choir of New Jersey. The video is taken from the 66th rendition of the "Hallelujah Chorus" performed by the choir on Dec. 5, 2009 at Hawthorne Gospel Church in Hawthorne, NJ.

Hallelujah Chorus from RVR Video Productions on Vimeo.

Why the "War on Christmas" Doesn't Translate Across the Pond

Christmas lights in London's Trafalgar Square, St. Martin's in the Field behind.

Christmas lights in London's Trafalgar Square, St. Martin's in the Field behind. Via http://www.wylio.com/credits/Flickr/839615

I’m not sure we can quite get our heads around the latest ‘war’ being waged in the United States – the ‘war on Christmas’.

Visions of the 101st Airborne heading towards the North Pole abound. Anti-reindeer defense weapons, covert elf anti-merriment operatives and a unilateral ban on all copies of A Christmas Carol (in its various media iterations)? Is that what we have come to?

Surely — and thankfully — not, but given some of the rhetoric that is thrown around in the media at this time of year, you might be forgiven for thinking so!

Given that most reporting about religion in the UK and Europe usually includes the phrase “an increasingly secular country," you might think that the "war on Christmas" back on the old sod is even more sustained and sophisticated than in the United States.

Picture heavily fortified nativity scenes being assaulted by atheist flash mobs chanting “HAPPY HOLIDAYS!” if you will.

Well, I’m sorry to tell you that I’ve yet to witness such a terrifying scene on the streets of London.

A Christmas Gift

I love the lights and the love, which somehow seems a little easier during this season. Most of all I love the message: God made flesh, becoming human, and dwelling among us.

Our giving and receiving of gifts is most of all a reminder of the good gifts that God has already given to us. There is an old Sunday School saying that goes, "You can’t out give God."

No matter how much we give to those around us, it can never match the Light of the World entering into the darkness to be with us. Emmanuel, God with us, is the gift that can’t be out given.

In all the hustle and bustle of Christmas, don’t forget that. And don’t forget the people that you are especially thankful for.

Christmas Mourning

"Holy Family's flight to Ethiopia." Image via http://bit.ly/w3Z2K9

"Holy Family's flight to Ethiopia." Image via http://bit.ly/w3Z2K9

In the Incarnation, Christ brings hope to a world where, for the time being, Herod is still king, and all is not as it should be. Christmas includes the story of a terrible genocide — a traumatic refugee experience for young Jesus and his parents, and all the worse for those parents who were not warned in a dream and thus did not escape to Egypt before their infant sons were murdered — but as evangelicals we seldom reflect on this part of the story. (Catholic & Anglican Christians remember these victims on the Feast of the Holy Innocents on December 28, a practice I adopted for the first time last year.)

The great hope of Christmas, though, is that it represents the entry into history of a Prince of Peace, who will eventually dethrone Herod and Caesar and set all things right. We’re still living in that tension: Christ’s kingdom has been inaugurated but is not here in fullness yet, as the injustice of last December’s DREAM Act vote and a thousand other tragedies of poverty, conflict, and marginalization throughout our globe remind us. So Christmas is a time for mourning and for hopeful joy: and it is entirely right that Advent is a time of eager and expectant yearning. O Come, O Come, Emmanuel!

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