Tag Archives: Christmas

Christmas Matters

42a57c77-a432-4773-8e2f-9292ffcad870Advent is an interesting time of the year as a Christian. Sometimes it’s easy to get lost in the tinsel trinkets and festive facade of the season, lights, trees, presents and parties all vie for our attention but the original Christmas was quite different. I wrote this a few years ago and it’s been coming to mind all over again…

With these thoughts in mind, I’ve been traveling back to the first Christmas in the Gospels. What I have been struck by is how unfettered they are by the false facade we have built around this holiday. Think about it. A wearly couple arrives in a backwater Judean town on it’s busiest night in years. The census has created a metropolis out of this one-stop-light village. The sound of full inns and family homes bursting at the seams with noisy relatives spills out into the dusty streets as the couple look for any place to stay.

The unwed mother’s delivery is imminent as her frantic betrothed looks for any place he can find for her to rest and bring his adopted son into the world. They are alone; this might be their ancestral village, but there is no family left here to call on. The betrothed finally finds a place, its a stable. There is nothing cute or clean about this place. This is no Disney-ized version of a barnyard; it is smelly and dirty as animals wander in and out of the stable. The teenage mother is about to give birth and her betrothed must help. There is not midwife tonight and he will see things that most Jewish men of his time would not, the birth of his child. There is no glamor or calm, only the screams of a mother, ready to have her child out of her. She’s in pain and there are no drugs to help her and straw is only so comfortable to lay on.

It’s over, the baby is here and yes he’s screaming. The sound of his cries mingles with that of the animals as well as the city. The world is unaware of what just happened. The Word became flesh. To anyone that night, it was unremarkable, no one cared. The mother wraps her child in cloth against the night and the betrothed leans back in the straw, exhausted.

There are no carols or lights, no trees or parties, the Savior comes into the world and no one knows. That is at least until angels appear to social outcasts on the fringes of town and declare that the Savior, which is Christ the Lord has been born. The mother and her betrothed, so alone this night must have been shocked as these men came into the stable to worship their child. From the beginning, the Savior was healing the marginalized and reaching out to the broken. These miscreants were the first evangelists; heralding through the streets that night, to anyone that would listen, that the world was forever changed because of a baby born that night.

This year, the church that I’ve been attending with my wife has been going through the 5th chapter of Romans for advent and it’s been a blessing to be reminded how much Christmas truly matters. It’s easy to get lost in the fairy tale nature of the Christmas story but when you pair that with the culmination of the cross and resurrection as Paul lays it out in Romans, the majesty of Christmas comes to life all over again.

jesus-resurrection-walking-out-of-tomb-900Death in Adam, Life in Christ Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:12-21 ESV)

Christmas is not about the fantasy that it’s been made, it’s about the reality of God, reaching down to man and creating the way that we could be made whole again. Talk about Joy to the World!

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Christmastime is Here; Happiness and Cheer?

charlie_LinusCharlie Brown: I think there must be something wrong with me, Linus. Christmas is coming, but I’m not happy. I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel.

Charlie Brown: I just don’t understand Christmas, I guess. I like getting presents and sending Christmas cards and decorating trees and all that, but I’m still not happy. I always end up feeling depressed.

Linus Van Pelt: Charlie Brown, you’re the only person I know who can take a wonderful season like Christmas and turn it into a problem. Maybe Lucy’s right. Of all the Charlie Browns in the world, you’re the Charlie Browniest.

Christmas is usually my favorite time of year. I love the music, trees, lights, parties, the lot. Something about this year has been different and I’m not sure what it is. I haven’t wanted to listen to the music as much or watch the dozens of Christmas movies I usually do. Figuring out why, has been a different matter altogether. Maybe it’s because I’m single, maybe it’s the fact that in spite of the all-too-brief ice-pocalypse the Dallas weather has felt more like Spring or maybe it’s because there is the pressure this time of year to be happy more than any other; all of these could be the reason for my holiday haze.

With these thoughts in mind, I’ve been traveling back to the first Christmas in the Gospels. What I have been struck by is how unfettered they are by the false facade we have built around this holiday. Think about it. A wearly couple arrives in a backwater Judean town on it’s busiest night in years. The census has created a metropolis out of this one-stop-light village. The sound of full inns and family homes bursting at the seams with noisy relatives spills out into the dusty streets as the couple look for any place to stay.

The unwed mother’s delivery is imminent as her frantic betrothed looks for any place he can find for her to rest and bring his adopted son into the world. They are alone; this might be their ancestral village, but there is no family left here to call on. The betrothed finally finds a place, its a stable. There is nothing cute or clean about this place. This is no Disney-ized version of a barnyard; it is smelly and dirty as animals wander in and out of the stable. The teenage mother is about to give birth and her betrothed must help. There is not midwife tonight and he will see things that most Jewish men of his time would not, the birth of his child. There is no glamor or calm, only the screams of a mother, ready to have her child out of her. She’s in pain and there are no drugs to help her and straw is only so comfortable to lay on.

It’s over, the baby is here and yes he’s screaming. The sound of his cries mingles with that of the animals as well as the city. The world is unaware of what just happened. The Word became flesh. To anyone that night, it was unremarkable, no one cared. The mother wraps her child in cloth against the night and the betrothed leans back in the straw, exhausted.

nativityThere are no carols or lights, no trees or parties, the Savior comes into the world and no one knows. That is at least until angels appear to social outcasts on the fringes of town and declare that the Savior, which is Christ the Lord has been born. The mother and her betrothed, so alone this night must have been shocked as these men came into the stable to worship their child. From the beginning, the Savior was healing the marginalized and reaching out to the broken. These miscreants were the first evangelists; heralding through the streets that night, to anyone that would listen, that the world was forever changed because of a baby born that night.

This is what the season is all about. It’s not about candy-cane smiles and tinsel-hanging happiness, it’s about hope for the hopeless. Joy to the world, the Lord is come, not so we can have our best life now but so we can have our best life for eternity. God came down, born into extreme poverty and lived as one of us.

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16, ESV)

He was rejected and alone, even his closest friends would abandon him in his greatest hour of need. Without the cross, Christmas means nothing. So, if you are feeling a lack of Christmas spirit, remember that it’s not about the commercialized racket, it’s about a baby that was born to die. And through his death and resurrection anyone can have life and have it abundantly. Joy to the world indeed.

This Flower, whose fragrance tender with sweetness fills the air, Dispels with glorious splendor the darkness everywhere;
True man, yet very God, from sin and death He saves us,
And lightens every load.

From “Lo, How A Rose E’er Blooming”

A Baby Saves the Day

IMG_0145Once upon a time there was a hobbit in a hobbit hole. There was a young girl, playing hide and seek with her brothers and sister. She found a room with a solitary wardrobe and hid herself in it. A baby boy is laid on porch, wrapped in a blanket, he has a peculiar scar on his head and a letter lain on top of him. A baby boy is laid in a manger, surround by barn yard animals.

Many of our greatest stories start out the same. They begin with the most unassuming people, people we would never give a second thought to. Yet, “Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.” This is the power of a good story, taking the smallest and most underrated character and making them the one who saves the day.

Once upon a time, there was a king. He loved his people like no king has ever loved a people. He wanted nothing but their good and had given them the best of every thing. The people were happy. They loved the king and walked with the king on the cool evenings. The king had only given a few rules for the people to follow. Theses rules were for their safety. For a while everything was perfect. Then long came a serpent, a crafty and sly creature. He talked the people into rebelling against the king. After the rebellion the people were cast out of their perfect place. They lost contact with the king and could not walk with him anymore.

The king was brokenhearted. His people had chosen to abandon him for something else. He wanted his people back. He sent them laws and prophets. He sent them women and even a talking donkey, but the people rejected them. The king knew that the only way to restore his people was going to be through his own intervention. He was the only one who could make things right.

This is a familiar story at this time of year. The King is God and he sent is only Son into the world as a baby to save the people from their sins. The story starts off small. A young teenage girl, who is betrothed to a man finds herself pregnant. This is not ordinary pregnancy. As with the best of stories there is something bigger at work behind the scenes. She is a virgin and still with child. If you think this is crazy, it is nothing compared to who the baby is. He is God and man, coming into the world to take care of our deepest problem. He is coming to restore what the people broke so long ago, he will make a way for us to walk with the King again.

NativityAt this Christmas, I want to challenge you to look at the story again. If you believe it, see the wonder in it again. A baby comes to save the day, how incredible is that. If you don’t believe I want to challenge you to look at the story again. Look and see the mystery of  God coming to rescue you in the form of a baby. Is it so crazy to think? “Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.” Even a baby, born in a stable to a pesant girl, can be the King in disguise. May of our greatest heros die for the good of their friends, but this King dies for all his people, even as they are actively involved in rebellion against him. He rises again so that he can walk with those who will accept his gift. He offers his gift to us at Christmas in the form of his Son, he asks us believe that he has made things right and all we have to do is put our faith in a King and his Son who made a way when their seemed to be no way. J.R.R. Tolkien says this about the Christmas story,

I would venture to say that approaching the Christian Story from this direction, it has long been my feeling (a joyous feeling) that God redeemed the corrupt making-creatures, men, in a way fitting to this aspect, as to others, of their strange nature. The Gospels contain a fairy- story, or a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy-stories. They contain many marvels—peculiarly artistic, beautiful, and moving: “mythical” in their perfect, self- contained significance; and among the marvels is the greatest and most complete conceivable eucatastrophe. But this story has entered History and the primary world; the desire and aspiration of sub-creation has been raised to the fulfillment of Creation. The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man’s history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy. It has pre-eminently the “inner consistency of reality.” There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true, and none which so many sceptical men have accepted as true on its own merits. For the Art of it has the supremely convincing tone of Primary Art, that is, of Creation. To reject it leads either to sadness or to wrath.

It is not difficult to imagine the peculiar excitement and joy that one would feel, if any specially beautiful fairy-story were found to be “primarily” true, its narrative to be history, without thereby necessarily losing the mythical or allegorical significance that it had possessed. It is not difficult, for one is not called upon to try and conceive anything of a quality unknown. The joy would have exactly the same quality, if not the same degree, as the joy which the “turn” in a fairy-story gives: such joy has the very taste of primary truth. (Otherwise its name would not be joy.) It looks forward (or backward: the direction in this regard is unimportant) to the Great Eucatastrophe. The Christian joy, the Gloria, is of the same kind; but it is preeminently (infinitely, if our capacity were not finite) high and joyous. But this story is supreme; and it is true. Art has been verified. God is the Lord, of angels, and of men—and of elves. Legend and History have met and fused.

But in God’s kingdom the presence of the greatest does not depress the small. Redeemed Man is still man. Story, fantasy, still go on, and should go on. The Evangelium has not abrogated legends; it has hallowed them, especially the “happy ending.” The Christian has still to work, with mind as well as body, to suffer, hope, and die; but he may now perceive that all his bents and faculties have a purpose, which can be redeemed. So great is the bounty with which he has been treated that he may now, perhaps, fairly dare to guess that in Fantasy he may actually assist in the effoliation and multiple enrichment of creation. All tales may come true; and yet, at the last, redeemed, they may be as like and as unlike the forms that we give them as Man, finally redeemed, will be like and unlike the fallen that we know.

Joy to the world, the Lord is come, let earth receive her king.

Owl Post 12-10-12

Owl Post: 2-3-2012

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That’s What Christmas Is All About, Charlie Brown: Law and Gospel According to Peanuts:

Christmas is fast approaching, so I find myself thinking about the very first—and arguably most famous—of the Peanuts‘ television specials: A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965), which is already airing on ABC and is available to stream on Hulu. Frankly, this post is long overdue: I have intended to write more about Charles Schulz’sPeanuts and its relationship to the theological categories of Law and Gospel since my previous post on the subject months ago. This time I take a look at Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree.

SKYFALL: Building a Better Bond:

We’ve always just known that Bond is Bond. James Bond.

Curious then, that Skyfall is not only being hailed by some as the best Bond film ever made, but  it also makes us realize we’ve been watching a trilogy of prequels that set up 007 to become the man we’ve always known. Throughout the last half of the twentieth century,  no matter who played him or what villain he faced, there were certain things you could always count on about him, from the resolute and relentless demeanor to the wry lines and unmatched swagger. However, what we come to realize now in the 21st century is that becoming Bond took a lot of loss, healing, and facing himself in the mirror.

How People Change:

Nick Crews was, by his own admission, a middling father. He enjoyed cuddling with his three kids, but he was frequently away on naval deployments and didn’t stay in touch with them once they went off to boarding school.

Over the years, Crews has watched his children (the oldest is now 40) make a series of terrible decisions. “I bought into the fashionable philosophy of not interfering; letting the children find themselves,” he told Cristina Odone of The Telegraph of London.

The Blessed Union of Two Dead Singletons:

One of the trending articles over at the Atlantic’s website is one entitled, “Single People Should Get to Have Weddings Too.” It’s not the first timethey’ve talked explicitly about the singlehood issue. It talks about the “extraordinary rise of living alone” as “the biggest modern social change we’ve yet to identify,” its liberating appeal, and the trenchant cultural norms standing in its way. Adult lives, Millie Kerr writes, are judged on benchmarks beyond singlehood—marriage, babies, homebuying—which means single people don’t get celebrated. She asks, “When will barometers of celebration reflect the growing number of singletons?”

How Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ Became Everybody’s ‘Hallelujah’:

Pop standards don’t really get written anymore. Most of the best-known standards were composed before the arrival of rock and roll; perhaps something about the new brand of mass-marketed, Ed Sullivan-fueled stardom just didn’t quite jive with the generous old-world tradition of passing songs around the circuit, offering to share.

So when an obscure Leonard Cohen song from 1984 was resurrected in the ’90s, then repurposed and reinvented by other artists so many times it became a latter-day secular hymn—well, that was kind of like a pop-music unicorn sighting.

Is the Student Loan Debt Crisis Worse Than We Thought?

A new report from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York delivers generally positive news about the economy with one glaring exception: student loan debt. The amount of debt and delinquencies are climbing, and some experts say the official numbers don’t even capture how big the problem really is.

Jonathan Frakes: Why Roddenberry wanted Riker to have a beard:

The best thing about the Star Trek: The Next Generation Blu-rays isn’t the improved video quality, it’s this second renaissance that the series seems to be having. Suddenly, the actors are coming out for interviews and we’re finding out more than we thought there ever was to know. For example, a secret about the Riker beard.

Owl Post 11-28-12

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Purchasing Joy:

Through the weekend that follows Thanksgiving I have been maintaining a page that provides a round-up of Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals that are of particular interest to Christians. This is something I have done for several years now, yet every year I do it with a bit of a guilty conscience. There are both benefits and drawbacks to publicizing deals like these. On the one hand, it is a means of connecting Christian retailers with people who may be interested in taking advantage of a few pre-Christmas deals, but on the other hand it may just feed the consumerism that is rampant both outside the church and within.

Eating Poorly, Sleeping Well: Mockingjay and the End of Progress:

There are dystopian novel plots that resolve, and there are those that do not. Commercial success demands resolution, which is a great reason why Collins will have to overcome a credibility barrier with adolescents and young adults if she ever wants to match The Hunger Games trilogy’s sales with future works. Peeta?? Come on – all pulp bestselling authors know that the dark, masculine hunter is supposed to win out in adolescent-lit love triangle. Anyone writing a conventional dystopian epic knows that readers like resolution, and let’s face it, Panem’s new government doesn’t seem particularly promising. Katniss fails in her assassination attempt, which honestly changes the prospective climax into a major letdown. Most people seemed disappointed by the ending in some way or another, but it’s also safe to say that the third book is the most honest – since it alone in the series doesn’t have to appeal to anyone commercially (they’re all buying it anyways), Collins is free to present her undistilled vision for her literature. Even in the raw, oft-disappointing power of Collins’s vision of her characters as weak, suffering, or powerless, audiences still try to recover conventional meanings of glory from her work. “Real or not real?”, the poster at left reads. “Tick, tock, this is a clock”, a poster from Catching Fire reads. And yet, there are no deep musing on Time in this trilogy, no thematic explorations of reality in the way those two posters would suggest. Similarly, the clichéd love triangle disappoints many readers at the end, and the naive theme of political revolution takes an obvious backseat to Katniss’s own internal trauma. Whatever Collins is presenting us with, it’s certainly not the easy romance and suspense which drew people into The Hunger Games, and neither can it be described by simple catchphrases which, quite frankly, are more situational and fun for Collins than universal or philosophical points. Instead, it’s the plot itself that articulates her vision.

Newly Unemployed Newlyweds and Billy Joel’s Fiery Optimism:

I’ve recently become fixated on fire – in both its noun and verb form. This preoccupation began when, three days after returning from my honeymoon, ten days into my marriage, I was fired from my position as a first-time 5th and 6th grade teacher. This jarring turn of events has (much like the beginnings of a B-rated rom-com) led to some soul searching. After weeks of crosswords, wedding thank you notes, episodes of Gilmore Girls, and intermittent moments of panic, I’ve landed on Billy Joel’s 1989 hit “We Didn’t Start theFire” as an unexpected spring of inspiration.

Don’t Sanitize the Psalms:

In some churches, if our public worship and prayers echoed what we find in the Psalms we might find ourselves called before the church board for correction. Unlike the stoic legalist or safe churchman, the psalmist expressed the full range of emotions in worship. He felt no need to pretend that he had it all together. He did not limit himself to safe clichés about God.

A Sigh of Relief: The Avett Brothers and Anne Steele Get Honest:

Peace can be uncomfortably paradoxical. I’ve found that a vast majority of the conversations I have during the week beat around the bush–and the lack of substance only perpetuates existing anxiety. Art has proved to be exceedingly helpful, in that it often points me to an inescapable truth: when feeling stuck, the worst possible thing to do is hide. But we want to hide. Nothing about displaying fears and insecurities seems the least bit freeing.

In their new album, The Carpenter, The Avett Brothers continue their wonderfully raw and beautiful articulation of real life.

Previously on Parenthood, Pt 4: It’s Scary, It’s Really Scary:

Remember that I introduced this series of posts by looking at an earlier episode poignantly titled “Everything is not OK ,” a title that spoke to Adam’s relentless positivity in the face of his wife Kristina’s suffering. Since then Adam has slowly come to grips with the realities of Kristina’s breast cancer, but the most recent episode (#7, “Together”) portrays his continued futile attempts to keep everything “under control” as he says: “I’ve got this taken care of.” The thing is, Kristina isn’t the only one suffering. Adam is, too. His attempts to keep everything at work and at home under control/business-as-usual are basically unconscious efforts to distract himself from the pain. Ironically, he is killing himself by doing so.

Do Pro-Life Policies Even Matter?

One of the persistent myths in the abortion debate is that the pro-life movement doesn’t actually do much to help save lives. You’ll sometimes hear this complaint from pro-lifers themselves who have cynically concluded that pro-life legislation and pro-life legislators don’t accomplish anything that matters to unborn babies. On the other side, pro-choice advocates will claim that the pro-life cause is all about controlling women and regulating sex and don’t do anything to reduce the number of abortions anyway. If there is one thing cynics on both sides can agree on it’s that pro-life policies don’t work.

Please check out my new podcast on Trek.fm, Literary Treks. It is devoted to all things Star Trek in literature; novels, comics and reference books. We talk to authors, have book and comic news as well as cover books in-depth. So give us a listen.