Thursday, December 24, 2009

Will the Real "Father Christmas" Please Stand Up?

On this Christmas Eve (er, Christ-tide Eve; I'll have none of this "mass" popery ruining my holiday! :-)), I thought you might wish to read about the real "Father Christmases" of the past. Neither the real Saint Nicholas of Asia Minor, nor the recent Santa Claus, Father Christmas was a figure who urged people to be thankful to God for all his gifts and blessings--predominantly that of his favor in Christ--and to give to others in charity, goodwill, and neighborly love. And I thought Christmas was all about getting huge gifts!

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Christmas!

My stupendous wife Olivia noticed two days ago that Tuesday's sunset time was 4:56 P.M., one minute later than on Monday. Sure enough, we had hit the winter solstice. This is something I think is so cool about Christmas: Regardless of when Jesus was actually born, I think it's fitting that his coming is celebrated in conjunction with the winter solstice. After all, Jesus is the Light of the world (John 8:12). Even before his birth, prophecies told of him as a sunrise or "dayspring" (KJV) bringing the dawn of God's redemption and light from heaven down to mankind.

By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.
(Luke 1:78-79, NRSV)

As the news of Jesus spreads, the darkness is being beaten back; it never could understand or overcome this mysterious little babe born in Bethlehem's shadows (John 1:5; 1 John 2:8). As the days grow longer toward the full summer sun, so one day too will Jesus be the radiance and glory of the world (Revelation 21:22-24).

This Christmas, I hope that even a little flickering candle of God's love, which has come alongside us in Jesus, will grow to give you hope, joy, and peace. Amen.

Friday, December 18, 2009

When the Son Gets in Our Eyes

Carolyn Arends has written a clever but truthful article for Christianity Today about how we can't really see God aright until we see Jesus. It's worth the few minutes it takes to read.

"No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known." (John 1:18)

Monday, December 14, 2009

Advent Resolutions

Chapters 24 and 25 of the Gospel of Matthew teach us about the second advent of our Lord Jesus Christ and how to prepare for it. As such, throughout the ages these chapters have found themselves as frequent texts for Advent homilies. One parable Jesus employed was that of ten virgins who waited through the night for the bridegroom to come and to leave for the wedding feast (25:1-13). Five were adequately prepared for his coming, with plenty of oil for their lamps. The others, however, were not so wise, and did not bring enough oil. Consequently, when the wedding party arrived, they had to leave to buy more oil and were left to wait behind in the dark. The end result was that the foolish women were shut out from the feast. Jesus' concluding admonition is that we must, like the wise young women, "keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour [of my arrival]."

As I've been studying the Gospel of John, I'm reminded that Christmas isn't exactly always good news. For many, the arrival of the Word-made-flesh revealed their hearts as hateful toward God and his light (see, e.g., John 3:17-21). In fact, Jesus told the whole city of Jerusalem that their doom had been sealed precisely because God had visited them, but they had not recognized him nor received him (Luke 19:44). Elsewhere in the Psalms (2, 72, 110) and Prophets (Isaiah 9) we are reminded that when the Messiah comes, he will destroy all that is opposed to him and life under God's holy reign.

Jesus may, like the bridegroom of his parable, be "a long time in coming," but we need to be prepared for him. So in this vein I wish to repost something I had read and posted about a few years back--our need for "advent resolutions," if you will, rather than New Year's resolutions. (This was written by Michael Jacob, a Roman Catholic theologian.)

. . . what Christians do (or should be doing!) during Advent and leading up to Christmas is a foreshadowing of what they will do during the days of their lives that lead up to the Second Coming; what non-Christians refuse to do during Advent, and put off until after Christmas, is precisely a foreshadowing of what they will experience at the Second Coming.

We Christians are to prepare for the Coming of Christ before He actually comes -- and that Coming is symbolized and recalled at Christmas. Non-Christians miss this season of preparation, and then scramble for six days after the 25th to make their resolutions. By then, however, it's too late -- Christmas has come and gone. Our Lord has already made His visitation to the earth, and he has found them unprepared. This is precisely what will take place at the Second Coming, when those who have put off for their entire lives the necessary preparations will suddenly be scrambling to put their affairs in order. Unfortunately, by then it will have been too late, and there will be no time for repentance. The Second Coming will be less forgiving than the Incarnation. There will be no four-week warning period before the Second Coming, like we get during Advent. There will be no six-day period of grace after the Second Coming during which to make resolutions and self-examination, like the secular world does from Dec. 26 until Jan. 1.

What might such "Advent resolutions" look like? Here are a few Scriptures to mull over.

1) Find ways to actively serve others in love, especially fellow Christians. (Matthew 24:13; 25:31-46; 1 Thessalonians 3:12-13; Hebrews 10:24; 1 Peter 1:13, 22).

2) Pray that Christ would be your All, your sole joy and hope, rather than any vacation, year-end bonus, or Christmas gift. (1 Timothy 6:6-10, 17-19; Hebrews 9:28; 1 Peter 1:3-21)

3) Ask God to reveal unrighteousness in your life and show you ways to repent and to walk in obedience to his will. (Titus 2:11-14; 2 Peter 3:11-13; 1 John 2:28-29)

4) Give generously of your time, money, and abilities, living out your hope that investing in an eternal future is more important than your Roth IRA. (After all, the kingdom of God will never need a federal bailout.) (Matthew 25:14-30; 1 Timothy 6:17-19)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Veni veni Emanuel!

Christmas is supposed to be a time of peace, tranquility, and joy. And judging by the number of ads on the TV, radio, and newspaper, Christmas--ahem, the Holidays--are already here. But Advent is a time of having to wait in darkness for peace and light to come. In Advent, as the days get shorter and the night lengthens toward the solstice, we are still waiting for our consolation (Luke 2:25) and looking forward to our redemption (2:38). "O come, O come, Emmanuel" is our song; "Joy to the world! The Lord is come!" yet awaits the future. Of course, in our place in history the Christ has come, bringing God's nascent kingdom with him. But the fullness of his peace- and righteousness-dealing awaits a day yet to arrive.

This week I have acutely felt this tension. My wife has been quite ill and had lost her voice; the housing search has proven largely unfruitful and still up in the air; the reality of tough, long, lackluster days at school wears on me; and if we don't move in the next week we may be unable to go back up north to our respective family homes for Christmas. It's not that life feels totally out of control, but there are enough nagging challenges, disappointments, and loose ends to feel rattled and insecure. I feel like I'm growing older and more aware of others' lives. Weird.

Come, Thou long-expected Jesus,
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee
. (C. Wesley)

On Saturday night as Olivia and I sat in our darkened living room with no lights on, save for a lone candle and the Christmas tree, I pondered all these things. In the midst of the weight, I strangely felt little worry or panic. I wondered instead--even felt sure of--all the ways we would see God's gracious deliverance, goodness, and faithfulness through it all, his bereket. The refrain of God's Word is "Do not fear, only believe" (Mark 5:36). As my pastor reminded us this weekend, life is never out of control; it's simply out of our control. I know that in the end God always comes through--in his own time and on his own agenda and terms, revealing himself to us along the way, so that we might thank and praise him (Psalm 30:11-12). "Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning" (30:5).

So right now, Lord Jesus, we long for you to come and bring your Throne and the Regeneration. It's hard to know we may have to wait how many years?--fifty? sixty? seventy? Yet even now may this hope of your sovereign power and love be our strength and give us peace as we wait for you.

The LORD sits enthroned over the flood;
the LORD is enthroned as King forever.
The LORD gives strength to his people;
the LORD blesses his people with peace.
(Psalm 29:10-11)

Veni veni Emanuel!