Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Merry Christmas, Joy to the World!

Here's an opportunity and invitation to "preach" a very brief Christmas sermon to your blogmates. Please select a short portion of the "Christmas story" (as told by the canonical Evangelists or by Paul [test question: Paul tells 'the Christmas story'? Where...?]) that you feel the church in the US particularly needs to attend to in these days. Hey, it's a busy season, so if you go on and on, we'll probably move along to other things... but if you are succinct, insightful, humorous and brilliant, you may hear the angels sing. Otherwise, the sounds you hear will just be us clapping and cheering.


Peter said...

He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone's astonishment he wrote, "His name is John." Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue was loosed, and he began to speak, praising God. (Lk. 1:63-64)

Once again, I was going through the Christmas story in Luke's Gospel, as it is that time of year. As I was reading, I was struck by this moment above, in particular. Zechariah's unquestionable declaration of his son's name contains all the mixed hopes and frustrations of years without a son. Years of prayer and no response, years of tears with Elizabeth, years of public shame and even ridicule for not producing an heir.
With all of that, of course Zechariah didn't trust Gabriel's words that he would bear a son. Of course, Zechariah wanted some proof. He didn't want another disappointment. "How can I be SURE?"
But God's word is true, regardless of how we respond to it, and God accomplishes his purposes in our lives, regardless of whether or not we cooperate. Because God always arrives at "the proper time" (Lk 1:20, also see Romans 5:6). And when that time comes, the floodgates are released. However we behaved during all the intervening time, at this moment God's arrival sucks us in and we cannot help but affirm with Zechariah, that the God who is silent is still present, that God has come to a powerless people, that God is who he says he is and his word is true... or, more simply, that "His name is John."

Brian Emmet said...

Bravo, Peter--well said... and welcome, since I'm not sure I recognize your name (but if this is my own son Peter, I'm glad to have you here and embarrassed I didn't 'recognize' you!)

Here's my attempt at a contribution, following upon yours:

Zechariah and Elizabeth didn't understand everything--the may not be shining examples of "the sons of Issachar, who understood the times and knew what Israel ought to do," but they were faithful. Like them we can be faithful in what God has entrusted to us, whether that stewardship seems oridnary and everyday or extraoridnary and unique. With them, we can trust the Lord to take whatever small faithfulness his grace empowers in us, and to cause it to become abundantly fruitful. This encourages us, not so much to abanadon our efforts to understand and articulate what God might have to say about Christology, missiology and ecclesiology, but to do all of this while resting faithflly in the faithfulness of our God.

John M. said...

An Incarnation Story

Have you ever noticed when talking about the Incarnation that we usually leap from heaven to manger? Granted, a huge leap; but in going directly to the manger, we skip a lot.

This week, as I watched “The Nativity Story” movie with my seventh grade classes, I understood with new clarity that the incarnation began with a single cell, fertilized supernaturally by the Holy Spirit. God took on human flesh without skipping any steps in the process except for not being humanly conceived. But even in the supernatural conception, he received Mary’s genes, Mary’s DNA. Talk about humility and vulnerability.

I watched Mary feel him move for the first time…I felt Mary and Joseph endure the hardships of the 100 mile journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem…I heard them discuss what it might be like to parent the Son of God, and acknowledge their fear…I watched as Mary labored in the cave, with Joseph assisting at the birth…I saw their human emotion at the miracle of birth…I experienced their wonder when shepherds and wise men (in the film) showed up that same night to worship.

But the experience culminated for me, when Joseph held up the Son of God…naked, crying, slick from birth…newly born in the way all humans enter the world. I realized that in my excitement of understanding Philippians 2:7-8 and John 1:14, that my mind tended to skip the first, very human, nine months of the Incarnation.

I know it’s just a movie’s eye imagining of what those days might have been like, but somehow it helps me to imagine it that way, knowing that the imagining is rooted in concrete reality.

This Christmas, don’t just remember and celebrate the baby in the manger. Celebrate the zygote in Mary’s womb; remember the birth canal and the squirmy, slippery, naked, crying newborn…before the swaddling clothes. Imagine it all in the context of him never having not been the eternally begotten of the Father – always in intimate unity and communion: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The Incarnation changed everything in heaven, on earth, and under the earth – forever.

Thanks Brian. This was a good exercise for me.

A blessed Christmas to all my fellow bloggers.


steve H said...

Isaiah 35.1-10: In Jesus, God became a human being in the womb of Mary. Pregnant, Mary hurried off to see the formerly barren Elizabeth, who was also pregnant with the child of whom the angel Gabriel had declared, “…And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared." (Luke 1:16-17).

As Mary came into Elizabeth’s presence, Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and her baby leapt within her womb (Luke 1.39-45).
This incident points to a significant aspect of King Jesus’ reign. Jesus, after His resurrection and exaltation, sent the Holy Spirit to regenerate and renew, first, the sons of the Kingdom, but also the whole creation as well (Titus 3.4-6; Psalm 104.30; Romans 8.14-25).
Romans 8 tells us that this renewal is a process – a process that includes suffering, groaning, and pains like those a woman experiences in childbirth.

While the renewal has begun, it is not yet complete; however, the end is a hope that absolutely will be fulfilled so we can wait for it with patience. We need to follow the example of our King, “…who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising its shame…” (Hebrews 12.1-2).

Isaiah 35 gives us a prophetic and poetic look into the glorious renewal which has already begun and is still coming. Here we see a renewed creation: the healing of people, the healing of the land, peace among the creatures, and a clear path for the righteous leading to ultimate gladness.

In the advent season, as we await the Christmas feast, we pause in our preparations to rejoice in this glorious and sure hope – the hope of regeneration and renewal which was visibly initiated at the birth of the King.

The wait, the preparation, and the process require strength, courage and endurance. Therefore, “Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way: say to those with fearful hearts, ‘Be strong, do not fear; your God will come…He will come to save you.’

josenmiami said...

ok... I don't have a message ...but I do have a song.


Jose Feliciano singing Feliz Navidad... we did a neighborhood outreach one Christmas in Miami... I sat on bales of hay with a guitar and actually sang this song. It was not too bad...

"feliz navidad! I want to wish you a merry Christmas... from the bottom of my heart..."

josenmiami said...

this has nothing to do with christmas...but it is a great music video with Jose Feliciano and Gloria Estefan...


with a great guitar lead from Feliciano...

Jeremiah said...

Merry Christmas!

One of the overriding thoughts I had to wrestle with during the birthing process of each of my 4 children was the reality that it was a very dangerous process and someone really could die. Maybe my wife's birth's were just more difficult than normal (I won't trouble the innocent reader with gory details) or maybe I'm just a weenie when it comes to the hospital, but either way those remain some of the most stressful (and yes, most joyful) moments of my life. Being aquainted with the risks of the process, it is tough for me to get through the story of a mother and child going through the process, in a cold barn with maybe not even a midwife to help.

It leaves me breathlessly stunned. It also leaves me realizing that when it comes to GOD's sovereignty, there is no such thing as "risk". There is or there is not. There may be uncertainty from our point regarding what HIS will is, but that isn't risk. The idea of Risk elevates the god of chance to the position of governor of the universe and that obviously was not what guided The King out of the birth canal. So my thoughts regardng the "risk of childbirth" are relatively meaningless from the divine point of view and the relatively high amount of anxiety with which I approached the birth of my fourth child was, ultimately evidence of a lack in my knowledge of GOD.

So I sit and ponder the trauma of child birth, stunned at the willingness of The King to subject himself to the suffering of a cold stable as an infant. This suffering, although likely unremembered, seems as significant as the suffering of the Cross.

Enough ramblings for now, that is one of the things that I think of at Christmas time.

Brian Emmet said...

Thanks, Jeremiah--good reminder that "incarnation" is a messy business at the least--it' hard to come through a birth without blood and cries. And that's just from the guy point of view!

John M. said...

Thanks. I was thinking along similar lines in my post, but you expressed better.

God in the flesh, going through the "trauma" of the birth canal of his Mother. It occurs to me, that we protestants might find that statement a bit uncomfortable theologically. But in terms of the incarnation, and his full humanity, she was/is His Mother. Hmmm... perhaps we should give her a bit more honor...another topic, another day...

You raised another interesting question that we could discuss another day on another thread...does God take risks? Can God take risks and retain his sovereignty?

Interesting questions. Not just theoretical either, because they form the context in which we relate to God as we live and serve in the world he created.

Jeremiah said...

John M.

Risk = Uncertainty

How can you have Uncertainty with an Omniscient GOD?

The book of John is clear that Jesus did not take risks because Jesus "knew what was in man".

I think a lot of confusion starts with abandoning clear definitions. There are certain definitions which define GOD. Omniscient, Omnipotent, Omnipresent, Sovereign, Love.

When we abandon these definitions, or insist that words have changing meaning, we abandon the possibility of having meaningful discussions or clear thinking and upen up the door for the state of affairs described in Judges where "everyone did as he saw fit"

When we (as western society) elevated evolution to the place of god, the unholy trinity that was set up is Time + Chance + Matter.

These each directly correlate to replacing one of the members of the Christian Trinity.

I personally have been struggling to "cleanse my speech" of references to chance or risk governing my world. It is very difficult.

Robert said...

As we close in on Christmas 2007, I want to give thanks for each of you who ponder the wonder of God incarnate in human flesh. The shepherds of old were amazed at the announcement...may we enter afresh into that same awe...

A merry and blessed Christmas to all...


Brian Emmet said...

On a quiet Saturday, with the sun finally out for a while and some of the 2 feet of snow starting to shrink back a bit, I find myself thinking of the "hardness" (difficulty) of Christmas. "Don't be afraid to take Mary..." "Mary was troubled...and wondered what these things might mean..."

We're so used to thinking of Christmas in warm-and-comfy terms that we can forget the hard edges for the original participants, as well as how difficult a time this can be for many of us and our contemporaries. From Jeremiah's dog to the mom at our school who gave birth to a stillborn girl two weeks ago to the man in our church whose depression, the depression that seemed licked earlier in the year, is back, to all those who don't really have warm memories of family...

I think you see that I'm not trying to be depressing, nor am I wanting to blacken or bleaken the moods of those who are genuinely happy, grateful, joyful, etc., not only AT this time of year, but also BECAUSE of it. I wonder if there are ways we could also include those whose hearts have already been pierced by a sword, or who sense that blow near at hand.

Randy R. said...

Merry Christmas!!!

Randy R. said...

REFLECTIONS: It is Christmas morning, and apart from my wife working in the kitchen and the beautiful Christmas music she has playing, the house is still quiet. I was just thinking about Brian's post and reminded of some of my past Christmas experiences. I was thinking of more than 50 years ago, 1956, I was five and my mom was in the hospital, because she had just delivered by youngest brother, Greg, the night before. Ten years later she was in the hospital, again, this time she was there visiting my dad, who was battling cancer. He would come home before the year's end, but left this world six months later. Thirty years ago to the day, I was flying a mission out of Iceland. We took off Christmas Eve and flew over the North Atlantic. I wasn't able to celebrate Christmas until later that afternoon; of course, Linda and I were apart, and so I greatly missed the celebration with her (no children, yet; althought she was pregnant with our oldest, Eric). I have fond memories of Christmas 27 years ago. Michelle, our second born, was born Dec. 20, and Linda came home from the hospital Christmas Eve. Because of our newborn, we couldn't travel, so everyone came to our home to celebrate! Michelle and her husband, Jeremy, are celebrating their first Christmas together and will be joining us later today.

However, what I think about the MOST, is that there are probably 2 Million people who celebrate Christmas around the world. Obviously, some have a greater appreciation of the meaning than others. YET, there are more than 4 Million people for whom this day has no meaning or significance whatsoever. May those who are living in darkness see that LIGHT, the Light that has come into this world. May they come to know the TRUTH, the Truth that sets us free. Merry Christmas!

Randy R. said...

CORRECTION: In my last post, I used the figure "million," but I meant to say "billion." Quite a difference!!!

josenmiami said...

thanks Randy... yes, it is an important zero.

I have been studying Catholicism in the 1960s (from the Cuban Revolution to the Missile Crisis and Vatican I). If I am not mistaken, one billion out of the two that name Christ are Catholic. Anglicans and Eastern Orthodox make up fairly large blocks and the the fastest growing group are the pentecostals.

It is fascinating to read history and try to discern the hidden hand of God moving and shaping global reality through his work among people.

Scot McKnight started reviewing a new book this morning dealing with the various theological and scriptural perspectives on the other world religions. He details in his first post three classic positions: exclusivist, pluralist, and inclusivist (thus far,I would have to categorize myself as an inclusivist by his description).


Happy New Year!

josenmiami said...

correction: I intended to say "vatican II" above rather than "vatican I".

Today is the 28th...we leave for the drive back south in about an hour. Are we ready to move on from the Christmas story to New Year's resolutions?