Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Far Side of Christmas

I have heard over Advent a lot of people decrying yet again about “how commercial Christmas is”. There is no doubt in my mind that there is two celebrations where Christmas is concerned in North American Society. The first is the secular “I need, I want, and I’m going to get” kind of Christmas celebration where people are bribed to go and spend money on what they think they want or what they need to possess in order to be happy. News shows and papers are constantly talking about how much people will spend and how good or poorly the economy will be doing based on how we respond to the demand of our culture and society that we buy everything to keep at least some of us happy and in money.

Then there is the other side of Christmas or as I think of it these days, the Far Side of Christmas. As far back as I can remember, Christmas has not been Christmas without being at Church. Whether it was in my first parish with a 1,000 other people (literally) or I was with the little congregation in Northern BC where I first came to faith more than three decades ago with thirty people maximum and the place was packed, it wasn’t Christmas for us until we had been to the Midnight Mass, we came home and we had some hot chocolate and opened one present before bed. Mom got to determine what present we opened. 

Like many others, I like the getting the presents and even going to get presents for my family that they think they are going to like. It is probably because as I get older, I have noticed how much more the far side of Christmas has come to mean to me. I have actually grown fatigued of all the Christmas shows that require someone or something saving the “Fat Man” because he cannot deliver the glitzier side of Christmas. Jolly old St. Nicholas needs the reality of Christmas just like the rest of us – but he is no saint and he is no threat to the way in which we live... unless we don’t get our stuff.

Even the traditional image of Jesus with his parents, the shepherds, the angels and the animals is no threat to us. In fact, I would say to you that the image is so familiar to us almost, that we bring it to the point of contempt. After all babies are a joy; they are a wonder and they are weak so how could they possibly a threat?

The King we await is a threat. He will come again to judge both the living and the dead (physically and spiritually). Jesus life and the new kingdom are a threat, if for no other reason than there will be no Santa to depend on. There will be a huge shift in the way that the world will live and only those who are deemed worthy will be a part of it. Remember the Parable of the Wedding Banquet. We will not be a part of the new life and the new world unless we are ready in this moment under the ways that God calls us to be.

God in Christ is here. And we are called to stand with him. Christ is Christmas. And if we find him absent who has excluded whom? Is it not us? Is not time to listen again to the voice of the angels as they sing; to the laughter of the Shepherds as they march to the Manger, to consider the quiet and the clam of the stable? Is it not time to make room of the little life that lays in the manger and know that he is going to grow and strengthen and call you to the barren tree of Easter? Isn’t that moment too on the far side of Christmas? And what does that mean for our stuff?


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The deep breath before the plunge

The Book that got me reading has finally been made into a feature film. In fact, the book is a trilogy of films. The Hobbit: An unexpected Adventure, the Desolation of Smaug and the most recent and concluding film, “The Hobbit: the Battle of the Five Armies”. I was and remain a lover of the literature of JJR Tolkien that created revealing the life of Middle Earth – the setting for the both the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings series. One of the things I like about the books of this series is the theology and the working out of life and its hardships through a Christian mindset. Please watch the video above so that you can understand a little deeper, what I share with you about what this week’s Gospel says about the Annunciation of the Lord Jesus to Mary (Luke 1:26-38).

The announcement to Mary that God was showing favour to her and that she was to give birth to a son. She took a moment, a deep breath and then acknowledged that she had indeed heard and received the message and was willing to allow God to work within her to work his miracle and bring about our salvation through her child. God would save his people through her son – and she must call him Jesus (The Lord saves).

Now let us be careful about some things. Mary did not just simply give up and give over – she pondered what all this might mean... after all what does it mean to be favoured by God? When one considers the examples of whomever else God favours, the Old Testament shows that that when you are on God’s side, you are in danger or are about to be in dangers of various kinds.  Mary was legally bound to her husband Joseph and then being discovered to be with child but Joseph not being the father could cost her everything: family, friends, reputation, marriage, not to mention her life and that of her unborn son.  

Mary was willing to accept whatever it was that God had for her to do – even if she did not understand it completely or thought it silly. There is a second story that goes with the Annunciation, the birth of John the Baptist. Zechariah the old priest and his wife Elizabeth had been childless most of their lives... people who had wanted them but had never been blessed with them. Zechariah doubted that God could make it happen in their old age and laughed derisively at the notion that it would now. As a result, he spent the entire pregnancy mute, and only when he followed the direction to name the boy “John” was he able to speak again.

Mary chose to believe not matter how silly or impossible it sounded. And there is something that this should make us aware of the presence of God in a person’s life – God is faithful to his people and he is a true keeper of his own promises and is trustworthy to his word.

Accepting God at his word does not make us crazy or foolish. It means that we are willing to trust and rely on Him and his word – even when the world thinks we are out to lunch. Allowing God to work in us and through us is what Christmas is all about. We might not always understand what we have been told; We may not realize what the consequences are of saying “yes” or “no” are. What we can trust is that God through his Son has our best interests at heart and is working out our salvation through Him.

This is the deep breath before the plunge into all that Christmas is: will you be like Mary and allow it be to you has God has spoken? Will you accept the thing that God has for you to do and allow God to begin to work in your life as he sees fit? Does it sound crazy or wild? Take a deep breath and then answer.


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Doing the ministry, proclaiming Christ

John the Baptist had an important, growing, even thriving ministry among the people of Israel. He was in a place away from the major cities and from the popular holy places where people practiced their religion. He was “in the wilderness” preaching and exhorting the nation as a whole to come back to God and to repent of the lives they had been living away from him. The main goal of his ministry was to point to the Messiah when he saw him. John’s ministry was one of proclamation – to tell the people that there is One who is coming who will be more powerful than he is and will baptize not with water but with the Spirit. He believed that the world around him needed to know that Jesus is amongst us.

Many asked John if he was the one the nation had been waiting for. John consistently pointed to the One who was coming after him because he ranks ahead of him; that the Messiah’s ministry must increase and that his own ministry, his proclamation and witness must decrease (John 3.30). It is not me, he is the One we have been waiting for... behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! John came as a witness to what was to happen in the life of Jesus and to point people to him. if you wish to think of it this way, John the Baptist consistently told people “I am not the One” whereas Jesus consistently says throughout the Gospel of John that “I am”.

And this statement, that that Jesus is the “I am” is incredibly important. John the Baptist and John the Gospel writer are human witnesses of a cosmic, eternal and divine event. God has moved into this world in an unprecedented way in and through Christ. They are signing his presence by actively witnessing to it through their own lives.  To not witness what God is doing is to proclaim divine absence and our disbelief in God’s ability to come and reach us where we are. If we are to act in this way then we are sinning and thus separated from God. It means that we are broken, hurt and dying people. And that is why Jesus came and is coming again – that we might have life and have it more abundantly. And if you worry that you have done something that is simply unforgivable, that God simply would not let you off the hook for, that too was covered by Christmas. There is nothing original about your sin and God has come in Christ to do something about it. There is nothing that God cannot overcome in your life, once the Light has been put upon it. For certain there are going to be moments of struggle and pain but the greatest thing about Christmas and the coming of the King is that when everything is made new again, all of it will be behind us. We will truly be free and the work of Christmas will have only just begun.

So where does this leave us? We need to seek out Christ, because we need the Light to see. Our eyes will never adjust to the darkness. We need the light – even if it is only by a single, little, flickering flame. We need the Light and to follow it, not just so that we can help Jesus rescue those who are sitting in darkness, but so that we can find our way home too. Our eyes need to the Light so that we can get to “see” level and then with John the Baptist and so many other people over the last two millennia, actively show people the King in his true light. Then we will been seen for who we truly are, faithful reflections of his light and that he really is the One we have been waiting for. We must continue the ministry. 

Maranatha! (Come Lord Jesus, come quickly)