This is a place for me to reflect on the believer's relationship with God and others. For the most part I am just thinking out loud - not offering answers so much as asking questions. Your comments are encouraged.The God of all has written upon our hearts. What will we then write?
Feliz Navidad is one
of the more popular and cheerful Christmas songs (one of my personal favorites)
written and sung by Jose Feliciano in English and part Spanish. In this
special season I join with Feliciano’s song to say, “I want to wish you a Merry
Christmas”. I wish you this, but I want to wish you
something more. Though not as festive and catchy as the song, admitting it
doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, and though it is not a conventional
yuletide greeting, I want to wish you a Paradoxical Christmas.
Consider Christmas paradox: on one hand
it is an easy narrative, not too complex, a simple story. We often call it The Christmas Story - a story easily read
by small children and complicated only by the beauty of the King James Version.
The story seems to hover and glide along with effortless flow, like a cup of
hot chocolate that’s not too hot to guzzle.
Simple enough, yet at the same time it carries
a transcendent weightiness exceeding the plain words of the story. That is to
say, the narrative delivers a sense of glory (The Hebrew kabowd, often translated glory,
implies weightiness as in splendor or significance). The story is simple and
yet it is splendid.
The paradox continues as the story
juxtaposes the glorious with the common and every day. The parents in the story have
come to Bethlehem merely for the census while wise men from the east come
because they have seen his star. They have come to worship. Plain ole shepherds
encounter an angel messenger and a heavenly host announcing “good news and tidings of great joy…Unto you
is born this day in the City of David a Savior…” This glorious transaction
is not given to magistrates, governors or king’s men, but to ordinary
It is a story of livestock, stable and
feeding troth - it is a story of treasure; gold, frankincense and myrrh. The
earthly and the heavenly, the ordinary and the divine, the common and the holy…It
is the revelation of God, heaven breaking in upon earth, eternity breaking in on
time. Mortal man was given a glimpse into the other side while the temple veil
that would be torn in two some thirty-three years later was already beginning
to show a tear.
Some would eventually call this event Jesus’
birthday. “Happy Birthday Jesus” they glibly say. But perhaps in this they
confuse (if not abuse), the paradox. Rather than juxtaposing the common and
divine, as does the biblical narrative, they make the divine common which is, by
definition, to profane.
This advent is something much more than
a birthday and a baby. This is an event some still say never happened – that it
could not happen – it is just too glorious to have happened. It was not a birthday
so much as the moment of incarnation, a pivot point in history when the eternal
Creator God (the Holy Other) is enfleshed, takes on humanity - the separated
One suddenly becomes close.
A simple story - baby Jesus baby born
in a stable, wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger - a story we can
wrap our minds around, and yet a story that defies our absolute understanding.
Incarnation of the Divine just isn’t a simple thing. It is paradox.
It may seem like a child’s story –
something confined to fairytale books with other enchanted fables, myths and
legends. But this story will not stay in a book or be confined to mere words.
This story lives, breath off the page and into life. As heaven broke into earth
some two thousand years ago, the Christmas story yet lives today. A simple
story, but the glory it carries is undeniable.
A spirit accompanies the story that
words and concepts cannot completely convey. To do justice to the story requires an appeal to music and
the other arts. Art can transcend words and the conceptual and we need this to
tell this story. That is why some of the most majestic music in the world is
Christmas music. Art is required to express the wonder of Christmas.
Words are insufficient, so Christmas is
expressed with decorated trees, lights, ornamental pieces, golden angels,
stars, tinsel and other things that sparkle, catch and divide light. We
celebrate with gatherings, ceremony, festival, parade, dinner parties, dramatic
presentations and gifts. Gift-giving is off the charts during the Christmas
And note that it is a season. We do not observe a mere
Christmas Day for it has claimed for itself a season, and so we make reference
to Christmastime. One day cannot
contain the glory, so it is not just a day of gift giving, but a time and a
season for giving - a season of parties, pageant and parade. Words are not
enough and neither is one day. It requires ornamentation, decoration, scents, lighted
candles and music for an entire season.
The first Christmas was a great joy to
some, a threat/offense to others and surprise to all. The same is true today. Some
disparage the surrounding traditions of Christmas, but the entourage of customs
that accompany and escort the season forward is testimony to the greatness of
the holiday. The sacraments of Christmas are many. Someone say pumpkin pie, cookies
and candy are not what Christmas is about. True, but the observance of Christmastime
deserves these things and more.
Gift giving is not what Christmas is about,
and yet gift giving is what Christmas is about. “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given” (Isa 9:6). So
here’s wishing you a Paradoxical Christmas! Enjoy the video. Feliz Navidad!
As I mentioned in a recent post, I
teach a Sunday School class at my church. We have been working our way through
the Gospel of Matthew in a series we titled, “Hearing Matthew”. Though it is
impossible to come to the text without pre-understanding, our desire is to be
willing to hear the text in its present form, allowing it permission to
surprise, offend and delight us with undomesticated and unpredictable import.
About midway through the gospel we had
a class discussion concerning Matthew’s continual focus on the Kingdom of
heaven and wondered if we should not rather focus on the cross instead, even
camp out there. I am sympathetic with this view and confessed my tendency to
read this into the text. It is simpler to focus on the cross and it just sounds
right. However, in this I may be caught the same as first century Jewish leaders who resisted Jesus’ forward moving
message which did not line up with convention and their longstanding
Jesus’ message of the Kingdom rocked
the boat. He challenged settled interpretation of O.T. scriptures and rivaled venerated
champions of the faith. The Jews knew how to honor the past (events) and dates
on the calendar and to preserve the memory of dead heroes of the faith, but
this did not impress Jesus.
"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because
you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the
righteous," and say, 'If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would
not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.' "Therefore
you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered
the prophets”. Matt 23:29-31
They were the best at honoring old
scrolls and dead men bones - great at telling an old story, but hearing fresh
the living Word was more of a problem. A word from the past can be kept at a safe
distance - close enough to admire, far enough away to avoid being bitten. A
distant word can be domesticated. You can roll up an old scroll and put it
away, but this living Word will be un-tethered and free and so becomes a
threat. It leaps from the past into the present, unexpected and often unwelcomed.
I’m in control when I tell an old
story. I can manage an old story, but the living Word tells me the story and
tells on me. Keeping the Word in the wistful past is safe; e.g., many today are
comfortable saying the gifts of the Spirit are not for today. Why? Perhaps it
is this - when the gifts are in operation things get messy. There is less
control and less predictability. When the gifts are in operation un-credentialed
people begin to minister and un-credentialed people do unconventional things.
When the gifts are in operation some get healed and others don’t. This offends
our sensitivities and does not jive with our propositional view of a mechanistic,
predictable God, so rather than deal with the discomfort of inconsistency we
reject it all.
“How could the Jews reject their Messiah,”
we ask? Could it be much the same way we miss the fullness of God today? He
messed up their filling cabinet and their calendar. Our God is not just Lord of
the calendar, but Lord over the calendar – timeless, not limited by events and dates.
Our timelines and prophecy charts cannot keep him and you must not throttle
heaven with dispensational objections. Just when we get our commentaries to
jive and our systematic theology all systematized, just when we settle up on
what is normative and put the final touches on our creedal statements, this
living Word, this living Kingdom shuffles the deck.
Moses’ bronze serpent lifted up on a
pole (Num. 21:9) is seen to be prophetic of Christ who would be lifted up on a
cross (Jn.3:14). That same symbol eventually had to be destroyed because people
began to worship it (2Kgs 18:4). Very quickly the cross can be reduced to mere
sentimentality. The Kingdom is mentioned many more times just in Matthew than
the cross is mentioned in the entire New Testament. This is not to take
anything away from the cross, of course. The cross is inaugural for the Kingdom.
The best way to honor the cross is to live the Kingdom.
Without exception, when Jesus uses the
term “cross” in Matthew, he refers not to his cross, but exhorts disciples to
carrying their cross (“take up your cross and follow” – this is the antidote to
sentimentality). We don’t camp out at the cross, we carry a cross. The cross
for us is event and process. If we carry the cross we don’t have to go back to
We often emphasize what the cross
delivers us from and neglect to promote what the cross delivers us to. Is this why
so many Christians today are bored with their Christianity? The embarrassing old
bumper sticker, “Christians aren’t perfect just forgiven”, kind of says it all
for this mentality. We got a Band-Aid for our boo-boo and that’s it. But we are
not just forgiven. We are called to follow, called to righteousness, discipleship
and the work of the Kingdom. We are called to be people of that Kingdom.
Pentecostals are good at not staying at
the cross. To their credit, they go on to the empty tomb and from there they
find the upper room. But all too often this is where we camp. We stay in Acts
chapter two. But there are twenty-six chapters that follow and the final
chapter itself lacks a proper conclusion. So don’t stop at two and don’t stop at
twenty-eight. We are to be moving forward with the Kingdom, announcing the Kingdom
to the uttermost parts of the earth.
Jesus says “follow”, not “stay here”.
This is not a campout. This is a hiking trip. This is more than old scrolls and
dead men’s bones. This is living Word and the coming Kingdom. Try to keep up.