Archives For Advent

On December 22, 2015

Cave God: The Gossip of the Gods

Cave God

I grew up not really celebrating Christmas.

I loved the Church I grew up in, but truth be told, we did more than just not celebrate Christmas, we attacked it! One Sunday, the preacher at the church told my visiting 9 year old niece that there was no Santa Clause…during his sermon!

And you haven’t lived until you’ve had to sit through that kind of awkwardness.

It wasn’t just my little church that resisted celebrating Christmas. At the church I preach at today, only 50 years ago the preacher from Highland wrote an article arguing that Christians shouldn’t celebrate Christmas. He said, and I quote, “We shouldn’t try to put Christ back into Christmas, because it is impossible to put Christ back into something He was never in in the first place.”

IMG_4858This probably sounds odd to most of you, a Church not believing in Christmas, but I understood it then, and I understand it now.

Here’s why we used to think that, and here’s why I changed my mind.

A Very Pagan Christmas

Did you know that in ancient Babylon, there was a feast for the son of Isis (the goddess of nature) that was celebrated on December 25th. They would give gifts and throw a party for the entire nation. Did you know that in ancient Rome, they celebrated Saturnalia, honoring Saturn (the god of agriculture). During this season, a group of entertainers would go from house to house singing festive songs (I assume they too demanded foggy pudding).

Did you know that the pagans of northern Europe celebrated the birth of the sun god Mithras? They celebrated it on December 25th, the winter solstice, which they called Yule. Yule means wheel, and that’s the symbol they had for the sun. These pagans had a huge festival celebrating the rebirth of the Sun because they knew that December 25th was the day of the year when the days started getting longer again.

For these people, Mistletoe was a sacred plant, and kissing under the mistletoe began here as a fertility ritual. As someone who was born in September I”m grateful for this tradition (and creeped out if I think too much about it). It was during these celebrations in the Winters of pagan Europe that people began to bring evergreen trees into their homes as a reminder to each family that the crops would soon grow again. These people developed the custom of lighting candles to encourage the sun god to be reborn.

Does any of that sound familiar?

A few years ago, I read one of my favorite books of all times. It was written by G.K. Chesterton 100 years ago to a largely post-Christian England.

Chesterton was writing in a time when anthropologist had discovered the pagan roots of Christian practices, and all of Europe was shocked to hear that most of their parties were older than Jesus.

Chesterton was writing just a few decades after Evolution had become popularized, and people had started to connect their ideas about evolution to religion.  Suddenly, people started thinking that Christianity was really just an evolved version of pagan faiths, nothing more than a re-purposed ancient myth that’s no more plausible than worshipping Mithras or Saturn.

Does that sound familiar?

But in this great book, Chesterton points out that we don’t understand ancient pagan religions because our world has been so changed by Jesus.

Both Chesterton and C.S. Lewis point out that Judaism has always been different than Pagan religions in a couple of ways. The most obvious one is that Judaism has always been fiercely mono-theistic, but the most interesting one is that Judaism was always so historical.

Think about it, in the Jewish story God doesn’t so much give them a bunch of myths, he gives them a history, with details about land and Kings and prophets and so, so many genealogies.

Scholars of ancient literature have pointed out that Jews don’t have the great myths of ancient religions, their Scriptures read differently than stories about Zeus or Prometheus. They lack the prose, even the miracles are mundane, they lack the over-the-top imagery of a Greek Pantheon. To put it bluntly, Judaism in comparison to Pagan religions was kind of boring.

Because Jews were doing something entirely different than any other ancient religion.

So what were the ancient religions trying to do?

Great question, I’m glad I asked it.

When Fact Meets Myth

Have you ever had your life changed by a book or movie, even though you knew it was fiction? Have you ever found your heart swelling by a story that was entirely made up? Judging from the half a Billion dollars the new Star Wars movie took in during it’s premier weekend, it seems most of the world still knows what it means to be captivated by an imaginary story.

Picture of Star Wars Premiers from CNBC.com

Picture of Star Wars Premiers from CNBC.com

That’s the power of a well-told myth.

People who have studied the power of stories, have pointed out that every story/myth that has stood the test of time, from Lord of the Rings to Star Wars to Homer’s Odyssey all share a same basic storyline, and that this story line was the basis of almost every ancient religion.

So Chesterton points out that the ancient religions were not stupid people who believed stupid things.  They were not saying that this is how things are, they were saying “Why can’t these things be?”

Ancient religions were about the universal hope that people have always had for things like redemption and wonder and reconciliation and sacrifice. They were about the deep hope we have for our lives to matter and for the world to have meaning.

Here’s how Chesterton says it:

Some myths are very crude and queer like the early drawings of children; but the child is trying to draw. It is none the less an error to treat his drawing as if it were a diagram, or intended to be a diagram. The student cannot make a scientific statement about the savage, because the savage is not making a scientific statement about the world. He is saying something quite different; what might be called the gossip of the gods.

The ancients didn’t believe their ancient religions in any way that is familiar to people who grew up with Christianity because Christianity is different in this one way.We believe these things really happened in actual history.

Jesus didn’t just leave home and travel to a far county, he was born under Ceasar Augustus, and sentenced to die by Pontius Pilate.

His life is the myth become fact, His was the body that God inhabited. He was the God become man, the King become carpenter. Jesus was and is, the dream, the echo of eternity that’s haunted humans since the very beginning, and who steps into the calendar, around 4 A.D

And that brings me back to our pagan Christmas.

Do you know why you celebrate Christmas with pagan traditions? Because whenever the earliest missionaries went to new lands to tell people the story of Jesus, contrary to popular opinion, these early missionaries didn’t just tell them about Jesus, they also listened to what they already believed.

And when they heard about their pagan religions and the deepest hopes that they had, these early Christian missionaries discovered that they weren’t just bringing God to different parts of the world. God was already there working, they were just telling people His name.

And so it was in 350 A.D. Pope Julius declared that Jesus’s birth would be celebrated on December 25th, because Jesus was the true Sun, who really did die and really was reborn. Jesus was the true God of the universe, the real thing of whom all the pagan gods were only shadows.

He was the rumor of Heaven, Jesus is the Gossip of the Gods.

Merry Christmas
On December 15, 2015

Cave God: Christmas Crusades

“God’s glory was that he laid aside His glory, and the glory of the church is when she lays aside her respactablilty and her dignity, and counts it to be her glory to gather together the outcasts.” -Charles Spurgeon

Cave GodSo I’m guessing that bringing up the word Crusades is probably not the best image for most Western people when we think of Christmas. After all, the Crusades were part of a pretty dark time in Christian history, heck, it was a dark time in history.

The Crusades were a time when Christians went to a physical war with Muslim soldiers to take back the Holy Lands. It was a war fought presumably for the honor of God, in the name of God. But it certainly wasn’t fought with the spirit of God.

Last week, I wrote about how Christmas really is God’s way of waging war on the principalities and powers of the world.

And this is where you probably expect me to start talking about how the Christmas story really was something more like a metaphor for war. But it’s really not just a metaphor, after all Herod wasn’t metaphorically killing babies.

Worked into the very story we are celebrating in this season is a subversive element of how the Kingdom of God is breaking into the Kingdoms all over earth, Kingdoms that are very investing in keeping the status quo and protecting their own power and interests.

This isn’t just an isolated side note of the Christmas story. Both Matthew and Luke, (the only two Gospels that tell the Christmas story) tell the story of Jesus’ birth in terms of a war.

But since we’re not looking for it, we just read right past it.

King Baby Jesus

In the Gospel of Luke, the Christmas story starts off with Caesar Augustus taking a census. To most of us, that just sounds like the beginning of every Christmas pageant we’ve ever seen. But in reality, it means Caesar is flexing his power. To take a census means that you can tax your people and draft soldiers more efficiently. So far, this story begins like every other kind of ancient epic. The strong ruler is being strong and decisive and getting stronger.

But then the Gospel of Luke does something odd, Luke leaves his focus on Caesar and instead begins to tell us about this young unmarried, pregnant couple who have been forced to comply with Caesar’s edict. Even though she’s very pregnant, they’ve got to obey, because Caesar’s got the biggest army. Right?

Angels announcing Christ's birth to the shepherds by Govert Flinck in 1639

Angels announcing Christ’s birth to the shepherds by Govert Flinck in 1639

Except, the way Luke tells the story is interesting. Because after Jesus is born in a cave in some nothing of a town named Bethlehem, this little family is visited not by royalty but by shepherds. Shepherds in the ancient world had the reputation something like homeless people have in today’s world. They have very little status. This is a detail that you should leave out if you are trying to convince people of a new world movement.

Unless, their presence in the story is a fundamental part of the new world movement.

And apparently God thought it was, because it was to these shepherds that the Angels appeared! Here’s the scene:

 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

Now when you picture this scene, don’t get sentimental and imagine some scene from Charlie Brown. The Catholic priest Robert Barron points out that in the Bible when Angels appear to people, those people are always terrified.

Angels in the Scripture are warriors. And the word Luke uses to describe the Angels is Straitia, which means “multitude” or more literally it is a word that means an Army!

The reason Caesar is able to rule the world is because he’s got the biggest army, but the Gospel of Luke opens up by saying that this tiny baby King has a bigger army, and it is one that fights, not like the world fights, but with the power of Heaven, and this army fights for all those that the other Kingdoms have written off.

That’s the point of this war, it’s why God comes to the shepherds first. God is fighting for the people who don’t have anyone fighting for them. Jesus was born in a cave, on the margins of society.

But that was not a setback for God, it was the strategy of God.

God coming through the oppressed and poor isn’t just part of the story, it many ways, it is the point of the story.

A Way In A Manger

John Ortberg says that you might say there was an idea lying there in the cave along with this Baby. An idea that had mostly been confined to a little country called Israel, but was waiting for the right time to crawl out into the wider world—an idea which that wider world would be unable to wholly resist.

finger_of_godSee, in the ancient world people had hierarchal gods. At the top of creation was the gods, then the king. Under the king were members of the court, priests, then artisans, merchants, craftspeople, and then peasants and slaves. The king was seen as divine (or semi-divine) and everyone knew that he was made in the image of the god, but that was something reserved only for the king.

Everyone knew that peasants and slaves were not made in the image of the god. They were created by inferior gods. But all this was challenged by that idea that lay there in the manger,  an idea that had been guarded by Israel for centuries: There is only one God and He is good.

And every human being has been made in his image.

We have no idea how revolutionary this idea was…and is.

Here’s how G.K. Chesterton says this:

There is in that idea alone the touch of a revolution, as of the world turned upside down. It would be vain to attempt to say anything adequate, or anything new, about the change which this conception of a deity born like an outcast or even an outlaw had upon the whole conception of law and its duties to the poor and outcast. It is profoundly true to say that after that moment there could be no slaves. There could be and were people bearing that legal title, until the Church was strong enough to weed them out, but there could be no more of the pagan repose in the mere advantage to the state of keeping it a servile state. Individuals became important, in a sense in which no instruments can be important. A man could not be a means to an end, at any rate to any other man’s end.

The War of Christmas is a real thing. It’s a war on any idea that would reduce any living person to anything less than someone made in the image of God. It’s a war that was waged by a God who would be born with the outcasts in a cave

The problem with the Crusades, is the same problem with our culture wars today. We love the story of God, but not the strategy of God.

God wages war against war, by laying down his life, making himself vulnerable. He is the Lion who fights like a lamb…and wins.

That’s a Christian Crusade.

We call it Christmas.

On December 8, 2015

Cave God: The War of Christmas

Cave God

I think it’s interesting that every year we talk about a war on Christmas, Every year, there’s some story that makes the 24 hour news cycle, and we start hearing the pundits on television talking about the war on Christmas. It’s normally about how some nativity scene in some city was forced to move away from a public park next door to some land owned by a church.

And we call that war.

If we think that moving our nativity scenes is the equivalent of war, then we should go back and read the Christmas story. Do you remember why Mary has the child in a cave? Remember why God has to send some coded message to some wise men with stars? Remember why Mary and Joseph went back to Bethlehem in the first place? Or why they had to flee as refugees to Egypt?

It’s because the Christmas story starts off with a first century Hitler on the throne. Herod is so afraid of losing his power the he’s willing to wipe out an entire generation of Jewish boys just to make sure he’s killed one of them. Joseph and Mary have to leave their home and become refugees overnight.

Herod commits infanticide on hundreds or thousands of baby boys.

This is what a war on Christmas looks like.

And what’s important to remember here, is that Herod does all of this, not because he doesn’t understand what’s going on, he does it, because he does understand Christmas.

Did you know that right now, all over the world there are people who gather together in secret to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Just by gathering together they are breaking the law, and it’s not because the national governments of the places they live in don’t understand Christmas, it’s because they do!

Because the truth is that there isn’t so much a war on Christmas as there is the War of Christmas. 

Jesus didn’t come with the title of religous figurehead. He came with the title of King. In a day and culture where that meant something. He’s the president, the Prime Minister the Supreme Leader of the World. That’s what Christmas means, and wherever a group of people gather together and celebrate that, expect for there to be people who are against it.

Christmas in the Margins

It’s ironic to me that we fight about Starbucks or Wal-Mart not saying Merry Christmas, or we argue about nativity scenes getting pushed to the margins of society. It’s ironic because that’s exactly where the first nativity scene occurred. Christmas happened in a cave, in a no-name kind of town with two parents who were peasants and moral outcasts. Christmas happened in the margins!

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Next week, I have a blog about why this matters so much, but you need to know if Christmas was true, than this was not an accident. Jesus being born in the margins of society was not a setback for God, it was the strategy of God.

God coming through the oppressed and poor isn’t just part of the story, it many ways, it is the point of the story.

Now I understand why Christians sometimes get upset up about this, Symbols matter, and when we see culture replacing language of Christmas with Happy Holidays it reminds us of the larger decline of Judeo-Christian values in society.  I really do understand that, and know that it matters.

But a lot of the rhetoric I hear about this seems based in fear. And that’s why it’s important to actually remember what the real Christmas story is about.

Did you know that the prologue for every Christmas passage in the Bible is “Do Not Be Afraid.”

Every time an angel shows up to tell anyone about Jesus they always start off with “Do Not Be Afraid.” And if you think about it that’s really the dumbest thing they could say. “Don’t be afraid Mary?” Really? She’s about to go head to head with Rome, the largest political power the world had ever seen. From her Jewish peers, she is going to be gossiped about and shamed. Her firstborn is going to be killed, and her family is going to be in danger every day from that day forward.

And the Angel has the moxie to tell her not to be afraid?

But this Angel knows exactly what he’s doing. Because, at least historically speaking, the Angel was right.

Christmas History

In the fourth century, there was a monk named Dionysus the Insignificant (who was a bit bummed about his last name) but this monk is the one who gave us the Calendar we still use today. And Dionysus didn’t put at the center of his calendar the story about the founding of Rome. Unlike every other calendar of his day, this monk divided up time Before Christ and After Christ. His calendar was centered around the Christmas story.

Dionysus the Insignificant as depicted by Mother Grimm

Dionysus the Insignificant as depicted by Mother Grimm

And it stuck.

Jesus lived and died and Caesar never even knew about him.

John Ortberg points out that one of the earliest titles of Jesus was the Lord of Lords and the King of Kings. They called him that  in a time when Jesus had only a handful of followers. In the day the first Christians started calling him that, it would have been unbelievable to the outside world. But the fact remains that 2000 years after his birth, when anybody, anywhere in the world opens a calendar, unfolds a newspaper, looks at a tombstone or writes a check, they are reminded that Jesus Christ has become the hinge of history.

Because Nero died in the Year of our Lord 68;  Napoleon died in the Year of our Lord 1821;   Hitler died in the Year of our Lord 1945.

They are all dated by the King of Kings.

I love the way G.K. Chesterton says this:

Philosophy still sat in the high places and even on the thrones of the kings, when Christ was born in the cave and Christianity in the catacombs…The cave in one aspect is only a hole or corner into which the outcasts are swept like rubbish; yet in the other aspect it is a hiding-place of something valuable which the tyrants are seeking like treasure. In one sense they are there because the innkeeper would not even remember them, and in another because the king can never forget them… [Christmas] was resented, because, in its own still and almost secret way, it had declared war... Those who charged the Christians with burning down Rome with firebrands were slanderers; but they were at least far nearer to the nature of Christianity than those among the moderns who tell us that the Christians were a sort of ethical society, being martyred in a languid fashion for telling men they had a duty to their neighbors, and only mildly disliked because they were meek and mild.

Did you catch that? Those who charged the Christians with burning down Rome were lying, but at least they were closer to the true nature of Christianity than people today. Christianity is not just some domesticated religion for suburban people to feel better about themselves, and Christmas isn’t just lights and presents. In it’s own still and secret way, it is declaring war.

So maybe you don’t believe that Jesus was the Lord of lords and the King of kings–but no matter what you believe, or where that nativity scene winds up moving to this year. The undeniable fact is that every ruler who has ever reigned, every nation that will ever rise and fall, now must be dated in reference to the life of Jesus.

After all, today we name our daughters Mary, and our dogs Caesar.

That’s what Christmas means.

God is waging a war on all wars, and God wins.

Do not Be Afraid.

On December 1, 2015

Cave God: Happy Holidays

Cave God

Today I’d like to start a short Christmas series that is a bit…unusual. But it’s unusual for a reason.

I’m tired of the annual Christmas outrage to celebrate the Prince of Peace. There are so many Christians in the West, that it sometimes makes it hard for us to realize the implications of Christmas. And why it was/is/and always will be Good news.

If we don’t realize that the very first Christmas was scandalous in it radical inclusion of people on the margins and the outsiders, we may find ourselves insisting on making Christmas a celebration that becomes known for it’s exclusion.

We have a sanitized version of the Christmas story that involves a Jesus who is born with swaddling blankets and a barn with tame animals who do more worshipping than pooping, but the real Christmas story is incredibly daring, risky and relevant.

For example…

When Jesus first arrived, before he was known as anything, he was a refugee. His family was fleeing a violent tyrant named Herod.

The first Silent Night nothing was actually calm or quiet. And if we Christians don’t realize that was actually the world that Christmas happened in, we might find ourselves saying some very fear-based, non-hospitable things about the refugees in our world.

We might find ourselves being the ones who have no room in the inn.

But this isn’t a blog about the current refugee crisis, it’s a blog about Christmas.

Last year I actually got to go to Bethlehem and see where Jesus was probably born. And to my surprise the original Christmas story didn’t happen in a barn.

The original Christmas happened in a Cave.

It was a cave where all the wrong people showed up, and they weren’t turned away.

Magicians Find the Messiah

When the original Christmas story happened, magi, or magicians came to help tell the story. Which is interesting, because the Israelites disdained magicians.

Now today Magi sounds like a very Chrismas-y word, but in the day that Christmas actually happened everyone knew that they were the outsiders. It was a word that originally meant either a Median or Zoroastrian priest. By the time the New Testament was written it could mean someone who was trained in the dark arts, things like astrology, interpreting dreams, astrology, talking to the dead. You know, just like the Wise Men in the Christmas story that you grew up hearing about.

The Magi depicted in traditional Persian clothing

The Magi depicted in traditional Persian clothing

Today, the church that stands now over the Cave where Jesus was born is called the Church of the Holy Nativity, it’s was built in 326 A.D. and on the Church there is a mosaic of these Magi. In 614 A.D. when the Persians invaded Jerusalem, they burned all the churches to the ground. But not this one.

When they saw the Magi dressed in traditional clothes of the Persians they said here is a church that respects our traditions, and they decided not to destroy it.

This little detail may sound trivial to you, but I think it’s incredibly inspiring.

The Christmas story from the very beginning calls into question all the ways we categorize the people of the world into good and bad. After all, it was no less than the King of Israel who was the terrorist in this story, and it was the supposed terrorist/devil worshippers who were the good guys.

The Gospel is very clear in this regard, Jesus is the true King of the Jews, but His rule isn’t limited to Jewish people. And since chances are you are not a Jew, that is good news for you.

A few verses earlier, Matthew has written a scandalous genealogy for this King that goes out of its’ way to include all the wrong people. Women who were prostitutes, One woman was a Gentile (in the genealogy of the King of the Jews!)  Matthew even mentions the king who had an affair and committed murder!

Compare Matthew’s introduction of Jesus to King Herod. Herod had his genealogies destroyed because he didn’t want to be judged on the basis of his ancestors. But Matthew wants you to know from the beginning, that while Jesus may be like a King, Kings are not like Him.

Jesus isn’t for all the right people. Jesus is for all the people who are looking for Him.

And so the Magi become the first visitors to the baby that will change the world. They came because they were thirsty for truth, and they came to learn they were really thirsty for God.

The Original Seekers

One of the reasons I have problems with using Christmas for a culture war, is because we become off putting to the very people who may be looking for God

Think about what had to change for these Magi, think about how much of their theology and way of life had to change. They are the first Christian converts, all because the Christian story is open and welcoming to them.

I love the way that G.K. Chesterton talks about this:

Such learned men would doubtless have come, as these learned men did come, to find themselves confirmed in much that was true in their own traditions and right in their own reasoning. Confucius would have found a new foundation for the family in the very reversal of the Holy Family; Buddha would have looked upon a new renunciation, of stars rather than jewels and divinity than royalty. These learned men would still have the right to say, or rather a new right to say, that there was truth in their old teaching. But after all these learned men would have come to learn. They would have come to complete their conceptions with something they had not yet conceived; even to balance their imperfect universe with something they might once have contradicted. Buddha would have come from his impersonal paradise to worship a person. Confucius would have come from his temples of ancestor-worship to worship a child.

Think about what Chesterton is saying. The Magi come to Bethlehem because of a star. Which means God started where they were and took them to where they never would have expected.

Christmas invites all people everywhere who are searching for God, because Christmas is God searching for them.

So what does this have to do with Happy Holidays?

The “War on Christmas” started early again this year. This time with the Starbucks design change to a red cup. I don’t watch cable news, so I’m not familiar with al the nuances of this particularly silly story.

The Cup of Heresy

The Cup of Heresy

But I understand the argument because I hear it every year. Some new retailer has decided to use the term “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” and some people get upset because we want to do our Black Friday shopping/greed-bonanza to some Christmas carols, the way that the early church would’ve wanted.

I want to ease your anxiety here. We Christians will always say things like “Merry Christmas” but my question is when did we decide that this was a policy that we needed to outsource to retail stores?

I think it’s important to realize that we live in a pluralistic society, where lots of people don’t believe in Christmas, and this time of year they often feel a bit like outsiders looking in. They know that all the lights and mistletoe aren’t for them. They don’t believe the story, and they don’t know why their radio stations have been taken over by the same dozen songs sang by a thousand different people covering them.

They are, in a word, outsiders.

They are the Magi.

And if Christmas becomes a buzz word in some culture war over power, it becomes less and less appealing to them because it looks like it is more against them than it is for them. It becomes something more like the way of Herod, and much less like the way of Christmas.

So in the spirit of Christmas, to everyone who doesn’t believe it, this story really is good news, even for you…especially for you.

Happy Holidays.

Christmas PictureA few weeks ago, on Black Friday, I joined the crowds getting on Amazon to see what their Christmas deals were. And I was fascinated by one thing in particular. In the Lightening Deals Amazon has three categories 1) All Available 2) Upcoming 3) Missed Deals

We have a section for missed deals!. Does it strike anyone else as particularly disturbing that we have a section of a website set aside just to shop for regret? Amazon gets to show us how great of deals they’ve had, and we get to mope about the things that we missed.

Joy Beyond The Walls of the World

A few years ago, I read Mark Sayers terrific little book The Trouble With Paris, where he observed the disconnect between our materialism and our the way we use things to try and medicate our pain:

“I recently watched a reality makeover show. The woman who had been selected for a makeover had being trying to have a baby for several years, only to suffer a number of miscarriages. The woman had finally successfully given birth to a healthy child, only for that child to tragically die in its first year of life. The show lavished the woman with various makeovers. They remodeled her house and her garden, taught her how to cook gourmet dishes, helped her lose weight, and gave her a new wardrobe of the latest fashions, along with a European vacation. The show ended in an almost awkward fashion as it become apparent that the world of makeovers could never heal this woman’s grief. He problems were internal, not external, and our culture had no solution for her pain.”

There’s not enough makeovers that can heal the ache.

In his great memoir, Surprised by Joy, writes about his conversion from Atheism to Theism and then to Christianity, and what ultimately convinced him that Jesus was the Son of God.

One of the most surprising things about C.S. Lewis life was what he meant when he said Joy.

Joy, for Lewis, isn’t extreme happiness or even a very positive emotion. Joy for Lewis, is The Longing.

It was what haunted him as a child when he read the folk stories and myths of the Celtic and Greeks, it was what he felt when he looked out over the England countryside and imagined Kingdoms and Castles and Kings and Queens.

Joy for Lewis was the stabbing pain of desire, it was a wish for things that were not attainable.

This would lead Lewis to say things like

“[Humans] remain conscious of a desire which no natural happiness will satisfy. But is there any reason to suppose that reality offers any satisfaction to it? Nor does the being hungry prove that we have bread. But I think it may be urged that this misses the point. A man’s physical hunger does not prove that that man will get any bread; he may die of starvation on a raft in the Atlantic. But surely a man’s hunger does prove that he comes of a race which repairs its body by eating, and inhabits a world where eatable substances exist. So too the craving for myths (hearing them, reading them, making them) suggests the presence of a need that they satisfy–or, more accurately, try to satisfy. Because they reach something deep within us, we return to them repeatedly, but because they do not and cannot meet the need they invoke, our experience with them is characterized by longing.”

Joy is Waiting

So it’s Christmas, and by now most of the people reading this have already done quite a bit of shopping. The Tree is up, the lights are on, and the Visa bill is growing. And, on Christmas morning, if you’re lucky for a few brief moments the ache in your soul will be covered over with laughter and smiles as you watch the people you love tear through wrapping paper and try out or try on their shiny new things.Time Hourglass

All of this is fine, and I don’t mean to diminish it.

But that ache comes back.

And that is a very good thing.

It is what C.S. Lewis called Joy, and it’s what the Christian Calendar calls Advent

Advent is just the Latin word for longing, or waiting, and it actually the way Christians for well over a thousand years have prepared for Christmas, and one that I think we need today more than ever.

Ancient Christian wisdom demands that we remember that there is a desire that we have that points us North. It’s a desire that can only be experienced, and never fully satisfied on this side of Eternity.

And if you aren’t aware of this reality, no matter if you are religious or spiritual or not, it will be used by advertisers and marketing firms to make subtle, yet over-reaching promises that will only break your heart.

Because no doorbuster or gadget or Lexus can give you joy. Indulge yourself enough and you can even find a way to lower the signal on the true joy that is offered.

The only Joy that is really offered is the joy of waiting.

Which I think makes this whole season make more sense, but not the way we are celebrating it.

That emptiness that comes after the wrapping paper settles on Christmas morning. The dull ache that comes back after all the gifts have been opened, is a gift.

It’s a gift that reminds us the best is still to come.

The empty chair on Christmas Eve, the stocking you haven’t been able to hang up for years since the accident took him away, those are ways that…if we let it, can actually increase our joy.

All the longing that is welling up inside of us actually has a end desire, and Christian hope says that it’s not only true, it’s exactly what this time of year was made for.

Advent means Longing, Christmas Advent means longing for the Joy that once did enter the world, and one day will come again.

So we wait.

And this is joy.

So What are you waiting for?

He who is the issue of an illicit union [ממזרmamzerwill not enter the assembly of the Lord, even his tenth generation will in no way enter the assembly of the Lord” -Deuteronomy 23:2

His glory was that he laid aside His glory, and the glory of the church is when she lays aside her respactablilty and her dignity, and counts it to be her glory to gather together the outcasts.” -Charles Spurgeon

Christmas PictureLast year the Huffington Post ran one of my new favorite Christmas montages. It was a collection of short Nativity Pageants that had started off with such high hopes, but had crashed spectacularly. My favorite is the camel falling into the audience. I’ve worked with animals in front of a live audience before. I know it can go bad in a hurry, but this is way worse than anything I’ve ever worried about.

I imagine the people involved trying to shake that off. Maybe they’re at a nice restaurant after church trying to explain to their friends why they have camel hair all over them and smell like Egypt.

But what I loved the most about these compilation of videos is that reality comes shining through despite our best efforts at glossing over it. The world, for most of the people in it, isn’t primary shiny and sparkly and clean and happy. Maybe if you are young and fit and have enough money you can avoid this fact for a while, but eventually each of us have to face the messy bits of reality.

Sometimes Mary falls off her donkey and no matter how hard they practice, 8 year old kids discover that the 12 days of Christmas are really, really hard to memorize.

Christmas is Messy, and it has been from the beginning.

Jesus The Mamzer

In the Hebrew language, the word Mamzer is the word for a child that comes out of a forbidden relationship. The word is flexible, it can mean anything from a child born from incest to a child who was born from a Mamzer. But almost every single time the word is used it refers to a child born from parents who weren’t married.

John Ortberg points out that every culture has a word for their mamzers, and none of them are nice.

If Joseph has been Roman, Jesus would probably not have even survived. In the Roman culture, children like that were usually abandoned in a dump, or on a hill made of dung. To this day, in many places, they still are.

This is not just an incidental detail of Jesus’ life, it is something that comes up often in the Gospels.

One time in the Gospel of John, the religious leaders of the day are arguing with Jesus and apparently they aren’t doing so well so they bring it up:

“We are not illegitimate children,” they protested. “The only Father we have is God himself.”

John writes in Greek, so the word he uses isn’t Mamzer, it’s Porneia…as in the word we get pornography from. When push comes to shove, they bring up that Jesus entered the world with disgrace.

The New Testament Scholar Scot McKnight says it this way:

“Jesus was labeled by his contemporaries as a mamzer. And such a label would have carried with it socio-religious implications with a powerful significance for Jesus.”

It was a label that would have, from the very beginning made Jesus more than just a peasant carpenter, it would have made him an outcast, excluded from social circles, religious assemblies and any opportunity to marry into a “good family.”

That’s the world Jesus was born into, and the way he was born into it.

The Gospel According to Jesus

Now revisit the Gospel. Think about all those times that Jesus interacts with labeled condemned people, and the way He does it. If you’re paying attention you begin to realize that this is the trajectory of Christmas.

Jesus seems rather indifferent to grading the kind of sin that people are dealing with, only with getting them to admit it, bring it out in the open to be dealt with.

The inner rings of the elite, seem to hold no appeal for Jesus. In fact, he seems to think that with his life and ministry he maybe able to redraw the lines of who’s considered in and who is out.

Jesus healing the bleeding woman, as depicted in Roman Catacombs

Jesus healing the bleeding woman, as depicted in Roman Catacombs

Take for example, the story of Mark 5. Jesus is approached by Jarius, the Synagogue Ruler who has a dying daughter. The Synagogue ruler is a prestigious role in 1st century Judaism, and to be able to put “friends with Jarius” on a resume is good for any Rabbi. A dying daughter might be the only reason that Jarius would approach a Mamzer, Jesus ministry hasn’t really taken off yet, and this is a risky move by a prominent community leader.

But along the way, Jesus is interrupted by a woman with a bleeding disease. As far as the social scale, Jarius and this woman couldn’t be further apart. They actually had created rules and commandments to keep the apart. She couldn’t go to synagogue, she could legally even be in public. But here she was, throwing a Hail Mary, asking Jesus if He would do for her what he was planning to do for the prestigious man’s daughter…give her back a life.

And here’s the most breathtaking, yet subtle thing in the whole story. It’s a glimpse of Christmas and the messy glory of it all.

Jesus heals the bleeding woman publicly, and he heals the prestigious young daughter in secret.

And publicly, in front of the whole community, Jesus calls this woman the only word that could heal her heart, “Daughter.”

Jesus knows a mamzer when he sees one, and takes care to let everyone know that she belongs in God’s good world too.

She’s belongs, because God didn’t just become a baby, He became a Mamzer. So that the world would finally know a community of God’s people where everyone has a place, just as God intended.

Christmas Picture

I had a dream.

Seriously, that’s the only way I would’ve considered writing this post about Ferguson.

I read this story in the NY Times and then I had a dream. I went to bed on Monday not planning on writing anything about Ferguson, but I woke up Tuesday morning with this haunting me.

It’s a blog about Ferguson and Christmas and a story of how a good police officer in Ferguson is embodying the Christmas story whether he means to or not.

But first.

The Polite Policeman

Officer Jerry Lohr, wasn’t setting out to be the most popular policeman in a city where policeman are anything but. He wasn’t trying to make the New York Times, he’s got a reputation for getting easily annoyed with the media and the circus they’ve turned his hometown into, but despite his best efforts Lt. Lohr is becoming famous in the country the way he has been in his city.

Black residents, despite the fact that Lt. Lohr is a white man, regularly ask for him by name when they have a grievance to file. They trust him, and seem to have no problem obeying even the orders he gives. One black teenager, Joshua Williams said, “He’s the only one I feel comfortable being around “

This past week when one of the protestors was leading a group of people in the street to block traffic, Lt. Lohr walked up to her. She looked at her watch and asked him to “Give me three more minutes.” And he did.

He’s got this hunch that by actually listening to people’s complaints, even when they disagree with one another, he can help the community he serves come together. So he listens to each person…like they are a person, and he helps them if he can, but he always tries to let them see that he is human too.

I read that article in the Times, and found myself thinking, I know lots of police officers who do that too, why is this working so well for him?

Why in the world has Lt. Lohr garnered the respect of the “other side” in what is quickly becoming a racial war that could break out in any city of these United State? And what does this have to do with the Christmas story?

Great question, glad I asked it.

When I was in college, one of my professors, a guy named Monte Cox, told me a story about a friend of his who was a father of a brand new baby. They also were registered with the state of Illinois as foster parents, which meant that a child in need of some temporary parents could show up at their doorstep anytime.

And one did. A little girl came to their house who had been traumatized by events in her recent past. I don’t know the details but I know that she was almost catatonic from fear of adults and what they had done to her in the past. So coming to a new strangers house and being told to trust them was not something that was on her agenda.

And so immediately this girl began to freak out. She was terrified of the new hell she had just been introduced to, so she began to run through the house trying to find a place to hide. And she ultimately hid under the bed…for hours.

Monte’s friend tried everything to get her to come out, they talked in soft voices to her, trying to reassure her that everything was going to be fine, that they weren’t going to treat her like the adults who had gone before them. They tried just sitting patiently by the bed, but nothing was working.

Until one of them had an idea.

They took their newborn baby and gently slid him under the bed toward the frightened girl, and moments later she came out holding him.

I have a six week old baby at home right now, and I can’t imagine the courage it took to take such a risk, but it was the risk that opened this girl up to the possibility that maybe these adults aren’t like the ones I’ve met before.

It was the vulnerability of the baby that made the girl realize that she was around people who weren’t just looking to protect themselves but who were willing to open themselves up to being hurt, which is really the only true first step in love.

Photo of Lt. Lohr by NY Times

Photo of Lt. Lohr by NY Times

The Power of Vulnerability

So back to Ferguson…a few months ago I was talking with my African American brother Jerry Taylor. Bro. Jerry preaches all over the country and helps churches work toward racial reconciliation. He’s someone who loves God and loves His Church enough to help us have the hard conversations we need to have so that we can be a community of reconciliation, the very kind that Jesus’ birth initiated.

A few months ago, Jerry told me that the greatest challenge facing racial reconciliation among churches right now is black anger and white fear.

And immediately I knew he was right. We live in a world of great fear and great anger, two ingredients for a vicious cycle that has no end.

Unless Jesus story is true, and Christians decide to follow him into it.

I think this time of year has a lot to say about the events in Ferguson because the Christmas story is about a God who lays down his priviledge and makes himself vulnerable. I love the way Frederick Buechner says this:

For those who believe in God  this birth means that God is never safe from us. Maybe that is the dark side of Christmas, the terror of the silence. He comes in such a way that we could turn him down, as we could crack a baby’s skull like an eggshell, or nail him up when he gets too big for that.

This is not just theological abstract ideas, the Gospel actually is good news and a good strategy. It’s at the heart of what has made Lt. Lohr so trusted and respected.

The secret that Lt. Lohr has is that he actually goes into the riots, he’s the only police officer to wade through the protestors, and he never wears riot gear.

His secret is the power of vulnerability, what Jesus would call “Laying down one’s life.”

This is what started at Bethlehem. It’s a God who became a baby, who showed us the power of vulnerability, which is of course the power of love.

On December 24, 2013

Christmas Time: Christmas Future

“The future is the major time zone in which Christian faith has it’s being.” -Teilhard de Chardin

“I hope that real love and truth are stronger in the end than any evil or misfortune in the world.” -Charles Dickens

Christmas Time Picture

I don’t know about you, but for me, one of the best turns of any character in any story is when Scrooge wakes up, a new man, on Christmas morning. He can’t give away his fortune quick enough, but what I love the most about it is the great sense of joy about the whole scene. He once was a stingy miser but now he’s found, or more to the point, something found him.

And the great turn of the story for Scrooge, was Christmas Future.

When Charles Dickens was a boy, his father was put in a poor-house/prison. And young Charles was forced to start hard manual labor, just to be able to survive. For the rest of his life, Charles held hard feelings toward his father, his relationship to his dad was a mixed bag at best (most people thought that his dad was the Scrooge character from his story).

In other words, Charles Dickens life wasn’t all roses and sunshine. In fact, it was probably more like Tiny Tim’s than anyone else in his story. But that is an interesting background because Dickens wrote a story of pure joy, when he lived a life that was quite a bit less than that. In fact, so was his whole world. When Charles wrote his Christmas Carol, Britain was a somber, gloomy place, and maybe that’s exactly why he wrote this little world-changing story.

He wrote a story, that became one of the the most well-known stories to make Christmas a time of hope again.

In fact, it was His hope that drove him to tell this story.

I think it was his picture of Christmas Future.

And Christmas Future is not something that we Americans tend to think much about.

In the words of theologian Mirslov Volf:

“My sense is that contemporary culture does not have this nation of a definite future toward which we are headed, but rather an empty concept of the perpetual novelty has replaced a stable and morally filled concept of the future….The resultant feeling is like driving a fast-moving car on a highway. Our experience of life is like a blur-not stable images, integrated into a larger framework of meaning. “

The End of Revolutions

Did you know that the original “War on Christmas” came from the Christians? Several decades ago, ministers across America saw the commercialization of Christmas, and they didn’t want our stores saying “Merry Christmas” not because they didn’t want to celebrate Christmas, but because they didn’t want us to start celebrating Christmas as a way to legitimizing over-consuming.

They obviously were way off.

But I think they had more reasons that greed and materialism for this concern. Because consumerism convinces us that the most important moment in time is now. It creates a world that we are at the center of, and any world that I am at the center, is bound to be a very small and sad world.

Think about how many times you’ve seen the word “Revolutionary”  used in commercials lately. It seems like every new Iproduct says it is a revolutionary something.  Just because something is faster or brighter or has more color doesn’t mean it’s “World-Changing.” But we use this language as if we all know we want the world to be different, we know something is off.

We all want a revolution but all we get is an iPad.

Time Warner Cable has a current ad out right now saying “Join the revolution Enjoy life better.” As if enjoying life better is a change from what we are trying to do right now.

More than any other time, the Holiday season, has become a season where we use language that taps into our deep desire for the world to be different, but really has become a way to keep the world predictable.

And that really is a hopeless world.

And this is why the Scriptures that Christians have selected for over a thousand years for this season, are not just about mangers and shepherds and wise men.

Instead, for this season, the first Christians reached for the ancient prophets and their dreams of a world that was somehow different and better. A world without injustice or poverty, and ultimately a world without death.

And this is a glimpse of the Christmas Hope. It is what Christmas ultimately promises. God didn’t just enter our world to leave it like He found it. He came, and is coming again, to set things right. And what started at Bethlehem ends in the New Jerusalem. What started with a Baby coming down, ends with all of Heaven coming down.

That a revolution.

A Tomorrow Unlike Today

Maybe this is what Charles Dickens was drawing from when he gave the world a vision of a new Scrooge.Scrooge-with-Tiny-Tim2

A Scrooge who was living into Christmas Future.

I’ve noticed something about the human condition, we so badly want to not be naive, and anytime you hope you will find that it makes you vulnerable. It requires risk to put yourself out there and to give yourself over to great faith.

The Christmas story isn’t just about something that happened in the past. It is about something that will also happen in the future.

There is a new day coming and it won’t be like all the days that have gone before it.

This is the season where we abandon ourself to hope in that day.

It’s just around the corner,  in the words of  St. Teresa of Avila this new day will make the most miserable life will feel “like one night in a bad hotel.”

Christmas says that morning is coming.

The Light has entered the world.

So kill the Christmas Goose and let Tiny Tim have his operation.

Let the earth be glad and the Mountains clap for joy.

For all the Scrooges everywhere, For all the people with chairs that are empty and all the tables that are full.  God has entered the world and is setting it right.

And all shall be well in Christmas Future.

On December 20, 2013

ChristmasTime: Christmas Present

 “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing so some have entertained angels without knowing it.”- Hebrews 13

Christmas Time Picture

I don’t know what your plans are for this Christmas, but I can almost guarantee what most of us will do. We will drive or fly considerable distances to be with people we love, or they will come to us. We will all gather around in rooms and tables with our friends and family…and many of us will be plugged into our phones and our televisions and iPads.

We will be so close, but if we’re not attentive…still so far. 

And we will never know what we are missing right in front of us.

Back in the days of the Old Testament, God would reveal Himself through or as a certain person, there would always be a moment of confusion for the people who God was visiting. For a while, they might even think that they were just talking to a normal person…then it would dawn on them…We are in the presence of God.

 

And this meant that you should always treat every traveling stranger with kindness, because who knows where God will come from and what kind of form He might take.

Think about the passage in Genesis when Abraham is visited by three men. To Abraham and Sarah, they are just they are hosting some visitors, but the narrator lets us in on a secret. This isn’t just some mid-day refreshment, they are being visited by God Himself.

And then it goes on…as if that was the most normal thing in the world.

Touched by An Angel

A few years ago, right at this time of year, Leslie and I had just found out that we had a late term miscarriage. It was a baby girl, we already had the name picked out and we had passed the point of “it’s safe to tell everyone” when we found out that our little baby was never going to be born.

And for a while we didn’t tell anyone.

We didn’t want to be the Debbie Downer on everyone else’s Christmas. But then right in the middle of our most difficult time the doorbell rang….
 
It was a group of people from Highland, who were out Christmas Caroling. Most of them were from a family who owned a bakery, and they brought enough sweets to give cavities to a Dentist’s family. And it was the best thing we could have ever hoped for.
 
They had no idea that they would bless us as much as they did, but it was the turning point for our Christmas. And looking back on it, they were the presence of God for us that year. 
Back when we lived in Fort Worth, one of the guys in the Jail ministry I was a part of had told me and another chaplain about his greatest regret about being in prison. He had a couple of children and they weren’t going to get any presents this year. So we got some friends together to put together a Christmas miracle. And we had the pure joy of going to the apartment complex where his family lived and bringing Christmas with us. 
 
And the word for these kinds of stories in the Bible, is angel. 
 
In the Bible there are beings that are not human and not quite divine, and there are strange stories about how angels do battle against the Principalities and Powers (Think the Angelic version of Braveheart)
 
But back in this day, they didn’t think about Angels the way we do. In fact, in the Old Testament, Angel is a word that means sent by God. 
 
It’s someone who is doing something for people toward the purposes of God.
 
Which has got to make us rethink how we view our Christmas plans.  angels

Today In A Manger

One of the more interesting things about the Christmas stories in the Bible is that they all are preceded by Angels. Think about it, every story we talk about this time of year is filled with Angels. Angels come to Mary, and Elizabeth and Zecheriah, and the shepherds. It’s like an Angel Flash mob in the first few chapters of Luke and Matthew.

Angels don’t always glow or have haloes, in fact that seems to be one of the peculiar differences between the way Scripture talks about them and the way we’ve grown up thinking about them. Angels could be the person right in front of us, so be aware of the person right in front of you. 
 
Which is why the Gospel of Luke ends the Christmas story the way it does: 
 
In these days He has shown His Favor.
 
Luke quotes the Old Testament more than almost any other New Testament Writer. He’s always alluding to these ancient stories.
 
But you know a word that Luke uses more than any other book in the Bible?
 
Today.
 
Today is used by Luke 19 times, that’s more than any other book in the NT by far, and here’s why.
 
It’s because Luke is deeply interested in letting us know that this story isn’t new, that this has been going on for a long time, but it’s not stagnant either.
 
In other words, God cares about now. 
 
When Angels to show up, it seems like their goal is to get us to show up.
 
It’s as if the story is saying, “This is going to happen whether we acknowledge it or not, but we should have our senses heightened. They are here, to help make us aware of what might be going on already. God just could be doing something in your midst at this very moment, so put down your phone and unplug from Facebook. 
Jesus is born and God is alive right now, and He might just be trying to do something in this moment.  

The grace of Christmas present could be to help us to just be present.

On December 10, 2013

ChristmasTime: Christmas Past

 “If a lion roars, who will not be frightened? And if the LORD God has spoken, who will not be a prophet?” -Amos 3:8

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. -Luke 1:29

Christmas Time PictureA few years ago I was having a conversation with my friend Randy Harris about how someone had wronged me. I was waxing eloquent about how righteous I had been, and how villainous I thought this other person was acting.

Then Randy told me something that has stayed with me ever since.

He said, “Have you ever noticed that it’s really not the thing that happened that bothers you? It’s the story you lay on top of it?”

Immediately something in my heart started to soften. I began to realize that for several weeks I had been re-interpreting the recent past with a story that helped me to nurse a wound and keep me the righteous victim.

The way I thought of the past was infecting my present.

Last week I mentioned how right Charles Dickens was. There is a sense that Christmas is about the past, present and future. Christmas time feels magical because time is different here.

This may sounds strange, but I’ll be it’s something most of us have intuitively experienced.

Have you noticed that at Christmas time your sense of nostalgia stands out? Have you noticed how much more profoundly the ache is for deceased loved ones this time of year?

It’s that empty chair or that present you didn’t give…it’s the longing for what used to be.

It’s a longing for Christmas Past’s.

ReVisioning The Past

Last week, I read a book by James Kugel called The God of Old. Kugel is a Harvard professor of Ancient Judaism, and one of the things that he stresses is that this need to lay a story on top of things is something that religious people have always been tempted to do. And it’s not always a good thing.

For example, there is a Jewish document that dates back to a little before the time of Jesus called “The Book of Jubliees.” It’s basically a retelling of the entire book of Genesis, with some running commentary added. (This was a common way for Rabbi’s to teach back in the day called Midrash). What the Book of Jubilee’s did was tell the old stories of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, by trying to fill in some of the plot gaps for questions that people had.

And it gets really interesting when they talk about Abraham.

In the original story of Abraham in Genesis, Abraham is given no special introduction. In fact, it’s kind of non-sequitar. Genesis goes almost directly from the Tower of Babel story to “And God called Abram to leave his home and be a blessing to the world.”

But apparently, Jewish people started asking the question “Why Abraham?”

So the Book of Jubliee’s gave them a story to put on top of the story.

In the book of Jubilee’s, Abraham is no longer just a regular guy. He’s now a pillar of righteousness, he’s bothered by all the idol worship that is going on around him. In this story, the people’s pagan worship disturbs Abraham so much that he starts praying to God for Him to please do something  This new Super-Abraham prays and fasts and then God acts.

In other words, in this story, Abraham initiates.

God doesn’t take the first step, Abraham does.

Here’s how James Kugel says it:

What’s interesting about Genesis account of Abraham is what Abraham does to bring about this encounter with God: absolutely nothing. He does not pray. He does not fast, he indulges in no acts of self-mortification such as those practiced by mystics and seekers in later times…What Abraham was doing or had done was just not important from [Genesis] standpoint. God spoke to Abraham and that was all that mattered.

Now this re-writing of story wasn’t just specific to Abraham. Over time, Moses and other heroes were also given more pious backstories. Because, Kugel says, “It just didn’t seem right to the religious people that God could just choose anyone, anytime and anywhere.”

Christmas Grace

This matters more than you probably think. Because what you think about the past will shape your present, and how you think God is working in it.

Which brings us to the Christmas story.Christmas scene

One of the most overlooked details about Christmas is the passive nature of everyone involved. Zechariah and Elizabeth aren’t actively trying to get pregnant, Mary certainly isn’t…and Joseph has to be talked into the whole thing!

The first Christmas wasn’t filled with pious people praying fervently for God to act, as much as it was filled with people who were absolutely shocked that He was acting. Christmas is a divine initiative…

Christmas was a surprise to everyone.

In my experience with religious people, we tend to think so much like those ancient Jews, re-reading those ancient stories. We like to take the mess out of the “heroes of Christmas.” We make Mary so heroic and Joseph full of virtue….and rightfully so. But we must never forget those parts of their story, like Abraham, only begin to come out….after God has acted in surprising ways through surprising people.

In the Bible, no prophet ever seeks God out first, God always initiates. In the words of the prophet Amos: “If a lion roars, who will not be frightened, and if the LORD God has spoken, who will not be a prophet?”

The Christmas story, is one of many stories, that make us reconsider how strange and good God is. He just starts talking to people who are not considered sane by the right authorities. He initiates this whole thing.

And if he did that then, maybe He will do it now.

We never know how or when, but anything is possible and it could just be around the corner.

And whatever it is, and whoever it’s through,,,it’s always grace.