What's Tony Thinking

Christmas Correctives or The Rest of the Story


As I, once again, plan multiple Christmas Services — a long time since I’ve done that — I’m experiencing a bit of “Christmas blur.” The stories, the carols, the prayers, the candlelight all begin to run together. Sort of like too many desserts. Really, can there be too many desserts?

Of course, the biblical stories do contain their own corrective, their own balancing elements, though these are often overlooked or air-brushed out by both culture and church as we gorge on the sweet stuff.

What do I mean by “correctives”? If you read the whole story, it ain’t all sweetness and light. Take Matthew’s Gospel where the wise guys three make the mistake of stopping by the palace of Herod the King to ask for directions to where the new king will be born. (By the way, this explains why men never ask directions. We got burned way back when.)

Herod, not surprisingly, isn’t all that excited to hear that a new king has been born and not in his palace. He tries to turn the wise men into informants. When that doesn’t work he puts out a hit on baby Jesus, one that extends to all newborn Jewish boys thus resulting in the “massacre of the innocents” (see Matthew 2: 16 and following). Jesus and his family are suddenly refugees, fleeing to Egypt.

In Luke’s Gospel, Mary and Joseph take baby Jesus to the Temple for circumcision. There they meet the elderly seer Simeon who says to Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed — and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” When the light shines, it exposes stuff that prefers the cover of darkness.

Not to be outdone, in the Gospel of John’s majestic Prologue (John 1: 1 – 18), we hear, “He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not accept him.” So in each of the stories of the birth of Jesus there is foreboding and foreshadowing of resistance and rejection. The shadow of a cross falls over the manger. It’s not all sweetness and light. Scripture isn’t escapist. It’s realistic. Evil, then and now, doesn’t go down without a fight. Those who follow Jesus will discover the world does not welcome healing and new life, especially when it challenge the powers that be and their lock on money and power. Christmas rocks the boat.

So, when we read the rest of the story, we find this love is not sentimental. It is love that is dangerous and costly.

On a different matter, I’ve added a new on-line outlet for my thought and writing. It is Mockingbird.com, which is Christian stuff that is very culturally plugged in and hip (which may lead you to wonder why they would publish my stuff). I got onto Mockingbird through the recent “Crackers and Juice” webinar on Paul Zahl’s book Grace in Practice. Another of the panelists for that was Josh Retterer, who is on-staff at Mockingbird. The name comes from the way actual mockingbirds keep repeating what they have heard. So Mockingbird repeats the gospel of grace in many and various ways. Check it out.

The other on-line site that runs my work regularly is Seattle’s Post-Alley, which is more secular in its general focus, carrying the work of various journalists and opiners, under the editorial eye of David Brewster. Post-Alley makes a practice of running something by yours truly most Fridays. Some of my stuff is too religious or Christian for the site and its readers, but they do pick up some of my more political and cultural commentary type stuff.

By the way, I think that our next Crackers and Grape Juice webinar, in the new year, will be a study of my book, What’s Theology Got To Do With It? Convictions, Vitality and the Church. The basic idea is that the church’s problems have less to do with the constant quest for relevance than with whether or not the church has something compelling, and life-changing, life-saving, to say. A fair number of people think this my best book. More to follow.

For now, enjoy the sweetness and light of the season. But beware of excess.



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