Archive for November, 2008

Continuing the “Learning to Listen” series (where we examine “secular” voices in the world, in order to get an idea of what questions they’re asking and the answers that can be provided by the “hands and feet” of God in the world), I thought it might be good to pull in a song relevant to the Christmas season.

In this installment, I’d like to consider “One of Us” by Joan Osbourne:

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If God had a name, what would it be
and would you call it to his face?
If you were faced with him in all his Glory,
what would you ask if you had just one question?

Yeah, yeah, God is great
Yeah, yeah, God is good
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah

What if God was one of us?
Just a slob like one of us?
Just a stranger on the bus
Tryin to make His way home

If God had a face, what would it look like
and would you wanna see
If seeing meant that you would have to believe
in things like Heaven and Jesus and the Saints
and all the Prophets and…

Yeah, yeah, God is great
Yeah, yeah, God is good
Yeah, yeah, yeah yeah yeah

What if God was one of us?
Just a slob like one of us?
Just a stranger on the bus
Tryin to make His way home
Just trying to make His way home
Back up to Heaven all alone
Nobody callin’ on the phone
‘Cept for the Pope maybe in Rome

Yeah, yeah, God is great
Yeah, yeah, God is good
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah

What if God was one of us?
Just a slob like one of us?
Just a stranger on the bus
Tryin to make His way home
Just tryin to make His way home
Like a holy rolling stone
Back up to Heaven all alone
Just tryin to make his way home

Nobody callin’ on the phone
‘Cept for the Pope maybe in Rome

Interestingly, the writer of this song, Eric Bazilian, is (by some reports) agnostic in his beliefs, although he’s written other songs with a theme about God (for his band, the Hooters, named after a unique-sounding accordion-like instrument that is a signature sound of the band). Osbourne, it should be noted, grew up Catholic, though she left the church when she left home, with no religious affiliation since.

This song has intrigued me for a number of reasons, primarily for the polar reaction I’ve observed from Christians (even in my own family). In a number of ways, it counterbalances the tension many Christians experience in trying to understand the incarnation of Jesus – as both God and man.

What if God was one of us?

That is the heart of the Gospel – God WAS one of us!  He came an dwelt among us, he lived, he ate, he drank, he partied, he mourned, he taught, he listened, he loved, he chastised, he laughed, and he cried – he lived our experience, and he was without sin.

But if he was one of us, but perfect (in terms of sin), was he also perfect in social grace and mannerism?  A number of Christians I know are uncomfortable with the theme of this song – particularly that God could be a “slob” like one of us.

Was Luther’s depiction of the infant Jesus (who never cried, a la Away in a Manger) an accurate one?  Did Jesus ever have a hair out of place?  Was he a neat-freak, or did he worry at all about his clothing and appearance?  Per a question asked of Mark Driscoll (earning the outraged umbrage of Steve Camp and other ADM’s)  – Did Jesus ever use the bathroom?

For many Christians, the question of Jesus being God is never in doubt,  However, we seem to have an uncomfortableness with him being man, apart from the nature of sin.

But I would argue that his humanness is just as much a part of the Gospel as his God-ness.  It is his humanness that allowed him to connect with those around him.  It was his humanness and the low social stature of his birth and life that make his message both real and compelling.  God WAS one of us, and he chose NOT to go to all the right parties, and he chose NOT to lead governments, and he chose NOT to lead violent rebellion, and he chose NOT to be in the ‘in’ crowd.

What if God was one of us?

Praise the Lord, He was!  This is the event we celebrate this time of year, and it is the defining moment of our worship.  This is a question we should be prepared to answer, easily and humanly.  As for the song, One of Us, I’ve found it to be a good conversation-starter, since it is both part of pop culture and since it asks the question that I have to be most ready to answer.

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An excavated insula in CapernaumIn Part I of this series, we examined the need to view the entire Christmas story arc, and in Part II we discussed the probability of Jesus’ birthday on Sukkot (mid-September to early-October), as opposed to the semi-synchretistically chosen date of December 25.

In this installment, we will examine Jesus’ parents, comparing common belief/depiction of them to a contextual probability of who they were.

Marriage Customs

In Middle-eastern Jewish culture in the first century, like today, girls are considered to have reached an “age of accountability” at the age of twelve, or their first menstruation, whichever comes first. Upon reaching that age, the family would search for a prospective future mate for their daughter.

Upon finding an appropriate “match”, the families would gather together and announce a betrothal between the daughter (the lesser party, in that culture) of one family and the son (the greater party) of the other family. In that celebration, a blood sacrifice (typically a goat) would be made and a binding covenant declared between the families. Once declared, the betrothal could only be nullified in agreement between the two families, without cause. If there was cause, such as infidelity, to break the covenant, the patriarch of the family violating the covenant could be subject to death, if the offended family so desired. This was a serious thing!  (See here for more information on the bloodpath ceremony, which also has significance in the Easter story.)

In the Galilee region, once a betrothal was declared, the son would build a room onto his family’s house, preparing it as a place for he and his bride to live (these multi-room, multi-family houses, called insula, have been extensively excavated in Galilee cities in the past several decades). Once the father of the bridegroom decided that the time was right for the wedding to come about, he would tell his son, and the entire family would go to pick up the girl and bring she and her family back for the wedding celebration. At the culmination of the first night of the wedding feast, the bride and groom would enter their new home together and consumate the marriage (while everyone else waited and celebrated outside – talk about pressure to perform!). This image of bride and groom, preparation and wedding feasts is used in multiple stories told by Jesus.

But that’s a topic to examine a different day.

Mother Mary

All cultural indications from the Jewish culture and the Galilee region would suggest that Mary was 12-13 years of age at the time of her betrothal. Also, considering that most betrothal periods would last from 6 months to two years (at most), these cultural indicators would suggest that Mary was 12 – 14 years old when she received the visit from the angel Gabriel.

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 1:18)

How often do we see Christmas reenactments on TV or at our churches in which Mary is a young twentysomething girl, as opposed to a 6th-, 7th- or 8th-grade girl? Not only that, but she’s 9 months pregnant!

Joseph

If we only know a little bit about Mary, we know even less about Joseph.

Once again, if we follow Galilean Jewish tradition, Joseph would have been at least 13, though it is possible he was a few years older, since he is identified with a profession, which he would typically have learned from his father between the ages of 12 and 16.

There are a number of religious traditions which have suggested that Joseph was significantly older and a widower when he was betrothed to Mary. However, this came from the Catholic tradition which insisted this had to have been the case, specifically because of the belief that Mary remained a virgin after Jesus’ birth (a mistaken interpretation of Matthew 1:25). Thus, since Jesus had at least 4 brothers and 2 or more sisters (see Mark 6:3), many Catholics will argue that these siblings had to have come from Joseph via a prior marriage.  However, this is highly unlikely and not supported by scripture.

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Mary-uh?

In Matthew 1, we read about Joseph:

Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

So, already, we can see Joseph’s an honorable fellow, unwilling to have Mary and/or her father disgraced (or potentially, killed) for her “infidelity”. What we might miss, not knowing this culture, is that Joseph was, in turn, exposing himself to a great deal of public disgrace in not divorcing her.

In not taking action to distance himself from Mary, Joseph was de facto admitting that he was the father of Mary’s baby (which would have been seen as a moral failure on his part, in primary responsibility), which should have resulted in an immediate binding declaration of marriage (without celebration) and a disgrace to him and his family.

Hold this thought for a minute.

In Luke, we learn about the census of Caesar Augustus in approximately 4 B.C., and the events around Jesus’ birth.

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

This passage is all we have in the Bible about the events specifically around the circumstances of Jesus’ birth. And it begs some questions, based on the context we’ve discussed – questions that don’t often get asked.

1) If Joseph was of the house and line of David, so was his father. Since he was not yet married, it would be sufficient for his father or grandfather to register his family in the Roman census. Instead, we have a 15- or 16-year-old boy taking his 9-months’-pregnant, 13-year-old bride-to-be on a dangerous 40+ mile  journey on foot (owning a donkey was a symbol of wealth, which does not seem to be indicative of Joseph’s circumstance). If he was not yet married, he should not have been responsible for registering his family-to-be. Why isn’t Joseph’s family with him?

2) There was no room for them in the inn. In the middle-east, hospitality is prized above almost all other social values, so for there to be no room – in a town from which Joseph is descendant – is very strange. No, make that incredibly strange.  So – why would there be no room for a boy and his imminently expectant bride-to-be in a community which should have relatives, and where his father’s family should be staying?

Culturally, the best answer to these questions (and other similar ones) is that, in taking an obviously expectant Mary as his bride, Joseph was ostensibly admitting “guilt” in the circumstances.  he had brought some degree of shame upon himself and his family, and was living out the consequences. This would explain why Joseph and Mary didn’t have any support from their extended families, why he would have to take Mary with him, and why nobody in Bethlehem would have room for them.

[NOTE: Another possibility which has been suggested is that Joseph had no extended family, but this does not make as much sense, as Joseph was learned in a profession - as a tekton, a mason - that would have required familial apprenticeship to learn.]

So What?

All too often, we paint an incredibly sanitized Christmas in our own cultural context, missing out on the desperate and dire circumstances of Jesus’ birth and the cultural lowliness and shame surrounding them. In trying to exalt Jesus (which is a good thing – don’t get me wrong), we miss how low God allowed himself to go on the cultural and societal ladder in entering this world.

He came in the circumstances of the lowliest of the low, exhalting Himself in serving all other people, and dying the worst of deaths on our behalf. If we do not let him be who he was, we cannot fully appreciate who he is and what he went through for us – in life and in death.

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From Casting Crowns’ Christmas album.

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I’ve always liked these guys, and thought this song’s message was apt as we move into the Christmas season…

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I saw this post over at SoL today, and I have to point it out, because it’s one of the rare times I actually agree with something on an ADM site.  The post is simply a quote from A.W. Tozer, and it’s about resentment.  Here’s an excerpt:

In the course of scores of conferences and hundreds of conversations I have many times heard people say, “I resent that.” But I repeat: I have never heard the words used by a victorious man. Resentment simply cannot dwell in a loving heart. Before resentfulness can enter, love must take its flight and bitterness take over. The bitter soul will compile a list of slights at which it takes offense and will watch over itself like a mother bear over her cubs. And the figure is apt, for the resentful heart is always surly and suspicious like a she-bear.

Amen!  I whole-heartily agree.  Resentment is a trap that the enemy sets for us, and if we spend our time worrying about defending our rights, I believe we are missing the point of being a Christ-follower to large extent.

But then I compare this post to many of the other ones on SoL, and I scratch my head.  It seems to me that the majority of the site is built on resentment and/or taking offense.  Just take a look at some the recent posts (here, here, and here) for example.  Those are all from the current front page.   I could easily point out dozens of others if wanted to.

So I guess it’s just another example of what happens when we say one thing and do another.  It’s one thing to say we need to be careful of living with resentment, but it’s quite another to live it.

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Terraces near BethlehemIn Part I of this series, we examined the need to view the entire Christmas story arc – which begins in Exodus (after the prologue in Genesis) and ends with John the Baptizer’s declaration of “Behold the Lamb of God”.

Today, I would like to take a quick journey in trying to determine when, during the year, Jesus’ birthday was likely to have fallen. [Hint: For those of you paying attention, it wasn't likely to be December 25.]

Remember, Remember, the 25th of December

There are a number of reasons Christmas is celebrated on December 25, many of which are syncretised from pagan Winter solstice celebrations, most likely those during the time of Constatine, which celebrated the birth of the “gods” Mithra, Ishtar and Julius Caesar. By celebrating the birth of Jesus on this date, many Christians sought to ‘de-paganize’ the celebrations and feasting of this day (or in some traditions, a week or more), and Roman authorities sought to blur the lines between Christianity and Mithraism, the two primary competing religions of the empire. Additionally, the Jewish people recognized this date as an anniversary of Judas Maccabeus’ (who was seen as a model for a Jewish messiah…) cleansing of the Temple in 164 BC, which may have played a part in this day’s choosing.

There is very little doubt, though, that December 25 is not the actual date of Jesus’ birth, but a date chosen for numerous other reasons, lost to antiquity.

Of Shepherds and Fields

One of the first indications of the time of year of Jesus’ birth comes to us from the Gospel of Luke:

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.

What, you might ask, from this would give us any clue, whatsoever?

In the land of Israel, there are two types of land – wilderness and farmland – which have a fairly distinct border between them. In the Hebrew Scriptures, it is described as a “land flowing with milk and honey”.

Milk is the product of sheep and goats, tended by shepherds. Sheep are tended and maintained in the wilderness areas of Israel.

Honey, on the other hand, is a word which describes not only bees’ honey, but also the product of mashing fruits, such as figs and dates, which are stored in sealed jars. [A recent excavation near Masada found jars of this 'honey' prepared during the time of Herod the Great, still in edible condition.] Honey is one of the key products, along with grain, of farmers.

The word used by Luke to describe where the shepherds were, agrauleo – in the fields – specifically refers to the fields of the farmers, and not the wilderness area (which he describes via a different word elsewhere). Only two times during the year would sheep be allowed to be in these fields – after the spring harvest, once the poor had gleaned the corners (around the time of the Feast of Shavuot (Pentecost)) and after the fall harvest, once the poor had gleaned the corners (around the time of the Feast of Sukkot (Tabernacles)). During any other time of the year, shepherds would have been attacked (and likely killed) for allowing their sheep into the unharvested fields.

Doing the Math

The second method we can use to try to approximate a birth date for Jesus is via gestational math from scriptural clues.

From Luke 1:

In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah;

[...]

When his time of service was completed, he returned home. After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant

From historical Jewish records, we can place the time of service for the division of Abijah in the late spring of the year, ending in early June. So, if we assume that soon after this (as the Greek text seems to indicate) Elizabeth became pregnant, she would have known this in early July.

Luke continues:

In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

[...]

At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!”

So, we have Mary visiting Elizabeth in what is likely to be early January (Elizabeth’s sixth month), and John leaping in the womb in response to the fetal Jesus, inside of Mary.

With this in mind, Jesus’ birth should be approximately nine months later, in early-to-mid September, which is the same time as the Feast of Sukkot – one of the two times of the year in which sheep can be tended by shepherds in the fields.

Linguistic Clues

Next, in beginning of the gospel of John, the most deliberately symbolic of the gospel writers, we are given some linguistic clues as to the time of Christ’s coming.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.

John makes clear that Jesus is the Word, and that he “made his dwelling” among us. However, John’s wording here is peculiar in it choice of words. This can also be translated: “The Word became flesh and tented (or tabernacled) among us”. This word for tent is the same word as is used in the name of the Feast of Sukkot – the Feast of Tabernacles.

Narrative/Poetic Clues

Finally, if we examine the Jewish feasts, and their symbolic significance, we can see a pattern emerge (for those associated with Easter, you can read more in my Holy Week Series from earlier this year):

Holiday Hebrew Meaning Jesus’ Event
Sukkot Celebrating God dwelling among men (originated in the Exodus, where God dwelt among the suka – tents – of his people) Jesus is Born
Passover Celebrating God’s grace; His judgement ‘passing over’ His people, so that they could be redeemed from slavery; The blood of a lamb is shed as a sacrifice for each family to protect the firstborn of each household. Jesus is Crucified
Unleavened Bread All of God’s people praying for Him to give them life (bread) out of the earth. Jesus is in the Tomb
Firstfruits Praising God for granting the first fruits of the barley harvest. These first fruits are the promise that God will grant the remainder of the harvest. Jesus is Resurrected (see I Cor 15)
Shavuot (Pentecost) Celebration of the completion of the spring harvest; God’s giving of the Law to guide His people (also noting that, on this day 3,000 were killed for worshiping the golden calf) The Holy Spirit is given as a guide to God’s people (3,000 were saved that day)

(Note: I’m not including Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which may be associated with eschatalogical events or (in the case of Rosh Hashanah), with past events linked to partial-preterist eschatology.)

So What?

I have nothing against celebrating God’s gift to man, in Jesus, via the giving of gifts to each other on December 25. I sometimes wonder, though, why Christians fight so hard to prevent the secular world from replacing a religious celebration of a day with a secular celebration of a day on which Christians replaced the original pagan celebration of a day with a religious one (didja follow that?).

It is nice that we give each other gifts on December 25 and celebrate God living amongst us as a Father who gives good gifts. It is kind of weird though to celebrate this as Jesus’ birthday, in which we say ‘Happy Birthday’ and then go into the other room and give each other gifts, instead of him…

Perhaps it’s just time that we celebrate Sukkot as a time when the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us…

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Infinitely More Likely than Random Chance“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

This is how the Bible starts in Genesis 1:1.  While this doesn’t seem to be all that controversial a statement (since none of us, or our ancestors, were there), it is all too frequently a point of contention and battle in the public square.  As such, it’s not at all surprising that a lot of terms and assumptions get thrown around, and that much of the conversation gets dumbed down to “Creation vs. Evolution” – completely missing the point.

In a similar fashion to our group article this summer on Atonement, I’d like to (fairly quickly) take a look at the different views of Creation, and in that light I think we need to set where the boundaries lie between a Christian view of Creation and a non-Christian view.

Guardrails

In the case of Creation, the Judeo-Christian boundaries are set by Genesis 1:1 – Who created?  God.  When did He create? In the Beginning.  What did He create? The heavens and the earth – everything.

The basic dividing line between a Christian view of Creation and a non-Christian view settles on the original cause – were the heavens, the earth and life upon earth the product of God’s intervention or random chance?  That is the basic question.  Not evolution.  Not timelines.  Just this – was it God or chance that caused everything that exists in our universe?

Where we often get hung up, though, is on the howHow did He create?  Here, we end up with (at least) five differing views, all of which are based upon different interpretations of Scripture and the evidence of Creation provided by God, and one atheistic view.  So let us examine the six views:

1. Historic Creationism

In this view of Creation, the earth and the universe is very old (having been created prior to the first day), and then over the course of six literal, 24-hour days, God transformed it and brought forth life upon it – literally as described in Genesis 1 and 2.  This is a historic view held by Augustine, which does not contradict modern scientific dating methods, but does take issue with macroevolution (because of its required length of time and random nature).

This view is supported, along with the other Christian views apart from Young Earth Creationism, by many Evangelical churches, along with Hugh Ross’ Reasons to Believe.

2. Young Earth Creationism

This view of Creation holds that the earth and all of the universe was created by God in six literal, 24-hour days, literally as described in Genesis 1 and 2.  Probably the most conservative of the views of Creation, this is the one that is most often characterized in the media as the “Christian view”, and it is also the one most often characterized as “Anti-Science”, because it views the earth as young (between 6k and 10k years) and humanity as young, as well.  Historically, this view was an outgrowth of the Protestant Reformation and its tendency to treat the bulk of scripture, apart from obvious allegory, as literal.

Adherents of this view also tend to be the least tolerant of differing views of Creation, with many considering all other views as anti-Christian.  Key proponents of this view include Ken Ham’s Answers in Genesis (along with his Creation Museum in Kentucky) and a number of systematic Calvinist churches, who have integrated this view of Genesis into their theological system (because death of animals – even dinosaurs – cannot, in their system, have occurred before the Fall of Adam and Eve).

3. Gap Creationism

This view, similar to Historic Creationism, holds that the earth is very old, as dated by science, but that human life on earth is very new, in comparison.  In this view, there is a gap of time between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2, during which the (later recorded) war in heaven occurred, in which Satan and his angels were cast down, which resulted in the Earth being thrown into chaos, becoming ‘formless and void’, tohu a’vohu, as described in Genesis 1:2.  Then, God recreated life on earth from the void, creating Adam and Eve between 6k and 10k years ago.

This view arose during the Eighteenth Century, primarily as a response to geological discoveries which date the earth as being much older than six thousand years, reconciling the evidence of Creation with the Biblical account.

4. Literary Framework

This viewpoint of Creation observes that, in light of the literary form of Genesis 1 and 2 as Hebraic poetry, along with its pattern of literary unfolding, the Genesis account of Creation should be viewed as a allegorical truth, not literal-scientific truth.   In this view, the seven-day creation story is a “framework”, or is symbolically a description of how and why God created everything.  So, in this view, the earth is old (as dated by science), life on earth is old, and humanity is new, though (in some views) theistic evolution may have occurred prior to Adam and Eve.  The most common views of Intelligent Design also falls within the literary framework view of Creation, as well.

This viewpoint is supported by early church fathers, along with some of the writings of Augustine.  Contrasting with Creation in six literal 24-hour days, adherents often point out that “day” and “night” weren’t created until Day Four in the Genesis chronology.

5. Day-Age View

In this view of Creation, the ‘days’ in Genesis 1 are viewed in light of the Hebrew word yom, used to describe each “day”, which may also be interpreted as ‘age’.  Thus, each “day” may be thousands, millions or billions of years old.  So, in the Day-Age View, the earth is old and life may be old, as well.  Theistic evolution and intelligent design also fit well within this view.

Historically, this view also borrows from the writings of Augustine, who observed that literal days could not exist until after Day Four when the sun was created.

6. Atheistic Creation

This is the primary non-Christian view of Creation, which holds that the earth is old and all life is old, all products of random chance and natural selection.  While often portrayed as the view of Charles Darwin, this is not accurate, as Darwin held an agnostic view more akin to intelligent design than random chance.  The one common thread between this view of Creation and the Christian views is that none of them can be claimed as “scientific” views, because the original cause – God or chance – cannot be scientifically proven, and thus must be taken on faith.

The Public Square

Regarding Creationism, Christians have spent a great deal of effort and emotional capital on this topic, to little end – primarily adding to the predominant secular view which posits a false choice of “science vs. religion”.   It would be far better off, in my belief, if it confined its arguments to keep what is science in the realm of science, and what is faith in the realm of faith.  By attacking “evolution”, it is my belief that many Christians miss the heart of the matter – the origin of life (a question of faith/philosophy, not science) – and end up quibbling about its post-origin mode of development (a question of science and observation – the evidence of Creation).

The purpose of science is to answer the questions of HOW something happened.  The purpose of religion is to answer WHY something happened.  By trying to answer HOW with a WHY, we only end up looking foolish – and not for the glory of God.  One need only look to Galileo and the issue of heliocentricity to see what happens when we confuse the two.

Additionally, internal quarreling within the church on this topic is self-defeating.  Any of the views above, 1-5, are acceptable Christian views which honor Scripture, even though some take different parts literally or figuratively.  Declaring Christians that don’t hold to your view as sell-outs to the world (I’m looking at you, YEC’s) isn’t helpful or Christian.  Deriding Christians who hold to a more literal view of Genesis 1 (I’m looking at the rest of you) as anti-scientific hicks isn’t helpful or Christian, either.

In the public square, we have seen the enemy, and all too often the enemy is us…

[Thanks to Mark Driscoll, whose taxonomy I've borrowed and expanded upon in the heart of this article.]

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Phil Miller turns 33 today – Happy Birthday, Phil!

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So, I know this will be two Christmas posts in a row, and I’m sure some of you heathens haven’t gotten rid of your jack o’ lanterns yet.  But I looked at SoL today, and it seems that some are doing their Christmas whining a little early this year.  It seems it’s already time for the first volley in the annual war on Christmas!

In this post, we are told that are “our civil liberties have never been more threatened than they are right now”, and we are pointed to this press release from the Liberty Counsel.  So I might ask myself what liberties of mine our being threatened this holiday season?  The right to free speech?  The right to assemble freely?  The freedom of the press?  Nope…those are all good.  Apparently it’s the right to buy stuff from people who use the phrase “Merry Christmas” in their advertisements and in-store decorations.  I’m sure glad somebody is ensuring my right to be exploited by savvy retailers.  There’s even a “Naughty and Nice List” for your shopping convenience!

Somehow I have a hard time seeing how the idea of demanding our civil rights meshes with a holiday that remembers the way Christ came to earth.  By coming to earth, Christ gave up his rights, took on the role of servant to lowest people in society, and humbled himself in ways that still blow my mind.  Philippians 2 puts it this way (this excerpt is from The Message paraphrase):

Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.

So, in light of that, I think we ought not think of Christmas in terms of how we may protect our rights or who we may or may not buy more stuff from, but rather we should let this season be a reminder to us of what we are called to be in this world.  We are called to serve as Christ served.  We are to humble ourselves.

So, I pray that God gives us the wisdom and the strength needed to serve even those who seem to be our enemies this Christmas.

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Behold the Lamb of GodAfter some requests and input, I’m going to repost the Desanitizing Christmas series from last year, making some minor adds/revisions, possibly a few more articles (and no fair peeking ahead in the archives if this is your first time through!)…

_________

This is the first part in what (I hope) will be a many-part series over the next 2 months which strives to place Christ’s birth within its context, demonstrating how powerful his story is – especially when viewed in the cultural context in which God placed it.

Living in America, particularly, we often get a very ’sanitized’ version of the Christmas story, which primarily deals with the Christmas story from Luke. Where we ‘miss out’, just from this fundamental standpoint, is that the story begins long before Jesus arrives on the scene to an unwed teenage girl in Bethlehem.

Fundamentally, the story begins in Genesis 1:1, with the creation of the world and the birth of the Hebrew nation in Abraham and his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

If Genesis is the prologue, Chapter One begins with the story of Moses. It is the type to the archetype in Jesus’ story – it is God redeeming a people who can do nothing to save themselves. In Moses, it is also the story of a people’s journey in struggling to follow God and the gods of this world, which leads to dispair and failure.  And if you leave the story before the Christian Scriptures begin, you find a people with a new sense of hope and identity, but who are still in need of redemption.

When you bring in the entire story arch from Exodus through Malachi – following the Children of Israel through their despair, captivity and return to Israel, you have set the stage such that, when you read the Nunc Dimittis, the Song of Simeon, blessing the child Messiah, and the declaration of John the Baptizer “Behold the Lamb of God”, tears should be streaming down your face from the epic weight of the story and the triumph of the coming of the Messiah.

It is in this moment that their story becomes our story, that their hope becomes our hope. Without the back-story, the story of Jesus’ birth is absent the overarching conflict of the world, and it only sets up an individualized story of salvation, rather than the salvation of the world.

As musical works go, I hold few out-and-out ‘favorites’ (and 90+% of those belong to Rich Mullins). However, someone whose musical influence and style is similar to Rich’s, Andrew Peterson, has a work which I put at the top of my ‘love it and recommend it’ lists, which fits into this discussion.  (And as long as I’m blogging, I’ll probably plug this work, yearly)

Peterson tells the Christmas story from Moses to John the Baptist’s proclamation of Jesus as the Lamb of God through song, in music that is not traditional Christmas fare (aside from two brief instrumentals), and is good listening year-round. This entire work, Behold the Lamb of God: The True Tall Tale of the Coming of Christ, tracks the rescue and plight of God’s people in the Hebrew Scriptures, bridges it to the Christian Testament through Matthew’s Begats (the only song I’d wager you’ll hear from Matthew 1), and then pulls it together with the blessed arrival of the Messiah.*

In other words, he covers the whole story of the coming of Jesus, avoiding the modern “Christmas” trappings and the myopic view that Christmas is covered in the first chapters of Luke and Matthew.
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*For those of you who are interested, Peterson goes on tour each year with Derek Webb and other down-to-earth Christian singers between Thanksgiving and Christmas to perform Behold the Lamb of God. It is amazing to see and hear, if you can get there. If not, it was released on DVD last year.

Here are some of the songs in Behold, including Derek Webb singing Deliver Us:

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Andy singing Matthew’s Begats (the only musical version of Matt 1 you’re ever likely to hear):

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Jill Phillips singing Labor or Love:

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And the finale, Behold the Lamb of God, which often leaves me in tears:

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You can listen to Behold the Lamb of God here, order it here and find out about the tour (December 2 – December 21 this year) here.

Link: Fishing the Abyss

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Here’s a nugget that is (admittedly) hardly worth the effort, but since it’s a slow day at SOL and things here have been a little too political…

SOL has decided to take on the toy industry.  This raised three immediate questions: 1) why bother with what appears to be a secular toy company product line – since when is the church called to judge those outside the faith?  2) What is the harm in this anyway?  and 3) Which is worse, this company’s product, or the racial stereotype portrayed in the opening paragraph?

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