Church on Christmas Day? Yes, Please!

“O Come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant! O come ye, o come ye to Bethlehem. Come and behold Him, born the King of angels. O come let us adore Him! O come let us adore Him! O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord!”

These familiar words will be sung in churches all across the world in just a few days. As I consider the startling conversation that has sprung up around the issue of whether or not to have church services on Christmas morning I find myself humming these words. Apparently some pastors are calling off Sunday services to allow families unfettered time to indulge their materialistic gorge-fest of wrapping paper and ribbons, complete with batteries and return receipts, rather than provide them the opportunity to do more than offer lip service to “what the season is really about.” The tired bumper sticker, “Jesus is the reason for the season!” probably needs to be removed from the family vehicle if we chose to celebrate His birthday by not showing up for the celebration.

Granted there will be some with legitimate reasons not to attend a service celebrating the singular event in human history, God becoming flesh, but to think that on this day, of all days, the church doors would be closed is simply stunning. Some will, no doubt, point out an overcrowded travel schedule for the day, while others will be doing their best to shake off the lingering effects of too much to eat and too much to drink the night before. Some will wonder if dragging the kiddos away from their toys will be a possibility and others will discover that the “requires some assembly” sticker was being generous in its estimation of the difficulty involved.

There will always be plausible reasons to stay away, but why would you? What if you missed it because you were too busy? What if the event of all events happened and you found something better to do? What if it happened and you were simply so caught up in your own comings and goings that you missed it?

I am eternally grateful to my friend Carol Douglas for introducing me to The Adoration of Kings in the Snow, by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1597, and I share it with you here in the hopes that it will speak to you as well. You will have to do a bit of searching to find the babe and the wise men for there is much going on in this busy little town; there is water to be drawn, horses to be packed, commerce to be transacted, burdens to be borne, and other sundry, and certainly worthy, projects to be undertaken. The great tragedy is that so many miss the point. So many miss the child. And they still do.

 

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The Adoration of Kings in the Snow, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1597

 

This Sunday I anxiously await the gathering of the faithful as they come to adore. Perhaps we will hear the faint echo of angel voices raised in celebration or catch a glimpse of awestruck shepherds, and maybe, just maybe, if we will cease our strivings for a moment, we too will see the Word made flesh, full of grace and truth (John 1:14). “O come let us adore Him!”

3,304 Lives Lost Today

 

If these were people of color, or people of no color,

If these were convicted criminals, mentally disabled, or physically handicapped,

If these were women, gays, white men, black men, whores, thieves, or druggies in rehab (again),

If these were derelicts, outcasts, or homeless,

If these were deaf, mute, or blind,

If these were liberals, conservatives, SJWs, clingers, communists, capitalists, fascists, socialists, or some other “ists”,

If these were Black Panthers, KKK-ers, gangbangers, thugs, or bikers,

If these were Native Americans, Latinos, Middle Easterners, Asians, or Caucasians,

If these were Amish, Catholic, Muslim, Jew, Buddhists, Evangelicals, or Atheists,

There would be an unquenchable outcry for justice;

An unrelenting effort to bring an end to the horror;

An unapologetic condemnation of lives callously taken;

A collective shudder as we considered the loss of life.

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But these are not those.

Those can speak.

Those can raise a fist in defiance.

Those can hold a sign in protest or call a press conference.

Those can raise funds to fight the injustice.

Those can gather together for mutual support and help.

Those can stand shoulder-to-shoulder in the face of certain slaughter.

All of those, acceptable or disagreeable,

Can.

These cannot.

Are these less because they cannot?

Are these despised because they cannot?

Are these voices not to be heard because they cannot?

Are these considered “not” because they cannot?

How shall those who can respond to these who cannot?

*One that cannot is aborted every

26 seconds
137 every hour
3,304 every day
23,196 every week
100,516 every month
1.206,192 every year

in the United States alone.

(Source: Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life)

 

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master – that’s all.”

Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass

This famously unbalanced egg-head’s hubris led to his equally famous fall leaving “all the king’s horses and all the king’s men” the unpleasant task of bearing off his scrambled remains. It is astounding that it came down to words and their meaning. Humpty’s closing statement is quite telling, “which is to be master – that’s all.”

In an equally tragic, though much less fictitious, act of hubris, a committee of 9 decided for all under their jurisdiction just what particular words would mean, namely, “marriage.” Humpty’s question of who will be master has been answered for us and we are left with a swirling morass to be be sorted out with no clear understanding of just what words now mean. Already a Montana man has petitioned for the right to “marry” his second wife without severing his relationship with his first wife. It is a curious, if dreadful, thing to watch a society cast off from it’s foundational moorings trying to steer the ship with neither compass nor rudder.

Words have meanings and yes, those meanings often change and evolve. However, those words which seek to grapple with core issues of existence have a surprisingly stubborn and “sticky” sense about them. “Marriage” has been, and I suspect, will continue to be, one of those words. I have read with great interest the various attempts to discredit the notion of “traditional marriage” (an unfortunate pairing of words). All have pointed out the wide variety of familial arrangements throughout history, yet without exception they fail to acknowledge that the basic, and most widely entered into, relationship of EVERY society in the history of mankind has centered around the pairing of one man and one woman.

All of which leads me to offer you, my reader, a brief exercise utilizing a simple internet search. Using your preferred search engine seek out the relationship between the Greek concepts of hubris and nemesis (two of those “sticky” words that have found their way into our vocabulary). Yes, words have meaning, even if we have difficulty discerning just what it is they mean. As Alice tells Humpty after reading his marvelous poem, Jabberwocky,

“It seems very pretty,” she said when she had finished it, “but it’s rather hard to understand!” (You see she didn’t like to confess, even to herself, that she couldn’t make it out at all.) “Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas—only I don’t exactly know what they are! However, somebody killed something: that’s clear, at any rate.”

Yes, Alice, “somebody killed something” but it remains to be seen just what that something was. Here’s to “all the king’s men” who are tasked with cleaning up the unfortunate mess.

 

 

Some Wisdom from Os (Guinness, that is)

“Every age is fooled by its own fashions, and it is time to subject this modern idolatry of opinion and numbers to decisive Christian thinking…Legalization of any practice, and then its normalization through numbers, need never mean a revaluation of what we know to be wrong because God says so, simply because the majority opinion now hold it to be right. Ten million ignorant assertions, even when magnified and accelerated in a hundred million tweets and “likes,” still never add up to truth and wisdom, or what is right and good.” -Renaissance: The Power of the Gospel However Dark the Times.

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Screen Screed

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Screens are everywhere!  In our hands, over our tables, in our cars, even in our glasses!  As crazy as it may seem there is even a company dedicated to the production and installation of the latest in “waterproof and in-wall televisions” for your bathroom!  For the bathroom?  Really?  For the bathroom?!? Really?

(Speaking of screens and bathrooms, (For the bathroom?!? Really?) I am forever befuddled by the numerous individuals who bemoan the horror of dropping their phone in the toilet. This seems like an incredible breech of social etiquette.  For the record, if you happen to be “taking care of business” and you get a call from me (or even a text for that matter!) please wait until you are finished to respond.  I am all about sharing life with folks but some moments were not meant to be shared.)

But back to this screen business.  I am a noted word nerd and I believe words have meanings we just can’t escape.  Words are not designed to change definitions to suit our most recent mood.  Even in their most flexible modes they retain something of their original force.  The word “screen” is one such word.  “Screen goes back ultimately to a Frankish *skrank ‘barrier'” (Dictionary of Word Origins) – that which divides/partitions/separates.  The very thing we think is keeping us connected to the latest news, information, Tweet, post, event, Instagram pic, or whatever, is, in fact, the very thing keeping us disconnected.

The sociological studies are just beginning to explore this phenomenon and the early results are not encouraging.  Our screens are screening out the vitality of our lives.  We miss the look in their eyes in exchange for the 😉 and are becoming impoverished in every way.  Alas, the final folly of our divisive behavior will not emerge until the current generation of the ignored and invisible grows into full flowered and isolated adulthood.

So here’s my promise to you; when I am talking to you I will look at you and not at the miracle of technology I hold in my hand.  I give you permission to unapologeticaly call me on the carpet if I dare to look to my screen whilst engaged in conversation with you.  But be warned!  I promise to do the same to you with curmudgeonly delight. 

“For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2:14)  Here’s to breaking down the screens keeping us from each other!

Hey, Blow-Hards! There is a Better Way!

One of my pet peeves as a pastor, mind you a conservatively minded pastor, is that I so often have to apologize for the words (and sometimes the behavior) of other, better known pastors and talking heads of American Christianity. I really get my tail in a twist over this quite often and think, to myself, “There has to be a better way!” And there is…

I understand that many of these talking heads care deeply about the issues they are addressing, I just wonder if they’ve stopped caring as deeply about the people involved in the issues. Whether it’s a boycott of the latest corporate offender or a letter writing campaign to get our elected representative’s attention about the latest and greatest threat to Christianity, I just think it is a bad way to carry out our calling as followers of Christ. I’ve long said that the world knows what we are “against” better than they know what we are “for”. It’s time the church that claims to follow Christ and His ways actually gets on with the business of doing so.

The following quote from Dostoyevsky’s book, The Brothers Karamazov, put it quite nicely.

“At some ideas you stand perplexed, especially at the sight of human sins, uncertain whether to combat it by force or by human love. Always decide, ‘I will combat it with human love.’ If you make up your mind about that once and for all, you can conquer the whole world. Loving humility is a terrible force; it is the strongest of all things and there is nothing like it.”

Now, I will add that human love will fall short of righting the wrongs of the world’s sins. That will always require the love of God. However, God has chosen to utilize the weak and broken vessels of humanity to communicate that love.

I love these words from 1 Peter 3:15-16, where loud and uncouth Peter, who was often a victim of ‘foot-in-mouth disease’, gives instructions on how to communicate the gospel. He says, “In your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.” Seems that somewhere along the line Peter learned the truth that you get more results from a gentle conversation than a shouting match.

So, for all you well meaning blow-hards, ease up. I’m getting weary of making excuses for you.