Christmas Engages Our Senses

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Joining our humanity

Christmas reminds us that God’s intention is not to separate us from our humanity – our real lives, in real bodies – but to join us in our humanity. Christianity doesn’t remove us from the human experience, into a separate spiritual experience. Christmas is the simple reminder that God joined us in the flesh. We can no longer doubt he lives we live in the flesh matter to him.

The first heresy

The body is often depicted as the battle ground of our experience, not holy ground. The first heresy the church faced – gnosticism, in which matter is evil and therefore doesn’t matter (see what I did there) – has never gone away. Our Bibles start with God’s good word over every ounce of matter made. God joining himself to that same matter. The story ends with his people seeing his face, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:12 (not light or some sort of spirit-gas). But it is still thought that our bodies are not important in the way we relate to God and each other.

A sensate story

Christianity deals with physical realities. This isn’t God in the abstract. The incarnation is God coming into this world of touch, taste, sight, sound, and smell. It is a very sensate story. The Bible is a sensate book. I don’t think you can read a page of it without the mention of a character’s senses being involved or the writer depending on one of the senses for what is being conveyed.

Right where we are

The Christmas story involves the full spectrum of our senses – the pleasures and the pains. That is why it can be “good tidings of great joy to all people.” God has come to us right where we are – in the flesh. Barbara Brown Taylor says, “The body makes theologians of us all: Why me? Why like this? Why here? Why this long?” We may not have good answers for all of those, but we can rest assured that it’s important and has meaning, because God is with us in it.

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Incarnation Means Matter Matters

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Mary Incarnation Emmanuel

 

Christmas reminds us that God’s intention is not to separate us from our humanity – our real lives, in real bodies – but to join us in our humanity. Christianity doesn’t remove us from the human experience, into a separate spiritual experience. Christmas is the simple reminder that God joined us in the flesh and the lives we live in the flesh matter to him.

The body is often depicted as the battle ground of our experience, not holy ground. It seems the first heresy the church faced – gnosticism, in which matter is evil and therefore doesn’t matter (see what I did there) – has never gone away. Even though our Bibles start with God’s good word over every ounce of matter made, tells the story of that same God joining himself to that matter, and ends with his people seeing his face (not light or some sort of spirit-gas), it is still thought that our bodies are not important in the way we relate to God and each other.

Christianity deals with physical realities. This isn’t God in the abstract. The incarnation is God coming into this world of touch, taste, sight, sound, and smell. It is a very sensate story. The Bible is a sensate book. I don’t think you can read a page of it without the mention of a character’s senses being involves or the writer depending on one of the senses for what is being conveyed.

The Christmas story involves the full spectrum of our senses – the pleasures and the pains. That’s why it can be “good tidings of great joy to all people.” Because it means God has come to us right where we are – in the flesh. Barbara Brown Taylor says, “The body makes theologians of us all: Why me? Why like this? Why here? Why this long?” We may not have good answers for all of those, but we can rest assured that it’s important and has meaning, because God is with us in it.

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The Work of Waiting Patiently

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Patience Scrabble

Last week, for the start of Advent, I wrote about the prominence of hope in the Christmas story. We worship the God of gestation. Pregnancy is the chief metaphor used in scripture for hope. Paul used that metaphor in Romans 8 and said, “For in this hope [a carried-in-the-womb, expecting-type hope] we were saved.” How comfortable are you with gestative salvation?

Paul continued in Romans 8:25, “But if we hope for what we do not have we wait for it patiently.” Patience is one of the most important themes in the Bible. It is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5). It is the first descriptor of what love is (1 Corinthians 13). It is a descriptor of what God is like (Romans 15). In a culture of impatience (and for creatures so riddled by it) the season of Advent reminds us how impatience goes against how God works in the world.

When I think about the sins in my life, the ones I’ve committed in the past and those with which I currently struggle, I can trace a line from them back to impatience. Whether it is anger, greed, discouragement, losing heart–the list goes on–my lack of disciplined patience feeds the soil where the sin grows. Hebrews 12:1-2 says, “Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus.” Peter Marshall wrote, “Teach us, O Lord, the discipline of patience, for to wait is often harder than to work.” May that be our prayer this Christmas season.

In what way is God is trying to grow your patience?

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Hope That Doesn’t Disappoint

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Danger-Expectation

 

Have you ever hoped something would come in the mail on a certain day, but it didn’t arrive? Have you ever hoped you would receive the phone call, but you never heard from them again? Have you ever hoped the sale would go through, only to have the buyer’s financing turned down? Expecting something to happen that doesn’t is one of life’s biggest disappointments.

Those disappointments are really wishes that never materialize. Using the word hope in those contexts isn’t the way the Bible uses the word. There isn’t a sense of failed hope biblically. My favorite definition of hope is the absolute expectation of coming good. Biblical hope is a sure thing. Biblical hope doesn’t disappoint. The start of the Christian calendar, with Advent, is the perfect reminder of this.

No matter the wait, no matter the suffering, we will not be disappointed, because our hope is predicated upon the work of God. My favorite Christmas song is O, Holy Night. I love the line, “A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices.” Into a dark world, shrouded in sin, God birthed salvation-light. The whole thing is thrilling when you stop and think about it. It is a thrilling story. Ricky Bobby was on to something when he prayed, “Dear eight-pound, six-ounce newborn infant Jesus, don’t even know a word yet, just a little infant and so cuddly, but still omnipotent.” This is the story of God saving the world.

The prime metaphor in the Bible for hope is pregnancy. Paul applies this in Romans 8 as he contrasts the current sufferings experienced in this life, with the weight of the reality to come. It’s like a baby eventually revealed, eagerly expected, finally liberated from the womb! That is always what the Bible is talking about when referring to hope. And as Paul says, “For in this hope we were saved.” (Romans 8:24)

“The purpose of Advent,” says Phuc Luu, in his series Interrupted by Hope, “is to make us pregnant with hope. For many, the holiday season is not filled with joy, family, and gifts, but anxiety, stress, and despair. Advent seeks to reframe our experiences with new expectations, expectations that will not disappoint. It is the expectancy that new life will start to grow within all of us.” (Interrupted by Hope: Turning Towards Advent, The Work of the People, 2014)

Biblical hope is not an alloy of wishing, waiting, frustration and disappointment. It is the pure, absolute expectation of coming good. Do you dare hope ? Are you thrilled by hope? Are you pregnant with hope?

 

Christmas, Winston Churchill, and Memory

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Links List for Christmas 2012

  1. Winston Churchill’s Christmas Eve message, 1941.
  2. A prayer about God’s Christmas memory.
  3. The story of Christmas – an animation.
  4. Are Christians fighting the wrong “War on Christmas”?
  5. It was a labor of pain…it was a labor of love.

For Fun:

Great Christmas decoration.

Quote:

“The Almighty appeared on earth as a helpless human baby, needing to be fed and changed and taught to talk like any other child. The more you think about it, the more staggering it gets. Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as this truth of the Incarnation.”
J.I. Packer