Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Christmas: A real event in space-time

Yes, I admit it. What a geeky title for a blog post. Bear with me a little though, if you will.

There is a Christmas song I heard on the radio the other day. I've known it for most of my life, and I've even sung it as part of a choir. It is a beautiful sentiment, and makes its point powerfully. Its name is Some Children See Him.

Yes, it is a beautiful song. Here is one of the best renditions ever, recorded by James Taylor:

The main point of the song is a good one. The gospel is intended for all people everywhere. At the time when Jesus lived on the earth, many of his fellow Jews felt that the Messiah was coming exclusively for them. So many parables, so many actions, so many teachings were designed to show that he had come for the whole world - Jew and Gentile. The gospel, the Kingdom, was for the nations. The message was there throughout he Hebrew Scriptures, from Adam, to Abraham, to Moses, to Isaiah. But they just didn't get it. After his resurrection, Jesus said to go into ALL the world. Reaching out to all people, of all races, with all skin colors.

And we in the Western church can be just as stubborn as the people of 1st century Palestine. So much of our Christianity is centered in what's good for us. We see a lily-white Jesus who wants to make all people more like us. We may not say it, but it creeps into our subconscious so easily. And I think that is what the song is speaking to.

But to me there is one thing we have to watch out for as we sing these lyrics. The objective is good, but the execution may be flawed. You see, one of the biggest dangers to faith today is the idea that truth is relative. "That may be true for you, but it's not for me." The word of the day is "tolerance," and it's clear that as a society we are defining it as total acceptance of everyone's belief's as equally true.

This is contrary to both Biblical revelation and common sense. Either your car is red or it's not. We can';t say with a serious face, "That car is red to me, but if you believe it's blue I'm sure that's equally true."

And now back to the geeky title of this post. God entered the world in the person of Jesus, born as a baby. The miracle of the incarnation: the Word became flesh. The creator of space-time entered his creation at a specific time in a specific place.

And with specific skin.

So yes, children all over the world may see Jesus as being like them. And that's great....as long as they are also taught that he was actually one person with one body and one skin tone. He is not a concept, a spirit, a symbol. We must not spiritualize his coming. He was, and is, a person.

The song gets this right: It is likely that most of our depictions have been wrong. He was Jewish and therefore probably had darker skin that most of our paintings. But he had one skin color. He was really in the flesh. We don't know what it was. But we know it was real.

A picky point? Maybe. But I just worry that when we de-emphasize the humanity of Jesus, we lose the truth of the incarnation. The real God of the universe became a real person with real human characteristics based on real human DNA.

Maybe the fact that for almost all of humanity (all but Jewish) he is a different ethnicity from us means this: we don't have a corner on his nature. He's not our Jesus - he's everyone's Jesus. And he came to save people from every corner of the earth.
And they sang a new song, saying, "Worthy are you to take the scrolls and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. (Revelation 5:9)

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Star Wars: A story we know (SPOILER FREE)

We arrived about an hour before the scheduled start time. Having bought the tickets around two months ago, the anticipation in the air was palpable. For we knew that everyone else in the house had done the same. And there they were, sitting in a nearly-full theater that early.

As the movie unfurled, you would have thought we were watching live theatre. When beloved characters appeared on the screen, there was applause - just like what happens when a lead actor makes their first appearance on stage. There was even applause for the first appearance of a spaceship. When we saw the Millennium Falcon, the place erupted.

And thus opened what I'm sure will be a long run of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

It was a marvelous thing, a riveting story in a familiar galaxy with familiar characters, as well as new characters who quickly captured our minds and hearts. Daisy Ridley (Rey), John Boyega (Finn), Oscar Isaac (Poe), and Adam Driver (Kylo Ren) were all amazing, continuing the Star Wars history of introducing new talent that become, and always will be, their Star Wars characters. At least to me.

There were old plot concepts, arcs, and themes that seemed to be a repeat of the prior movies but on a larger scale. My friend Rob commented on this in his blog (which was overall a very positive review):
(S)ome ideas from previous installments get recycled to the point of me wondering if it was just lazy writing.
Yes, some ideas were recycled, and I can see how one might wonder. But I saw something else. Star Wars is a story we know. Not because we have seen the previous movies. no, it's a story we know because it touches on the themes of our history and God's plan of redemption.

We all know that Star Wars is a battle between good and evil, both in the cosmos and in the hearts of individual heroes and villains. The struggle is real for Anakin, Luke, Obi Wan, Han, and now Rey, Finn, and Kylo. It's also real for the rebellion and the empire.

And it's real for us. It's real for you and me, and it's real in the story of humans. God created. We rebelled. God saved Noah through the flood. God saved Abraham to raise a people for himself. God saved Israel from slavery in Egypt. And then, as they progressed slowly toward bringing us the Messiah, they repeated the cycle over and over. Read the book of Judges. Rebellion-consequences-rescue-repentance-rebellion-consequences.... Over and over. And it continued on through the exile in Babylon.

So I'm not surprised at the recycling of ideas. That makes it more real to me. God has a master plan for our universe that has involved a lot of setbacks that led to salvation. And his plan for me does too. So a story where the galaxy has to learn the same lessons over again is one that captures me.

I can't wait to watch the final two installments, where our new friends will learn that the legends are true, evil is real, but good is more powerful. And it's there not just for the collective, but for each one of them.

I also can't wait to watch this one...again. I'm sure there will a ton of stuff I missed.

It's a rich story...as is our story. Thanks be to God who has a larger purpose for it all.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

A fragile Christmas

"This nativity is fragile."

It was a display in our church atrium. I noticed it Sunday while we were preparing to present our annual Christmas musical. It was, and is, a beautiful nativity scene. Angels, shepherds, Magi, Mary, Joseph....and of course the Baby. A picturesque display of the moments after God entered human history.

But isn't the sign a little distracting? Doesn't it break the spell?

Not for me. After all, it got me thinking - how fragile is the nativity scene? The real one.

In one sense very fragile, by choice. God, the Creator of everything, the King of the universe, chose to become a little baby. He needed his mother. He cried. His diapers needed changing. He had to be fed and clothed and shielded from the elements. So fragile. By choice. He became vulnerable so that he could identify with me and my kind. And so we could see that God loved us enough to do that.

But, oh, how powerful. In that manger lay the One who would heal the sick, raise the dead, comfort the afflicted, walk on water, calm the seas, and feed 5,000 men with just a few loaves and fishes. All the power behind the universe was focused in the one bundle of flesh. Doesn't sound too fragile to me.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8, ESV)
But powerful:
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11, ESV) 
So yes, the nativity scene is fragile. As the sign says, "please avoid touching." But it is more powerful than anything else in the world. So instead, let it touch you.

Let the One at the center touch you. And give you life. To the glory of God the Father.

Merry Christmas...

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Nothing Compares

Count your blessings, my mother used to say. She has been gone nine years today, and I still miss her so much. I miss everything about her, and it hits hard on a day like this. But this happens to be a day where this one lesson of hers shines. And it shines through the Christmas story.

Count your blessings. I have so many. Do I dare start listing them? No, I would surely leave off something or someone important. The list is as close to infinite as something created in a finite time can be. Can I at least list categories? Maybe. Family. Friends. Church. Career. Mission. Wow, just to start to list them would be daunting.

But it is a finite number. And I guess I could count them.

So there is this song from our Christmas musical that we sang tonight. And there is this line:
I could count all the ways that my heart has been blessed. But nothing compares to this.
What is "this"? What could there possible be that would dwarf all orther blessings? Take a few minutes to listen:

The gospel of Jesus the Messiah. There is nothing - nothing - that compares to it. The incarnation - God taking on flesh as a baby. The cross - God taking the punishment I deserve on himself and defeating evil. The resurrection - Jesus conquering death, so that one day I will see him face to face.

Truly, it's a story without compare. And it's my story.

There is another song, one that was a favorite of my mother:
This is my story, this is my song.
Praising my Savior all the day long.
It's a story without compare. No, nothing compares with this.

Thank you, Father.