The light of Christ illumines the dank cellar of our human condition. And not surprisingly we find ourselves shrinking back, pulling into the shadows, suddenly aware of the dirt, the smudges, the overall ugliness of our own sinful selves. Thus comes Advent, the last of the three winter seasons to develop in the Christian calendar. It is a time of preparation leading to the appearance of the light. Indeed, for the early Christians it was a penitential season like Lent. You dared not approach the light without first searching your soul, cleaning up the mess, preparing yourself for its sanctifying presence.
During Advent, we make way for the coming of a Savior for whom the world is not worthy. And not only that, we brace ourselves for his coming again in judgement one day. We rehearse both the first and second coming, juxtaposed against a backdrop of the world’s longest night, all creation holding its breath for the final turn, the last and best sunrise.
As I write early on this December morning, snow lies deep in my garden. Night retreats westward; stars slowly start to fade. Two small boys sleep across the hall, resting in the grace-filled inertia of the very young. Many, many things must be done today, not only to sustain a household but to navigate the cultural expectations surrounding the coming holidays. But I will choose—if you do—to sit. I will choose to breathe in the words of others who celebrated the Word made flesh. Here in the dark I will seek points of light that cannot be extinguished, no matter how frenetic the world.
So let it begin.
It begins by recognizing the name above every name.(image)
We’re having to write this two months before Inauguration Day. But one doesn’t need the gift of prophecy to project that Christians will divide over the new administration. Each side, in an attempt to support or challenge an unprecedented and tenuous administration, will inevitably find itself at odds with others. Some Christians will call for eternal vigilance, looking for signs that the new president is promulgating yet another injustice. Others will be tempted to defend his every move. Inevitably, the rhetoric will drift toward the apocalyptic and remain mired in the partisan, and the name that will continue to be above every other name will be Donald Trump.
“Love your neighbor” means we all are called to engage in our nation’s public life in one way or another. But when cultural engagement leads to ecclesial divorce, something has gone seriously wrong. More than ever, we evangelical Christians are finding it hard to live under the same roof. When asked about the family, we sneer, “We’re not like those Christians, those hardly worthy of the name.” Some have even filed for divorce with the evangelical adjective.
Can we then be mystified when news pundits and social media mavens identify us only by our allegiance to—or repudiation of—this king or that, instead of the King of kings? Some Christians have claimed that the evangelical vote for Trump has set back the cause of the gospel 50 years. Others are equally sure the gospel would have been set back by a different election outcome. One wonders if our raised fists and ugly rhetoric directed at brothers and sisters is the real scandal.
The early Christians took a decidedly different approach, under a regime that is ...
It's okay that most of us want to skip through the genealogy of Jesus—but we should still read it.(image)
In the first episode of the twentieth season of TheSimpsons, Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus (Matt. 1:1-17) finally makes prime time. Ned Flanders, the Simpsons’ good-hearted evangelical-ish neighbor, tries to redeem the time by reciting the New Testament while he and Homer stand stuck in concrete. As Ned launches into the genealogy on the opening page of the New Testament, viewers are expected to cringe at the prospect of a lengthy genealogical recitation.
Many contemporary Christian readers will either read the genealogy during Advent this December or as they start a Bible reading plan on January 1. I suspect that most of us aren’t that different from The Simpsons’ audience. We can scarcely wait to finish the genealogy to get to “the good stuff.” Of course, Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus turns out to be much more interesting than we suspect, but the feeling that we’re still “waiting for the good stuff” is an ironically appropriate response to reading through Jesus’ family tree.
From time to time, Christians take to the airwaves and bulletin boards to tell us that Jesus’s return is right around the corner. Churches or movements find themselves captivated by a vision of some grand new season or some fresh work that the Holy Spirit is about to produce. There’s a tendency to flock to ministries that seem to have it made. We dream about what God might do for us or through us if we could only touch the hem of a ministry’s robe. But these seasons seem to pass without a sense of arrival. It can make the rest of us feel like we haven’t quite made it yet, like we’re not really firing on all cylinders or ticking all the boxes. ...