Monday, December 30, 2013

Boxing Day: Celebrating Christ After Dec. 25?

It shouldn't surprise us that the distracting trappings and customs of American Christmas last past Dec. 25. But here's an interesting post from Dr. Ben Witherington:

While Americans are busily treating Dec. 26th as ‘exchange day’ when they take unwanted Christmas presents back to the stores and exchange them for something they like better, the British, and other nations in the British Commonwealth (and other European nations) are busily celebrating Boxing Day. 

You can read the rest here.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Friday Fun: Hipster Santa

This was only a matter of time. Any "Hipster Santa" statements you want to add?

Hope you had a Mighty Christmas!

HT: Jon Acuff

Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas's Three "S" Taboos

This was posted last year, but it's a good reminder!
It’s difficult, if not impossible, to overstate the significance of the Incarnation.
Writers, philosophers, poets, and composers through the centuries have searched in vain for words that adequately capture the wonder, mystery, beauty, and power of Jesus as Emmanuel, God with us.
The miracle and meaning of the Incarnation can be so difficult to grasp that we can give up and start to view Christmas in ways that leave us impoverished and unimpressed with the real story. Even in the church our songs and reflections about about Christmas can fail to leave people gasping in amazement or humbled in awe that God would come to dwell among us.
You can read the rest here. HT: Bob Kauflin at Worship Matters

Friday, December 20, 2013

Friday Fun: Taylor University's Silent Night

This is the last year I'll be posting about this creative sports tradition that takes place in a small little Christian college in rural Indiana.

You can read about it here.

Enjoy the video!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Rethinking Nativity Scenes?

In case you haven't heard, nativity scenes aren't accurate. But at least I learned it incrementally. In my Christian grade school, I learned that the original Christmas didn't take place during the winter and that the wise men weren't there when Jesus was a newborn. The president of my undergrad believes Jesus's birth took place in a cave, and I recently was tipped to this article, which flies into the face of almost everything else about nativity scenes, some Christmas pageants and the lyrics of several Christmas carols.

So there were no wise men or stable, and the animals may have been only present intermittently. But I'm not going to keep my toddlers from playing with their newly-given (thanks, Memaw and Gipa!) nativity set from Fisher Price. Because there are some things that nativity sets get right:

Jesus was born in a humble place. A peasant home that included the stench of animals. He was laid in a container where animal food is delivered. You can keep the stable. The significance of Jesus's birth, despite its lowly setting, transcended culture, political status and income level. Keep the "three kings." Jesus's birth was overseen and celebrated by angels. Keep the singing angel above the non-existent stable.

An historically accurate nativity seen would look a bit different, much less an historically accurate Christmas pageant. Learning about the true story of Christmas as read in the Scriptures should challenge us time and time again to see how much tradition and otherwise has spilled into what we see as Truth.

At the same time, the secondary historical details aren't as important as the truthful symbolism of the transcendent gospel. Even if the typical nativity scene was historically accurate, should we recall or boycott the international nativity scenes that don't give nods to secondary details of historical accuracy yet fully convey the symbolism of the gospel?

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Jesus, Santa, District 11 and Race

Interesting thoughts.

My elder daughter loves the Santa Claus story (especially where Rudolph enters the scene), but she knows it only as a fictional tale. She’s told that the presents she receives on Christmas morning are from her family, not from a man who slides down the chimney our house doesn’t actually possess. For my girls, Santa takes his place in a milieu of imaginary characters along with Cinderella and Winnie the Pooh and the cast of Dinosaur Train.
Yet it is troubling to me how easily angered so many people are by the mere suggestion of a non-white Santa. It reminds me of the upset caused by Rue in The Hunger Games; though Collins describes the character’s “satiny brown skin,” some viewers of the film were astonished and outraged that the tributes from District 11 were portrayed by black actors. Both scenarios speak to racial privilege as powerful even within the imaginary realm—that even characters described by their creators as non-white can be assumed white. In both the discussion of Santa and Rue, there’s also the underlying belief that a white character is somehow universal while a person of color can only represent or speak to another person of color. It’s not just that Santa is most frequently depicted as white, it’s that so many people simultaneously insist on his whiteness as essential and obvious without recognizing what that says about how much race actually matters to us.
You can read the rest here. HT: Erin Wyble Newcomb

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Have a Mighty Christmas

One of my most creative and theologically-minded informed me about Ace Collins, an author whose books include historical background to popular Christmas carols. Below are excerpts from when we was interviewed regarding "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen."

"I wanted to find out what “rest” meant in the Old English language. It did not mean 'sleep.' It meant 'make' or 'keep'—'God Make You Merry, Gentlemen.' But there was something else I wanted to find out. I figure, 'If the word ‘rest’ meant something different, maybe, ‘merry’ meant something different. Maybe, it wasn’t Robin Hood and his ‘happy’ guys out in the forest. Sure enough, it wasn’t. 'Merry'—in the 1500’s and 1600’s, when this song was written—meant 'mighty'—'mighty' or 'great.' Think of the song this way: 'God make you mighty, gentlemen. Let nothing you dismay. Remember Christ your Savior was born on Christmas Day.' So, rather than saying: 'Happy Christmas,' or, 'Merry Christmas,' to each other this year, we need to be saying: 'Mighty Christmas,' 'Have a Mighty Christmas,'—'Have a powerful Christmas,'—'Have a great Christmas!' That’s what that song means. That song, which we kind of almost discredit in modern-day usage, has a very, very powerful meaning that we’ve lost."

You can read more about Ace Collins here

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Story of George Washington's Church

A true and moving story about an historic church in suburban D.C., illustrating how faithfulness to the Gospel can be costly, yet rewarding.

When I came on staff as a worship leader at my church in 2004, we had a beautiful campus with a modern sanctuary, a historic chapel (where George Washington had worshipped, really…), classroom and office space, and were located right in the middle of the incredibly wealthy city of Falls Church, Virginia. The city took its name several hundred years ago from our church’s name, and we had the historical markers and plaques to prove it.
We were very comfortable with ourselves.
That all changed when we decided as a congregation to leave the Episcopal Church. We felt that, in order to remain faithful to the Gospel, we couldn’t remain in a denomination that was denying it. We knew this might not be easy, but we knew what God was calling us to do.
You can read the rest here.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Friday Fun: Funny and Real Misunderstandings of Christmas Carols

True story. A boy once walked up to his mother at home and said, “Mommy, does God like peas?” Puzzled, the mother answered, “I imagine He does. Why?” The boy was referring to a song in church, the first verse of Michael Card’s “Barocha,” one of the many musical interpretations of Numbers 6:24-26. The boy, however, thought the lyrics were as follows:

“The Lord bless you and keep you
The Lord make His face shine upon you
And give you peas, and give you peas,
And give you peas forever.”

So, in that vein, I’m recalling a few of the misunderstandings of Christmas Carols I’ve had or heard.

It Came Upon the Midnight Clear - I couldn’t help but worry about proper musical posture when the angels “bent” near the earth to play their harps.

Hark! the Herald Angels Sing - For a long time, I thought “Herald” was the name of an angel, not a role of an angel.

What Child is This? - Why are the shepherds guarding while the angels sing? As a child, I was worried that Herod could send a trained army to the stable, and its only defense would be the shepherds.

O Little Town of Bethlehem - “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight.” No pressure.

Away in a Manger - Did the baby Jesus truly ever cry? Did the author intend that sentence as a present indicative? People get into tongue-in-cheek theological debates about this almost annually, but I think we can all agree that Jesus never figuratively cried, as in He never fully resigned himself, emotionally, to any situation. That’s why I feel fine singing this song.

We Three Kings - When I was a kid, I didn’t know about all the historical assumptions of this song, but I thought they were from a place called “Orientar.”  

Can you think of any other examples?

Thursday, December 12, 2013

9 Things to Know About "The Hobbit"

Tomorrow, the second part of the epic films series based on The Hobbit will be released in theaters. Here are nine things you should know about the original book and its author, J.R.R. Tolkien.

HT: Joe Carter

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Pope Francis is Time's Person of the Year

In an era where there are many merited complaints about how journalism just doesn't "get religion," and to show favor or compliment to a particular absolutist religion would cause controversy and threaten profit, it's a bit curious and refreshing to see the humility, grace, doctrinal firmness and virtual non-denominationalism of Pope Francis portrayed by Time Magazine, who has made him their Person of the Year. I'm not Catholic, but there are a few things we can learn about ministry and culture from the works and words of Pope Francis.

And so Francis signals great change while giving the same answers to the uncomfortable questions. On the question of female priests: “We need to work harder to develop a profound theology of the woman.” Which means: no. No to abortion, because an individual life begins at conception. No to gay marriage, because the male-female bond is established by God. “The teaching of the church … is clear,” he has said, “and I am a son of the church, but”—and here he adds his prayer for himself—“it is not necessary to talk about those issues all the time.”
If that prayer should be answered, if somehow by his own vivid example Francis could bring the church into a new relationship with its critics and dissidents—agreeing to disagree about issues that divide them while cooperating in the urgent mission of spreading mercy—he might unleash untold good. “Argue less, accomplish more” could be a healing motto for our times. We have a glut of problems to tackle.
Read the whole article here.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Happy Birthday Roast for My Little Brother

My brother turned 22 yesterday, but he’ll have to wait until I see him for Christmas before he gets his gift. I like to save on postage.

Twenty-two years ago, his birthday was also on a Sunday, and it was fun. My parents had me stay over at a nearby friend’s house who had a ton of video games, including Super Mario Bros. 3. I was elated. I was a singing angel in my church’s Christmas pageant that morning, and after my dad picked me up from video game heaven to see my newborn brother at the hospital, we stopped at McDonald’s on the way home (every 8-year-old boy’s dream), and I finally got the Happy Meal toy “Wonder Pig,” to complete my collection of Looney Tunes superheroes (along with SuperBugs, BatDuck and The Tasmanian Flash).

Yeah, my brother’s birth was awesome. My dad had to remind me that announcing his birth was a higher priority at grade school the next morning than announcing I had gotten “Wonder Pig.”

He was fun to babysit. We watched a lot of fun movies and ate popcorn together. But as my brother grew older, he got more annoying. I started my struggle with weight, and he fell in love with fruits and vegetables. I had my array of soccer “participation” pins, and he entered the era of “participation” trophies. Then he started using his scooter to run over the Brio tracks I’d made him. He just couldn’t stand that I would want to watch Bob Saget’s America’s Funniest Home Videos without him, and he was starting to beat me as Fox McCloud in Super Smash Bros. and with his warthog double-barreled pistol in our Nerf battles. He also preemptively adopted (more like kidnapped) all my stuffed animals and renamed them. That hurt.

Thankfully, as my little brother grew older, he began to know his place as I was still (I thought) smarter than him and could at least wrestle him into submission. He was a frantic and creative comic, like the squirrel in Ice Age. He was a good jester for our family.

Now he’s probably smarter and stronger than me. He’s about to graduate from college and have a job in another part of the country. I’m proud of him, and now he’ll be even better (which I didn’t think was possible) at leaving me alone. Despite eight years of age and other types of relational distance we’ve experienced, he gave me the complete “little brother” experience, both the positive and negative parts. And I will always make time, for the rest of my life, to annoy him. As payback.

So, happy birthday to my little brother. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

'Twere the Days Before Christmas

(This is best read in a narratorial tone with a mild British accent).

‘Twere the days before Christmas, when all ’round David’s town
Not an Israelite was smiling, but more likely to frown.
Zechariah laid the incense by the altar with care,
Frightened to see the angel Gabriel there.

For God made a promise to the elderly gent 
A Spirit-filled baby will lead many to repent.
He will shout from the wilderness, ‘Prepare ye the way.
‘Be righteous and charitable as we wait for the day.’

He’d be dressed in camel hair, from his head to his foot,
Eating locusts, wild honey and never staying put.
Zechariah’s son’s message would cause the rich strife,
And immerse the lowly and unholy in new life. 

For Zechariah’s son, John would be his name, 
Would bring God’s righteousness and saving plan to fame.
John’s birth would be one of many miracles to come,
But because Zechariah doubted, he then became mum.

But though Zechariah could not speak of his glee,
his wife Elizabeth praised God for pregnancy.
Though the land was morose under Caesar’s quick sword,
There was then a sense of hope in the Lord.

Then, in Nazareth where hearts are gloom laden
The same angel appeared to a humble young maiden
Her name was Mary; she was celibate and lowly
But she would give birth to One Most Holy.

His name would be Jesus, meaning ‘one who saves’
He would rescue many bound for a perennial grave
For His kingdom’s rule would never be undone      
And He would be called God’s very own Son

Mary was frightened and joyful at once
But submitted herself to God at this bunce
With haste, she trekked miles, perhaps more than a dozen
To see Elizabeth, who was also her cousin

When Mary saw Elizabeth, John jumped in her womb
For joy was tangible in that little room
Then Mary composed a psalm of great praise
For His humble servants the Lord would raise

Later John was born, but his name still debated
And the mute Zechariah became quite frustrated
He wrote ‘John’ on a tablet, giving the final word
And his voice then came back, everyone shockingly heard

Zechariah then went from priest to prophet
And spoke of his newborn’s God-given docket
Along with the salvation that God would afford
And everyone in Judea had fear of the Lord

Then back in Nazareth, Mary’s betrothed then heard
From Caesar, that another census was spurred.
So Joseph and Mary, in her maternity gown,
Would trek to Bethlehem, Joseph’s hometown.

The carpenter and his gravid fiancee packed all day,
 and hopped on a donkey for a small place to stay.
Their loved ones watched until they trekked out of sight,
Shrugging, “Safe travels and have a good night!”

Though it seemed to many that God’s world had crumbled
He was, in fact, blessing families faithful but humble
Through a miraculous conception and an incarnate birth
This is how God would come save the earth