Saturday, December 23, 2006


FULL OF OURSELVES. We twenty-first centuryers are quite full of ourselves at Christmas, aren’t we? Full. Almost everybody I encounter seems full…well fed, overfed, in fact. And happy. We wish each other ‘merry Christmas’ and gleefully convey that ‘Jesus is the reason for the season’ and other greeting card clichés. Ho, ho, ho. And to all a good night.

WE WANT THIS GUY? Ho, ho, hold it. How happy are we that God has become incarnate? Are we really ready to say, I’m glad Messiah has come? On what assumption are we singing “Joy to the World?” He of whom Mary sang, “he has lifted up the poor and sent the rich away empty,” and “has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts,” this is the One we welcome? This guy will unsettle and stir up everything. Get ready to be confronted, challenged, uncovered, exposed, undone…so that you may be set right.

NOT RIGHT. He was sent because we are not right--not right in and with ourselves, not right with one another, not right in our community-wide and corporate arrangements, not right, frankly, with God. And we have not been able to right ourselves, our interpersonal relationships, and our corporate and community structures and institutions. We've evidenced over and over our consummate ability to distort and subvert what God created and intended for good.

BARNACLED. Over the centuries, yea these millennia, we haven't been able to stop ourselves from doing what we ought not to do, nor challenged others from doing what they ought not to be doing. We haven’t been vigilant and joyful about doing the things we know we should do. Prejudices, pride, exclusivisms, self-serving preoccupations, social nearsightedness, and a thousand and one excuses cleave to us like heavy barnacles. Our mantra is human progress, enlightenment, and the glory of inquiry. Our reality is sin.

VERY FAR GONE. Created in the image of God, we are very far gone from that image. Deprived of divine relationship by our separating sin, we have become depraved. Whatever goodness we bear is residual and grace-assisted (in spite of us). Humanity in general and you and me in particular are, in a word, sinful. We are helpless to change or improve our condition on our own or by cloaking ourselves in fine accoutrements, symbols, materials, money, class camaraderie, homogeneous groupings, do-good associations, refining education, stock portfolios, titles, etc. All this the Bible makes clear as a bell.

GAUCHE GREETING? Get the picture? The Christmas story begins right here. Sin. Is this the gauche Christmas greeting of the year? It is either what we bypass on our way to the next gift exchange or bury under layers of holiday festivities. Sure, leave it to some disenfranchised holiness preacher to blow the whistle and rain on the Christmas parade. On the eve of singing “O Holy Night,” we hear the whistle blow and a lifeguard yell, “okay, everybody out of the pool!”

WHERE HOPE BEGINS. But isn’t this where genuine hope begins? This is where we begin to grasp the meaning of love incarnate. It is not to make us better people that Jesus came. It was to reveal love that reaches us in our sin, our brokenness, our despair, our vanity, our meaninglessness, our pride and pretense. It is to restore in us the image of God, an image that begins and ends in love. Christianity believes the story of this necessary saving act begins at Christmas. This is also what the Bible says. So we celebrate the beginning of the end of sin in the advent of love incarnate—love made flesh in Jesus Christ.

THE SOUL FELT ITS WORTH. Few carols and songs of the season make any reference to the “why” of Christmas, to the necessity of the need of a savior, of a radical intervention, of a divine invasion. Can you think of ones that sing of our wrong-headedness and broken-heartedness? The most poignant words of a popular Christmas song, from “O Holy Night”, are…
“Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till he appeared and the soul felt its worth.

“Chains shall he break for the slave is our brother
And in his name all oppression shall cease. ”

May your soul feel its worth because of Christmas.

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