Monday, December 29, 2008

Call and Response

So to make things clear after the last post, I'm not trying to be a complete Scrooge.

Mark Alexander, editor of the really cool and ever insightful Patriot Post, had this to say about Christmas:

For my family, Christmas is much more than a day, a season or a collection of memories and rituals. Christmas is a lens through which we endeavor to view all things -- the universe of our Creator and His purpose for us -- every day.
(emphasis mine)

It's not about the day or the season. It's about the Truth that was revealed - Incarnated - and how this demands a response. It impacts everything I do, everything I am. It shapes my worldview. I must celebrate it. Now, the celebration may not look traditional, but there has to be a response to the Truth. God's Gift cannot be ignored.

Alexander continues:

"However, it can be difficult at times to comprehend God's plan for us -- after all, how are we to discern our minuscule role in the enormity of His creation? In fact, in our home, we can become so distracted by the daily challenges, demands and routines that we sometimes neglect to seek His purpose for us."

I'm guilty, on both accounts. But its not the first as much as the latter that condemns me. God doesn't expect us to comprehend the plan He has not yet fully revealed, but He does require that we seek Him. It's not that complicated really, but I make it so...impossible. But truly, one thing and one thing only will keep me straight: seeking the face of God.

Alexander relates a conversation he had with his son, who was feeling confused and disconnected from God.

"God is always there, even if temporarily obscured from our vision.

We talked about explorers who crossed vast oceans in tiny vessels, setting their course by the North Star for places yet to be revealed.

When we make God our North Star, we are guided precisely along the path He has prepared for us, even though we do not know where it leads. However, as was the case with those early mariners, when we lose sight of our North Star, we must hold steady our direction until we find His guiding light again, correct our course and carry on.

Light overtakes darkness, but only if we open our eyes."
(emphasis mine)

Os Guiness has a similar thought in his book The Call:

"First and foremost we are called to Someone, not to something or to somewhere."

The where? and what? and when? and why? and how? don't really need to be asked if I truly understand Who I am following.

I'm not trying to be overly simplistic, because that doesn't help anything. And its not to say that I won't be asking these same questions tomorrow.

It comes down to a question of how much I trust Him.

May I have eyes to see and ears to hear, that I would stop kicking against the goads.

Alexander, Mark. "Christ's Mass 2008: Our Guiding Light." Patriot Post Vol. 08 No. 52. 22 December 2008.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas: Fighting Death and All His Friends

I'm struggling with Christmas this year, for various reasons.

I've always hated commercialism. Sentimentality is bothersome too, perhaps this year more than before. But most of all, I'm sick of the sugar-coating that goes on inside the church. 

We're leaving out the power of the Gospel for a happy, warm-fuzzy feeling that makes a good singing and drama program. 

Let us not forget that His birth was promised with the arrival of sin - that with the promise of hope, came the promise of battle and pain. 

And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will crush your head, and you will strike His heel. Genesis 3:15

The Christmas story is not a story of happy, carefree people and cute soft fluffy sheep. Jesus was born in a stable - a place slimed with dirt and sweat and blood and tears and manure. The Nativity is a story of fear and hope, betrayal and love, enmity and adoration, terror and peace, death and life. 

It is a story of war. 

The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child the moment it was born. ...And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. ...Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to make war against the rest of her offspring—those who obey God's commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus. Revelation 12: 4, 7, 17

We get these happy sentimental ideas about Christmas, but Scripture has no such ambiguity. 

The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil's work. I John 3:8

Or, as my Bible teacher Jeremy Gregory equated, "to destroy 'death and all his friends,'" - disease, famine, abuse, slavery, neglect, injustice. The wrong created by the Fall is ours to redeem through the victory that Jesus has won.

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. I Corinthians 15:56-58

And what last words does Paul impart to the church at Rome?

The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you. Romans 16: 20

So maybe Christmas can leave us feeling empty and unfulfilled because we don't understand the role we're called to play in the story. We're called to fight death and all his friends, because that is why Christ appeared. That is why He became God-in-flesh. As God has redeemed us, we are called to redeem - not that we have any power in of ourselves, but that we know Christ. It is Christ whose heel was stricken by the serpent, and it is Christ who was to crush his head. Yet we have the victory of Christ when we are in Him. 

But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba, Father." So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir. Galatians 4:4-7

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Reflections on Brit Lit (and other things)

(Posts will be coming rapidly in the next few days/weeks. I'm waiting to post thoughts on Twilight til after I see the movie, and other thoughts on books will be coming soon. Finishing/procrastinating on my Brit Lit final spurred these thoughts.)

So I'm taking a sophomore Brit Lit class. It's definitely a survey – one day on her, a week on him, one passage from this major work, read three poems out of his hundreds, a dozen sonnets in total. I'm grateful for what I am learning, and I guess the point is to serve as an introduction. But really, its leaving me feeling all the more deprived. 

Most of my middle and high school English courses were pretty random – no unified approach to sytematically reading and studying the classics. A high turnover rate in teachers during those years mean that each teacher taught what they willed, and we never really got a thorough study of the classics in school. And because I wasn't really introduced to them or the value of reading old texts, I didn't pursue or read them on my own when I had the time to read. (Almost all my extracurricular reading was historical fiction, or modern Christian fiction. It truly has given me a better understanding and love for history than my peers have, but it's hurt my literary understanding.)

So now that I'm reading the greats, the literary foundation of the English language, I'm beginning to see how much I've missed. (Going even deeper is the context and foundation upon which they wrote – the foundation of Western civilization stemming from Greek and Roman tradition.) Exhibit A: John Donne. I've read maybe eight of his poems/sonnets (some outside of assigned reading) and just in those I've recognized three phrases that later writers have borrow and utilized for their own work (“for whom the bell tolls” and “the world's last night”) or have become common sayings (“No man is an island”). Exhibit B: reading just a few pages from Milton's Paradise Lost, Dante's Inferno, and Marlowe's Faustus. So much of culture's understanding of eternity and the spiritual realm comes from the interpretations/imaginations of these men. 

CS Lewis once described those who don't read the classics and old texts as guys who come in at dinner time and start arguing in a conservation that has been going on since early that morning. The newcomers are presumptuous, often confused, and sometimes just flat out wrong because they do not have the context needed to ably participate. 

It's kind of like those Christians who scream that they're under grace, not law, and therefore have no need of the Old Testament. But without the context of the old covenants, the new covenant much less significance in of itself. Without knowing the context of the Old Testament, the passion of the prophets, the lineage from Adam to David and beyond, the exile and return, the promise of coming redemption, the Law itself, the New Testament doesn't make much sense. And just as the foundation of Brit Lit is based on the foundation of Greek and Roman civilization and literature, so the power of the Old Testament is not in just knowing the law, but understanding it as the Hebrews did, knowing the significance of events and language as God revealed it in the context of Jewish language and culture and history. 

Context is everything.