Sunday, December 25, 2005

Christmas Lived

My sermon this noon was probably not terribly coherent, as I hadn't had much sleep since Midnight Mass the morning before. Yet, I am always intrigued this time of year by Lancelot Andrewes' Christmas sermons and his emphasis on Christ made manifest to us through bread and wine in the Eucharist, just as He was made manifest to the shepherds and eventually to the wise men while He was in Bethlehem.

My text was out of Matthew, chapter two, and I was caught by the simple plan of the wise men and the simple action of the wise men when they arrived. They told Herod that they wanted to find the King of the Jews and worship him. Indeed, when they arrived, that's exactly what they did, falling to the ground and eventually giving an oblation--gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

There have been more than a few Christmases, when I've been under the weather, tired and worn out, lazy--sipping my hot chocolate in my sister's comfortable couch, family all around--when I didn't really feel like getting down to the Church and celebrating the Eucharist. Yet, each time, I hauled myself up and out and down to the Church--and each time, I recognized that I was exactly where God wanted me. I was doing exactly what the wise men did on that first Christmas, and I could hardly find a better example than the first Gentiles to meet Jesus.

So, I reflect again on the basic and simple nature of God's calling to His children:

Come and worship, come and worship, worship Christ, the new born King.

It's that simple. That's the foundation of our lives. As we pass this glorious Christmastide in revelry and feasting, as we ought, we should also remember that the foundation of that revelry and feasting is the worship of our King. That's Christmas lived.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Christmas Joy

Please take a moment to read this article from Touchstone Magazine on the subject of Christmas and joy--especially if you need to smile!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

If no one but the minister is it still Church?

Many of you have heard the NPR report on Mega Churches closing their doors on Christmas Sunday this year. Perhaps you have read the AP article I did (I don't know how long the url will be good, as the link I first read it off of, Yahoo, has expired).

I had actually been predicting such a move by the "Mega Church" movement--although, I have to admit, I didn't really think it would happen; I was just extending the presuppositions that the mega church movement rests upon to their logical conclusions.

You see, I always get asked, each year by someone, why in the world we are holding worship services on Christmas day. I usually remark that we call it "Christ's Mass" for a reason. It is one of the high holy days of the Christian year--it is the celebration of the incarnation of the second person of the Trinity, after all--a not too unimportant event in the history of salvation. The Church has always worshipped God for the incarnation of the Son. Why would we not do so on the day that we celebrate that incarnation?

Of course, I hear a reply about family and friends and worshipping with the family and opening presents and not enough time in a day, etc.

So, considering that so many of my evangelical friends do not worship on Christmas day, I concluded that many of the same pragmatic reasons would be brought to bear this year, when Christmas falls on a Sunday. Of course, I was still surprised when I read the article and heard the NPR report.

Of course, the amazing thing is the clarity of the presuppositions. There is no doubt that pragmatism, or utilitarianism is at the bottom of it. “Whatever works” is the motto of the day.

“The last time Christmas fell on a Sunday was 1994, and only a small number of people showed up to pray…” (AP article). Well, if only a small number come to Church, we ought to cancel it, after all, it wouldn’t look good for the Church to be empty. Rather tell the world we don’t think worshipping God is important than admit that a few do.

"If our target and our mission is to reach the unchurched, basically the people who don't go to church, how likely is it that they'll be going to church on Christmas morning?" (ibid.).

"If we weren't having services at all, I would probably tend to feel that we were too accommodating to the secular viewpoint, but we're having multiple services on Saturday and an additional service Friday night…. We believe that you worship every day of the week, not just on a weekend, and you don't have to be in a church building to worship” (ibid.).

Well, the Church of all ages would agree that one should worship every day of the week. That has always meant, however, getting on one’s knees and actually praying! And no, one doesn't have to be in a church building--but if such a building is available, why wouldn't it be used?

Whatever works is the key to the equation for much of this reasoning. We have less people on a Sunday that is also Christmas and the name of the game is numbers, so we’d better just call it off, because there is nothing more to be aimed at, apparently.

Some of the quotes from the NPR piece bring out more of the problem. From Willow Creek Community Church we understand that "Officials are handing out a DVD for families to watch together."

DVD’s may be nice (or not, but that’s another topic), but what does that have to do with worshipping God in His Church? Yes, yes, I know, the Church is not the building. But neither is it the family all gathered around the vidiot box. The worship of the Church is the assembly of the saints for the purpose of adoration, praise, thanksgiving, oblation and communion with our God. You don’t do that by yourself, generally (unless you're the only one who showed up to worship), or with your family in front of the TV sipping on a hot cocoa.

Steve Williams, a volunteer at Northpoint Community Church in Atlanta says that closing the Church will not take anything away from Christmas "for us because we will celebrate his birth...whether we're at home, or at another Church...or with family or whatever, we will celebrate Christ's birth” (NPR).

I think the key word here is “whatever.” That seems to be functional word for the Mega Church movement. Whatever works. Whatever gets people into the pews (or stadium seating, or “whatever”). Whatever gets people to be emotionally connected. Whatever gets them to love Jesus. The list could go on of course.

Somehow, the “whatever” mentality doesn’t seem to jive with the Words of Jesus, who doesn’t say whatever works, but pick up your cross and follow me. Christ was not a pragmatic kind of guy; rather, He was speaking of incredible visions for His people, of justice and love and mercy and doing the impossible--literally, like rising from the dead.

Jesus calls us to himself. He calls us to himself in worship, where we commune with Him at His table. It doesn’t matter if there are two people or two thousand people. The call is the same and our response is to be the same.

If that is indeed our calling, then we can never shut the doors of the Church on a Sunday, the ancient and Biblical day of worship for the Church. Nor should we allow utilitarian thinking to keep us away from worshipping our Triune God on a high holy day like Christmas, even if it is not on a Sunday.

And from the quotables section from World Magazine, December 17th issue:

"This speaks to the dilapidated state of evangelical faith today."

David Wells, professor of theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Boston, on many large evangelical churches canceling worship services on Dec. 25, a Sunday this year, so that people will spend more time with their families on Christmas.

Friday, December 16, 2005

'tis the Season

It is the Season of Christmas, most of our world would say. Why, you ask, would they say that? Well, of course, because our society is conditioned to say that. And it is conditioned, interestingly enough, by the marketing of everything. In other words, our entire culture seems to be led by the world of marketing and consumerism. We know that it is the Christmas season precisely because the stores have their Christmas stuff up (after all, Thanksgiving was weeks ago), and the lights are up on every neighbor's house.

Now, I'm not a "bah, humbug" type of person in general, but in my meager attempt to keep Christmas confined to the proper season and not to lose Advent, I do not go in for this Christmas hype. There are no Christmas carols playing on the stereo at my house. There is no Christmas tree standing in my living room. There are no Christmas parties happening at my place this next week.

Now, you think, that sure sounds like he's a grinch. What about his poor children, his poor wife? In reality, I'm just waiting to celebrate Christmas when it is time. Our tree doesn't usually go up actually on Christmas Eve’, but mostly that's just pragmatic. So much is going on Christmas Eve' that we would never get it up--so it goes up either during that day, or perhaps a day before or so. Perfect world, though?? Christmas Eve.

Also on Christmas Eve': Out come the Christmas CD's, the decorations, the crèche, etc. Why? Because I'm tired of having my religious traditions defined for me by Wal-Mart and Target. Christmastide is the twelve days of Christmas--beginning on Christmas, not on Thanksgiving!

I suppose the song, "The Twelve Days of Christmas" doesn't get sung anymore, but surely kids these days who do hear it are asking: "Twelve days of Christmas?? What's that?" Or perhaps it's "Oh, that must be the 12 days of after Christmas Sales that go on."

Oh, and let's not forget that after Christmastide (during which all manner of Christmas parties should be hosted and attended and carols sung and listened to) comes Epiphany--the Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles. Of course, our modern culture has co-opted that holy day too. "We Three Kings of Orient Are" is sung on Christmas Eve' when everyone knows that the wise men came later. January sixth is the celebration of the wise men's visit to the Christ Child--Christ being made manifest to the Gentiles, whom are represented by the wise men. This is the event from which we get the tradition of gift-giving--but of course, we have to shove everything into one crazy day.

The Christmas tree comes down on Epiphany, but usually, in our culture, it's been down for a week before that and Christmas is forgotten in the rush to celebrate New Year's--which, by the way, is the Holy Day known as The Circumcision of Christ.

So, I suppose that I'm one of the very few who will continue to try to hold out against the forces of Marketing and Advertising and celebrate the Church seasons the way the Church set them up and not corporate America. I'll continue to get strange looks and have to explain a lot to my children. But, one never knows...perhaps my children will understand that Santa Claus was a great bishop of Christ's Church who cared more for others than he did for himself and was known for continuous and selfless giving to the poor as well as strong doctrinal integrity. That's better--any day of the week--than Santa as the great cosmic wish giver from the North Pole who graces every department store and every shop window in the nation as we celebrate the incarnation of the God/Man who came that He might die.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Narnia thoughts

Check here for a short review (really, just some thoughts) of the new Narnia film that I posted earlier tonight on The Muses site.

Other posts from that site (same topic, same night) are below:

How do we understand the allegorical elements in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe?

A quote from Colin Duriez’ book Tolkien and C. S. Lewis: The Gift of Friendship to start this discussion off:
“One of Tolkien’s central criticisms of Lewis’s Narnian stories was that they were too allegorical, too literally representative of Christian doctrine. Though Lewis did insert many pointers to what he calls ‘secondary meanings’ in Narnia, his intention was not to write allegory. He saw the Narnian stories as arising out of what he called a ‘supposal’—his ‘supposal’ was a world of talking animals—that set the frame of the stories. He explained this in a letter shortly before he died: ‘The Narnian series is not exactly allegory. I’m not saying “let us represent in terms of Mächen [fairy tale] the actual story of this world.” Rather “supposing the Narnian world, let us guess what form the activities in the [scheme of things] a Creator, Redeemer or Judge might take there.” This, you see, overlaps with allegory but is not quite the same.’”

2nd Post on Narnia
So, another post regarding the Narnia film--and a question: in reading around the web about the film and the responses to it, I've noted that quite a few Christians are handing out tracts before and after the film showings. Doesn't this defeat the whole concept? Didn't Lewis write story because it communicates in a way that a tract cannot? After all, Lewis was quite capable of writing an essay--and good ones too. Yet, he thought the imagination fertile ground for deep thinking (magic?).

How badly do we miss the point of Lewis' work while we are in the midst of a Lewis revival?