Friday, December 26, 2008

...Because of what you are not

A Man may be of value to another man, not because he wishes to be important, not because he possesses some inner wealth of soul, not because of something he is, but because of what he is – not. His importance consists in his poverty, in his hopes and fears, in his waiting and hurrying, in the direction of his whole being towards what lies beyond his power. The importance of (a Christian) is negative rather than positive. In him a void becomes visible. And for this reason he is something to others: he is able to share grace with them, to focus their attention, and to establish them in waiting and in adoration.

- Karl Barth

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Birth of God

I suspect the very words the birth of God are offensive to some. Isn't God self-existent, and therefore not subject to a beginning?

Perhaps this connundrum is part of the weight of the Gospel. God dared enter time by actually being born in the flesh, putting on our nature so to save us. (Philippians 2:5-11)

I rambled in my journal last year about the concept. This year, I was privileged to hear friend Tricia Walker sing an Andrew Peterson song on the birth of God at Daystar's Evening in December. The hearing of it startled me. I thought to my self-absorbed self: I wrote that song, that's mine. Quickened, I winced. Only one of countless examples of my dire need. Yes, God really did come in the flesh, to save me (and you). Here's what I what believed Andrew Peterson stole from me:

Birth of God

I’m wondering several things: if the birth of Jesus was on a damp Bethlehem night, as this one is here, in the Cumberland Basin of Tennessee. Did the rain fall cold? Were the gathered creatures in the stable disarmed by the intrusion of the lonely travelers?
The mother was a child herself; perhaps her labor prompted cries of such volume the sheep grew tired of their antiphonal wailing; maybe they stood by in silent contentment to watch what, for their kind, was not uncommon. Maybe other animals were not so quiet. Mournful cattle bellowed and doves perched atop the stable cooed as darkness enveloped them all.
Joseph gathered his tunic at his waist, knelt in the straw and fastened a calloused hand on the knee of the girl, now in full labor. Expectant, and alive, this earthly father must have been astonished at what was taking place, recalling what the Angel of the Lord said. (Matthew 1:19-25)
Mary gave one last cry of agonizing hope as Eternity thrust himself into time. Tears spilled from the girl as her opening stretched to accommodate the boisterous newborn; no pain had been as sharp, no pain would be until that Friday.
Exhausted, and exuberant, Mary received her son, as Joseph‘s bloody hands passed the tiny screaming lad to her. Was it coincidence the birth of God to have been awash in blood? Though they had been told, could they have apprehended that God himself was with them? (Matthew 1:23, Luke 1:26-33)

When God appoints the time, the time has come, and so it was, the ugly, glorious, birth of God.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

"Lo How a Rose E'er Blooming"

1 Lo, how a Rose e'er blooming from tender stem hath sprung! Of Jesse's lineage coming, as those of old have sung. It came, a floweret bright, amid the cold of winter, when half spent was the night.

2 Isaiah 'twas foretold it, the Rose I have in mind; with Mary we behold it, the Virgin Mother kind. To show God's love aright, she bore to men a Savior, when half spent was the night.

3 The shepherds heard the story, proclaimed by angels bright, how Christ,the Lord of glory, was born on earth this night. To Bethlehem they sped and in the manger found him, as angel heralds said.

4 This flow'r, whose fragrance tender with sweetness fills the air, dispels with glorious splendor the darkness ev'rywhere. True man yet very God, from sin and death he saves us, and lightens ev'ry load.

5 O Savior, child of Mary, who felt our human woe; O Savior, King of glory, who dost our weakness know, bring us at length, we pray, to the bright courst of heaven and to the endless day.

German, 15th c.
translated by Theodore Baker

Monday, December 15, 2008


A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes ... and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside, is not a bad picture of Advent.

- Dietrich Bonhoeffer,German pastor and philosopher (1906-1945)

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Promise

It was almost twenty years ago in in Mentone, Alabama where I learned, for the second time, how to tie my shoes. You know when the first way seems right to you, of course, until you learn a more efficient way? This is that story, and then some.

I had these god-awful cheap hiking boots of brown and green suede with gortex. The laces were nylon, and any friction they endured in the wearing process caused them to come untied quickly. There was no point in my asserting any level of stylishness on hikes, or to win over my companions, when I had to stop and re-tie my laces every fifty yards or so. I was non-plussed and feeling self conscious (though I did not know the extent to which at the time).
In my hour of dire need, John Walter Green came to my rescue. I sat fiddling with the good-for-nothing laces, cursing them when he walked across the cabin floor and asked if I’d like some help. He crouched in front of me to a chair and patted his knee-"put your foot here" he said.
He assessed the way I had tied them and said "that’s what I thought..." I interrupted- "I need a double knot, don’t I?"
"Nope" he said, "you need a simple knot that will not give way".
"Here, let me show you" he began as he untied his own giant shoe.
"You take the laces and wrap them like so, one over the other, to secure them. Ok, now, tie the knot like you learned in kindergarten; pull one side out, as if to untie it, loop it over and tie it again"-

"There," he said, satisfied.

He then looked me square in the eye. "I promise you, it will not budge."

Folks, I only have a couple pair of shoes that require lacing up; every time I gather the nylon or cloth laces, I can hear John’s confident guarantee; what joy it gives me to say it is to this very hour, a promise kept.

Truth is Truth

I found this sign the other night in Madison Tennessee on the way to a "holiday" party. The words on it put the truth in perspective for me. I need a saviour all the time. Glory be to God he saw fit to come to earth as man to save his people from their sins.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

December 7, 1941

Sixty seven years ago today the world reeled after Japanese planes bombed Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, killing, maiming and terrorizing the U.S. military and civilians. Surviving soldiers and citizens alike were, for a time, traumatized-struck dumb and powerless. History books and teachers dramatized it and told the American story of how we gathered courage and fought the good fight. I do not dispute that conquering the Japanese and other Axis forces was a work of ultimate good, but I also submit that war is as close to hell as we can come on earth. It is a complicit pact made with evil to assert what man was not meant to accomplish. I give thanks to God in Christ this day for the supremacy of Christ over all things:

over sin, death, war, pestilence, famine, poverty, abuse, harm, brokenness, mediocrity, complacency, dispute, hatred, envy, strife, jealousy, molestation, violence, deceit, cynicism, and all other manner of shortcomings and abject evil. Indeed Christ is supreme over good, temporal beauty, over poetry, over the logic of thought, over the pursuit of freedom, over the determinism of capitalism, over every ideology. To Jesus I bow. Let me recall that vow as I submit my will daily, hourly and moment by moment to the sovereignty of God, even in the face of secular dissent.