Terror, Rage, Hope & Christmas Lights


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This Advent, we’re meditating on the idea of Hope by looking at quotes from Christians and talking about what they might say about our Advent Hope.

“It is precisely because the Christian hopes for the ultimate and definitive, that she also hopes for the temporal and provisional. Precisely because she hopes with joy for the dawn of the great light, that she hopes with provisional joy for the little lights, which may come and go, but which will not come and go in vain.

These little lights act as temporary illuminations that can help the Christian to look and move more properly towards that which they can only point to, but which in their proper time and place can in fact actually represent to us!

Because the Christian hopes for the Last Day, for the eternal year, he hopes for the next day and the new year, from which, whatever they may bring, he can always expect at least new indications of the coming of Jesus Christ.”

–Karl Barth, Church DogmaticsIV.3.2, p.938 (edited for clarity)

Read those words again. Slowly. We need these words, especially this year. As predators of consumerism, terrorism, pseudo-fascism, jingoism, escapism, and liberal idealism lie in wait to consume our souls, we need a light in the darkness. We need something to hold on to.

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Hope in Advent’s Darkness


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This Advent, we’ll be meditating on the idea of Hope. It’s a trite word we throw around casually and misunderstand (and underestimate) profoundly. Today’s post is a meditation on Hope I wrote for the Advent Prayerbook my church put together. Get your own copy and engage all the more deeply in this season. 

“Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen?”
–The Apostle Paul (Romans 8.24)

Jesus was likely born in Spring, not Winter. And yet, there seems to be such a wisdom and appropriateness to situating this Advent time of year during these Solstice days, when darkness envelopes all and the very air we breathe bites us back. Here, beauty is not seen in life, colors, and light; but in death, darkness, and night. Continue reading

Advent and… (the series)


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This is the dedicated post page for the Advent series “Advent and…”. In it, we looked at the various ways Advent connects to seemingly unrelated parts of our life and existence.

Welcome to Advent, 2012.
This was the series introduction. I looked at how Advent speaks to our whole selves, including a whole host of “un-Christmas-y” kinds of things.

Advent & Sex: we are holy ground
When you think of Christmas time, you don’t often think about sex. This post talks about the implication of Christ’s arrival for our sex lives.

Advent & Sex-lessness: here’s to singleness & celibacy!
The Advent story is a notably sex-less affair. What this means for us is huge. This was by far the most widely read post of this series, and in the top five most widely read posts in this blog’s history.  Continue reading

My church let me preach another sermon. Here it is.


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Believe it or not, even after preaching my first real sermon ever, my church let me preach again. All jokes aside, I had the honor of preaching this past Sunday as part of our Advent series.

The text is Luke 1:26-38, the moment in the life of Jesus known as The Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel tells Mary that she will give birth to Jesus. Cameos in the sermon include Mary, Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Barth, the podcast Serial, racism, white privilege, and the story of everything. Here’s the audio:

You can also download it here, or subscribe to our podcast here.
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Advent, Angst, & Ferguson


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When my phone started blowing up with notifications about the Ferguson grand jury decision, I was in a daze. I grabbed my pipe, poured the biggest single glass of whiskey I’ve ever had, and sat in my backyard in tears, alternating between retweeting others’ comments on the case and just staring at the sky. I watched and heard the helicopters above as they watched the Philadelphia protests below, mere blocks from my house.

I think part of my response was because of where my mind had been in the days leading up to the decision.

I recently pored over Cornel West’s biography and watched 12 Years a Slave. As the weather has gotten colder, the city’s marginalized and homeless have become more noticeable. An organization whose heart is in the right place, and who I otherwise love, put out some promotional materials that unintentionally showcased the degree to which racism and power structures are so ingrained and so unconscious. Last Sunday, I watched as Rudy Giuliani went shockingly racist on Meet The Press (what he said is wrong, by the way). For school, I watched a presentation on the Civil Right’s movement, and also read King’s Letter From a Birmingham Jail. 

And then the grand jury came back. No indictment.
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#Marginalia Weekly Round-Up #6 [Catch-Up]


After a long break, we’re back with this part of the site. Here’s a little catch up list of where we’ve been since we last posted about this.

Marginalia is a section of this blog dedicated to (mostly) short reflections, meditations, questions, and difficulties I have while going through my Bible reading plan. I’m still trying to figure out the best pace at which to post these, so be patient with me. To aid in helping people engage with these posts, every weekend I post a round-up of all of Marginalia posts that appeared during that week. This list is in biblical canonical order.

Job

Job, God, & Satan (Can I get some help from the scholar’s out there?)| Job 1.6-7
God, Social Justice, & Social Welfare | Job 5.15-16
Fragments from a speech by Job| Selections of Job 6 & 7
Job’s Friends are Right! Job’s Friends are Wrong.| Job 8.5-7,20-22
In a sense, God CAN’T favor the righteous| Job 9.1-4

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John, the Holy Spirit, & Prenatal Worship| Luke 1.12-15, 41-45


When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit.
Luke 1.12-15

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
–vv.41-45

The angel’s prophecy might be a foreshadow of John’s leaping in Jesus’ presence before he is born. If that’s the case, then being “filled with the Holy Spirit” being overjoyed in the presence of God. This is surely a theme throughout the Gospel and Acts: who has the Holy spirit and what that causes in those people, namely joy.

Secondly, this is such a beautiful passage and an evidence that children can experience spiritual things before their born. David says elsewhere that he loved God even while in the womb. This should (hopefully) mess with the heads of those that deny the place on infant baptism in God’s Church.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

Where on Earth is Jesus’ Bethlehem? | Luke 2.1-5


In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
Luke 2.1-5

Recent archaeological evidence suggests that this Bethlehem is not the traditional site, but “Bethlehem of the Galilee” (which would make sense). The traditional site is 150km from Jerusalem, whereas this other, newer proposed site is only 7km. A lot easier for Mary. Although some dispute this, pointing out that Justin Martyr in the 2nd-century identified the traditional site as the correct site. Who knows?

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

Welcome to Epiphany. (And a free Mixtape to celebrate!)


epiphany-mixtape-coverIf you’re just looking for the mixtape, click here for the official Epiphany Mixtape page.

From now until Lent, the Church Calendar is in the season of Epiphany.

Basically, this season seems like it’s sort of a Church Calendar “junk drawer” to meditate and celebrate on all the other parts of Jesus’ life that happened between his Advent/Birth and his Death.

And don’t misread that. In describing it that way, I hope that doesn’t diminish this season for anyone.

Perhaps the most precious doctrine of the Christian faith for me is that of the Imputation of Christ’s Righteousness. That’s a fancy way of saying that Jesus lived out a righteous life, and his very own righteousness is given to me as my own. And so, with a complete and perfect righteousness in hand, I don’t have to bear the weight of shame or condemnation. This is so beautiful to me.

But this Righteousness in which I am dressed was not created out of thin air, nor was it created by Christ at the Cross, or even at his Resurrection. It was built throughout his life of obedience to His Father, as the light of his character and life grew brighter and brighter in the midst of our darkened world. It’s this part of his life that we celebrate and meditate upon in this season.

And this is amazing. As I’ve written before, if Herod had been successful in killing the infant Jesus, there would be an essential aspect of our salvation that’s missing. This is why Epiphany is so important.

And so, to try and help me spend some time meditating on this season, the best way I knew to think deeply about all this was to re-post Epiphany mixtape I first posted last year.

To read more about the specifics of Epiphany, the mixtape, and to listen/download it yourself, you can either read below or just go to the official Epiphany Mixtape page.

[cover image credit: the photo on the mixtape cover is used with the gracious permission of photographer and friend of the blog, David Schrott]

Advent & Hoping for God to be With Us


icon-Nativity-christmasThis is the meditation I wrote that appeared in this weekend’s reading and reflection in Liberti Church’s Advent 2013 Prayerbook, which can be downloaded for free.

The Reading:

Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test. Then Isaiah said: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.

If you’ve been keeping up with this Prayerbook (or any Advent guide), then congratulations! I hope it’s spoken to you and you have experienced God in its readings and meditations.

That being said, you might be wondering: why is this Prayerbook continuing after Christmas Day?

It was only a couple of years ago I found out that in the Church Calendar, Christmas is not just a day—it’s an entire season! Advent Season leads into Christmas Season. Why is this? Advent has a similar relationship to Christmas that Lent does to Easter: it’s meant to be the time of reflection, preparation, and repentance that prepares us for the unbridled, no limits, over-the-top celebration and joy of Christmas. Our spiritual ancestors knew that celebration takes time and preparation. That’s what Advent has been.

But now we’re in the Christmas Season—the time of complete unfettered celebration. But why?
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A Biblical Critical Advent: Luke’s Cosmic Christmas


Charles-le-Brun-Adoration-of-ShepherdsFor Advent this year, I wanted to put up a few posts looking at Matthew and Luke’s Nativity stories as they were meant to be read: as two separate stories with their own purposes and themes. We often just mush them together, and I think we lose something in that process. Last week, we sat with Matthew’s Nativity story. Today, we turn to Luke’s Christmas.

Matthew’s Nativity focuses on how Christmas plays right into Israel’s own story; how this is exactly how the Jewish Messiah should be expected to have come into the world. Luke’s Gospel, on the other hand, emphasizes Jesus’ significance to the entire world, all parts of society, and the entire cosmic order.

In other words, Jesus’ mission in Luke is much larger than simply Israel. These and other Lukan themes are brought out quite strongly and explicitly in his Nativity narratives. Today we’ll see how he does this through signs of the universal mission of Jesus, the story’s emphasis on the lowly and powerless, and his stories of Spirit-filled joy.

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Advent & Longing for Home


Sandorfi-MadeleineThis is the meditation I wrote that appears in a reading and reflection in Liberti Church’s Advent 2013 Prayerbook, which can be downloaded for free.

There is an incredibly profound way in which we don’t feel at Home in our own humanity.

Too often, Christians see their own personal spiritual growth as a loss, a lessening, or an abandoning of their own humanity. This can lead us to subtly use people and things to try and find our soul’s Home. And so we awake to find anxiety, manipulation, doubt, guilt, and self-loathing ruling and reigning so many parts of our lives and relationships. (Am I alone in this?)

We can sometimes think of Christianity as a process of our souls leaving the “Home” of their weakened humanity and finding a “new, spiritual Home” in Jesus. The logic goes that you were originally one way, then Jesus “saved” you, and now you are able (and are commanded) to be something else, now that you are His.

But Advent radically flies in the face of this.
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A Biblical Critical Advent: Matthew’s Old Testament Christmas


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For Advent this year, I wanted to put up a few posts looking at Matthew and Luke’s Nativity stories as they weren’t meant to be read: as two separate stories with their own purposes and themes. We often just mush them together, and I think we lose something in that process. Today, we look at Matthew’s Christmas Story.

It’s well-known that the Gospel of Matthew portrays Jesus as the fulfillment of Jewish messianic expectations. But the path Matthew takes in doing this moves against the way most messianic expectations played themselves out at time. Matthew recalibrates these expectations to show how even in Jesus’ infancy and birth, his “Messiah-ness” includes a retelling of Israel’s own history, both good and bad.

You can see this especially clearly in the way Matthew crafts his version of the Nativity story. Today, we’ll look at three particular aspects of this story that show his unique thematic and purposeful crafting of the birth story: his use of people and names, geography, and the fulfillment of the Old Testament.
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Have yourself a biblical critical Christmas


Nativity-logosSorry, this post isn’t about the pessimism and critical irony that can sometimes mark how we engage in this time of year. When I use the phrase “biblical criticism”, I’m referring to (as Wikipedia says) the  “[scholarly] study and investigation of biblical writings that seeks to make discerning judgments about these writings”.

Last year, I wrote about how the story of the Wise Men can inform our doctrine of the Bible. This Advent, I want to do a brief series where we use the tools of scholarly observation to look at each of the two Nativity compositions (yeah, only two out of four gospels have them) and see each of them on their own terms.

For millennia, the birth narratives of Jesus Christ in the Gospels have captivated readers both within and without the Christian faith. Their reading and meditation form the beginning of the Christian Church calendar, and their theological implications of Incarnation form the foundation of nearly all of the distinctives of the Christian faith.
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A night so holy and silent | Carols in Prose


winter-snow-trees-bwFor my Advent series this year, I am going through Christmas Carols and unpacking them, re-writing them in prose, hoping to pull out more of their meaning, theology, significance, and beauty. Here’s today’s source material.

As holy as that night was–as anointed, blessed, prophesied, and sacred as it was–it was just as silent. You know in winter when find yourself in the midst of falling snow, and it almost has a loud silence? It was like that.

Who knew that this utter holiness and cosmic in-breaking would be so quiet? So…uneventful? Yes, there were angels and such, but they were far away with us. There at the manger? Silence.
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