An Invitation

I wrote the following a few years ago as an invitation to communion during our Christmas Eve Service. 

In the stable God came to set men free;
At the table we find victory.
The child who came, meek and mild;
Invites us here, reconciled,
To feast on bread and drink his cup,
Now let your hearts be lifted up.
Come now, let us see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord has made known unto us.
For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

May you know the saving presence of Christ Jesus our Lord in your worship this Christmas, and may your heart be lifted up!

Grace and peace,

SDG

Shipwrecked at the Stable

The following is an excerpt from an article I read several years ago by Brennan Manning.  I can’t find the original website anymore, or else I’d just link it here.  Enjoy!

Shipwrecked at the Stable

The Bethlehem mystery will ever be a scandal to aspiring disciples who seek a triumphant Savior and a prosperity Gospel. The infant Jesus was born in unimpressive circumstances, no one can exactly say where. His parents were of no social significance whatsoever, and his chosen welcoming committee were all turkeys, losers and dirt-poor shepherds. But in this weakness and poverty the shipwrecked at the stable would come to know the love of God.

Sadly, Christian piety down through the centuries has prettified the Babe of Bethlehem. Christian art has trivialized divine scandal into gingerbread crèches. Christian worship has sentimentalized the smells of the stable into dignified pageant…

Pious imagination and nostalgic music rob Christmas of its shock value, while some scholars reduce the crib to a tame theological symbol. But the shipwrecked at the stable tremble in adoration of the Christ-child and quake at the inbreak of God Almighty. Because all the Santa Clauses and red-nosed reindeer, fifty-foot trees and thundering church bells put together create less pandemonium than the infant Jesus when, instead of remaining a statue in a crib, he comes alive and delivers us over to the fire that he came to light.

The shipwrecked at the stable are the poor in spirit who feel lost in the cosmos, adrift on an open sea, clinging with a life-and-death desperation to the one solitary plank. Finally they are washed ashore and make their way to the stable, stripped of the old spirit of possessiveness in regard to anything. The shipwrecked find it not only tacky but utterly absurd to be caught up either in tinsel trees or in religious experiences – “Doesn’t going to church on Christmas make you feel good?” They are not concerned with their own emotional security or any of the trinkets of creation. They have been saved, rescued, delivered from the waters of death, set free for a new shot at life. At the stable in a blinding moment of truth, they make the stunning discovery that Jesus is the plank of salvation they have been clinging to without knowing it!

All the time they were battered by wind and rain, buffeted by raging seas, they were being held even when they didn’t know who was holding them. Their exposure to spiritual, emotional and physical deprivation has weaned them from themselves and made them re-examine all they once thought important. The shipwrecked come to the stable seeking not to possess but to be possessed, wanting not peace or a religious high, but Jesus Christ.

The shipwrecked don’t seek peace because they aren’t disturbed by the lack of it. By that I mean the subjective feeling of peace. Circumstances can play havoc with our emotions, the day can be stormy or fair and our feelings will fluctuate accordingly; but if we are in Christ Jesus, we are in peace and there unflustered even when we feel no peace. Meister Eckhart’s equation, “In Christ equals in peace,” is always valid. When we accept the truth of ourselves – shipwrecked and saved – our lives are henceforth anchored in the Rock who is Christ, not in the shifting sands of our fickle feelings.

This is a point of capital importance for those who would fully experience the grace of Christmas. When we are in right relationship with Jesus, we are in the peace of Christ. Except for grave, conscious, deliberate infidelity, which must be recognized and repented of, the presence or absence of feelings of peace is the normal ebb and flow of the spiritual life. When things are plain and ordinary, when we live on the plateaus and in the valleys (which is where most of the Christian life takes place) and not on the mountaintops of peak religious experiences, this is no reason to blame ourselves, to think that our relationship with God is collapsing, or to echo Magdalene’s cry in the garden, “Where has my beloved gone?” Frustration, irritation, fatigue and so forth may temporarily unsettle us, but they cannot rob us of living in the peace of Christ Jesus. As the playwright Ionesco once declared in the middle of a depression: “Nothing discourages me, not even discouragement.”

The shipwrecked have stood at the still-point of a turning world and discovered that the human heart is made for Jesus Christ and cannot really be content with less. They cannot take seriously the demands that the world makes on them. During Advent they teach us that the more we try to tame and reduce desires, the more we deceive and distort ourselves. We are made for Christ and nothing less will ever satisfy us. As Paul writes in Colossians 1:16, “All things were created by him and for him.” And further on, “There is only Christ: he is everything” (3:11). It is only in Christ that the heart finds true joy in created things.

To the clotheshorse fretting about what to wear on Christmas Day, the shipwrecked say, “Put on Christ.” To the merchant whose Bible is the Wall Street Journal and who pants down the money-making street, the shipwrecked say, “You have only one Master; serving him is incompatible with any other servitude.” To the power-broker dealing strength to get things done, the shipwrecked say: “However powerful you are, the most you can do is change the décor of a world that is collapsing into its own death.”

The shipwrecked stand on firm ground. They live in truth and are rooted in reality. They do not allow the world to order them around. Kneeling at the crib they find the vanity of the world ridiculous, bloated, preposterous…

Do you hear what the shipwrecked are saying? Let go of your paltry desires and expand your expectations. Christmas means that God has given us nothing less than himself and his name is Jesus Christ. Be unwilling next Christmas to settle for anything else. Don’t order “just a piece of toast” when eggs Benedict are on the menu. Don’t come with a thimble when God has nothing less to give you than the ocean of himself. Don’t be contented with a “nice” Christmas when Jesus says, “It has pleased my Father to give you the Kingdom.” Pray, go to work, play Trivial Pursuit, eat banana bread, exchange presents, go caroling, feed the hungry, comfort the lonely, and do all in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The shipwrecked at the stable are an indispensable presence in the church. They rescue the Savior from the snare of convention and the clutches of organized religion. They are marginal men and women, not leaders or decision-makers. In their ministry of quiet presence they do not need to win or compete. They may look like losers even to themselves. If they courted the world, the world might respect them; if they rejected the world in sullen disdain, it might respect them even more. But because they take no notice at all of what the world thinks of them, they are mocked and made fun of.

In their integrity the shipwrecked preserve the meaning of Christmas in its pristine purity – the birthday of the Savior and the eruption of the messianic era into history.

This Christmas, may you belong to their number.

© 2003 The Bruderhof Foundation.

In the Fullness of Time

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son…”
(Galatians 4:4 ESV)

Journalist, Presbyterian minister, and chronicler for Billy Graham, Sherwood Wirt, once wrote the following in a Christmas card:

The people of that time were being heavily taxed, and faced every prospect of a sharp increase to cover expanding military expenses.  The threat of world domination by a cruel, ungodly, power-intoxicated band of men was ever just below the threshold of consciousness.  Moral deterioration had corrupted the upper levels of society and was moving rapidly into the broad base of the populace.  Intense nationalistic feeling was clashing openly with new and sinister forms of imperialism.  Conformity was the spirit of the age.  Government handouts were being used with increasing lavishness to keep the population from rising up and throwing out the leaders.  External religious observances were considered a political asset, and abnormal emphasis was being placed upon sports and athletic competition.  Racial tensions were at the breaking point.  In such a time, and amid such a people, a child was born to a migrant couple who had just signed up for a fresh round of taxation, and who were soon to become political exiles.  And the child who was born was called, among others things, Emmanuel, God with us.

Doesn’t that sound like it could be written for us today?  We sing the songs in Advent like O Come, O Come Emmanuel, with its haunting plea:

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lowly exile here until the Son of God appear.
O Come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer our spirits by thine advent here;
and drive away the shades of night, and pierce the clouds and bring us light!

We sing the songs, but is that all it is; a song?  We may be 2,000 years removed from the story, but have we really changed all that much.  Our fears are the same, the corruption is as rampant.  We still long for meaning and hope in life.  How desperately do we need our Savior to come into our lives.  The song is the prayer that we don’t even know our heart is singing.

For a time just like ours, and for a people just like us, a child was born, a child who is called Emmanuel, God with us, Christ our Lord, Jesus, the light of the world, who has saved us from our sins!

May your Christmas be filled with the presence of the living Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ, and may your joy be complete in Him!

SDG

Traveling light…

When I fly, I like to dress nice, dress slacks and shirt, maybe a tie, depending on the time of day.  I figure if I take myself seriously, maybe others will as well.  It’s worked so far.

With the new security standards at airports though, I may have to rethink my plan.  Here’s one suggestion from Mallard Fillmore:

Safe Travels everyone!  I pray you don’t have to sit next to this guy.

No Virginia, there is no Triceratops.

I happened to read the following news release this morning:

One of the best-known dinosaur species may not have really been a dinosaur species at all, according to new research. Scientists compared triceratops skulls to those of a lesser-known species, the torosaurus, and concluded that the triceratops were actually young torosauruses, New Scientist reports. They believe the three-horned dinosaur’s skull changed shape as it aged.

Researchers say the bones of the horns and neck frill in the young dinosaurs remained spongy until they became full adults. “Even in the most mature specimens that we’ve examined, there is evidence that the skull was still undergoing dramatic changes at the time of death,” one of the researchers says. Torosaurus and triceratops will now likely be reclassified as a single species—but don’t shed a tear just yet: The name “triceratops” will be the one that stays, the scientists say.

First Pluto, then the Brontosaurus, now our beloved Triceratops.  All that we once knew with absolute certainty from the scientific community is up for grabs.  It’s too much to bear.  All of those documentaries and musuem exhibits have been wrong all this time, all those who have dedicated thier lives to studying our three-horned friend have been cast aside.  What’s next?

Fortunately, the Bible reminds us that our Savior Jesus is the same, yesterday, today, and forever (Heb 13:8).  I know that the academic world will tell us that we need to “re-imagine” Jesus for our contemporary cultural context, but I’m rather satisfied with the way Jesus has been revealed to us by the Holy Spirit in God’s Word.  The rest of the world, in its great wisdom and understanding, may be built on shifting sand, but

On Christ the solid Rock I stand,
All other ground is shifting sand,
All other ground is shifting sand.

SDG

Thank You!

I just wanted to take a moment to say “Thank You” for reading my blog.  I started this as a whim a couple of years ago.  I was very inconsistant at first, didn’t really cherish the thought of writing and coming up with things to write week after week. Now I enjoy it, I’m trying to be more consistant, and hope to improve the quality of the writing.

I really do appreciate your feedback, and encourage you to respond to posts with questions or comments.  You can also subscribe to the blog, there are a couple of options on the home page.  I’ve also got the blog linked to my Facebook account, so everytime a new post is added, you’ll see a link to it on Facebook.

What started out as a few disconjointed ramblings has now blossomed into another opportunity to spread the good news of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ.  Feel free, if you like what you read, to pass it along to others.

Thanks again!

Grace and peace.

On Christmas

The following is from C.S. Lewis.  As you read it, you get the feeling that he’s just about had enough of the who commercial Christmas thing, and is rather annoyed by his own personal Mrs. Busy and her unwelcomed and unlooked for gifts.  Perhaps this will give you the courage to celebrate differently this year.

Christmas Cards in general and the whole vast commercial drive called “Xmas” are one of my pet abominations; I wish they could die away and leave the Christian feast unentangled.  Not of course that even secular festivities are, on their own level, and evil; but the labored and organized jollity of this – the spurious childlikeness – the half-hearted and sometimes rather profane attempts to keep up some superficial connection with the Nativity – are disgusting.

Three things go by the name of Christmas.  One is a religious festival.  This is important and obligatory for Christians; but as it can be of no interest to anyone else, I shall naturally say no more about it here.  The second (it has complex historical connections with the first, but we needn’t go into them) is a popular holiday, an occasion for merrymaking and hospitality.  If it were my business to have a “view” on this, I should say that I much approve of merrymaking.  But what I approve of much more is everybody minding his own business.  I see no reason why I should volunteer views as to how other people should spend their own money in their own leisure among their own friends.  It is highly probable that they want my advice on such matters as little as I want theirs.  But the third things called Christmas is unfortunately everyone’s business.

I mean of course the commercial racket.  The interchange of presents is a very small ingredient in the older english festivity.  Mr. Pickwick took a cod with him to Dingley Dell; the reformed Scrooge ordered a turkey for his clerk; lovers sent love gifts; toys and fruit were given to children.  But the idea that not only all friends but even all acquaintances should give one another presents, or at least send one another cards, is quite modern and has been forced upon us by the shopkeepers. Neither of these circumstances is in itself a reason for condemning it.  I condemn it on the following grounds.

1. It gives on the whole much more pain than pleasure.  You have only to stay over Christmas with a family who seriously try to “keep” it (in its third, or commercial, aspect) in order to see that the things is a nightmare.  Long before December 25th everyone is worn out – physically worn out by weeks of daily struggle in overcrowded shops, mentally worn out by the effort to remember all the right recipients and to think out suitable gifts for them.  They are in no trim for merrymaking; much less (if they should want to) to take part in a religious act.  They look far more as if there had been a long illness in the house.

2. Most of it is involuntary.  The modern rule is that anyone can force you to give him a present by sending you a quite unprovoked present of his own.  It is almost a blackmail.  Who has not heard the wail of despair, and indeed of resentment, when at the last moment, just as everyone hoped that the nuisance was over for one more year, the unwanted gift from Mrs. Busy (whom we hardly remember) flops unwelcomed through the letter-box, and back to the dreadful shops one of us has to go?

3. Things are given as presents which no mortal ever bought for himself – gaudy and useless gadgets, “novelties” because no one was ever fool enough to make their like before.  Have we really no better use for materials and for human skill and time than to spend them on all this rubbish?

4. The nuisance.  For after all, during the racket we still have all our ordinary and necessary shopping to do, and the racket trebles the labor of it.

We are told that the whole dreary business must go on because it is good for trade.  It is in fact merely one annual symptom of that lunatic condition of our country, and indeed of the world, in which everyone lives by persuading everyone else to buy things.  I don’t know the way out.  But can it really be my duty to buy and receive masses of junk every winter just to help the shopkeepers?  If the worst comes to worst I’d sooner give them money for nothing and write it off as charity.  For nothing?  Why, better for nothing than for a nuisance.

Lewis, C.S. The Joyful Christian, 127 Readings. (Nashville; Broadman & Holman Pub., 1977). Page 203.