Monthly Archives: December 2008

A Word and a Song

So, I’m doing my best to get lots of posts up…I told Brooke I’d put one up every day this week.  Unfortunately for you (fortunately for me), she decided we ought to go to a mid-week dinner and a movie tonight.  We saw “Four Christmases,” which fairly predictable, but enjoyable Christmas fare.  Vince Vaughn played the same lovable character that he does in every film, Jon Favreau made a predictable cameo, but it had some moments.  I appreciated the message of the film, especially where we ultimately find meaning and freedom: in relationship.  But I won’t spoil any more than that.  The dinner and movie left little time for a post. Alas.

Thus, here’s Sufjan Stevens’ version of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”

May we be people who are desperate for Emmanuel, for God with us.  May we long for it like the people of Israel did 2000 years ago.  May we break through our familiarity with the Christmas story and realize how miraculous it is: God stepping down to be with us.  The God who spoke the world into existence, came in an act of love and strength, to be with us.

To all of us, come Emmanuel.

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Pretend…

This is exactly what it looked like

This is exactly what it looked like

I’m putting together a Christmas reading, and thought I’d sort of test it out via the blog.  Naturally, it’s a little difficult to get the real effect — it’s meant to be read live — but, hopefully you get the idea.  I’d love to get feedback, since I have time to tinker (at least until the 24th).

— Gabe

[Lights Down]

Speaker:
For four-hundred years God had not spoken.  And Israel was waiting for a Messiah.  An Emmanuel.  Think about this: four-hundred years.  It would be history that no one could remember and they could only read about and would wonder: will God ever act again?  

[Spotlight on Speaker]

Then the brutal Roman regime issued a decree, a census.  Everyone had to go to his own town to register.  A man named Joseph, a builder from the backwater town of Nazareth, had to travel to Bethlehem.  He took his fiancée, who was pregnant.  But she wasn’t pregnant from him.  She told him that the baby was from God.  Joseph was going to divorce her, because even engagement was like marriage in those times, until his dream about Mary.  Maybe this baby was from God.  Maybe God, after four-hundred years, was beginning to act again.

In Bethlehem, there wasn’t any room at the inn.  So Joseph and Mary stayed in a stable.  Stables were often caves, and they were dark and dirty places.  Here, among the reeking animals and their refuse, Mary gave birth.  Here is where God makes his entrance to the world.  Among the lowly, among the dirty, among the darkness.  Mary wrapped the baby tightly in cloths and laid him in the manger, which was probably a feeding trough carved in the cave wall.

[Person begins lighting candles in front]

We read that as God brought Jesus into the world, a star appeared.  This star marked the birth of Jesus.  God began to shine a light in the darkness.  And thousands of miles away, a group of wise men, maybe astrologers, saw the star.  They recognized its importance and began a journey to Bethlehem.

That same night, just outside of Bethlehem, there were shepherds living in the fields.  They smelt of sheep and fields and wildness; they were unsophisticated, uncivilized, unexceptional.  But that night: that night, an angel appeared to them.  The story says the glory of the Lord lit up the dark night sky around them.  And the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid.  I bring you good news of great joy that will be for everyone.”  He said, “Today, in the town of David, in Bethlehem, a Savior, a Christ, has been born to you.”  The angel told them they’d find this baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.

Before they could go, a whole host of angels appeared.  This isn’t 20 or 30 angels singing a pleasant chorus, but hundreds or thousands of angels filling night the sky, filling the silence with praise, filling the darkness with light.  They sang, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”  And the shepherds, they would’ve had no doubt that the Lord was acting again.  The dark night sky was filled with light.  Another writer says that the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

[Lights slowly up]

So these shepherds run off to find the baby Jesus.  And thousands of miles away, these wise men, these Magi, pack their camels to find the baby Jesus.  I can hear the conversations: the hushed and hurried voices, like if you speak too loudly this magical spell might break.  But it wasn’t a spell and not magic in the modern sense.  The shepherds, and later the wise men, found exactly what they were looking for, exactly what they’d been told.  Imagine what this would have been like: the smell of the stable mingling with the smell of the shepherds.  Their eyes wide in wonder, transfixed by a baby’s cry.  God himself, the Creator and King of the earth, born into the dirt and discomfort of a stable, worshipped by simple shepherds.  God put on flesh and bone and moved into the neighborhood.  He brought his light to the darkness.

And we come every year to remember this: a light has come to shine in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.  We gather to celebrate a miraculous birth, a Savior, and a light.

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Christmas (Part Two)

Since I’m trying to do some Christmas-style posting, here’s U2’s latest.  It’s their contribution to (Red)Wire.com (the hippest way to get music while doing good).  This is a remake of Greg Lake’s “I Believe in Father Christmas” with a few lyrics changed, U2 style.

Lyrics:

They said there’ll be snow at Christmas
They said there’ll be peace on Earth
But instead it just keeps on raining
A veil of tears for the Virgin birth
I remember on Christmas morning
A winters light and a distant choir
And the peal of a bell and that Christmas Tree smell
And their eyes full of tinsel and fire
They sold me a dream of Christmas
They sold me a Silent Night
They sold me a fairy story
But I believed in the Israelite
I believed in Father Christmas
I looked to the sky with excited eyes
‘Till I woke with a yawn in the first light of dawn
And I saw him through his disguise

I wish you a hopeful Christmas
I wish you a brave New Year
All anguish, pain and sadness
Leave your heart and let your road be clear
They said there’ll be snow at Christmas
They said there’ll be peace on Earth
Hallelujah Noel be it Heaven or Hell
The Christmas we get we deserve.

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Christmas Thoughts (Part One)…

Brooke and I went out to coffee last night, and then we drove around looking at Christmas lights.  There is this house nearby, which we have seen in years past, that goes all out for Christmas.  The house probably gets covered with a million lights: Brooke first found it by seeing a glow a few blocks away.  There are “Happy Birthday Jesus” signs and a landing strip for Santa in the front yard.  The first year we saw the house we actually got out of the car and walked around it, through the backyard after dark, and even the back was lit up like it was noon.  We laughed and caught our breath and wondered at the electric bill.  And, after sitting together and drinking coffee and talking for an hour, we wanted to see it again.

I consider myself a good protestant Christian, and sometimes I wonder why it is that Christmas gets so much attention.  After all, the central event for Christians is really the death and resurrection of Jesus: on this we base our theology, and it is that event that Jesus commands us to celebrate in remembrance of him.  He never reminds us to celebrate Christmas; Paul never reminds us to celebrate Christmas.  Even the birth story didn’t make it into all four gospels.  It’s only in half of them.  And, the earliest Christians didn’t think Christmas was all that important.  They celebrated Easter, but it took a few hundred years for Christmas to catch on.

Brooke and I didn’t know the exact address of the house that we wanted to find.  So, we drove to the rough spot and began driving around.  The neighborhoods in this area are not laid out in nice, Midwestern grids: they look roughly like a five-year old tried to draw spaghetti, and the drawing slipped onto the city planner’s desk.  We found ourselves turning around in culs-de-sac and seeing the same houses over and over again.  But, we wanted to find the house.  We knew it was nearby.

Christmas really wasn’t all that important in our history.  When the United States’ Congress was formed in 1789, they ended up meeting on Christmas day that year.  The holiday was outlawed in Boston during the 17th century.  Christmas wasn’t declared a federal holiday until 1870.  There hasn’t always been the same enthusiasm and interest in Christmas.

Brooke and I drove around last night and pointed out Christmas decorations.  Lesser Christmas decorations, compared to the inestimable house, but decorations nonetheless.  A number of them we saw more than once.  We listened to Christmas music on the radio: a fine mix of lovely old Christmas carols and 80’s era synthesizer jingles.  We peered down streets, into the blackness, searching for lights.

We searched until my wife, because of the blasting, dry car heat and the winding roads, finally said that she felt a little nauseous.  I turned to drive home.  If this were a perfect story, we would have turned a corner and found the sought-after house.  We, however, did not.  Brooke cracked open her window and we drove home, listening to George Michael sing a Christmas song.

I know that commercialism drives Christmas today.  I know that pleasant stories, like Dicken’s A Christmas Carol helped revive the holiday in America and England.  Yet beyond this, during cold and short days in December, I appreciate Christmas for the light it brings.  I appreciate it for the colored lights on houses and downstairs on our tree.  As a good protestant, I appreciate it for the Light that John’s gospel says it brings, a gospel that doesn’t quite give the birth narrative like Luke, or Matthew.  I appreciate it because logic tells us that a birth narrative precludes a death narrative.  I appreciate for the fact that Jesus, the Word, became a baby and came to be with us: God with us.  It is that withness that I emotionally need.  I know I need a God in control, but during times when it’s dark and things aren’t working out the way I want, I simply want a God who is with me.  The might and strength can come later, and will come.  But the withness: it is that miracle, that withness that we celebrate.  I believe that Brooke and I celebrated it last night, because God’s withness made possible our withness with each other, and we drank it in through flavored coffee and driving around together at night, looking for light.

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