Archive for December, 2008

Family Time

Family times remind us of our brokenness.  At least they do for me.  This past week our family slipped out of town for some down time.  It sounds easy enough, but we did our best to stumble over ourselves and each other in our attempts to make it happen.  Why are family times often ones of stress and struggle?  To this day, I can only enjoy my parents for short snatches of time.  I’ve also noticed that they limit their visits with us to just a few days.  None of us seem capable of laying aside heaped-up expectations and disappointments that have littered our years together.  The waters run deep and much of our pain from the past remains unspoken and unprocessed.  The good news in all this is that we are not alone.  From the first family and its culture of competition and conflict to the present, each family bears the marks of the presence of sin.  This makes the message of Christmas that we celebrate all the more beautiful and hopeful.  Zechariah was told by the angel Gabriel,

Many of the people of Israel will he [your son] bring back to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

What good news this must have been! Fathers and sons can have their relationships restored.  The coming of the messiah will be put in motion by the work of your son.  He will have a part in opening the way for families to be healed.  I remember some years ago I opened up with my father about things that had long bothered me.  I wasn’t carrying anger, but I did feel deep resentment.  We were out for a round of golf, and I opened up to him while we were coming back in the car.   At one point, the clarity of the our conversation reached a peak, he pulled off the road and simply began to cry.  He expressed his sorrow, and then he opened up with me as well.  What I felt I could see so clearly proved far more complex than I had accounted for.  When my father finally resumed driving our honesty had opened new doors and windows for our relationship.

What Jesus do you follow?

According to Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch, authors of ReJesus, Dorothy Sayers drew quite the attention when she published her advent plays, He that Should Come and the better known The Man Born to Be King.  Western Christians have pretty well managed to ensconce Jesus in dream like stories about his birth and infancy.  In effect, Sayers believed we like Jesus to be there.  If he is, we really don’t have to take his claims and life too seriously.  And, who would want to be disturbed by Jesus, especially at Christmas?  When criticized for her real and raw presentation of Jesus, she remarked:

If you mixed as much as I do with people to whom the Gospel story seems to be nothing but a pretty fairy tale, you would know how much of their contemptuous indifference is due to one fact: that never for one moment have they seen it as a real thing, happening to a living people.  Nor, indeed, are they fully convinced that Christians believe in its reality. (Hirsch and Frost, 23.)

A number of years ago when Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ was released, I was asked to lead a discussion at a local Border’s Book Shop.  The discussion was to be geared to Gibson’s portrayal in comparison to other movies about Jesus and his passion.  In preparation, I reviewed the last few decades of films about Jesus.   Sadly, nearly every film painted a portrait of a nice effeminate and proper man.  One found it strange that the authorities sought to murder him given his gentle helpful way of life.  Gone were the scandalous moments of anger, the harsh cutting sermons, and the offensive acts of compassion that defied the religious sensibilities of the time.  I saw a Jesus I did not know, and one I really did not care to follow.  On the contrary, like Sayers’ depiction, many who watched The Passion were offended by the brutality.  Here Jesus experienced the kind of pain and the sense of forlornness we have known well. We found Jesus real, one with whom we could identify.

Following Christmas, I review my own film about Jesus.  How do I see him?  What Jesus do I/you follow?

Christmas Untamed

Years ago Sandy and I developed a friendship with a woman who rescued greyhounds.  She saved beautiful race dogs from being out down when their racing careers ended by placing them in dog-loving homes.  She had also adopted a greyhound of her own.  I remember first seeing her dog.  It was both a happy moment and a sad one.  It was happy because here was a dog enjoying life with a family that was no longer wanted on the racetrack.  It was a sad moment because here was the thoroughbred of dogs tamed and leashed.  Tamed.    Something wild and powerful and beautiful has been diminished (in this case) to become a common house pet.  When I saw this beautiful creature, everything about it cried out, “Let me run!”
Many of the beautiful experiences of the people of God have also been tamed down to make them palatable.  We love to tell our children about Noah’s ark, but the children’s books avoid talking about what happened to the people who missed the boat.  Christmas also has been tamed.   I’m afraid we’ve lost the majesty and power of Jesus’ birth.  We talk about Jesus ion the manger as sweet and nice but it was anything but that:  A new mother giving birth to her firstborn far from family and friends and in surroundings that left much to be desired.   In addition, think of the stigma that Mary carried with her in her small community having become pregnant before marrying Joseph.  Think of the threat that Jesus’ birth brought to the political situation at the time.  And yes, Herod had the baby boys in Bethlehem killed because he sensed a threat to his power when the wise men reported the birth of a new king.  What we hear as a nice story was life changing and world changing.   In short Jesus’ coming was revolutionary.

Mike Erre has commented:
We must constantly guard against the counterfeit Jesus who pervades our culture and churches. The real one is far bigger and more dangerous than we realize. We must consciously resist the temptation to tone him down or soften his teachings, or we may miss them all together.
I thank God that Jesus came to face the real and raw world, its sin and its darkness, its needs and its brokenness.  I thank you that God did not give us a story but his son who came into the world in all its harsh reality to die for us and our sins.

May God bless you this Christmas.