“I think that the Christian doctrine of redemption—this idea that we need to be “redeemed” from something—is just wrong. And it’s done all kinds of harm.” The comment came in the midst of an invigorating and wide-ranging conversation with an acquaintance over coffee recently. It was one of those delightful encounters where the person you’re talking with is much smarter than you—where you feel like you’re kind of scrambling to keep up. It was good exercise for the brain. Read more
Posts from the ‘Advent/Christmas’ Category
Last night the kids and I went Christmas caroling with some friends from church. For whatever reason, I haven’t done this much over the years. But my daughter had been enthusiastic about it all week. And my son, well, we bribed him with the prospect of pizza after our caroling was done. Read more
Can we use your post? Over the last week or so, I’ve received three emails from various publications asking permission to re-publish something I’ve written on this blog. These requests are the new normal in a publishing context where words are ubiquitous and cheap, where content is increasingly accessed rather than commissioned. There are so many words flying about and so many editors desperate to find something—anything!—to capture a few eyeballs for a few seconds before they click on to greener pastures. I suppose it makes sense to recycle the words. Read more
Each year around Christmastime for the last decade or so, our family has a tradition of watching the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy (extended versions, of course). We spread it out over six nights—a full week immersion into Middle Earth, as it were. Over the last two or three years, my ears have invariably perked up during Bilbo’s conversation with Gandalf near the beginning of the first film. Bilbo is tired and conflicted and ready to leave everything and everyone behind. Then, this memorable and evocative line: I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread. Read more
A breeze was entering the room through the window and rushing about inside, giving small notice here and there. William would have smiled then, had he been the sort to smile. One envies such types—who do not smile. The rest of us go around like fools, and these few maintain such dignity.
— Jesse Ball, The Curfew
They say it takes more muscles to frown than to smile. I wonder about that. Sometimes it seems there is nothing easier than not to smile. Read more
God of our salvation, all our longing is known to you, our sighing is not hidden from you…
So begins one of today’s prayers in the prayer book I use. Quite appropriately, as it turns out, for I do a lot of longing and a lot of sighing. Indeed, it seems like the older I get, the more longings I accumulate. I took an hour to make a partial list today. Read more
I consumed two pieces of media before breakfast today. I was unable to sleep and stumbled downstairs ridiculously early for a day off with the kids on Christmas holidays. I plugged in the Christmas tree, made a pot of coffee, and settled into the wonderful pre-dawn stillness of the darkest day of the year. Read more
Each year around this time, I look out my office window on a wintry late afternoon and morosely note to myself how early it is getting dark these days. This is one of the delights of living in the northern hemisphere at this time of year. Sixteen hours of frigid darkness a day. Hooray. Read more
For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified…
— 1 Corinthians 2:1
I’ve read these words from the Apostle Paul a number of times throughout the seasons of Advent and, now, Christmas. As is often the case when I read Paul, I find myself scratching my head, wondering why Paul says some of the things he does. I am pausing, in particular, on two words today, on this morning after we celebrated the arrival of the Christ child.
“We cannot approach the manger of the Christ child in the same way we approach the cradle of another child. Rather, when we go to his manger, something happens, and we cannot leave it again unless we have been judged or redeemed. Here we must either collapse or know the mercy of God directed toward us…
The throne of God in the world is not on human thrones, but in human depths, in the manger. Standing around the throne there are no flattering vassals but dark, unknown, questionable figures who cannot get their fill of this miracle and want to live entirely by the mercy of God.”
— Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God is in the Manger
I got a nice little note today from someone. It was about yesterday’s sermon. It had, apparently, “made sense of a few things.” I appreciated the note. Very much. God knows there are enough Sundays where it feels like one’s words are scattered to the wind. Who knows if or where or how they land? It is nice to hear that a sermon has helped. Read more
Lord Jesus, come yourself, and dwell with us, be human as we are, and overcome what overwhelms us. Come into the midst of my evil, come close to my unfaithfulness. Share my sin, which I hate and which I cannot leave. Be my brother, Thou Holy God. Be my brother in the kingdom of evil and suffering and death.
— Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Sermon for Advent Sunday, December 2, 1928
Each of the last three Advents I have been spending time with God is in the Manger, a collection of Advent and Christmas-themed writings by the great German theologian and pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. And each of the last three years I have been stopped dead in my tracks by the quote above. The following are a few reflections taken from a journal entry after encountering these words again this morning. Read more
A few scraps and fragments after a morning spent at the seniors home…
A woman sits, staring vacantly at the television in front of her. I look at the TV. It is a road report, outlining the wintry conditions that we might expect on this or that Alberta road. I ponder the abundant ironies and incongruities contained in the image of this woman sitting, alone, watching the road report. She will likely never travel a winter road again… Read more
As I write these words, my kids and my wife are putting the finishing touches on the Christmas decorations around the house. There are giggles and lights, there is colour and warmth on a brutally cold day. There are happy sounds. And the happy sounds make me happy, too.
But it’s impossible for my thoughts not to drift in darker directions, too, even amidst the giggles and the lights. For whatever reason, this has been a need-filled fall season. So many people struggling. So many people limping along from crisis to crisis. So many people desperate for love, for acceptance, for belonging. So many people for whom God’s peace and God’s plan seem utterly hidden. So many people needing so much help. The need is always there, I know. But for whatever reason, it has felt more acute this fall. Read more
A few years ago, when I was taking my first steps in my present role as pastor, a church member timidly approached me sometime around mid-December with a question: “I know it’s Advent, and Advent is about waiting, but would you be OK if we sang some Christmas carols during the Sundays before December 25?” The question was probably more pragmatic than theological. Our church doesn’t have a Christmas day service, and the Sunday between Christmas and New Years is usually among the most lightly attended of the year. There simply weren’t as many opportunities to sing these dearly loved songs as some people would like!
It’s a strange thing that, as followers of Jesus, we are dwellers in a story.
Religion is often conceived and described as ideology or a philosophy or an ethical system that provides answers to deep questions about the meaning of life and the nature of salvation. But as Christians, we are not given a generic, universal set of principles or techniques or transcendent truths or ethical absolutes by which to live.
We are, rather, thrust into a story—and a grubby, disheveled story, at that. Read more
Brian Walsh, Advent Pain, Aching Hope
I sit in a sterile hospital room with a dear old saint who will be spending this Christmas where nobody wants to spend Christmas. Outside is a gloriously clear, crisp, winter day full of snow and lights and pre-Christmas goodness. Inside, there are bare, yellowing walls, cracked ceilings, cheap, generic pictures on the wall. We speak of what the doctors say, of what the next steps will be, about what is going on at church, about who has visited and who will be coming. We speak of what her kids are doing for Christmas. Read more
I think that the main problem with our world right now is that there’s just not enough spirituality.
I had gone to a local café to get out of the office and try to get some reading done, but I quite literally couldn’t help but overhear the preceding assessment/diagnosis of the plight of the planet and its inhabitants taking place at the table beside me. It was a couple of university students, if their meticulously disheveled and painstakingly ironic appearances were anything to go by. The more enthusiastic of the two—the one doing most of the talking—had evidently taken a few introductory philosophy and religious studies courses, judging by the peppering of his discourse with references to Gandhi, Jesus, Plato, and the Bhagavad Gita (not to mention a reference to that most estimable of Zen masters, Phil Jackson). The other young man seemed more interested in the Shakespeare he was trying to read, but he seemed content enough to allow the spiritual wisdom to pour forth unabated from his friend. Read more