Each year around this time, I find myself remarking to my congregation that the songs of Advent and Christmas give us some of our best theology. I’m sure they’re getting weary of hearing it by now. In my meagre defense, after a while one runs out of new things to say. At any rate, it’s no less true for my repeating it endlessly. Aside from just being a delight to sing, these songs give us marvelous lines like:
- Oh, love beyond all telling, that led thee to embrace, in love, all love excelling, our lost and troubled race.
- Dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart.
- Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today!
- Hail the incarnate deity; pleased with us in flesh to dwell; Jesus, our Immanuel!
- Son of God, Love’s pure light, radiant, beams from thy holy face with the dawn of redeeming grace, Jesus, Lord at Thy birth.
There are days when the weight of human cruelty and carelessness seems almost too much to bear. I’m not speaking about the vicious climate of our political discourse or the endless shouting and posturing the dominates our news media—the wearisome, grinding tedium of left shouting at right and right shouting at left. This, too, is excruciating, but I’m thinking more prosaically today. I’m thinking of the middle school playground, or the creaking and groaning marriage, or the toxic workplace or the chaos and confusion of the dementia ward or the high school cafeteria. I’m thinking of the endless weaponizing of words, the myriad ways in which we are inhuman to one another in our everyday lives. Read more
There are at least two reasons to like the Nashville Predators hockey team. First, the yellow uniforms. Obviously. You have to admire a team that cares so little about the intimidation factor that they’re willing to skate out in mustard yellow. Second, the Preds fans have (had?) this delightful tradition that follows each of the home team’s goals. They begin by serenading the opponent’s goaltender, chanting his last name in a kind of whiny, mocking voice, and punctuating the ridicule by screaming, “It’s all your fault, it’s all your fault, it’s all your fault!!” It’s great fun—at least if you’re on the right end of the score. I watched a bit of a Predators game last night before heading out to my own beer league hockey game where, as it happens, half of the goals our team gave up were, well, all my fault. Luckily there aren’t many fans at beer league hockey games and the few who do show up can’t be bothered to summon the requisite energy for mockery. Read more
The season of Advent approaches and with it the ever-present temptation to dwell in the saccharine, the safe, the sanitized—harmless images of God’s coming that trouble us far less than they ought to. I feel this temptation every year. It’s easy to prepare for the coming of a harmless child that is with us but demands little of us. It was and is all too easy for earth to receive her king poorly. Read more
“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
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.
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