Answering Your Letters: The Christmas Edition

A short one came today from someone called Todd-

Dear Jim,

So, I saw on Twitter that you got an iPad mini.  What else did you get?


Howdy Todd-

That’s a good question isn’t it.  Usually folk talk first about the things they get at Christmas from family and friends and, as usual, I did get those.  But more important to me are the intangibles.

Along those lines what I got was time with Church family and bio family and in-law family- the trifecta.  I got to spend time with great folk at Worship and the in-laws (who are, by and large, great!)  😉   (Just kidding, I like them all).

So I guess at the end of the day what I got, that I like most of all, is time.  And, as icing on the cake, an iPad mini and lots of other things- all demonstrations of affection.  And that, by the by, is what Christmas gifts are.  They aren’t merely crass materialism or grotesque consumerism as some of our more Marxist friends would have us to believe- they are tokens, symbols, reminders, of authentic, self sacrificing affection (since we take what we would spend on ourselves and instead spend it, in love, on another).  They are random acts of kindness.  They are reflections of the theological truth that ‘God so loved the world, that he gave his Son’- and so we too give to others what we can, as we can, in love.

Anyway, that’s probably more of an answer than you wanted.  But you have only yourself to blame- since you asked.

Atheists and Christmas

A fine essay this morning has appeared in Evangelische-Zeitung titled Rechnen Atheisten mit einem Wunder? It begins with a series of pertinent questions-

Rechnen Atheisten mit einem Wunder? Und welche Hoffnung verbinden Atheisten mit Weihnachten? Gibt es überhaupt eine Hoffnung, die sie mit Christen teilen?

Read the rest.  Especially if you’re of the atheist persuasion; a practitioner of the religion of ‘religionlessness’.

Today With Zwingli

zw9089It was on Christmas Day, 1523 that the celebration of the Mass was replaced in Zurich by a simpler and far more biblical celebration of the Lord’s Supper. As noted by S.M. Jackson, earlier that month…

Zwingli … plainly announced that on the coming Christmas day, Friday, December 25, 1523, the Lord’s Supper would be administered under both forms, and daily thereafter there would be a brief Bible exposition in place of the daily mass.

This caused a bit of a stir, of course, but the City soon adjusted to the proper practice of the Supper and soon it was widely embraced.

Which nicely illustrates that when the Bible is correctly interpreted, good Christian folk have no problems changing their behavior in order to adhere more closely to it.

Merry Christmas, Friends!

Luther-11Es begab sich aber zu der Zeit, daß ein Gebot vom Kaiser Augustus ausging, daß alle Welt geschätzt würde. Und diese Schätzung war die allererste und geschah zu der Zeit, da Cyrenius Landpfleger in Syrien war. Und jedermann ging, daß er sich schätzen ließe, ein. jeglicher in seine Stadt. Da machte sich auch auf Joseph aus Galiläa, aus der Stadt Nazareth, in das jüdische Land zur Stadt Davids die da heißt Bethlehem, darum daß er von dem Hause und Geschlechte Davids war, auf daß er sich schätzen ließe mit Maria, seinem vertrauten Weibe, die war schwanger. Und als sie daselbst waren, kam die Zeit, daß sie gebären sollte. Und sie gebar ihren ersten Sohn und wickelte ihn in Windeln und legte ihn in eine Krippe; denn sie hatten sonst keinen Raum in der Herberge. (Luk 2:1-7)

In quei giorni uscì un editto di Cesare Augusto che ordinava il censimento di tutta la terra. Questo primo censimento fu fatto quando Quirino era governatore della Siria. Tutti andavano a dare il loro nome, ciascuno nella propria città. Anche Giuseppe dalla Galilea, dalla città di Nazaret, salì nella Giudea, alla città di Davide, che si chiamava Betlemme, perché egli era della casa e della famiglia di Davide, per dare il suo nome con Maria, sua sposa, che era incinta. Mentre si trovavano là, giunse per lei il tempo di partorire e diede alla luce il suo figlio primogenito. Lo avvolse in fasce e lo depose in una mangiatoia, perché per loro non c’era posto all’albergo.

tyndaleAnd it chaunced in thoose dayes: that ther went oute a commaundment from Auguste the Emperour that all the woorlde shuld be taxed. And this taxynge was the fyrst and executed when Syrenius was leftenaut in Syria. And every man went vnto his awne citie to be taxed. And Ioseph also ascended from Galile oute of a cite called Nazareth into Iurie: vnto the cite of David which is called Bethleem because he was of the housse and linage of David to be taxed with Mary his spoused wyfe which was with chylde. And it fortuned whyll they were there her tyme was come that she shuld be delyvered. And she brought forth her fyrst begotten sonne and wrapped him in swadlynge cloothes and layed him in a manger because ther was no roume for them within in the ynne.

lukeἘγένετο δὲ ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις ἐκείναις ἐξῆλθεν δόγμα παρὰ Καίσαρος Αὐγούστου ἀπογράφεσθαι πᾶσαν τὴν οἰκουμένην. αὕτη ἀπογραφὴ πρώτη ἐγένετο ἡγεμονεύοντος τῆς Συρίας Κυρηνίου. καὶ ἐπορεύοντο πάντες ἀπογράφεσθαι, ἕκαστος εἰς τὴν ἑαυτοῦ πόλιν. Ἀνέβη δὲ καὶ Ἰωσὴφ ἀπὸ τῆς Γαλιλαίας ἐκ πόλεως Ναζαρὲθ εἰς τὴν Ἰουδαίαν εἰς πόλιν Δαυὶδ ἥτις καλεῖται Βηθλέεμ, διὰ τὸ εἶναι αὐτὸν ἐξ οἴκου καὶ πατριᾶς Δαυίδ, ἀπογράψασθαι σὺν Μαριὰμ τῇ ἐμνηστευμένῃ αὐτῷ, οὔσῃ ἐγκύῳ. Ἐγένετο δὲ ἐν τῷ εἶναι αὐτοὺς ἐκεῖ ἐπλήσθησαν αἱ ἡμέραι τοῦ τεκεῖν αὐτήν, καὶ ἔτεκεν τὸν υἱὸν αὐτῆς τὸν πρωτότοκον, καὶ ἐσπαργάνωσεν αὐτὸν καὶ ἀνέκλινεν αὐτὸν ἐν φάτνῃ, διότι οὐκ ἦν αὐτοῖς τόπος ἐν τῷ καταλύματι.

However you happen to say it- thank God in heaven for the gift of Christ here below. Merry Christmas, friends.

The Pope Sounds Very Much Like Emil Brunner

brunner_tvz2“The defence of the family is about man himself. And it becomes clear that when God is denied, human dignity also disappears. Whoever defends God is defending man”, said Pope Benedict XVI Friday in his Christmas address to members of the Roman Curia.

Brunner makes the same point more fully in his awesomely brilliant ‘Man in Revolt’ which EVERYONE everywhere should read.

The Pope recognized the widespread refusal in today’s world “to make any commitment ” as one of the biggest challenges to family life, “a false understanding of freedom and self-realization as well as the desire to escape suffering” . Only in self-giving, noted Pope Benedict “does man…discover the breadth of his humanity. When such commitment is repudiated, the key figures of human existence likewise vanish: father, mother, child – essential elements of the experience of being human are lost”.

Yes, all very Brunnerian (though Brunner said it better).  It’s nice to see the Pope becoming Protestant.

Happy Advent 2

firts-sunday-adventἘὰν ταῖς γλώσσαις τῶν ἀνθρώπων λαλῶ καὶ τῶν ἀγγέλων, ἀγάπην δὲ μὴ ἔχω, γέγονα χαλκὸς ἠχῶν ἢ κύμβαλον ἀλαλάζον. καὶ ἐὰν ἔχω προφητείαν καὶ εἰδῶ τὰ μυστήρια πάντα καὶ πᾶσαν τὴν γνῶσιν καὶ ἐὰν ἔχω πᾶσαν τὴν πίστιν ὥστε ὄρη μεθιστάναι, ἀγάπην δὲ μὴ ἔχω, οὐθέν εἰμι. κἂν ψωμίσω πάντα τὰ ὑπάρχοντά μου καὶ ἐὰν παραδῶ τὸ σῶμά μου ἵνα καυχήσωμαι, ἀγάπην δὲ μὴ ἔχω, οὐδὲν ὠφελοῦμαι. Ἡ ἀγάπη μακροθυμεῖ, χρηστεύεται ἡ ἀγάπη, οὐ ζηλοῖ, [ἡ ἀγάπη] οὐ περπερεύεται, οὐ φυσιοῦται, οὐκ ἀσχημονεῖ, οὐ ζητεῖ τὰ ἑαυτῆς, οὐ παροξύνεται, οὐ λογίζεται τὸ κακόν, οὐ χαίρει ἐπὶ τῇ ἀδικίᾳ, συγχαίρει δὲ τῇ ἀληθείᾳ· πάντα στέγει, πάντα πιστεύει, πάντα ἐλπίζει, πάντα ὑπομένει. Ἡ ἀγάπη οὐδέποτε πίπτει· εἴτε δὲ προφητεῖαι, καταργηθήσονται· εἴτε γλῶσσαι, παύσονται· εἴτε γνῶσις, καταργηθήσεται. ἐκ μέρους γὰρ γινώσκομεν καὶ ἐκ μέρους προφητεύομεν· ὅταν δὲ ἔλθῃ τὸ τέλειον, τὸ ἐκ μέρους καταργηθήσεται. ὅτε ἤμην νήπιος, ἐλάλουν ὡς νήπιος, ἐφρόνουν ὡς νήπιος, ἐλογιζόμην ὡς νήπιος· ὅτε γέγονα ἀνήρ, κατήργηκα τὰ τοῦ νηπίου. βλέπομεν γὰρ ἄρτι δι᾽ ἐσόπτρου ἐν αἰνίγματι, τότε δὲ πρόσωπον πρὸς πρόσωπον· ἄρτι γινώσκω ἐκ μέρους, τότε δὲ ἐπιγνώσομαι καθὼς καὶ ἐπεγνώσθην. Νυνὶ δὲ μένει πίστις, ἐλπίς, ἀγάπη, τὰ τρία ταῦτα· μείζων δὲ τούτων ἡ ἀγάπη. (1 Co 13:1-13)

I Like Krista. Krista is Smart. Krista is Astute. Krista is On the Blogroll.

You’ll like her too, and you’ll see how smart she is, and you’ll recognize her astuteness, and you’ll plop her on your own blogroll when you read her brilliant post on Matthew’s use of Isaiah, which she concludes by saying

… as modern readers, we must recognize that Matthew is not attempting to write a history but a narrative, and we cannot use his narrative as the framework of our historical reconstruction. The text in Isaiah and the text in Matthew speak to similar promises and refrains, messages we as modern participants in Christmas can relate, yet let us be careful of confusing these messages and losing their original context: Isaiah’s concern with the Syro-Ephraimite war, Matthew’s reflection on messianic expectations under Roman occupation of Judea, and we as modern readers, reflecting and inhabiting the Christmas story within our own world affairs.

Hooray.  Krista, you’re in.

The Letter ‘X’ is Never used in the Nomina Sacra- Please Don’t Say It Is, And Don’t say It’s a Proper Replacement for Christmas

Mike Bird has an interesting little post with which I cannot agree.  He suggests, in short, that it’s ok to abbreviate Christmas with Xmas, suggesting -I think erroneously- that X is the Nomina Sacra.  But it isn’t.

X (the English letter) is not equal to Χ (the Greek letter).  Ξ is.  Further, really, how many people know the Greek letter Χ and use it, and know that they’re using it in reference to Christ?  Finally, the abbreviation for χριστος in the nomina sacra is χρ with the line above, never, to my recollection, is it simply χ (though I’m happy to be shown the error of my ways if someone can provide an example).

In sum, Xmas has nothing to do with Nomina Sacra, nor, in fact, does it have anything to do with Christ, or Christmas.  It’s merely laziness.  Come on people, ditch the annoying and meaningless abbreviations.  Make a little effort and spell out Christ.  It won’t kill you.

Sweden: Keeping Christ out of Christmas

A nativity scene planned for a popular Christmas market in southern Sweden has been cut after the organizers felt it compromised their “political and religious independence”.

I hope they don’t call their holiday ‘Christmas’ then. They should call it ‘Doofus Day’ or even better – ‘Dum Dag’.

“I am devastated and think they are crossing a line here. What are they celebrating at Fredriksdal? Is it just a commercial affair?” said church official Eva Åsare to local paper Helsingborgs Dagblad (HD).

When the planning for the Christmas market at Fredriksdal Gardens and Museums in Skåne County began several months ago, the organizers initially thought that the church’s proposal of a nativity scene with children from two local congregations would be a nice addition to the market.

However, a few months into the planning, the church received an email saying that the nativity scene would be cut as the market wanted to safeguard its identity as a “politically and religiously independent operation”.

Åsare said that the decision is a sign of “blatant fear of religion” and that the decision opens for new questions:

“Are you allowed to sell a straw star – that’s also a religious symbol? Are you allowed to sing Christian carols in concert? And what about the advent calendars?” Åsare asked the paper.

She finds it strange that a nativity scene would be considered out of place at a Christmas market, considering it depicts the reason Christmas is celebrated in Helsingborg, as well as many other parts of the world.

Christmas in February?

Chris Tilling has posted a Christmas poem… on Bultmann…  So, naturally, I’ll reduplicate it here since it’s right funny-  (and that’s right, Rudolf is scowling at you, Chris.  He’s not pleased…)

Christmas with the Dymythologisers

Hark, the herald angels sing:
‘Bultmann is the latest thing!’
(Or they would if he had not
Demythologized the lot.)
Joyful, all ye nations rise,
Glad to existentialize!
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and Science reconciled.

Lo, the ancient myths disperse.
Hence, three-storied universe!
Let three-decker pulpits stay:
Bultmann has a lot to say,
Since Kerygma still survives
When the myths have lost their lives.
Hark, the herald angels sing:
‘Bultmann shot us on the wing!’

Dr Farrer we detect
Somewhat lacking in respect,
Launching, with his puckish arts,
Tiny well-directed darts;
While Herr Luther’s lumpish sons
Overload their massive guns,
Blowing, when the barrel splits,
Bultmann – and themselves – to bits.

Let us with a gladsome mind
Leave the ancient world behind.
Modern man, rejoice with us!
We have read Copernicus.
While the herald angels sing:
‘Bultmann ist ein gutes Ding!’
We respond in simple trust:
‘Demythologize or bust!’

(Air – Good King Wenceslas)
Dr. Bultmann ventured forth
Boldly from his study,
When the wind was in the north,
and the roads were muddy.
All his thoughts were in a maze;
This was not surprising.
He had spent some weary days

‘Hither, pupil, strain thy sight
If thou canst, descrying
Yonder folk who shove and fight –
What can they be buying?’
‘Sir, ’tis cards with scraps of verse,
Pictured with a fable:
Shepherds and astrologers
Kneeling in a stable.’

‘Bring my writings, if you please,
in the last editions.
Du und ich we’ll stifle these
Outworn superstitions.’
Sage and pupil forth they go,
Braving every stigma,
Shedding myths like billy-o,
Clinging to kerygma.

‘Sir, my thoughts begin to stray
And my faith grows bleaker.
Since I threw my myths away
My kerygma’s weaker.’
‘Think on Heidegger, my lad,
That pellucid Teuton;
Then you won’t feel half so bad
When they talk of Newton.’

Existentially he thought,
as his master hinted.
All the learned works he bought
Which the sage had printed.
Therefore, folk, when science sends
Doubts and fears depressing,
Demythologize your friends –
Then you’ll win their blessing.

(Many ancient authorities read flakes of snow instead of billy-o.)

The Bavarian Church Where the Members Really are Cold. Really Cold.

Image Credit: Armin Weigel/AFP/Getty Images

But this time being cold is a beautiful thing

A Church built entirely of snow and ice had its grand opening in the Bavarian village of Mitterfirmiansreut Wednesday night. Villagers built the church, which is made up of more than 49,000 cubic feet of snow, to commemorate the construction of a similar snow church in the village 100 years ago.

The original 1911 church served a far different purpose, however, according to Catholic Church Dean Kajetan Steinbeisser, who blessed the church opening. ”It was meant as an act of provocation,” he said. “Believers from the village got together and built a snow church because they didn’t have a church here.”

The church at Mitterfirmiansreut, dubbed God’s Igloo by one German newspaper, is more than 65 feet in length and also contains a tower. It was initially planned to be open before Christmas, according to Spiegel International Online, but the construction was delayed by warm weather and a lack of snow.

Awesomely beautiful.

When Churches Lose the Plot- This Is What Happens to their ‘Youth’ Program

Mosaic Church in Chattanooga calls its Youth ministry ‘Club Fathom’.  Club Fathom was the scene of a violent brawl the other day.

A Christmas morning shooting that injured nine people is further evidence that the downtown club where the brawl began is a public nuisance that should be dealt with quickly, city officials said Monday.

Club Fathom has a long history of teen violence dating back to at least 2006 and has faced city ire in the past.

“This place has consistently been a problem and the owners are not addressing the problem,” city spokesman Richard Beeland said. “We are talking to the city attorney to see what our options are.”

Chattanooga police said nine people — five juveniles and four adults — were shot when rival gang members began firing at each other in a crowd of about 400 teens leaving a Christmas Eve party at Club Fathom located in a building run by Mosaic Church on Market Street.

Police believe the Club Fathom brawl, which happened shortly after midnight, led to at least two other incidents, including another shooting near College Hill Courts. Police Spokeswoman Sgt. Jerri Weary said police would not release any additional information about the incident until today.

Police have not released the names of those injured near Club Fathom, but said no injuries appeared to be life-threatening. Police released Sunday the name of 18-year-old Thomas Heffner, who was shot in the hand near College Hill Courts sometime after leaving the downtown melee.

Fliers outside the building advertised a candlelight Christmas Eve service from midnight to 1 a.m., while an online ad billed a “Smash or Pass Christmas Bash,” where no ID was required. That advertisement featured a woman in red lingerie and a Santa hat.

Now what kind of church is it that runs a teen club?  And a teen club where women in lingerie is their choice for advertisement?  Yet this is exactly what happens when Christ is forgotten and the aim of ‘ministry’ becomes ‘getting the kids to come whatever it takes.’


Death is the Reason for the Season

The New Testament is right to draw from this theological well (Is 53) as it nicely expresses the reason for which redemption is necessary. No one should celebrate Christmas without remembering that it is because of sin that the sending of the redeemer is necessary.

To put it poetically

If it weren’t for your being so depraved
He wouldn’t have been planted in the grave.

In Isaiah we find

Like sheep we had all wandered away, each going its own way, but the LORD let fall on him all our crimes. 7 He was oppressed and tormented, but didn’t open his mouth. Like a lamb being brought to slaughter, like a ewe silent before her shearers, he didn’t open his mouth. 8 Due to an unjust ruling he was taken away, and his fate—who will think about it? He was eliminated from the land of the living, struck dead because of my people’s rebellion.  (CEB)

He died because of you. He was raised from the grave for you. That shouldn’t be forgotten on the day people think most about Him.

Praying for the Nigerian Church

Two bomb explosions targeting Christmas morning church services in Nigeria have left at least 25 people dead, officials said, in what appears to be a series of co-ordinated attacks in the heart of the country.

The first attack occurred near a Catholic church in Madala, on the outskirts of the Nigerian capital Abuja, during morning prayers. Rescue workers have recovered at least 25 bodies from the church as officials continue to tally those wounded in various hospitals, said Slaku Luguard, a co-ordinator with Nigeria’s national emergency management agency (Nema).

A second explosion was reported 100 miles away outside a church in the city of Jos, the scene of a bombing campaign on Christmas Eve last year. Government spokesman Pam Ayuba said the blast near the Mountain of Fire Church was followed by gunshots and that at least one police officer had been wounded.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks but Nigerian security forces have been battling the militant Islamist Boko Haram group, which wants to impose Islamic sharia law across the country, which is split roughly equally between Christians and Muslims.

The Prince of Peace hasn’t yet been embraced in many places on our planet, has he…

Total Depravity: Wretched, Vile Thievery

Unfortunately the criminals arrested haven’t been named.  What a shame.

Police say two South Florida women are accused of stealing Christmas decorations from their neighbor’s yard and putting them in a yard less than a block away.  Police in the Miami suburb of Sweetwater say about $500 of items were taken, including Mickey Mouse on a horse, hugging penguins, Snoopy on a doghouse and Santa on a sled.

I suppose the thought of getting a job so that they had money instead of stealing things which belonged to others for that purpose never crossed their minds.  Selfish trollops.  I long for the old days when such persons would be caught, put in the stocks in the public square, and mocked whilst being pelted with rotten fruit and eggs.  If that sort of justice were meted out I guarantee there would be less of such petty depravity.