The Incarnation is the most apostolic act recorded in the Bible. We often do not equate such an act with Christmas. We get caught up in the baby, decorations, gifts, and traditions. But here we have God the Father sending God the Son to fulfill the mission of God.
I have a problem with the Bible. Here’s my problem…
I’m an ancient Egyptian. I’m a comfortable Babylonian. I’m a Roman in his villa.
That’s my problem. See, I’m trying to read the Bible for all it’s worth, but I’m not a Hebrew slave suffering in Egypt. I’m not a conquered Judean deported to Babylon. I’m not a first century Jew living under Roman occupation.
I’m a citizen of a superpower. I was born among the conquerors. I live in the empire. But I want to read the Bible and think it’s talking to me. This is a problem.
I think he has a point. Perspective is important to be aware of, and we mostly view Scripture through our Western lens. There’s nothing inherently bad with our lens, we miss a lot when we can see outside of it.
But why make this an Advent reflection? Because one of the most revolutionary text occurs in the first chapter of Luke during the narrative of Jesus’ birth. Here, Mary sings her Magnificat:
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. (51-53)
You can hear the cry for justice, years in its formation. Remember, Mary lives as part of an oppressed people waiting on God’s redemption to rescue them. She first celebrates God’s favor on her and then she shifts her attention to the great reversal where the humble are lifted up in God’s plan and the proud are brought down.
And where do we find ourselves in the story? Be careful, because if we’re too quick to align ourselves with lowly Mary when we’re really much like her oppressors, we’ll miss out on something important. When we assume we’re already like her, we have quite a humiliating journey ahead of us.
So, we have to remember that even one our most cherished narratives has a revolutionary tone to it. And to understand it, we should pay fresh attention like Zahnd would have us do.
I have a problem with the Bible, but all is not lost. I just need to read it standing on my head. I need to change my perspective. If I can accept that the Bible is trying to lift up those who are unlike me, then perhaps I can read the Bible right.
Every year during Advent, I enjoy reflecting on this quote from St. Alphonse de Liguori:
My Jesus, supreme and true God! What has drawn Thee from heaven to be born in a cold stable, if not the love which Thou bearest us men? What has allured thee from the bosom of Thy Father, to place Thee in a hard manger? What has brought Thee from Thy throne above the stars to lay Thee down on a little straw? What has led Thee from the midst of the nine choirs of angels, to set Thee between two animals? Thou, who inflamest the seraphim with holy fire, are now shivering with cold in this stable! Thou, who settest the stars in the sky in motion, canst not now move unless others carry Thee in their arms! Thou, who givest men and beasts their food, has need now of a little milk to sustain Thy life! Thou, who art the joy of heaven, dost now whimper and cry in suffering! Tell me, who has reduced Thee to such misery? ‘Love has done it,’ says Saint Bernard. The love which Thou bearest us men has brought all this on Thee.
Too often, we rush through Christmas without reflecting on the extreme dichotomy of Jesus’ heavenly home and him becoming subject to his creation as a baby. There has never been such a scandalous display of love!
One of the biggest questions to answer when we talk about church planting is, Why? Why should we plant new churches when there are so many already in existence? Why put all that energy into something new when we could improve was already is?
In 2002, Tim Keller wrote an excellent article outlining why he thinks planting new churches not only improves existing ones but also keeps us faithful to Jesus’ mandate to make disciples.
To be true to the biblical mandate
To be true to the Great Commission
To continually renew the whole Body of Christ
To exercise kingdom-mindedness
He then gives some historical examples and the need for new churches.
Think about it: The church you now attend was, at one point in time, nonexistent. Someone (or someones) came along and thought that it would be better than this new expression of the gospel be started. And you and your family benefit from how these courageous souls decided to their mark on the world.
Our oldest son bought an Xbox this fall. Every so often, it stutters when we’re playing and starts over, much to my son’s chagrin. I’m mostly able to flow with it and not get too worked up about it. I wish life was the same way.
I’m in a bit of a reset period myself. I’m feeling a refocusing coming on so more in alignment with what I feel called to do in life. Our church is going through a major reset, or refresh, as we think through some different ways of ministry. And just this morning, I met with a couple who had recently broken up and they were trying to figure out how to move forward together (but mostly apart).
All these things can be confusing and painful because most of the answers are on the other side of the reset. The reason why it’s necessary, how you’re going to live differently, what it costs, etc. make more sense looking backwards. But we can’t let the fear of loss hold us back from who we’re becoming.
When was the last time you reset something significant in your life? How did you make it through?