Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Romans 12:12

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In The Flesh

Incarnate – in the flesh. Christmas is often spiritualized to the point where the fleshy-ness of it sometimes gets lost. Candlelight and soothing hymns. Soft glow and warm fuzzies in our hearts. All is calm … all is bright …But Christmas is all about the incarnation – it’s all about the flesh. It’s all about real life in the here and now.

Childbirth is messy. I know, I’ve seen a couple now. There is blood and fluid everywhere. There is pain and tears, exhaustion and an anxiety you can feel right down to your bones. Babies are messy (why had I never heard of meconium before my son was born? – ugh! … ) Fluids and leaks and mucus everywhere! Life is messy. Even as we get older there is blood everywhere (from the scraped knees and elbows to noses, to lost teeth). There is fluid everywhere (runny noses, puss-filled wounds, blisters, and vomit). We who live in this body are forever cleaning up after it. In between there may be spiritual moments, but on the whole life is messy and often painful!

And that is what Christ was born on that first Christmas to be a part of. The messiness of life in the body. Our human body. Both in birth and later in death, as the water and blood would flow from his spear-pierced side. Christmas is a time for delving into the true impact of Christ’s human flesh upon our own.

Consider that during the first three days after Christmas the Christian Church celebrates three separate Saint’s days. St. Stephen, the first Christian Martyr, stoned to death for proclaiming God incarnate. St. John the Apostle, condemned to live out his long and lonely last years in exile from the ones he loved. The Holy Innocents, the baby boys of Bethlehem, murdered by King Herod simply because their flesh was too much like Christ’s, the intended victim. Each in their own way is a tale of fleshly suffering and grief. Down to earth, messy lives, where blood and tears flowed. Yet in Christ’s incarnation, in His suffering, death and bodily resurrection those lives were cleaned up, their tears dried up, and their bodies even now await the resurrection of all flesh at the coming of our Lord in glory.

Christmas has never been about escaping the bonds of the flesh for a time, that we might elevate ourselves to some spiritual experience. It is about sharing in the flesh with our Lord and Saviour. Sharing in His sufferings now so that we might share in His glories later. It is about the water of Holy Baptism that makes His life our own. It is about His Body and Blood given and shed for the forgiveness of sins and the strengthening of faith.

Here’s wishing you a fleshy, messy, Christmas season!

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What Child is This?

baby-jesus-picturesWhat Child Is This [LSB #370]

2. Why lies He in such mean estate
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christian, fear; for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you;
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
The babe, the son of Mary!

Text (st. 2) and Music: Public domain Created by Lutheran Service Builder © 2006 Concordia Publishing House.

Someone much smarter than me once said that the New Testament is hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is revealed only in the New. It is a principle that will never steer you wrong when trying to make sense of your Bible. It is also a principle that I’ve always associated with Christmas and Easter.

Easter in hidden in Christmas and Christmas is revealed only in Easter. This present we receive in the Christmas Child is only fully unwrapped on Good Friday and Easter Sunday … In this baby’s suffering, dying and rising. Yet, Easter simply couldn’t be if Jesus were not one of us (incarnate), if Christmas didn’t come first. They are each of them important parts of the whole.

The hymn writers of many long ages all understood this well. That’s why all of my favourite Christmas Hymns have non-too-subtle images of Christ’s passion woven throughout. Consider “What Child is This?” Nail, spear shall pierce Him through, the cross be borne for me, for you.

How often have we sung this verdict upon the tiny infant King, nestled in the manger?

How often have we stopped in our Christmas reflections to truly ponder all these things in our hearts?

Even in His lowly birth, His mean estate, this Christ is (by His very being in our flesh and blood) pleading for sinners. He is placing Himself to be the sacrifice of flesh and blood that will avail for the payment of mankind’s sin. He is even in Christmas, paving the way for Good Friday and Easter.

Hail, Hail the Word made Flesh, the babe, the son of Mary!

Merry Christmas to you and yours, may all the blessings of Life and salvation be yours in Christ!

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(Christmas) Food for Thought!

mkpuc356Here’s a little food for thought for those of you who haven’t yet finalized your dinner plans for this coming Christmas …

LIMA, Peru – Are hard times threatening your Christmas dinner? Well then, Peru has the answer: GUINEA PIG! Officials in the coastal Peruvian province of Callao on Monday hailed the Andean rodent as a low-cost, low-fat alternative to a traditional turkey or roast pork Christmas dinner. Guinea pigs can feed seven or eight for about C$4, Callao official Mario Sanguinity told Associated Press Television. “The idea is to give the people a tasty, economical option,” he said. The presentation included a live guinea pig dressed as Santa Claus and eight of its comrades laid out fried, broiled and roasted in traditional dishes from different regions of Peru. Callao resident Silvia Carazas said she plans to make the switch to guinea pig at Christmas. “The animal is rich in protein and has zero cholesterol as well, very important for those of us looking to watch our weight,” she said. The tiny cuts of white meat are often compared to rabbit and dark chicken. Called “cuy” in Peru, guinea pig is a stable source of income for farmers and holds an elevated place in Andean folklore. A painting of the Last Supper hanging in the principal cathedral of the ancient Inca capital of Cuzco depicts Christ and the 12 disciples dining on guinea pig. © The Canadian Press, 2008

At first you may be tempted to consider this all in poor taste … I know I found it hard to stomach … but after giving a little more thought to food and the holidays I must also confess to finding a certain fascination with the idea of Christmas and Guinea Pigs.

cuyEspecially when the connection is made (even in an off-handed way) to the Lord’s Supper. I know that the locals who commissioned and painted it did it to reflect a little bit of their culture in the Bible’s story and to bring a greater understanding to the people. Cuy (guinea pig) is a real delicacy for many people in Peru – reserved for truly special occasions. But any kind of rodent (even the moderately cute ones) are completely non-kosher. They are unclean and would not be eaten by the Israelites.

But wasn’t that why Jesus was born on Christmas? To be the Passover Lamb … the Christmas guinea pig? Jesus took on human flesh so that on the cross He could then become unclean for us. The Christmas present of that little baby in a manger isn’t truly and fully received until He has grown up, suffered, and died for the sins of the world.

Isn’t that what ‘being a guinea pig’ (to borrow the expression) is all about – being a model of the human, a subject for testing so that humans might reap the benefit without suffering the harm. That’s the Christmas gift … that this perfect, sinless, innocent and holy child would become the bearer of all sin, and while bearing it on that cross be distasteful to, and forsaken by His own Father in heaven.

I’m pretty sure I won’t be heading down to the local pet shop to buy my Christmas meal any time soon, but the lowly guinea pig has given me some interesting food for thought this coming Christmas!

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Issues Etc Quote of the Week

I’ve been listening to this show for years, but even more of late. I can’t begin to tell you what a gift it has been to me. A gift of sound Lutheran teaching delivered in a caring, pastoral approach. A gift that I use every day in my life and my ministry. I think you can too … thus my gift to you of a soundbite from this week’s show for your consideration.

But all of us have received gifts that we did not want or feel we can use.  One gift that comes to mind for me is a pair of hand-knitted socks.  They were brown and orange stripped and went up right to my knees.  How could I possibly wear them? I thought even as I accepted them.  (How can you say no to someone who has gone out of their way to do something nice for you?)  And so home they came and in the back of my sock drawer they stayed.

But then I discovered something.  Not only were those socks really comfortable and warm, they were really fun to wear!  Just for laughs I would put them on to see everyone’s reaction.  It never failed to make me feel better.

Similarly, not all of God’s gifts seem terrific at first blush.  Consider repentance.  It is the gift that no one really wants to be stuck with.  But it is a wonderful gift that can come only from God, and is given by Him to make us feel better every time we use it.  Have a listen to Dr. Andrew Das as he speaks about the gift of repentance in my choice for the Issues Etc Soundbite of the week.

Listen to MY Issues Etc Quote of the Week

Now this a gift we can all use!

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Liking the Lie

pinochioSpoiler alert! (If you care deeply for Santa you may not want to read any further.)

My four year old son doesn’t believe in Santa Claus. At least that is what he told us many months ago. He is a very anylitical young man who likes to weigh the evidence, follow the logic, and study the issues from every angle. Upon doing this with the story of good old St. Nick he was left with one undeniable four-year old’s conclusion: Santa is just a story. He can’t possibly be real.

We did not lead him down this way of thinking, we were still debating between ourselves how exactly we should handle the whole issue around Christmas this year. To have our little scientist come to this conclusion on his own lifted a certain weight off our questioning shoulders.

But then a strange thing happened. In the intervening time our son came to realize that the whole world has tied the story of Santa to the giving and receiving of gifts at Christmas. He didn’t believe in Santa, but he dearly loves the idea of toys! You could almost hear the gears spinning. When the smoke cleared he somewhat, sort-of, almost undeniably, in mostly-no-uncertain terms told us that he really truly believes in Santa Claus. (He’s a terrible liar – even for a four-year old – if I can read his face!)

What happened to all his well thought out convictions? What happened to his rock-solid certainty? He was willing to lay it all aside and pretend to believe something he didn’t really believe … IF the reward was great enough. IF it promised something good enough by way of compensation. In short, he began to like the lie better. They sure do grow up fast don’t they?

It is a very grown up thing to do … to like the lie enough to lay aside reason and conviction. It is something we adults have become so accustomed to doing, that we don’t often even notice anymore. We have even come to call it “living in the real world.” If we believe the lie that there is no God or that God is just a creation of our own making, the payback is that we get to be Him, and we are no longer answerable to Him. If we believe the lie that all religions are basically the same the payback is that they are all basically meaningless and easy (and right) to ignore. If we believe the lie of evolution then the payoff is that life is meaningless, we are an accident of nature, and something better is coming. The payback is that morals don’t apply, and the expectations on who we are and how we should act are really very low … not to mention not our fault.

One day the price of the lie will finally outweigh the lure of the material gifts and my son will go back to his well informed and well reasoned understanding. My prayer is that the same will happen for so many of those in our world who have come to like the lie. My prayer is that one day the the lure of the payoff will no longer outweigh the truth before them. That there is a God … one true God who made Himself known in Jesus Christ. A God who in Christ created them … a God who in Christ loves them and has expectations of them … a God who because of Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross thinks highly enough of them to want to be with them for eternity. A God who loves them more than Santa ever could – and that’s no lie!