27 December 2016

Un-sentimentalizing Christmas

My favourite Christmas song is Joy to the World: it celebrates how Christ's coming brings in his Kingdom. It speaks of power and might and justice - all very unsentimental things. 

However, there's something about the cute Christmas pageants with kids, meditations about how baby Jesus is our present, songs about the cute little baby (who doesn't cry) in a manger, and so on that tends towards making Christmas seem sentimental. This can then distract from the wonder of how Christ's coming - both his first and second coming - changes everything.

On Christmas Eve, having had too much exposure to Christmas sentimentality, when Matthijs asked for text suggestions for what to read before bed, I asked for Revelation 12. This text talks about the birth and coming of the one who would reign with justice and truth.

It had been awhile since I'd heard Revelation 12, and I only remembered it vaguely. It started out well: "a woman clothed with the sun," pregnant and about to give birth. But it gets both scary and violent fairly quickly, as a dragon appears: "The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her child the moment he was born." But, she, nonetheless, "gave birth to a son, a male child, who “will rule all the nations with an iron scepter.” And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne. The woman fled into the wilderness to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days." (Rev 12:1-6). And then war broke out, the dragon pursued the woman, the woman escaped when "the earth helped the woman by opening its mouth and swallowing the river that the dragon had spewed out of his mouth. Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring—those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus." (Rev 12:16-17).

My reaction after reading the text was, well, that was definitely un-sentimental. And a bit more overwhelming for Christmas than I'd realized. I think next year, I'll just suggest reading John 1.  

24 December 2016

Advent in America

Advent - the time of waiting for Christ's coming - is almost over. With the coming of Christmas, we transition from longing for God's kingdom to come and heal the brokenness in the world to celebrating how Christ's first coming has already brought about God's kingdom of justice and truth and peace. 

Except it feels like the state of Advent - longing for God to right the brokenness in this world - has become permanent. The imminent installation of Donald Trump contributes somewhat to that feeling. I sometimes joke that it's hard to determine which person he's appointed is more ill-suited for the position (e.g., Elaine Chao for Transportation Secretary, with her history of working for the Heritage Foundation, the leading advocacy voice to end federal funding for biking, walking and transit, or Betsy De Vos, to be in charge of education, despite the fact that neither she nor her family has spent much time in the public school systems, and there are others who are probably worse!). Yet, I think Trump is primarily a symptom of a system that is not working well: distrust of the media, people disillusioned by the system, people fearful not just of foreigners but also of neighbours. People struggling simply to survive, and so the focus becomes on looking out for ourselves, instead of others. This is reflected even in many Christian communities, where the focus is often on my personal relationship with Jesus (or taking care of our people). Jesus' birth is so much larger than Christ coming into the world to save me - Christ came to save the world (cf. John 3:16). The kingdom brought on by Christ's coming is one of truth and justice and hope for all people, not just me and my people. 

Celebrating Christmas - believing that God is already at work here in the midst of the brokenness - the situation in Syria, the refugees in my own land, broken relationships, a lack of truth, distrust of others, and more - this celebrating is an act of defiance. Despite what my heart might feel and my eyes might see, I choose to believe that God's kingdom has come. As I do that, I am more able to see glimpses of God working in and through those around me. And also to be challenged to be part of working for God's kingdom on earth.