I love this story from James Bryan Smith about John of Kronstadt: “He was a nineteenth-century Russian Orthodox priest at a time when alcohol abuse was rampant. None of the priests ventured out of their churches to help the people. They waited for people to come to them. John, compelled by love, went out into the streets. People said he would lift the hungover, foul-smelling people from the gutter, cradle them in his arms and say to them, ‘This is beneath your dignity. You were meant to house the fullness of God.’”
That is incarnation.
- The Word became flesh in Jesus, in whom "all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell."
- Because of this, we are ones in whom Christ dwells. We are meant to “be filled with all the fullness of God."
- Therefore, as Christ’s body (the church), we do what John of Kronstadt did and carry the message to whatever part of the world in which we find ourselves: "You, too, were meant to house the fullness of God."
Jesus did not live in human flesh for his own sake. You are not one in whom Christ dwells for your own benefit. The church is not Christ’s body just so that we can have a good time together. Rather, we follow a Messiah who understood himself as sent from his Father in the heavens–he came in the flesh, lived, died, and rose again to show us what God is like and to give us the opportunity to "share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity."
The challenge of carrying a message like that into the world is the degree to which we must allow ourselves to be touched if the message is to go anywhere. It simply isn’t a message that can mean anything if shouted from a distance. Read More
I can’t imagine church without Christmas. I’ve been in church frequently from the time I was born, and a number of my favorite church memories have to do with Christmas.
One memory that still gets relived each year in my family is of when my oldest brother was home to visit with his new bride. My brother is 6’4”, and his wife is–well, I’m not sure of her exact height. I only know that she’s just the right size for her hair to be at the same level as my brother’s candle during a Christmas Eve service. I’m not sure if she felt something, or if it was the smell of hair burning that caught their attention, but younger brothers thrive on having things like that to tell about our older siblings. He has now successfully gone more than twenty years without lighting her on fire, but the story doesn’t go away. (By the way, I did not ask my brother’s permission to tell this publicly.)
Another memory is from years later when I was on staff at a church, and therefore was sitting on the platform able to see the whole, full sanctuary during our Christmas Eve service. I remember the richness of the entire evening, as a soloist sang “O Holy Night,” and then we all joined in on the hymns. When it was time to listen to the Scripture’s account of Jesus’ birth, I was gripped by the moment as everyone in the place stood in reverence for the words we were about to hear. Then, at the end of the service, to have everyone light their candles against the background of the darkness outside the sanctuary, it created a vivid memory that will remain imprinted on my mind. We were gathered there two millennia later, and on the other side of the world from Bethlehem, but still as people of the Messiah who was born there–just as millions of others of our brothers and sisters around the world were doing that same night. Read More
Christmas is radically better news than we tend to think, because incarnation (God coming to live in a human body) means much more than we realize.
When we think of incarnation–particularly at Christmas–we usually leave out a huge part of it. Perhaps we could say that it has two phases, and God becoming human is the first of them, to which Christmas is our great signpost. Think of passages such as these, which all hinge on the message of Christmas:
- “The Word became flesh and lived among us.”
- “The Father and I are one…the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”
- “If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
- “He is the image of the invisible God…For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell….”
- "He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being….”
It’s safe to say that Isaiah son of Amoz would be surprised to have his words included in a series of Christmas devotions being written by a Gentile Texan some 2,700 years after he lived. I wonder if he might go beyond being surprised and even issue me an old-style prophet’s rebuke, which he certainly knew how to do. The reason he might not see his inclusion here as an honor is because we Christians are often guilty of not listening to what he spent his life trying to say, because we think we already know the point. That is particularly true with the passages from Isaiah most important for us during these twelve days, those that get read and quoted during Christmas.
As I was getting ready to work on this series and spent some time looking at the traditional scripture readings for these twelve days, I was struck by how many of them come from Isaiah. For example, during the three year cycle of lectionary readings, the gospel of Mark never shows up. Four readings are from Matthew. John has six. And even Luke's eleven appearances share the lead for the most common source–with Isaiah. Read More
My name is Daniel Ethan Harris. My father, David Edwin Harris, was my hero, and I grew up being very proud of being able to scribble DEH on things and convincing myself that then no one would be able to tell whether the item was mine or his. When my wife and I found out we were expecting a son, we knew we wanted to pass on the initials, and he is named David Ethan Harris, after both my dad and me. And yes, the tradition continues–I often see my initials scribbled on things around the house, pointing to the common parts of our identity. It makes me glad every time.
Why is your name what it is? Did your parents just like its sound, or was it given to you as something they hoped would carry meaning throughout your life? As is the case for my son, it might be a name intentionally meant to connect you to the stories of people in previous generations. Or, perhaps, the name itself carries a meaning.
Today is the eighth day of Christmas, a day in which we pay particular attention to the name given to our Messiah. Following Jewish custom, Mary and Joseph took the baby to be circumcised on the eighth day, and he was then "called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” Read More
Does Christmas have any real impact on how I will live in 2016? Now that we are a week into these twelve days of Christmas, and entering a new year tomorrow, what do these Christmas themes of adoration of our incarnate Messiah have to say about how we will live? Maybe considering the entire upcoming year can be too big to be very helpful. It's probably more meaningful to narrow the focus: how will Christmas shape how I will spend the first week of the new year? The point always has to do with right now, so, how will my desire to be one who adores Christ shape how I spend December 31 and New Year's Day?
If I want to consider how I will live today, tomorrow, next week, and next year in light of the fact that the Messiah has come and is here, the way we normally set goals and New Year's resolutions tends to fall a bit short of what we really need. So, here's an unconventional resolution I'm setting for myself in light of the magnitude of Christmas: Read More
I can be a remarkably patient father for a full five minutes. After that, a lot of variables come into play, but once I’m past the five-minute mark, my patience tank often ends up running on fumes. I wasn’t always this way. In fact, if I think back through my life, I can identify some major turning points in my own character. For example, I was once an exceptionally unselfish person. Then I got married. Whatever unselfishness remained after entering marriage also seemed to vanish, right along with my patience and level-headedness, once our children were born.
Of course, despite how I might like to convince myself otherwise, my selfishness and impatience were really part of me all along, but it took the closeness of these very cherished family relationships to bring me face-to-face with my own flaws. So, as a father whose patience tank often runs on empty, even with these kids whom I love so dearly, I find Luke’s final story about Jesus’ childhood to be strangely comforting.
I have two exceptionally kind children (not to mention how cute, talented, smart, humble, etc. they are...and I think I’ve read somewhere that each of those traits can be traced to the skill of the father in the family–especially the humility). Yet even with as great as my kids are, I can’t really wrap my mind around what it might have been like to parent the incarnate Messiah. I think that’s part of why I have found this story at the end of Luke’s second chapter to be much more encouraging in the years since I became a parent. Though it isn’t the point of the story, this passage shows that–regardless of the child’s identity–those on whom we gazed in awe and wonder when they were infants can come to push the limits of any mother or father. Read More