There are some outstanding blog posts out there this year, celebrating the meaning of Christmas in many different ways.
Archbishop Cranmer has a glorious little meditation called ‘Behold Your God’. Here’s an excerpt:
God became flesh.
What a wonder!
And His parents weren’t invited to the palace in a chauffeur-driven chariot to dine with the great and the good. They weren’t lauded by the media, honoured by the local synagogue or awarded the OBE for services to messianic propagation. She carried on cooking and cleaning and he banged nails into wood, while the Son of God did what little boys do in space and time: they eat, grow, learn, laugh and cry. The Word became flesh and played with his mates. He got things wrong and grazed his knees, like all little boys. He made things and broke them; He built things and knocked them down; He changed things, because things had to change.
Please do read the rest here. Oh, and I stole the picture from him too.
The good archbishop is on a roll, by the way. His previous post was called ‘Christmas means anything but peace on earth’. Again, here’s an excerpt:
In the Hebrew, Isaiah’s ‘Prince of Peace’ is sar shalom. Sar is better translated as ruler or leader, and shalom means far more than just peace of mind or a cease-fire between enemies. It is the binding together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight. For mankind, shalom means a deep flourishing and wholeness wrapped in the love of God.
Prince of Peace works nicely as a piece of alliteration, but fails to convey the full meaning. Jesus is not the ‘peaceful ruler’. Instead he is the ruler of shalom, restoring and making good the relationship between us and God. Charles Wesley understood this when he wrote ‘Peace on earth and mercy mild (which results in) God and sinners reconciled’. For it is in God’s mercy through Christ that we find our salvation and purpose.
Read the rest here.
Over at Psephizo, Ian Paul has been running an excellent series of posts examining traditional details of the Christmas story in light of what the texts actually say. Check out ‘Did Luke Get the Date of Jesus’ Birth Wrong?‘, ‘Challenging Christmas Traditions (i)‘, ‘Challenging Christmas Traditions (ii)‘, and ‘Jesus Really Wasn’t Born in a Stable‘. Note that Ian is not challenging the truth of the biblical narratives; he’s just giving a close examination to what they actually say, as compared with the way the story is often told.
Over at ‘Anglican Down Under’, Peter Carrell (who is not preaching this Christmas) gives us some thoughts on what he might say if he was, in ‘What I Would Preach This Christmas’.
Somewhere in my hypothetical sermon I think I would be mentioning that this Christmas the message of Jesus Christ is a little, perhaps even a lot harder to preach because this past year has been a very, very bad year for religion.
The violence and hatred expressed murderously in the name of one or two religions makes it harder for all religions to communicate their message. That some atheists in the 20th century murdered millions in the name of atheistic anti-religions such as Marxist-Leninism is a pretty bleak counter to those who wonder why any religion should be taken seriously when in the name of religion children are being beheaded in front of their parents, girls are being kidnapped, both girls and adult women are being sold into slavery and forced marriage. The list goes on and in 2014 has been viciously horrible.
There is something deeply wrong with religion in general when religious reasons are proffered for ill-treatment of fellow human beings, especially the most powerless in the face of men with guns: children and women. Could 2015 be a year when religious leaders start talking to one another and uniting in condemnation of humanity’s inhumanity to one another?
Yet the dark religious clouds hovering over Christmas this year highlight the beacon of light which shines from the manger in the stable. That light is the light of the world, born in miserable circumstances to bring light and life to the whole world, to every man, woman, and child.
The light that shines from the stable is not the light of truth, if truth means we may maim and kill those who do not agree with us, and it is not the light of goodness and purity, if goodness and purity means that we may torture and destroy those we perceive to be bad and impure. It is the light of life, the light of love, the light of God who so loved every man, woman, child (i.e. ‘the world’) that he sent his own Son to all humanity to rescue us from precisely the darkness which threatens to engulf the world today.
The challenge of Christmas (if we may put it that way – it does sound serious and heavy in the midst of celebration) is to move beyond religion (if that means ‘my religion’ versus ‘your religion’) to the heart of God which is love. If religion does not serve this God, it is nothing. If the religion known as ‘Christianity’ does not serve this God, it has misunderstood the announcement God’s heart makes to our hearts in Jesus Christ.
It’s worth reading the whole thing here.
At ‘Gathering Coals’, my colleague Scott Sharman has a post comparing and contrasting the peace of Jesus with the ‘peace’ of the Roman (or any other) Empire. Here’s an excerpt from the end:
Both Sol Invictus and Jesus of Nazareth promised the world the exact same thing: peace. But the ways in which they proposed to bring about this peace were most certainly polar opposite. (Admittedly, the Church, or at least Christendom, with its Imperial history, has not always remembered this, nor lived out of it).
The way of the empire, the Roman peace (Pax Romana), is the imposition of control and the suppression of rebellion through conquest and violence. It is a peace of a kind, but the kind that is for some and not others, that is won at the end of a sword, and that remains effective only until the next uprising must be quelled.
The way of the cross, the peace of Christ (Pax Christi), is throwing a wrench (i.e. Christ’s own body) into the machinery of the so-called ‘peacemaking’ that relies on an endless cycle of violence. It shows that true power is found in humility, vulnerability, and self-sacrificial love. It is won by absorbing all the evil that can be thrown its way and refusing to strike back in retaliation, instead swallowing it up to end it once and for all.
Sun or Son? Empire or cross? Bread and circuses or bread and wine? In the midst of the celebration of hope, expectation, joy, and love, may we also remember that Christmas is about being called out of the empire, and called in to Christ’s way of making peace; not as the world gives peace, but peace beyond our understanding.
Read the whole thing here. Scott also gets an honourable mention for bringing an old Star Trek episode into his Christmas meditation!
And a few shorts. David Keen has a lovely little Christmas poem here. Richard Hall, as is his custom, gives us the texts of two lesser-known Christmas hymns by Charles Wesley (both of them excellent, IMHO), here and here. ‘The Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley’ give us a meditation on how the gospel was cradled in the arms of its Jewish background in ‘The New Moon in the Old Moon’s Arms‘, and the earlier post ‘The One Who Held the Hopes of the World‘ is also worth reading.
As is his custom, over at ‘Of Course, I Could Be Wrong’ internet priest Jonathan Hagger gives us a massive podcast for Christmas, including a folk carol service, a Christmas communion and a fantastic collection of Christmassy tunes. The podcast is available as a free download, but if you do download it, do the decent thing and drop a couple of shekels into Jonathan’s collection plate; he works hard on this stuff and it’s fantastic quality.
Finally, the first ever ‘Faith, Folk and Charity’ Christmas grinch award (if there was such a thing) goes to the serious-minded folks at ‘Thinking Anglicans‘. In times past, they’ve sometimes given us some (appropriately thoughtful) Christmas meditations, but this year they’ve managed to almost entirely ignore the Advent and Christmas seasons altogether, preferring to focus on sex, women bishops, and other items of church politics. It’s tough work, but someone has to do it…