Categories
Commentary Life

The Feast of St. Lucia

Yesterday, December 13, was the Feast of St. Lucia, a festival of lights celebrated in honor of St. Lucia (or Lucy), a martyr who was killed by the Romans in AD 304.

The name Lucia/Lucy comes from the Latin root lux which means “light.” Celebrated in the darkness of winter, St. Lucia Day reminds us that the true Light of the world has come.

It’s celebrated primarily in Sweden and Norway, but also in Italy (where Lucia was born) and in parts of Finland.

It’s also celebrated in our house.

My wife has quite a bit of Scandinavian heritage and richly embraces it. So much so that I’ve embraced it, too, and now consider myself an honorary Scandinavian. Our children love traditions, especially ones with significant meaning. So St. Lucia Day has become tradition in our home.

St. Lucia’s feast calls for breakfast in bed. With a 1-year old, we start at the table. As we gathered in the darkness with only our dim, white Christmas lights lit, I read this:

In the liturgy of the Church, Saint Lucy has held, and still holds today, the inspiring position of a saint whose very name reminds the faithful at the middle of Advent that her own “light” is only a reflection of the great “Light of the World” which is to start shining at Bethlehem on Christmas Day. It is as if she would say: “I am only a little flame in Advent showing you the way: 

Behold, the Lord will come And all His saints with Him, And on that day There will be a great light. Alleluia.

Lucia is one, small candle in the night pointing to the Great Light, who lights up the entire world. And whoever follows that Light will never walk in darkness again.

Here’s a brief insight I had from the day. I couldn’t help but think that Protestants would benefit from intentionally celebrating more feast days like this. It was fun. It had purpose. And, ultimately, it points us to Jesus.

The problem is that when we Protestants hear anything having to do with a “saint” we don’t want to touch it with a 10-foot pole. Dealing with “saints” smacks of all-things-Roman Catholic and idol worship. So we just avoid it altogether and, for the most part, forget those who have come before us. And we are poorer for it. (Remember, of course, that Lucia lived in the third century AD, well before the formation of the Roman Catholic Church as you know it today.)

The Scriptures tell us that celebrating a day or a religious festival is a matter of conscience because they are just a shadow of the things that were to come (see Col. 2:16-17). So no judgment at all if you or I abstain. Period.

But a feast like St. Lucia Day, while just a shadow, is still a shadow. And shadows can help us to see and experience the Substance.

We have a great cloud of witnesses who have come before us–ones we read of in the Scriptures and ones we read of outside the Scriptures. These witnesses don’t point us to themselves, but to Jesus. Otherwise, they aren’t true witnesses.

Maybe you are a Christian, of any tradition, who feels like you aren’t connected to your spiritual heritage. Maybe you are a parent who wants to structure your holidays and year with meaningful traditions. Maybe you just want to learn about those who have gone before you.

Then celebrate a feast day.

I’m not asking you to pray to or worship saints. I’m asking you to remember that you are a part of a great, spiritual family tree that spans generations and geography. Our history is rich. And I hope you to use that history to help you see and worship the One to whom the saints, like Lucia, point.

Categories
Life

“Hands”

I have a goal to write and post something for 90 straight days. I’m on day 4 and today was a packed day. My wife and I also recorded a new podcast episode tonight that just released a few minutes ago.

Whew.

So here I am at 10pm to write something.

But I’m cheating. I’m not writing something new or original.

I’m reposing a Christmas poem I wrote a few years back. It takes the perspective of Joseph, Mary’s husband and Jesus’ adoptive father.

I hope you enjoy it.


“Hands”

Open on your mother’s chest
or after a bellowing belch.
Taut when you’re tired.
Slurp slurp, tick tick,
your tongue tackles
each knuckle and cuticle.
Somehow that helps you fade
away to never-never-land.
Mine are calloused, crusty, tired.
Splinters are their wages.
Blue veins bursting.
Palm lines peeling.
Bleeding.
Grab the balm and bandage.
I’ll too visit never-never-land soon,
only after watching you there now.
For a moment I remember
the memories we will make.
Brush and comb. Throw and catch.
Shave and wash. Swing and saw.
Eat and write. Push and pull.
Mine will train yours?
That baffles me.
Yours built clouds and stars,
birds and seas.
Mine build yokes and stools,
locks and keys.
Yours rest so peaceful,
so perfect, so calm in your crib.
I reach in. A twitch.
Yours clutch mine
with a tiny might.
I worry one day you’ll be
ashamed to do the same.
Frail, weak, scarred mine are.
Made from and destined for dust.
Yet yours now
fit in mine.


This poem was originally posted on December 24, 2015 at https://jamespruch.wordpress.com/2015/12/24/a-christmas-poem-hands/

Categories
Theology

Becoming Truly Human

In his work On the Incarnation, the 4th century church father Athanasius of Alexandria wrote, “He [Jesus] became what we are that we might become what he is.”

At first glance, it might be easy to think Athanasius means we become god–or a god. Certainly theologians over the years have argued that.

But that’s not quite right.

When we trust in Jesus, we don’t get to become a god.

We get to become truly human again.

You see, we were created in the image of God. That’s what it means to be human. But because of sin and its destructive effects, our image bearing is marred.

We were created to live in perfect, sweet fellowship with our Father in heaven. But we don’t. We can’t.

We are like cracked mirrors reflecting God’s glory and beauty. So, we are still image bearers, but the reflection is far from ideal. In a way, we can say that we are functionally operating as “less than human.” That’s what sin does.

Enter Jesus.

The Second Person of the Trinity took on flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazareth and lived a perfectly obedient human life, always walking in perfect, intimate fellowship with his Father in heaven.

When God gives someone new life by his Spirit, he begins to transform them to become more like Jesus–the perfect Human. The horrible effects of sin are being undone, as it were, and we learn what it means to truly be image bearers and live before God in constant fellowship.

This process isn’t ever completed this side of the grave. The cracks are still there.

But God is working (slow as it seems to us). And we’re becoming truly human again.

I can’t help but think of Jesus’ words in John 10:10: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

The full life is lived with, under, and before God. It’s what we were made for. It’s what it means to be truly human. And it’s only possible because the Son took on flesh.

Categories
Life

The Pits and Christmas

It’s the pits. The worst, most depressing situation you can imagine. We use it playfully today, exaggerating our circumstance. The saying has lost its luster.

But it was not always so.

Out of the 150 chapters in Psalms, perhaps as many as 65 to 67 of them are laments or what we can call “complaint psalms.” These are songs in which the writer is disoriented because of sin, affliction, sickness, attack, or some other result of the brokenness of the world.

And one of the dominant motifs of these kinds of psalms is “the pit.” No, it’s not a reference to a stinky arm pit. It’s much worse. The poets of the Psalms probably took this image from the passage in Genesis when Joseph’s brothers threw him down a literal pit as they sought to get rid of him. In Psalms, it’s a metaphor describing God’s lack of presence or the feeling that his hesed (steadfast love, lovingkindness, etc.) has failed.

Hide not your face from me,
lest I be like those who go down to the pit. (Ps. 143:7)

I am counted among those who go down to the pit. (Ps. 88:4)

Be not deaf to me, lest, if you be silent to me,
I become like those who go down to the pit. (Ps. 28:1).

The biblical vision of “the pit” can be a powerful tool for our prayers in the midst of true despair. When your child dies. When your spouse leaves. When you are wrongfully accused. When you are marginalized. When you are mocked for your faith. When you get the news you have cancer.

Truly, the pits. And if we’re honest, most of life in this world is like this.

In the Psalms, it’s interesting that the remedy is almost never a reversal of the dire situation. It may be. But often the situation cannot change. Most often, however, there is a radical gift given by God: a reorientation to the reality that God is actually with us despite appearances. Circumstances remain unchanged. But the psalmists—and we with them–can now say, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire beside you” (Ps. 73:25).

In these moments of reorientation back to God, it’s as if we read about and experience ourselves that God, though he doesn’t always bring us out, actually joins us where we are.

And isn’t that what Christmas is all about? Christmas means that God came. He joins us in the pit. Jesus, God-in-the-flesh, took on weak, frail, death-bound flesh. He exposed himself to the harsh realities of a broken world.

But Christmas means even more than that. Jesus did not merely come to sit in the pit with us by becoming a human being. He came to enter the ultimate pit for us on the cross. It was there that he—who is himself the Presence of God—actually lost of the presence of God his Father for you and me. Imagine the horror of this eternal, loving relationship being broken! And for what purpose? So that we might eternally live in the smiling, loving presence of God. Jesus’ resurrection from the pit of death is God’s stamp of guarantee it will happen.

When we experience “the pits” and feel that God has abandoned us, we can quickly realize it’s just that—a feeling. Now, the feeling is real. Oh, is it real! It’s raw. It hurts. It requires lament to get through it (not around it). But make no mistake. God is doing something while we’re in that pit. He’s Immanuel, with us, right there. And he’s drawing us to depend on him alone.

God himself is the prize.  As Michael Card has written, “You didn’t come to fix things, did you? You came to join me.” He’s better than a fixed situation. He’s taking us to resurrection, to himself.

One last thought. For many, Christmastime is the pits. Our Americanized version of Christmas is laden with artificial smiles and romantic comedy solutions. So any measure of sadness in our lives seems abnormal. Why are you sad? It’s Christmas! You can probably think of your own reasons why this year’s family gathering will feel pit-like.

But let us remember that this is precisely the reason Jesus came. “Long lay the world in sin and error pining” says the Christmas carol. Not clapping and guzzling egg nog. He came because we needed it. He came to join us in the pit, endure it with us and for us, and raise us out. One day, he’ll come back again to lift us out finally and and forever into his loving, face-to-face presence. If your Christmas this year is the pits, what a glorious time to recall and hope in this most precious truth.

Categories
Life

We Look for Light: Readings and Reflections for Advent

I’m happy to share with you a little devotional I wrote for Advent, We Look for Light: Readings and Reflections for AdventThere are twenty-five readings with related Scripture passages and questions.

I pray it’s a blessing and that it helps you worship Christ this Christmas!