Categories
Let Her Lead Life

Interlude: The Women of Christmas

This was supposed to be the final post to wrap up this series. I’ve tried to write it about a dozen times, but can’t seem to find the right way to end it.

Maybe because it’s not supposed to end.

I’ll write an official conclusion to this series sometime next week (I hope!). Still, look for more posts in the future without any particular regularity or progression. There’s too much I’ve written about that needs more attention. And there are other texts and topics I haven’t even touched on yet.

One particular text that comes to mind is Jesus’ birth narrative. Specifically, something struck me as I reflected yesterday on Mary’s visit to Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-45):

At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth.

Mary entered Zechariah’s home and she greeted…Elizabeth.

It’s not Elizabeth’s home. It’s her husband’s. She’s “just” a woman, after all. But Mary greets her. Of course, I’m sure Mary greeted Zechariah, too. It would have been incredibly disrespectful not to.

But Luke emphasizes this particular encounter for a reason.

Why?

Explicitly, we learn that Elizabeth’s baby (John) leaps for joy at the sound of Mary’s voice (vv 41, 45) because she is carrying the Messiah. This is one way to show that John is filled with the Spirit to prepare the way for Jesus.

It also reminds us that when the right time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman (not just appearing out of no where), to redeem his children (see Gal 4:4-5).

And it’s right after Elizabeth’s encouraging words about Mary’s son that Mary bursts out into song. Her Magnificat (see Luke 1:46-55) is one of the most eloquent and theologically-rich expressions of the coming of God’s kingdom you’ll find in Scripture. It’s as if it finally sinks in that God is up to something special in her life and in the world.

All of that is amazing.

Yet I think there’s also another implicit, unstated reason Luke includes this interaction. I base it on the overall trajectory of his gospel and his special focus on women.

Remember, the angel appeared to Zechariah earlier in Luke 1, announcing the conception and coming birth of John. But Zechariah didn’t believe the news. So his speech was taken away until John was born.

And no disrespect to Joseph at all, but he’s a background character in Luke chapter 1. Unlike with Zechariah, the angel doesn’t appear to Joseph, the man, but to Mary. (Joseph plays a bigger role in chapter 2, but still never says a word.)

Then at the end of the gospel, Luke records that women surround Jesus as he dies (23:27). Women are the first witness of the resurrection (24:1-12). Women share the news with the rest of the male disciples, who refuse to believe at first (24:11).

Bracketed in between the beginning and end of Jesus’ life is the acknowledgment that Jesus had women disciples who helped fund his ministry (8:1-3). Jesus also empowered women, like Mary Magdalene, to learn his ways as full-fledged disciple (10:38-42).

History tells us men should get the spotlight in announcing the good news of God’s kingdom. But God doesn’t play by those rules.

Then we have Acts, part two of Luke’s gospel. Women are there when the Spirit comes at Pentecost. Women like Lydia and Priscilla play an important role in the early church.

Here’s the thing. We know that the Kingdom of God brings about the great reversal in human society. God circumvents the authority structures of the world. He exalts the poor, the hurting, the enslaved, the prisoner (4:18-19). He calls those who are suffering and needy “blessed” (6:20-26). Mary praises God for all this in her song.

The great reversal is another reason, I think, why Mary and Elizabeth stand center stage as Messiah is about to come onto the scene.

History tells us men should get the spotlight in announcing the good news of God’s kingdom.

But God doesn’t play by those rules.

We spend countless hours debating whether or not women can give a 30-minute Bible talk in a Sunday worship gathering or serve on a church leadership team.

Meanwhile, it’s not the men, but the women of Christmas who preach to us the wonders of God’s love in the incarnation of his Son.


Featured image: Marcus Wallis on Unsplash.

Categories
Commentary Life

The Feast of St. Lucia

Today is the Feast of St. Lucia, a festival of lights celebrated in honor of St. Lucia (or Lucy), a Christian 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.

Lucia is one, small candle in the night pointing to the Great Light, who lights up the entire world.

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.

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.

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.

A Prayer on the Feast of Saint Lucia

Most merciful and gracious God,
who lives in unapproachable light, 
whom no one has seen or can see,
who created light out of the darkness with a simple command:

We come to you in the name of the Lord Jesus, who is the Light of the world.

On this December the 13th, as we share this meal and enjoy each other’s presence in the darkness of early morning (or evening):

We confess to you, Father, that we have loved the darkness of sin more than the light of your life. We have coddled the darkness and made our home in it by loving creation more than you, our Creator. Far too often we are like a blind person who feels their way along a wall in the middle of a bright, sunny afternoon. And we have resisted coming into your light because, like flipping on a switch first thing in the morning, it’s inconvenient and painful. Lord, have mercy on us!

But we are not without hope! You have not left us alone to keep struggling to find our way in the darkness. You sent your own Son, as a human being,  who is the Light of the world, to give light to the eyes of our hearts, so that we might see you and come to you. Whoever follows your Son Jesus will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life. 

On this day, the Feast of St. Lucia, we thank you for your servant Lucy, whose name means “light.” In her short life, she pushed back the darkness as she met the needs of the persecuted, poor, hurting, and sick, and confessed your name before the authorities, though it cost her life. 

And yet she was but a small candle in the darkness pointing us to the Great Light of the world.

During this week of the year, when the days are the shortest and darkest, we ask you, Father, to light up our eyes so that we might see and treasure Jesus for who he is. Since we are children of the light and of the day, we do not belong to the darkness. So by your Spirit, may we continually come into the light—because that’s where you are. As you open our eyes and lead us to you, help us, just like you helped Lucy, to shine bright in dark world that desperately needs you. 

And while we wait for you come again, we stand firm in the hope proclaimed by those who have gone before us:

‘The Lord will come,
And all His saints with Him, 
And on that day, 
There will be a great light. 
Alleluia!’

In Jesus’ name, we pray.

Amen. 

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.