October 20, 2017

Christmas 2005

The year of Our Lord, Two Thousand and Five, will forever be known as the year where the same churches who boycotted stores for cancelling Christmas decided it was in the best interests of everyone to cancel Christmas services, being as the day had the bad form to occur on a Sunday, and we could all take a DVD home and have Christmas worship in front of a large flat-screen television.

We come to the end of the year with the New York Times telling us that the government is monitoring Americans for radiation and rhetoric from nuclear bombs and bombers, and thousands of Americans do their best imitation of civil libertarians on September 10th. Strangely believing that recent events in London and Madrid indicate that Muslim terrorists have gone out of business, the concern for threatened civil liberties continues, while some crazed mullah blesses the bomb being constructed in the Mosque basement.

Our leaders have admitted the WMD was nowhere to be found, while former U.N. inspectors tell us exactly where it was taken. The same liberals who decry the war in Iraq take credit for Iraqi elections. Americans mourn the almost two thousand Americans who chose to give their lives in defeating Islamist fascism, but tend to forget the tens of thousands of Iraqis who have also given their lives for a dream of democracy. As Iraqis enjoy their blood-bought freedom, the Islamists have taken to bombing children’s hospitals and sidewalk cafes.

Hurricanes and tornadoes swarmed the south and Midwest, giving cable news channels an abundance of opportunities to send reporters out in casual attire or in little boats (in one foot of water.) Americans learned that FEMA was not their savior, and that government officials were more interested in how they were dressed than how they could help.

The municipal authorities in New Orleans, ignoring decades of detailed predictions of what would happen with a direct hurricane hit, preferred to leave people on their roofs rather than to subject them to the indignity of riding in school buses. One hospital apparently resorted to euthanasia, while one nursing home left people to drown. Looters, including some of the four hundred police who walked off the job, sacked the stores of New Orleans for essentials such as jewelry and designer dresses. The mayor ordered the masses to the Superdome, where there was no plan, and all of the world watched a little bit of hell unfold in the Crescent City.

Watching it all, millions of ordinary people, many of them Christians, drove to the coast and did what they could while the government sent e-mails. Southern Baptists fed millions of people, and the media discovered that evangelicals could do something other than go on television and complain, but they kept booking Jerry Falwell anyway.

A new pope frustrated the liberal Catholics of America, who hoped the passing of John Paul II would herald a new era of apostasy. Instead, Ratzinger became Benedict, and there was no joy among those who hoped for the marriage of gay priests.

Brokeback Mountain introduced America to the gay cowboy story, opening the door for more epics on unlikely gay males. The gay truck driver movie must be in the works. Narnia was good, but less grand than the children’s book. King Kong was grand, but no female wanted to see the movie and it headed for DVD asap.

America’s mainline Protestants continued organizing their churches around gay politics and gay bishops claiming to be the Holy Spirit, while America’s evangelicals continued organizing themselves around bad music, bad books, pastors with less to say than the youth minister and web sites with pictures of white people under 35 and their beautiful children.

Something called the emerging church irritated and involved millions of people. Mark Driscoll claimed to not be emerging, John Piper tried to be a Baptist with paedobaptist friends, and Bruce Wilkinson left Africa to pray the prayer of Jabez on its own. Rick Warren wrote no books, but a single woman who read his offered a criminal drugs and a devotional, thus becoming an evangelical superstar.

On the home front, I entered my fourteenth year of ministry at a Christian school, and spent too much time wanting to be a professional blogger and minor league baseball fan. My daughter is engaged and recently returned from Germany. My son fought the good fight to not flunk Anatomy, and changed his college plans to being an English teacher. Denise and I entered year 28 of an amazing marriage, and moved my mother in to make sure things didn’t get too cozy.

Changes at school brought me more sermons to preach, with some months topping twenty sermons. Too many, but somehow I did it. With more help, I can hope to preach a bit less. But what better way to spend one’s life than to announce that Jesus is king and invite others to come and worship him?

The Internet Monk audience more than doubled, and the Truly Reformed blogosphere increased their traffic by using me as bait. I have decided not to charge.

I am now invited to speak a bit on blogging, which pleases me. I will continue to write, because that pleases me.

The night of Christmas arrives, and the world is little changed from the night of Jesus’ birth. The world’s news brokers would never take notice of the event. The religious community cannot comprehend it. The literati and academia can give it no thought. Such are God’s ways.

1 Corinthians 1:19-31 19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” 20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe….27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

It is the grand simplicity of the Good News that God enters the world through an event that, apart from two Gospel accounts, would be unknown. The life of Jesus, from beginning to end, is the life of the poor, the lowly, the unknown and the insignificant. The Christian story is that God has no interest in the great schemes of history, the famous or the icons of celebrity. The Christian story is the condescension of God to the lowest levels, there to be adored by shepherds and the poor.

From this, Christians are to live out the same story. We are not to seek the seats of power, of influence or media attention. The story of numbers- votes, ratings, dollars, books sold- they are not our story. Our story continues among people the world does not notice, doing things the famous and the powerful refuse to do, in ways that confound the values of the present age, in the name of one who became low, even the lowest of the low, for us and for our salvation.

At Christmas, we lay aside the pretentious confidence of the world, and allow the story of Jesus to remake us. We turn aside from our own stories of life without Christ, and freely enter the story of Jesus as those who adore, those who ponder, those who journey, those who give gifts, and those who follow and believe.

This year, I received a thoughtful letter from a kind reader who said that he had read my site for some time, and wanted to know, where was my hope? Aside from Christ, his incarnation, life, resurrection, and victory over every enemy, my correspondent was entirely correct in the assumption behind the question.

In Christ alone is there hope for this world, and all of us in it.

A good Feast of the Nativity and a Merry Christmas Season to all the readers of InternetMonk.com.

Comments

  1. I am curious about this quote:

    “while America’s evangelicals continued organizing themselves around bad music, bad books, pastors with less to say than the youth minister and web sites with pictures of white people under 35 and their beautiful children.”

    Is this observation based on your own personal experience or things you’ve read in the mainstream media? This has not been my experience at the several Christian churches I have attended in the Louisville area.

  2. bad music= K-Love, most CCM, most P&W
    bad books= Purpose Driven Life, Jabez, 98% of what’s in Christian bookstores
    pastors with nothing to say= Osteen
    web sites with pretty people= take your pick

    But it is my experience, and my opinion only, as is the whole web site.

  3. Merry Christmas Michael.

    I was one you have added to your readership this year. And I am not certain even how I found your site.

    You inspired me to set up my own blogsite, for which I thank you. Just as I set up my unpublished comic strip based on Peanuts and Doonesbury, so I patterned by blogsite somewhat on yours. Not that you or Charles Schultz or Trudeau are to blame for what I do..

    But my motto is to “always steal from the best.” In my opinion, you qualify.

    😉

    Thanks again and my you have many more years of inspiration.

  4. hello michael,
    i’m also one of those added to your readership this year.

    i just wanted to say thanks for what you do, and merry christmas.

  5. Nice post, Michael. You probably managed to slightly irritate every part of the Christian community, which means you were very accurate! 🙂

    And I agree with your “America’s evangelicals” quote. That one was dead on target. I’d add a few more onto the “bad books” and “pastors with nothing to say” list, but I’d probably annoy more folks than you did. On the music front, current “contemporary worship” fare in evangelical churches has just about hit rock bottom. I’ve never seen so much content-free fluff in my life. A buddy of mine calls them “7-11” songs – 7 words repeated 11 times… “Happy-clappy” would be another apt description.

    Merry Christmas to you and your family, from another of this year’s new readers.

  6. Angus McWasp says:

    Nice post, Michael. Merry Christmas to you from a new reader (past 2 months). Your comments are strong and quite well thought out, and your positions are often solid from my Catholic perspective, though approached from different (and often fruitful) angles. And, with 30+ years working for the Church, I resonate with a lot of your experiences in the ministry.

  7. “In Christ alone my hope is found…”
    May this always be true of you, me, and the whole community of Christ in this blessed season, and year round.

    Joyful Feast of the nativity and a peace filled Christmas seaseon to you as well Michael.

  8. Thanks, Michael, for a timely post that helped an audience of one. Our Christmas Eve service was adequate last night, but the short commentary on the season led me to believe that the Holy Child dropped to earth to quickly be killed for (or against) our sins.

    Was nothing to be learned from God incarnate as he walked among some of the poorest, most marginalized groups of people in history? He said that the meek among them would inherit the earth; that peacemakers are blessed; that followers who hunger and thirst to introduce justice into situations about them will be satisfied. Anything here for us?

    At times I feel that we evangelicals have our babe at Christmas (not a ‘holiday babe’, either) and a risen Lord on Easter held together with Pauline duct tape and catchy tunes. How often are the purported sayings of that Babe and Savior woven into the values of our lives, our congregations, and our denominations?

    Thanks, Michael, for reminding us that God indeed lived among us. God knows us. God had no problem being poor, walking wherever He went, sleeping in houses that weren’t his own. God didn’t seem to be one of the beautiful people, never ran for office, never started a building campaign to enlarge a synagoge, didn’t pray the prayer of Jabez or wear a WWJD wristband or write P&W music. God forgave sinners but never marched a freshly forgiven one to the synagoge and demanded that he or she be promoted to a high priestly rank in the name of diversity and inclusiveness.

    Through the year I’m reminded that our God is an awesome God; our God is a Mighty God; our God created all out of nothing. Impressive, but I can’t get my mind completely around it. When I see a beautiful mountain scene I get sensory overload. The sun slipping into the Carribean is lovely until I think about it too much: that star is so far away, that’s only the top of the water, the sun isn’t “setting”, we’re just turning; we’re looking at a horizontal horizon that is really vertical, stuck to the side of the earth by gravity. So many details. Can’t think about it. I can understand a baby somewhat if I don’t think too much. Likewise, I can understand another human pretty well – I am one. God became like me, lived in a place that I can fly to in half a day, showed how to act around people, and described how things would be if he were the local king. I can close my eyes and visualize that clearly.

    Thanks, Michael, for stopping me for awhile. My mind is a little foggy, but this morning I’ve got a small scale grip on Christmas that works for me. The house is quiet, no grankids playing this year; my wife at church, I’m still tired from last night. You’re probably preaching a sermon and I hope that you’re enjoying doing that. One day I may hear you preach. Today, I’m thankful that I read your words instead of hearing them.

    That’s why you’re here aren’t you?

  9. In your article you wrote:

    “The year of Our Lord, Two Thousand and Five, will forever be known as the year where the same churches who boycotted stores for cancelling Christmas decided it was in the best interests of everyone to cancel Christmas services, being as the day had the bad form to occur on a Sunday, and we could all take a DVD home and have Christmas worship in front of a large flat-screen television.”

    I have to take issue with you on this issue, though not much. To a great degree I agree with the concern of the lack of substance, legalism, and authenticity in American Christianity (and it exists elsewhere, too). However, I have to say that there is a massive difference between a culture’s elites (and their serfs) concerted attempt to eliminate ALL mention and evidence of the Christian origins of Christmas out of the very holiday that bears the name of the Founder of the faith that originates the holiday, and an act of some churches that are trying to accomodate people of a rapidly-changing culture to be in a position to hear and heed the message of the Savior and His Word.

    My two daughters, my son-in-law, and my younger daughter’s boyfriend all attend a large megachurch in southern California which is associated with the “emerging church” movement. They did not have church today, because practically everyone was gone, to visit family. What they DID do was have eight, yes eight services from 6 pm Friday night through 10 pm Christmas Eve. The services were jammed, and each person got that “infernal” DVD to take home, and share with family and shut-ins. Many of those who will see those videos are people who will not be in any church on Christmas Day, or any other day for that matter, unless they hear the message of eternal life, through a medium like this one, and receive the Savior into their life.

    You and I are both concerned for our culture, and our beloved country. We will lose our country if we don’t adjust as necessary to the changes going on. So think about what you’re saying, please.

    Thank you for your kind consideration.

    Sincerely,

    Floyd Fernandez
    San Diego, California

  10. GregoryMark says:

    I agree with your observations, Michael. Regarding one aspect of your comments: We attended church this Christmas morning (the church only cancelled half of its morning services — usually holding two, it held one). As usual, the worship was glitzy, staged, professional, loud, utterly comtemporary, and I found myself on this Christmas morning wanting to wring the neck of whomever the church consultant is who said that it is best if churches turn their worship over to people no older (apparently) than 24 years old. Niche marketing at its worse. I mused more than worshipped this morning, concluding that worship music styles are simply soulish preferences, and most churches have opted for the soulish preferences of the generation that hasn’t yet reached 30. I guess my musical preferences are stuck in the ’60s…the 1760s. It would have been nice to have sung “Hark the Hearld Angels Sing” in a style closer to the way Felix Mendelssohn composed it, minus the amplified heavy beat, pounding rock percussion, stobelights and smoke for effect. Maybe I’ve just passed into the “geezer” phase of life, but it appears to me that the contemporary church has lost all sense of what it means to worship God with reverence.

  11. Yeah….the culture only sees people between 18-35, and the church is right there. Every Christmas, I get letters from people who went to church looking for some anchor of tradition and were treated to the contemporary Christmas “production.

    I used to really worry about the fact that my church is doing nothing contemporary. I’ve quit worrying about it.

  12. GregoryMark wrote: As usual, the worship was glitzy, staged, professional, loud, utterly comtemporary, and I found myself on this Christmas morning wanting to wring the neck of whomever the church consultant is who said that it is best if churches turn their worship over to people no older (apparently) than 24 years old.

    Gregory, Merry Christmas to you! For the last 10 years, we’ve been attending churches that do “contemporary worship”, and the Christmas services have been the same ilk as you describe. It drives me bezerk. Thank GOD He has led us to a PCA church now that does a lot of traditional worship, with just a touch of contemporary music mixed in. It was SO refreshing to sing Christmas songs this year without the “worship leader” trying to “jazz it up” by making it Jamaican, rock & roll, etc. ARGH! And to think that for 5 years, I contributed to that travesty as an electric guitar player. Thank the LORD for waking me up to the fact that I shouldn’t be contributing to the decimation of worship.

    I feel your pain, and I hope/pray that the leadership of your church will wake up and discover what the word “reverent” means, just as I pray the same for the churches I’ve attended prior to this past fall.

  13. Michael, I’m going to publicly respond to this and if you wish it to remain private, you can opt not to approve the comment (or you can edit it to your satisfcation) with no hard feelings on my end. I have, however, no problem acknowledging publicly that it was my correspondence that asked “Where is the hope?” And I appreciate the fact that you modified your original comment saying that I concluded you have no hope. As you know from our private correspondence, I refuse to assert that you have no hope, and so your followup statement that there was an assumption behind the question is still inaccurate.

    If I ask you “Where is the grocery store?” there is no assumption behind my question that the grocery store exists. It is a sincere inquiry as to the location of said grocery store.

    Likewise, when I ask you “where is the hope?”, I am not presuming there to be no hope. I am asking you (as I have spelled out very clearly in my correspondence to you) to help me understand what hope you are trying to convey, if any, in your writings?

    This is not semantics. It is honest dialogue. And I have been thoroughly enjoying the dialogue because you have taken my question seriously (albeit misunderstood it a bit, I guess). For that, I thank you. But I don’t wish to see the comment continued to be misrepresented. Again, thanks for editing it, but it still does not fairly portray what I was asking. I figured I would (with your permission and approval) allow people to hear what I was saying “from the horse’s mouth” (so to speak)!

    Blessings, Michael.
    steve 🙂

  14. oops….should read “no assumption behind the question that the grocery store DOES NOT EXIST”….ugh, commenting on blogs with no preview is tricky!! 😉