Archive for the ‘Christmas’ Tag

Merry Christmas Charles Dickens

I went to see the new, animated version of A Christmas Carol last weekend and I was amazed at the way the gospel shines through in the story.

It had been a long time since I had read the story or seen a movie adaptation of it and I was surprised to recall how Christ-centered the message of the story really is. Here are a couple of examples:

The ghost of Scrooge’s business partner appears to him wrapped in chains.

Jacob Marley tells Scrooge that he is suffering in the after-life. “But you were always a good man of business,” Scrooge replies. This prompts Marley to exclaim:

Business! Mankind was my business. The common welfare was business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!

Isn’t that a good summary of who Jesus is? Mankind is his business and the common welfare is his whole reason for existing. When Marley says this should have been his business too, while he was alive, he is implicitly acknowledging how we are all included in Jesus and are all participants in Jesus’ work to take care of each person. Without getting into a whole long discourse on what hell may or may not be, I can take Dickens basic point as being rooted in the gospel: if we don’t learn to live as the children of the Father that we really are in Jesus then we are going to be miserable.

And there’s a phrase in Marley’s speech that you don’t hear much nowadays: “the common welfare.” One of the themes that shines through in the story, and is well illustrated by this new movie version, is the outrage that Charles Dickens felt at the way people treated one another in England in the 1840s. Even though they celebrated the birth of Jesus, whose business is mankind and the common welfare, they weren’t doing a good job of living like those who are included in Jesus’ life. Children went hungry, men worked 6 and 7 days a week for low wages with no vacation, and someone like Tiny Tim could actually die from lack of health care.

Books like A Christmas Carol helped change these circumstances in England and America. (Well, all except the health care part. People can still die here in America because they don’t have money for health care.)

At the end of the story, after the three Christmas spirits have visited him, Scrooge goes to his nephew’s house where a Christmas party is in full swing.

The day before his nephew had generously and lovingly invited Scrooge to join them and Scrooge had heaped scorn on the young man. Now, his whole perspective changed, Scrooge enters the house and the party comes to a dead stop. Everyone turns and looks at the withered old man standing in the doorway. And Scrooge quietly says:

I’ve come, if you’ll have me.

At that moment everyone rushes to embrace him, joyfully welcoming him into the party. Scrooge reminds me of the older son in the parable of the prodigal – the one who remains standing out in the dark, refusing to come into the Father’s house to celebrate the reconciliation of all things. Dickens, I think, has given us in Ebenezer Scrooge an image of what it might look like when the self-righteous, angry “older sons” of the world repent and come into the celebration.

I don’t imagine that Charles Dickens was much of a theologian, or perhaps would have expressed the gospel in the Trinitarian terms which we at The Adopted Life are working so hard to promote. I do, however, think that I see in A Christmas Carol a story written by a man whose imagination was baptized in the Holy Spirit and who could see the practical implications of the gospel.

Dickens paints a picture of humanity bound together in the fraternal bonds of the incarnation of the Son of God as the man Jesus Christ. This is what we are celebrating at Christmas, that Jesus has made one new humanity in his flesh and blood (Eph. 2:15.)

Merry Christmas Charles Dickens.

Thanks for reminding us that Christmas is about Christ and humanity in union with each other and with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

~ Jonathan Stepp

Mary and Eve

While doing research for my upcoming sermon on Mary I came across an interesting passage from the writing of St. Irenaeus.

In this section he draws a parallel between Mary and Eve. In part he says:

. . . Mary the Virgin is found obedient, saying, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.” But Eve was disobedient; for she did not obey when as yet she was a virgin. And even as she, having indeed a husband, Adam, but being nevertheless as yet a virgin (for in Paradise “they were both naked, and were not ashamed,” inasmuch as they, having been created a short time previously, had no understanding of the procreation of children: for it was necessary that they should first come to adult age, and then multiply from that time onward), having become disobedient, was made the cause of death, both to herself and to the entire human race; so also did Mary, having a man betrothed [to her], and being nevertheless a virgin, by yielding obedience, become the cause of salvation, both to herself and the whole human race. . . . And thus also it was that the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the virgin Mary set free through faith. ~ Against Heresies, 3.22.4 (Emphasis Mine)

One of the basic tenents of Protestantism is to “demote” the Blessed Virgin (Luke quotes her as saying that all generations would her “blessed” and so they have – Luke 1:48.) In reaction to what we perceive as the over-exaltation of Mary by our Roman Catholic brethren we Protestants have a long history of ignoring Mary.

Here’s what I’ve been wondering about as I put this sermon together:

If Mariology hadn’t become such an issue in Christianity in the last 500 years wouldn’t we all be encouraging our kids to look up to Mary as a hero of the faith? We Protestants love to talk about Ruth, Esther, and the Proverbs 31 woman but when it comes to the “Second Eve” who was the one through whom the salvation of humanity entered humanity we fall strangely silent.

I think it should be obvious that I don’t advocate bizarre titles like “Co-Redepmtrix” for Mary but I do think it’s high time we Protestants gave the girl her props. The faith that the Holy Spirit gave her to trust the Father and receive the Son (as no one ever had or ever will again receive him) is a faith worth celebrating this Advent Season.

~ Jonathan Stepp

P.S. If you want to hear more about Mary check out the sermon I’ll be preaching this Sunday. I’ll have the audio of it posted at The Adopted Life on Monday.

You’d Better Get Used to Being Human!

If you’re like me, and infested with a fallen human nature, that probably sounds negative and uninspiring at first, doesn’t it?

There is simply something about being human that we have been taught to disrespect, dishonor and not appreciate, regardless of Jesus and the scriptures (Psalm 8, Heb 1). Kermit the frog came close when he sung “It’s not easy being green!” Its not always easy being human! Plus, the rotten experiences we have had and are having in this flesh don’t seem to match up with the logic of wanting to remain human forever. After all, isn’t Christianity really about getting out of these human bodies and into a spiritual non-human body?

Where did you and I inherit poison like that? Christianity is absolutely NOT about not being human?! Just the opposite!

It’s about being truly human forever! It’s amazing to me how much I have missed this truth and, as a result, missed much more of the Kingdom here on earth NOW that the Father makes available in His Son Jesus and delights for me to share in with you!

I just had the wonderful opportunity of proclaiming this Good News at a local congregation of Grace Communion International in Baltimore, MD.! It is called New Life Fellowship, and I think you would love visiting there if you ever got the chance! They are alive and well in Jesus AND learning to celebrate their humanity NOW! “Wowsa” and “Good gravy!” Go Baltimore! They invited me up for International Day where we celebrated the fact that all of us will be human forever, and that all of the distinct expressions, colors, races, and general ethnic cultures and foods we love to eat will still exist in the resurrection!

Check out this set of verses in the Scriptures in The Message version of the Bible: Luke 2:27-52, Luke 24:36-48, listen to the message here (soon!), and claim this wonderful truth in Jesus:

Jesus was born as, lived in, died as, and was resurrected and ascended to His Father as the Jewish God/Man that originally came on the scene!

Notice in Luke 24 how he keeps exclaiming that it is Him, Jesus, Who has Resurrected and is the Resurrection? “Look at MY hands and my feet!”, he exclaims! “Ghosts do not have muscle and bone as I have!” He remarks! “Do you have some of my favorite food, fish? Give me some! I want to gobble it up and eat it to show you how human I still am in my FOREVER resurrection…AND HOW HUMAN YOU WILL BE IN YOUR FOREVER RESURRECTION WITH ME WHEN HEAVEN COMES TO EARTH!” (Rev 21:1-4)

Do you see what Jesus is doing in His own permanently human body? (Acts 1:1-11)

He is validating YOUR culture! Your Distinct Expression! Your Music! Your Favorite Dance! Your Favorite Food! Your Nationality! Your color of Eyes! Your DIFFERENTLY shaped ears, nose, mouth and body shape!! (Ha-Ha! I can hear many of you groaning as you debate the fact that maybe your current weight and looks are REALLY acceptable to God and may not change as much as you currently desire IN YOUR SINFUL PERCEPTIONS OF YOURSELF!!!Ha-Ha! I’m with you in that struggle!)

Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to literally and exactly describe how you will look in the resurrection!

I’m lost about the old vs. the young thing, too! Neither am I trying to give more answers than raise questions. I’m not! I am trying to be faithful to the Gospel – Jesus – and the Jewish and human HIM he took seriously AND resurrected! So much so that in His human self he keeps saying, “It is me!” and they (his disciples) recognized HIM as himself!

Sure your body will be raised incorruptible, and YES, everything that is not truly human in you and is broken in your body will be fixed and made right! BUT, what is “right?” I don’t think a large nose, ears, or belly are necessarily wrong or broken in every case, do you?! Don’t we even say as fallen humans that “Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder”? And don’t we REALLY know that and mean it when we say it? Ha-Ha! Where does that come from if not from the Triune God in Whom we are all created and sustained in our distinction and union, and Who loves us UNCONDITIONALLY?

Imagine eating something that tastes as delicious as YOUR favorite dessert, candy, chocolate snacks or wine forever; with a vitalized tongue that tastes even more of the sweet goodness?! And think of the weight you won’t gain or have to lose, regardless!! Ha-Ha! Heaven!! This is the way we are supposed to be reading the scriptures in the Light of Jesus Christ (Luke 24:41-43).

So enjoy the foretaste, literally!

The Baltimore congregation and I did as we feasted on those many international dishes! Boy do I look forward to “eating to bursting” WITHOUT BURSTING in my forever resurrected and incorruptible human being! Good Gravy – for REAL! Thank you Jesus – I, for one, LOVE IT!!

~ by Timothy Brassell

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