Entries in Christmas (22)
I'm not usually one for using that phrase "a must read." But sometimes, hyperbole is valuable.
If you are looking for a good read at Christmas time, don't neglect Athanasius's On the Incarnation. It is a short, but profound look at the implications of the virgin birth of Christ. Yes, it's hundreds of years old, and maybe we would prefer a newer book, but as C.S. Lewis points out in the introduction, by comparison, new books still have something to prove:
A new book is still on its trial and the amateur is not in a position to judge it. It has to be tested against the great body of Christian thought down the ages, and all its hidden implications (often unsuspected by the author himself) have to be brought to light.
Lewis recommends that for every one new book, we follow that with an older one. I like that advice.
Athanasius covers the Incarnation not only from the birth of the Christ child, but he delves deeply into the impact of the virgin birth, his humanity, the death of Christ, and his resurrection. This is a book to point one to a solid Christology. There are so many little quotables I could share. One of my favourites was a reflection on why Christ had to be more than man. Early in Church history, there were heated debates about how Christ could be both man and God. Many leaned toward him being only the appearance of man (a belief called Docetism), and others leaned toward him being merely a man (the Arians). Athanasius explains why even though Jesus was a man, a mere man was not sufficient to save:
When the madness of idolatry and irreligion filled the world and the knowlege of God was hidden, whose part was it to teach the world about the Father? Man's, would you say? But men cannot run everywhere over the world, nor would their words carry sufficient weight if they did nor would they be, unaided, a match for the evil spirits. Moreover, since even the best of men were confused and blinded by evil, how could they convert the souls and minds of others? You cannot put straight in others what is warped in yourself.
I love that last line. It is so true.
Athanasius emphasizes often that Christ came to die. There was purpose in the Incarnation. It was not random. It was deliberate. And part of the means of Incarnation was to testify to who God is. Athanasius points out more than once that the things Christ did in his humanity was to point to God.
The book is available as a pdf here if you want it for free.
Lewis's introduction is worth the read. I loved his comment about the value of working our way through difficult theology:
For my own part I tend to find the doctrinal books more often elpful in devotion than the devotional books, and I rather suspect that the same experience may await many others. I believe that many who find that "nothing happens" when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tought bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand.
I would substitute the pipe for a cup of tea.
Reading Athanasius is going to be a regular tradition for me at Christmas. I can't believe I waited so long to read it.
In the last two years, I have come to really enjoy the music of Fernando Ortega. He has such a calm, soothing voice. This is a song I came to like a lot last year.
Christmas was hard this year. I struggled with discouragement. And on top of the discouragement, there was guilt, because why should I feel discouragement at Christmas? My kids were all home, my parents visited, I had a fun time visiting my brother. We're all healthy and we had enough to eat. Try as I might, though, I woke up a few mornings wishing I could just stay in bed.
Despite the season, there were lingering struggles, and some new ones. Reminders of family who live outside of Christ are magnified during holidays like Christmas. Families have conflict, and unfortunately, there was some in mine, and that left me feeling tired and frustrated. A serious diagnosis for friend left me sad. Despite having a wonderful afternoon on the Saturday after Christmas, I went to bed wishing I could stay at home from church. I didn't feel like being around people.
Just as quickly as that thought entered my mind, the thought that being with God's people was exactly what I needed chased my negativity away. I can only attribute to this as a prompting from the Holy Spirit. I thought to myself as I went to bed that even the act of singing the praises to God with my church family would surely be encouraging. I was not wrong.
That morning, our associate pastor's wife sang a song I had not head before, "Trust His Heart." The chorus says this:
God is too good to be mistaken,
And God is too good, to be unkind.
So when you don't understand
When you can't can't see his plan,
When you can't trace his hand,
Trust his heart
Some might think it's not a very deep song, and maybe some might think it sentimental, but it certainly presented a very real truth. I needed to be reminded of God's goodneess. I need to be reminded that God is not just fudging it with the circumstances he has given me. He knows what he is doing. The struggles and trials I experience are part of this life he has given me. Sometimes, the pressure of having to have a Christmas that resembles a Hallmark commercial distracts us from our real lives. Christmas festivities don't annul the very real struggles that we may face.
We need the church. We need to be in regular fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ. We need to be plugged into a local congregation where we can hear the word preached, where we can participate in church ordinances, and where we can encourage and be encouraged by the faith of others. It is a reminder that we belong to something else other than our day to day circumstances.
Every Sunday, when we gather together, we rehearse for what awaits us in heaven. It is only a pale shadow of the glory that waits for us, but it is a reminder that we will gather to worship the Lord, and so will we be forever with the Lord (I Thess. 4:17).
Our life of faith is not lived out in a vacuum. We need each other. Often, we don't even need to say anything. The simple presence of the Body of Christ together is enough.
I'm sure I can't count the number of times I played Bing Crosby's Christmas album as a child. Discarded by my parents, I took it upstairs to my room, as a child of eight, and played it on an avacado green portable record player. Yes, a record player. The scratches on the record gave it added character.
I think I was eleven when we got an actual stereo system, and by then, playing such a battered recording on a new piece of equipment was not permitted. The record broke at some point, and it wasn't until I was able to find it on CD that I was reunited with this piece of my childhood.
Merry Christmas, everyone!