I was late coming to Advent. The church of my childhood and youth never observed a season of preparation leading to Christmas day. We were left, then, to “get ready for Christmas” the same way secular people did: by overfilling our schedules, spending too much money, bingeing on TV Christmas specials, and eating way too many sweet treats.
Of course, a fair bit of the time, the result was that I didn’t actually prepare for Christmas at all. I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy the lights, the tinsel, the carols, and all the rest; I loved them—and I still do! The problem is that much of the outward trappings of Christmas don’t always draw us into the depths of its holy mystery. In fact, if we’re not careful, they can even shield us from that mystery.
That’s why I have come to appreciate the discipline of Advent. Advent taps the brakes on our culture’s frenetic Christmas “preparations.” Sometimes, it slams on those brakes with both feet. At it’s most basic, Advent insistently whispers, “Pace yourself; it’s not Christmas yet.”
And when I come more slowly into Christmas, I can better appreciate what that season really means, and how my life should be different because of that meaning.
John the Baptist is a patron saint of Advent waiting and preparation. His ministry in the wilderness got people ready for Jesus to show up. He announced the coming of the kingdom of heaven and called people to repent—just as Jesus did.
And what better way to prepare for Christmas than to get serious about what Jesus said to do?
(This blog post first appeared in an ever so slightly different form at Coracle.)
Both are in evidence over at the Jesus Blog, where Rafael Rodríguez has shared some correspondence he’s recently had with one of his students. The student writes,
I have a question that has been on my mind. It might be somewhat obvious, but nonetheless it has intrigued me. What would Paul say to a Jew who believed in Jesus as the Messiah and wanted to stop adhering to the Law? At first I think this would be fine due to salvation through Jesus is open to all, but what about the disruption it would have possibly caused in said Jew’s family, who may or may not believe in Jesus? I immediately think of Romans 14:13-23, but Paul is writing that to the Gentiles. Does the same principle apply to the Jew who has already been living out a Law abiding lifestyle?
I think Rafael’s answer is worth thoughtful consideration.
The most recent carnival was posted on time at Bible Study with Randy. I regret it has taken me this long to get around to linking it. Enjoy!
Not the British actor, by the way, but the British historian. I have no idea what Marvel Studios’ Spider-Man thinks about ethics and/or religion. But writer Tom Holland describes his epiphany in a recent article in The New Statesman:
The longer I spent immersed in the study of classical antiquity, the more alien and unsettling I came to find it. The values of Leonidas, whose people had practised a peculiarly murderous form of eugenics, and trained their young to kill uppity Untermenschen by night, were nothing that I recognised as my own; nor were those of Caesar, who was reported to have killed a million Gauls and enslaved a million more. It was not just the extremes of callousness that I came to find shocking, but the lack of a sense that the poor or the weak might have any intrinsic value. As such, the founding conviction of the Enlightenment – that it owed nothing to the faith into which most of its greatest figures had been born – increasingly came to seem to me unsustainable….
Today, even as belief in God fades across the West, the countries that were once collectively known as Christendom continue to bear the stamp of the two-millennia-old revolution that Christianity represents. It is the principal reason why, by and large, most of us who live in post-Christian societies still take for granted that it is nobler to suffer than to inflict suffering. It is why we generally assume that every human life is of equal value. In my morals and ethics, I have learned to accept that I am not Greek or Roman at all, but thoroughly and proudly Christian.
The Monday Morning Theologian has the honors this month. So go over to J. K. Turner’s blog for all the best of biblioblogging for the month of August.
Over at JesusCreed, Jonathan Storment has written an intriguing review of Reviving Old Scratch by Richard Beck. This is a book about spiritual warfare—but Storment urges us not to roll our eyes just yet.
I want you to know this isn’t like the other spiritual warfare books out there. It is written specifically for the kinds of Christians who stopped believing in the Devil/Demons a long time ago, by someone who went down that same road.
The best way I could summarize Beck’s work is that he quotes the Canadian Philosopher Charles Taylor, lots of Scripture, lots of theologians, and talks often about Scooby Doo.
After providing some necessary philosophical background based on Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age, Storment sums up Beck’s train of thought with these words:
…Scooby Doo is a perfect example of what it looks like to live in a disenchantedabout every Scooby Doo episode you’ve ever seen. It starts out with an enchanted world. They’re in some haunted mansion, chasing down a ghost or goblin of some kind. All of them are terrified because they are vulnerable to the spiritual forces of the universe and at some point Shaggy runs away screaming and Scooby says “ruhroh.”
But then the turn comes. And the ghost trips over some chair or accidentally overplays its hand, and these detective kids suddenly realize that this isn’t a ghost at all.
Then there is the great unmasking, where they pull back the disguise and sure enough…there are no demons in the world, this is just Old Mr. Dickerson, the greedy banker trying to get rich.
When the downward pressure of skepticism win and the enchanted world is emptied out, all that is left is the flat, horizontal drama of human action and interaction. This is the trajectory of a Scooby-Doo episode, the journey to discover that, in the end, there are no ghosts or gods or devils. In the final analysis, at the end of the thirty-minute adventure, there are only human beings.
Which sounds fine to a lot of progressive Christians. We really want to focus on human beings, we want Christianity to be good for human beings, we love humanity…until we don’t.
And here is Beck’s sweet spot, because I know him well, I really appreciated this section, because I’ve seen him live it out. What happens when progressive, disenchanted Christians try to follow Jesus into the messy places of the world without a robust theology of Spiritual warfare?
The battle becomes precisely against flesh and blood.