Keeping the Fast

Happy, or, maybe sad, Ash Wednesday! Here is a good article over at Mere Orthodoxy on why you should keep eating sausages during Lent. Maybe you should buy an extra sausage since they’re always better with a friend. And here’s another article over there consisting mainly of quotes from wise people who reject common pitfalls that come with observing Lent.

I have no doubt that Lent can be observed wisely and helpfully by the kind of people who recognize the wisdom and cautions in the above articles. Jesus went to Jerusalem to conquer death, so this is cause for celebration and a wonderful reminder to take up our crosses. This is why Lent provokes discussion, because it makes us ask the question: What does it mean to take up our crosses? That is a huge question, but here I only want to briefly address the topic of fasting which is central to the way Lent is typically observed. Continue reading

Merry in Advance: An Advent Primer

Advent means “coming” and consists of the four weeks leading up to Christmas. Many Christians want to celebrate this wonderful season but don’t know where to begin and are weary of some traditions for good reason.

The coming of Jesus Christ is all about hope, nicely summed up by Paul in Romans 15:12: “And again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in him will the Gentiles hope.” May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”

What the Bible marks as a season of hope–remembering Jesus’ first coming (which Israel anticipated with hope) or looking forward to his second coming–parts of the church mark as a season of repentance. This is not to say that hope isn’t consistent with repentance, but it’s odd when the Old Covenant calendar had one set day of affliction (Yom Kippur, Lev. 16), for the church in the New Covenant to multiply fast days. Continue reading

Why the Reformation was Too Glad to Be True

Happy Reformation Day! Like the Grinch, Stanley Hauerwas doesn’t celebrate because he doesn’t like to remember there are divisions in the church–to celebrate, he says, is to admit failure. But it’s not. To celebrate it in a way that invites all Christians to join is to celebrate the possibility of progress, the Holy Spirit’s sure and ongoing work in the church, and our unity in Christ. This is a holyday for all churches, just as justification by faith is a treasure for the whole church, even those confused on the subject. Christians are justified by faith, not by believing in justification by faith. The whole church is given the gift of the Reformation whether they complain about it or not.

What did the church actually recover at the Reformation? Too much to describe, but here are three big’uns: Gospel, Bible, Worship. One of the best things the reformers did was recognize the church must be always reforming, semper reformanda, so it’s a good exercise for churches and Christians to ask themselves if we’ve received these gifts or if we’ve forgotten them. Continue reading

Holy Week Rhythm

For those looking for a litte rhythm to Holy Week, here is routine we do after dinner. We have lots of small people, so the green eggs are plastic eggs they can open with some theme-related item inside. Voss refers to The Child’s Story Bible

 

Palm Sunday Scripture: Psalm 24, Zechariah 9:9

Green Egg: Palm Branches

Vos: pg 311 (Jesus entering Jerusalem)

Toast: “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord”  “Hosanna in the highest”

 

Monday Scripture: Zechariah 11:10-13

Blue Egg: Silver (Judas and the thirty pieces of silver)

Vos: pg 313

Toast: “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord”  “Hosanna in the highest”

 

Tuesday Scripture: Exodus 12:12-16

Purple Egg: Bread and Wine

Vos: pg 314 Last Supper

Toast: “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord”  “Hosanna in the highest”

 

Wednesday Scripture: Psalm 41: 7-9

Orange Egg: Roman Soldier

Vos: pg 317 Jesus is arrested

Toast: “By His wounds,”   “We are healed!”

 

Thursday Scripture: Zechariah 13:7-9

Egg: Rooster

Vos: pg 318 Peter’s Betrayal

Toast: “By His wounds,”   “We are healed!”

 

Friday Scripture: Isaiah 53: 7-9

Egg: Lamb

Vos: pg 319 Jesus’s Trial

Toast: “By His wounds,”   “We are healed!”

 

Saturday Scripture:  Psalm 22:1-2

Egg: Cross

Vos: pg 322 Crucifixion

Toast: “By His wounds,”   “We are healed!”

 

Easter Sunday Scripture: Psalm 16:9-11

Egg: Empty

Vos: pg 325

Toast: “He is risen!” “He is risen, indeed!”

One piece of candy by each spot Mon-Fri, no candy on Sat., tons of candy on Easter Sun.

Still Christmas

By now, many are having PCDS, Post Christmas Depression Syndrome. If the American Psychological Association hasn’t classified this one yet, they probably will soon, in time for a happy new year.

The good news is that no one should be sad to see Christmas go because it hasn’t. You may have stopped, but Christmas continues. The Twelve Days of Christmas or Christmastide or Twelvetide (take your pick) has long been celebrated by most branches of the church, though less by churches in the United States. Christmastide begins Christmas Day and concludes on January 5th, leading up to Epiphany which celebrates Jesus’ manifestation to the wise men (and thus Gentiles) and the world on the 6th.

If we’re celebrating Christ, then clearly the we’re just getting started on December 25th. This is how it was for Mary and Joseph who began chaotic life as a family with Jesus in Bethlehem, but continued it as a blessed and hunted bunch from there. Celebrating Christmastide reminds us what the early life of Jesus was like both for him and those around him. Sometimes we miss these things in the hustle and joy of Advent. After the graveyard-shift shepherds heard the greatest rendition of the Messiah (front pasture, box seats standing room only) ever performed (Matt. 2:14), a couple years later the Magi came from the east to present their gifts. This was about two years after the Jesus’ birth because Herod, wanting to protect his precious throne, had all male infants two years old and under put to death. A friend of mine says that manger scenes should include figures of Herod’s soldiers, and I tend to agree. This sort of thing heightens our understanding and appreciation of the life–after his birth–of Jesus.

We tend to think of Christ’s birth and next thing you know it we are at the Sermon on the Mount. Christmastide gives us the opportunity to remember and celebrate the early human life of Jesus, events that make our own troubles and tragedies seem much more a part of the gospel story. The salvation of the world Himself came in the midst of the sin and death that still linger here as our own salvation goes forward in A.D. 20-almost-13. Matthew’s Gospel includes the story of  Herod, the slaughter of the innocents, and the flight to Egypt, and Luke’s tells us that once they settled back in Nazareth, “the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him” (2:40). Jesus was probably 3-4 years old, and he was growing in the knowledge of God. How does an omniscient God grow in the knowledge of God? By becoming a man and setting aside his divine privileges. Jesus was a little boy hungry to learn. By the time he was twelve, he was listening and asking questions in the temple as everyone marveled at his answers and understanding (Luke 2:42-47). Then the Gospels fast-forward another 18 years and John the Baptist walks out of the wilderness. Compared to his ministry, death and resurrection, the Gospels say very little about Jesus’ early life, but what they do say is wonderful and important, and the Twelve Days of Christmas are an opportunity to enjoy it.

Just what you wanted for Christmas: stuff to prepare for nearly two more weeks, right? Actually, my feeling is that enough preparation has been done already and certainly there is enough food in the house. For those with small people, pick a day to play with certain toys–Jesus played with toys, so let’s do it like him, shall we? For us this year, there is a little gift box and every day there is something for the kids: a small game, something to eat, a brief but rowdy scavenger or hot/cold hunt, a book, etc. It’s basically like Advent with little celebrations tucked in to each day, bringing everything to life and focused significance. We read Christmas and Bible stories like the ones above and continue celebrating the incarnation in an easy way. Some will say the celebration is too much, and they are like “those who saw the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and said, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her children”” (Matt. 11:19).

Merry 7th Day of Christmas!

Getting Ready for Christmas

Following up on my earlier post about observing Advent, Malachi 4:6 calls those who would prepare for the coming of Christ to turn their hearts to their fathers, and for fathers to turn their hearts to their children. What this has to do with Christmas takes some unpacking, or unwrapping, so here goes.

The striking thing about this passage, so subtle at first that it is easily overlooked, is the bi-directional nature of the command. We’re familiar with “honor your parents” and “bring your children up in the nurture of the Lord”, and good at ignoring them in isolation. Children feel their parents have sinned horribly against them, and so God’s commands get modified (consciously or not) into “Honor your father and mother if they are honorable, when it suits you, and don’t feel bad about doing a lousy job since they’ve hardly done for you what God commanded.” For parents, the morph is similar. We respond to the command by saying, “I did my best. I put food on the table. They pushed me away. If they want to have a relationship with me, they’ll call.”

Malachi smacks us with reality. God doesn’t tell us to honor our parents if they’re honorable (or reasonable!), and he doesn’t tell parents to nurture their children when those children are willing to listen, young, cute or asleep. When John the Baptizer came preaching in the spirit of Elijah, he didn’t gathered around a congregation of kids, but made the way straight “that all might believe through him” (John 1:7). Jews, priests, Levites, all were called to repentance. His first line in Matthew’s Gospel: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (3:2). This is not a repentance depending on someone else’s. This is not turn your heart to your father when he owns something you’d like him to, or love your kid when they’re lovable. Malachi echoes the 5th commandment: “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you” (Ex. 20:12), but he applies it to the time when Jesus would come. He includes the hearts of fathers to children, and not just children to fathers. And he adds the consequences of refusing, “lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”

What does a beefed up version of the 5th Commandment have to do with the coming of Christ? More than we might think. God prepares us for the coming of his Son by telling us to get right with our own children. He tells us to prepare our hearts to love the Father who gives life to the Son by turning our hearts to our fathers who gave us life. We fail to see these connections because we think it’s easy to run if you never walk, which is a lie: “If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 Jn. 4:20). How much more is this true if anyone hates his father? Or if anyone anyone hates his son? He cannot love the Father or the Son. This is not said to throw your faith into a tailspin. In his juxtaposing brilliance, John tells us that one must drive the other out. If you love Father, love your father. If you love the Son, love your son. If you are a Christian who believes Jesus is God, this is where you are going anyway, so you might as well come along and have a merry Christmas. Continue reading

Bright Advent

We are almost a week into Advent, and I hope your house is as merry as mine is. The massive confiner is up and lit, and liquified chocolate is on tap. The Christian Church cannot require anyone to keep days, seasons or festivals (Col. 3:16), but as the body of Christ has come into its maturity, we can voluntarily do all kinds of festive things. The coming of the Lord is a big deal, and preparing in a big way as we commemorate it and anticipate his coming again is fully appropriate. How could we not?

In old covenant the one prescribed fast day was Yom Kippur, the day of atonement when the Jews were to afflict their souls. One day. Now that we live in the kingdom (come and coming), is it appropriate to methodically fast at length? I would argue it doesn’t make sense to do this. Fasting occurs throughout the Bible when people are looking for answers to prayer or having a specific occasion for repentance. If you need to clean the house, do it. But don’t think you’re serving the house when you clean it for no other reason than you think the exercise itself makes you holy. That is false if not evil, especially if done to be seen by others (Matt. 6:16).

Many people find an annual spiritual “spring cleaning” of sorts to be helpful. God gives us daily, weekly and yearly calendars in part so we can track, evaluate and enjoy time, work an rest like he does on the Sabbath of the creation week (Gen. 1:31-2:3). If someone wants a biblical devotion linked to Advent, then perhaps the best course is to focus on the way God prepared his people for the coming of Jesus:

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction” (Mal. 4:5-6).

John the Baptizer came in the Spirit of Elijah, and part of job in preparing the way of Jesus was turn fathers to children and children to fathers. How many people are fasting for Advent and yet haven’t turned to their children and parents in love, respect, forgiveness, hope, and gratitude? How much father hunger burns holes in our souls this season? This is the fast that God requires, and one that makes the season bright.

Happy Halloween!

Here is a great post on the history of Halloween over at Mablog. Many Christian holidays have pagan names like Easter. You know, that Anglo-Saxon goddess of the dawn, Eostre, who was worshipped in the month of April by my ancestors. We kept the name but changed the feast to worship the creator instead of the creation. Worked out really well. No one today, except a tiny band neopagans playing dress-up, thinks they are worshipping Eostre on Easter. No one thinks the bunnies and eggs have any spiritual significance other than giving kids a good time doing stuff as they celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. So Easter is a Christian holiday with a pagan name, although the name has been effectively co-opted and presents no problem. Speaking of her is like mentioning Epaphroditus in the Bible–the guy whose name indicates he used to worship the goddess Aphrodite via prostitute at the temple in Corinth. His name is a sign of gospel conquest, and surely Eostre is free to worship Jesus as well.

Other holidays like Halloween actually have Christian names but have come to be thought of as pagan festivals. As the article cited mentions, All Saints’ Day is November 1st, the day when the church remembers all those who gave their lives in service of the gospel. In Britain this day is called All Hallows’. All Hallows’ Eve, from which we get Halloween, has become for some the equivalent of Mardis Gras before Lent, a day of dissipation in preparation for self control, however much sense that makes. For Halloween, the idea is to let the devils run wild before the saints arrive. The corruptions of Mardis Gras and Halloween are similar in this respect. Maybe I wasn’t paying attention, but when I was a kid I don’t remember Halloween costume shops displaying kinky underwear in the front window.

But however that is the case now, we shouldn’t let the abuse of the thing take away its good use anymore than frat boys drowned in Pabst Blue Ribbon should discourage tossing a good pint. Clearly it’s a good idea to avoid the macabre and perverse on Halloween. My wife pointed out to me a fake corpse hanging by a rope from the side of a house in our neighborhood. Why do people otherwise not nastily morbid do this stuff for “fun” once a year? Yay death! Obviously we want no part of that, but we do want to celebrate what we believe, namely, that God has poured out his Spirit on billions of Christians, past and present, who are given the righteousness of Christ and therefore made saints. The defiled woman has become the purified bride of Christ, and leave it to the kids to really get into it.

October 31st is also Reformation Day, the day Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the church door at Wittenburg. The Reformation was as much a reformation of church culture as it was of church doctrine, so it’s fitting that we make this day a celebration that spills out to our neighbors and friends. Marriage (and its bed), food, drink and fellowship fell out of the Reformation. I would argue for fun costumes, loud and interesting, and better candy at your house than your neighbor’s. I love greeting people at the door, taking the kids around, and celebrating. It’s like saying Merry Christmas to people. some who don’t know what they’re celebrating or intentionally aren’t. I still want them to have a merry one whether they do or not. Same here. Happy All Hallow’s Eve, Merry Reformation Day, and Happy Halloween!

 

 

Why 40 days?

Laurence Stookey notes the development of the 40 days of Lent:

In the early centuries [of the church], forty days was the time sufficient for converts to make their final, intensive preparation for baptism; and thus a pattern for Lent developed.  (p79, Christ’s Time for the Church)

What is interesting to me is that many will take on the season of Lent–days of fasting etc–who would never recommend 40 days of preparation before baptism. In scripture, the pattern is repent, believe and get baptized, not repent for 40 days, then be baptized, or prepare to repent then get baptized. For Philip, if repentance and belief are apparent, it’s time to get some water. Separating an artificially imposed season of repentance is just as odd. If there is sin, repent of it now and believe. If sin is habitual and deeply ingrained, take a season to address it. But setting up a system that highlights (isolates?) mortification of sin for six weeks a year arose from an unhealthy understanding of baptismal preparation and seems to me to promote an unhealthy approach to sanctification.