Thursday, December 25, 2008

Joyful all ye nations rise

Celestial foulis in the air,
   Sing with your nottis upon hicht,
In firthis and in forrestis fair
   Be myrthful now at all your mycht;
   For passit is your dully nicht,
Aurora has the cloudis perst,
   The Sone is risen with glaidsum licht,
      Et nobis Puer natus est.

- William Dunbar (1465–1520?), "On the Nativity of Christ"

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Jensen exposes false teachers falsehoods

Michael reflects on the use of "false teachers" in the New Testament and today.

"It is increasingly the case that this term is used to describe any Christian or putative Christian whose teaching differs from mine. [...] I am inclined to say that if I encounter a person who subscribes to the creeds in good faith and holds Scripture as finally authoritative for Christians (they don't have to have my doctrine of Scripture) and I see no evidence of corruption, lust and greed in their lives, then I am certainly cautious about applying the 'false teacher' label, even if I disagree strongly with what they teach."

Monday, December 22, 2008

Gavin Wilcox (1962-2008)

I have just heard that Gavin Wilcox died of cancer last Thursday morning. Gavin was rector of All Saints' Anglican, Nowra from 2002 until retiring earlier this year due to his declining health. Between 1997 and 2002 he had been an assistant minister at St Barnabas', Broadway, which is where Jessica and I met him when we joined the church in 2000. The funeral will be held at 1pm at All Saints’, Nowra on Tuesday, December 23. He will be much missed.

I thank God for the ways he blessed me and many others through Gavin. One more reason to look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.

Baby Jesus had a beard

A while ago, I posted the classic "Baby Jesus prayer" clip from Talladega Nights. Greg Clarke (director of the Centre for Public Christianity) has now used it as the basis of an opinion piece published on the ABC website. Go and have a look. His article is an invitation to go and have a look at the Jesus of history, of ethics, of politics, of theology, not just of popular culture.

And if you'd like a glimpse into many of the popular (mis)conceptions of Christianity, read a few of the comments. Dan Brown has a lot to answer for.

O come, Desire of nations

O come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease,
And be Thyself our King of Peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

Friday, December 19, 2008

O come, Thou Root of Jesse’s tree

O come, Thou Root of Jesse’s tree,
An ensign of Thy people be;
Before Thee rulers silent fall;
All peoples on Thy mercy call.
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

O'Donovan on reading

Reading is the act which opens us to the voice of Jesus’s witnesses, and so to history, to the world, and to the empty tomb at the world’s centre. Reading should be the core moment in all our liturgy, the heartbeat that gives life to the sacraments, the preaching and the prayers. Reading should be at the focal point of our church buildings, so that what we see first is not an altar, not a pulpit, but a lectern. Reading should be the lifeblood of our preaching, so that every new sermon we compose springs from a study of the Scripture that is for us as though for the first time, new, vital, surprising. Reading must be the rhythm of our life, the daily beat of the Gospel which gives order to the flurry of undertakings all around it. Reading schools us in self-denial and flexibility, emptying out the imaginations of self-generated visions and filling us with the thoughts of others. Reading accepts the divine violence upon the world that has given us life, but offers no violence back to the messengers through whom the news of that life comes to us.

Oliver O'Donovan, "Saint Mark, violence, and the discipline of reading: a sermon"

I am astonished when church services are confined to a single short reading to make more time for preaching (or singing, or coffee). This usually means the congregation rarely hears the Old Testament and what it does receive frequently lacks much context. Worse is when a "reading" from an extra-scriptural source is regularly substituted for the Bible. I am all for introducing congregations to the riches of Christian thought through the ages, but not as a substitute for Scripture. Using a lectionary makes more and more sense to me as a liturgical discipline of regular, systematic, extended engagement with the actual words of Scripture.
Thanks to Æ for posting this sermon. He also points out that a book of O’Donovan’s sermons, “The Word in Small Boats”, will be published by Eerdmans in the northern Spring of 2009.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

What is "normal" life?

"To us things are normal when they are going well. Health, affluence, peace - these are normal, so convinced are we of our own righteousness, of what is our due. But Scripture teaches the very opposite. Unfortunately what is normal now that man is separated from God is war and murder, famine and pollution, accident and disruption. When there is a momentary break in the course of these disasters, when abundance is known, when peace timidly establishes itself, when justice reigns for a span, then it is fitting, unless we are men of too little faith, that we should marvel and give thanks for so great a miracle, realizing that no less than the love and faithfulness of the Lord has been needed in order that there might be this privileged instant. We should tremble for joy as before the new and fragile life of a little child."

- Jacques Ellul, The Politics of God and the Politics of Man
(trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley; Eerdmans, 1972 [1966]), 178-79.

What is more normal: health or sickness; peace or violence; prosperity or adversity? Ellul is right to highlight the way we can complacently assume the world owes us a living. Every moment of sunshine is a gift to be thankfully received, not a birthright to be demanded. We are not the makers of our own reality; our survival and flourishing are contingent upon so many factors beyond our control, often even beyond our influence. And where we do exert our influence, it is so often ambivalent. Even our best intentioned acts often cause unforeseen harm. Seeking to tread lightly on our path, we trail destruction and confusion behind us. Any good we manage to briefly enjoy is always threatened by dissolution or contamination. It is normal to experience frustration and guilt, disappointment and pain. We live broken lives in a world out of joint.

But there is a deeper reality than even sin and human brokenness. God is not a god of chaos, but of peace. In Christ a new world has dawned. The Spirit therefore teaches us to be discontent with our discontented lives, to treat as normal not the passing age of pain, but the coming kingdom of healing. In light of this future, the ubiquity of evil has been unmasked as a grotesque aberration. To be normal now is to live amidst the dying as those who live again. To be normal is to reject the presumption of my own innocence and yet to be freed from guilt by the vindicated one. To be normal is to love the loveless and accept grace with thanksgiving. To be normal in these days is to be extraordinary.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

O come, O come, great Lord of might

O come, O come, great Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes on Sinai’s height
In ancient times once gave the law
In cloud and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

O come, Thou Key of David

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

O come, Thou Day-spring

O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory over the grave.
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Bonhoeffer on the idolization of death

"The miracle of Christ's resurrection makes nonsense of that idolization of death which is prevalent among us today. Where death is the last thing, fear of death is combined with defiance. Where death is the last thing, earthly life is all or nothing. Boastful reliance on earthly eternities goes side by side with a frivolous playing with life. A convulsive acceptance and seizing hold of life stands cheek by jowl with indifference and contempt for life. There is no clearer indication of the idolization of death than when a period claims to be building for eternity and yet life has no value in this period, or when big words are spoken of a new man, of a new world and of a new society which is to be ushered in, and yet all that is new is the destruction of life as we have it. The drastic acceptance or rejection of earthly life reveals that only death has any value here. To clutch at everything or to cast away everything is the reaction of one who believes fanatically in death.

"But wherever it is recognised that the power of death has been broken, wherever the world of death is illumined by the miracle of the resurrection and of the new life, there no eternities are demanded of life but one takes of life what it offers, not all or nothing but good and evil, the important and the unimportant, joy and sorrow; one neither clings convulsively to life nor casts it frivolously away. One is content with the allotted span and one does not invest earthly things with the title of eternity; one allows to death the limited rights which it still possesses. It is from beyond death that one expects the coming of the new man and of the new world, from the power by which death has been vanquished."

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics, 16.

Our society is obsessed with death, as can be seen in our frantic suppression of it. Graveyards are too disturbing for the centre of town; old people are hidden in "homes"; hospitals will save us. Nazi Germany was not the only society to make an idol of death. The resurrection relativises death, revealing it as humanity's unnatural enemy, but a defeated enemy.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

O come, Thou Wisdom from on high

O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
Who orderest all things mightily;
To us the path of knowledge show,
And teach us in her ways to go.
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Introducing HIM

Michael Jensen, fresh from the success of YOU: An Introduction (a great Christmas present, BTW), has now recommenced work on the sequel HIM: An Introduction. If you missed the last one, this is your chance for your blog quotes and jokes to become immortalised in the archaic medium of ink and paper. Head on over and join the discussion. So far, Michael has been talking about the puzzling invisibility of God, the startling claim that God is love and the controversial and often misunderstood belief that God chooses.
Five points to everyone who makes at least one semi-relevant comment over on HIM and then comes back here to say you have done so (with a link to where you made the comment).

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Advent conspiracy

What do you think of this campaign (and ones like it)?

Down's is up

I thought this was an interesting trend.

Monday, December 01, 2008

O come, O come, Emmanuel

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.
Ten points for the Sydney location.