Saturday, January 03, 2009

Emmanuel - Austin

The hype is behind. Christmas has come and gone. Kids are heading back to school and life will return to its previous blend of challenge and tedium. The flurry of activity in churches will subside at least a little, and for most people in the western world, the claims of “Emmanuel – God with us,” will once again be pushed to the recesses of their minds.

On the streets of any community in Canada today, the average person knows as much about Santa Claus as about Jesus Christ. They don’t take Santa Claus very seriously, although if they have small children, they learn to use the language well. I wonder how different we, the church, are? We use the language pretty well, and not just with small children. I own multiple translations of the Bible and can quote lengthy passages. I’ve read it cover to cover enough times that I do pretty good in Bible Trivia games. But that old question that was asked quite frequently a number of years back bothers me a bit today as I sit at this keyboard – “If I was accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict?” If the same criteria was used for my belief in Santa Claus as for my belief in God, how much difference would be found?

Does ownership of multiple Bibles place me in some unique league? Do I dare confess that there are weeks when I’m working hard on some project when my dictionary gets more use? Do I dare confess that at times I weary of the Bible? With all its incredible stories, its wonderful and varied writing styles, its magnificent poetry and the message of God’s love that lives and breathes in its pages, I sometimes want to run from it, hide from it, shut out its claims on my life.

I can read a novel and take or leave what it says. I can thrill to the story, even when I can’t turn off the red pen in my brain. But the Bible changes me, and sometimes, to tell the truth, I’d rather not be changed. I’m within a few weeks of that magic age when I’m eligible for a number of “senior” privileges. I’ve gotten used to my quirks, including my failings. For the most part I’ve learned to live with who I am, strengths and weakness, foibles and foolish dreams included. But the Bible always seems to call me a little higher. It takes work to climb higher. It takes effort. It takes diligence and alertness. And sometimes I’m just plain lazy. I want to see the view from the top of Mount Everest, but the work of climbing Mount Everest has never been one of my dreams. I want to keep the wonder of Christmas alive through my year, but the offence of Christmas – the Creator of the Universe making His bed in a feed-trough in a stable – first visited by shepherds, who didn’t stop to shower and shave – I want, somehow, to sanitize that picture, to make it more acceptable. That isn’t the way I would have planned it, and I want, somehow, to remake God, at least in small ways, in my image. But Christmas in a (watch where you step) stable – shatters my feeble attempts at redesigning God.

The hype is behind, but the truth remains. We are a visited people. Emmanuel – God with us is reality, because Christmas is historical fact, and the stable was the chosen place.

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