Thoughts on Christmas

A few thoughts among many. I have been encouraged lately by art and writing inspired by The Christmas Event, that happening in real time and space when God the Son became one of us.

E581A47B-9471-4217-989C-CDB0B2C55C90

Even a helpless newborn baby overpowers all the mighty socio-political powers and stratagems of the reigning authorities. Here we have the tiniest and most defenseless child who thwarts the machinations of Herod and all that he represents. Herod’s ham-fisted response to the coming threat, though he wildly misunderstands what sort of threat he is, is to feign to get on board: sure I want to worship the greater-king-than-me too — then to kill every possible suspect. But Herod and all his like were totally defeated from the moment the baby made his appearance.

The tiny child had help, of course, but that’s the point. He is the true authority, the Creator, the ultimate King. His mother and earthly father have been appointed by God Almighty to nurture and protect him. His angels cannot help but rejoice so exhuberently that those who are expectant can see and hear them; they must announce the great news to all who will listen. His Father will be well pleased with His Son. He will accept his self-sacrifice on our behalf. He will raise him from the dead! His kingdom will have no end because his kingship is founded on his completely willing humility in relation to His Father and his total love for human beings.

So the defenseless baby’s birth sets off a series of events ending in the utter defeat of all the plans of God’s enemies.

 

The announcement comes to those who are awake in the night. These are social outsiders who spend their lives in the wilderness outside town, keeping the flocks safe. They are poor, unimportant loners. But they are awake to the news. The shepherds’ response to seeing for themselves that which the angels have announced is to go and tell everyone who will listen. One way or another, those who look for God’s graceful intrusion into human affairs hear the good news.

 

“For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.”

979269B1-E9B7-440E-8D27-8B41E30ABB14

This is The Nativity and Annunciation to the Shepherds, from the 13th century. I love this little illuminated illustration because its straightforward simplicity reflects the humble happening with the momentous glory hiding within.

 

I am an artist who often rails against the idea that art is a panacea to the negatives of this world. I tend to think art is, in practical terms, ineffectual to provide real help to us. But this Christmas, I have been encouraged a great deal during the— I must admit— severe stress I feel to provide the Christmas to which we are accustomed. God has graciously spoken to me through these ancient paintings, some humble, some grand. I have been drawn to consider what this real event, the birth of Christ, means. And the artists behind these beautiful images have become many voices, used by God still, to bear me up and lead me to a quiet but real joy.

Merry Christmas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Don’t We All Want Peace?

And suddenly there appeared with the angel a great multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,” Glory to God in the highest, and peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

I wonder at people now, who seem to want desperately to keep the pot stirred, who immerse themselves all day and night in the turmoil and hate of today’s social media world, who join in eagerly to add their voices to the screams of  cultural warfare. We are going to wear ourselves out, or have strokes in our rages.

Ours is a culture of overstimulation. But aren’t there moments, now and then, when we’ve had enough? Don’t we all really want some peace?

At Christmas we are celebrating a happening in real time and space, when God decided to come to earth, our dwelling place, not as a conquering overlord or incoming ruler, but as helpless a human being as can be. Almighty God, the Creator, actually became a newborn baby from a very poor family in an oppressed underclass, under downright primitive circumstances.

And it wasn’t a cameo appearance. He meant it. He committed to being that baby, living that life, seeing it through to its horrible end. He really became one of us and experienced all the anguish and grief we do, and much more than we do.

Can you imagine his perspective? He created a perfect—perfect universe—and then found himself living smack in the middle of what we had made of it. It was fallen, broken by our sin, harsh, hostile, unjust. What he had made but distorted and diminished and deranged.

He suffered. He experienced a horrible death both as a human man and as God. We simple creatures cannot conceive of his suffering. Worse, his death was the result of allowing himself to be subject to the derangement and sin we had made of his world.

He did this so that he might save us from the hate we had wrought, that we might escape the consequences of our own evil. He took the blame for us, and his Father accepted the sacrifice, giving to us freely his holiness and guiltlessness.

At Christmas, we celebrate that time that God chose to become one of the least of us, and truly became one like us and among us. That is love.

And about that peace:

He said this:  Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. John 14:27

And suddenly there appeared with the angel a great multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,” Glory to God in the highest, and peace to men on whom his favor rests!”

God was announcing peace with us.  Personal peace, reconciliation, a restored personal relationship. Nothing on your ledger. This meant that we as individuals can have peace with God, a permanent remedy for our personal resistance against him. Peace with God.

We are meant to share that peace with our fellow earthlings. A community of those at peace with God surely creates peace on earth, a blessed refuge. Do you know another way to have peace?

If we find ourselves exhausted by all the strife, thinking that maybe we could find a little quiet place and feel peace for a little, we surely can have it. And much more. Our loving and merciful God wants us to come aside from the world and indulge in his peace. Merry Christmas.

Remember Who We Celebrate

Advent is a good time to read about the tiny child born in a manger, the humble beginnings of a remarkable life. But I am reading the omega of that story.

Let’s not pass thoughtlessly by the images in the Book of Revelation. Let’s not glaze over when we read the uncompromising declarations of Who He Is.

I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,” says the Lord,

“who is

and who was

and who is to come, the Almighty.”

“One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band.  His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire;  His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters;   He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength.  And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead.”

I am the First and the Last.  I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death.

“Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth.”

“To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood,  and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever.”

And that’s only the first chapter!

The passages are visually astounding. The book is so visually strong. When we read Revelation, we feel like we’re strangers dropped off in a foreign country. That’s because we are. We are meant to feel overwhelmed, awed, small, lost. It is the place to open the eyes wide and be quiet, and to listen.

There are no grey areas in the declarations of His identity.

This Jesus-God from Revelation is the baby whose first cradle was a feeding trough. The all-powerful one is who He is now, without the disarming personas  He wore in his obedience and humility before His Father while on the earth. This One of the Book of Revelation is the One with whom we must make our peace.

There is only one response possible in heaven toward this One.

Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands,  saying with a loud voice:

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain
To receive power and riches and wisdom,
And strength and honor and glory and blessing!”

 And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying:

“Blessing and honor and glory and power
Be to Him who sits on the throne,
And to the Lamb, forever and ever!”

 Then the four living creatures said, “Amen!” And the twenty-four elders fell down and worshiped Him who lives forever and ever.

Jesus of Nazareth was among us on earth as a humble wanderer, a simple teacher who yet could not be suffered to live by the powers that were. These are the things He told us:

“As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you

You are my friends if you do what I command.

This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.”

Let us remember Whose incarnation we are celebrating at this joyous Christmastime.

He came first as a newborn baby, as helpless and meek a creature as possible, in order to become one of us. The people of the world are at a disadvantage when we celebrate the lowly child’s birthday. It’s a comforting image; whether they regard the manger story as myth or history, they feel good about celebrating the poor underdog babe and congratulate themselves on their insight about the disadvantaged child who would become the great teacher.

In the carol “We Three Kings,” each of the magi tells of his gift to the promised king. This verse from the third foreshadows Jesus’ life as a man:

Myrrh is mine: it’s bitter perfume
Breathes a life of gathering gloom.
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding dying,
Sealed in the stone-cold tomb.

We who believe know that we are celebrating the tiny babe, the simple teacher, the willing martyr and the Resurrected One, and the one to whom we are absolutely accountable. Ultimately we must remember the One who revealed himself to John and showed us who He is and will ever be.

Ultimately He will not be disregarded by anyone. This babe is really the one with all power, the One who will be the Judge of all the earth, the one with the Keys to Hell and Death.

Kiss the Son lest He be angry,
And you perish in the way,
When His wrath is kindled but a little.
Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him

 

 

My Next Holiday Show

MaddyTree Books

Maddy Tree Books has just three more craft shows left this year. The first is a warm, welcoming craft/art show with twinking holiday lights, music, food, and free hot cider.

A Bit of the Arts Holiday Art Sale will be at Lansdowne’s Twentieth Century Club on Friday evening and Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend. Saturday is annual Small Business Saturday. We will be on the downstairs level this year for the first time, so remember to walk down to see us.

ArtFest

Here’s a pic from two years ago to give you a small slice of the experience. That’s me in the green!

36291208_1820929304620378_4490660368376397824_o

A few of my new things:

View original post

Real Loneliness

Jesus in the desert alone for forty days. That’s a long time to be alone. He must have felt quite lonely.

But he had his father. He was in fellowship and prayer with his father, God. And they two were One to a degree that we cannot understand. The mystery of the Trinity is, in part, the mystery of three beings who are distinct yet still part of one another. Three yet One. They enjoy love and unity in a way we simply cannot comprehend.

And so what must it have been like for Jesus to hang on the cross, the bearer of the sins of all the people who ever lived in all of human history, while he knew that Holy God could not be in fellowship with him? During the time that he became sin for us, he was forsaken by his father for the first time in eternity.

We believe we are lonely. But our loneliness is nothing in comparison to that great forsakenness. That is loneliness that we can hardly conceive.

And I’m sorry to say that that is the kind of loneliness that those who reject Jesus’ free gift of forgiveness will feel. Utter separation from the God of love, mercy and kindness will be like Jesus’ despairing separation. How could it not be?

People like to scoff at the idea of eternal punishment. It might be wise to examine the nature of that punishment. An unbridgeable gulf, an unbreakable wall between you and the only source of love, comfort, or peace. The mere possibility of relationshhip with any other being, impossible.

If we spurn his mercy, we exchange it for suffering like his, and a kind of loneliness unlike any we have imagined.

The Atheist Cacangelist

“And to some extent the Church in Britain is to blame for this – divided, defensive and dumbed down, it has created a ghetto mentality and a Christian market, with the result that any attempt to break out of that is met by defeatism at home, and derision abroad.“…This sadly sounds like the Church in our locale as well, perhaps in the forseeable future if we do not turn it around. A Christian side culture is necessarily on the margin, and it is a ghetto in terms of quality.

TheWeeFlea.com

Screenshot 2018-11-03 at 09.30.50Richard Dawkins is reigniting his career as an atheist cacangelist.   What you may ask is a cacangelist?  Its a new word (I think) which should not be added to our dictionary.   The word evangelist comes from the Greek – meaning the messenger of good news.  I have often described Richard Dawkins as an atheist evangelist…but it doesn’t really work because atheism has no good news.  So since the word ‘cac’ means bad (in English it has a similar more rough but equally appropriate meaning)…it seems to me that cacangelist (messenger of bad news) fits Dawkins and his like perfectly….there is no God, there is no good and evil in the universe, there is no purpose…and if you get cancer etc thats just your bad luck…You are a blob of carbon going from one meaningless existence to another.

Richard Dawkins is in the process of bringing out a childrens book seeking…

View original post 726 more words

Faithful and Just

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. I John 1:9

Maybe you’re not like me, but when I hear this verse, I hear something like this: “If we confess our sins, he is willing to be really nice and overlook our sins because he’s God.”

But that’s not what is being said, is it?

What we normally experience in our human relationships, as offenders—once we are willing to admit to ourselves that we did wrong—is something like this: we gather up enough humility to admit to the offended person that we’ve wronged them, and we apologize, as though what we did isn’t like us at all, because we’re really better than this. Then the other person accepts our apology, maybe reluctantly. They decide to overlook our offense, or at least they say they do, and implicitly agree not to stay mad about it.

In other words, I hardly recognize I’ve done something offensive, I grudgingly admit that I may have if that’s what the offended person insists on thinking, then the offended person grudgingly decides to let it go, meaning he is going to act like he’s not offended anymore, even if he intends to nurse a secret grudge against me. This is what human forgiveness often looks like, God help us.

We ask forgiveness to put social discomfort behind us. We forgive in order to avoid confrontation and the awkward intimacy involved in sharing real emotions.

What I usually sense when I think about God’s forgiveness is that I’m getting away with something I really shouldn’t. But I just processed what the verse is really saying: God forgives our offenses because it is just to do so.

It is right that I should be forgiven. Justice is satisfied. How can that be?

If God forgives because it is just, then it is just. That means the absolutely righteous, fair and perfect response to our confession is to forgive us.

He forgives us because it is faithful and just to do so.

Faithful to what or to whom? Not to us; we do not deserve to be forgiven. We can offer nothing which erases the offense.

And God is not accountable to us.

Who can God be faithful to? Only to himself; He cannot be accountable to one greater than himself. He is being faithful to his own standard, and God is his standard. We human creatures can stand aside from a standard and honor or dishonor it, but God is in essence his standard. He is being faithful to himself. When he is being faithful and just, He is being Who He is.

He does not forgive us because He’s decided to overlook our sins because He’s in a good mood, nor because He’s decided to let this one go.

How is it just for God to forgive our sins? This is no tit-for-tat in which a god is bound to forgive us because we said the magic words. He owes us nothing, ever. And we cannot make amends for our offenses, ever. We cannot give God something by which he is obligated to forgive us.

If we are truly repentant in our hearts, to forgive us is just.

God is holy, pure and wholly good and we are decidedly not. But Jesus Christ, who was sinless, died in my place and yours to accept the penalty for our sin. He made us right with Holy God. Why does God do this?

God is love. God wants to dwell with his creatures who have freely chosen to love him, to recognize who He is and to honor Him accordingly. He desires to forgive offenses because that is part of what love is. Love seeks reconciliation. Love strives to create relationship with no barriers, no division, no walls. True and pure resolution is necessary for two people to live in real unity, in real relationship. Remember—God’s version of relationship does not accept grudges and this-is-who-I-am-put-up-with-it. God’s conception of relationship is the perfect marriage, the friend giving his life for his friend, utter self-giving for an enemy who does not recognize the sacrifice. God wants to be in true intimate relationship with his creatures who desire true intimate relationship with him.

God forgives the true repentant because it would be unjust not to. He forgives because his nature requires it, and because he delights to. A wall has come down. A beloved has chosen to come closer to the God who loves him. The created being can truly identify with his Creator, and the Creator rejoices at this.

One day all the universe will acknowledge God for Who He is, will be in right relationship with Him. Everything in the universe will be as God intended. That means all people and all Creation will honor Him as God.

And then he cleanses us from all unrighteousness! God requires us to be totally righteous in order to be in total relationship with us, so he makes it possible, because we cannot. In doing so he continues to be true to himself—faithful and just—to himself and to us.