Let’s Stop Underestimating Christmas

imag5856_1Today’s post comes from the Gospel Coalition and echoes much of what I spoke of a few days ago – about the great worth of remembering God’s great works at Christmas time. I am currently reading Keller’s book mentioned below, titled “Hidden Christmas” – which is surprising me more and more, in a good way, with each passing chapter. It would make a great gift this Christmas.

“Christmastime is here. For some of you, that sentence evokes nostalgia and joy. Others of you, not so much. Yet one thing many of us share in common this time of year is hearing the classic readings from the Gospels (if not in church then from Linus). And all the while, we can become so familiar with the incarnation that we end up domesticating it.

Christmas is familiar, but it isn’t tame. As Tim Keller puts it in his new book, Hidden Christmas: The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ (Viking), “Christmas is both more wondrous and more threatening than we imagine.” Working from the writings of Matthew, Luke, and John, he illumines the modern import of the ancient story.

I asked Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan and vice president of TGC, why neither the god of moralism nor the god of relativism would’ve bothered with Christmas, how unbelievers try to “name” Jesus, and more. (And yes, this brief book would make an excellent Christmas present.)

In the book I say that about the theme of “light in the darkness” that’s so prominent not only in the biblical understanding of Christ’s birth (Isa. 9:2Matt. 4:16) but also in most contemporary celebrations of Christmas. The Bible doesn’t say “from the world a light has dawned” but “upon the world a light has dawned.” The point is that the world is a dark place that needs salvation to come from outside of it. This means the end of cheery statements like, “If we all pull together, we can make the world a better place.” No, we can’t. We don’t have what it takes.

The Bible doesn’t say ‘from the world a light has dawned’ but ‘upon the world a light has dawned.’ The world is a dark place that needs salvation to come from outside of it.

This is a clear-eyed, realistic approach to our problems. It’s not rah-rah optimism. Yet it’s not pessimistic either, because there ishope, and a certainty that God will eventually destroy all evil.

Why is it foolish to rush past the genealogy at the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel? 

Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus does a lot of work. First, it roots Jesus in history. The gospel doesn’t begin “once upon a time.” Christ isn’t a legend; he was a flesh-and-blood human being in space and time. Second, the genealogy includes women who were racial and cultural “outsiders” (Rahab and Ruth) as well as involved in incest, adultery, and prostitution (Tamar, “Uriah’s wife,” and Rahab).

Even the ‘begats’ of the Bible drip with God’s mercy.

In ancient and less individualistic times, one’s genealogy was like one’s résumé. Like today’s résumés, many things were usually expunged to make it look better to the reader. Women were seldom put in ancient genealogies at all, let alone women who reminded readers of the sordid sins and corruption of ancestors such as Judah and David. All of these figures would have been disowned or expunged from a normal genealogy, but here they are not. They are all—male and female, king and prostitute, Jew and Gentile—equally part of Jesus’s family. So even the “begats” of the Bible drip with God’s mercy.

Neither the god of moralism nor the god of relativism would have bothered with Christmas, you observe. Why not?

Moralism is essentially the idea that you can save yourself through your good works. And this makes Christmas unnecessary. Why would God need to become human in order to live and die in our place if we can fulfill the requirements of righteousness ourselves? Relativism is essentially the idea that no one is really “lost,” that everyone should live by their own lights and determine right and wrong for themselves. The “all-accepting god of love” many modern people believe in would never have bothered with the incarnation. Such a god would have found it completely unnecessary.

The ‘all-accepting god of love’ many moderns believe in would never have bothered with the incarnation. Such a god would have found it completely unnecessary.

Why was the naming of baby Jesus significant? 

All parents have the right to name their own child. It’s a sign of their authority over the child, and the power they have over how the child will live and who the child will become. This was even truer in ancient patriarchal societies than it is now. But the angel doesn’t allow Joseph or Mary to name Jesus. One reason is that Jesus was the first child ever born who was far older than his parents! The other is that, even though Jesus submitted to his human parents authority during his childhood (Luke 2:51), they weren’t ultimately his master. He was their master. By refusing to let Mary and Joseph name their son, the angel was essentially saying something like this: “If Jesus is in your life, you’re not his manager—he’s your manager. You don’t name him or tell him who he is—he’s come to tell you who you are.”

What can we learn about the difference between closed-minded doubt and open-minded doubt from contrasting Zechariah and Mary in Luke 1?

When the angel Gabriel appeared and told Zechariah he would have a son, Zechariah expressed doubts about how this could come to such an elderly couple (Luke 1:18)—and he was disciplined for his doubt (Luke 1:20). When Gabriel appears and tells Mary she will have a son, she expresses doubts to the same angel in almost the same words—wondering how this could come to a virgin (Luke 1:34). Yet there’s no word of rebuke, only a further explanation. Why the difference? The only real possibility is that the inner motivations and dynamics of Zechariah’s and Mary’s doubts were different. There’s a kind of doubt that really is seeking more information—that “wants” to believe if it’s possible. There’s also a kind of doubt that really is looking for a way out, that doesn’t want to believe or submit, that’s looking for a way to keep control of one’s own life.

This is a wonderfully nuanced approach to doubt. The Bible doesn’t view doubts as always rebellious, nor does it encourage people to live in doubt perpetually. That’s why we’re told to “be merciful to those who doubt” (Jude 1:22).”

https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/tim-keller-wants-you-to-stop-underestimating-christmas

Advertisements

Grace

What grace it is that we don’t have to win God’s favour by our goodness.

#timkeller

A post shared by Tim Keller Quotes (@dailytimkellerquotes) on

From Tim Keller

Prayer Isn’t Simply Plowing Through A List. What Is Prayer? This.

prayer girlBlessings for the New Year! I’m sure that like me you are keen to be more prayerful in 2015. This post from Blazing Center should whet your appetite for more. Keller’s book, referred to in this post, is certainly on my to read list.

What is prayer?

“Prayer is continuing a conversation that God has started through his Word and his grace, that leads to a full encounter with him,” Tim Keller writes in his book Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God.

That’s astounding, if you slow down and think about it. Prayer is talking tTim Keller Prayero the Creator of all that is. Even more, it’s talking back to him, in response to his initiative to start a conversation with us. But even that definition fails to adequately describe what actually happens when we pray. So before he gives a definition of prayer, Keller quotes the English poet George Herbert’s poem “Prayer (I).” Herbert doesn’t define prayer; instead, he describes it, in all its richness and variety. Here is the poem. Don’t rush. Read it slowly.

Prayer the church’s banquet, angel’s age,

God’s breath in man returning to his birth,

The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,

The Christian plummet sounding heav’n and earth

Engine against th’ Almighty, sinner’s tow’r,

Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,

The six-days world transposing in an hour,

A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear;

Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss,

Exalted manna, gladness of the best,

Heaven in ordinary, man well drest,

The milky way, the bird of Paradise,

Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the soul’s blood,

The land of spices; something understood.

Can we define prayer? Yes, certainly. But is defining it the end goal? By no means. We haven’t exhausted the meaning of prayer until we have personally experienced and entered into the riches Herbert describes. Don’t be content with a definition. Hear God’s invitation to you through Christ: you’re invited to the banquet. Enter the conversation. “For through [Christ] we both have access in one Spirit to the Father” (Ephesians 2:18).

By Josh Blount
http://theblazingcenter.com/2015/01/prayer-isnt-simply-going-through-a-list-what-is-prayer-this.html

The unexpected timing of God’s grace

From Tim Keller:

God’s sense of timing will confound ours, no matter what culture we’re from. His grace rarely operates according to our schedule. When Jesus looks at Jairus and says, “Trust me, be patient,” in effect he is looking over Jairus’ head at all of us and saying, “Remember how when I calmed the storm I showed you that my grace and love are compatible with going through storms, though you may not think so? Well, now I’m telling you that my grace and love are compatible with what seem to you unconscionable delays.
It’s not “I will not be hurried even though I love you”; it’s “I will not be hurried because I love you. I know what I’m doing. And if you try to impose your understanding of schedule and timing on me, you will struggle to feel loved by me.”

(Kings Cross, pg. 63)

You may also like:
Taking control doesn’t guarantee safety or happiness
hands on wheel

Sheer grace, not good advice

kingscross“The gospel isn’t advice: It’s the good news that you don’t need to earn your way to God; Jesus has already done it for you. And it’s a gift that you receive by sheer grace – through God’s thoroughly unmerited favor. If you seize that gift and keep holding on to it, then Jesus’ call won’t draw you into fanaticism or moderation. You will be passionate to make Jesus your absolute goal and priority, to orbit around him … The Gospel is not about choosing to follow advice, it’s about being called to follow a King.”

Tim Keller, King’s Cross, 2011.