“Sentimentality, not atheism, is the deepest enemy of the Christian faith,” the theological ethicist Stanley Hauerwas has averred on numerous occasions. (This particular formulation is from Approaching the End (2013), 88.) Perhaps no time of year is as fraught with the danger of sentimentality for Christians as is Christmas. However, this seemingly owes more to the cultural observation of Christmas returning to its pagan roots in the winter festival of Saturnalia, then it does to the story of the Nativity. Continue reading An Unsentimental Christmas
In September 2012, just before Apple released the iPhone 5, comedian Jimmy Kimmel took to the streets to get the opinions of passersby on the new device. The only catch was that he was not showing them the new iPhone 5, but rather the older iPhone 4s. Nevertheless, people raved about how superior the new device was to the identical device they had in their pockets or, in some cases, their other hands. I’ve used the clip in a variety of settings to illustrate the power of worldview and the enduring influence of the Myth of Progress. Continue reading What’s Old is New Again
The Lutheran theologian Robert Jenson once published a delightful collection of theological conversations he had with his eight-year old granddaughter, entitled, Conversations with Poppi about God. While I may lack Jenson’s great erudition, my five-year old daughter certainly has no problem supplying the type of questions and comments that make for “book-worthy” theological conversation. (See, for example her question in the Advent sermon previously posted.) Her most recent question was raised the other day as we were driving home from a church Christmas event. Continue reading A Christmas Conundrum
For the last number of years during the season of Advent, the congregation of Byron United Church has assembled a life-sized nativity scene in front of their church building facing a major intersection. Each year, the manger is left empty waiting to receive the Christ-child on Christmas Eve. As we drove by the church on our way to visit family yesterday, it became apparent that this year there would be no place for the little Lord Jesus to lay down his sweet head. Where the nativity scene had once stood, there was now only the unseasonably green grass of the church lawn. Muddy tire tracks cut into the grassy boulevard were the only clue pointing to what had transpired. A few nights earlier a driver had lost control of their vehicle and crashed into the nativity scene. I’m not privy to any of the details, but I don’t believe anyone was hurt. The only casualty appears to have been the nativity scene. A crashed-out crèche may not quite reach the disorienting heights of the climax of a Flannery O’Connor short-story, but for those with homiletical ears to hear the scene is surely suggestive.
The noted preacher Fleming Rutledge makes the point of reminding congregations in many of her Advent sermons that “Advent begins in the dark.” On one level, this is an empirically verifiable reality as we gather together during Advent to light candles against the encroaching darkness of the ever-shortening days of December. Continue reading “Advent Begins in the Dark”
Theological reflection always begins in the middle. After all, theological reflection is the work of a people who find themselves on pilgrimage (in via) as a result of being claimed by the address of the Triune God. There is no getting back to square one – to some primal location – for we are historical creatures who cannot escape our positioning in a good, but fallen world that started long before we arrived and, God willing, continue for long after we’ve died. Furthermore, if God is truly God, then God is not simply there to be discovered like helium or hydrogen, mites or mandrills. If theological reflection is to be truly theological it can only be, as Karl Barth famously maintained, a “thinking after” (Nachdenken in German) the reality of God’s self-revelation in the person of Christ. Continue reading Beginning in the Middle