One Warm Christmas Eve

For one of our cross-cultural workers, the wonder of Christmas is that it comes even though it isn’t wrapped in childhood memories.

One warm Christmas Eve . . .

This still doesn’t make sense to my Midwest American senses. Most of my memories of Christmas Eve involve cold weather. Bundling up to go caroling and returning to drink hot chocolate and eat Christmas cookies, going to the Christmas Eve service at church, having soup and homemade bread for dinner, followed by a drive to look at all the Christmas lights on the neighboring houses. Always with family, friends, good food and music.

But here in Indonesia, we have definitely experienced the Christmases that you hear about from someone else’s exotic vacation—sunny blue skies, tropical breezes, swimming, drinking cold lemonade. We enjoy salad and ice cream on a warm Christmas day, wear flip flops and tank tops, celebrate with the local people and with new, and often, very different food.

Last Christmas – our second here – we broke down and bought a fake Christmas tree. This was tough for me since I grew up with a fresh-cut tree every Christmas, so I embraced yet another change in our celebrations. As we welcomed a new family to the field and helped them get settled right before the Christmas season, we lamented the fact that they were celebrating their first Christmas in a place that wouldn’t even be their home a few weeks later.

We discussed various changes that we would experience during the season as we were away from “home.” As we talked about missing Christmas traditions in different parts of the world, my new friend gently stopped me with a poignant question: “Isn’t Christmas really about focusing on Jesus . . . no matter what?”

Needless to say, wherever we are in the world – America, Germany, Indonesia or anyplace in between – we take joy in knowing that once again we can celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ (as well as his life, death, resurrection and triumph over sin and death)!

Despite the company, the weather, the traditions, songs, foods or type of tree, we can still choose to celebrate the greatest gift of all: Jesus Christ! We pray this will always be our attitude for this season of Advent.

First Snow

I walk across campus and am struck by the playfulness. Children everywhere, in the shape of college students. I count five snowmen and four snow structures with a quick scan of the landscape. A snowball fight emerges and I have to duck.
evergreens - 
in this cold world
another sunrise

by Dan Haase
wanderer for wonder, whimsy, & wisdom

 

The Sense and Nonsense of the Incarnation

Wallace Alcorn reflects on the wonder of Incarnation

If I were to write a sequel to C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters, I would instruct Wormwood to attack first the doctrine of the deity of Jesus Christ—especially the Incarnation, by which God became man. If you can convince people either that Jesus was not God but just another human or, alternatively, that God did not become man in Jesus but remains totally different, you will have broken the only possible connection between God and humans. Everything else about Christianity will fall apart with this disjunction. You won’t even need to dispute the existence of God, because without the Christ of God the existence of God wouldn’t make any difference. You will have won everything, and the game is over.

Be advised, Wormwood, do not attempt to dispute the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth. This is just too well documented, and it’s not really necessary. All you need do is convince people that Jesus was only a man. You can even afford to praise Jesus as a very good man—the greatest man who ever lived, for that matter. In point of fact, this is the smart thing to do. People are quite willing to admit Jesus actually lived and was a very good man. This is no threat to our cause. The really crucial thing is that you convince people Jesus was not God.

Now, I talk no longer as a Screwtape but from my own sense of awe at what God has accomplished. To be boldly honest, the incarnation is utter and absolute nonsense. It is contradicted by nothing less than the basic laws of thought, exhaustively discussed by philosophers and taken for granted by us all. Without compliance with these, there is no thought and language has no meaning. The law of identity has it that a thing is itself and nothing else (in the same way and at the same time). On the other end is the law of contradiction: A thing is not both itself and not itself (in the same way and at the same time).

The law of identity puts it, then, that Jesus can be man and God can be God, but Jesus cannot be God and God cannot be man, because each would be something other than what is. To say this is so is nonsense. Likewise, the law of contradiction puts it that Jesus cannot be non-Jesus, e.g., God. God cannot be non-God, e.g., man. In this respect also, it is nonsense.

Logically nonsense and ontologically impossible that the incarnation is, the incarnation, well, is. Jesus Christ is, in fact, the God-man. That human thought has no category to accommodate it and that human language has no term adequate to express it is all beside the point.

The point is precisely that God who created everything created the incarnation and its God-man. Moreover, God reveals as much in what has been demonstrated to be the divine Word of God. Finally, Jesus Christ himself demonstrated his God-manness by the perfect life he lived and what he has accomplished by his death. He has resurrected from the death of sin those who have become alive in Christ.

This is to say that the impossible not only has become possible but actual.

Because the incarnation makes no sense in finite, human thought and language, any effort to explain this beyond this little is bound for failure. All well meaning theologians have ever been able to do through the centuries is to focus disproportionately on one aspect of the God-man (usually because it hasn’t received adequate consideration) and all other aspects, equally valid as they are, fall apart as being contradicted by the distortion.

No one has yet been able to articulate a logical explanation of this illogical reality. Not to worry: It is our opportunity in salvation to experience what it means for Jesus Christ to be the God-man who is both our Savior and Lord. We can experience what we cannot explain or even understand.

Come, Let us Reason Together by Trisha Williams

Some of you may be familiar with the Holderness family’s latest YouTube parody video “Welcome to my Couch.”  It begins with a family and neighbors gathered around a table loaded with traditional Thanksgiving fare. Dinner conversation begins well enough, but quickly derails into political commentary and bickering that gets physical and ruins the meal.  To restore peace, the football game is turned on and the angry guests are plied with so much alcohol that they become best of friends. At the end of the video, clips of children hugging it out and animals at peace with each other are played. Refrains of “Let’s all be friends now” and “Let’s love each other” are heard. Penn, the father and narrator asks the question: “If dogs and cats can get along, then we should be able to get along at least for one day, right?” 

Funny? Yes. Quite possibly prophetic reality for many this week? Perhaps. 

Surely there must be a better way to deal with our conflicts than the “bandage” of alcohol, entertainment and photo montage of cute children and puppies? Surely Christian unity depends on something other than a fake it till you make it mentality? The election results have been most revealing and troubling, particularly when the so-called Christian vote is considered. Clearly, the church in America is seriously divided, and I’m sure we’ve all noticed how vitriolic that divide is becoming on social media and in the news. It’s heartbreaking really. Anyone who loves Jesus should also love their spiritual brothers and sisters, and so this divide feels like the pain of a divorce in many ways. A family is being torn asunder, and how is the watching world supposed to know us for our love when we’re all too busy tearing each other apart? 

It was at another table for a different celebration when Jesus gave his disciples these instructions:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples,
if you have love for one another.

We can all read. We all see these instructions, but sometimes I wonder if we think that the love Jesus refers to is no different than the love that Penn Holderness spoke of in his parody video. A “love” that can keep the peace for one day, and then turns into backstabbing each other the rest of the year. I recognize, because of my own sin, that actual obedience to Christ’s commands is not easy. Things get really confusing when our pride, politics, possessions and passion for our version of the truth come into play. 

Before giving his disciples these words, Jesus revealed that Judas would betray him and he had already left the table and the room. Hadn’t the group’s unity already been disrupted?  Despite Jesus warning his disciples of his upcoming death, they didn’t fully understand, and when his arrest and crucifixion came, many scattered in fear and doubt. It took them years of faithful practice to actually live out Jesus’ words, and in their practiced obedience, we have accounts of their failures as well. And yet the command still stands. So how do we obey it?

The Old Testament presents an interesting account in the Book of Joshua that gives some timeless principles to help us figure out what biblical love for our spiritual family actually looks like when disagreements arise. Joshua has obeyed all that the Lord asked him to do in taking possession of the Promised Land and distributing the land among the tribes of Israel. The first tribes to get their land under Moses were the Reubenites, Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh on the eastern shore of the Jordan River. The fighting men of those tribes then cross the Jordan River to help possess the land for their brethren. After seven years of fighting, Joshua releases the men to return to their land with many thanks, material rewards and words of warning. They are to be careful “to love the Lord your God, and to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments and to cling to him and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.”

Before crossing back over the Jordan River on their way home, these tribes, oddly and seemingly somewhat randomly, decide to build “an altar of imposing size.”   

When all the rest of Israel heard of it, “the people of Israel gathered at Shiloh to make war against them.” I read this and think, Wow! Major overreaction! How and why did they so quickly go from thanking their brothers to being prepared to kill them? 

The answer comes when Israel decides to send a delegation of wise men led by Phinehas to try to reason with these tribes before sending the army to kill them. The majority tribes had jumped to an immediate conclusion about their brethren that proved false upon closer examination. The western tribes viewed the “altar of imposing size” and assumed that the eastern tribes were breaking God’s commandment and engaging in idolatry. Their righteous zeal drove them to fear divine judgment, and for everyone’s sake, they were willing to even kill their idolatrous brothers to spare the rest of Israel from God’s judgment. 

It becomes clear that the eastern tribes had intentionally built the altar to provoke and garner attention, but in no way were engaging in idolatry. This was not an altar to be used for worship purposes, but an altar to stand as a reminder for all of Israel and their descendants that no geographical divide like the River Jordan, or even no tribal and family loyalty, would separate the bond all the peoples of Israel shared. Their unity was because of and found in the “The Mighty One, God, the Lord!” 

The altar of imposing size is called Witness, “For it is a witness between us that the Lord is God.” The western tribal delegation returns to Shiloh, “and the people of Israel blessed God and spoke no more of making war against them.”

Such a fascinating story! Here are some observations that might be relevant to our situation today as we deal with a divided church. 

1. All of Israel cared for God’s holiness and were righteously zealous on his behalf. At least at this point they understood that sin had far-reaching consequences. One person’s sin could destroy them all. They weren’t taking any chances. 

2. Their zeal caused them to make a false assumption, but they were wise enough to use reason first before declaring war. Wise leaders show restraint but also take sin so seriously that action is taken. Wise words and listening ears will always be stronger than any sword.

3. The eastern tribes were also wise. They knew that humans put up barriers and are prone to forgetfulness. We need constant reminders of whose we are and who we are supposed to worship in order to maintain proper fellowship. We can’t let geography, tradition, skin color, grudges, personal preferences, tribal (read denominational) and political differences divide true brothers. The source of our unity transcends our human preferences and natural loyalties.

4. We must be willing to help each other to the point of great sacrifice. When the western tribes feared the eastern tribes had fallen into idolatry because of where they lived, they offered to make space for them in their own land. This type of generosity is wonderful, but it would have been so costly. But they were willing to do it!  Our sin is a matter of life and death.  Our temporal reality is just that, temporal. We all face eternity and what God cares about should be our top priority. 

5. Worship of God demands obedience to his commands. Out of proper worship comes proper love for each other, and then proper unity will follow. 

“Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”

Our altar or “Witness” that unites disciples of Christ together around the world is the Table of the Lord’s Supper. We all gather around it on a regular basis and remember Christ’s body and blood shed for us. True Christians have been washed clean by his blood, and therefore, we can indeed reason together around this most holy of all tables. 

Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb. One day the church will rejoice to be seated in perfect unity and fellowship around the Table of the Lamb. Until that day, let us try to love each other as Jesus commanded us, knowing we will stumble and sometimes fail, even perhaps as we gather together with friends and family this Thanksgiving. But let us still try! It’s an effort worth everything.    

Hallelujah!

For the Lord our God

the Almighty reigns.

Let us rejoice and exult

and give him the glory,

for the marriage of the Lamb has come,

and his Bride has made herself ready;

 it was granted her to clothe herself

with fine linen, bright and pure—

for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.

I Remember Tables by Nancy Tally

What could I possibly say about tables? It took my brain two days to warm up to the topic. Then I began to realize that I have known all kinds of tables throughout my life.

******

There was Grandpa’s table. My earliest memory of it came when I was very small, so small I was carried into the house in my mother’s arms. After Grandpa’s trademark, “Hi-ya,” my mom would deposit me on the kitchen table. Mom would hardly have me out of my coat, before Great-gram bellowed out, “Carol, how many times have I told you, tables are made for glasses not for. . .” After my mother would swoop me down to the floor, Great-gram would still always offer my brother and me a warm cookie from one of the tins she kept by the stove.

Through the years, delicious meals graced that table: fresh caught trout, freshly shot venison, rabbit, squirrel or the prize turkey Grandpa won the day before at the shooting range. My grandfather quietly delighted in his marksmanship. He went to, and won, all the area shoots, and then unobtrusively gave the fresh turkeys to families he knew were in need. There was welcome, peace, acceptance and plenty of food at Grandpa’s table. There, I was loved unconditionally. There, I could fulfill any expectations placed on me.

When I was six or seven and had no front teeth, it was okay not to have to eat a large portion of broccoli, and instead, I was given extra corn to fill me up. I can still see grandpa sitting on his white stool cutting my corn off the cob so I could enjoy it despite my toothless condition. He was the expert. I would watch as he made the corn even better with butter dripping down the cob and just the right amount of salt.

At Grandpa’s house we enjoyed being squished around the table in the kitchen. The warmth of the stove and smells of cooking, mingled with the laughter and conversation, while the breeze from the open window offered cool relief. 

*******

I remember another table from that time of my life. The table at Grandma Sarah’s house sat in her perfectly appointed dining room where one could look but must never touch. The dishes and silver on the table looked like they were from the set of “Downton Abbey.” The air was always stuffy, because if a window were to open, “dirty air might blow in.”

There were no allowances made for children with missing teeth. We all knew it was a house where children were to be seen and not heard. I never wanted to go. Though the food was excellently prepared and servings were expertly portioned, dinners always came with a good deal of upset stomach. At this table I was barely tolerated, often scolded and could never live up to the expectations placed on me.

*******

I was in sixth grade the night of the most memorable and extraordinary blessing I ever heard given at a kitchen table.

For three days, my mom and all four of us children had only one plain pancake at breakfast lunch and dinner. Dad had been assigned another load to pick up with his truck and wouldn’t be back for another week. That meant no paycheck till then. That day, Mom had us wash the shelves in the fridge and the pantry. We knew there was no food in the house, not even any crumbs on the shelves.

Dinner came and we all sat at the table. My mother began to say grace. It seemed a very long prayer as we all looked at each other. Every one thinking Mom had finally flipped. But she kept her head bowed and continued to thank God for his blessing and for our dinner.

While she was still praying, there was a knock at the door. People from our church were on the porch with bags and boxes of food. It just kept coming. There had never before been so much nutritious and good food in our house at one time. The table was heaped high. There was even a hot meal for us to enjoy right away.

As I wrote this, I wondered for the first time if my mother knew they were coming. I asked her last week, and not only did she not know they were coming to this day she doesn’t know how they found out. I always thought a few people had gone shopping, but my mom said they took up a collection. One family who had only a little more than we did put small portions of salt, pepper, sugar and cereal into baggies and shared with us.

********

And that brings me to my next table. That night so profoundly affected me that ever since I have kept an eye out for those in need. It was easier when we were in a small church where everybody knew everybody else and we were often in each others homes.

Both Betty’s table and her home were a haven for me while I was pregnant with my twins. I’d often show up at her door, where she would assign my three-year-old and eighteen- month-old to the care of her pre-teen boys. Then she set about mothering me. But I knew what was or wasn’t in this resourceful woman’s pantry, and I would bless her back out of the bounty we had at that time. I swear to you I didn’t do it for the chicken and dumpling meals she would make for us on those evenings we stopped by with food. The woman was a marvel and could cook anything from scratch if you just gave her the basic ingredients.

At her table I had my introduction to how frugal some families have to be. One night I turned my nose up and pushed a cartilage joint aside on my plate and asked for more. Her kids were aghast! Betty told them it was okay since I had bought the chicken I could have more without eating that piece. Her youngest son stayed at my elbow and softly said, “That’s my favorite piece she is throwing away.” I offered it to him, and he ran off bragging to his brothers about his marvelous morsel.

*******

I would never have known Betty’s table if it had not been for Mary’s table. In 1978, we moved to a new home and needed to find a local church home. We visited a few and knew immediately they were not open to having an interracial couple join them. We accidentally found Immanuel Baptist. It was already ten fifty in the morning, we decided since we were there to go in. And there, we met Mary.

Mary never walked anywhere, she swooped or barged. She strode up to us as soon as the service was over and invited us to dinner. We accepted, even knowing we were to stop to pick up fast food on the way to her place. The next week, we returned and Mary said she listened to God last week and he was telling her to invite us over again.

We heard the Master calling come and dine not only at Mary’s table but at Immanuel Baptist. We were welcomed included and blessed. And for many years Mary would swoop into my life every time God told her I needed her that day.

I would gladly put my feet under Mary’s table any day.

*******

Then there’s the table I know best. I wish it could talk and tell me all the stories it knows from its 120-year-old history. But it sits silently in my kitchen bereft of most of its original chairs, now scattered through my home waiting to be glued back together.

When I met the table, it led a serene life sitting a in room of pure green, a green without any leanings toward yellow or blue. Clean white trim set off the rich deep jewel tone. The open windows let fresh country air blow over and around it. I now wonder does it miss those days when it resided in the home of the man I affectionately called “Great Vern,” after he married my grandmother. (Note: It is a weird thing for a high school student to attend her grandmother’s wedding.)

Grandma Sarah wanted her own trappings around her, so the table and all his friends lost their happy home. The table fared better than the rest of the set which had their legs cut off so they could fit into the damp basement to act as storage for years to come.     

So, at age 15, I inherited this 45” wide by 62-92” long table, that I loaned to our youth pastor and his wife who had bought a huge house but had no furniture. There is sat for ten years, hosting church board meetings, Sunday evening sing-a-longs and the care and feeding of a youth group.

In 1977, the table came with me to Illinois. It was again in a large room with cool green colors. My husband was given to hospitality and filled all twelve spaces around the table with guests. This was a good thing for me, who had always cooked for seven to twelve people and had no idea how to cook for just two. We ate more leftovers than meals.

Sitting in a new colorful location (think bright orange walls), the table welcomed our first born son. It soon took on the role of staging area as we tried to gather together everything necessary for taking a newborn out into the frigid Chicago winter.

The table made a move that summer, along with the little boy who loved it. The boy spent most of his days crawling under the table and all around its legs. The boy walked early, and was so short he could easily stand under the table—running there for protection from little boy fantasies or hiding from mommy with that twinkle in his eyes that said, “Find me.” Some days the boy would bring his car keys, sit between the tables legs and ask what I wanted from the store or plan his great get-a-ways as he drove off in his imagination.

One day the inevitable happened. The boy ran for the protection of his beloved table, and the table bowed down and struck him on the head. Dazed and confused the boy cried about the table’s betrayal. It would take several months before the boy understood and forgave the table. Eventually as the boy accepted that he was indeed growing taller and the table meant him no harm, he came back with sheets and blankets with which to envelope his beloved table, making the space beneath it magical once again.

The table would host three more babies, and take on more personality with each one. The last one would be so immobile that she could safely sit on him for a year.

He (the table) remembered the first little boy’s fourth birthday party. Despite all the festive decorations, cake, presents and the beautiful new baby girl who now sat on him, everyone had tears tumbling down their faces. All tried to smile and be happy for the little boy that he loved but sobs came every time any one looked at the picture in the frame with the party hat perched on it. The girl in the picture looked just like the beautiful baby sitting on him now. He was confused, why were they all sad as if she was dying?

Time went on and the four children all close in age played under him, spilled their milk all over him, and if mom could only get down on her hands and knees she might finally wipe off the last dried drops of milk!

The table also witnessed the children who broke into the house and set the fires. He remembers the searing, stifling heat of the house fire. He remembers the blanched face of the fire chief when he realized the house could have back flashed at any second with his men inside it.

The table still bears the scars of that day. The fire over dried his glue and his veneer has been chipping off ever since, making him look old and uncared for. But while he is old, he has been loved much like the Velveteen Rabbit he heard about years ago.

He remembers birthdays, Christmases, New Years, Easters, Thanksgivings, graduations and even apple harvests. He has survived both home schooling and public school projects. He has stood solid and firm, never happier than when he sheltered many feet beneath his top and heard stories of other people. He learned about ships called the Logos and the Doulos from people who lived on them. He learned about our political system from a presidential hopeful who had no campaign budget. He was overjoyed when he found out that those who shared his hospitality were able to lay aside their prejudices and see through eyes of understanding.

There have been other tables in my life—the missions training center had our group dining table and library tables. Study tables abounded in other libraries and small group studies. Cafeteria tables hold memories of conversations with good friends.

There are smaller antique tables that remind me of ancestors long gone, but my ancient dining table that has so long resided in my kitchen is still my favorite. He has witnessed my life over the years. He has hosted friends and celebrations, been the center of planning events and planning for the future and more is still to come. He is my favorite table and I am grateful for all the wonderful memories he has stored for me.