Saturday, December 24, 2016


Thursday night, we monks had our annual Christmas tree decorating party. As I was setting up my guitar stand and getting ready for the carol singing that’s part of the occasion, one of the monks said to me, “I thought that peace was supposed to be part of the Christmas event. What ever happened to that?” He was referring to all the places around the world where war and terror are ruining the lives of millions of people.
Singing carols as the monastery's tree got decorated

Novice Br. Asiel
As the brethren hung the bright ornaments on the ten-foot tree and we we sang our way through one carol after another for close to an hour, I noticed how often the word “peace” comes up in Christmas carols -- in almost every one of the best-known songs. It seemed sad to be singing all these sweet words about peace, knowing that even in our own country there is violence and discord, and that in places like Syria there is untold devastation.

After thinking about the disconnect between the horrible state of things in the world and the arrival of the King of Peace, I drew encouragement from a book that I had just started reading, Simply Good News, by the scripture scholar N.T. (Tom) Wright. Part of his thesis is that Christians have lost the real meaning of the expression “good news,” and have reduced it to, for example, “good advice” on how to get to heaven, or an option that one is encouraged to choose to make ones life meaningful. In his scholarly fashion, Wright returns to the contemporary culture and mindset at the time that the New Testament was written, and uncovers the true force of the phrase “good news.” His analysis put Christmas in a context for me, a real Christmas gift. I pass on the main idea here.

Simplified enormously, there are four elements that he lays out for something to qualify as “news.”
1. An announcement of an event that has happened (e.g. the outcome of an important battle or the choosing of a new emperor).

2. A larger context, or backstory, against which this event makes sense (e.g. in the case of Christianity, the Old Testament promise of a messianic figure who would come one day to set things right).

3. A sudden unveiling of the new future that lies ahead (e.g. when Augustus became emperor and the promise of a universal peace stirred people’s hearts).

4. Finally, a transformation of the present moment, sitting between the event that has already happened (e.g. Augustus’ victory over Mark Antony at Actium) and a further event that therefore will happen (when Augustus finally arrives back in Rome two years later amid great rejoicing to initiate a new era of Roman history).

This is how news works, and is certainly how the early Christian good news worked.
In this Christmas post, then, I would like to dwell on the fourth point: although the present moment has been transformed, it is in a tension between the already of Bethlehem and the not yet of the final consummation of God’s plan at the end time.

The finished product!
The point I want to stress is that because of the Christ-event, our present lives have been transformed, they will never again be the same, because now we live in hope; but the task of setting the world right is not yet completed -- so we may have to celebrate Christmas in a war zone, a terrorist-infested town or a dysfunctional family. But our lives have meaning now: time is not just an absurd morass of desperate crappiness, but has depth, significance, meaning. Of course, we need the gift of faith to see this. We need eyes to recognize the Son of God lying on the straw, our victorious Savior in the criminal hanging on the cross, our Redeemer in the mysterious figure who appears alive to his disciples on Easter morning.

On this Christmas Day, let us pray for our brothers and sisters around the world who do not have the eyes of faith, for whom suffering and sorrow have no meaning because there is no backstory or context; let us pray for people whose suffering has robbed their minutes and hours, their days and months of any significance or meaning.

Just as important as our prayer to the infant Savior, however, is our response to the Good News through our daily actions. We, as people of faith, have been handed the task of being the light in darkness for others, of coming to needy people with the gift of healing, of offering the gift of peace in situations where conflict or discord is trying to get the upper hand. We are called to be extensions and reflections of the original Christmas Gift, Jesus Christ, the Sun of righteousness, risen with healing in his wings, who offers the world, through us, the gift of heavenly peace, the gift of God's love,

A blessed Christmas!

No comments:

Post a Comment