Saturday, October 31, 2009

Does it Feel Like Christmas?

I'm back from the St. Barnabas men’s Bible Study in which we are currently studying the Gospel of Luke. This morning we read and discussed chapter 2.

I was reminded of a personal test of authenticity for things I read that occurred to me while I was in seminary. If, while I am reading (or listening to) something, I sense Christmas in it, that is a sign that the author/speaker is on to something. I think I first became aware of this when, while reading something by Karl Barth, I felt the thrill I feel when hearing Christmas horns, bells, or carols. I know it sounds trite and potentially sentimental. It is certainly idiosyncratic. But, here is what I think it is about:

In the Christmas story, particularly Luke 2, there is a vision of God that is at once expansive and intimate. It is also full of hope and promise – expectancy even. There is the intimacy of the holy family huddled in the stable coping with a newborn but without the usual resources of home and extended family. There are the down and out shepherds working the night shift doing work no one else wanted to do. Yet the God of the universe is intimately engaged in each of these homely settings. And more, these intimate scenes are caught up in the great expectation of God’s promise to bless the nations and resolve the enmity between humans and God and humans and each other. It reaches a crescendo when the shepherds are bathed in the glory of the Lord and the angel announces extravagant good news that a savior is born. "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!" There is fear and awe, but there is also the thrill of hope and possibility, of a great promise about to be fulfilled. O little town of Bethlehem, the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight!

This is a God who is intimate yet expansive, a God who is both immanent and transcendent, a God who dares to show up as a vulnerable baby, a God who makes good on his promises, a God who delivers. If, when I am reading theology or hearing a sermon or even reading a novel, I sense echoes of such a God, I take notice. When I don’t sense such echoes – when I don’t feel Christmas – I also take note. Some theologians, authors, and preachers suck Christmas right out of the room.

I first made the connection reading Barth, but it is certainly also true of C. S. Lewis, Charles Williams, Dorothy Sayers, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Frederick Buechner, Rowan Williams, Julian of Norwich, Augustine, Dante, Graham Greene, Dostoevsky, and others.

Have you ever felt that thrill of Christmas while reading or hearing someone? Who was it?


Bob Kusiolek said...

An excellent post. It is good to be reminded of how full of hope and promise the Christian message is, and of how closely associated it is with a birth in a lowly manger. As Karl Barth wrote: "There he greets us, There we can do nothing other than greet him again and bid him welcome." Thanks.

Matt Gunter said...

Thanks, Bob. Great Barth quote.