Monday, December 8, 2014


Christians, we have the answers… but it is not likely just a matter of shouting the answers. Our world doesn’t need another ism. Have you noticed that the shouting is generally over isms? We identify a position and label it as an ism… racism, feminism, conservatism, progressivism, etc. … and then we shout for or against an ism.

Friends, the world does not need Christianism. People who are certain, angry, and loud… people who merely shout their answers and conclusions. Jesus did not come to bring Christianism; Jesus came to serve. Jesus is the wisdom that comes from heaven.

The wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness. (James 3:17,18)

Jesus did not come to bring Christianism; Jesus came to transform lives, and then transform others (even societies) through transformed lives.

When we see injustice, we are called to not merely identify it and shout at it; we are called to serve. We are called to follow the example of our Savior and serve, standing up for those who cannot stand for themselves. Giving, and helping, and caring. Not standing idle by clucking our tongues, certainly not standing by in judgment, but stepping in and serving whenever possible.
This is an excerpt of my message 12/7/2014, available in its entirety here.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Christmas Dissonance

Last Sunday, the first Sunday of Advent, our choir at Pleasant Bay sang O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. I don’t have an exact count, but I would imagine it is the fourth or fifth version of this song our choir has sung in the dozen years of our existence. We sing it, in one form or another, every year at this time; it sets the tone for Advent.

Funny thing… the tones are minor. While O Come Emmanuel has been arranged innumerable ways in the 1,200 or so years of the hymn’s existence, it is almost exclusively set with a slow tempo in a minor key. It doesn’t sound like most Christmas songs; it doesn’t sound happy.

We don’t sing it because we want people to be sad at Christmas. The slow tempo and minor key don’t necessarily have to be sad; O Come Emanuel is not a sad song. But there is dissonance (especially to our western ears).

I think we do well at the beginning of Advent to acknowledge, even marinate in, the dissonance.

It is a popular notion that Christmas is essentially the birthday of Jesus (or at least the celebration of the birthday of Jesus; reasonable people disagree about the exact date). Christmas is generally thought of as a birthday party, and all that leads up to it is part of the celebration. Christmas is a celebration of the birthday of Jesus… and it is so much more.

More than mere prelims to a birthday celebration, Advent prepares us again for the coming of Immanuel. It starts with that powerful name: Immanuel (which means “God with us”). We need go no further to find dissonance. God with us. The holiness of God in the midst of the lowliness of us. The Creator in all His Majesty coming in the way a mere human would normally come… a poor human at that. Just the name Immanuel, when more fully apprehended, should create dissonance in our minds and hearts.

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice ! Rejoice ! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

While the original Latin text was likely penned around the year 800, the words reminisce the generations prior to the first Advent of Jesus, yet after the clear promise of his coming by Isaiah… so the 600 years or so before the birth of Jesus. For us, Christmas is history; but for the faithful before the birth of Christ, it was only a promise, a promise longed for… and that longing is conveyed well by the slow tempo and minor tone of O Come Emmanuel.

Advent presents us the opportunity to embrace that same kind of longing. We need ransom. While our salvation is sure and our eternity secure, we are in lonely exile here; we are in the world, yet not of it (when at our best) and we are often of the world too. And there is dissonance.

We need the Son of God to appear. We need His presence. We make too little room when what Emmanuel demands and deserves is everything… every space and all our ways.

We rejoice. We know the Promise is true. We have more than just the Promise, we have history, and testimony, experience, and faith. We rejoice because we know that our longing will be satisfied, and Emmanuel shall come, has come, does come.

I’m very much in favor of happy songs at Christmas (even the festive songs that celebrate the season without acknowledging Christ). And I’m in favor of embracing the dissonance in a carol like O Come Emmanuel.

You can hear a version of the carol we did several years ago with our choir by clicking here