Thinking the Faith, Praying the Faith, Living the Faith is written by the PC(USA) Office of Theology and Worship.
Thinking, praying, and living the faith is at the core of ministry in the Office of Theology and Worship. In the following videos, learn more about what thinking, praying, and living the faith means to the leadership of the Office of Theology and Worship. Discover why it matters and what difference it makes in our lives, work, and worship.
Teresa Lockhart Stricklen
Advent seems like the perfect season for all of Christian life—sitting in the darkness, waiting for light or more light to spread across the confused wilderness of exile in a foreign land, listening to the promises, the promises of home where all will be as we know in our heart it’s supposed to be, but which life in the world has taught us won’t ever be without serious divine intervention—which sometimes seems like it won’t ever fully come.
So all the blaring secularisms of this season that broadcast chipper perfection of Christmas cheer make me want to throw up. They are so un-Christian, like wolves in the sheep’s clothing of the Christian story guarded by friendly-looking nativity set shepherds, which you can buy on two-for-one special at Macy’s.
And you know what? All the people we castigate for being Easter and Christmas Christians because those are the only times you see them in church—even those folks know it’s all bogus, too.
So instead of blessing idolatries of familial tradition while seeking to be secular hipsters as we preach this Christmas, let’s tell the truth over against the consumer Christmas our culture thinks is the truth. If we look carefully at the Christmas stories of scripture, they make no bones about the messy danger of following God in this world.
The story begins in the form of Gabriel smiting Zechariah even with the annunciation of blessed good news (Luke 1:19-20).
Saying yes to God’s promises could have meant Mary’s death by the community as easily as it meant redemption for all people: Mary risked her life on saying yes to God, trusting the Lord would somehow bring it all about. She also risked her family’s life, as well. The shame of an illegitimate birth could have meant her family would be shunned by the community; no one would do business with them or help them, and they could literally have starved to death. Providentially, Joseph spared this shame in choosing to go ahead with the marriage, but donchya think that poor guy must have had issues the rest of his life with all the whispering behind his back? No wonder they left town.
Then there’s that census-inspired donkey ride that—wow, who’d’ve thought?—induces labor! Now, a census was taken for one thing in the ancient world—to raise taxes for more war. It’s as though Jesus’ birth comes as God’s answer to warmongering empire. And you know that donkey ride was no picnic. Gentle Mary meek and mild surely had a few choice words during that trip. And no man in his right mind would want to endure traveling with a pregnant woman on a donkey if he weren’t compelled to under threat of death.
Though scholars tell us Jesus was probably born in a room similar to our garage that really wasn’t so bad, I’m sorry, dear brothers, but only a man could write that. There are legends that Jesus couldn’t have caused Mary any trouble in childbirth. But again, only men . . . . I can’t even begin to imagine what that poor girl must have gone through. Scared, away from home, with an arranged-marriage husband she probably didn’t know well, his relatives, giving birth among animal dung—that’s a recipe for even Mary’s doubt and despair. It seems the most unlikely way and place for hope to be born into the world.
Then scruffy shepherds show up blubbering about angels. Anyone who knows anything about shepherds in the ancient world knows they weren’t exactly a stellar lot. They were often outlaws, like Moses, herding the edges of society. Here were no idyllic pastoral shepherds writing love poetry to shepherdesses. They were often shady characters with probably a few drunks among them. And this is the group the angels do the heavenly victory song and dance for? No wonder Mary had a lot of pondering to do.
In Matthew, Herod slinks in the background of the story like a dingo coyote who can’t wait to eat the baby, so he slaughters all the innocent male babies under two. Mary and Joseph become refugees seeking political asylum and freedom, ironically, in their ancestors’ land of slavery.
Now all of us who’ve been schooled know that these stories are more concerned with making theological points than historically accurate ones, which makes our job as preachers a bit more interesting. But still, THIS IS NOT A CHIPPER STORY! It is not one that cute chipmunks should sing, for the Bible is pretty clear: cute chipmunks get eaten by wily coyotes.
Nonetheless, the good news is that it’s into this messed-up world of sin that God does intervene with the stealth weapon of love wrapped up in a baby needing someone to feed him and change his nappies.
It’s THAT truth that’ll preach because it’s real, as opposed to all the shiny sparkly tinkling treacle we’ve been exposed to since October.
So in spite of the fact that it may seem like we live in the continuous darkness of advent, Christmas calls us to move on, because Christ the Lord HAS come like a single candle lit in a midnight Christmas Eve service. That candle “is a protest at midnight that says to the darkness, ‘I beg to differ.’” As God says in Jesus to the darkness of this world, “I beg to differ.”
This world is not just a broken mess we should despair over and nonchalantly let run its crooked course. There are Josephs and Marys who take God’s risks. There are shepherds who don’t run away terrified but want to go see for themselves what in the world God is up to, running the risk of good folks slamming the door in their faces. There are high and mighty Zechariahs who finally get it after being struck dumb for awhile. We know these people. They are us.
So though it may seem like Christ’s birth is only a single candle shining in the deep dark night, the darkness cannot overcome that candle’s light. Ever. For He is Light from Light, very God of Very God. And He invites us to light our little candles and spread that light to others as faith’s midnight protest that takes issue with the darkness of this world and begs to differ.
 Samuel Rayan.