Death Undone

Gather 'round, ye children, come
Listen to the old, old story
Of the pow'r of death undone

By an infant born of glory

Lyrics by
Andrew Petersen

These song lyrics introduced our church's dramatic telling of the Christmas story this weekend. And in so doing they began to thaw my heart, which I admit was a little cold. To be candid, when it came time to leave home and head out for the first of our Christmas services I didn't really want to go.

I was physically tired, emotionally drained from a long season of ministry, and preparing for a long week of travel ahead. I didn't want to go be a pastor and lead a church service. I didn't even want to talk about Jesus' birth as the culmination of God's vast redemptive plan - a subject you normally can't get me to shut up about. I just wanted to stay home.

So when I arrived, I was pretty out of it emotionally. But one thing that has really struck me these past couple months as our church has studied God's redemptive plan, is how God is undoing death. Maybe it's the suffering that people close to me are experiencing, or maybe it's just my inner longing to go home - real home - I'm not sure. But the songs and scripture passages that have meant the most to me lately are those that speak of brokenness mended, sickness healed, and death killed.

"Listen to the old, old story, of the power of death undone, by an infant born of glory..." As I listened to those words reverberate with music throughout the church, it hit me that this was the point of Christmas: the undoing of death in all its forms. As our arts teams moved through the story of creation, fall, and redemption, culminating in the birth of the one who would kill death and reverse the Curse, I felt selfishness steadily draining from my body. God, what have I to be frustrated about? Whatever ails me, whatever is causing pain and fatigue of life, you are the answer to it.

My fatigue, fed by focusing on my immediate circumstances rather than God's big plan, was dominating my perspective. Could I see beyond my mundane circumstances? Could I see the same ol', same ol' stuff of life as part of God's much larger plan?

That perspective shift set me up perfectly to do my part in the services. I wrapped up the dramatic presentation by talking about Simeon in Luke 2:22-33. Here was a guy who saw beyond the mundane, the everyday. No one noticed when Mary & Joseph brought Jesus to the temple to be dedicated to God because that was such a normal thing for parents to do back then - happened every day. But Simeon had the eyes to see something much greater going on in this particular case, with this particular kid. He knew this was no ordinary boy. This was God's answer to everything that's wrong with the world. Simeon saw Jesus' birth as the death-knell of death itself, and he responded accordingly: with worship. How else could one respond?

Cancer, chronic pain, old age and "natural death" (why is it we call something so unnatural, natural?), saying goodbye to loved ones, exploitation, starvation, oppression... I or people I care about have been affected by them all just this month. These things wear the world out. They wear me out.

But they have lost. Jesus is here. Death is undone. And that means everything to me.

Merry Christmas.

The Elusive Search for a Christ-Filled Christmas

We're now well into the relentless run-up to Christmas, which seems to creep back a bit more every year. The impenetrable wall of Thanksgiving used to shield the months of October and November from overt Christmas season displays. But now even Turkey Day seems to be getting overwhelmed by the the steady onslaught of wreaths, bells, and little incandescent lights, which are now appearing earlier and earlier.

It's probably not news to anyone that this relentless holiday advance is driven largely by retailers. And it's usually at this point that Christians - especially pastors like me - begin to decry the consumerism of Christmas, lambasting a materialistic culture for defacing so holy a day with commercialized vandalism.

But I'm not going to.

Not that materialism isn't a problem at Christmas - it certainly is. But there are at least 2 reasons why I'm not going to pounce on commercialism as the source of what's wrong with our celebration of Christmas. First, it's obvious. And it's been talked about endlessly. There are already plenty of voices weighing in on how to de-commercialize Christmas, and many of these voices much more articulate than mine (like this one for example).

But the second reason is that I think the Kingdom of God is better served when Christians look in the mirror and do business with their beloved God, rather than looking out the window and wagging our collective fingers at those who don't know any better. If we're interested in putting Christ in the center of Christmas, I think one of the best ways is to look anew at Scripture and enter more fully into the implications of the Christmas story. You can read what I mean in an article that just published at the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview.

The answer may be different than you think.

Simeon, who longed for the coming of the Messiah, holds Jesus while Mary & Joseph look on (Luke 2)

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