Christmas on Patmos (revisited)

Note: Dr. Lowery first published this unusual meditation on the Christmas story three years ago.  It is still as relevant now as it was then–probably because the story itself speaks to us as it did to its original audience some 1,900 years ago. Look for new content on the site beginning the second week of January 2010.  Have a blessed Christmas–Michael.

The Christmas story occupies approximately thirty-one verses in Matthew whereas Luke’s devotes seventy-four verses. Because of these verses people have constructed pageants and plays and have composed carols and cards. Poets and preachers along with artists and authors, ancient and modern, continue to stir our hearts.

Many of us have heard the stories of Matthew and Luke so often that perhaps we have become numb to their beauty. On the one hand, perhaps the story needs to be rescued from either the contempt of so-called biblical experts who deny the reliability of Scripture. And on the other hand, perhaps the story needs to be rescued from the sentimentality of people who either follow Jesus or barely know of him.

Year after year, decade after decade, and century after century, the same cast members have been assembled each December: sleepy shepherds and wandering sheep; a wandering star and exotic (three!) wise men; blaring trumpets and singing angels; an expectant mother and waiting husband. This year children of all ages will march across the stage and act out their parts. The same cast members are found in our carols and are beautifully portrayed on cards.

But one little word unites these images and individuals. It is often over-looked and omitted from the newer translations. And yet it appears six times each in Matthew’s and Luke’s renditions: Behold! It serves as either a word of comfort or challenge, exhorting us to lift up our eyes and see the world from a different perspective or encouraging us in hard times.

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T.S. Eliot and Christmas 2008

Please note: this will be the last post of 2008.  I will have new thoughts to share mid-January after Christmas and my trip to Israel.

I love the celebration of Christmas for a thousand reasons.  An annual tradition of mine is  watch the movies It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol.  I also read a bit of poetry by T.S. Eliot, “Journey of the Magi,” and this year is no different:

A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The was deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.”
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires gong out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty, and charging high prices.:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we lead all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I have seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

Last night I kept returning to the phrase And three trees on the low skies . . . and recalled the three gifts the Magi brought–gold, frankincense, and myrrh–the most precious of all metals, a fragrant gum resin, and a resin with a bitter taste; the three were often brought to the funeral service of ancient kings. Even in his birth, there was the shadow of the death that awaited the Baby. As I will hold my grandchildren on Christmas day, I will think: These two were born to live, but another Baby was born to die so that we may live.

Joy to the world.

The Lord is come.

The Lord is coming.

May God bless you, visitors of this website. But of all the sites we visit this season, may Bethlehem receive the most hits.

U2 and Christmas

Earlier this year I read a book entitled Bono: In Conversation with Michka Assayas (New York: Riverhead Books, 2005). For those luddites who do not know who Bono is, well, first of all, he is a follower of Christ, a flawed one like all of us, but deeply passionate about spelling out what it means to be one of the saved. Second of all, he is the singer for the world’s greatest rock and roll band, U2, a band that my son Brian and I have had the privilege of hearing in concert at least three times (1992, 2001, and 2005).

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Journey to Bethlehem

Many years ago I became intrigued with the image of Bethlehem and the sermon that is posted was a result. In fact, I eventually had the sermon published. I invite you to journey once again with me to that “insignificant village.”

NOTE: This sermon was originally delivered by Dr. Lowery in 1982.

Christmas on Patmos: a Woman, a Child, and a Dragon

The Christmas story occupies approximately thirty-one verses in Matthew whereas Luke’s devotes seventy-four verses. Because of these verses people have constructed pageants and plays and have composed carols and cards. Poets and preachers along with artists and authors, ancient and modern, continue to stir our hearts.

Many of us have heard the stories of Matthew and Luke so often that perhaps we have become numb to their beauty. On the one hand, perhaps the story needs to be rescued from either the contempt of so-called biblical experts who deny the reliability of Scripture. And on the other hand, perhaps the story needs to be rescued from the sentimentality of people who either follow Jesus or barely know of him.

Year after year, decade after decade, and century after century, the same cast members have been assembled each December: sleepy shepherds and wandering sheep; a wandering star and exotic (three!) wise men; blaring trumpets and singing angels; an expectant mother and waiting husband. This year children of all ages will march across the stage and act out their parts. The same cast members are found in our carols and are beautifully portrayed on cards.

But one little word unites these images and individuals. It is often over-looked and omitted from the newer translations. And yet it appears six times each in Matthew’s and Luke’s renditions: Behold! It serves as either a word of comfort or challenge, exhorting us to lift up our eyes and see the world from a different perspective or encouraging us in hard times.

Continue reading

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens and John the Prophet

What in the world does Charles Dickens, the nineteenth century British author, have to do with the first century prophet John? I made a connection just the other night after reading Dickens’s short story, A Christmas Carol. The re-reading of this classic work intersected with a paper I had graded earlier in the evening, a paper written by one of the students enrolled in my class on Revelation. Over the years I have discovered that reading novels and short stories enhances my reading of Scripture and that Scripture helps me evaluate the stories offered by such individuals as Dickens. This discovery helped me merge the theology of John and Dickens late that evening.

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