However, two of my favorites I wrote were from 2012. You may want to read them.
Christmas, It’s Okay… Really. It looks at Christmas with regards to the issues of Contextualization, Separatism, Historicity, Ascetism, and Conformity.
St. Joseph at Christmas. Views Joseph the Carpenter in the light of several roles he could have chosen in the story of Christmas.
Have a blessed Christmas. Below is one of the least impressive Christmas cards you will ever see. I have limited photo manipulation skills, and even more limited ability to get my family all in the same place at the same time for a picture. This was taken at the Staff and Faculty Christmas Party of Philippine Baptist Theological Semnary, December 15, 2017.
I am not sure that this cartoon has a lot of theological significance… but since today is Christmas… a beautiful day often marred by soul-shriveling avarice, there is a certain charm of a stick figure who is fully satisfied. Perhaps we all need a bit of dissatisfaction to learn and grow, but perhaps not.
My Christmas Wish for you isn’t that you get what you want, but that you will find satisfaction in what God has blessed you with.
Maligayang Pasko at Manigong Bagong Taon sa Inyong Lahat!!
2013 has come to an end. I am just going to throw out some fairly random items to close out the year.
I. The following shows the top posts over 2013. I am not sure what to make of them. “St. Boniface and the Peregrini” seemed to be caught up in some search engines for those who had interest in the term “peregrini” disconnected from its Celtic missions roots. “Cleansing the Church’s “Court of the Gentiles”?” seems to be because it became a popular tie in to a huge number of spam messages. Why? Don’t know. “Maligayang Pasko at Manigong Bagong Taon” get’s triggered every holiday season since it is Tagalog for “Merry Christmas and a Prosperous New Year.” I am sad that “Prophecies and Typhoons and Plagues (in no particular order)” has gotten so many hits. Unfortunately, there seems to be a morbid fascination in Evangelical (or at least Apostolic) Christianity for doomsday prophets. For outsiders, it is fun to point fingers at others and say “See… that’s what you get when you mess with God!” It lures people into trying to link bad news to divine judgment and the end of the world. I still believe that Jesus call to be faithful to the end rather than trying to time God’s coming is the best advice. I wrote a joyous post on God’s protection of islanders in the face of almost certain devastation… got very few hits. Sad.
2. It is likely that before year’s end, this blog will reach 20,000 hits. That may not be that impressive for some, but as someone who makes no real attempt to optimize SEO, and one who doesn’t make much of an attempt, normally, to be topical, it kind of feels good. However, it is still true that I write more for my own benefit. It helps me clarify my thoughts. I think better through the keyboard than through the weird meanderings of my mind and voice. If someone benefits from it other than myself, that is great. If not… well, I hope none are the worse for the experience.
3. I feel like it is time to move to the next step of sorts. I have been asked to write an introductory book of missions. I suppose that it is time to do it. The Philippines doesn’t have that much on Missions that is locally produced. We tend to recopy what others have done elsewhere. I believe that a Missiology built on local church foundation rather than an international or ethnological foundation, would be more functional (and perhaps even more “accurate”) for Filipinos. Philippines is growing as a mission sending nation but is limited somewhat by external models of mission on one side, and post-colonial/missions attitude in churches on the other side. I am not at all sure that I can fix that. If I can help add to the early stages of dialogue, it would be an effort well invested.
4. I pray that Christians worldwide would embrace Interdependency rather than dependency or independence. That they would see wielding love as more Christlike than wielding power. That they would not fear doubt but grow in faith through doubt. That they would see right doctrine, right ethics, and the fruit of the spirit (Mind, Body, Spirit) as different facets of the same jewel that is a godly life.
We know Joseph gets downplayed at Christmas. I suppose it is understandable. But let’s just take a moment to think about his role.
David Zimmerman in “Comic Book Character” notes that mankind takes on four major roles in the Bible. In the Bible, God clearly takes on the role of hero, not people. However, people do take on the role of:
1. Villain. As I noted in my book “Theo-Storying” is is not true that Satan is the primary villain of the Bible. We sometimes like to read it that way (very selective reading at that). Satan may be the villain in the heavenly realms, but on earth, we really have no competition. We fit the role of villain better. Satan is more of a partner of ours in our role.
2. Victim. While we may be the villain… we commonly are also victims in the Bible. Special place is given to the poor, the widow, the orphan, the alien, the marginalized. However, we all live in a world that is messed up, a world that we did not create. We sin, but we also are sinned against.
3. Witness. Mankind may be an active player in the drama… but we also serve as witnesses of what is going on on stage. In the Bible, we are called to act, but also to witness and report.
4. Partner. The position of hero in the Bible is already filled, but we have the option of partnering with God. In comic books, there are superheroes and sidekicks. The sidekick doesn’t take the limelight of the superhero, but helps bring success.
Okay, now let’s consider Joseph. Joseph was engaged (betrothed) to a woman who became pregnant outside of wedlock. The visit by the angel explaining the situation did not necessarily make things better. He was still stuck in a culturally very awkward situation. So look at the roles listed above:
A. Joseph was a Witness and Victim. He had no choice in this. He did not create the problem but found himself experiencing it.
B. Joseph rejected the role of Villain. It would have been easy to do. He could have rejected Mary… “putting her away”… quietly. He could have felt justified (legally and culturally) to be vengeful.
C. Joseph also rejected the role of Witness and Victim. Just because one is given a role, one still has a choice to embrace that role or reject it. Joseph could have passively focused on the injustice he found himself in. He could have backed away– a sulking victim, an uninvolved witness. But he didn’t.
D. Joseph embraced the role of Partner. He accepted the word of the angel, and accepted Mary. In so doing he chose to be the partner of Mary, with all of its joys and pains, and partner of God and His work.
We find ourselves dealing with these roles too. We are victims… not sure there is anyone who is not. We are witnesses of what God is doing. We can embrace the role of the victim. We can embrace the role of a witness (whether involved or uninvolved). We can take on the role of the villain, seeking to thwart God’s work. Or we can partner with God. The choice is always there.
A few thoughts on Christmas. May as well get the thinking started now.
1. It is OKAY to Christianize a pagan holiday.<An Issue of Contextualization.>Some are bothered by this and make this a big issue at certain times of the year. But Christianization is simply the subversion or reinterpretation of symbols. This is a perfectly reasonable thing to do. Jesus and the early church subverted/reinterpreted the symbology of the Jewish Passover and ritual purification rites with the sacraments of Eucharist and Baptism. The church structure is the reinterpretation of the Jewish Synagogue. One of the two primary words for God in Old Testament Judaism (“Elohim”) has roots in Canaanite paganism (the roots of “YHWH” are less certain). The primary word for God in the New Testament Church (“Theos”) has roots in Greek paganism. Again, the key point is not the symbol but the meaning given to the symbol. Frankly, the most recognized symbol of Christianity, the cross, is a Christian reinterpretation of a pagan practice (crucifixion). Harvest Festivals have deep pagan roots, yet the Jews were comfortable with reinventing them as Jewish holidays. Three major Jewish Festivals are reinterpretations of harvest festivals (Feast of Unleavened Bread, Pentecost, and Feast of Tabernacles). Christians have, in turn, reinterpreted Feast of Unleavened bread as part of the Christian Holy Week, and the Eucharist. Christians have also reinterpreted Pentecost as a Christian celebration. Reinterpreting pagan symbols is a healthy part of the cultural contextualization of faith. To become a Christian in a non-Christian culture should not involve rejecting every aspect of that culture, but selective rejecting the bad, embracing the good, and reinterpreting the redeemable. That is the role of insider within that culture (not the outside kibitzer).
2. It is OKAY celebrate a civil holiday.<An Issue of Separatism.> Some are bothered that Christmas has become a civil holiday and has been overlayed with a lot of non-Christian (and sometimes anti-Christian) messages. I believe that it is true that some things have to really be set aside. This manic materialistic busy-ness simply has little redeeming value. But we as Christians should find areas of healthy cultural interaction with the surrounding society. Separatism tends to lead to marginalization and/or ghettoization. I feel that the desire to radically reject everything in society without thoughtful evaluation may stem from the belief that it will show people that they are Christians. I suppose that works. Evangelical Christians are recognizable in that many/most don’t celebrate the local fiestas here in the Philippines (because of pagan and Catholic roots, and the proliferation of vices). In India, I have been told, Christian houses are easy to recognize because they are dark and dreary during the celebration a Diwali. There may be reasons not to celebrate (the tendency mix Christian messages with nationalistic messages during American Independence Day or Memorial Day does make me a wee bit squeamish). However, the fruit of the Spirit is a better way to show that you are a Christian.
3. It is OKAY to celebrate Christmas in December.<An Issue of Historicity.> Some, in complaining about Christmas, note that we don’t know when Jesus was born (although March might be a good educated guess) so it is ridiculous to celebrate His birth on any day… including in December. I have to admit, this one never made the least bit of sense to me. We have friends who adopted a little girl… she was found wandering the streets in the Philippines. She was apparently abandoned by her mother at around 2 years of age. They don’t know what her birth name was or what day she was born. Yet her paperwork now has a birth date and a name, and they celebrate her birthday every year on a day they assigned her. Suggesting that they should not celebrate her birthday because they don’t know the exact day that she was born is ludicrous. Actually, celebrating Christ’s birth close to Winter Solstice, at least for the Northern hemisphere, makes a lot of sense. Since it is the darkest time of the year, and the coldest (again, in the Northern hemisphere) it fits symbolically the idea of Christ coming into a world of darkness to bring light. And the comraderie and celebration provides emotional warmth to a time so cold. So unless you are big on technical historical, astronomical, or astrological factoids, relax and enjoy Christmas in December
4. It is OKAY to CELEBRATE. <An issue of Ascetism> Sometimes it seems as if the problem with Christmas is a problem with celebration. I have not heard anyone complaining about eating rice or utilizing fire, based on its long documented use by pagans and in pagan rituals. Perhaps the focus on Christmas and Easter and such has more to do with the belief that God is against fun and celebration. The Old Testament was full of celebrations. Jesus was involved in much festivities. Not all celebrations are good… but celebrations, are redeemable, and can be good.
5. It is OKAY to NOT listen to me.<An issue of Conformity.> You don’t have to listen to me. If you celebrate Christmas as a Christian (or a non-Christian), that is great. If you don’t celebrate Christmas that is your right and your freedom as well. That is really not the point and people who think that is the point have really missed the point. But for those who accept it, “Maligayang Pasko at Manigong Bagong Taon!”