Thursday, December 13, 2007

Christmas, according to Buechner

Well, I was excited by Büchner's sermon on Emmanuel, and wanted to tell you about it. Then as I wrote, something came to me about what happened in my life (including my emotional life) just today. Perhaps I'll clean this up later; it's by far not my best writing....

This bit is from his Secrets in the Dark, a marvelous book of which I can only read maybe one chapter at a time.
Emmanuel is the message in a nutshell, which is Hebrew for "God with us." Who is this God? How is he with us? That's where the problem lies....

...[T]he answer to the second question... is that at a particular time and place God came to be with us himself....

...We all must decide for ourselves whether it is true. Certainly the grounds on which to dismiss it are not hard to find. Christmas is commercialism. It is a pain in the neck. It is sentimentality. It is wishful thinking. With its account of the shepherds, the star, the three wise men, it smacks of a make-believe pathetically out of place in a world of energy and crisis and space exploration and economic malaise. Yet it is never as easy to get rid of as all this makes it sound, because whereas to dismiss belief in God is to dismiss only an idea, a hypothesis, for which there are many alternatives (such as belief in no god at all or in any of the lesser gods we are always creating for ourselves like science or morality or the inevitability of human progress), to dismiss Christmas is for most of us to dismiss part of ourselves.

For one thing it is to dismiss one of the most fragile yet enduring visions of our own childhood andof the child who continues to exist in all of us. The sense of mystery and wonderment. The sense that on this one day each year two plus two adds up not to four but to a million... "Let all mortal flesh keep silence," the old hymn goes, and there was a time for most of us when it did.
excerpted from Secrets in the Dark, pp. 90-95
Buechner is hardly a romantic, starry-eyed or otherwise; he has what seems to me an unusually clear eye for what Christmas has to a large extent become.

He also remembers -- and brings to my remembrance -- the "sense of mystery and wonderment," as he says.

And he also points out that Christmas, "God with us," is every bit as objectionable to the unbeliever as Easter or Good Friday:
"We preach Christ crucified," the apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, "a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles" (1 Cor. 1:23). He could as well have written, "We preach Christ born" or "We preach Christmas," because the birth presents no fewer problems than the death does....
ibid., p. 90
I used to be fond of pointing out that Mark and John don't even talk about Christmas, and that Matthew and Luke hardly bother to mention the same events in the Christmas story. But the key point that they agree on, and that both the apostle Paul and the Apostles' Creed confirm, is that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin.

We (the lovely Carol, and I) were talking with our north site pastor, who mentioned that the Easter, the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, is just unbelievable to some people -- as it was to me for some years. But as Buechner points out, Christmas is no less astonishing.

What does all this mean to me?

One thing comes to mind, and I just put this together as I was writing this: Anything can happen! Tuesday, I got a rejection letter for a paper I submitted to a conference. This would have been an opportunity to tell other people about some great work we've done at Network Appliance in the area of software quality. But today, two days later, our pastor asked me if I'd like to teach a three-to-six week series on how to study the Bible.

Would I ever! What's more exciting, more meaningful, more important -- software quality, or "why and how to read the Bible"? (Ah, that was a rhetorical question.)

These days I have been singing, "He hath opened heaven's door / And man is blessed evermore" -- and "Now ye need not fear the grave / Jesus Christ was born to save."

Really, the good news (not just the offense) of Christ is here at Christmas, isn't it? Ha -- where is "good news" first mentioned in New Testament times? Is it not in Luke 2, "I bring you good news of great joy... to you is born in the City of David a savior, which is Christ the Lord"?

And what came to me just now was this, from "O Little Town of Bethlehem":
O holy child of Bethlehem
Descend to us we pray.
Cast out our sin and enter in,
Be born in us today.
Amen, in Jesus’ name.

No comments: