I returned to seminary a few years back to hear a professor teach John’s gospel as a remake of the Genesis narrative. The parallel between Genesis 1 and John 1 is obvious, but if you press forward, the connections run throughout.
As we know, “let there be light” were the first words out of the Lord’s mouth in the beginning. However, few people have taken this literally since, like the Lord, the universe is thought to be infinite with no definite beginning.
But then along came Albert Einstein and Edwin Hubble, who theorized and confirmed how galaxies were receding away from each other over time.
John’s Christmas story contains no scary angels or shaking shepherds, no Magi bearing gifts, no star guiding their way. There’s no Mary or Joseph, no lowing cattle or humble manger. There’s not even a baby Jesus. For John, Christmas begins all the way back at the beginning itself. “In the beginning was the Word,” John declares, intentionally echoing the first syllables of creation.
The Christmas story includes the very sordid tale of an engaged young woman who is apparently cheating on her fiancé. She’s carrying somebody else’s baby. She says that God did it, which adds blasphemy to the infidelity.
So it turns out that losing is good for you after all. According to social scientists who study these things, all those participation trophies kids receive for just showing up are not inspiring them to succeed. Instead, the ceaseless praise only protects kids from failure—so that once it inevitably appears, they are so demoralized that the next time it comes close they choose cheating rather than risk failing again.
The gospel has always understood the critical importance of failure in the path to true life.
The lectionary texts tell us that Advent is a time to look forward to Christ’s second coming rather than back to his first. Yet most churches prefer Christmas pageants to second coming pageants. Given all the doom and gloom that accompanies apocalypse, they may be concerned about scaring the kids.
July is vacation time for many of us. Anticipating grilled burgers, potato salad, sunshine and seashore can get us through months of occupational drudgery. We all need time away to kick back, relax and recharge—even Jesus did. We read in Mark 6 that he invited his disciples to join him for a beach getaway. It had been a busy chapter for them all.
I appreciate the lectionary’s knack for relating Old and New Testament texts, but I have no idea why King David’s adultery with Bathsheba is coupled with Jesus feeding the 5,000 and walking on water. Perhaps the intent is to contrast the bad behavior of David with the admirable acts of the Son of David. King David not only absconded with another man’s wife—he had the husband killed too.
In the mid-1980s I attended a church that still honored “Money Sunday,” a practice begun in the 1950s. Once a year members of the congregation gathered to make financial pledges to support missions efforts. As the pledges were collected, the minister would read the amounts aloud from the pulpit: “Here’s one for $50. . . . Here’s another for $100 and one for $1,000!” Occasionally a pledge came in for, say, $10,000, eliciting all sorts of approving oohs and aahs from the congregation.
The closest I get to the kind of religious experience the apostle Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 12 is the occasional Sunday when the music and the congregation merge in worship that is unrestrained praise. I especially enjoy communion, since the Eucharist itself is designed to anticipate heaven. With our sins confessed and forgiven, peace made and prayers prayed, we experience an unusual unity with God and with each other. It’s a taste of paradise.
Support the Christian Century
The Century's work relies primarily on subscriptions and donations. Thank you for supporting nonprofit journalism.