Fourth in the series “Wonder Women of Advent”
2 Samuel 11
We have come to the fourth Sunday in Advent and the fourth of our “Wonder Women” from Jesus’ genealogy. So far, we’ve looked at the troubling story of Tamar, who went around the law in order to obey the law and get justice for herself and her family; we’ve looked at Rahab, who demonstrates faith in Israel’s God and acts out that faith, becoming an example that even the writer’s of the New Testament hold up for all of God’s people. Last week, we looked at the story of Ruth—a woman of worth (hayil) who does the right thing in the midst of a corrupt and broken society. These are powerful women, unlikely women, who point us to the coming of Jesus.
Today’s Wonder Woman, however, is perhaps the most enigmatic of them all. In Matthew’s genealogy, she is known only as “the wife of Uriah” who bears Solomon, the son of King David. Why does he not call her by name?
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Part IV of the Advent Series “A Family Christmas”
There’s a lot of debate out there these days about what constitutes American family values. Those values have become a political football in recent decades, with candidates running on various platforms that give visions of the ideal family. When I mention the term “family values” here this morning, a lot of you are conjuring up different images, depending on your generation.
When many of us in the Boomer and Builder generations think of family values, we harken back to memories of the nuclear middle class family with two long-term married parents raising their biological children. Think of “Leave it to Beaver” or “Ozzie and Harriet” as examples—families where the most stress was placed on raising responsible children who will be good American citizens and productive members of society.
More recent generations, like the Generation Xers and Millenials, have a different experience of family values. The divorce rate is now half the marriage rate. Twenty-seven percent of family households with minor children are headed by single parents. One third of infants in the U.S. are born to unwed parents. Two million children are now being raised by non-heterosexual parents and that number is increasing. For these generations, the primary examples are the TV shows “Friends” and “Modern Family”—families consisting of a circle of friends or a variety of non-traditional families sharing a kind of community together.
A lot of our cultural capital has been spent debating which forms of family are the best and which values should prevail. One side points to the decay of the family and the other side points to the freedom of non-traditional families. As Christians, we add the dimension of Christian family values to the mix, advocating for a biblical view of the family as the best way to raise children and bolster society. What’s clear, however, is that the nature and cultural value of family has been evolving for some time.
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Part III of the Advent Series “A Family Christmas”
Ever since the time of the early church, Christians have wondered about the “lost years” of Jesus–that period between the stories about his birth and the beginning of his public ministry at about age 30. That’s a pretty big gap of time to cover and some have tried to fill in the time with stories that are at once fanciful and bizarre. The early Gnostics–a pseudo-Christian sect that was concerned with secret knowledge and the Platonist separation of body and spirit–came up with stories of Jesus doing little miracles when he was a boy. For example, the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, a late document from the second century, has the boy Jesus making little birds out of clay and then setting them free. In another story, a boy runs into the Jesus accidentally and Jesus says “Thou shalt not finish thy course” and the other boy drops dead on the spot. When people criticized him for the incident, he struck them with blindness. In one more story, Jesus was accused of pushing a boy out of a window, but then redeems himself by raising they from the dead.
Other stories have Jesus going to Qumran to study with the Essenes or that he spent time learning from the Pharisees. Other more bizarre stories have Jesus journeying to India to study with gurus. The Arthurian legends have him going to Britain.
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Part I of the Advent series “A Family Christmas”
The first Sunday in Advent is always a time of anticipation. The decorations are up, Christmas music creeps into our consciousness, cookies are being baked, gifts are being purchased and wrapped. It’s a time for traditions, a time when we harken back to Christmases past, memories of family and friends. Indeed, when most Americans are asked to name what Christmas is really about, they will say it’s about gathering with family.
The family Christmas is a deeply ingrained image in American culture. From those old Currier and Ives images from the 19th century that still adorn Christmas cards, to the memories of idyllic Christmases in the 1950s and 60s that stay at the forefront of Baby Boomers (the same people, like me, who will watch Ralphie try to get his Red Ryder BB gun in A Christmas Story over and over again on Christmas Day), we all have in mind what the “perfect” Christmas looks like. And every year we do our best to keep that tradition going.
The shadow side of the perfect Christmas, however, is the fact that many people do not experience it. According to the National Institutes of Health, 45% of people dread Christmas. It’s the time of year when health professionals see the highest incidence of depression and attempted suicide. Many people endure this season with a high level anxiety, mostly because the “perfect” Christmas isn’t working for them. Most pastors will tell you it’s the time of year when more people get really upset about little things—like the story I’ve told you before about the guy in my first church who threatened to leave because we didn’t sing The First Noel as the second hymn on Christmas Eve. The perfect Christmas is easily ruined. In fact, most of the Christmas specials we grew up with on TV remind us of that fact. Whether it’s The Grinch That Stole Christmas, or Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, or A Charlie Brown Christmas, we’ve learned that Christmas is always a hair’s breadth away from disaster. Couple that with the fact that our families aren’t exactly perfect and our perfect Christmases are always set up for disappointment.
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Fourth in an Advent series on Charles Wesley’s “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.”
One of the more interesting and, for me sometimes, inconvenient tasks of the Christmas season is the whole putting up the Christmas tree thing. While I like having a Christmas tree in the house, it’s the whole process of getting it out of the basement and putting it up that I’m not thrilled with. It can be a frustrating process…
It’s like the two blondes (ok, we’ll call them “Hittites” instead) who went deep into the woods searching for a Christmas tree.
After hours of subzero temperatures and a few close calls with hungry wolves, one Hittite turned to the other and said, “I’m chopping down the next tree I see. I don’t care whether it’s decorated or not!”
When I was a kid we used to get our tree every year from the Lion’s Club lot down by the YMCA, where we’d select some Charlie Brown-ish tree with the needles falling off, strap it to the roof of the station wagon, cram it through the door and water the heck out of it to keep it alive. I remember the trees being pretty when all dressed up (my mom had a thing for those artificial icicles, you know – that you throw on the tree and then pick up for the next six months). But then, the day after Christmas, you began to notice that it stank and was getting brown and then you’d have to take down all the ornaments and get it out of the house where it would sit in the driveway for a couple of weeks until the garbage man came to haul it away.
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