The Day After, and the Day After That

25 12 2010

A man lived in a modest home on a very expensive little square of land.  The home was reasonably large, but nothing in character to make it particularly attractive.  At night, he could be seen in his living room watching television, while all of the other windows in his home were dark.  One day, he decided to tear down this house and build a much bigger home with more rooms.  He designed it with an old Spanish architecture, built by a renowned company.  Out in front of this home, he put a plaque detailing the history of the site, though one might wonder what significance could exist in a home built only a few years ago.  Whatever had existed there before was long gone.  Only the dirt was historic, for what it’s worth.  The home was lovely, furnished with brand new furniture and all of the latest technology.

In the evenings, he could be seen sitting in his living room watching a bigger television, and all of the other windows in his home remained dark.  Now, there were more dark windows, to dark rooms with no one in them and no life housed.  In truth, he either needed fewer rooms or more family living with him.  Actually, he seemed only to need one room.  As it was, one room held all of the life, while the others were vacant catacombs.

In our mansion, we have three-hundred-sixty-five rooms.  One of them is well lit and full of life.  Its light spills out the door and down the hall.  You can see the light before you see the room.  You can stand in the glow before you’re in the room.  One room is full of life and festivity.  One room holds the family.  One or two others occasionally get a visit, but this room is where the action is.  The other three-hundred-sixty-four rooms are about as lifeless as a grave.  We walk briskly through the room, then exit back into another dark hallway.  The glow gently recedes as we head away from the door.  Then we find ourselves in darkness.

The day after Christmas, known as Boxing Day for reasons unknown to most people, is usually a day for breaking toys, returning unwanted presents, and spending what’s left of the family budget on things, things and more things, to fill the vacancy left by the light of Christmas.  The purchases on Boxing Day are a match lit to find one’s way down the dark hall, in absence of the waning light of Christmas.  The world has forgotten Christmas already.  Yet, the world never knew it.  On Christmas morning, the sun rose at its usual time; the wild animals followed their usual routine; all of nature was ignorant of the event.  The whole physical world saw Christmas as just another day.  On the day that Christ was born, the whole world saw the life of just another day.  Few people were aware that anything significant had happened, because the significance was purely in the minds of those who saw it.  Christ was the great secret.  He was only a baby, and he was doing nothing extraordinary.  For all practical purposes, the first Christmas really was just another day.

The only difference between Christmas and all of the other days in the year is what we do with it.  In one sense, it’s all in our minds.  We could say that it’s nothing special.  Nothing happens on that day that could not just as easily happen on the day after, or the day after that.  On Christmas, we wake up with the feeling that this is a special day, like no other.  The day after Christmas, we wake up depressed, looking for a suitable drug.  The only difference between the two days is what we put into them.  The Christmas room is full of life, full of loved ones and full of charm.  The room next to it is dark and cold, uninhabited and neglected.  Christmas is expensive and laden with work.  The other days are cheap and easy.  Christmas is religious and meaningful, while the others are mostly secular and routine.  Christmas is a time for building relationships, but the others are a time for growing stale and unfamiliar.  The only difference between the two is what we do with them.  Otherwise, one day is just like any other.

One room is like any other.  The only difference is what you fill it with.  God has a house with many rooms, and he intends to fill it with loved ones.  Every room will be filled with light and life.

Some houses on the street are brightly lit.  Others remain as festive as a tomb.  The Puritan rejects Christmas for its pagan origins, while the atheist rejects it for the Christian thing it has become.  For some, it is secular, a party to celebrate nothing.  For some, it is the birthday of someone very special.  It is a symbol.  It is whatever it means to you.  It amounts to whatever you invest into it.  It is not that Christmas is an ordinary day trumped up to pretend itself important.  It is that every other day is neglected and unappreciated for what it is.  Every other day needs a little Christmas, and every other person needs Christ.  The world is full of empty souls, with scarce few that know what it means to be filled with Christ, to be Christmas among the empty days of the calendar.

Emmanuel, God is with us, still.  Christ came and struck us in awe.  Then he left.  The day after that, after he was gone, when the miracles had ceased, and the Holy Spirit had not yet come, the world was held in suspense, like Boxing Day, not knowing what was left to hope for, but only guessing and waiting, remembering what had been, and feeling the vacancy.  Christ was really gone this time.  He wasn’t coming back in three days, this time.  It was over, or had it just begun?  No, it had not even begun, yet.  At the moment, it was just over, and it was not anything else, yet.  It was the day after, and its only significance was that it was no longer the previous day.

It was the dark room, next to the living one, close enough to hear the activity and catch a glimpse of the light, but still in darkness.  But the day after Christmas is the first day of waiting for its return.

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Parthenogenesis

22 12 2009

One of the most common ideas about the virgin birth, if not the most common idea, is that Christ was conceived of a human egg and a divine…sperm.  However, the earliest of Christians did not think this.

In the time of Christ, and in the time of the prophets who foretold of the virgin birth, it was solely believed that the man was the carrier of a fully fertile, “seed.”  The woman was thought to provide no genetic component, inasmuch as they knew of genetics.  She was the fertile ground within which the seed was planted.  In fact, the word, “semen,” literally means “seed.”  While we know that traditional reproduction involves the union of two lineages, they had thought that all life was patrilineal, descending strictly through the men.  What is the significance of this?  It means that, as far as all parties were concerned, Jesus was as unique a human as Adam was, being without any parents.  This is somewhat difficult, considering that the messiah was supposed to come from the line of David.  In a sense, he did come from that lineage, both through Mary and Joseph, but he was genetically not descended from either.  That was what people who believed in the virgin birth believed about Jesus’ bloodline.

Let’s look a little into this.  Here we have the problem of original sin, the belief that because we were descended from Adam we were born already condemned and full of evil.  The exact reason for this is not clear, but what was clear to the early church was that, if Jesus was not really descended from Adam, then he must not have had original sin.  He was the world’s third un-fallen person, ever, after Adam and Eve.  What they also believed was that because he was without Adam’s fallen nature, he was sinless, and therefore capable of atoning for our sin, like a bull without blemish.  To further add to this, he was the Son of God, which meant that he could atone for all sin for all time.  He was a new human, fresh out of the package with no spiritual inheritance, other than the one he received from his Father in Heaven.

Now, fast forward to the discovery of the human egg.  Upon the Christian world was thrust the burden of determining whether Christ was conceived without both sperm and egg, or just without sperm.  If he was of Mary’s egg, then he was absolutely born with all of the genetic flaws accumulated throughout history to that point.  If he was from her egg, then he was not the spotless lamb that people took him for.  People would say that sin and physical flaws have nothing to do with each other, but I would say that the two are intrinsically connected.  You cannot have one without the other.  Death is just a lethal accumulation of physical flaws.  Death is the wage that comes from sin.  Therefore physical flaws arise because of sin.  Had the original people remained sinless, then they would have remained perfect, free from injury, illness and death.

When the ancient Israelites were commanded to sacrifice a spotless healthy bull for the atonement of their sins, they were being commanded to select the beast based on physical traits to serve a spiritual purpose.  God did not command them to find a bull that was without sin.  He told them to find one that was healthy, and by inference far from death.  Sin is our divergence from the will of God.  Entropy, sickness, mutations and death are all physical divergence from the perfect state that Adam and Eve knew before the Fall.  Therefore, to be that perfect sacrificial bull, Christ had to be without sin and without physical defect.

The first thing to change this was the crucifixion and all of the torture that went with it.  As he accepted the sin of the world onto his shoulders, he also took the burden of death and destruction.  As he was physically ripped to shreds, he was spiritually ripped to shreds.  As he physically overcame death, he spiritually overcame sin.  The two go hand in hand and are inseparable.

What, then, shall we say?  Was he already suffering the wages of sin and physical injury before the whip crossed his back?  This could hardly be true.  If it were, then we would have no hope.  We would still be as damned as the day Eve took that fruit.  If a perfect sperm fused with an imperfect egg, they would not form a perfect human, but an imperfect one.  The early church put the hope of their eternity into the very fact that Christ had no human ancestors, and Mary was only his surrogate, adoptive mother.  They saw him as an original human, without original sin, come to take away the sins of the world.  I can say this with absolute certainty.  Why should we change from this perspective?  They were not wrong.  God save us if they were.





Into the Darkness

3 12 2009

Seasonal affective disorder is a real bugger, isn’t it?  The days keep getting shorter, and it’s like the world has been captured in darkness.   What would we do all evening without artificial lighting?  Imagine sitting in a tent in the middle of the wilderness without a fire, a flashlight or the means to achieve either.  I’ve been there. When the sun goes down, your day is over, whether you’re ready or not.  On a cloudy moonless night, it means not being able to stray more than a few feet from the tent, for fear of never making your way back.  When the local wildlife come calling, there is no means for seeing them, and little recourse for warding them off.  You stumble around like a blind man, doing everything by touch.  The darkness is cold, even if it’s only in your mind.  The darkness is a prison without walls.

I find it fitting that the Christmas season lands near the shortest day of the year.  It’s no coincidence, really.  Missionaries used the pagan festivities to introduce their story about how God’s light once came into a world of darkness.  They told their stories around the fire, surrounded by darkness.  In the midst of this darkest month, we find the happiest of holidays.  For some, it is a time of hopelessness and despair, as the darkness wins in the minds of many, driving some of them even to suicide.  For others this time is romantic, a month of childhood wonder relived.  I find this dynamic to be quite inspiring.  December is the month where joy battles fear, where darkness dodges the stabbing thrusts of light, reaching out from the Christmas tree, the decorated houses, the nativity scenes, the Christ, himself.  This is where hot meets cold, where we sink or swim.

Without Christmas, there would be only seasonal affective disorder, devoid of any competing influence.  Without it, there would only be darkness and cold.

Without Christ, there would only be mortality without hope.  Without God, there would be life without meaning or purpose.  Over two millenniums ago, a light pierced our darkness, light like finding that flashlight in the inky dakness, illuminating our way.  We squint and peer.  At first, we cannot even make sense of what we see, stabbing at our eyes like daggers.  At first, we might shield ourselves from the unpleasant blaze.  For some, it illuminates our nakedness.  We may run and hide.  We may curse the one who directs it at us.  For others, it is a welcome comfort.  The walls of darkness retreat into the night, and our universe expands.  The light frees us from our prison.  We know what the future holds, because we can see it.  This light shines out to the horizon and beyond.

Now, the darkness serves to accentuate by contrast the value of the light.  We gather round that fire and sing our songs.  We praise God for that light.  It came into the darkness, but the darkness did not understand it, could not fight against it.  It was not a competing force.  It could not produce a flashdark.  It could not light a dark fire.  All it could do was sit there like a great empty weakness and be filled with the enormity of God’s providence.

People cursed that light, for it exposed their sin.  They rejected the comfort of the light and clothed their nakedness in the darkness.  They will not come into that warm glow.  They will not see and be seen, for they do what they would rather leave undisclosed.  Only those who do what’s right come into that light, so that the world can see what they do, things that they could only do through the aid of that light.

In this darkness, there is hope.  In this cold there comes a warmth.  This month we celebrate that pivotal man known as Jesus, light of the world, the word of God become flesh.