I think I like Karl Barth best not when he’s a theologian, but when he’s a preacher. There is something about his writings aimed at a general rather than academic audience that draws me in and wants me to become a good charismatic shouting “amen” in response to his witness to Jesus Christ.
From 1926 to 1933 Barth wrote a series of Christmas devotions/meditations/homilies for German newspapers. My favourite is the one from 1926, a reflection on John 1:14 entitled, “The Word Made Flesh.” And as Christmas fast approaches, I wanted to share a few excerpts from it:
It is an event which happened and which is still happening; to the evangelist it is as certain as his own existence, and as self-evident as the truth of an axiom. God has spoken and still speaks. All abstract thought and metaphysics, everything one might know and say of God as Thought, Power, and Deed is summed up and completed by the fact that God has spoken and still speaks. Yes, God! In the verses which precede our text, the evangelist has made it clear what he means by God’s speech: This is a Word which is thought and spoken in the eternal “beginning” of all things, God Himself being present, a Word which unreservedly possesses God’s own attributes, nature and being and which is – really, not parabolically – His Word.
This must be immediately interpreted as: “He came to be flesh then and there,” which excludes any wrong conception the word “became” might suggest. John means not a transformation but an incomprehensible coexistence. Without ceasing to be the eternal divine subject the Word is there in time, concretely, contingently and objectively, recognisable as man’s vis-à-vis, for only man can really confront man. The reality of revelation is according to the general meaning of our text just this: The Word of God to which the Gospel witnesses, is a man. To put it the other way round: the man of whom the Gospel speaks, is neither the “symbol” nor the “appearance” of God’s Word to man, nor the highest expression of the Word in a relative sense, but the Word of God Himself, His one and only, His first and His last Word. This “is” the Christmas Gospel.
Flesh in the New Testament is not human nature generally and ideally, but concretely this human nature in which I find myself, the nature of “Adam,” the nature man possesses under the sign of the Fall, in the realm of darkness and in his principal opposition to God and to his own self. It does not say: the Word became a super-man or a personage…He does not appear in the form of an angel nor of an ideal man (how can anyone who is not as real as we are, address us?) but as Paul writes, in “the form of a servant” (Phil II.7), so that we who ourselves exist in this form, are able to hear Him. He encounters the riddle of our “darkness” on its own ground.
And Dwelt Among Us:
Inasmuch as the Incarnation fulfils the time, it is also limited by time. Inasmuch as it is epoch-making, it is also an episode which points beyond itself to the Holy Ghost who proclaims the Incarnate Word in other ages as well, and to the Resurrection of the body which includes all ages.
(You can read the whole meditation in Karl Barth, Christmas. translated by Bernhard Citron. London: Oliver and Boyd, 1959).
I made it all the way to December 14th.
It’s a new record.
I managed to avoid “The Christmas Shoes” on the radio for 14 whole days.
It’s one of those songs that tugs at your heart strings, and I inevitably cry every time I hear it. And Friday, I couldn’t avoid it. I couldn’t get to the radio quick enough to turn it off. So I listened to it.
But what made it worse was the song the radio played right after was the same type of song, only this time it told the story of a little boy with a terminal disease who probably wouldn’t live long enough to see Christmas, but does and then dies. Put “The Christmas Shoes” and that new song together on a day when little children were murdered in Connecticut, and needless to say I was a big sobbing mess.
By Saturday I was mad. Those two songs don’t tug at heart strings, they manipulate emotions. Now don’t get me wrong there is definitely a place and a time for songs of sadness, lament and raw emotion. But in this case, these songs do it for the wrong reason. And maybe that’s not the fault of the songwriters, but it is definitely the fault of the radio stations who play them over and over and over again. (How many covers of “The Christmas Shoes” are there now? 20? 30? 100?)
On Sunday we sang advent songs about joy. No Christmas carols yet. And I get the theological reasoning for it, I really do. But it seems really strange that I can hear Christmas carols, hymns about the birth of Jesus, on the radio for an entire month, and yet in church we’ll only sing Christmas carols on two occasions, Christmas Eve, and the Sunday after Christmas as part of the 12 days of Christmas. (edited to add: there might be a few Christmas carols at church this Sunday because it is the children’s pageant). Note: I’m not saying “down with Advent.” I think Advent is vitally important to the life and worship of the Christian community and it’s one of my favourite times of year. I just can’t help but spend a few minutes thinking about the oddity of the secular having more airtime for Christmas carols than the church. (Now of course I get that in the grand scheme of the Church year Easter has been and should be a bigger deal than Christmas and that Christmas being the high point of the church year is a relatively new phenomenon).
Speaking of Christmas carols, a friend of mine posted what has to be the strangest, creepiest, incongruous music video ever. It’s Twisted Sister’s rendering of “O Come All Ye Faithful.” Now I don’t have a problem with the musical score, it’s the video itself. It represents a complete disconnect from the lyrics. Do they even know what they are singing? And then add to the fact that in the middle of the bridge they throw in a few bars of “We’re Not Going to Take It” and it has to be the weirdest Christmas music video ever.
Growing up, my mom said that we could put anything we wanted on our Christmas lists. It didn’t mean we would get everything (or anything) on our lists, because our lists were “wish” lists and not “get” lists. In the spirit of that wish list, I offer today my Seminary Student Christmas Wish List.
What I Want For Christmas:
- Heat in S115.
- For the contract with Coca-Cola to be dropped in favour of a contract with Pepsi.
- Electrical plugs installed at the Bean for people’s laptops.
- A big endowment for the Seminary that would cut tuition rates in half.
- An indoor play space at the Crossroads for the little kids to play on when it’s forty below (translation: for six months of the year)
- For the student lounge to be turned into a bar.
- More single men (note: this isn’t my wish; its Lori’s wish and I wish it for Lori).
- For the Bean to regularly stock potato chips as a snack option.
- A new course offering: Theology and Science Fiction
- For a pizza joint to be opened in town.
- A dedicated prayer room.
- For the entire town of Caronport to be moved closer to Regina.
Next weekend, November 30 to December 2, I will be participating in the annual Christmas Craft Sale at Briercrest College and Seminary. This craft sale is in conjunction with the annual Christmas Concert put on by the music arts department at Briercrest. To those of you who live in Caronport or southern Saskatchewan and are planning to attend, please print off the attached coupon flyer to receive a discount on your Christmas shopping at my table. Merry Christmas!
For previous Christmas entries, see here and here.
What do you get the theologian in your life who has everything? How about a theology t-shirt?
The one on the left is a reference to N.T. Wright; the one on the right is reference to the Church Dogmatics — the colours represent the colours used on the spines of the different volumes. Though I wonder if wearing the CD one would be dangerous? They might be misconstrued as gang colours. Ooo that’s an idea! Let’s start the theology-gang colour wars! What would a John Piper t-shirt look like for our reformed-minded friends?
Here’s a little something for all of you are knee-deep in marking — Mike Wittmer has collected some of his favourite goofs from his students’ papers this year. It is scholastic comedy.
Speaking of marking, Bradley Wright reflects on students who ask for a better grade.
‘Tis the season, so here is a clip from my favourite version of “The Christmas Carol.”
For the previous Christmas motivational posters, click here.