Publishing Glad Tidings
Publishing Glad Tidings
That's the church's first order of business: telling the news, the very good news, about what God has, is, and shall be doing in and with the world.
Easter's news can be celebrated in two words: he lives. Christmas takes twice as long to tell: God is with us.
With all the baggage that has in recent years accrued to the word "Christian," like so many barnacles on the ship of faith, those of us who claim to be friends and followers of Jesus have gotten the reputation of being moralistic, hypocritical, and self-righteous. Fact is, when I hear Christian used as an adjective, I reflexively assume it's something or someone with whom I probably would prefer not to be associated.
My primary role as a preacher for fifty years was not to tell others how to live their lives. And it wasn't to instruct the faithful whom, by God, to vote for. My chief duty in the pulpit was to preach the Gospel. You probably know, and if you do, please, pardon me for being didactic, but Gospel is a contraction of "God's spell" or God-story, the English translation of the New Testament Greek euangelion; to wit, "glad tidings."
Like the Gospel (!) according to Matthew reports and we shall be hearing often this month, an angel clued in Joseph about his pregnant fiancée, that the child she would bear would fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah about a young girl (14 years old or so) who would bear a child and he would be called Emmanuel, which means "God is with us." Divide it anyway you will, embellish it with all the colored lights and tinsel at your command, celebrate it in the most jubilant of songs, feast over it to your stomach's content, excite as you may the children with visions of sugar plums and I Pods, Christmas is, first and foremost, good news because it proclaims to the world that God is with us.
A few weeks ago a friend of more than fifty years wrote me to ask what I made of a quote from Moby Dick he had come across in his reading. I have appended that quote to the bottom of this page.NB Melville, in the person of the narrator Ishmael, the sole survivor of the sunken whaling ship Pequod, describes the deity as capricious, mean and unpredictable, a heavenly jokester, who enjoys the violent mischief done to and done by mortals. That is, God, if there be a God, from his vantage beyond heaven and earth, watches with amusement as hard circumstance and our own evil put us willy-nilly into the torture that life is.
To my friend and Melville and Ishmael I gladly insist with Tiny Tim about God blessing us everyone, that, in fact and in Jesus, God is with us. Not out at the rim of the universe looking safely on at our misery. With us. Here. Flesh of our flesh. Bone of our bone. A baby. A boy. A man. A man, tempted as we are in every way, even subjected to our death. Jesus. From Bethlehem to Jerusalem, thirty-three years. He is not a superman from Krypton. He is not a resident of Mt. Olympus deigning to traffic with us for salacious reasons of his own. No, John 3:16: "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son..." That's the news I was ordained to announce every Sunday, even when it's not Christmas. God has moved in with us, in the person of a Jewish carpenter become peripatetic rabbi. If to see firsthand and from the inside what makes us tick, then also to assure us that heaven knows the trouble we see. And the joys too.
God is with us in Jesus not just as a passive observer, but as the leader of our platoon, out in front of the troops, summoning us to go with him on the offensive, not with bayonets and bullets, with compassion and courage. Think second miles. Think feeding the hungry. Think loving the forgotten. Think visiting the sick and those in prison. Think loving children, including those not our own. Think making peace. Think generosity. Think humility. Think willingly putting ourselves in harm's way for someone else. Think holding on to hope when circumstance tells us otherwise. Such are the battles through which Jesus leads us. With us.
Some there are who think this take on life is too delicate to withstand the realities of getting on with things. And, yes, that baby in Bethlehem in the manger does wind up being executed by the harsh realities of his life and times. But, consider, Caesar is long gone, while the Roman cross of execution is raised across the face of the world as a harbinger of hope. Too delicate? Or just not heeded often enough. Our evil may seem intransigent and our schemes devilishly clever, but God's will is good and kind and generous... and indominitable. God is with us.
And that's very good news!
NB. “There are certain queer times and occasions in this strange mixed affair we call life when a man takes this whole universe for a vast practical joke, though the wit thereof he but dimly discerns, and more than suspects that the joke is at nobody’s expense but his own. However, nothing dispirits, and nothing seems worthwhile disputing. He bolts down all events, all creeds, and beliefs, and persuasions, all things visible and invisible, never mind how knobby… And as for small difficulties and worryings, prospects of sudden disaster, peril of life and limb, all these, and death itself they seem to him only sly, good-natured hits, and jolly punches in the side bestowed by the unseen and unaccountable old joker.”