Christmas Morning 2019


I awoke at 6:15. My usual wake-up time is somewhere between 5:30 and 6:00 so this constitutes sleeping in a bit for me.

The world is still silent though, no car doors slamming, engines starting or windshields scraping the remnants of the overnight frost. My bedroom window overlooks the parking lot of our condo complex so on a regular work day I tend to hear all the early risers heading off to their various work destinations

Not today, today is a holiday and the world will wake up a bit more slowly. Maybe not your house. Maybe the kids had you up in wild excitement well before dawn but as far as the outside world, the going places world, the hustle and bustle work a day world goes, this is a holiday.

Or should I say Holy-day?

The silence in my house at this hour is soothing. I tend to take advantage of this time to meditate. On this day the words of Isaiah rose in my mind quite unbidden.

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:6

George Frederick Handel used these words as a refrain in one of the movements of his masterpiece, Messiah. I put it on and let these words enter my soul. May they enter yours, “For Unto us a Child is Born.”

How Monsanto and other Corporate Interests Killed the Baby Jesus…


A Pre-Christmas Reflection

When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 

Leviticus 19:9
Food, Inc. Movie Poster – Magnolia Pictures, 2008

Back in 2008 documentary film maker Robert Kenner went on a journey throughout America to document the ways in which massive corporate interests had taken control of the agriculture industry and control nearly all aspects of the food chain from family farms, to grocery stores, restaurants and everything in between.  The resulting film, “Food, Inc.”  made $4.6 million at the box office (a huge success for a documentary) and was nominated for Best Documentary Film at the 2009 Academy Awards.

One segment of the film told how the production of grains had been transformed into a biochemical science dominated by the massive chemical technology firm Monsanto.  Beginning in the 1970s, Monsanto developed genetically engineered strains of plants that could resist drought and produce higher crop yields.  They also developed pesticides and fertilizers.  Monsanto is perhaps best known as the maker of the weed killer RoundUp which basically kills every green plant it touches and was recently proven to cause Cancer in humans who handled large quantities of it.  They were also one of the manufacturers of Agent Orange, the chemical the U.S. Military weaponized to defoliate the jungle during the Vietnam war. 

The segment focused mostly on Monsanto’s development of hybrid seed technology and their efforts to protect their patents by forcing farmers to purchase only their seed every spring.  Why is that important?  Because by doing so Monsanto was attempting to eliminate the ancient agricultural practice of seed drying.

A farmer spreads seed on a tarp to dry for later use.

Seed drying is as old as agriculture itself.  Also known as using heirloom seeds, it is the act of taking a portion of the harvest, drying and storing it over the winter to plant again the next season.  These heirloom seeds create generations of the same strain of plants again and again in an endless sustainable cycle.  Over several generations these plants create local characteristics that are unique to their environment sometimes creating flavors and strains of plants not found anywhere else.  But Monsanto, and other massive corporations view this as a threat to their brand.  They believe that by drying and replanting seeds from plants originally purchased from Monsanto farmers are stealing their intellectual property and have attempted to sue farmers who practice seed drying for trademark and copyright infringement. 

What made this story even more absurd was the fact that Monsanto successfully sued one farmer and forced him to shut down his seed drying operation even though he had never purchased a single seed from Monsanto.  The judge in the case ruled that since neighboring farms did purchase Monsanto seed there was no way for the farmer to prove that any of the seed from those neighboring farms hadn’t inadvertently blown into his field.  The fact that there was no way Monsanto to prove that it had happened notwithstanding.

The case illustrates two very important points.  First, that corporate interests have taken such complete control of our daily lives that there is simply no going back.  Even if you think you are being counter cultural and non-conformist, the corporations have so completely infiltrated our lives that we simply cannot escape them even if we try.  Case in point Amazon’s 2017 purchase of Whole Foods Market.  Second, it is becoming increasingly difficult and even illegal to follow God’s law.  Now to be fair I am not a legalist when it comes to taking on a Christian walk but when God says in Leviticus to leave a portion of your harvest behind, he means us to do so to take care of the poor and landless.  It’s through this act of charity that Ruth, the great-grandmother of Jesus, was able to remain alive.  By lobbying to outlaw seed drying Monsanto has effectively killed the Baby Jesus. 

Hyperbole?  Maybe, that’s for you to decide – Merry Christmas.

The First Christmas Carol


The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. [Colossians 1:15-20]

The early church didn’t celebrate Christmas.  At least not as a special feast day or as the modern-day retail orgy of capitalistic idolatry that we call Christ’s birthday today.  But the early church did recognize that the event of Christ’s birth was a significant event in human history and they celebrated it regularly with the reverent awe and jubilation that it deserves.

Last week, as I was getting ready to celebrate Christmas I had a chance encounter with a Jehovah’s Witness co-worker of mine.  The office Holiday Luncheon as we call it so as not to offend anyone, was held at the restaurant across the street and after I’d had my fill and stayed a respectful amount of time I decided to return to the office to finish up a bit of work before heading home for the night.  As I came back in I noticed that this individual was sitting at the reception desk.  It’s not unusually to see certain admin staff taking a turn at reception when the regular people are away, and I immediately recognized that she must be covering while most of us were at lunch.  As I walked past I casually asked if she had had a chance to get out and enjoy a bit of time with the rest of us.

“I don’t celebrate Christmas”, was her immediate and matter of fact response.

In this day and age, it is not uncommon to encounter people who do not celebrate Christmas as the birth of Christ.  We live in a multi-cultural society.  At the last census only 67.3% Canadians self- identified as Christians with less than half of those attending services more than 3 times per month.  But a large percentage of people who do not identify as Christians still celebrate Christmas in one form or another.  My next-door neighbour is a Hindu, born and raised in India.  His seven-year-old son knows all about Santa Claus and was all too happy to explain to my wife in detail everything he had put into his letter to the North Pole.  Apparently, Santa doesn’t care if you know anything about Jesus, only if you’re good.

Christmas isn’t just for Christians anymore and hasn’t been for quite some time.

So, when my co-worker, who is descended from Irish protestants and married to a man French Roman Catholic origin stated flatly that she doesn’t celebrate Christmas I was a bit taken aback.  But then I remembered why.  Jehovah’s Witnesses and a few other pseudo-Christian groups do not celebrate Christmas on December 25 because there is no historically credible way of pinpointing the exact moment of Christ’s birth.

December 25 was chosen as the date by the Roman Emperor Constantine in 336 A.D. in part, to combat the pagan celebration of the winter solstice.  Prior to Constantine some Christians had estimated the date to fall any where between December 6 and January 6 (the day many Coptic and Orthodox Christians still recognize today), citing historical records of the Roman census and, the reason why Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem in the first place.

Still others, notably the Jehovah’s Witness and a few other fringe groups, contend that the day was more likely in the spring or summer since Shepherds would not have been tending flocks out in the fields in the winter.  Personally, I think that argument is weak, winter in the middle east is still warm enough to tend flocks outside even if it might have been rare.

Anyway, the fact is, whether you celebrate the birth of Christ on December 25th, January 6th or some other time the historical event is still the fulcrum on which history turns.  The earliest Christians knew that and celebrated it just as much as we do today.

Which brings me back to the earliest Christmas Carol.

Paul’s letter to the church at Colosse opens with a poem that could have easily been set to music.  To our modern eyes it might not look much like a poem because when it is translated to English it loses much of it’s poetic feeling, but I assure you was originally a poem and likely a song.

This poem tells us four things about the birth of Jesus.  What it accomplished and how it changes history.

1 – Jesus brings God to us

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. [Colossians 1:15]

He is God incarnate!  If you want to see God and understand what he is like look to Jesus.  If you want to follow God and do his will do what Jesus taught.  Everything up to this point, all the laws and the prophets are mere shadows of what has been revealed to us in the person of Jesus.  Put another way, if the Old Testament conflicts with anything Jesus taught, throw it out, Jesus is the true image of God.

Jesus brings us to life

For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. [Colossians 1:16]

All things were created through him.  We exist because he made us for himself and all things were created through him.  The law brings death and condemnation.  We have life because of Jesus.

Jesus brings life to us

He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. [Colossians 1:17]

He sustains us.  He breaths life into us.  There is a popular contemporary Gospel song that I hear on the radio from time to time that repeats the refrain, “It’s your breath in our lungs, so we pour out our praise to you only.”

Jesus brings us to God

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. [Colossians 1:19-20]

The ministry of reconciliation brings us back into perfect unity with God.  This unity is a common theme in Paul’s writing.  It comes up again in 2 Corinthians 5 where he says,

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. [2 Corinthians 5:18-20]

Ever since Genesis 3 and the so called, fall of man the path of history is a story of mankind’s failed attempts through rules and regulations to reconcile with God.  It wasn’t until God came in human form and showed us his love for us, a father’s unfailing love, that reconciliation became possible.

It is a Christmas, or when ever you choose to acknowledge the historical reality of Christ’s birth, that we can truly celebrate that Jesus came to bring God to us, bring us to life, bring life to us and to bring us to God.  That is the gospel, and that is what we acknowledge when we celebrate Christmas.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel


“… and ransom captive Israel.” [author unknown]

I have mixed feelings about Christmas.

I love the overarching narrative of the original Christmas story. God became man to show us a better way of living. He used unexpected circumstances to come into the world and announced his arrival to religious outcasts. He subverted both the religious and political establishment and grew up in relative obscurity until the time came to establish his ministry.

manger

Over the centuries many religious practices and traditions have been established to help cement the significance of these events in our minds. We sing because the angels appeared to the shepherds in song;

At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises:

Glory to God in the heavenly heights,
Peace to all men and women on earth… [Luke 2:13-14 The Message]

We give gifts because the Magi came bearing gifts fit for a king;

They entered the house and saw the child in the arms of Mary, his mother. Overcome, they kneeled and worshiped him. Then they opened their luggage and presented gifts: gold, frankincense, myrrh. [Matthew 2:11 The Message]

And we get together with family and friends to celebrate, worship and eat because really what else are we going to do with all that food?

All of these things we do at Christmas are good things. But I have mixed feelings about Christmas because as Timothy Keller so aptly put it;

Idolatry means turning a good thing into an ultimate thing. [Timothy Keller; Every Good Endeavor, Connecting Your Work to God’s Work]

For many, even for many Christians, Christmas is no longer about the birth of a savior. No, Christmas stopped being about salvation and God’s rescue mission for humanity, a long time ago. Now the good and fun things about Christmas, the singing, the gifts, the family and friends have become all there is. As a result the Christmas season itself has become an idol. We worship the season without giving a second thought to the significance of what God has done as a result of coming into human existence.

I make no secret of the fact that I can be an emotional person. For a forty something year old man I cry a lot and I don’t care who knows it. Last Sunday my wife had a panic attack about all the things we needed to do in order to be ready for Christmas. The list was endless but not a single thing on her list had anything to do with celebrating our salvation as a result of the birth of Jesus. While she cried about buying gifts and baking cookies and doing laundry I remembered the words of a 12th century Christmas song and I quietly wept for everyone who is caught up in the idolatry of Christmas.

O come, o come Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny
From depth of Hell Thy people save
And give them victory o’er the grave
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Key of David, come
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way the leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, O come, Thou Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai’s height,
In ancient times did’st give the Law,
In cloud, and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

We’ve made good things into ultimate things and lost site of the only true thing, and I weep for our loss. This Christmas please join me as I pray the words of that ancient hymn;

O come, o come Emmanuel…

 

 

Peace on Earth


 

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. 9 Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” [Luke 2:8-14]

It’s Christmas time.  The time of year when most Christians think about peace on earth, but few really stop and think about how profoundly different heavenly peace on earth really is from the worldly reality of peace we have been fed from our leaders.  To my mind the verses above and indeed the entire account of Jesus birth in Luke chapter 2, leaves little doubt that we has humans have gotten the entire concept of peace on earth profoundly wrong. 

First off note who is proclaiming the peace, it is the armies of heaven.   The only time an army ever proclaims peace is after the battle has been fought and won.  The battle that is eluded to here is the battle between the forces of good and evil that is waged in the spiritual realm and at the birth of Jesus the armies of heaving appear to proclaim that battle over and peace on earth. 

Secondly if we back up a few verses we are given a bit of historical context to the birth of Jesus.  We learn that it occurred during the reign of Caesar Augustus, the first Roman Emperor who ruled a united and peaceful Rome.  This was the beginning of the period known as the Pax Romana, or Peace of Rome.  But we also learn through historical writings and the biblical account itself that this “peace” was extremely oppressive and did not extend to all people groups.  It was peace achieved at the point of the sword and maintained but the ever present threat of violence against those that didn’t tow the line.

At the time of Jesus the Jewish people were expecting the arrival of a Messiah who was a conquering hero to drive Rome out of their lands and usher in a sort of Pax Israeli.  This is not the kind of thing you would expect from a people group who felt that there was any kind of peace on earth regardless of what their political overlords may have been trying to tell them.  And of course we know that when the Jewish people finally did rise up about 70 years later, it ended in disaster with the destruction of their temple.  For all intents and purposes the destruction of the temple ended the Jewish religion itself.  The entire sacrificial system commanded in the Old Testament centers around the temple. 

So when the army of angels appeared and proclaimed peace on earth, what were they saying?

I think that they were saying something incredibly scandalous.  They were saying that the only battle that mattered was in the spiritual realm and they had won.  The Jewish people need not worry about taking up arms against Rome to obtain peace on earth and they didn’t need to put their faith in any earthly religious symbols.  The battle was over and any attempt to continue the fighting was a denial of that fact.  True peace comes from a spiritual place, earthly battles and physical places are nothing more than constructs of the human mind that the arrival of Jesus signaled the end of. 

Jesus would go on to preach love and the end of religious and political institutions that served to create unnecessary boundaries among people.  He would command his followers to “put away their swords for he who lives by the sword dies by the sword” and turn to more constructive and life affirming pursuits. 

We live in a time and place that is very close to the Pax Romana of Jesus day.  Some observers have coined the phrase Pax Americana to describe the fact that we live in a time of world peace achieved in part as a result of the military and economic dominance of the United States of America.  How scandalous would it be for the angels to appear to us today and once again tell us that peace on earth has been achieved through the birth of a child, rather than through the military might of a nation?  That’s exactly how it happened before and we would do well to remember it today.   

Peace on earth was ushered in by child who was born in poverty and grew up to preach love and the end of religious and political institutions, including armies.