Tag Archives: the incarnation

Advent and Life: God Loves the Real World


O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer
our spirits by thine advent here;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
and death’s dark shadows put to flight.

(From O Come O Come Emmanuel) 

Today is the fist Sunday of what we in the liturgical Christian world know as the season of Advent.

Advent is the beginning of the liturgical year, in a sense the opening day of a new season of faith, as much as the Opening Day is in Baseball. It is a season of new beginnings, of hope looking forward and looking back. It is a season of intense realism. It is a season where the people of God look forward to their deliverance even as they remember the time when God entered into humanity.  It was not simply entering the human condition as a divine and powerful being inflicting his will upon people but deciding to become subject to the same conditions know by humanity. As Paul the Apostle, wrote about him: “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,  but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death– even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5b-8) 

In the incarnation Jesus Christ shows his love and solidarity with people, humanity, the creation, reality. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:

“God loves human beings. God loves the world. Not an ideal human, but human beings as they are; not an ideal world, but the real world. What we find repulsive in their opposition to God, what we shrink back from with pain and hostility, namely, real human beings, the real world, this is for God the ground of unfathomable love.” 

That simple fact is why Christ came.

He didn’t come to found a government. He did not come to exemplify “Christian” virtues or to condemn people that religious people condemned as sinners.

The meaning of the incarnation, and the hope of the season of Advent is that God loves people, even those that some that presume to be his spokesmen and women despise.

In the next few week there will be much written and said about Jesus. Much of it will not actually deal with Jesus or the people that he came to save but instead about the worldly power and influence of those who seek the profits of being “prophets.” Some of them will talk fervently about the “war on Christmas” as if somehow God and Christ are so small that they need government sponsored displays in the public square in order to be real, relevant or or for that matter important. What a small God they must have.

Somehow the message of Advent, the coming of Jesus is contradictory to the message of the for profit prophets. Certainly the early Christians had no government backing of any kind. They simply lived the life and showed God’s love to their neighbors, often at the cost of their lives and paradoxically the message was not crushed, but spread and overcame an empire. It was only when they became co-executors of government power that the message of reconciliation became a bludgeon to be used against those who did not agree with the theology of the clerics beholden to the Empire.

The Christ of the Season of Advent, the one who came and who promises to come again is not captive to the capricious message of the for profit prophets and their political and media allies. I would dare say that God is much bigger than them or those that they believe will somehow end the Christian faith as we know it. But then maybe the Christian faith “as we know it” is more a reflection of us and our need for temporal physical power over others than it is of Jesus.

All I know is that the simplicity of the message that “for God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son” is more powerful than any political-religious alliance. Likewise the two things that Jesus said to do in order to “inherit the Kingdom of God” were to “Love God with all your heart and love our neighbors as ourselves,” and similarly the words of the old Testament minor prophet Micah, who asked “what does the Lord require of thee? To love show justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with thy God.” But then there is not much money or political power in that is there?

But despite the inconvenience of a direct temporal profit or power which is so central to most churches, I do think that the message that God loves the real world is worth repeating. In fact I think that because the message of God’s great love for those deemed “repulsive” is so distasteful to the “for profit prophets” of our time that it is not only worth repeating, but actually believing.

It is a good reason for me to during this season of Advent to look forward to our celebration of the mystery of the Incarnation, the coming of the God who “emptied himself” and took “the form of a slave” in order to save his people.


Padre Steve+


Filed under christian life, faith, Pastoral Care, Religion

Advent and Incarnation: Merry Christmas!

“It might be easy to run away to a monastery, away from the commercialization, the hectic hustle, the demanding family responsibilities of Christmas-time. Then we would have a holy Christmas. But we would forget the lesson of the Incarnation, of the enfleshing of God—the lesson that we who are followers of Jesus do not run from the secular; rather we try to transform it. It is our mission to make holy the secular aspects of Christmas just as the early Christians baptized the Christmas tree. And we do this by being holy people—kind, patient, generous, loving, laughing people—no matter how maddening is the Christmas rush…” Andrew Greeley

I really do love the seasons of Advent and Christmas.  This year it has been so busy that Advent has gone by way too fast. Advent which begins four Sundays before Christmas is the season of preparation, it is the season for the Christian of the promise of Christ, his coming in the flesh or “Incarnation” being born of Mary and also his coming at the consummation when as the Creed says “He shall come again….”

Advent is a time which has pretty much been stomped all over by the religion of commercialism and its high holy day of Black Friday which falls the Friday before Advent begins.  However it is really important if one wants to comprehend the full religious significance of Christmas.  It helps the Christian place Christmas in its appropriate context, not as “Jesus’ Birthday party” where we wear a little button that says “Happy Birthday Jesus” but that day where God became human as Paul wrote so eloquently:

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.” (Gal. 4:4-7) 

In the fullness of time…Advent helps point us to that time when God humbled himself to become a human being.  It is the time where in an ideal world we would slow down just a bit and begin to prepare ourselves for his coming. However our culture often with the blessing of Christians and the Church has eliminated that time of reflection.  It is a time where God not only makes us his children but his brothers and sisters and I think even more importantly friends.

Advent as a season is a period of patient expectation, a season of hope in the midst of despair. It is the message that God still cares and that what we wait for is not far off, the nativity of Emmanuel, God with us which is expressed so well in my favorite hymn of the season O Come O Come Emmanuel 

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

The Irish singer Enya has a wonderful version of this song which I have placed the link here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DPHh3nMMu-I&feature=share

German pastor, theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote from prison in 1943

that “A prison cell like this is a good analogy for Advent: one waits, hopes, does this or that—ultimately negligible things—the door is locked and can only be opened from the outside.”

This year has been like brutal prison for many people and nations in the world. Wars, natural disasters, economic problems and political instability have caused much suffering.  Man’s inhumanity to man has been demonstrated time and time again by terrorists, criminals and repressive governments.  Our lack of control over nature as was shown in Fukishima Japan when a massive Earthquake and Tsunami destroyed cities and a nuclear power plant killing thousands.  At the same time we have seen the best people rising to meet disaster and persecution, poverty and unrest with courage, faith and mercy motivated by love in the face of death.  In spite of all, love still triumphs.

The Advent season which is now drawing to an end leads us to the hope of the God who chooses to be with us.  Tomorrow evening we celebrate when “the Word was made flesh and we beheld his glory.” It is a time when the world is reminded even in the most secular ways that God choses to be with us in the babe born in a dingy stable in a town that few cared about.  In that humble beginning God draws near to us and his creation.

It is a time to rejoice for Jesus the Christ is born.

Merry Christmas,

Padre Steve+

1 Comment

Filed under christian life, faith, Religion

All I want for Christmas is Christmas and Our Country Back not another Political Debate

I don’t know about you but apart from the bad political theater I wish that it was like December 2012 so I could celebrate Christmas in peace, except that if it were I would miss a full baseball season.  I mean really all of our politicians seem to come from the same shallow and insipid gene pool, it’s like political inbreeding on a grand scale, even the outsiders are insiders and the insiders are so out there that it makes one want do the Linda Blair 360 or be sent back to the Dilithium mines on Rura Penthe.  Regardless the show is about the quality of an atrocious reality TV show and I’m already tired of it. The sad thing is this reality TV cast is trying to become President of the the United States and they are sucking the life out of everyone listening and stomping all over the Christmas season.  But there are just over two months before Spring Training begins so I think I can outlast them.

I feel that the political campaign season is infringing on the the great capitalistic venture that we have made Christmas but I don’t feel very that holiday spirit this year.

Now please know it is not a matter of faith or lack thereof I just don’t feel very christmassy this year.  The sad thing is I really do like Christmas and not just the part about Jesus which thankfully I still treasure.  I feel like Charlie Brown this year only instead of just the commercialization of Christmas I feel that the politicians, pundits and preachers are doing their best to make it less merry. I mean the whole lot of them. Religious and secular Atheist and God Fearing alike they seem to have turned Christmas into a political battleground that even makes the commercialization of the holiday look positively benign.

Amid all the business and the incessant drone of the politicians, pundits and preachers who have managed by their ineptitude and unwillingness to work together for the nation I still hope to find something to celebrate.  I think I will but it won’t be from any of those that are killing the season.  Frankly I am offended that political hacks have pushed the opening primaries to nearly the first of the year turning a time that used to be somewhat reflective into a self destructive and bitter political season.  We have budget and tax impasses in Congress and a bitter primary campaign that is and will trample both Hanukah and Christmas and probably even ruin the Winter Solstice for the Pagans.  There is something unholy and vile about what is happening this year, there has been no pause for reflection by our leaders, no attempts at reconciliation and certainly no good will on Capitol Hill.

Frankly I find the whole political and social atmosphere this year to be repugnant and I have nothing against Pugs. People popping pepper spray on the faces of competing shoppers on the high Holy Day of Black Friday, people walking over a dying man to continue shopping in a Target.  That is bad enough but really we do have a choice about when we start our primary season. This year had not a tiny shred of common sense prevailed had a primary or Caucus on December 27th.  Instead the first are a mere three weeks from today.

I just wonder why the rush and why the political hacks and their backers have insisted on moving everything forward on the calendar.  But then I answer myself. The fact is that they cannot help it.  They have to be the center of attention for as long as possible. Dragging the primary campaign season forward means that the rest of us have to pay attention to them. They have created the perfect poisonous self licking ice creme cone.  Power and money feed the bold narcissism of everyone in the beast of the belly of the machine. They cannot get enough.

However our politicians pundits and woebegone preachers, that unholy trinity that afflicts our nation have forgotten that old adage that “familiarity breeds contempt.”  We have become so familiar with all of the Candidates to include the President that many people can no longer stand any of them.  All the polls say that, they may support a candidate but this is no love fest between any candidate and the voters.

What I would like to see the next two weeks is for the whole bunch of our leaders, pundits and preachers to chill out, go out to a dud ranch in Montana and have a two week holiday party, get drunk, smoke some dope have a few good natured bar fights, watch football games together, sing around the campfire.  Hell maybe they can sleep together and do all the things that they tell us that we shouldn’t do, put pictures of Pelosi in bed with Eric Cantor on Facebook and You Tube and get it all out of their systems.  No debates just joyous holiday debauchery and when they come back rested refreshed and with some much incriminating information on themselves that they will all have to be good in order not to create a total meltdown of their exalted position in life and maybe start working for the rest of us.  Some would say that they all should go pray together but they wouldn’t get past the issue of who gets to be in charge. Maybe a few hearty souls of faith will pray during that time for something other than their reelection.

But in the mean time all I want for Christmas this year is Christmas. The truly sad think is that Christmas meant more when I was in Iraq.  That I do miss,  celebrating the holy mysteries of the Eucharist on Christmas Eve, Day and night with tiny groups of Americans and even a few Iraqi Christian interpreters. For me and other Christians a time where we try to take a portion of the year to remember the Advent of Jesus, that tiny manger where in our tradition God became incarnate in a baby who was called Emanuel, God with us, the Prince of Peace, the Savior of the World.  The one who comes humbly not with the swagger or polish of our modern politicians, pundits and preachers who like to use him as a campaign prop  or show segment.

Yes my Christmas will have Jesus at the center but I do plan to have some of there less relies Christmas cheer. Time with Judy and our Dog Molly, friends in the area on contact with those that we have known for the years.  I will remember and celebrate the humbly first nativity, I will reflect on the Second Coming and the times that he comes to us in the little daily things of life. The things that happen because we live in what Bonhoeffer called “the uncomfortable middle.”

I am really offended by the political hacks that have driven us to this point.  But God loves them too so I reckon that I best pray for them and that as not sarcasm.  .

I feel better already.  Thanks be to God.


Padre Steve

1 Comment

Filed under christian life, faith, Loose thoughts and musings, philosophy, Political Commentary, Religion

The Advent of Early Onset Holiday Commercialization Syndrome 2011

I hate to sound like a Grinch or Scrooge type of killjoy but here on November 20th I am bothered by an attack of Early Onset Holiday Commercialization Syndrome (EOHCS). EOHCS is not yet recognized as a Disorder in the DSM IV I have to wing it here but I think that the average person probably realizes that this condition is epidemic in our society.  Since I tend to avoid malls and the big retail outlets in general I can usually avoid attacks of EOHCS mostly by ignoring the incessant “Christmas” or holiday commercials of which car commercials seem to be the most offensive this year.  However I do  have to go out in public sometimes and on those occasions must do all that I can to stay sane as EOHCS seems to come earlier than it ever did.

I had to go get groceries this afternoon and went to a “Wal-Mart Super Center” in Morehead City because they carry a particular brand of pita bread that I cannot get at any of the grocery stores in my local area.  Now I expect that when I go to any retailer after Labor Day to find Christmas specials and an encroachment of Christmas paraphernalia and gifts with each passing week.  That is a given in our consumer driven society and whether I like it or not it is a fact of life and I am not going to change it.  However I just wanted groceries and not the full on Christmas press.  Now to be sure I only go to Wal-Mart when necessary because frankly the place sets off almost every alarm in my post PTSD mind and body.  When I go my goal is to get in and out as soon as possible and avoid any crowds, congested areas and noise.  Thus I will usually go late at night as if I were a stealth commando, but today I needed to go early to get it done.

Of course the store was littered with pre-Black Friday specials and had aisles of candies, cakes, toys, and trimmings. I felt like the Grinch walking through Whoville without the sweet ambiance of that cartoon town.  As I went made my foray into the store, knowing exactly what I needed and where to find it I was assaulted by and overwhelmed with the sound of Christmas music which was louder and more obnoxious than usual. I think the most annoying of the songs I heard today was “Rocking around the Christmas Tree” sung by Brenda Lee which seems to repeated about every 15 minutes during the holiday season.  I find her voice particularly grating and about as soothing as Pee Wee Herman scratching his nails scratching on a chalkboard when I am out shopping.  Now this song is simply annoying but when I hear songs that are meant for worship of the Lord being used as a means to condition us to buy things I get offended.  Thus when I hear “Silent Night” sandwiched between advertisements on November 20th in a store I want to scream, not that there is anything wrong with that; the screaming that is.

Now I like Christmas music, so long as it is actually somewhat close to Christmas even even the non-religious songs of which Grandma Got Run over By a Reindeer is my all time favorite, but I digress.  Since liturgically speaking it isn’t even Advent yet I find such a bombardment of secular and sacred Christmas songs while grocery shopping to be offensive to my somewhat liturgically correct sensibilities.  That may seem harsh but the musical assault at Wal-Mart only increased my desire to finish shopping and get the hell out of the store as fast as my cart would carry my food.  It did not induce me to hang around to see if I wanted to spend extra money on stuff that I probably don’t need.

And we wonder while there is little sense of the Holy in our society.  The fact is that somehow we have allowed our culture to devolve to the point that we utilize actions and holidays meant to point us in the direction of the Holy and use them to satisfy our most base desires. The Holy is subordinated to the profit margins of retailers who make their money satiating our desires for the newest and greatest stuff that we can get our hands on.

I am not against people getting nice things at all or giving gifts in abundance to their loved ones or even for themselves.  I like nice stuff too and I love the celebration of Christmas in its spiritual as well as cultural derivatives.  I like Christmas trees and decorations and the festiveness of Christmas especially with friends enjoying each other and a good glass of hot Gluhwein.

I guess I think that when we turn Christmas into a months long pursuit of profits and stuff that it really cheapens and degrades the holiday, even for people that are not Christians. Really, Black Friday is the real holy day in our consumer society and what gets more push back, a store being open briefly on Christmas or Black Friday sales encroaching on Thanksgiving?

Even allegedly “Christian” retailers take advantage of the holiday even selling trinkets that say “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” or “What Would Jesus Do?” at a healthy profit.  Again I am not against people making a profit from their labors people should be compensated well for work well done. But the fact that most Jesus junk like almost everything else is now made in China or Third World countries by workers that are all but slaves doesn’t seem to enter into the equation for jesus is the reason for the season“Christian” retailers and even ministries; just as it doesn’t for everyone else seeking to make a profit off the baby born in the manger.

How sad that as a culture we have reduced the celebration of God humbly entering into the human experience to a celebration of crass economic Darwinism much more in tune with Ayn Rand than Jesus.  Paul writes in Philippians though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness….” Somehow that concept seems lost in our culture.

Oh well, what can I say?  Maybe I am a Grinch after all or maybe I can get counseling for Early Onset Holiday Commercialization Syndrome.


Padre Steve+

1 Comment

Filed under christian life, economics and financial policy, faith

A Melancholy Christmas Eve 2010

Ever since I returned from Iraq in 2008 Christmas has become a much more melancholy season for me. I love the Advent and Christmas season where we celebrate the mystery of the Incarnation when God condescended to be born of a woman in the fullness of time.  For me I have always found Christmas to be the most important part of the liturgical year because as I see it you don’t get to the Resurrection of Christ at Easter unless you start with the Incarnation where God becomes vulnerable. The Triune God becomes vulnerable because he elects to become incarnate by sending Jesus who comes to us in the weakness of a baby born in a time of persecution to a young mother and father. For me it was always Christ’s coming that was the great mystery of faith.

No it still is but the observance for me has shifted in focus and not due to any doctrinal changes in my life, but because of war and the cumulative effect of seeing too many young men and women die at a young age.  The effect of seeing devastated cities and towns and maimed children.  The effect of images of wounded Marines at TQ Surgical, burned, bleeding and not knowing if they lived or died after they left us sometimes haunts my attempts to sleep.

Thursday we said goodbye to yet another young sailor who died far too young, a sailor who was loved and appreciated by his shipmates and who had accomplished much during his life. I had met the young man a couple of times since reporting on board in late October and from everything that I had heard and seen he was a man that lived life and accomplished much in his all too short life here on Earth.

War has made me much more reflective and a bit melancholy at Christmas.  Three years ago I was bouncing around the western deserts of Iraq visiting advisors in isolated places and celebrating Christmas with them even while going out with them on missions. I have to say that I miss that camaraderie. In the years after I struggled with faith itself becoming for all purposes an agnostic struggling desperately to discover God again.  This year I can say that faith has returned but at the same time my heart goes out to my friends and comrades that are deployed in harm’s way, those that near the scars of war and those that have paid the ultimate price. When I see the grieving mother of one of these men or women at a memorial service it reminds me of the price paid by so many.

This is also my first Christmas without my dad. I know that last year he was suffering with Alzheimer’s and did not recognize me in November of 2009 when I last saw him alive but when I addressed my mother’s Christmas Card his death was fresh again as for the first time I addressed a Christmas card to her alone.

Last night was difficult, I slept little. I am glad to be home with Judy. We opened our presents and watched in amusement as our little dog Molly went through her Christmas ritual of unwrapping her presents. In the morning we shall celebrate a Christmas Day Mass at home as we are both rather tired and we shall wait for the snow that the weather guessers say is coming.

Yes for me this Christmas is a bit melancholy but not without faith or hope. Someday the wars will be over and men shall beat their swords into plowshares and we will know the Prince of Peace.

Merry Christmas my friends and I pray that the coming year be filled with joy.


Padre Steve+



Filed under Loose thoughts and musings