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New Horizons

December, 2007: The Birth of Christ

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Fear Not: A Meditation on Luke 2:8-14

In many ways, I envy those who grew up in faithful churches, but I think I have one advantage over them. By virtue of having been exposed to the worst sermons imaginable from liberal ministers, I have an appreciation for the preached Word that my more advantaged brethren do not have. If one expects a pastor to exposit Scripture faithfully, one can afford to be critical of the manner in which he handles the text. But if one is pleasantly surprised when there is actually a text for the sermon, one tends to be perpetually grateful for the dullest of homilies.

This is why I love Christmas Eve services: traditionally, they do not include a sermon. Consisting of set readings and hymns, the service cannot be bent to man's whims because it includes only the Bible and the most orthodox songs in Christendom. At least, this was the case during my childhood, when the ministers were older than my father and took seriously their obligation to carry on the church's traditions, no matter what their own theological proclivities were. But in my late teens, the ministers became younger than my father and lacked their predecessors' sobriety. The nadir of all Christmas Eve services for me came when members of the youth group, instead of reading Scripture, read from a "novelization" of the Bible, and the homily was a lame imitation of Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion monologues. Sadly, it lacked even what spiritual insight one might hope to find on National Public Radio. Read more

Christ's Miraculous Birth

While some doctrines are known almost exclusively by the faithful, others have broken through the confines of the church and taken root in the popular mind. The miraculous birth of Jesus is such a tenet. A 2003 Harris poll found that not only do 79 percent of all Americans believe this doctrine, but so do 27 percent of those who identify themselves as non-Christians. This is a popular doctrine indeed.

What accounts for this? No doubt part of this popularity rests on the annual retelling of Christ's birth in virtually every imaginable format from the simple gospel reading around the family hearth to the extravagant productions of popular culture. (New Line Cinema spent $65 million to make and market The Nativity Story last year.)[1] Apparently believers and unbelievers alike are ever moved in contemplating the singular event of God entering humanity by being born of a woman. Read more

The Glory and Empire of Christ

The sixteenth-century political theorist Niccolò Machiavelli turned the world upside down when he introduced the notion that man, through an astute understanding of his world, could rise above the vicissitudes of life and actually overcome fortune.

In chapter 25 of The Prince, the infamous author states that though people had previously thought that fortune and God govern the affairs of men, it is rather that fortune governs half and men the other half. (Machiavelli was no Calvinist.) In saying this, he implicitly identifies God with mere fortune. As his argument continues, he reduces the role of fortune to those circumstances in which men have not taken prudent measures to resist her. When "wise" princes heed this advice, they secure their power and glory. Machiavelli was not the first to think like this, but he was the first to state these principles openly and shamelessly with a view to making them respectable. Read more

Helps for Worship #24: The Frequency of the Lord's Supper

"And they continued steadfastly in ... the breaking of bread." (Acts 2:42)

As a result of the Protestant Reformation, worship was "reformed" according to the Scriptures. In the process, the sacrament of the Lord's Supper (which could too easily be confused with "the Mass") was separated from regular worship and celebrated less frequently. In some Protestant churches, the Lord's Supper was observed only once a year! The Lord's Supper then became a "special" event in the life of the church. In the Presbyterian tradition, "communion seasons" developed. Read more

Off to College

Dear James,

It is with avuncular pride and a sense of middle age that I write to you as you embark upon your college education. You learned to call me "uncle" when you were a small child. It seemed artificial, but also reflected my friendship with your father, a friendship that extends back to college and through almost two decades of service on our session. During that time, I have come to think of you as if you were literally kin. Read more

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