Saturday, November 29, 2008

Anglican insights on Advent

The collect for Advent Sunday

Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal, through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever. Amen.

Today begins the liturgical season of Advent. I love Advent. I think it's one of those seasons in which Anglicans can give gifts to the rest of the Body of Christ. Cranmer's collects for the Sundays are particularly wonderful, the emphasis of each Sunday in the season (from the collects and designated Scripture readings) is slightly different, and the season as a whole has a special meaning that even non-liturgical Protestants could really profit from, without in the process compromising any of their theological views.

But first I need to clear out of the way a certain rather unfortunate high church tendency, which I encountered just a bit when first being introduced to Anglicanism. This is the tendency to overemphasize the statement, "Advent is a penitential season." I have to say that to those new to Anglicanism, and even to old hands like me, such an overemphasis has all the winsomeness of the Grinch. And it's theologically misguided, too. Joy in the anticipation of Christmas isn't some sort of frivolous modern invention. There is no Good Friday at the end of Advent. However awed and hence, in a sense, solemn we may feel when thinking of meeting our Lord face to face (on which see more below), it simply is in the nature of the case a happy and exciting thing to look forward both to the festival of his first coming and to the reality of his second coming. I hate the fact that all the stores start playing Christmas carols--sometimes really awful ones--before Thanksgiving as much as anybody does. But one can hardly imagine Scrooge's nephew waiting to wish his uncle a Merry Christmas until he was sure the sun had gone down on Christmas Eve!

Now that I have that off my chest, I want to talk about the distinctive nature of Advent. Before I was familiar with the Book of Common Prayer and with the Advent hymns in the 1940 hymnal, I would have assumed that the word "Advent" was just another word for "the time before Christmas." I had no idea that it had a distinctive character as a liturgical season. Certainly, one major part of Advent is meditating on the mystery of the Incarnation. "And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us." It's a good idea to get a head start on that during these four weeks--what all Christians call "remembering the real meaning of Christmas."

The second emphasis of Advent, and I think part of the truer (and gentler) meaning of "Advent is a penitential season" is simply that we want to go into the celebration of the Nativity of Our Lord with, as the Prayer Book says, "a conscience void of offense toward God and man." When you are going to have a party, you clean your house. The Apostle Paul tells us to let no root of bitterness spring up among us, and the Lord Jesus Christ tells us to forgive if we would be forgiven. Advent is a good time to get all our ducks in a row as far as our relationship with God and men. If we have been nurturing a sin, we should root it out. If we have grudges, we should toss them. That way, Christmas can come to us with great joy, without our having reservations. As the carol says, "Let every heart prepare him room."

The third emphasis of Advent, and the one that takes non-liturgical Christians the most by surprise, is the emphasis on Jesus' second coming. That's why the season is called what it's called--"Advent," meaning "coming," referring to both comings of Christ. You can see the emphasis in the wonderful collect given above. The Apostle John explicitly says that we should abide in Jesus so that when he appears we will not be ashamed before him at his coming. I've encountered a surprising amount of resistance to the plain sense of this verse among some evangelicals. But you really can't get away from it. It says in so many words that it is possible for us to be ashamed when Jesus comes. What exactly is going to happen then, Scripture doesn't tell us. But it's pretty clear that John is saying we don't want to be in that position. Here, I really think that there can be a rapprochement between Anglicans and "lower" Protestants. The Baptist tradition in which I was raised placed tremendous emphasis upon the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. And Jesus himself did the same, constantly telling his disciples to be ready. Parable after parable makes the point. Now, here is a season of twenty-four days or so in which we are supposed to meditate on that. I found this rather exciting when I first became an Anglican--a sort of point of intersection between one tradition and another.

The last thing I want to discuss is not a separate significance of Advent but just simply the existence of Advent hymns. I never had any idea before I became an Anglican that there were Advent hymns as opposed to Christmas carols. Very few of the hymns for Advent in the Anglican hymnal occur in Baptist hymnals, though some of them do. But one that everyone knows (though it has a different rhythm as Baptists sing it) is "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel." But everyone thinks it is a Christmas carol. If you think about it, though, you realize that it is very different from, say, "Joy to the World." A Christmas carol is saying that Jesus has come. An Advent carol is saying "Maranatha"--Even so come, Lord Jesus! And that is, of course, part of what "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" is doing. It's also mingling the first and second comings by mentally putting us in the place of people before Jesus' first coming--"Make straight the way that leads on high/And close the path to misery." It mentally recreates that longing for deliverance and redemption which is the very spirit of Advent.

There are many other absolutely wonderful Advent hymns that should be more widely known and sung in all churches, hymns that all "mere Christians" can sing without reservation. Here's one: "The King Shall Come When Morning Dawns." (This page has multiple tunes. I like the seond of them, an American tune known as "Morning Song.") Note the repeated contrast between the first and second comings and the emphasis on light and the rising of the sun.

The King shall come when morning dawns
and light triumphant breaks;
when beauty gilds the eastern hills
and life to joy awakes.

Not, as of old, a little child,
to bear and fight and die,
but crowned with glory like the sun
that lights the morning sky.

The King shall come when morning dawns
and earth's dark night is past;
O haste the rising of that morn,
the day that e'er shall last;

And let the endless bliss begin,
by weary saints foretold,
when right shall triumph over wrong,
and truth shall be extolled.

The King shall come when morning dawns
and light and beauty brings:
Hail, Christ the Lord! Thy people pray,
come quickly, King of kings.

And then there is one of my personal favorites, the glorious hymn "O Very God of Very God," about which I have written here.

I hope to keep up blogging about the liturgical season each week during Advent. That's a hope, not a promise. But I encourage anyone who is not familiar with either the Prayer Book collects or the hymns to consider using them and consider celebrating Advent in a special way as distinct from Christmas. It will enrich your Christian walk.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

ALMIGHTY God, Father of all mercies, we thine unworthy servants do give thee most humble and hearty thanks for all thy goodness and loving-kindness to us, and to all men; We bless thee for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all, for thine inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory. And, we beseech thee, give us that due sense of all thy mercies, that our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful, and that we shew forth thy praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives; by giving up ourselves to thy service, and by walking before thee in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom with thee and the Holy Ghost be all honour and glory, world without end. Amen.

(Photo credit: Eldest Daughter)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Pseudo-capitalism and pseudo-hunting

Over on What's Wrong with the World, we've had another thread about the bailout. I've come out firmly on the side of government's not bailing companies out and not insuring everybody and his uncle. My basic position is that we only think that government can fix these things, whereas in fact the attempt to have the government make wealth out of nothing to save people from the consequences of their actions only makes the bubbles bigger and the falls harder in the long run. I suppose occasionally we might get away with doing stupid things, but you keep doing stupid things long enough, expecting Uncle Midas Sam to create gold out of lead and save you every time, and eventually it catches up with you. Basic Austrian economics stuff, which I gather appears totally crazy to most people. (And which I realize, if applied, would cause a lot of pain to innocent people as well as careless ones, simply because our present economy has been built on a bubble of national debt and empty government promises, and it would be highly unpleasant to admit that to ourselves now rather than pushing it off onto future generations, forcing them to admit it after the illusion is bigger still.)

Anyway, among other things, some of our commentators (and at least one of my fellow contributors) at W4 want to blame the financial crisis on "unregulated capitalism"--that is, the risky derivatives market that is crashing down. Scorn is heaped on what seems to me the perfectly reasonable point about the push to lend to those who are not credit-worthy and the way this spread into the mortgage market and the economy as a whole. But beyond that, no attempt is made on the part of those who say this is the fault of capitalism to factor in the perverse incentive of the expectation of bailout. Sure, people are greedy. And they may do unsustainable and economically foolish things, hoping to get personally rich, if they think they can get away with them because the government will catch them when they fall if their shenanigans get so big and complicated that their fall would harm lots of innocent people. Basically, it's holding the nation hostage for a bailout. Nice. Very human. But not capitalism, by a long shot. In this context, I typed the following comment, with which I'm very pleased, but for which I haven't quite gotten the standing ovation I was hoping. So here it is, for my small and discerning reading audience here at the ol' personal blog:

It hardly seems reasonable to call it "capitalism" when financiers do crazy, unsustainable things having the "too big to fail" idea in the back of their minds. One of the whole points of capitalism as I have always understood it is precisely that it takes advantage of the hard facts of cause and effect rather than trying to make consequences go away. Bailouts negate the entire real-world, reality-check idea that is absolutely fundamental to capitalism. Calling speculative, unsound money transactions undertaken with the assumption that the government will borrow money and get you out of the soup if things go wrong "capitalism" sounds to me like saying that Junior is "hunting" if he goes out, shoots wildly at trees, shoots himself in the foot, Dad pays the medical bills, and finally a dead 10-point buck that somebody else shot is delivered to the front door with "Junior's deer" on a tag attached to its antlers.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Biblical arguments against suicide

Suppose you were confronted with a Christian, a self-styled fundamentalist, who told you that he does not think suicide is wrong or that he thinks suicide may not be wrong. You know that this person will not accept any pure natural law arguments but only arguments directly from the Bible. What argument could you make?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Soul-losing risk-taking

Over at W4 I've put up a post on the subject of how kids lose their Christian faith in college. Actually, I'm looking for information more than giving it. One theme that comes up again and again in the responses is the theme of the entire atmosphere of a secular college and how the Christian student feels immersed in it, feels lonely as a Christian, perhaps wants to try out some of the hedonistic experimenting his peers are trying, and is therefore almost looking for excuses to throw out his Christianity.

This leads me to wonder seriously about parents who deliberately send their children to live on the campus of a secular university. Nowadays, we have all heard the horror stories about the brain-washing PC residence hall sessions. But even aside from that, as one commentator put it,
It takes a lot of personal fortitude to hold onto what you believe in when everyone around you operates entirely on the presumption that it doesn't even exist. You have to be able to go home at night and think about it, you have to be able to drag yourself out early in the morning and go to church, you have to be able to say "eh, not this time" when good clean fun goes bad.
Right. So surely living in the dorms must make this effect particularly strong. Or so it would seem to me. I mean, what if there is no "home" to go to in order to get away from the atmosphere and think about it?

So I was thinking over reasons why parents and children agree to do this. These seem to me to include things like this: 1) The assumption that going away and living in dorms at college is a necessary part of growing up, an absolute rite of passage that it would be cruel to have your kids miss out on. 2) The worry that sending your child to a Christian college will not get him a good enough education and/or will not allow him to get a job. 3) The worry that sending your child to a local college, so that he can live at home, will not get him a good enough name on his transcript to allow him to get a job. 4) (Related to 3.) The assumption that, despite post-modernism and the death of the academy, there is enough objective difference in quality across disciplines between a more "elite" secular school and a secular school that no one has ever heard of that your child really will get a good education at the former and not at the latter and that you therefore have a duty to send your child away from home to go to the former.

I certainly understand that parents agonize over such decisions, and I don't want to sound harsh. But there is that whole thing in the Gospels about gaining the whole world and losing your own soul. This is not meant as an advertisement for Christian colleges. Christian colleges often have their unique problems, some of which arise from the fact that young people and parents go in trusting them and are therefore particularly vulnerable to faith-attacking professors and trendy movements (like the Emergent Church movement, for example). But I would say this: Question all of 1-4 if you have a decision of this kind to make. And try to do something other than sending your children away to be immersed in the "college experience" of a secular college. For what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?

Monday, November 10, 2008

A little pick-me-up to make you feel Glad

I don't know what it's like where you are, but around here there's a scurry of snow. It's cold, gloomy, and getting dark early in the evenings. I, for one, find it hard to keep the happy feelings that the eye-hurting blue skies of last week brought with them.

I found this video when I watched "Just As I Am," which you'll find in the post below. I'm told it was one of Keith Green's greatest hits, but now I've seen both versions and like Glad's better. This should make you smile, if you don't dislike Christian contemporary music circa 1980 on principal. It's upbeat, high quality musically, and fun. Enjoy.

And the Imeem version:

You Put This Love In My Heart - Glad

Saturday, November 08, 2008

A couple of great songs

As I am still working on the proofs (though I see the light at the end of the tunnel), I give you a couple of wonderful musical clips in place of anything more profound. First, "Just As I Am" by Glad, courtesy of Eldest Daughter. Does anyone know if Glad writes its own tunes? This has a sound of an Irish folk tune to me, very much, but I think it is probably original with them. We sing this at Communion at my church. (Not like Glad does it, though!)

Then, via Dawn Eden, here is "Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet." See Dawn's post for the story behind this one.

Update: The video I have embedded of "Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet" appears to have been taken down from Youtube. Unfortunately, the only other Youtube I've been able to find that gives that same version of the song has a fairly weird artsy video to go with it, and I don't want to link it. But the story at Dawn's blog is interesting nonetheless.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Punishments for copy editors

I am correcting page proofs for our 69-page resurrection article (cum additional pages for the bibliography). I am seeking reader input on the following question: What punishment should be reserved in Dante's hades for copy editors who...

--occasionally add commas that make one's sentences mean something different (and silly)?

--don't know that the proper possessive meaning "belonging to Jesus" is "Jesus'"?

--replace the written number "three" in the phrase "after three days" (referring to Jesus' resurrection) with the numeral 3, making it look ridiculous ("after 3 days")?

--replace, uniformly, all one's uses of the word "though" with "although," throughout a 69-page article, apparently using a robotic find and replace function, and without one's knowledge or consent?

--take out the word "to" in the phrase "stands in a relation to," which changes the meaning of the sentence so that it does not make sense?


Okay, that's enough. I can't bear to keep listing them. And I'm going to have to induce the publishers to change all this stuff back. I've gotten this far in life with relatively few grey hairs. I expect to have a few more after the next couple of weeks.