Punchline

Today’s fascinating Christmas quote is from C. S. Lewis.  This is an excellent explanation of a word we barely understand:  “Begotten.”  It’s a lengthy quote but brilliant; stay with it to the end:  there’s a punchline worth seeing.

Begetting and Making

One of the creeds says that Christ is the Son of God “begotten not created”; and it adds “begotten by his Father before all worlds.” …We are not now thinking about the Virgin Birth.  We are thinking about something that happened before nature was created at all, before time began.  “Before all worlds” Christ is begotten, not created.  What does it mean?

We don’t use the words begetting or begotten much in modern English, but everyone still knows what they mean.  To beget is to become the father of:  to create is to make.  And the difference is this.  When you beget, you beget something of the same kind as yourself.  A man begets human babies, a beaver begets little beavers, and a bird begets eggs which turn into little birds.  But when you make, you make something of a different kind from yourself.  A bird makes a nest, a beaver builds a dam, a man makes a wireless set—or he may make something more like himself than a wireless set:  say, a statue.  If he is a clever enough carver, he may make a statue which is very like a man indeed. But, of course, it is not a real man; it only looks like one.  It cannot breathe or think.  It is not alive.

Now that is the first thing to get clear.  What God begets is God; just as what man begets is man.  What God creates is not God; just as what man makes is not man. That is why men are not Sons of God in the sense that Christ is.  They may be like God in certain ways, but they are not things of the same kind. They are more like statues or pictures of God.

A statue has the shape of a man but is not alive.  In the same way, man has (in a sense I am going to explain) the “shape” or likeness of God, but he has not got the kind of life God has.  Let us take the first point (man’s resemblance to God) first. Everything God has made has some likeness to Himself.  Space is like Him in its hugeness:  not that the greatness of space is the same kind of greatness as God’s but it is a sort of symbol of it, or a translation of it into nonspiritual terms.  Matter is like God in having energy; though, again, of course, physical energy is a different kind of thing from the power of God.  The vegetable world is like Him because it is alive, and He is the “living God.”  But life, in this biological sense, is not the same as the life there is in God:  it is only a kind of symbol or shadow of it.  When we come  to animals, we find other kinds of resemblance to the unceasing activity and the creativeness of God.  In the higher mammals we get the beginnings of instinctive affection. That is not the same thing as the love that exists in God:  but it is like it—rather in the way that a picture drawn on a flat piece of paper can nevertheless be “like” a landscape.  When we come to man, the highest of the animals, we get the completest resemblance to God which we know of.  (There may be creatures in other worlds who are ore like God than man is, but we do not know about them).  Man not only lives, but loves and reasons:  biological life reaches its highest known level in him.

But what man, in his natural condition, has not got, is Spiritual life—the higher and different sort of life that exists in God.  We use the same word life for both:  but if you thought that both must therefore be the same sort of thing, that would be like thinking that the “greatness” of space and the “greatness” of God were the same sort of greatness.  In reality, the difference between Biological life and Spiritual life is so important that I am going to give them two distinct names.  The Biological sort which comes to us through Nature, and which (like everything else in Nature) is always tending to run down and decay so that it can only be kept up by incessant subsidies from Nature in the form of air, water, food, etc., is Bios.  The Spiritual life which is in God from all eternity, and which made the whole natural universe is Zoë.  Bios has, to be sure, a certain shadowy or symbolic resemblance to Zoë, but only the sort of resemblance there is between a photo and a place, or a statue and a man.  A man who changed from having Bios to having Zoë would have gone through as big a change as a statue which changed from being a carved stone to being a real man.

And that is precisely what Christianity is about. This world is a great sculptor’s shop. We are the statues and there is a rumor going round the shop that some of us are some day going to come to life. – C. S. Lewis, The Joyful Christian,

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Heart’s Desire

Newspapers can have some of the best quotes about Christmas and other holidays sometimes.  I found these amazing Christmas thoughts a year ago.  My Word of the YearJoy — is sprinkled all the way through, along with one of my words from the past.

The best part of Christmas for me is how joy burst onto the scene…The season doesn’t just ask us to think joyful thoughts, to wish compassion and kindness on our valley, to hope those who have little might be provided with enough.  The story bursts into our lives and demands some action. “Don’t just think about joy,” Christmas says, “Be joyful!”  Don’t only wish compassion and loving-kindness on our valley; embody it, spread it, give it away!”  What joy! What a blessing!  — Rev. Jimmy Bartz, St. John’s Episcopal Church, Jackson Hole Daily, 12/20/17

“This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of man in Israel,” Simeon tells Mary.  “And a sword will pierce your soul, too.” These are admittedly dark thoughts in a season of light.  Many of us come to the holidays with pierced souls…but Christmas is not about mere nostalgia, and not without its comforts.  The British author J. R. R. Tolkien – something of an expert on such things – argued that every great fairy story has a “turn” in which despair is suddenly and miraculously reversed and the heart’s desire is fulfilled.  “It denies (in the face of much evidence if you will) universal final defeat…giving a fleeting glimpse of joy, joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.”  For Tolkien, this moment “rends the very web of story,” and allows us to see something real about the universe itself.

For Christians, the nativity story is the “turn” of human events.  In a world that would not yield a bed to a pregnant woman, the miraculous reversal arrives in a manner no one expected.  All involved are ambushed by hope.  The very strangeness of the deliverance – involving angels, kings and a pregnant virgin – indicates that God alone has taken hold of the storyline. But there is a glimpse of joy beyond the walls of the world…It means that the cruel appearances of life are the lies, and that joy and grace are the deeper realities.  It means that God is with us, that God is for us, even when we feel forsaken, especially when we feel forsaken.  It means our exiled souls can find a home in Bethlehem.  – Michael Gerson, Washington Writer’s Group, 12/25/17

 

From the Outside

Today’s Christmas quotes are from Oswald Chamber’s amazing devotional, My Utmost for His Highest.  I’ve been re-reading this book and his insights truly are helpful in my faith journey.

His Birth in History. “Therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35). Jesus Christ was born into this world, not from it.  He did not emerge out of history; He came into history from the outside.  Jesus Christ is not the best human being the human race can boast of — He is a Being for whom the human race can take no credit at all.  He is not man becoming God, but God Incarnate — God coming into human flesh from outside it.  His life is the highest and the holiest entering through the most humble of doors.  Our Lord’s birth was an advent — the appearance of God in human form.

His Birth in Me.  My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you… (Gal. 4:19).

Just as our Lord came into human history from outside it, He must also come into me from outside.  Have I allowed my personal human life to become a “Bethlehem” for the Son of God?  I cannot enter the realm of the kingdom of God unless I am born again from above by a birth totally unlike physical birth.  “You must be born again” (John 3:7).  This is not a command, but a fact based on the authority of God.  The evidence of the new birth is that I yield myself so completely to God that “Christ is formed” in me.  And once “Christ is formed” in me, His nature immediately begins to work through me.

God Evident in the Flesh   This is what is made so profoundly possible for you and for me through the redemption of man by Jesus Christ.

A Real Working Barn

Michael Card is an amazing writer and musician.  I love his book, Joy in the Journey, and am happy to share several quotes from that book today.  I hope these are a blessing to you as the holiday approaches.

Christmas is the celebration of the keeping of a promise.  Faith, in the Old Testament, is defined by a person’s willingness to wait for the promises of God to come.  Faith, in the New Testament, means following the Promised One.  In that Promise One God gave to us all that He could give.

It is our family Christmas tradition to pile in the car and go to a real working barn, with horses in their stalls and a barn cat on the prowl among the hay bales.  There, together, we read the Christmas story by candlelight.  The odor and the dark seem to press in against the fragile light of our candle. The shabbiness of this setting reminds us of that other shabby place.  Jesus chooses every day to be born:  the human heart a place more filthy and cold than any stable.

As our family gathers around our faint, flickering candle to read the Christmas story, the loneliness of the stable reminds us of the loneliness of another place on a hill outside Jerusalem.  The rough trough seems almost as cruel a place as a cross.  The infant cries we hear coming from the stable seem no less desperate than his final cry, and no less forsaken.  Celebrate? You say.  Yes, most heartily, amidst the dung of the stable which is, of course, the refuse of the world.  Celebrate at the foot of that ghastly cross because it is the hope of the world.  Gather around a cattle trough and celebrate a baby born in poverty and rejected, because he is the Savior of the world!

A simple carpenter stands in the shadow of history.  People come and go.  The shepherds have seen angels.  The Magi have seen a star.  Others have heard fantastic rumors.  Some of them have come hundreds of miles.  Some have only come across the street.  The silent figure stands there watching them come and go, the weeping ones who adore and the curious ones who merely gape.  He is the gentle foster father of Jesus, a rural carpenter named Joseph.

Simplicity

The next two weeks I’m sharing Christmas quotes from my journals, and will highlight my Word of the Year–past and current words (and their derivatives)–as these words always seem to jump off the page for me.  This first quote comes from a surprising source.

We miss the spirit of Christmas if we consider the incarnation as an indistinct and doubtful, far off event unrelated to our present problems.  We miss the purpose of Christ’s birth if we do not accept it as a living link which joins us together in spirit as children of the ever living and true God.  In love alone, the love of God and the love of man will be found the solution of all ills which afflict the world today.  Slowly, sometimes painfully, but always with increasing purpose emerges the great message of Christianity:  only with wisdom comes joy, and with greatness comes love.  — Harry S. Truman

There are many of you in this congregation who think to themselves, “If only I had been there!  How quick I would have been to help the baby!  I would have washed his linen.  How happy I would have been to go with the shepherds to see the Lord lying in the manager.”  … Why don’t you do it now?  You have Christ in your neighbor, you ought to serve Him, for what you do to your neighbor in need you do to the Lord Christ Himself.  — Martin Luther, quoted in Parables of Peanuts, Robert Short, pg. 198

He whom the world could not enwrap yonder lies in Mary’s lap.  — Martin Luther

The wonder of Christmas is its simplicity.  There is Mary the mother; and there is Joseph, to whom she was betrothed.  Plain and simple folks, these, even as you and I. There are the shepherds—the first Christmas congregation.  Humble folks, these, folks who lived close to the things God made—the earth the carpet for their feet, the sun and stars their coverings.  Yes, and the child, too.  Nothing here of the pomp and circumstance of life; only the simplicity of the divine.  It is the simplicity which makes Christmas wonderful.  Here may we all come, suppliant.  Not to a throne of human exaltation, but to a throne of divine simplicity.  Here may we worship recognizing in the simplicity of the Child the meaning of God’s redeeming love.  Here may we bring our joys and our sorrows; our joys will be hallowed, and our sorrows will be lightened.  Here may we receive strength for the days to come, light for the time that shall be. And the Light that shines from a humble manger is strong enough to reach to the end of our days.  Here, then, we come—the young, the old; the rich, the poor; the mighty, the servant—worshiping in the beauty of divine simplicity, marveling at its simple love.  – L. B. Cowman, Streams in the Desert

Joy is Gone

Here are the final quotes from my Word of the YearJoy.  This has been a difficult but joy-filled year for sure.  I’m so thankful for great quotes like this that spread true joy!  If you read carefully, you’ll find the quote from which the title comes, but it’s also a play on words — nearly time to choose a new word!

You have changed my sadness into a joyful dance; you have taken away my sorrow and surrounded me with joy.  — Psalm 30:11 (GNT)

Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope through the power of the Holy Ghost.  — Romans 15:13 (NIV)

Joy is the serious business of Heaven.  — C. S. Lewis, The Joyful Christian, pg. 228

Give me the strength to wait for hope — to look through the window when there are no stars.  Even when my joy is gone, give me the strength to stand victoriously in the darkest night and say, “To my Heavenly Father, the sun still shines.”  I will have reached the point of greatest strength once I have learned to wait for hope.  — L. B. Cowman quoting George Matheson, Streams in the Desert

And the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come with singing to Zion; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.  — Isaiah 51:11 (RSV)

What is the sign of a friend?  Is it that he tells you his secret sorrows?  No, it is that he tells you his secret joys.  Many people will confide their secret sorrows to you, but the final mark of intimacy is when they share their secret joys with you.  Have we ever let God tells us any of His joys?  — Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

Remove from my heart, Lord, the spirit of pride and ego.  Make me your willing servant, and give me such a song in my heart, that I may do the humblest tasks with joy.  — Ruth Youngdahl Nelson, God’s Song in My Heart, pg. 49

Only with wisdom comes joy, and with greatness comes love.  — Harry S. Truman

I bless Thee for tempering every distress with joy; too much of the former might weigh me down, too much of the latter might puff me up; Thou art wise to give me a taste of both.  — The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions, pg. 157

Oh, the joys of those who are kind to the poor!  The LORD rescues them when they are in trouble.  — Psalm 41:1 (NLT)

The flowers live by the tears that fall from the sad face of the skies; and life would have no joy at all, were there no watery eyes.  Love the sorrow, for grief will bring its own reward in later years; the rainbow!  See how fair a thing God has built up from tears.  — L. B. Cowman, Streams in the Desert

We must remember to maintain within our hearts the spirit of Sabbath calm and peace, not fussy, not anxious, nor fretful nor impetuous; refraining our feet from our own paths, our hand from our own devices, refusing to make our own joy and do our own works.  — David Roper quoting F. B. Meyer, A Man to Match the Mountains, pg. 109

Holy Father, I ask that You would draw nearer to me and that Your Holy Spirit would guide my thoughts and my ways.  I pray that I would have a deeper understanding of Your love and how Your heart — the heart of a loving Father — cares for me and for all people, equally.  I pray I would see those around me as You see them.  I pray You would give me Your heart for the poor, that I would see them as my brothers and sisters in Christ, and as co-heirs in the abundant hope and joy of Your love.  — A Compassion International prayer

Not Alone

This week I’m sharing quotes from my Word of the YearJoy!  Following are more wonderful phrases that use the word, “Joy.”  I can honestly say that this has not been an easy year; but, in truth, even when times are really difficult, there is a joy and strength deep inside that no one can displace in my life.  It’s always there, as a foundation to everything because God is faithful and present and He loves unconditionally.

The Christian joy is found in knowing that, though he must go through scenes of deepest gloom, he is not alone; there is One who has led the way.  Yes, he knows that nothing can separate him from that One, if he will keep his eyes fixed on Him; and the sorrow to be endured will only make the goal more beautiful.  — Ruth Youngdahl Nelson, God’s Son in My Heart, pg. 10

While He was blessing them, He left them and was taken up to Heaven.  So they worshiped Him and then returned to Jerusalem filled with great joy.  — Luke 24:51-52 (NIV)

At His sanctuary I will offer sacrifices with shouts of joy, singing and praising the LORD with music.  Psalm 27:6b (NLT)

Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.  The self-same well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes be filled with your tears…The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.  — Kahil Gibran

Jesus saves us not only from our sin and ourselves.  He also saves us from our ordinariness.  He transforms the drudgery of daily existence into a wonderful journey with Him…Jesus brings new meaning to everything, even the most meaningless of days.  We find joy where before there was only dullness of heart because, beyond ourselves, Jesus has come, the true bringer of joy.  Pray that your dullest tasks will be transformed with the joy of Christ. — Michael Card, Joy in the Journey

Shout to the LORD, all the earth; break out in praise to the LORD with the harp, with the harp and melodious song, with trumpets and the sound of the ram’s horn.  Make a joyful symphony before the LORD, the king!  Let the sea and everything in it shout His praise!  Let the earth and all living things join in.  Let the rivers clap their hands in glee!  Let the hills sing out their songs of joy before the LORD, for He is coming to judge the earth.  He will judge the world with justice, and the nations with fairness.  — from Psalm 98 (NLT)

I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy.  Yes, your joy will overflow!  John 15:11 (NLT)

You have given me greater joy than those who have abundant harvests of grain and new wine.  — Psalm 4:7 (NLT)

The parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) is a familiar story, and it’s important to keep the focus where it belongs:  not on the lost son, but on the father and his great joy at the repentance and return of the son.  — R. C. Sproul, What is theGreat Commission?, go, 57

Then all the people gave a great shout, praising the LORD because the foundation of the LORD’s Temple had been laid.  But many of the older priests, Levites, and other leaders who had seen the first Temple wept aloud when they saw the new Temple’s foundation.  The others, however, were shouting for joy.  The joyful shouting and weeping mingled together in a loud noise that could be heard far in the distance.  — Ezra 3:11-13 (NLT)

Joy is hard to find on ordinary days in the routine of daily life.  If real joy is to be found, it must come from the outside.  On those mystical occasions when joy comes to us from beyond, the ordinary is transformed into a vehicle for the joy.  The entire world can be transformed in a moment…the first Easter [or Christmas] began as an ordinary day.  Jesus chose an ordinary day to transform the world and give us the chance to know joy.  — Michael Card, Joy in the Journey