Time is being stretched in the gospel narrative. With several
allusions to the wise men, we look forward to next Sunday’s celebration
of Epiphany. With the several allusions to the Exodus we also look back
to the Israelites held in bondage in Egypt. With the future, the
present and the past seemingly all at hand, how do we draw out for our
congregations a message from the manger?
Though the liturgical calendar reminds us that it is Christmastide, a lovely 12-day season extending to Epiphany in January, you cannot live in this culture without experiencing how the air is let out of the holiday balloon on December 26. The Magi may not arrive in Bethlehem until January 6, but the culture abruptly drops the whole matter practically before Christmas Day is over.
One of the books I pull from the shelf each Advent is A Sprig of Holly, a collection of Advent and Christmas columns written for the Christian Century a generation ago by Halford Luccock, who was both a great preacher and a great teacher of preaching.
The build-up to Christmas bombards our senses—the constant blinking
of Christmas lights, the pervasive wafting of pine-scented potpourri,
the drone of “sleigh-bells ringing.” No wonder we lose sight of what
we’re really looking for in Advent, the signs of the one who is to come.
We don’t ordinarily associate fear with Christmas, and yet throughout
the accounts of the Incarnation, everyone is afraid. Zechariah, Mary,
Joseph, the shepherds, even King Herod is terrified upon hearing the
news that a child will be born in Bethlehem. What’s so scary about a
babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger?
James Fenimore Cooper Jr. and Margaret Bendroth are rummaging through church attics and basements in the New England states, especially Massachusetts, looking for records of early American life. Some churches are reticent to part with old documents, but the two historians point out how vulnerable the documents are and offer to keep them in a climate-controlled rare book room at the Congregational Library in Boston. Among their findings: a church in Middleboro possessed an application for membership submitted in 1773 by a slave (New York Times, July 29).