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?
By one estimate 7,000 churches close down each year in the United States. A 2012 study predicted that 20 percent of the churches in Philadelphia would close within ten years. Many of these churches are architectural gems. Razing these buildings can be very expensive. A more satisfactory solution is to repurpose them, turning them into art and culture centers or housing units. The Mount Airy Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia is having 20 condominiums built on its property. The sanctuary will be leased back to the congregation for its continued use (Philadelphia Inquirer, August 4).