For those who are not quite ready to move beyond the miracle of Emmanuel …
The First Sunday of Advent has arrived. In congregations all across the universal Church, chosen families will light the first candle in a liturgical wreath. In homes all across the globe, countless families will decorate a fir tree and open the first tiny door of the numerical calendar.
On this day, followers of Christ begin looking forward to his sacred birth – to that holy night when a helpless newborn babe was lain in a manger, God in flesh, wrapped in lowly swaddling clothes.
The season that begins today resonates in all the deepest corners of our soul wherein lie our heartfelt desires for hope, for joy, for peace, for goodwill, and for love.
‘Tis the season. Today it begins. Our spiritual longings quicken and engage. Come, thou long expected Jesus, born to set they people free.
But long ago, the First Sunday of Advent was not so much about awaiting the newborn babe but rather awaiting the returning victorious Christ. The Epistle reading was Romans 13:11-14, which in today’s language reads:
This is all the more urgent, for you know how late it is; time is running out. Wake up, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here. So remove your dark deeds like dirty clothes, and put on the shining armor of right living.Because we belong to the day, we must live decent lives for all to see. Don’t participate in the darkness of wild parties and drunkenness, or in sexual promiscuity and immoral living, or in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. And don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires.
The gospel reading was Matthew 21:1-11, verses we usually reserve for Palm Sunday:
As Jesus and the disciples approached Jerusalem, they came to the town of Bethphage on the Mount of Olives. Jesus sent two of them on ahead. “Go into the village over there,” he said. “As soon as you enter it, you will see a donkey tied there, with its colt beside it. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone asks what you are doing, just say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will immediately let you take them.”
This took place to fulfill the prophecy that said,
“Tell the people of Jerusalem,
‘Look, your King is coming to you.
He is humble, riding on a donkey—
riding on a donkey’s colt.’”
The two disciples did as Jesus commanded. They brought the donkey and the colt to him and threw their garments over the colt, and he sat on it.
Most of the crowd spread their garments on the road ahead of him, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. Jesus was in the center of the procession, and the people all around him were shouting,
“Praise God for the Son of David!
Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Praise God in highest heaven!”
The entire city of Jerusalem was in an uproar as he entered. “Who is this?” they asked.
And the crowds replied, “It’s Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”
The focus of Advent has shifted measurably over the centuries. As best I can remember, I’ve never heard about the second coming of Christ in conjunction with the First Sunday of Advent. How would that even work? In this holy season of tree and feast, candle and creche, glory and gifts (indeed, let us be sure to remember gifts, amen), how would we make sense of Christ’s triumphal return and his final judgment?
And yet, Christ’s first coming (an event that even non-followers and non-believers are often quite ready to celebrate) is intrinsically and necessarily tied to his second coming (an event that even followers and believers are often quite hesitant to consider).
The gentle newborn babe – accessorized with swaddling cloths and radiant stars – fills our hearts. The triumphant Rider on a White Horse – accessorized with blazing eyes and armies of heaven – unsettles our sensibilities.
And yet they are the same. The gentle newborn babe is the returning and reigning Lord.
We celebrate the First Sunday of Advent most truly and sincerely when we are willing both to sing with carolers, “Come, thou long expected Jesus,” and to declare with John of Patmos, “Come Lord Jesus!”
Anonymous, c. 1538, The pystles and gospels, of every Sonday, and holy daye in the yere (fol. ii recto) [Transcription below.]
The Pystels and Gospels in Englysshe
Here begyn=neth the Pystles & Gospels / of eue=ry Sonday & holy day in the yere.
The Pystell on the fyrst Sonday in Aduent.
The xiii Chapiter to the Romayns.
Brethren we knowe that it is tyme nowe that we awake out of slepe / for nowe is our saluaciō nerer thē we be=leued. The nyght is passed and the daye is come nye / let us therefore cast awaye the dedes of darkens / & let us put on the armour of lyght. Let us walke honestly as it were ī the daye of lyght / nat ī eatyng & drynking / neyther ī chāmbryng & wantōnes / neyther ī stryfe & en=uyeng / but put ye on our lorde Jesus Christ.
The Gospell on the fyrste Sondaye in aduent.
The xxi chapiter of mathewe.
Whē Jesus drewe nye unto Je=rusalē / & came to Betphage unto the mounte Oliuete / thē sēt Jesus two of his disciples / sayeng to thē. Go into the castell that lyeth ouer agaynst you and anone ye shal fynde an Asse boundē / & her Colte with her / lose thē & brynge thē un=to me / & yf any mā say ought unto you / saye ye that your lorde hathe nede of thē: & strayght way he wyll let them go. All this was done to fulfyl that whiche was spokē by the ƥphet / sayeng Tel ye the doughter of Syon beholde they kynge cōmeth unto the meke: & sytting upon an Asse & a Colte / the fole of an Asse used to the yoke. The disciples wente & did as Jes (end of fol. ii recto)
[For those unused to early English orthography, give it a try. It starts to make sense as you work through it.]
Below are new Young Life discipleship resources that can help both church and parachurch ministry leaders 1) focus and synthesize a discipleship framework, 2) generate conversations about discipleship and discipling, 3) self-reflect on their own life of discipleship, 4) envision ongoing spiritual growth in those they are discipling.
01_Deeper One Page Vertical 2.0
One-page summary of definitions, descriptions, and values.
02_Rooted in Christ 2.0
Visual metaphor of a disciple’s life.
00_Discipleship Tools Overview
One page summary of suggested ways to use new discipleship tools.
The Bible is a book of both concrete truth and creative metaphors. God is gentle and God is a rock. Jesus was born of the virgin Mary and Jesus is living water. Humans are selfish creatures and humans are branches. Yahweh is faithful and Yahweh is a shepherd. God is divine and God is a king. And metaphor within metaphor – God’s kingdom has arrived and it is a mustard seed.
As words, metaphors give shape to non-concrete realities. As images, metaphors invite us to see, discover, understand, and experience the embodied truth.
One of the most commonly mentioned things in the Bible is also one of its most powerful theological metaphors – trees. (Check out this article for more thoughts on trees in scripture.)
God’s expansive story begins with all kinds of beautiful trees, and also two very specific trees (Gen. 2:11). It ends with two healing trees of life flanking a river of living water (Rev. 22:1-2). Within the story, both God’s people and God himself are described as trees (Ps. 52:8, Hos. 14:8). Wisdom is a tree of life (Prov. 3:18). Isaiah tells trees to sing and clap their hands. Those who love, fear, and hope in Yahweh are trees planted by a riverbank (Ps. 1, Jer. 17). Those who love, trust, and follow Jesus are deeply rooted in him (Col. 2).
Deep roots, strong trunks, healthy branches, flourishing fruit, and sometimes beautiful flowers are concrete earthly realities that reflect profound spiritual truth.
Discipleship can be visualized in countless helpful ways: four chairs, a wheel, a directional triangle, a roadmap, and more.
In my new discipleship job with Young Life, I recently worked with some people to create a visual metaphor of discipleship intended to foster deep dialogue and encourage focused intentionality.
(Downloadable PDF: Rooted in Christ 2.0)
The image can guide every follower of Jesus as we:
- carefully contemplate what it means to follow Jesus in both general and specific ways
- honestly reflect on our own personal lives of discipleship
- prayerfully consider our discipleship hopes and desires for those in our ministries, our families, our small groups, and any other community of believers.
Here are some reflection questions and dialogue prompts to get you started:
- How do the three main tree elements relate and work together?
- roots – which are “time in scripture, time in prayer,” etc.
- trunk – which is a strong core of love, trust, etc.;
- branches – which are expressions or displays of specific behaviors and attitudes repeatedly highlighted throughout scripture
- In your current season of life, how do engage in, experience, or express each of the different elements in the tree?
- What specific areas (within trunk, core, branches) of your personal discipleship are most in need of attention, guidance, or challenge?
- How can you lean into those things intentionally and purposefully?
- What specific areas of your personal discipleship (within trunk, core, branches) do you naturally embrace and dig into? Why? What does that look like?
- For those involved in Young Life or youth ministry, think about your specific ministry focus (WyldLife, Young Life, YoungLives, Young Life Capernaum, Young Life College) and your specific ministry context (community size, location, primary culture, specific sub-cultures, socio-economics, etc.). Based on those realities, what are your hopes and desires for your students’ growing life of discipleship? For example, what do you hope “time in scripture” will begin to look like for those in your small group of teen moms? Or how do you hope your 7th grade WyldLife Campaigner guys will begin to display “faithful witness”? And so on.
- How will you intentionally disciple your students with these things in mind?
(A version of this article originally appeared here.)
Literary Lewisians – that is, those who view his written texts and his recorded readings as the only things that qualify as Lewis quotes (as opposed to cinematic adapted one-liners and outlandish self-empowering slogans) – likely expend too much energy seething about the ever-growing corpus of non-Lewis quotes cluttering (even polluting) the digital universe.
I do, anyway.
And perhaps I should stop caring. Or stop blathering about it. Or stop calling it out.
But I think it matters immensely, far beyond anything that has to do with being a devoted Lewisian, medievalist, literarian, or would-be-Narnian. (For these reasons and these. Also these and these. And so many more.)
This is not merely about misquotes. It’s about being thoughtful, careful, precise, clear. Truthful, even.
But I am once again disheartened and confounded by the most recent misquote because it is in print, in a book, about Lewis, that perhaps many people will read, and so there’s very little chance of retracting this particular absolutely-not-a-quote (just like there is very little chance of properly recovering the correct order of the Chronicles of Narnia, yet another reason literary Lewisians gnash their teeth).
The newly released book Becoming Mrs. Lewis: The Improbable Love Story of Joy Davidman and C. S. Lewis (by Patti Callahan; Thomas Nelson, 2018) ushers readers into Part I with this page:
Anyone who has read Lewis will recognize this “quote” of Aslan’s as not possibly having been written by Lewis, ever. It drips with modern self-actualization that appears nowhere in Lewis’s writings (who was thoroughly unmodern and utterly I-am-lost-without-my-Lord).
I suppose the cinematic-adapted CGI-leo might have uttered these words. But if so, the above quote should indicate such by 1) deleting C. S. Lewis as the intimated author and 2) clearly noting the cinematic-adapted-and-ravaged version as the actual source.
That seems only fair. And accurate. And clear. And precise. And factual.
I assume this “quote” comes from the cinematic-adapted scene wherein the Dawn Treader (“such a very Narnian ship”) enters the Darkness – a very real and very terrifying place of evil. A place wherein Aslan would never advise someone to defeat the darkness in oneself (which isn’t to say he denied inner darkness, or didn’t think it should be defeated). Those who know Aslan (and his earthly incarnated human-divine reality but please remember the Chronicles ARE NOT ALLEGORIES) know that when any of his children find themselves in the midst of evil danger – quivering hands, overwhelming despair, paralyzing fear – if that child has only enough strength to whisper, “Aslan, Aslan, if ever you loved us at all, send us help now,” – well, even if that child would forget to say please or pretty please or by your mane – Aslan would never respond with: “Well, hmmm, okay. But first you must defeat the darkness in yourself.”
Never. Absolutely and unequivocally never.
Instead, after pleading hopeful words in the midst of palpable despair, something would begin to change inside the child, and inside all the other children on whose behalf she also whispered.
First, a tiny speck of light would appear up ahead.
And then a broad beam of light would fall upon the ship, even while it was still surrounded by darkness.
And then along the beam, the children (some young, some grown) would see what looked like a cross, then like an aeroplane, and then like a kite before finally arriving in a whirling rush of wings. It would be an albatross. It would circle around the mast three times before perching for just an instant on the crest of the gilded dragon at the prow. And then it would spread its wings, rise, and begin to fly slowly ahead, bearing a little starboard, leading the whole shipload of children folk out into the warm and welcoming sunshine.
And the one who’d whispered for help back in the evil dark – rather than being chided for not first defeating her own inner darkness (blather) – would have heard these words from Aslan-as-albatross while still in the darkness:
Courage, dear heart.
And as she heard the voice, she would also have felt a delicious smell breathe in her face – the breath of love, the breath of joy, the breath of presence, the breath of spirit, the breath of undeserved rescue.
And when finally out of the darkness, without knowing exactly when or how it happened, everyone would realize there was nothing to be afraid of and never had been.
That is what Aslan would have done and said – because that is what he did and said in Chapter 12 of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
So, yes – misquotes matter.
Because though both Aslan and our Lord are in the business of forming humility and love and grace in their children while also helping them die-to-self each and every day, neither Aslan nor our Lord are in the business of self-help nonsense-babble that only leads to disappointment, despair, and emptiness. (And maybe also poisonous self-inflation.)
Words matter. Because behind the words are ideas, meaning, stories, and truth. At least that’s the hope.
[UPDATE: 9 Oct 2018]
Turns out this is not just a misquote: it is a misattribution of a misquote. Aslan-of-the-screen did not say these words. Rather, Coriakin-of-the-screen did, per the Confirming C. S. Lewis Quotes page (CCSLQ) of the meticulously researched Essential C. S. Lewis site. I highly recommend it.
I don’t know if this makes things any better. Or worse. To misattribute a misquote is two too many missteps. To misattribute to a false Aslan something said by a false Coriakin is beyond reckoning. It’s Dufflepud-ish, if you will. It’s as difficult to imagine Coriakin saying these things as it is to imagine Aslan saying them.
Coriakin is, by his own estimation, the least of Aslan’s magicians. He oversees the Duffers, who would drive anyone mad. But he never once lays on them platitudes about overcoming inner darkness, pride, or stupidity. Nor does he presume to deliver supposed Aslan-esque platitudes to them regarding their petty and outlandish stubbornness, not even to the Chief Duffer, who would drive anyone sky-high-batty after just five minutes. Coriakin’s ethos and discourse runs more like this:
Lucy followed the great Lion out into the passage and at once she saw coming towards them an old man, barefoot, dressed in a red robe. His white hair was crowned with a chaplet of oak leaves, his beard fell to his girdle, and he supported himself with a curiously carved staff. When he saw Aslan he bowed low and said,
“Welcome, Sir, to the least of your houses.”
“Do you grow weary, Coriakin, of ruling such foolish subjects as I have given you here?”
“No,” said the Magician, “they are very stupid but there is no real harm in them. I begin to grow rather fond of the creatures. Sometimes, perhaps I am a little impatient, waiting for the day when they can be governed by wisdom instead of this rough magic.”
“All in good time, Coriakin,” said Aslan.
“Yes, all in very good time, Sir,” was the answer. (Chapter 11, VDT)
Actual-Lewis’s actual-Coriakin is surely not someone who would blather about defeating inner darkness in order to defeat outer darkness. He knew better. Much better. The Chief Duffer, on the other hand…
Just like that, the Twelve Days-Nights of Christmas come to an end.
What, then, comes next – after the celebrating, reflecting, and remembering?
Perhaps we ought to live a Twelve-Days-of-Christmas life, in which we over and over contemplate the miracle of newness, the challenge of change, the trials of repetition, the joys of duplication, the power of obedience, the call to maturity, the charge to live joyous lives of hope.
Go back and contemplate the First Night through the Eleventh Night. Find the words that soothe you, push you, chafe you – and read them, think them, digest them. There is something we can all learn from days one through eleven.
And on this day – this twelfth and final day – let’s look ahead at a road that goes ever on and on, headed towards what we sometimes know but other times can’t see, towards what we sometimes anticipate but other times dread.
For a Christ-follower (those who choose the way in which the grown-crucified-resurrected babe’s footsteps lead), that particular road leads to deep, full, grown life — a life that is immersed in hope even when it drips with pain; a life that is infused with Love even when it is bloated with self; a life that is incarnated by the spiritual even when it is tied to the natural; a life that moves ever on and on — assuming we pick up our feet, set our faces forward, and walk.
Will I? Will you? Will we?
The world needs people who will trod that road daily, faithfully, humbly, joyfully, intentionally, boldly, quietly, long after the Twelfth Day-Night of Christmas.
Tomorrow is the First Day of the After-Twelfth-Day of Christmas. May we meet walking together on the road that Emmanuel has paved for us.
Amen and amen.
‘Tis Christmas night eleven (11) one-another-one (1-and-1).
For the first time in the twelve-day Christmas numerical celebration, we face repetition.
One (1). And another one (1). [Though one (1) of the ones (1)s is really a ten (10)…]
But we have already had a one. And a ten (which includes a numerical (1) one).
**Corporate communal confession: we love newness, updates, next-best-things. We do not love the same-old-same-old. And what is “11” – (one-another-one) – but a visual reminder of same-of-same-old-repetitive-not-newness? 11 11 11 11 11 11 11 11 11 11.
Can we shift (seismically) from a “same-old-same-old-monotonous” mindset to a “known-beloved-tradition” mindset: from a “something-bigger-better” palate to a “remember-repeat-savor” palate?
Can we settle into a place of wonderment and joy about the day-in-day-out repeated elements of meaningful life?
Eleven (11) one-another-one (1-and-1) reminds me that duplication in daily life isn’t something to be avoided at all costs.
Eleven (11) one-another-one (1-and-1) challenges me that in the end, duplication is what God’s children are called to: that is, sharing the good news of Christmas (and its fuller narrative) with others so that they too may become a person who loves and follows Christ.
Eleven (11) one-another-one (1-and-1). Daily beautiful repetitive earthly life.
Eleven (11) one-another-one (1-and-1). Daily beautiful duplicating eternal life.
‘Tis the tenth night of Christmas. Ten. One-zero. A full and finished number. Completeness. Double digits.
In the universe of old math:
For arithmetic, we start to carry numbers when we enter the world of double digits.
For subtraction, we start to borrow numbers when we enter the world of double digits.
For multiplication, we start to carry and cross and shift numbers when we enter the world of double digits.
But for life, what happens when we hit double digits? When our tasks, schedules, and responsibilities move beyond simple and straightforward single-digit-ness? When our wisdom, understanding, and discernment must follow suit with growth, depth, and expansion?
Do we panic? Do we forget how the numerical functions work? Do we freeze, tangle, lose our way? Do we carry when we should borrow, borrow when we should carry, cross in the wrong order, shift in the wrong direction?
As numbers grow in size, the options expand. So it is with us. We move beyond the simplicity of Ninth Night living – of wake, rise, eat, feed, bathe, eat, work, rest, feed, eat, sleep, repeat.
We are now grown. We are now double-digit-ed. And so our interactions, communications, relations, formulations, and adorations must move to the next frontier of mathematical faith functions.
We must begin to embrace complexity with care, joy, and anticipation. We must grow up. We must grow out. We must grow down.
It is the tenth night of Christmas, giving us a peek of a double-digit life. View it not as a chore or weight or inevitability. Rather, view it as the culmination of a Christmas well begun, for the double-tens of St. John’s Gospel remind us that Emmanuel came to give life in abundance. Our job is to embrace it and live it.
(John 10:10 – The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I am come that they may have life, and have it abundantly. RSV)
What happens now? When the celebrations are over, the parties are past, and the excitement has settled into everyday-everynight life?
The baby’s been born. The angel’s have proclaimed. The shepherd’s have visited. The baby’s been marked as a chosen child of God. The child’s been named.
Seemingly the momentous and miraculous elements are done and past. Now it is time to find our own way – to wake, rise, feed, bathe, eat, rest, work, feed, eat, sleep, repeat.
But how do we repeat the daily mundane (over and over and over and over and over and over) when there are no more angelic choruses? no more heart-stopping first breaths? no more heavenly pronouncements of good news for all the earth? no more supernatural visits? no more Emmanuel?
Ah: Think. Listen. Reason.
Even if the angelic choruses, first breaths, heavenly pronouncements, and supernatural visits are past, this will never pass:
God with us. God as us. God for us. God in us.
Though he arrived at a specific moment in time, he still is. He still is God. He still is here. He still is Emmanuel.
And that means there is no such thing as everyday-everynight meaningless mundane life.
If Emmanuel, then rejoice.
If Emmanuel, then life.
If Emmanuel, then hope.
If Emmanuel, then love.
Night nine is not the ninth cycle of the same. It is a new cycle, just as each day and night is … because Emmanuel.
I wonder if Mary slept on this night – the night when her tiny babe perhaps whimpered and wept in lingering pain.
On this day, her babe was circumcised, formally marked as a Jew, one of God’s chosen people.
God himself, marked as belonging to himself. Our faith is a paradox in countless ways.
On this day, her babe was named, formally identified as Yeshua bar Joseph. Jesus, son of Joseph. His earthly name for his earthly identity, which was fully him.
But also this: Christos, the only begotten of God. Messiah son of God. His essential name for his divine identity, which was fully him. The paradoxes are indeed countless.
But on this night, for the young mother Mary cradling her newborn babe, the paradoxes of name and identity and purpose matter little. For her, the paradoxes are more earthy, more present, more immediate:
I love this child more than anything I have ever loved…yet he is but eight days old.
I am exhausted beyond words, tired to death, weary in body and soul…yet I would move a mountain to protect and love my child.
I am ill-equipped for this task, unable to provide what any babe needs…yet I am Mother and Mary and Me, ready for all that lies ahead.
I wonder what Mary called her babe before he was named on this day, what she breathed into his ears as she held him at her breast, what she sang in her mind as she celebrated his life?
My Child. You. Precious One. Mine.
I wonder what God calls us as he breathes into our souls while cradling us in his loving arms, what he sings in his heart as he celebrates our life?
My Child. You. Precious One. Mine.
It is the eighth night of Christmas. The Christ-child is now marked and named. Are we?