Amazon’s New Year ResolutionDecember 31st, 2010
“Return that gift before you get it.” Leave it to Amazon.com to “solve” our gift-receiving woes! The Washington Post this week announced that the mega online mail-order giant has come up with a solution to those gifts from “Aunt Mildred” you’ve never known what to do with—from “The Stallion Stable Music Box” that must have been a beauty on the computer screen but turned out to be a White Elephant under the Christmas tree, to “The Thread and Bobbin Sewing Kit” that, truth be known, will never see the light of day. “These gifts sent via some warehouse many miles away are not only unwanted, but also a multimillion-dollar headache: They have to be repacked, labeled, dropped off and shipped back to Amazon’s Island of Misfit Toys.” After which a new present will have to be “packed, labeled, and shipped again. Efficient, the process is not.” (South Bend Tribune 12-28-2010)
So Amazon has “quietly patented” a way whereby you can return your gifts before you even get them. This new option, apparently planned in time for next Christmas, will allow you to designate individuals who consistently send you what you don’t want or need—so that if they order another gift for you through Amazon it will be “vetted before anything ships.” I.e., you’ll have the option to “convert” the gift to one of your liking. The patent says: “The user may specify such a rule because the user believes that this potential sender has different tastes than the user.” (Ibid)
You can imagine the uproar from the etiquette crowd! Anna Post, the great-great-granddaughter of the proper-manners queen, Emily Post, warns of a major backlash, and hopes Amazon abandons the notion: “This idea totally misses the spirit of gift giving. The point of gift giving is to allow someone else to go through that action of buying something for us. Otherwise, giving a gift just becomes another one of the world’s transactions.” (Ibid) Well put, Miss Post.
“Just another one of the world’s transactions.” Which, of course, can’t be said for the Gift Heaven gave Earth long, long ago, can it? That Gift first borne on a barnyard trough . . . and eventually spiked to a Roman cross. Return the Gift to the Giver? And yet the small print of this intergalactic struggle still called “the great controversy” includes an opt-out proviso— a provision acted upon, sadly enough, time and again: “He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him” (John 1:11). I.e., they turned down the Gift.
On this New Year’s Day we gather at the foot of the cross, at the feet of the Gift. Because it surely dawns upon our collective consciousness that in the words of F. F. Bruce, “the total adequacy of Christ” is our truest vision in the year before us, and our only hope in the life that is left. “But God forbid [this New Year] that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14).
Since mine eyes have gazed on Jesus
I’ve lost sight of all beside
So enchained my spirit’s vision
Gazing on the Crucified.
BEYOND THE WIT OF MANDecember 21st, 2010
Poor Europe—“white Christmas”—bad timing. The wintery blast that has piled a mound of snow across Europe the past few days might have started out a “Christmas winter wonderland.” But the only wonder left now is how to untangle this perfect storm of meteorological and technological gridlock that has turned the continent’s major airports into bed and breakfasts, minus the bed and the breakfast. Nobody’s humming “White Christmas” anymore (especially since that Irving Berlin composition is a distinctly American tradition). No wonder the mayor is so uptight! “Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, appeared frustrated that the winter weather could completely snarl air travel through Heathrow, where only a ‘handful’ of flights were landing and taking off on Monday, according to a spokeswoman. ‘It can’t be beyond the wit of man surely to find the shovels, the diggers, the snowplows or whatever it takes to clear the snow out from under the planes, to get the planes moving and to have more than one runway going,’ Mr. Johnson said, according to The Associated Press.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/21/world/europe/21snow.html?src=me)
“It can’t be beyond the wit of man.” Well put, Lord Mayor. But then again some Christmas realities are utterly beyond our human ken, are they not? There was no snowfall that autumn night over Bethlehem. Just an over-crowded inn, filled to its rafters with out-of-towners for the Roman tax census. Shepherds with their flocks and camp fires dotted the midnight hillsides surrounding the village (evidence enough that the Holy Night came in autumn, not in winter). Suddenly from out of nowhere in the darkness a celestial being materialized in an explosion of glory before the stricken shepherds. “ . . . and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!’” (Luke 2:10-14)
Wide-eyed and dumb with fear, that band of watchers had gazed upon “the brightest picture ever beheld by human eyes” (The Desire of Ages 48). How long did it take to find voice and sight in the dark again? However long, they abandoned flocks, raced to the sleepy village, located the backyard cave-stable with the designated feeding trough, and out-of-breath stumbled into the presence of God in the still glistening Newborn.
“It can’t be beyond the wit of man.” But in this case it truly is. Far beyond our paltry finitude, no matter how long we brood over that manger scene. “Wonder, O heavens! and be astonished, O earth!” (p 49) No wonder the compelling human response to the God who tiptoed into town that night is to worship him.
PRINCE CHARLES AND CHRISTMASDecember 16th, 2010
Did you see that hastily snapped picture of Prince Charles and Camilla? On their way last Thursday evening to a London gala, the royal couple’s vintage Rolls Royce limousine inadvertently drove into an unrelated street riot and was suddenly engulfed by a sea of demonstrating youth. When the young rioters (who were protesting Parliament’s decision to hike tuition fees in UK universities) spotted the future king of England and his wife inside the automobile, they turned on the limousine, pelting it with eggs, smashing open a window and threatening to who-knows-what! The prince pushed his wife to the floor of the car to shield her. And their driver fortunately was able to flee the scene. The royals, though badly shaken, arrived at the gala in gracious spirits.
They don’t treat future kings like they used to, do they? Which, of course, is the sad commentary on the story of Christmas as well. The King of the universe, come to earth as the promised Messiah, couldn’t even rent a motel room for his own birth! “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder.” “And she . . . laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Isaiah 9:6; Luke 2:7).
Deitrich Bonhoeffer once reflected, “All Christian theology has its origin in the wonder of all wonders that God became man.” Wonder of all wonders, indeed. That wonder is nearly palpable in the The Desire of Ages chapter on Christ’s birth: “The King of glory stooped low to take humanity. Rude and forbidding were His earthly surroundings. His glory was veiled, that the majesty of His outward form might not become an object of attraction. He shunned all outward display. . . . With amazement the heavenly messengers beheld the indifference of that people whom God had called to communicate to the world the light of sacred truth. . . . It would have been an almost infinite humiliation for the Son of God to take man’s nature, even when Adam stood in his innocence in Eden. But Jesus accepted humanity when the race had been weakened by four thousand years of sin. . . . Wonder, O heavens! and be astonished, O earth!” (pp 43-49, selected)
They don’t treat future kings like they used to, do they? Do we? The wonder of wonders in this season of Noel is not so much that God became a man . . . but that he even wanted to. For look how we treated him when he came to us. And is it any better today? In the words of that old spiritual, “Sweet little Jesus boy, they made you be born in a manger; sweet little holy Child, we didn’t know who you was.”
But we do, don’t we? And so this Christmas will you join me in bowing low before the King—not as a perfunctory expression of Christian devotion, but rather as the quiet pledge of a redeemed vassal to gladly serve the King whose infinite sacrifice has purchased our freedom? “‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing!’” (Revelation 5:12). Amen.
“12 Daze of Christma$”—that’s how the Boston Herald headlined the storyDecember 3rd, 2010
“12 Daze of Christma$”—that’s how the Boston Herald headlined the story this week of PNC Wealth Management’s annual analysis of the beloved Christmas song. You know the one: “On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me a partridge in a pear tree.” Two turtle doves, three French hens, four calling birds, five golden rings . . . all the way up to “twelve drummers drumming.” Our friends at PNC (BTW, that’s not PMC, our congregation) Wealth Management—who in managing your wealth this year, apparently had time to spare—calculated how much it would cost you to give your “true love” the 364 gifts in the song. “The total cost for all 364 gifts mentioned in the popular yule time tune skyrocketed 10.8 percent [thanks to climbing gold prices] to more than $96,000.” That’s $96,824, to be exact! (http://news.bostonherald.com/entertainment/lifestyle/…)
What shall we say about a culture that names the Friday after Thanksgiving—the Friday this year that found stores opening their doors to frenzied Christmas shoppers at 2 a.m., 3 a.m., 4 a.m., or stayed open all night—“Black Friday”? The day after we have theoretically thanked God for another year of divine benediction is black Friday? Early estimates for Black Friday purchases by Americans this year are $10.69 billion. (One hundred of those Black Fridays and we could pay off the nations’s $1.3 trillion budget deficit!) And as if Black Friday weren’t enough, Cyber Monday this week netted an estimated $1.023 billion of online Christmas sales, setting a new one-day record for cyberspace spending.
“And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7).
Is it too late to celebrate a counter-cultural Christmas this year? To radically simplify our gift-giving? To inform our loved ones that this year a gift to charity in our names would be very special indeed (our church staff is trying that for the second time this year)? I’m not wanting to become the Grinch who stole Christmas—but I am asking myself if maybe the silver light of this season’s Narrative is utterly anti-commercial, counter-materialism—and that maybe there are more meaningful ways to commemorate His birth.
What if you gave Christ as a gift this year? Amazon.com carries a new edition of an old classic for $2.99! A friend sent me this new edition earlier this year, and I read it through over the summer. Gone are the old King James quotations. Replaced now with NKJV and even NIV in places, this new paperback edition of The Desire of Ages is a keeper. Go online and check it out for yourself. For $2.99 you could buy a dozen of them for your dearest family and friends. I promise you that this fresh new NKJV edition makes this magnum opus of Ellen White’s a heart-stirring read. It’s my favorite book. In it you’ll meet the counter-cultural Jesus as you never have before. What a Savior and Friend! Share him with your world. And let Christmas this year truly be about the Gift “my True Love gave to me.”