An Unreasoning Faith

It has to be the most unrealistic illustration ever. No one who has been present when a child is born thinks that on any such occasion since the dawn of time would the sudden presence of shepherds bring about joy. Why not throw in a few foreign dignitaries for fun? Nevertheless, this was the last page of the children’s Christmas story that I found myself reading last night.

The actual events of that night were distinct enough without any mythical additions. Perhaps “bizarre” is not quite reverent enough. “Surreal”? Mary and Joseph were caught up in events that spanned the empire and even beyond, for the Creator of the Cosmos was coming as a baby. As if that weren’t enough, it must have seemed to them that events were conspiring to make this birth as difficult as possible. There was no planning the delivery. No nursery awaiting his arrival. No days of rest leading up to the labor of labor. In fact, no decisions were left to Mary and Joseph, leaving them destitute of control. They were only left with faith that this was all happening as it was meant to happen.

Faith is entirely reasonable. I believe this with all my heart. An unreasonable faith is a faith in something that is unreasonable. God – the divine Logos – is wholly Reasonable. The dichotomy of faith and reason is a modern deception. In past ages, those who denied God, or at minimum a god, were the fools. But as we bask in the dying light of the Enlightenment, it is the faith-filled who are derided.

Believing in God is not a leap into the void of darkness; it is a step into the light. Faith is not a desertion of the corporeal for the ephemeral; it is an embrace of the substantial against the claims of reflections. Trust in God gains us Truth over mere “facts”, which are so malleable in the hands of fallen man.

But lately I have been thinking about unreasoning faith, which is different than an unreasonable faith. Can faith remain reasonable while the one expressing the faith is unreasoning? I have come to hope so. There have been too many nights where reason has deserted me. Too many days of being stripped to the core. Too many times when my inner man is reeling like a drunkard.

Even then, I think Reason is present. It is only completely absent in the place of outer darkness. But in these times of sorrow and sickness, Reason paints less in the sharp lines of charcoal and more in the hues of watercolor. These are the moments when Reason is more of a warmth than a syllogism. These are the times when we run unreasoning into the hands of our heavenly Father and trust that – despite all appearances to the contrary – what He has spoken in the light is still true in the dark.

That Bethlehem night was glorious, though Mary and Joseph could not apprehend it. The plan of the ages was coming to pass, though Mary and Joseph could not perceive it. The words of the angel were coming true before their very eyes, although it looked different than what they had anticipated. And so Mary and Joseph simply trusted. They must have wondered, “Can this be right?” And yet they trusted.

Your faith is no less reasonable when Reason seems to have deserted you. In loss, in sickness, in exhaustion and burnout, you can and should still trust, though you may not be able to reason your way to it. It is no less reasonable for your lack of reason. You are simply trusting out of a place where the distinctions between intelligence and affection and desire are beginning to blur. You are trusting like a child. Nothing is more sweet to Heaven than a child-like faith.

Christmas and Politics, Politics and Religion

Here we are just two days away from Christmas and I’m dragging politics into it. But in my defense, I’m not the one that penned the following words in my gospel, “There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea…” (Luke 1:5). It seems that when the King of Israel was born in Bethlehem, there was already a king in Judea, and this was bound to cause problems. It was not a problem that there were two kings. It was a problem that one of those kings didn’t know Who the other King was. Peter, Edmund, Susan, and Lucy were true kings and queens of Narnia. But when Aslan arrived, they all took a knee. Problem solved.

Herod did not have this disposition. He had come to power through the Machiavellian methods of manipulation, assassination, alliances, and a good PR department. His family was littered with the corpses of those he had killed. The expediency of murdering the baby boys of Bethlehem did not trouble his sleep nearly as much as the thought that there might be a threat to his power. Herod’s paranoia existed because somewhere deep down he knew that apart from his own machinations, he had no real right to rule. He had not submitted to the True Authority, and therefore he possessed no true authority.

Anyone who reads the life of Jesus Christ and comes away thinking that He was misunderstood by those who opposed him may be right or they may be wrong. They will be right if they think that Christ’s enemies refused to acknowledge His deity, His mission, and His authority. But they will be dead wrong if they think that Christ did not pose a purposeful threat to every dominion and power on this dark planet. Christ came to dethrone the Rulers and to defrock the Priests, not so that we would have John Lennon’s “Imagine”, but so that He could establish a Government and a Church of His own. He came preaching that the kingdom of heaven had come, which meant that the kingdoms of this world would need to bow. The angel announced that He had come to occupy the throne of His father David, and of His kingdom there would be no end. And because He had the kind of authority that came from above, His adversaries feared even though they didn’t see an army behind Him. That’s the effect of lawful authority.

We tend to think that all politics and all religion is messed up. But that’s not true. People are messed up. Government composed of sinful people is not wicked because of “government”, but because of “sinful people”. Jesus did not condemn the Pharisees for their spirituality, but for their lack of it. When Messiah comes, Isaiah prophesied, the Government shall be upon His shoulders. When righteousness reigns, Politics and Religion will both be cleansed.

In the present Age, we should at least see signs of this righteousness in the community of Christ: the Church. When Christ is seated on the throne of the Church, the Church will be governed rightly by those servants called for such a purpose. “Submit to them that have the rule over you” is an admonition given to believers in the Church, and there is nothing abusive about it. As long as Peter bows to Aslan, he remains the lawful High King of Narnia, just as Elders retain their rightful rule as long as they bow to Christ. Christians are not hardened cynics, but hopeful saints.

Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against;

Simeon, Luke 2:34

The Shepherds of Bethlehem

When God sent His angels to announce the birth of His Son, he sent them to “shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night.” It seems God has a special place for shepherds. Abraham became a nomadic shepherd in response to God’s call on his life. Joseph found the best of the land of Egypt for his family to continue practicing their shepherding. David, the greatest king of Israel, was the Shepherd King. And Jesus is the good Shepherd, who lays down His life for the flock.

Perhaps God’s tender heart for the shepherds has to do with the similarities between His care for humanity and their care for sheep. Shepherds must constantly fight against their stubborn sheep for their own good, just as “all we like sheep have gone astray.” Sheep are are in need of constant protection from predators, just like as “your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about seeking whom he may destroy.” Shepherds have a 24/7 kind of job, just as our God never slumbers in His care for us.

If you go to a sheep farm today, you will find that sheep are still stubborn, willful, foolish, defenseless creatures. But one thing that sheep were to the Jews that they are not to us is a sacrifice. Every day the blood of sheep was spilled before the altar of the temple for the remission of sins. It’s even possible that the shepherds of Luke 2 were priest-shepherds. That is, they may have been guarding the sheep specifically destined to be sacrificed.

Whether or not that is the case, they showed their true nobility when they said, “Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.” And leaving behind their own flocks, they came with haste to Bethlehem to see the Lamb of God lying in a manger. Oh yes, the Shepherd of Israel had come as a spotless Lamb. Upon seeing Jesus, John cried out to the crowd, “Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the word.”

If those flocks guarded by the shepherds were indeed temple sacrifices, then their need would soon be over. For though it is not possible that the blood of any animal should take away sins, this baby would grow up into the Man who, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God. The shepherds returned rejoicing and praising God, for the good news had come not just to Israel, but unto all men.

Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. 
And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. 

The Angel to the Shepherd, Luke 2:10-12

The Songs of Christmas

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, good will toward men. 

Luke 2:13-14

Technically, this is probably as close as we get to finding song in the first Christmas story. I imagine if a heavenly choir of angels was praising God, the closest description a shepherd might conjure up when retelling the story later would be that they were singing. Song is simply lyrical words set to music, but song can impact the human psyche deeply. Movements are linked to songs. Protests are often set to song. And across an untold number of Christian churches every week, praises are set to song.

It is true that song can lead to mere sentiment, which can be misleading when divorced from Truth. There are songs we hear at this season that are associated more with cultural events and childhood memories than with any sort of Christian Truth. But God has also blessed the Church with tremendous lyricists and composers who have captured the wonder of the Incarnation in song so that our souls, so beat down and deadened by the cares of everyday life, might be quickened unto praise and wonder. From the 4th century, Christians have been singing about Christmas, and I hope it is a tradition that will continue. Below is a list of songs, old and new, that have captured the wonder of Christmas in my heart.

O Holy Night

I love this version by David Phelps, but I love any version of this song that is sung relatively simply with a piano accompaniment. The last verse speaks of His coming to break the chains of sin and oppression.

What Child is This?

This is a beautiful rendition by Josh Groban. This hymn is one of my favorite Christmas hymns to sing with our church. We use the traditional lyrics for verses, so we sing, “Nails, spears shall pierce His side / The cross be borne for me for you / Hail Hail the Word made flesh / The babe the son of Mary”

O Come All You Unfaithful

A clever twist on the traditional “O Come All You Faithful”, this beautiful song by Sovereign Grace Music is full of good gospel truth. SGM has produced some of my favorite modern Christmas hymns and I encourage you to look into some of their others songs as well.

Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery

Matt Boswell and Matt Papa co-wrote this great gospel hymn that spans the entire narrative of Jesus’ earthly life from birth to resurrection. It’s a great hymn for corporate worship and it’s how we kicked off our Christmas season.

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

While technically not about the events themselves, this classic hymn embodies the hope that Christmas imparts to believers. This modernized version by Casting Crowns is one that I love.

Sing a Song of Bethlehem

The Spencer family introduced me to this song which I was later surprised to find in our hymnal. The verses take us through 4 significant places in the life of Christ from Bethlehem to Calvary. I thought it was a neat way to think through the life of Christ.

Just the Right Number of Miracles

I was dropping off some Christmas chocolates to a local business and someone commented, “I’m so glad you brought chocolate! We’ve been given so much popcorn this year we can’t take any more; but you can never have too much chocolate!” An enlightened sentiment, in my opinion. We all have our own tastes that dictate what is always welcome and what wearies us.

Miracles have happened throughout history, but never in doses sufficient to make us tire of them. They are concentrated around particular people or eras, and even when we think we have experienced one in our own time we are not satiated. As we read the Christmas story in Luke’s gospel, we do encounter miracles, most notably in the births of John and Jesus. The rest of the events fall more aptly under the heading of Providence:

The unceasing activity of the Creator whereby, in overflowing bounty and goodwill, He upholds His creatures in ordered existence, guides and governs all events, circumstances, and free acts of angels and men, and directs everything to its appointed goal, for His own glory.

JI Packer

Herod’s census is an example of Providence. There is nothing miraculous about it, but in God’s plan it brought Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem so that the prophecy of Micah might be fulfilled. God had been orchestrating these events for a long time and all the stars were lining up, literally. The heavens had been arranged that a particular star would rise at the right time and draw the Eastern Magi to the home of the new King, and their presents would in turn provide the means for Joseph to flee with his family to Egypt. Providence.

But if we’re being honest, we wouldn’t mind a few more miracles. Maybe Joseph had prayed for some miraculous turn of events that would save his betrothed a grueling journey to Bethlehem. Maybe Mary prayed for some miracle that would allow her to have the Holy Child in some place other than a feeding trough. Nevertheless, God only touches earth with the deft hand of an artist making almost imperceptible adjustments that, when taken together, turn the ordinary into a masterpiece.

If there was ever a time when we might expect God to heap miracle upon miracle it would be at this first Christmas. If there was ever a Person who was deserving of a parade of miracles it was Jesus Christ. The Christmas story has just the right number of miracles, as do our lives. We might not grow tired of them even if they multiplied like gifts under the tree. But I suspect that the miracles we desire would turn out to undo the wonderful plan that God is Providentially bringing to pass.


My children love to play with magnifying glasses, although apart from delight nothing practical has yet to come from their adventures. They have yet to solve a crime or make a contribution to the accumulated knowledge base of biology. But delight is itself a end in and of itself. A change in perspective, whether from small to large or large to small, allows us to find joy in some common object to which we have become so long accustomed that we have ceased to consider it. Child-likeness (as opposed to childishness) is the ability to find delight in that which others have ceased to even acknowledge, which is why having kids around for Christmas changes the whole experience.

Mary’s Magnifat – her song of praise to the Lord in Luke 1 – begins with the statement that “My soul doth magnify the Lord”, from which we get the term Magnificat. Her praise embodies the spirit of Sarah’s laughter and follows in the footsteps of Hanna’s praise. Later, when John is born, Zecharias’ tongue is unloosed and his first expression is a prophecy of hope and praise to the Lord. Christmas is a time of magnifying the Lord.

That God would first become small before we could see His greatness is one of those paradoxes that only Christianity has been able to fully capture. The more we contemplate the babe in the manger or the man hanging from the cursed tree, the more we realize that everything we thought about God was too ordinary, too pastel, too limited. It is not the spiritually mature that find old and familiar truths boring, but to the spiritually blind and proud of heart.

I am writing today on the Lord’s day, when most believers will gather together for worship. Let us make sure that delight is not missing from our praise. Let us strive to see God with the eyes of children in whom delight is never far. God came near so that we might behold His glory – full of grace and truth. May God be magnified in our midst today.

C. S. Lewis Quote: “Once in our world, a Stable had something in it that  was bigger than our whole world.” (10 wallpapers) - Quotefancy

The Virgin

The miraculous conceptions of Elizabeth and Mary were similar in that they both had to do with child bearing, yet there is an important distinction. Redemptive history records the blessing of God upon the barren Sarah and the barren Hannah, but both of these women conceived in the good old fashioned way. Mary is the only woman in history who conceived as a virgin, and not being a simpleton, she knew enough to ask “How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?”

The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. 

Gabriel, Luke 1:35

There is something of creation ex nihilo in this statement. An echo of Genesis 1 where the Spirit of God is hovering over the waters. The conception of children to the barren is a restoration of that which would have been had the world not been plunged into sin. But the virgin conception is a new creative act of the Trinity. In the original creation, the Son is the expression (or Word) of the Father as the Spirit animates that which is brought forth. But in the virgin birth, the Son Himself enters into creation supernaturally through the work of the Father and the Spirit. The product of their labors is a holy thing who will be called the Son of God.

Here there are no words in any known language that could be arranged in such a way that a doctrinal statement or a creed could fully express the miracle. The journey of the Eternal Son into His creation is the longest journey ever undertaken. Should we undertake a voyage to travel from galaxy to galaxy, we could not compare to the distance the Very God of Very God traveled to be become the Son of Man.

Like a Wallenda high above the earth, we walk the tightrope of maintaining the holiness of deity while embracing the full humanity of Jesus. Anyone who thinks they understand it merely exposes their ignorance. Like Mary, we ask “How can this be?” Is there anything more mysterious that the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us?

But another question we might (and should) ask is “Why should this be?” And the answer to that is Love. Purely gratuitous and entirely unearned. Mankind is loved by God with the kind of love of which we ourselves are incapable of giving until having received. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son”. The Christmas miracle is the first historical enactment of that sentiment. And because God loved, He found a way.

The Barren Womb

When a farmer plants his seeds in the ground, he possesses control over a limited number of variables whose number have increased with advances in technology. Within limits, the farmer may able to control the condition of the soil, the amount of water the seed receives, and the kind/amount of light the plant receives. But no matter the technological advances or the skill of the farmer, he cannot make the seed want to grow. Something within the seed must propel it to burst forth into Life. God is the Source and Sustainer of Life, and without Him the seed would simply rot and die in the ground.

Luke’s gospel opens upon a childless couple. There is a legitimate principle that God blesses those who are faithful to Him, but because man is not always the best interpreter of these blessings Luke makes sure to tell us that Zecharias and Elizabeth were not barren because of some curse upon them. Rather, they were righteous people walking faithfully in the commandments of God. And yet Elizabeth was barren.

I recently subjected myself to a “talk” by a preacher who used the term “brokenness” when he clearly meant sin. When used this way, “brokenness” becomes an illegitimate term to lessen the truth of man’s rebellion against God. It makes it sound like we need to be healed, when we really need to be forgiven. But that does not mean that “brokenness” is not a legitimate term when used correctly to describe the effects of sin upon our world. When Adam sinned, the ground that should have brought forth plentifully ceased to yield in abundance. Elizabeth was faithful, and yet her body was barren. And this was the cause of anguished prayers, lonely days, and the pitying glances of her friends and neighbors: a daughter of Eve could not bring forth life.

When Gabriel appeared to Zecharias to announce the upcoming birth of a baby in their family, Zecharias did not believe him. The time for child bearing was past and he had resigned himself to this. Zechariah was looking at his life like a farmer looks at a field stripped of all of its nutrients and filled with nettles and thorns. Humanly speaking, Zecharias was right, and yet Gabriel upbraided his unbelief and caused him to be mute until the promised child was born.

God did not choose this couple despite their barrenness, but because of it. God chose them to display the reality that He has power to bring forth life from that which is dead. In doing so, He makes the point that not only will sins be forgiven, but tears will be dried. Not only will the rebel receive pardon, but the sick will receive health. Not only will the lost be found, but the barren will bring forth life. Sins like scarlet will be washed white as snow, and “in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert.” The Author of life came to dwell among us so that He might re-write our stories, even if we have already closed the book.

He maketh the barren woman to keep house, and to be a joyful mother of children. Praise ye the LORD. 

Psalm 113:9

Ghosts and Angels

The association with Christmas and ghosts no doubt sprung from Literature’s best Christmas ghost story, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. And while there were no ghosts present in the narrative of the birth of Christ, there were angels all over the place. I suspect that many people think that the psychological effect of seeing an angel is similar to seeing a ghost, which is complete tomfoolery. (That’s right: TOMFOOLERY).

Angels are not sprinkled about on every page of the Sacred Text like confetti. Our glimpses into the celestial beings are few and far between. Then – suddenly – Luke’s gospel is full of them. Gabriel is making speeches to Zecharias and Elizabeth. A heavenly host is singing praises on a dark hillside. Another messenger brings word to Joseph to flee lest the Chosen Child be taken by Herod. The universal response to the angelic presence is to fear. We might be tempted to think that this is because they lived in a less scientific world, or that the people themselves – priests and maidens and shepherds – were more susceptible to the psychological terror of such beings. But we demonstrate our conceit when we think this way, for Fear is really the only rational response to the angelic.

We tend to think of angelic beings the way we think about ghosts, when in reality ghosts are something like the photo-negative of an angel. A ghost, as popularly conceived, is the appearance of a person without the substance of that person. They float around and pass through walls because something essential to them – their body – is missing. We fear ghosts even though we are not sure what a ghost could actually do to us. An angel, on the other hand, is a being whose substance is weightier than our own substance, being designed for another world. We fear the angelic not because he might pass through objects in our world, but rather because we suspect that any object in our world that is touched by an angel might be undone to its last molecule. We see ghosts as shades, but feel ourselves to be the shades when confronted by such beings as inhabit the court of the Almighty.

And so it is that both Zechariah and Mary FEAR, not because they lived in a more superstitious age or because they were faithless people, but simply because they were people and the normal human response at being in the presence of a Flaming Messenger is to fear.

If the appearance of one SENT one can have such an affect, how much more ought we to fear the One who SENDS? He told Moses that no one could see His face – that is, no one could see Him in His fullness – and live. The Israelites were warned not to even touch the mountain lest the holiness of God consume them. But to Mary, Gabriel has come to announce a change in the Immutable. The Eternal Son would take on flesh and reveal the fullness of the Father to us: Immanuel.

Why angels? Because heaven was breaking through. The kingdom of God was coming to overthrow the Prince of this world. Battle would soon be joined.

Bring on the Babies

There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias,

Luke 1:5

How has the world changed since the days of Herod, the king of Judaea? If we lived in that day and age we would be hard tasked to draw our water from a well instead of the twist of a faucet, or endure the cold and heat instead of adjusting the thermostat. But our ancestors did not know what they were missing, just as we are unaware of what our descendants will consider intolerable about our own time. It was neither the technological differences nor the geopolitical landscape that marks the real difference between today and the days of Herod, king of Judaea; it was the absence of hope.

Thou hast conquered, O pale Galilean; the world has grown grey from thy breath” accused Swinburne, but he was a fool, for the world never was darker than before the Messiah came. We so often live without regard to the difference Christ has made in the world that it is difficult to fathom the burden of living without His presence in History. Imagine December 25th without Christmas. That’s what you are taking away from every day of the year if Christ had not redeemed the days and turned every revolution around the sun into the “Year of our Lord.”

The calendar is appropriately divided by the birth of our Lord, and what good news that the pagan past had come to an end. “And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent.” Paganism, with all of its color and festivities, was itself growing pale the farther it was removed from Eden. Pale and bent and wicked. A great door was swinging shut on that ancient world. But what vistas were revealed as that same door opened on a new era, appropriately called the New Covenant: a time when Atonement sufficient for the sins of the world would be available and the New Adam would guide our feet in the path of peace.

What kind of personages could be sufficient to see our past to the door while ushering in the Age of Grace? Strange a man as he would become, the baby named John was the first. It was foretold that he would turn the hearts of the fathers to their sons and the hearts of their sons to their fathers. An apt prophecy, for the second baby is the Eternal Son coming in the fullness of the Spirit to live in joy under the authority of the Eternal Father. This is the Tri-une love from whence our world sprang and then was lost. But when the hearts of fathers and sons are once again inclined towards each other, earth shall once again reflect heaven. These two babies were the hinges upon which that great door of history swung shut to the past and open to the future.

When Elizabeth discovered she was with child, she declared that the Lord had taken away her reproach. Barrenness in the ancient world was a reproach. But it is not an overstatement to say that our world discourages child-bearing. Whether in politics or healthcare or social justice, the question always revolves around how NOT to have babies, or the terrible problem caused by all of these babies. But God sees children as a blessing and not a curse. God is a God of fecundity and not of barrenness. Just as we bring forth and nourish our children in the hope that one day they will take up the responsibility of fighting for mankind, so God brought His Son into the world that He might shoulder the weight of the world. Children are our hope. So bring on the babies!