Friday, June 1, 2012

Christmas in June?

My fine institution is putting together a "25 Days of Christmas" Devotional, and asked several (or rather, twenty-five) of us to write 300 word reflections on phrases from the Luke 2 Christmas story.  The deadline to submit these was today, June 1st, so I thought I'd be ahead of the game, and I cranked it out a couple of days ago.  I wrote about "for all the people" which comes from verse 10 where the angel announces that Christ's birth is great news for all the people.  (I include a picture of that event here, because I'm sure this is just what it looked like.)

300 words is not much space to develop a thought.  Most philosophers can't clear their throats in 300 words.  But I tried to say something substantial and uplifting.  When I finished, I found out that I wrote the wrong one.  I was supposed to write about verse 18 where it says the shepherds told what they had seen and "all who heard" were amazed.  Bummer.  I'm afraid my anti-Calvinist message in "for all the people" doesn't quite apply here.  I'm going back to the drawing board, and no longer finishing ahead of the deadline.

Below is the "wrong" meditation that will probably never see publication anywhere else.  For the correct meditation, you'll have to wait for Christmas.

Is the good news of great joy really for “all the people”?  Of course for those who receive and accept that Gospel it is good news.  But couldn’t it be argued that for other people the news of Christ’s birth isn’t so cheery?  Won’t those people who refuse to acknowledge Jesus as the promised messiah suffer throughout all eternity? 

One way we could try to understand this is to say that the phrase is merely a rhetorical device used to emphasize the point that the birth of Jesus was a very important and positive event for many people.  The Scriptural authors do this sort of thing sometimes.  Think of 1 Kings 10:24 where it says “The whole world sought audience with Solomon to hear the wisdom God had put in his heart” (NIV).  In essence, the author is claiming that a lot of people came to hear Solomon, and no one would think to interpret it as meaning that every single person in the whole world came.  But here in Luke, it doesn’t seem to be the angel’s message that this is great news for a whole bunch of people but not really for everyone.

I think it is better to understand the angel as speaking the literal truth.  It really is great news for everyone.  In our theological tradition we believe that even those who ultimately reject Christ have been invited to participate in the Kingdom.  It does not take away from the generosity and goodness of a gift when someone refuses to accept and open it.  Salvation has been offered to all people—every single person in the whole world.  Jesus has come and defeated death.  He is the Lord of the universe and will reign forever as the King of Kings.  This is Good News indeed.

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