In his book The Last Week, Marcus Borg suggests that Jesus carefully scripted what we call the Triumphal Entry, arriving Jerusalem from the East at the same time Pontius Pilate’s entourage entered from the West, attended by all the pomp and flourish of the Roman Empire.
Most pastors have heard Fred Craddock’s phrase, “almost Bible.” He coined it after learning early in his ministry that some things people believe to be in the Bible just aren’t there. Craddock’s favorite example is the three wise men, heralded in hymn and Hallmark card across the years, but missing from Matthew. The Evangelist mentions three gifts, but leaves the number of the Magi mysterious. That number three? Almost Bible. Add a fourth wise person next time you plan a children’s Christmas pageant and you can be sure everyone will read Matthew’s text afresh.
From the New York Times, here is a recent piece on the health benefits of giving – benefits, that is, for the giver.
The article is partly tied to holiday giving. But the writer gives a nod, not just to material gifts for the names on our shopping list, but also to gifts of our time and care. She cites numerous studies that show improved health outcomes for people involved in helping or volunteering. One study describes an endorphin rush or “helper’s high” from altruistic behavior, and finds that “[t]he strongest effect was seen when the act of altruism involved direct contact with other people.” So writing a check is not as revivifying as giving our time and attention to a person in need.
Apparently no one was killed in the shopping frenzy on Black Friday, an improvement upon last year when a hapless Wal-Mart employee was trampled by a mob high on the pheromones of pure capitalism. This is the cultural context in which the church hopes to proclaim the journey toward Bethlehem, a journey which began Advent I with the very adult Jesus warning about the eschatological coming of the Son of Man.
It's sad enough that laity are caught in the vortex of this paganism, struggling to remember their baptisms in the rush toward the culturally-defined "Christmas." How are pastors to recall their own identity?