The Abortion Argument Comes To An End

It must be painful to surrender so many arguments at once. For years, we were told the thing could be done because the subject was not alive. Or, if alive, it was not human. Or, if human, it was only part of another body. These were passionate claims, screamed in holy rage and not to be denied.

But, in one day, that has all changed. The claims have been denied – and denied passionately – by the very people who made them. After fifty years, we find that it was all a show.

The occasion for this change is a proposed new law, which is actually a very old law. Thou shalt not kill. Even if it’s a little kid whom you were hoping to kill – a little kid now squalling on a surgical table, clearly alive and human and not part of anyone else’s body.

This newborn child, though small and helpless, defeats the tired old arguments, and now we see what pro-choice really means. It means this cold and naked baby is about to be killed.

Many people will find the treatment of this child troubling, but 210 of our elected representatives – an entire political party and nearly half of the House of Representatives – insist that she really ought to die. In Nancy Pelosi’s words, those who would protect this child “disrespect a woman’s right to choose the size or timing of her family.”

The arguments for abortion were loud, but they never mattered, even to those who screamed them loudest. It was never really a question of whether the child was alive or human or part of another person’s body. It was only this: she has been chosen for death, and nothing may stand in the way.

For more information about the bill and vote, see: https://www.theamericanconservative.com/democrats-party…/

The Quiet Light of Christmas

The Christmas tree stands quietly in the corner, its little lights pushing back the darkness, a silent memorial to a not-quite-silent night. The father was afraid, the mother in great pain, and the baby probably howled as babies do. They made sounds of distress and confusion, though we sing of comfort and joy.

This is the shock of Christmas, which remains a comfort and a scandal 2,000 years later.

It is shocking because, according to the story, this baby had a choice – to lay himself in Joseph’s hard hands, to plant himself the smallest seed in Mary’s womb, to burst frail and naked into a cold dark world.

Might God come gently? Allow himself to be overlooked and rejected because he so loves the world? Many hope not, for a loving God is still God, and no God is wanted here. They are done with Jesus as almighty Rome was done with Jesus. But Rome is long gone, and Jesus remains.

The light of Christmas is still pushing back the darkness, even here in America, where darkness grows. Even to us, a child is born, and to us, a son is given, calling across the ages that God is with us in our distress and confusion, that he came gently to offer us comfort and joy.

Perhaps we will welcome the Christ-child this year, amazed by the love and humility of God. Perhaps we will turn away. But this much is certain. When America has returned to dust as Rome returned to dust, Jesus will remain.

Are We Done With Wonder?

In this season, dominated by the claim of an ancient miracle, I’m thinking of the book in which this claim is recorded. It is a strange book, tone-deaf to our modern sensibilities.

It used to be called ‘the good book’, which seems odd because it speaks with moral authority and it claims definite knowledge of God’s thoughts and intentions. In our culture, that’s considered a recipe for evil, not good.

And, of course, the book speaks of miracles – lots of miracles – which, to a culture steeped in Darwinian disbelief, sets it squarely in the realm of fairy tale.

Take, for example, another story from the book; the story of Jonah in the belly of a whale. This story reports – I grant – a highly unexpected turn of events. If you think that the whale found the Jonah thing hard to swallow, just imagine the modern reader. In his experience, people who enter fish don’t come out in one piece. His disbelief, he thinks, is reasonable; a product of his experience.

But another, less obvious factor also deserves consideration. What if the tables have somehow been turned; that what we record as experience is actually colored or filtered by our disbelief? What if, because of his presuppositions, the modern reader has given little thought to the world he lives in, to even the body that he lives in? Perhaps he is less qualified than he thinks to measure even his own story’s plausibility.

Is it a greater miracle that a whale should swallow a man or that such an unlikely creature as a whale should exist at all? Is it a greater wonder that Jonah spent three days in the belly of a whale or that the reader has spent 270 days in the belly of a giantess? Very likely, the reader has somehow forgotten that fact or – more to the point – he has forgotten the wonder of it.

He lives in a world perishing for lack of wonder. He moves through it with eyes cast down, focused on what is man-made and man-sized. He thinks the cell phone in his pocket is a miracle and the intricate dance of the solar system a monotonous routine.

He thinks he knows the difference between the natural and the supernatural, but perhaps he is mistaken. He thinks that if something happens once, it is a miracle; if it happens a thousand times it is not. He thinks that the repetition of something marvelous removes the marvel and cancels the need for explanation or gratitude or reflection. He is surrounded by wonders that he has lost the ability to see.

And so, this ancient book is, in his ears, no longer ‘good.’ And of this ancient miracle, he thinks, we should not speak its name, let alone allow a cow or manger to appear in public. He is done with wonder.

But wonder is not done with him. After fishing Jonah from the whale, God said to him, “Should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”

The greatest wonder in this universe, the Christmas story that no one can suppress, is this: “he has come to seek and to save those who are lost.”

The Gift the Child Was Giving

He’s lost a lot of blood already and can hardly see.  The pain is like a drug, blurring his mind.  He staggers on, eyes closed, remembering…

“It doesn’t have to be like this!” His friend was shouting at him, angry and frightened.  “You can do what you need to do without this suffering!” 

Another scene, a softer voice: “You’re very hungry, you know. Just turn this stone into food.  It won’t hurt anyone.”

He opens his swollen eyes, glances into the roaring sea of faces.  Many are laughing at him, jeering, a few weeping.  He sees his mother, mouth open, staring in shock and agony.  He stumbles, sways beneath the heavy beam, crashes to the pavement.

It doesn’t have to be like this.  It doesn’t have to be like this.

No.  It has to be like this. 

Not just this – this day he had long feared – but all of it.  The years of loneliness.  The sorrow and temptation and weakness.  The knowing that it would someday end here, rejected by his own.  Hated.  Abandoned.  Unrecognized.

It had to be like this for him to say to earth what he had decided to say, to be for earth what he had decided to be. He would be inside what he was over, the aching, dangerous highwire of human experience.  The languid, contented simplicity of a creature with a full belly.  The searing anger and frustrations of human emotion, the frailty of a human brain, the bizarre tension of a soul within a body. 

He knew what it meant to come, and still he came, and for one night, at least, the suffering was still far off.  That night, there was only joy, for unto us a child was born. 

His birth was a beginning, but also an end – the end of a chapter that began in microscopic secrecy, in the merest speck inside one young woman: in one living cell with 46 human chromosomes.  The Son of Man was knit together as any human child is knit together.  He “became flesh” or – as enlightened people in our day say – a mere “clump of cells” and was eventually born in a gush of blood and water as he would later be proved dead in a gush of blood and water.

There is no dignity here, no self-preservation, no standing apart from the humanity he created.  His condescension was not condescending. 

The wonder of Christmas is not that there is a being so majestic as God, nor that there are beings so tattered as us, but that a bridge was built between the two and in a shape no one expected – the shape of a child who is God With Us.

It was the “With” that hurt.  He might easily have become God Among Us or God Above Us.  It didn’t have to be like this… unless he had come searching, not for subjects, but for his beloved.  Unless, by his suffering and condescension, he became “the firstborn among many brothers”, a living bridge “who has been tempted in every way – just as we are”, coming “to seek and to save that which was lost”.

That we are lost seems pretty clear these days, and it was to such people as us that Christmas came.  “A people living in darkness have seen a great light”.  Mary and Joseph, the angels and shepherds – they knew what a gift this child was.  And we know, perhaps better than they did, what a gift this child was giving.

After he has suffered,

he will see the light of life and be satisfied;

by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,

and he will bear their iniquities.

Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,

and he will divide the spoils with the strong,

because he poured out his life unto death,

and was numbered with the transgressors.

For he bore the sin of many,

and made intercession for the transgressors.

– Isaiah 53

Christmas in the Shadows

The tree seems small this year, the lights dim, but maybe I’m asking too much.  I long for Christmas to arrive, bulldozing my fears, flooding my soul with peace, but the harder I stare, the less magic I see.  Our decorations look like so many trinkets dragged from storage boxes or picked from store shelves – a desperate incantation to console ourselves.

     The people living in darkness have seen a great light;
     On those living in the shadow of death, a light has dawned.

Americans have spent a year in the shadow of death and there is no end in sight.  We need Christmas — a miracle on any street, a more wonderful life, a visitation of Christmas spirits to break open our hearts, to break open the hard sky that overshadows us.

    An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them,
    and they were terrified, but the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid.  I bring you good news…”

After this year of isolation, I long to reenter the heart of the Christmas story, the moments of shining unity.  Sheep puzzling over bright angels and perhaps joining in their song.  Dazed shepherds crowding into a cave, staring in wonder at a baby.  Mary “treasuring up these things and pondering them in her heart”.

But there’s another side to the story.  It was a child who first recognized the Christ and “leaped within his mother’s womb”, but there are other children here, too, murdered in Herod’s blind swipe at Jesus.  There are mothers “weeping for their children and refusing to be comforted because they are no more”.  And watching her son’s life unfold, a sword was to pierce Mary’s own heart, too.

    He was despised and rejected by mankind,
    A man of sorrows, familiar with suffering.

The story of Christmas is a story of earth, and so it is, in part, a sad story.  The baby did not come to be king; he was already that.  He came to become a lamb. 

    He was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
    the punishment that brought us peace was upon him
    and by his wounds we are healed.

The baby we celebrate at Christmas was not born into a fairy tale, but into a world like ours, writhing in the shadow of death.  He did not enter history as a king striding to his throne, but like a fireman running into a fire, into the thick of our fear and sorrow. 

In this year, more than any I recall, I need Christmas.  Not the decorations or tradition.  I need to crowd into the cave and stare in wonder at this child who is, as the prophet declared, “God with us”.

     For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given,
     and the government will be on his shoulders.
     And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
     Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end.