What if Mary not only Heard but Answered Prayer?

Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day walk on water?

Mary: if he turned the water into wine first, yes.

Mary did you know that your baby boy would save our sons and daughters?

Mary: “daughters” is not an exact rhyme of “water.”

Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?

Mary: as I indicated in the Magnificat, I thought God was fulfilling something old. (“as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever”)

This child that you delivered, will soon deliver you.

Mary: I see what you did there.

Mary did you know that your baby boy would give sight to a blind man?

Mary: technically, he was not a baby boy when he healed the blind man.

Mary did you know that your baby boy would calm the storm with his hand?

Mary: ditto.

Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?

Mary: sometimes, Joseph and I lost track of his whereabouts.

When you kiss your little baby, you kiss the face of God.

Mary: did not know.

Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?

Mary: I had not worked out Trinitarian theology.

Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day rule the nations?

Mary: I was thinking mainly in terms of Israel.

Did you know that your baby boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb? That sleeping child you’re holding is the great I am.

Mary: If I knew then what I know now, of course.

Between the Times

Curmudgeon reminds me of a thought I had last night while looking at holiday decorations on homes in the neighborhood. We are in that mysterious and wondrous period when Halloween decorations are still up and Christmas ones have dawned.

Further proof that the U.S. the greatest nation on God’s green (and getting greener thanks to added warmth) earth.

But I do wonder if Thanksgiving functioning as the start of the Christmas shopping season is really the product of Anglicans pushing Advent. Isn’t the Sunday after Thanksgiving always the first Sunday of Advent?

If I Were Bishop

Bill Evans has some thoughts he thinks appropriate for the Advent Season:

From what antecedents does POEC [Paleo-orthodox ecclesial Calvinism] draw? POEC finds much to appreciate in the seminal work of John Calvin, but it is a critical and contextual reading of Calvin. This is no simplistic effort to pit “Calvin against the later Calvinists” (as some have recently alleged). Rather, it recognizes that the Reformed tradition has always been diverse and that realism in the trajectory of Calvin has always had its exponents. We also find much to ponder in critical appropriations (as opposed to mere parroting or repristinating) of Jonathan Edwards in the eighteenth century, John W. Nevin of Mercersburg, James Henley Thornwell and John B. Adger of Columbia, and W. G. T. Shedd in the nineteenth, and Geerhardus Vos, Thomas F. Torrance of Scotland, and Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. in the twentieth.

Since none of the figures mentioned, with the exception possibly of Torrance, would have countenanced Advent (not sure where Gaffin stands), Evans’ construction of a Protestant tradition looks fairly arbitrary.

Of course, Evans is not alone in this. Peter Leithart is similarly episcopal in his theological creativity. Meanwhile, Jason and the Callers concoct a Roman Catholic tradition that defies what their own bishops tolerate or enforce.

The fix for Christians who want to be ecclesial is not to abstract ecclesial Christianity (whether Roman Catholic or Protestant) from an actual church. It is, instead, to identify with the communion to which you belong. If you want your own communion to be more ecclesial, seek its ecclesial health on its own terms. (Serve as an officer, shovel the sidewalks, prepare traybakes for pot luck suppers, call attention to your communion’s own ecclesiology.)

For Calvinists, this should also include remembering basic Reformed Protestant objections to church calendars:

The Time Necessary for Worship. Although religion is not bound to time, yet it cannot be cultivated and exercised without a proper distribution and arrangement of time. Every Church, therefore, chooses for itself a certain time for public prayers, and for the preaching of the Gospel, and for the celebration of the sacraments; and no one is permitted to overthrow this appointment of the Church at his own pleasure. For unless some due time and leisure is given for the outward exercise of religion, without doubt men would be drawn away from it by their own affairs.

The Lord’s Day. Hence we see that in the ancient churches there were not only certain set hours in the week appointed for meetings, but that also the Lord’s Day itself, ever since the apostles’ time, was set aside for them and for a holy rest, a practice now rightly preserved by our Churches for the sake of worship and love.

Superstition. In this connection we do not yield to the Jewish observance and to superstitions. For we do not believe that one day is any holier than another, or think that rest in itself is acceptable to God. Moreover, we celebrate the Lord’s Day and not the Sabbath as a free observance.

The Festivals of Christ and the Saints. Moreover, if in Christian liberty the churches religiously celebrate the memory of the Lord’s nativity, circumcision, passion, resurrection, and of his ascension into heaven, and the sending of the Holy Spirit upon his disciples, we approve of it highly. But we do not approve of feasts instituted for men and for saints. Holy days have to do with the first Table of the Law and belong to God alone. Finally, holy days which have been instituted for the saints and which we have abolished, have much that is absurd and useless, and are not to be tolerated. In the meantime, we confess that the remembrance of saints, at a suitable time and place, is to be profitably commended to the people in sermons, and the holy examples of the saints set forth to be imitated by all. (Second Helvetic Confession, 24)

Seasons farewells.

When Did Reformed Christians Become Adventists?

Frosted FlakesI remember a time when Advent was foreign to most Protestants except for Episcopalians and a few Lutherans. Now one hears regularly of the Advent season in conservative Reformed and Presbyterian churches. Some even bring out the wreaths, the candles, and orchestrate Hallmark moments where an entire family will be involved in a reading and lighting that Sunday’s candle. The observance of Advent among the low-church Christians are usually ham fisted, of course, because technically Christmas carols should not be sung until December 25th – and that’s because Jesus isn’t born until then. Before Christmas, expectations of Christ’s advent are supposed to be properly advental, which makes “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus” an Advent hymn, and “Joy To the World” a Christmas hymn. How the liturgical calendar comes back to bite.

The objections to Advent – not to mention Christmas – are legion in the Reformed tradition. The regulative principle is one of those reasons.

But beyond the obvious confessional concerns are some more trivial and some more substantial. Among the trivial is the idea that Advent has become the commercial bridge between the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday and Christmas, thus baptizing a time of much consuming, both by the mouth and the wallet, with the religious patina of “Come, Lord Jesus, Come Quickly” (but not so fast that merchants fail to generate the seasonal profits on which their enterprises depend). Leigh Eric Schmidt’s book, Consumer Rites, is among the best on the commodification of holidays in American history and he notes the following:

In a market philosophy organized on the guiding priniciple of growth, every year Christmas advertizing was said to get “bigger and better,” and seemingly the only question that remained was how early in November to begin the blitz. The Dry Good Economist candidly noted in 1902 that many retailers consider 15 November or even 1 November “none too early” to open the “Holiday Campaign.”

One of the merchants that Schmidt includes was the New School Presbyterian and financial sponsor of Dwight L. Moody, John Wanamaker, of the famous Philadelphia department store that bore his name. According to Schmidt, “As one of the most influential and powerful merchants of his day, Wanamaker was rarely outdone, and at Christmas he kept up a formidable flow of store souvenirs, gift catalogues, newspaper advertisements, trade cards, window decorations, musical concerts, Santa Claus stunts, and other holiday entertainments.” Wanamaker even had Christmas hymnals printed for use in the store, and also wrote messages appropriate to the season such as the following: “To get right with Christmas would make men right with one another, nation with nation, and . . . put right this old world, almost falling to pieces.” Didn’t the baby Jesus as a grown man turn out merchants from the Temple for making profits off religion?

A more substantive concern about creeping Adventism among Presbyterians is that because Christmas follows Advent, hard pressed are many believers not to think that the coming of the Lord upon which they are meditating in December is the Advent that took place two millennia ago — thus causing eschatological rubber-necking. Of course, we can sing Advent hymns (if we are going to sing hymns) with Christ’s return in view, and believers should be encouraged to live expectantly, hoping for their Lord’s second coming. Mind you, this is a remarkable disincentive for commerce since living in the light of Christ’s imminent return leads to prayers like Calvin’s – “let us not become too deeply attached to earthly and perishable things.” But if we were going to sing Advent hymns it would make more sense to sing them as far away from Christmas as possible, so that folks don’t lose track of where they are in redemptive history.

We live in the inter-advental period – period. Christ has come. He is coming again. We are not awaiting his birth. Been there, done that. In which case, why don’t we sing all those Advent hymns at General Assembly and Synod, a time when Christmas is a distant memory and when commissioners would do well to consider their work in the light of “the fullness of time”?