Back Roads to Bethlehem

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It’s the pilgrimage for the proud.

For those with halos screwed on too tight.

 

In every precipice that we slip down

And in all our detours into darkness

We are taken aback by our own depravity

Our worthiness in our unworthiness

 

You may start from the north

And I may from the south

But we both see the same star

We seek the same savior

Before I even saw it shining off in the distance, I was told it wasn’t really for me. I was told if I wanted to find it, I had to start where they were. I had to be one of them. I had to match them step for step. From on top of a peak, they peered down upon me. Asking to come, they said I could not; unless… I severed my scarlet letter. It would repulse the King, they said.

I refused and they called me a contradiction. I told them I tried and they said my faith was too small. Either way, that star was not speaking to me.

So I ran on alone.

Down back roads to Bethlehem, driven by nothing more than a hunger for hope in something I did not, do not, will not and cannot understand. I ran and I ran and I ran. Through thickets and thorns, over daisy dressed mountains, into towns of the gutter, I ran. Until the gravel turned to grass and stones became fertile, with my eye on the star and hand over my heart, I ran and I ran and I ran.

Down back roads to Bethlehem I found a burrow of new faces. Everything was so different there. Saints spoke of scripture in words I had never heard; yet their language felt so familiar.

Clothing me in a love I thought to be legendary, I was drawn in to the hearth of their fires. It was there that stories were swapped and songs were sung and laughs were loud and tears were sent trickling, as we uncovered each layer of the other. For a moment I thought I was already there.

Leaving I turned as I heard one say, “I’ll see you… I’ll see you at the star.”

Faster I flew down back roads to Bethlehem. With each place I met more living in love than not.

And shedding my shame came all the easier.

Soon enough the star hung not twenty yards away. Below it sat the saints of the burrow and the soldiers of the peak. All of them waving me to a spot they had saved.

And stories were swapped. Songs were sung. Laughs were loud. Tears were sent trickling and love, oh love, burned again.

Beneath the umbrella of the star, we experienced our own rescue. None of us deserved it. None of us could earn it. None of us could pay it back.

It just was.

He was.

Down back roads to Bethlehem, saints and soldiers and even runaways like me reached our redemption. Along fault lines of faith, regardless of the rules, we all found the prodigal’s father. We were made new and perfect. We were celebrated as sons and daughters. We were loved as we were.

And we rolled up our sleeves and traded tales of our bruises… denying the lie that we were ever really alone.

 

RR

Four Visits from Christ BEFORE he was Born

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So as the season swings into the climax of Christmas, I find myself searching for the weirdest elements in the story cause I’m weird. I look for the stuff that’s not taught in Sunday Schools or sung by carolers. None of it is really critical, what I am writing is mostly speculative, but, alas, to those lovers of scriptural surprises, enjoy!

It wasn’t until a couple years ago, when I was so close to a sweet nap in the middle of my Christian theology class that my professor said something that got my attention. “Jesus came BEFORE he was baby. Well… he may have.” I think he saw I was close to snoozing, when I looked up he was looking directly at me, so I blinked at him a couple times to let him know “okay, I’m listening.”

Some of these stories are eerily similar to a Christmas flick with a surprise visit from Santa. Like the ones where the janitor, who no one has ever seen before, shows up in the nick of time to impart lifesaving wisdom and as the characters walk away scratching their heads, they take a look back only to find He. Has. VANISHED.

Of the many possible moments of Christ’s early appearances, four really intrigued me.

1.  Melchizedek

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After Abram returned from defeating Kedorlaomer and his allied kings, the king of Sodom came out to greet him in the Valley of Shaveh, the King’s Valley. Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought out bread and wine—he was priest of The High God—and blessed him:

 

Blessed be Abram by The High God,
Creator of Heaven and Earth.
And blessed be The High God,
who handed your enemies over to you.

 

Abram gave him a tenth of all the recovered plunder.

(Genesis 14:17-20, MSG)

 

The appearance of the Melchizedek is so peculiar because there is no other reference of him in the Old Testament stories (except in the Psalms). It was like he suddenly appeared out of thin air to Abram. Yet, even while there is no evidence of a historical relationship between these two, Abram gives him 10% of his loot, suggesting a previous understanding.

And He celebrates the Passover with bread and wine before there even was a Passover. (Reference to Jesus’ last supper?”

AND THEN this weird blip on the Old Testament screen makes a huge mark in the book of Hebrews.

“For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, and to him Abraham apportioned a tenth part of everything. He is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace. He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever.” (Hebrews 7:3)

~

2. The Wrestler

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As an angry mob raced to his doorstep, Jacob sent his family across the river to safety and chose to wait the gang out. We are told in Genesis that he starts wrestling with a “man” until the break of day.

The upper hand falls to Jacob, as he is able to overtake the mysterious figure by morning.

The man said, “Let me go; it’s daybreak.”

Jacob said, “I’m not letting you go ’til you bless me.”

27 The man said, “What’s your name?”

He answered, “Jacob.”

28 The man said, “But no longer. Your name is no longer Jacob. From now on it’s Israel (God-Wrestler); you’ve wrestled with God and you’ve come through.”

(Genesis 32:26-28, MSG)

I could write a million more posts on the meaning of this story alone (I love this story). It is so familiar to how I feel 99% of the time about my own relationship with God.

 

Always wrestling.

~

3. Abraham’s visitors

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Remember when God laid a verbal smack down on Sarah with his, “yes you did; you laughed” in response to her lie? Well, that may have been Jesus.

Jesus:

56 Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.”

57 “You are not yet fifty years old,” they said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!”

58 “Very truly I tell you,”Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!”

(John 8:56-58, NIV, emphasis mine)

~

4. Furnace Angel

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When the Angel came to rescue Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, he was called an interesting name.

“But look!” he said. “I see four men, walking around freely in the fire, completely unharmed! And the fourth man looks like a son of the gods!” (Daniel 3:25, MSG, emphasis mine)

Pastor Mark Driscoll believes without a doubt that this is Jesus… Not sure if I am beyond a doubt and I am equally unsure of how I feel about agreeing with Pastor Mark on anything, but it’s interesting to think about. Like a son of the Gods.

~ ~ ~

Important to note is that none of these appearances (if they were in fact Jesus) are the same thing as what happened when Christ was actually born. If these were examples of Him, they are what are called Christophanies, essentially nonhuman appearances. Or, as I like to think of them, teasers to the main event.

When Jesus was born, he was fully human.

Which makes his birth even more spectacular. He came to “dwell” amongst us. No longer was he intervening on our behalf by simply stopping by for quick fixes, only to dust off and head home. He put on skin and walked alongside the worst of us. He healed the sick, defended the vulnerable and died a criminal’s death.

The God who chose to stay with us.

RR

Christmas List: Five Funniest Christmas Flicks Ever

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Today I find myself knee deep in loads of laundry as I work to squeeze my life into two suitcases. So, naturally, I started dreaming about hot coco nights with the movies that bring pure joy to my life. This is a list post. A list of my favorite Christmas movies. It’s what’s getting me through the impossible task of packing.

And we can find a purpose in this post too- because Christmas is about joy and laughter and friends and family and dogs in sweaters and merryness! And on days when the snow is shooting at your face and the free time in the schedule becomes slimmer and slimmer, we all need a good laugh. Perhaps part of the reason we celebrate the season? Winter blues can sneak up like slick ice on the sidewalk, these gems are sure cures.

– RR

Christmas Vacation

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“Hey! If any of you are looking for any last-minute gift ideas for me, I have one. I’d like Frank Shirley, my boss, right here tonight. I want him brought from his happy holiday slumber over there on Melody Lane with all the other rich people and I want him brought right here, with a big ribbon on his head. And I want to look him straight in the eye and I want to tell him what a cheap, lying, no-good, rotten, four-flushing, low-life, snake-licking, dirt-eating, inbred, overstuffed, ignorant, blood-sucking, dog-kissing, brainless, dickless, hopeless, heartless, fat-a**, bug-eyed, stiff-legged, spotty-lipped, worm-headed sack of monkey s*** he is! Hallelujah! Holy s***! Where’s the Tylenol?”  -Clark Griswold

Clark: “Before we begin, since this is Aunt Bethany’s 80th Christmas, I think she should lead us in the saying of grace.”

Aunt Bethany: “What dear?”
Noah Griswold: “Grace!”
Aunt Bethany: “Grace? She passed away 30 years ago.”
Uncle Lewis: “They want you to say grace. The blesssssing.”
Aunt Bethany (after everyone has bowed heads for the blessing): “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands/ One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
Clark: “Amen.”

Home Alone 2: Lost in New York

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“My tie is in the bathroom and I can’t go in because Uncle Frank is taking a shower. He says that if I walked in there and saw him naked I’d grow up never feeling like a real man.”
-Kevin McCallister

Harry: [Marv brings a load of stolen goods from the Murphy household to the van and Harry sees him laughing] What’s so funny? What are you laughing at? You did it again didn’t you? You left the water running. What’s wrong with you? Why do you do that? I told you not to do it.
Marv: Harry, it’s our calling card!
Harry: Calling card.
Marv: All the great ones leave their mark. We’re the wet bandits!

ELF

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“You stink. You smell like beef and cheese, you don’t smell like Santa.”

“Wow, you’re fast. I’m glad I caught up to you. I waited 5 hours for you. Why is your coat so big? So, good news – I saw a dog today. Have you seen a dog? You probably have. How was school? Was it fun? Did you get a lot of homework? Huh? Do you have any friends? Do you have a best friend? Does he have a big coat, too?”

Jingle All the Way (Only because of Sinbad)

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They sit there and use subliminal messages to suck your children’s’ minds out! And I know what I’m talking about because I went to junior college for a semester and I studied psychology so I’m right in there, I know what’s going on. They make the kids feel like garbage and you, the father, who’s working 24/7 delivering mail so you can make an alimony payment to a woman that slept with everybody at the post office, but me! And then when you get the toy, it breaks and you can’t fix it because it’s little cheap plastic!”

“How about these stupid letters from kids to Santa at the North Pole: “Dear Santa, Can you send me a bike and a slinky?” No! Your father’s been laid off!”

How the Grinch Stole Christmas

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“Oh, the Who-manity!

“All right, you’re a reindeer. Here’s your motivation: Your name is Rudolph, you’re a freak with a red nose, and no one likes you. Then, one day, Santa picks you and you save Christmas. No, forget that part. We’ll improvise… just keep it kind of loosey-goosey. You hate Christmas! You’re gonna steal it. Saving Christmas is a lousy ending, way too commercial. Action!”

Laughing yet? No? I brought back up.