Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Festival of Lights (Part 2)

May all of my readers have a very blessed remembrance of the incarnation of Jesus this season. He is the "thematic center", the "hermeneutical principle which unlocks the mystery of the world." And now, here is the rest of the sermon by Helmut Thielcke . . .

WHAT DIFFERENCE does it make if I see in God the Creator of the galaxies and solar systems and the microcosm of the atom? What is this God of macrocosm and microcosm to me if my conscience torments me, if I am repining in loneliness, if anxiety is strangling me? What good is that kind of God to me, a poor wretch, a heap of misery, for whom nobody cares, whom people in the subway stare at without ever seeing?

The "loving Father above in the skies" is up there in some monumental headquarters while I sit in a foxhole somewhere on this isolated front (cut off from all communication with the rear), somewhere on this trash heap, living in lodgings or a mansion, working at a stupid job that gives me the miseries or at an executive's desk which is armored with two anterooms ...what do I get out of it when someone says says, "There is a Supreme Intelligence that conceived the creation of the world, devised the law of cause and effect, and maneuvered the planets into their orbits?" All I can say to that is, "Well, you don't say so! A rather bold idea, but almost too good to be true," and go on reading my newspaper or turn on the television. For that certainly is not a message by which I could live.

BUT, if someone says, "There is Someone Who knows you, Someone Who grieves when you go your own way, and it cost Him something (namely, the whole expenditure of life between the Crib and the Cross!) to be the Star to which you can look, the Staff by which you can walk, the Spring from which you can drink" - when someone says THAT to me, then I prick up my ears and listen. For if that is true, REALLY true, that there is Someone Who is interested in me and shares my lot, then this can suddenly change everything that I hoped for and feared before. This could mean a revolution in my life, at any rate a revolution in my judgment and knowledge of things.

. . . Christmas teaches us that, if we wish to know God, we must in our relationship to the world begin at a completely DIFFERENT end, namely, that we do not argue from the structure of the world to God, but rather from the Child in the manger to the mystery of the world, to the mystery of THE world in which the manger exists. For, if this Child exists, then He is the heart and center of the world, then, to put it in philosophical terms, He is the hermeneutical principle which unlocks the mystery of the world.

Then I see in this Child that in the background of this world there is a Father. I see that love reigns above and in this world, even when I cannot understand this governance, and I am tormented by the question of how God can permit such tragic things to happen. This problem confronts us even at this heart and center of the world; for how could God allow His beloved Son to be born in a stable, how could He allow Him to die on the gallows of the Cross, how could the Lord of the world be driven out of the world, how could there be a darkness which could not be overcome?

BUT if the manifestation of love conquers me at ONE point, namely, where Jesus Christ walked on this earth and loved it, then I can trust that it will also be the message at those points in the story of life which I cannot understand. Even a child knows that his father is not playing tricks on him when he refuses to grant one of his wishes and thus treats him in a way that is seemingly incompatible with love. The highest love is almost always incognito and therefore we must trust it.

So even for the Christian the mysteries of life are by no means solved so far as his reason and understanding is concerned. But as a disciple I can have the peace which passes all understanding and which therefore cannot be shaken by reason either, because it is itself allied with it.

Let me put this in the form of an illustration. If I look at a fine piece of fabric through a magnifying glass, I find that it is perfectly clear around the center of the glass, but around the edges it tends to become distorted. But this does not mislead me into thinking that the fabric itself is confused at this point. I know that this is caused by an optical illusion and therefore by the way in which I am looking at it. And so it is with the miracle of knowledge which is bestowed upon me by the Christmas event: If I see the world through the medium of the Good News, then the center is clear and bright. There I see the miracle of the love that descends to the depths of life. On the periphery, however, beyond the Christmas light, confusion and distortion prevail. The ordered lines grow tangled and the labyrinthine mysteries of life threaten to overwhelm us. Therefore our sight, which grows aberrant as it strays afield, must recover its perspective by returning to its thematic center. The extraordinary thing is that the mystery of life is not illuminated by a formula, but rather by another mystery, namely, The News, which can only be believed and yet is hardly believable, that God has become man and that now I am no longer alone in the darkness.

That's why I celebrate Christmas.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Festival of Light (Part One)

Most years about this season I revisit an old sermon that was preached by the German evangelical theologian Helmut Thielicke, entitled "The Festival of Light" (found in "Christ and The Meaning of Life", Baker, 1962). I trust you will find joy and significance in these devotional portions I share...

WHEN I am asked why as a Christian I celebrate Christmas, my first reply is that I do so because something has happened TO me and therefore - but only as I am receptive and give myself to it - something now can happen IN me.

There is a Sun "that smiles at me," and I can run out of the dark house of my life into the sunshine (as Luther once put it). I live by virtue of the miracle that God is not merely the mute and voiceless ground of the universe, but that He comes to me down in the depths. I see this in Him Who lay in a manger, a human Child, yet different from us all. And even though at first I look upon it only as a lovely colored picture, seeing it with the wondering eyes of a child, who has no conception whatsoever of the problem of the personhood of God and the Trinity and the metaphysical problems of time and eternity, I see that He, "Whom all the universe could not contain," comes down into the world of little things, the little things of MY life, into the world of homelessness and refugees, a world where there are lepers, lost sons, poor old ladies, and men and women who are afraid, a world in which men cheat and are cheated, in which men die and are killed.

CRIB and CROSS: these are the nethermost extreme of life's curve; no man can go any deeper than this; and He traversed it all. I do not need first to to become godly and noble before I can have a part in Him. For there are no depths in my life where He has not already come to meet me, no depths to which He has not been able to give meaning by surrounding them with love and making them the place where He visits me and brings me back home.

Once it HAPPENED, ONCE in the world's history it happened, that Someone came forward with the claim that He was the Son of God and the assertion "I and The Father are one," and that He proved the legitimacy of that claim, not by acting like a supernatural being or stunning men with His wisdom or communicating knowledge of higher worlds, but rather by proving His claims through the depths to which He descended. A Son of God Who defends His title with the argument that He is the brother of even the poorest and the guilty and takes their burden on Himself: that is a fact one can only note, and shake one's head in unbelief - OR one must worship and adore. There is no other alternative. I MUST WORSHIP. That's why I celebrate Christmas.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Greek Help - Free!!

I have suggested several times the site at for help in quickly locating words in the NT text, doing lexical work, parsing verbs, etc. If you have not tried it, you probably really do want to, even if you don't realize it yet.

Recently I have been getting requests to repeat the Greek elements course I have taught for our church. However, there just is not time with all the other courses I'm teaching now. But, there is a free tool to teach you New Testament Greek from the very beginning. Yes, free !! It is done by Dr. Ted Hildebrandt, professor at Gordon College (formerly at Grace College). You can find it at

Happy learning !!