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Putting the emPHAsis on the wrong syllABle.

December 5, 2007

Our family met at one of Anthony’s basketball games the other night, and my dad approached me during halftime with a question. “I’m going to give a devotion soon, and I want to run it by you first.”

“I think that the church puts way too much emphasis on Christmas.” Okay, I knew my dad has had issues with Christmas for as long as I can remember. He would always seem depressed during the holidays and he never really talked to my brother or me about it. I suppose it was because he grew up in very real poverty and Christmas was likely to be a pretty unhappy time around the Deuel household.

Anyway it was no surprise that he would feel that way. But he went on. “We’re looking at the wrong part of Jesus’ life. We spend all this money and stress ourselves out over Christmas, supposedly to celebrate his birth.”

Okay, I’m with him there.

Immediately my mind went the other way, though. I remember a Christmas eve communion service in which the pastor stated, “Every Christmas we celebrate how Jesus was born, but do we remember often enough why he was born? Jesus Christ was born to die for your sins.”

I left that service not feeling like I had encountered God at all, but like I had encountered a doctrine. I felt utterly offended. Communion isn’t a doctrine thing, it’s a heart thing. Plus, I can’t stand “born to die” Christology. It minimizes Jesus’ life, his teaching, his preaching, his healing, his breaking down barriers between the clean and unclean, the honored and the shamed; his entire ministry. There is an awful lot of Gospel (in every sense of that word) before the passion happens, and I believe it means something.

I hoped dad wasn’t going down the “born to die” road. I really, really did.

He wasn’t. We also agreed that the church has also put way too much emphasis on Jesus’ death. (Remember, southern Illinois borders Kentucky and isn’t far from Arkansas and the Ozarks. We’re in Bible belt country.) The church has been notorious around these parts for playing the Jesus card, in essence saying, “Jesus died for you, the least you can do is….” The church often talks about Jesus’ death as though it is the only truly important part of his life at all.

Dad went on. “Easter should be the big deal in the church. The Christian life is supposed to be about our encounter with the living, risen Christ.”

I agreed wholeheartedly. Christians worship on Sundays rather than Saturdays because of Easter. Paul’s ministry (and he might easily be found guilty of excessive emphasis on Christ’s death, depending on how you read him) begins with his encounter with the risen, living Christ. That encounter is where it all begins.

As a pastor, that gave me a lot to think about. Here I am immersed in the stress of Advent, but I’m already thinking about how the churches I serve can make Easter THE big deal this year. And not just on Easter Sunday, but every Sunday. As a worship leader I can be really good at making sure the congregation experiences an encounter with good music. I try to facilitate an encounter with a good and thoughtful, loving sermon. I try to facilitate an encounter with good liturgy, thought-provoking and heartwarming prayers, with calls to Christian action and gratitude. Somehow I need to make sure that I am doing all of those things in order to facilitate an encounter with the living, risen Christ in the here and now.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 6, 2007 9:43 am

    Good post. Thanks for your (and your dad’s) thoughts.

  2. September 3, 2009 2:49 pm

    Cool site, love the info.

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