Every Day a Holiday


We find ourselves in the middle of Holy Week, leading up to the highest of all Christian holidays. And you thought it was Christmas. In this time I’ve been reflecting on the benefit of semi-liturgical remembrances, like Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the like. Growing up in a temperamental, fundamental church we avoided liturgy like the plague and I’m slowly being introduced to aspects of the “church calendar”.

There is a movement, perhaps partly inspired by Jehovah’s Witnesses, to not honor certain days as special or “holy”. “Every Sunday should be like Easter,” one might say. I can see where this idea can come from. Maybe it’s a resentment of the so-called “C&E” Christians or maybe it’s a reaction to the ever-increasing commercialization of Christmas. I can see that, but I’m becoming more convinced that we need these holy days to focus our minds on aspects of the Gospel and to remember.

Remembering Holy Week

What do we mean by “Holy Week”? What make a day or week holy? I think what first comes to mind is an idea of righteousness or sinlessness. So I shouldn’t sin during holy week, right? Well, yes and no. You shouldn’t sin during this week, but you also shouldn’t sin any other time so that doesn’t help. The holiness of holy week is much more like the sense that a holiday is a “holy day”, that is it is set apart as a special time.

Our modern holidays carry the biblical idea of a special time of remembrance. Whether it’s Memorial Day, MLK Day, Mothers’ Day, Black History Month, what have you, we are encouraged to set aside time to remember and reflect upon very specific aspects of our cultural history.

We don’t have a biblical mandate to remember holy week, as it were. However we can look to a similar idea that comes from the most famous of Old Testament passages, the Ten Commandments.

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
- Exodus 20:8

The Relationship of Remembrance to Holiness

Think of a “secular” holiday like MLK Day. Would the day change depending on your level of reflection on the man and his work? If you didn’t ever think about him that day you’d still get the day off perhaps, but the tone of the day would be very different than if you did. Maybe instead you listen to one of his speeches or watch a special documentary. Then you can reflect on the historical context of his work and look forward to the future realization of the dream.

If you don’t remember then it’s still a day off, but it’s not different from an average Saturday. If you do remember it’s an opportunity to reflect on our own cultural moment and perhaps seek areas to improve. Quite a different holiday.

In the biblical example, the people of Israel are commanded to “remember the Sabbath day” and the logical connection to the next phrase “to keep it holy” isn’t necessarily obvious. This translation doesn’t over-interpret it for us, so we have to think about the various options for this infinitive phrase, “to keep it holy”.

It could be an example of the explanatory use of the infinitive. You could translate it, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” That is, the way that you remember is by keeping it holy.

It could be either showing purpose or result. The first would say that we remember “in order to keep it holy”. The second would say that we remember “so as to keep it holy”. In one the remembrance has the aim of making it holy. In the other the remembrance directly results in the holiness of the day. The distinction is subtle but there is a difference.

Which comes first, the holiness or the remembrance? In this case the day was made holy initially by God himself and the people are commanded to continue the holiness by remembering. This seems to be much more of the purpose or result sense. We must remember or else the day won’t be different. If we act as if the Sabbath (whether Saturday, Sunday, or a floating weekly observance) is just any other day, that is, if we ignore the command to remember it then the holiness or separate-ness of the day is gone.

Interestingly it is the holiness that also causes our remembrance, or at least it focuses it. If we didn’t have MLK Day then I probably wouldn’t think about the Civil Rights movement that often really. How many of us would honor a yearly time to take stock and thank God and others for everything if we didn’t have Thanksgiving?

In the same way we are invited by church liturgy to enter into a state of intentional specific remembrance during this week. If we don’t remember than the separate-ness of the week is gone. If we scoff at “holy week” we are in danger of our memory fading entirely. If every day is a holiday than no days are holidays.

Remember this week. Remember Christ’s mission, his life and death, his sacrifice and his subsequent glory. Remember your sinfulness and his loving grace. Remember slowly and deliberately through the week. Reflect on individual ideas rather than the big picture. Remember to keep it holy and keep it holy that we might all remember.

Submission to Grammar

I’m breaking a self-imposed internet silence, as it were. Almost daily I begin to write comments and ideas but leave them to finish at a later date. What would it take for me to break out of my corner of contemplation? You guessed it, a statement made on Christian radio.

It must have been a promo for something because I’ve heard it a few times and I feel like I can accurately paraphrase it.

Perhaps no passage is more commonly misunderstood that that command, “Wives, submit to your husbands.” But we have to look at it grammatically. The word ‘submit’ literally means ‘under the mission’. Therefore as wives we are be under the same mission as our husbands and ….

I can’t finish the thought because the three times I’ve heard it I’ve been screaming at my radio and the point is easily drowned out. Now I don’t want to go on a rant here, but…

Point 1: Etymology is not grammar.

Looking at something “grammatically” means that you’re actually looking at grammar. You would look at the syntax and the grammatical cases or the gender, person, number, and voice of the verb used.

Maybe I’m wrong here, but I’m tired of this confusion. I was playing a game that supposedly tested grammar and it was just a spelling quizwith context. “Billy and Jimmy went to there grandmother’s house this weekend” is not a grammatical error. It’s a spelling error or maybe you could say it’s the wrong word being used. The people who make the dog rescue bumper stickers that read “Who rescued who?” are guilty of grammatical errors. The second example is different because the word is the right word to use, it’s just in the wrong case. ‘Who’ should be in the objective case not the nominative case. That’s a grammatical issue.

This person doesn’t talk for a second about grammar. What she meant to say is “We have to look at it etymologically.” That is the study of how a particular word came to be in it’s form. Then she could talk about how ‘submission’ came from the late Middle English which came from the Latin ‘submissio’ or ‘submittere’. She then could say that ‘sub’ means under, which it does and ‘missio’ means ‘sent’ which it does.

Point 2: Etymological references are (usually) misleading.

The problem is that ‘missio’ does NOT mean ‘mission’. This is the first exegetical fallacy you learn about in seminary and the common example is dynamite. ‘Dunamis’ is a Greek word meaning ‘power’ used often in the New Testament and commonly people will point out that this is the word that gave us our English word ‘dynamite’ so that power is an explosive power. That’s just not true. Well, the dynamite part is, but not the explosive power part. The problem is that you’re working in reverse order. It is more proper to ask, “What does the word ‘dynamite’ mean?” Then we could talk about how the Greek word ‘dunamis’ refers to an effectual power, that is, an ability to accomplish a task, and then we could talk about how dynamite will “get the job done”.

We must not work backwards because words in English carry a lot of other meanings that we can’t force back on the etymological source. ‘Mission’ makes me think of city groups that feed the homeless or perhaps Mormons spending two years in East Asia. A business person may immediately think of mission statements like those to whom this woman is alluding.

Point 3: Greek grammar is often helpful.

Since she’s talking about a Biblical text we have to point out the obvious, ‘submission’ is not the original word and neither is the Latin ‘submissio’. The original is Greek and it’s ‘hupotasso’.

‘Hupotasso’ is formed from the preposition ‘hupo’ meaning ‘under’ and ‘tasso’ meaning ‘to order, determine’. It’s often a military term, but is not commonly used that way in the Bible. The key however to understanding a Greek word is not in it’s etymology but in it’s usage, and this is where some grammar actually helps.

When the verb is in the active voice it means “x is placed in subjection to y” or “x is made subordinate to y”. When the verb is in the middle voice it means “x voluntary submits to y”. When the word is in the active voice in the NT it’s often in God’s putting all things under the authority of Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:25, Philippians 3:21, Hebrews 2:7-8, 1 Peter 3:22) Like it or not, all of creation has been put under the authority of Christ. That includes you and me.  We are all subjects of Christ, either in worshipful joyous recognition of his lordship or in rebellious self-worshiping God-blaspheming denial.

Our disputed text however is not in the active voice. In fact the verb isn’t even in that verse, it’s carried in from the previous one. “Submitting to one another out of reverence to Christ, wives [submit] to your own husbands, as to the Lord,….” You might make a syntactical point of the larger context being some kind of mutual submission with marriage being held up as a unique vehicle for this God-honoring representation of the church’s submission to Christ. The rest of the context would make that point fairly easily.

You could talk about the middle voice of the verb and the fact that it’s a voluntary submission. Wives are not to be “lorded over” by their husbands but rather are invited to enter this lifelong Gospel role play. And husbands are likewise called to such an exciting and glorious purpose in their role. This is not something forced upon us by a heavy-handed God. It’s an invitation from a loving God to the joy of a God-honoring marriage. That’s a grammatical point you could make.

Of course there’s a lot to say about this topic, but my ire with shoddy exegesis remains. The radio snippet did not offer a grammatical point but an etymological point, a faulty one at that. Taking the time to study the Bible as best as you can as it was written provides much richer understanding in my opinion.

The Unworthy Chosen

Dick Lucas, in a sermonette in 2006, talked about the choices that Jesus made in his foundation of the church. This is insightful for those who believe they were due Christ’s choice and also for those who feel entirely unworthy of his choice of them. In the end we are all desperately unworthy and that shared unworthiness should serve to unite us in brotherly boasting of the Lord and his gospel.

The father has committed to the Son the building up of this community of love. And the Son starts to build this community of love, which he’s been doing now for 2,000 years, and it pleased God to include many of you in this building up of the church of God. He does this by calling out a James here and a John there, an Andrew, a Peter, and so on, calling them to be his disciples… And then a Levi.

I don’t know but my imagination always runs riot on this particular point. I imagine Jesus talking to the four men that he has already chosen. Telling them that he’s going to choose twelve men to follow him as his disciples and that he’s ready to choose a fifth. And the disciples are anxious to know whom this should be and Jesus points over to the seat across from them and says, “It’s going to be Levi.”

To which Peter surely would be the first one to speak up and protest. “If you choose a man like that your cause is finished.”

Such is the grace of God.

And, no doubt, when God called you, when you were called by Jesus Christ to be a part of his church the angels had the same message. “If you choose that person your cause is finished.”

- Dick Lucas, “The School of Christ”

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
1 Corinthians 1:26-31

Calvin on Custom and Truth

Even in their appeal to “custom” they accomplish nothing. To constrain us to yield to custom would be to treat us most unjustly. Indeed, if men’s judgments were right, custom should have been sought of good men. But it often happens far otherwise: what is seen being done by the many has obtained the force of custom; while the affairs of men have scarcely ever been so well regulated that the better things pleased the majority. Therefore, the private vices of the many have often caused public error, or rather a general agreement on vices, which these good men now want to make a law. Those with eyes can perceive it is not one sea of evils that has flooded the earth, but many dangerous plagues have invaded it, and everything is rushing headlong. Hence, one must either completely despair of human affairs or grapple with these great evils – or rather, forcibly quell them. And this remedy is rejected for no other reason save that we have long been accustomed to such evils. But, granting public error a place in the society of men, still in the Kingdom of God his eternal truth must alone be listened to and observed, a truth that cannot be dictated to by length of time, by long-standing custom, or by the conspiracy of men….

To sum up, evil custom is nothing but a kind of public pestilence in which men do not perish the less though they fall with the multitude.
Institues, 1536 Edition Eerdmans, 1975. pp 8-9

The Hero of Exodus

There are classic elements to most hero stories.

There is the plight of the oppressed. Maybe it’s an individual like a kidnapped child or a group of people like the hostages in Die Hard. Maybe it’s a socio-economic group like the poor in Robin Hood or an entire nation like the people of Israel in bondage to the Egyptians.

There is an enemy. Maybe it’s an individual like a kidnapper or a group like German terrorists. Maybe it’s an illegitimate ruler like Prince John or an oppressive king like the Pharaoh, killing the Hebrew boys and putting “heavy burdens” on the working Israelites.

And there is a hero. And there is a moment when the hero is called to action, as it were. Liam Neeson gets the call or Bruce Willis hears the gunfire. Robin Hood sees his father killed and his land taken away. But what’s the “call to action” in the story of the Exodus?

There are three.

Moses’ First Move

The people of Israel, God’s “firstborn son”, are in bondage in Egypt. Moses, the highly educated Hebrew, brought up in Pharaoh’s house, is grown up and ready to lead his people.

One day, when Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and looked on their burdens, and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his people. He looked this way and that, and seeing no one, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.
- Exodus 2:10-12

If anyone were going to be the natural leader of the Hebrews it was Moses. He would be the mediator between his people and the Egyptian leadership. He was Pharaoh’s adopted grandson after all. He sees the plight of the oppressed and decides he’s going to do something about it. I’m sure he’s very emotional as well. It seems almost like he’s just made aware of how bad it actually is for them. Either way he is moved by his passion and in anger strikes down an Egyptian. Actually, it’s a bit more premeditated. He looks to make sure nobody will see him first and then he eliminates the evidence. Except the people find out.

The next day he tried to break up a fight between Hebrews and their response is not exactly what Moses was expecting.

“Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?”
- Exodus 2:14

So the word gets around and Pharaoh is more than a little upset. He ordered Moses’ death and Moses heads for the hills. So much for his inspirational leadership.

Moses’ Call

The famous story of the burning bush is the way that God first called Moses to action. But we often forget the finer points of the story.

God tells Moses that he is sending him to get his people out of Egypt. That should be enough, but Moses asks for a sign. He is being address by God through a bush that though on fire is not breaking down. And he asks for a sign. But God gives him a sign and another and another and another. Moses asks God for his name. God gives him his name and promises to put plagues on the Egyptians and to deliver his people again.

Moses says he can’t speak. God says he will be “with his mouth” and will teach him what to speak. Finally Moses says, “Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.”

“Then the anger of the LORD was kindled against Moses.”

Hardly a strong heroic moment. Especially if you believe that Moses wrote this, and I do.

So are we without a heroic call to action in this story? Absolutely not.

God hears

While Moses was off tending sheep on some hillside in Midian the people of Israel “groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help.” They didn’t cry to Moses, he was pretty much forgotten. They just cried out.

Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel – and God knew.
- Exodus 2:23-25

I love the literary device that the author is using. It’s as if God is off doing his own thing, oblivious to what’s going on with his people. If we didn’t have the rest of the Bible this would be rather disconcerting. If we didn’t know that God sees everything and is everywhere-present then this would be troubling to all peoples.

What does it take to get God’s attention, as it were. A sacrifice or a prayer said using just the right lingo? All we know is that there was a “cry for rescue from slavery”. It doesn’t even say “to God” or anything.

God remembers his covenant. It’s as if he has forgotten the entire story of the book of Genesis. If we didn’t have the rest of the Bible again this would be troubling. But it is never God who forgets, it’s always his people that forget him.

God saw the people of Israel. Picking up on a theme from Genesis, Abraham and Hagar both call God, ‘Yahweh Yireh’ or as it is Latinized, ‘Jehovah Jireh’, the LORD sees. He sees and he sees to it.

And God knew. Knew what? He has already heard, remembered, and seen. So what is this ‘knowing’? I think it’s an all-encompassing verb. The author is saying that God knew the situation, he knew about his covenant, and he knew what he was going to do about it. This is the heroic movement to action.

Make no mistake about it. Moses is not the hero of Exodus, God is. Even Moses the author sees it that way.

What MIT taught me about God

There I was, at 17 years of age, wearing my best outfit, sitting in the dining room of an important man. He held the keys, as it were. He didn’t have all the power, but it was his backing that I sought. It was his seal of approval that I needed.

It was a cold afternoon in New York. I had spent the morning taking a standardized test in a local high school. For hours I had worked systematically through packets of questions and had filled in the ovals corresponding to my answers. I had done well and I knew it. Weeks later I would find out that I had the highest score in my school. By a lot.

I was confident in my intelligence, confident in my class-standing. First, of course. I was captain of everything. President of everything else. I sang solos in the school chorus and played the lead in the school musical. I was friends with all my teachers and even the principal.

I had scholarships coming in and letters of recruitment in the mail seemingly every day. I was going to award dinners at the capital and was featured in the local news.

I had been accepted by every school to which I had applied, but there was only one that I wanted to attend. My essays for every other application were simply drafts compared to those for this school. I saved my best teacher recommendations for this one as well.

None of the other schools had interviews, just this one. So there I was, captain of everything, president of everything, soloist and acting lead, sitting down at a table before a stranger. I was used to speaking or singing in front of the whole school, even the town, but I was speechless. It was the question. A question that I was not prepared to answer.

“Why should MIT accept you?”

I didn’t know. I was nobody, nothing. In comparison to that great academic institution who was I? I wasn’t smart enough to go there. I didn’t have any accomplishments worth anything. I could do nothing but stammer and fall on the mercy of that stranger.

“Uh… I don’t know,” I began. Honestly today, sixteen years later, I have no idea how I finished that interview. I don’t know how I finished that answer. All I remember is my own sense of inadequacy before that great school.

God is Bigger

If I couldn’t give a good reason to be accepted by MIT how can I begin to expect God to accept me? What can I offer him? What meager accomplishments of mine could sway God Most High? What intellectual standing would hold any significance before the Author of Life? What talent could influence the Almighty?

“Uh… I don’t know.” Exactly.

What would you say to that question?

Maybe you have your answer prepared and practiced. “I’m a good speaker and I have a dynamic stage presence.” “I can play an instrument and could lead a worship band.” “I can lead people effectively and disciple many.” I can learn languages easily and could be a missionary.” “I have a high-paying job so my tithe would be a terrific addition to the kingdom.” “God would be lucky to have me!”

Have you thought that before? Even just a little?

There are two reasons that we should never try to answer that question. First, God cannot benefit from us. If he needed us then he wouldn’t be God. Second, we shouldn’t answer that question because God’s not asking it. God isn’t asking what we offer, he’s showing us what he has offered.

If our acceptance into God’s family, as it were, were dependent on our resumes then no one would ever be saved. Least of all me. Instead our reconciliation with God is through the righteousness of Jesus Christ. The cost of our acceptance was paid by the blood of God’s own Son.

We didn’t earn our place in the family of God. Instead we were graciously called and allowed to participate in this kingdom.

So stop relying on your own skills and status and find your worth in Christ, the Righteous One who became sin so that we could become the righteousness of God.

Encouragement from God and Piper

textAs we enter into a new season of New Year resolutions many Christians are setting goals for the coming year in the spiritual realm, as it were. We resolve to read our Bible every day. We resolve to pray and to study the Word in more depth. We resolve to share the Gospel with new people and so forth.

So what’s the problem with all of this? When we resolve to do such things we are wholly relying on our own willpower which is destined to fail. When we fail then we become ‘spiritual fatalists.’ “This is all I’ll ever be and that’s OK.” “I’m not the kind of person that needs to pray every day or read the Bible, I guess.”

For those of us who have been caught thinking those things or feeling those things, listen to this sermon by John Piper from way back in 1994. It’s titled “Longing for the Pure Milk of the Word.”

I will give you his definition of ‘spiritual fatalism’ and see if that’s you and resolve not to fall into the same trap this New Year.

This spiritual fatalism is a feeling that genetic forces and family forces and the forces of my past experiences and present circumstances are just too strong to allow me to ever change and become more zealous for God (Titus 2:14), or more fervent (Romans 12:12), or more delighted in God (Psalm 37:4), or more hungry for fellowship with Christ (John 6:35), or more at home with spiritual things (Romans 8:5), more bold (2 Timothy 1:7), or more constant or joyful (Romans 12:12), or hopeful (1 Peter 1:13).

Spiritual fatalism is tragic in the church. It leaves people stuck. It takes away hopes and dreams of change and growth. It squashes the excitement of living—which is growth. It’s like saying to a gawky little girl who feels like her body is all out of proportion: well that’s the way you are, and you will always be that way, when in fact she is meant to grow and change. That would be tragic to convince her of a kind of physical fatalism—that her growth is stopped right there at 13. So it is with the spirit. Only spiritual fatalism is much worse. Because greater things are at stake, and because we never do get to a point where we’ve arrived at the final stature like we do in our physical bodies.

So thousands of people live year after year without much passion for God or zeal for his name or joy in his presence or hope in his promises or constancy in his fellowship and feel—well, that’s just the way I am. And they just settle in—like an adolescent who stops growing and lives with pimples till he’s 80.

I don’t want to give too much away because you ought to listen to or read the whole sermon, but here is another short quote:

If the Word of God is powerful enough to create new Christians (through new birth), then the Word of God is powerful enough to create desire in languishing Christian souls. Don’t be a spiritual fatalist. The power at work within you—just to bring you to life—is like the power that raises the dead (Ephesians 1:19–20). Can it not create desire just like it created you?

I’m afraid that by resigning ourselves to failing resolutions (often before we even try) we are not only admitting our short-falls (which is accurate) but we are hampering the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit in our lives and that is not at all appropriate.
One more quote:

What this says is that just as essential as having the desires for the Word that we are supposed to have is having the trust in God that he gives what he commands. If God says to desire, when we don’t desire, then we trust him that he must know something we don’t know. He must have some power we don’t have. There must be a way. That’s the opposite of spiritual fatalism. God commands it. So there must be a way. I will not settle for less than what God commands, even if it is a command to fly.

May God give us all that he has promised to empower us to do all that he has commanded. Happy New Year to all.

The Best Christmas Movie (Part 2)

A lot of people (men) were probably shocked that Die Hard would only get an honorable mention. But remember, my opinion means little to nothing so don’t be personally offended. Instead hear my case for the real most bestest movie.

My pick for “Best Christmas Movie” is a lesser-known Christmas classic from three years prior to Die Hard. You guessed it….

Rocky IV

Plot summary from IMDB:

After iron man Drago, a highly intimidating 6-foot-5, 261-pound Soviet athlete, literally destroys Apollo Creed in an exhibition match, Rocky comes to the heart of Russia for 15 pile-driving boxing rounds of revenge.

Let’s zoom out on this film as well.

Setting

It’s Communist Russia, snowy Soviet Siberia, not exactly Bing Crosby’s idea of a White Christmas. But it is Christmas day and the fight is before a packed audience of card-carrying members of the great army of the enemy. In the time leading up to the fight Rocky is training in Siberia. Running in a winter wonderland….

Conversion Experience

This is so obvious it doesn’t even need to be talked about, but just in case you’ve never seen this movie, it involves everyone and I mean everyone in that stadium. You are led to believe that if Rocky were to run for Premier of the Soviet Union following this fight he would win hands down. In fact, it’s pretty clear in his final address to the crowd: “During this fight, I’ve seen a lot of changing, in the way you feel about me, and in the way I feel about you. In here, there were two guys killing each other, but I guess that’s better than twenty million. I guess what I’m trying to say, is that if I can change, and you can change, everybody can change!”

Message of Christmas

Rocky is living a comfortable life, he and his family enjoying the glory that comes with sports success and money. His friend Apollo is getting a little restless in this comfortable state. The challenger comes from the Soviet Union, Ivan Drago. He’s the new thing. The bigger and better boxer. And his camp is challenging Rocky. He is trying to reach out and grasp equality with Rocky, even superiority.

It is Apollo however that is first to respond to the challenge and he takes the place of Champion of Freedom in the great battle between the US and the Soviet Union. It’s Capitalism vs. Communism. Freedom vs. Oppression. David vs. Goliath. As James Brown sings “Livin’ in America” the fighters are introduced and Drago prophecies, “You will lose.” The champion of the good guys steps up to the champion of the enemy and gets absolutely destroyed. There’s nothing he can do against this formidable foe and he falls dead in the ring.

The enemy has won but there is a promise of future redemption. There is a new champion for our cause, Rocky Balboa. He’s smaller than Apollo and slower. He has no form or majesty that we should look at him. When he breaks his nose in Rocky 1 it’s called “an improvement”. The task before him is impossible. So he’d better get started training then.

“You’re gonna have to go through hell, worse than any nightmare you’ve ever dreamed.”

He leaves his mansion, giving up everything and taking up residence in a shack in Siberia. He is under constant surveillance by the Soviets, watching what he does and where he goes, making sure he doesn’t break any of their laws. He trains in squalor, working out in a barn lifting a cart and big sacks with a pulley. He is being very careful to stay focused on his mission while in this foreign land. The hopes of his people are riding on him after all.

Echoing in his mind is the voice of his wife, “It’s suicide. You’ve seen him, you know how strong he is. You can’t win.” But Rocky is up to the challenge. He’s seen the enemy make his friend fall and die, on that day he did surely die. Rocky knows he’s putting his life on the line and he’s willing to make that sacrifice:

No, maybe I can’t win. Maybe the only thing I can do is just take everything he’s got. But to beat me, he’s going to have to kill me. And to kill me, he’s gonna have to have the heart to stand in front of me. And to do that, he’s got to be willing to die himself. I don’t know if he’s ready to do that. I don’t know.

So they stand toe-to-toe. Our champion in the Stars and Stripes trunks against the great champion of the enemy in Soviet colors. It’s his will to win that proves insurmountable to the big Russian. No amount of training technology or drug enhancement will stand against this great champion.

As the fight goes on the crowd slowly turns their back on their man and begin to support our hero. The members of the politburo literally do this to which Drago responds “I win for me. For me!!” Finally the truth comes out. The enemy fights for himself, not for his people or for his ideology. Our champion never fights for himself, only for the redemption of his people and to avenge the death of his friend at the hands of the enemy.

Finally, Rocky is bruised by Drago but not crushed. Rather it is Drago that falls on this day. And Rocky leads the crowd with his stirring appeal for social change.

Listen, Rocky IV isn’t a perfect Christmas movie either, but you have to see the strong gospel message. He leaves his home and goes through hell to redeem his people and affect change in the world.

On second thought, maybe your Christmas day with your family would be better spent just leading the kids through the story of Christ and how the gospel has changed your life and others. Better than watching a movie anyway. Just a thought.

A Better Christmas Movie

In my previous post I talked about the genre of Christmas movies. Following this and working toward my ultimate revelation of the greatest of all Christmas movies I want to offer a different genre for a better Christmas movie.

The message of Christmas, as I said before, is really best said in by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the church in Philippi:

Complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
- Philippians 2:2-4

which is a result of the gospel of Jesus Christ:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
- Philippians 2:5-11

As shown, the message of Christmas is really the gospel of Jesus Christ, his victory through his death, our reconciliation through the imputation of his righteousness, and our hope through his resurrection. The “spirit of Christmas” is really just the logical outworkings of a life informed by this Good News. Therefore, to reflect on the gospel we are perhaps better served by a different movie genre entirely.

Christ, the Hero of Christmas

Now I am no expert in movies, but I am a guy and guys tend to like hero movies. My favorites include Gladiator, Braveheart, the Rocky quad-logy (because the rest are horrible), Star Wars (the first trilogy), and anything starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Ahnold…

I would argue that these kinds of movies better tell the story of Christmas than do the classic Christmas movies. Take Gladiator for instance. Maximus has favor with the Emperor but that is taken away and he is humbled to the position of a gladiator. He was “commander of the armies of the North” but now he is “father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife.” He fights Joachin Phoenix at the risk of his life and his victory is imputed to Gracchus and the Senate though they didn’t have to lift a sword themselves. A bit of a stretch when comparing to Christ, but still the pattern is there.

Take Terminator 2. Arnold is a re-programmed Terminator who (that) goes back in time to defeat a great enemy, the T-1000, and to save the life of one man, John Connor. In the end he is victorious and in order to save the world as well as the boy he destroys himself. He, the machine-man, gives his “life” for the salvation of all men from the machines.

Consider Braveheart. The enemy is the King of England who hates the Scots and tries to have them eliminated through battles and breeding. Mel Gibson, with unmatched charisma, leads the men of Scotland against the enemy who is responsible for the death of his beloved. He eventually is captured, betrayed by one of his closest allies, and paraded in shame before the people. He dies a horribly painful death which, while not actually accomplishing anything in itself, inspires the people of Scotland under the leadership of the once-betraying, now redeemed Peter the Bruce, I mean Robert the Bruce.

What about Star Wars? Luke is born and raised in poverty though he is of royal descent. He is raised by his righteous mother while being watched over by his father’s old apprentice to whom he would eventually apprentice. This prophet of the Force, seemingly unnecessarily, gives his life to the great enemy as if to say, “[Luke] must increase, I must decrease.” Luke goes on to lead the attack of the Rebel alliance on the Death Star, being seemingly the only man spiritual enough to bring down the great enemy. And all the commanders that look like bass fish celebrate and the victory is imputed to the people without any fighting on their part.

Again, I’m not an expert at all on movies, but I know the movies that I have seen. I’m sure if you think for just a few minutes you’ll come up with some movies yourself that parallel the gospel story, probably nothing starring Ben Stiller however.

Here’s the Problem

Nobody is going to gather the family around in their ugly sweaters to watch the likes of Gladiator or Terminator 2. “Hey kids, I know you want to watch Elf, but this year we’re watching Star Wars.”  Nobody wants that kind of battle-driven inspirational story on Christmas. Instead we want warm fuzzies and hugs and kisses. We want emotions stirred sure but romantic ones, not longings for justice and freedom from oppression, though that’s what Christmas actually points to.

I can’t blame anybody who feels this way. I’ll probably watch a movie like Love Actually before I watch Gladiator, but, let’s be honest, Love Actually does not tell the Christmas story AT ALL. At best it gives us a cheap view of love and glorifies the lust-driven pursuit of that love.

It’s a Wonderful Life as well doesn’t tell the Christmas story. Instead we are told that we are good people as long as we do good for others, and that the world is much better off for having us in it. At best we are encouraged to be content in our humble state, but it’s hard to empathize with Jimmy Stewart having to settle for Donna Reed and the entire city praising him.

Elf might praise the importance of family, but there is not an inkling of the true Christmas message in it. The best you can hope for is seeing how the appearance of Ed Asner and Will Ferrell can soften the heart of James Caan and maybe you’ll stop putting your job above your family.

But we’ll watch these movies. We’ll laugh when Will Ferrell jumps on the tree or exclaims, “These toilets are ginormous.” We’ll cry when Harry Bailey comes in with the money and everybody sings “Auld Lang Syne”, well maybe we’ll cry.

But this year could be different. Maybe we will cry when Russell Crowe goes through the fields of Elysium to be reunited with his family. Maybe we’ll shed a tear for the melting Terminator. Maybe we’ll laugh with C-3PO, certainly not Jar Jar. Or maybe we’ll laugh cry and be drawn to Christ through watching the greatest Christmas movie of all time. Many of you will know where I’m going, but stay tuned for the announcement.