Sermon Christmas Treasures December 3 2023
As we enter Advent, I want to focus on Christmas meditations for December. One of my favorite Christmas books is aptly titled Christmas Treasures. It’s a collection of various short meditations by a variety of Christian authors. It has been a source of inspiration and joy for me over the years, so each week this December I will use one of these meditations to reignite the fire in our hearts for the life-changing miracle of the Jesus Story related to His incarnation. Let us Pray.
A child’s eye view of the Christmas Story
The opening selection in Christmas Treasures is a prayer from Peter Marshall, the former chaplain of the U.S. Senate in 1946-47.
Lord Jesus, who didst take little children into Thine arms and laugh and play with them, bless, we pray Thee, all children at this Christmastide.
As with shining eyes and glad hearts they nod their heads so widely at the stories of the angels, and a baby cradled in the hay at the end of the way of a wondering star, may their faith and expectation be a rebuke of our own faithlessness.
Help us make this season all joy for them, a time that shall make Thee, Lord Jesus, even more and more real to them.”(Christmas Treasures, edited by Rubel Shelly, Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1998.pg.viii.)
I agree with Peter Marshall’s focus and know as adults we all pray this for our children. But I would like to expand this prayer to cover adults as well. It seems in our day so many forces and circumstances are dominating our hearts, the media, our families and our world, obscuring the wonder of the Christmas story.
In a book review I posted this week, When Everything’s On Fire by Brian Zahnd, he describes the fires of secularism, consumerism, tribalism, violence, and skepticism that are threatening to consume and destroy the church. Doubt has stripped away the magic of the miracles, and the stress and commercialism of the season has replaced the centrality of Jesus Christ – even though Christmas is His story – a mass about Christ. To counteract this seeming demise of the Christian narrative, I urge that we choose to experience the wonder and joy of Jesus again with renewed hearts and minds.
A Second Naivete
Zahnd mentions the importance of a Second Naivete to restore the vibrant faith in Jesus that many are losing, particularly at this time of the year – when loneliness, depression and suicides are the highest every year.
Let me excerpt a few of his comments on the Second Naivete from my review of his book:
Twentieth century French philosopher Paul Ricoeur coined the term second naivete to express the possibility of a return to innocence after having once passed through the purging flames of critical thought, Ricoeur understood that with certain texts, especially religious texts, the meaning was not exhausted with a critical reading; beyond that remained the possibility for further meaning. At some point, the text can be re-approached and read with a second innocence or a new naivete (Brian Zahnd, When Everything’s On Fire, IVP, 2022, p. 139)” [This involves] a mystical reading with its potential for endless unfolding of ongoing revelation, a new appreciation for the divine genius at work in these inspired stories” in the Bible. (Zahnd, Ibid, pp.141, 143).
A Second Naivete directly counteracts the flaming arrows of skepticism, doubt, and secularism. It certainly did that in my life. Here’s how it worked on my theological journey. It is an example of how Jesus takes our hand when our faith is being shaken.
Thomas Torrance writes “I sometimes recall what happened when my daughter was learning to walk. I took her by the hand to help her, and I can still feel her fingers clutching my hand. She was not relying on her feeble grasp of my hand, but on my strong grasp of her hand. Is that not how we are to understand the faith by which we lay hold of Christ as our Savior? It is thus that our grasp of faith, feeble though it is, is grasped and enfolded in the mighty grasp of Christ who identifies himself with us and puts himself in our place. Thomas F. Torrance, A Passion for Christ (Wipf & Stock, 2010), p. 26
As a newborn Christian college student, I began a serious study of the Bible with kind, intelligent Inter Varsity Christian Fellowship staff. I had become a Christian despite serious questions about God and doubts about the veracity of the Bible. But in my first decades as a Christian committed to Jesus as Savior and Lord, I sought to live out the biblical imperative “Study to show yourself approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth”.(2 Tim 2:15) As I experienced more and more of God and journeyed in that context, I also became familiar with Biblical teaching on the Holy Spirit, on spiritual gifts, on the Spirit’s guidance and empowerment, and the radical call of obedience to living under the Spirit’s direction for service in my life. I had not grown up in the church, so I knew little of the political issues and often rigid doctrinal bias with which some held various views – particularly against women’s leadership in the church. I spent a decade researching this issue biblically and even questioned God about why he had made me a woman when the personality, calling and gifts He gave me were closed to me because of my gender. I also read many books on how to deal with the anger I felt because I was so often discounted, condescended toward, and barred from the ministry God was equipping me to do. The doctrines and attitudes from these complementary Christian leaders which seemed to be directly contradicting Scripture caused me to search and find other people who were egalitarians, open to women’s leadership and yet still totally committed to Christ’s leadership and the inspiration of the scriptures. They were open to including me in their ministries but they were not present in my context.
As I coped with my dilemma, the picture that formed in my mind was of a bridge extending out for a long distance into the water. On the near shore stood many people I knew and loved, including my husband, and members of the evangelical world I knew. But for answers to the oppression I felt, I found I needed to keep searching so I walked out on that bridge with the Lord, even though I couldn’t see the final shore that the bridge connected to. As Torrence’s illustration showed, I felt Jesus’ secure hand holding mine as my faith was shaking.
I had been studying James Fowler’s Stages of Faith and realized I had long ago left the comfortable familiarity of an unquestioning Conventional Synthetic faith which is a synthesis of the faith of one’s environment and significant others and reflects the expectations and aspirations of the dominant people in one’s context. (I was a Salmon Swimmer, after all. *See my book Salmon Swimmers published in 2017 by Westbow Press and available on Amazon.) My questions and research had taken me into the realm of Conjunctive Faith which was comfortable with paradox, mystery, and the grey areas of faith and doctrine. This was the faith expression of most of my fellow travelers on that bridge at that time. And it allowed for a synthesis of intellectual rigor and integrity combined with a deep heart connection to God and others. It was this synthesis that enabled me as a pastor-in-the-making to be God’s witness and shepherd, caring for people and disciplining them into a thinking faith of intellectual integrity and Christ-likeness. I was a witness, not a lawmaker who bound and judged people according to certain behaviors and doctrines of the church.
However. that future call had not yet materialized for me, so I kept walking forward on that bridge, wondering where God was taking me.
It was then that I learned about Paul Ricoeur’s Second Naivete and it gave me a structure, a rationale, a home-base for the continued growth of my own faith and the fulfillment of God’s pastoral call in the future. As I walked with Jesus as Lord, I found that through the Holy Spirit I could remain firmly grounded in the truths of Bible and access the inexhaustible riches of wisdom in Christ each day. I was freed from a Biblical fundamentalism and literal-ism that had shackled me but could use my mind as well as my heart to know God and “be rooted and established in love and have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.” That love connection enabled me to “know the love of God which surpasses knowledge and be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Eph.3:17-19). I am still on that journey but the jagged doubt and frustration with the negative doctrines which had oppressed me have been left behind and I approach the Lord, the Scriptures and those of other perspectives with faith and confidence and love.” That’s the second naivete.
For me conjunctive faith is a faith that includes the Second Naivete and I offer it as a Christmas Treasure at the beginning of this Christmas season to offset the dominant skepticism, commercial consumerism, and secularism of our day. May we all approach the Christmas story and the Messiah Jesus with new eyes and a renewed faith of” shining eyes and a glad heart” as Jesus becomes more and more real to us and to others through our witness. In Jesus’ name and for His sake. Amen.
Mary Lou Codman-Wilson, PhD, pastor New Hope Global Fellowship 12/3/23