Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Haiku

In honor of Christmas, I'd like to present a set of haiku telling the story of the birth of Jesus from the perspective of all the major characters (and one inanimate object). Enjoy, and Merry Christmas!

Mary, I have news:
The Messiah is coming.
He’s in your belly.

Baby with no dad?
That was not covered in my
Biology class.

This is not my kid.
What’s that? He’s the Son of God?
OK, I’ll keep him.

Wow! My unborn son
Recognized your unborn son!
He must be psychic.

What’s that up there? Aaah!
Angel army in the sky!
Good, they come in peace.

Hey there, shepherd dudes.
Sheep are overrated. Go
See the Lamb of God.

Wise guys, look up here!
A great king is born tonight.
Hurry, don’t be late.

When you find this king,
Tell me so that I can kill–
I mean worship – him.

We have brought you gifts
To fill up his college fund
And make him smell good.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Myths About Work II: Work is Bad

During the last post in this series, I described an ancient Babylonian myth and pointed out that, although we may have shed its polytheistic trappings, it reflects false beliefs about work that are still prevalent today. Now I’d like to talk about the first myth I listed, which may be the most common.

The Babylonian legend suggests that they thought of work as a bad thing – after all, they believed their gods created people so they wouldn’t have to work. Similarly, many people today view work as a necessary evil. We complain about our jobs and look forward to vacations and, ultimately, retirement. We think of “living the good life” as lying around on a beach somewhere far away from the demands of the workplace. When people win the lottery, often the first thing they do is quit their jobs. And Christians take comfort in the idea that in heaven, we won’t need to work.

But is that what the Bible teaches? Although it doesn’t directly say whether people will work in heaven, the Bible does tell us a lot about the nature of work. And it begins right where the Babylonians did – at the very beginning.

The first place where the word “work” appears in the Bible is Genesis 2:2 “And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done.” So the first person to do work was God, and the result of His work was a “very good” universe, meaning that work is not a bad thing.

Of course, the verse does say that God rested, indicating that work wasn’t the only thing that mattered to Him (more on that in the next post). But that doesn’t mean He gave up working as soon as someone else could do it. Jesus said, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” (John 5:17) So clearly resting in the Bible does not equal retirement.

When God created people, He did expect us to work. “And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’” (Genesis 1:28) God’s statement is a blessing, but it’s also a job description. Any parent can tell you that “being fruitful and multiplying” is one of the hardest jobs anyone can be given. Filling, subduing and ruling the earth means developing its resources into something greater than what it was in its natural state. That includes farming, building cities and other forms of economic activity. So God began His relationship with people by telling them to work.

But unlike the Babylonian gods, the God of the Bible didn’t make people work because He didn’t want to. We work because we are created “in the image of God.” That means we are like God and do the things He does. Being made in God’s image separates us from the rest of creation and gives us unique dignity. So work is a sign of nobility, not of inferiority. Perhaps this is why God’s first assignment of work is described as a blessing.

But work doesn’t always feel like a blessing. Even though I love my job, there are still mornings when I’d rather pull my quilt over my head and sleep than get up and face a day of work. There are afternoons when I feel like if I look at one more page of text, my brain will turn to liquid and start dripping out of my ears. And I know some people have much less rewarding and interesting jobs than I do.

The Bible explains this, too. When Adam and Eve sinned, God cursed the ground, saying it would yield “thorns and thistles” and that Adam would produce food from it “by the sweat of [his] face” (Genesis 3:18-19). This is the point where work, which is good, becomes toil, which is bad. The pain associated with toil is real and impossible to ignore. But the rest of the Bible tells about God making all things new, putting right the things that sin messed up, including work.

In conclusion, “whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Your current job isn’t bad (unless you’re a criminal or something); it was created by God and can be used to glorify Him. When we see our work as an act of worship and a way to better the world around us, we restore the goodness it was created to have and join God in rolling back the effects of the Fall.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Seeing Christmas Through Tragedy

I woke up yesterday looking forward to an exciting, fun, joyful day. It was the day of my company’s annual Christmas Rally here in Taipei. I was looking forward to greeting the audience as they came in, chatting with them and learning about them, and watching the show, which is usually spectacular.

As I waited for my mind to fully wake up, I wandered into the living room to see if any of my housemates were awake. Sure enough one was sitting on the couch. But the look of shocked concern on her face stopped me in my tracks. “Did you hear the news?”

“What news?”

“There was a school shooting in Connecticut.” The name of my home state drove all sleepiness from my mind as I felt the muscles in my chest clenching. Sitting down, I glanced at the TV report. I think I read the heading two or three times, spelling it out in my head to be sure it said “Newtown” and not “Newington.” With a modicum of relief I realized my family and friends were probably safe.

I numbly sat and watched the news report, but it wasn’t until several hours later that I felt the full effects of what happened. I flopped down on my bed and cried. The high number of deaths, the fact that it seems like no one had been wounded but survived, the fact that I could not think of any possible motive, the young age of the vast majority of the victims and the timing during a season that is a supposed to be a time of joy celebrated with family combined into a towering mass of evil that I just couldn’t take in.

Sprinkled in with my mourning was a recurring question about my own situation: “How will I be able to greet people cheerfully at the Christmas Rally?” It felt somehow inappropriate to be celebrating, wearing sparkly clothing and grinning at people coming to our show when so many people were mourning this senseless violence. But then I realized that I had it backwards. Events like this are exactly why Christmas is worth celebrating.

The reason for this is best explained by a story, not the one that began two thousand years ago in a stable in Bethlehem, but the one that began much earlier in a garden called Eden. The world, as God first formed it was a paradise – a glorious, unblemished landscape, delicate flowers in thousands of colors, a sky full of stars with no pollution to block them, all seen with eyes that were probably keener than our eyes today and received with hearts that celebrated them as signs of the deep love of our Creator. The relationships between people, the world and God were a smooth, harmonious dance. There was no sickness, no death, no evil, no hate. The Hebrew word for this is shalom. Usually translated as peace, it actually refers to far more than the English word “peace.” It means wholeness, abundance and flourishing, all of which were present in the world as it was first made.

Of course, that’s not how we experience the world now, and the reason for that is that people choose to turn away from God. We’ve all felt the effects of sin this weekend, far more deeply than anything I could conjure up with language. And the tragedy in Newtown is just one of millions of manifestations, big and small, of the way our world is broken. Conflict in families, war, prejudice, greed, disease, bullying, natural disasters, etc. all show how far from shalom this world is. The world is broken, and we broke it.

But now, we finally get to that Bethlehem stable. Christmas is a celebration of God stepping into this broken world and living among us. He experienced all kinds of evil during His life – including narrowly escaping from a mass killing of children. And in the end, He bore the worst consequences of our sin, taking the punishment for all breakers of shalom. But He rose from the dead, proving that the seemingly senseless killing of Jesus, the one truly innocent person, succeeded in putting shalom back together, starting with the hearts of His followers and spreading outward into the whole world.

Traditionally, the weeks leading up to Christmas are also a time when Christians wait for Jesus to return to Earth and restore shalom to the whole world. The mourning we share today is one of many reminders that this hasn’t happened yet – but the promise of Christmas is that it will. Even though God’s people had to wait for thousands of years, God did come to save them. His kingdom is established, and though things may look bad now, it will ultimately triumph.

I left for the Christmas rally yesterday with what I can only call joy. Not bubbling happiness or excitement, but a calm, steady delight in the knowledge that this night will pass. I felt the sorrow (and still do) but this vein of deep sadness actually strengthened the hope that I have a savior powerful enough to overcome even horrific evil like this. That is the only thing that makes any Christmas worth celebrating.

If any friends, family or survivors of the Sandy Hook shooting are reading this, I offer my sympathy and condolences. Please know that you are in my thoughts and prayers.