Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, Hopeful Epiphany

With best wishes to all readers ...

... a little blog holiday, a respite from posting, a temporary withdrawal from Anglicana is in order.

ADU will be taking a holiday from posting anything from 24 December 2011 to 8 January 2012. Comments may be posted from time to time. And if the sky falls on our heads but leaves the internet on, I may post on such an event.

Note re yesterday's (23 Dec) quakes in Christchurch: I and my family are safe. They were bad shakes and things fell over but we are okay.

Postscript petition: if worldwide Christianity could agree on one thing, could it please be that preachers at Christmas time will not spend time during their sermon casting doubt on the virginity of Mary at the time of her conception of Jesus?! It is quite offensive to innocent believers, to say nothing of disrespect to our Lord and his Mother to air these thoughts when people are gathered to squeeze as much joy and celebration out of the occasion of our Lord's birthday as possible. It also tends to undermine the occasion. So, as I was thinking when hearing this pretentious claptrap one Christmas, Jesus was not born of a virgin mother, in any case such stories were a dime a dozen in the ancient world, and biology had not been invented as an NCEA subject which Matthew and Luke studied, what was special about Jesus which led to all this invented biography, to say nothing of imagined biology? I imagine if I turned up at Easter to hear this particular preacher I would hear the resurrection undermined so we would be left with, oh, Jesus the home spun wisdom spinner was quite a guy and impressed some people to ... make stuff up about him. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. For clarity: (a) the sermoniser behind this petition was not an Anglican colleague; (b) I am not against people airing their doubts about any doctrine or celebration of Christianity, but in the case of Christmas and Easter I am against these occasions and their sermons being the event in which doubts and unbeliefs are aired.

Postscript: BISHOP JOHN SPONG note: readers here know I think BISHOP (he is still recognised as such by TEC) John Spong is one of the most dangerous heretics around because he undermines the Christian faith on a global scale. Well, what do we find in the Christchurch Press on Christmas Eve? A feature article entitled 'Divine Intervention?' in the 'Your Weekend' magazine, pp. 4-6. As usual for our Kiwi secular media it serves up scorn and scepticism about the miracles of God in Jesus Christ which lie at the core of the gospel. You do not need my help to guess that the major Christian "scholar" brought forward to substantiate that scorn and scepticism is BISHOP John Spong. No Christian feast can do without him undermining why we celebrate. Thanks John, not.

Reflective postscript: Matthew and Luke on the birth of Jesus are endlessly fascinating. Matthew starts Jesus at Bethlehem and has to tell a story of how Jesus gets to Nazareth. Luke starts Jesus (in the womb of Mary) at Nazareth and has to tell a story of how Jesus gets to be born in Bethlehem. Matthew seems driven by the need to make many Old Testament prophecies come true. Luke seems driven (as he is through Luke and Acts) by relating Jesus to the course of Roman history, seeking to pull off the remarkable feat of Jesus being a rival to Caesar who is no threat to Caesar. Is the absence of Herod's terror at the birth of Jesus in Luke's gospel an absence due to the impossibility of explaining how Jesus was not a threat to Caesar when his birth caused so much alarm to Herod?

John, incidentally, on the face of it has an ambivalent approach to Jesus being born at Bethlehem (7:40-52). Don Carson in his magisterial IVP commentary on John suggests we think of John being ironic here. Feeding off that thought I wonder if John is toying with us a little as readers as he reports this debate about whether the Messiah had to come from Bethlehem or not. Having read John 1:1-18, he implies, we should understand that it is immaterial whether the Messiah was born at Bethlehem or not because the ultimate 'birthing' of Jesus is from the heart of God, before time began.

In turn, the theology of the incarnation, whether we are in John 1:1-18 or Philippians 2:5-11, presents a paradox about the birth narratives of Jesus in respect of their historicity. If the creedal claim is true, that the Word was God and the Word became flesh, that 'though he was in the form of God [but] 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' (Philippians 2:5-7), then it is a small thing that the circumstances of the birth should line up with ancient prophecies, that a virgin should become pregnant through the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, that visitors from far and near should turn up, and the local potentate catching wind of the birth should break out in cold sweat. But if we forget the creedal claims and focus on Matthew and Luke's narratives in isolation from the remainder of the New Testament, they look like cooked up stories, bolstering the sense of importance the adult life of Jesus has engendered.

In the end, while there is a strand of Old Testament forecasting the Messiah's birth in Bethlehem (highlighted by John's ambiguous passage in 7:40-52) which arguably necessitates any birth narrative placing the birth of the Messiah in Bethlehem, it is difficult to think of any OT passage which necessitates visits from wise men or from shepherds. If Matthew and Luke invented their respective visitations what led them to do so? Might we reasonably conclude that some significant visitations to Jesus did occur, Matthew reporting one and Luke another, and neither inventing what they reported?

Further reasonableness re history (?): Matthew and Luke each have traditions in their minds that tell them about Jesus' birth: shared traditions re Bethlehem as place of birth and Nazareth as place of upbringing, as well as of names of parents, and of the pregnancy occurring as a miraculous event; separate traditions about visitations (and for Luke, about John the Baptist's birth and connections to Jesus). Matthew tells his story in a manner which betrays his lack of knowledge that Joseph and Mary come from Nazareth to Bethlehem, as well as his Jewish presumptiveness that (of course) Jesus was circumcised and presented in the Temple, and fast forwards to the surprising appearance of the wise men and the consequences of the visit, fleeing to Egypt and sojourning there for a while. Luke tell his story in a manner which betrays either his knowledge of Roman censuses hidden to us, or his mucking about with the (even then) known facts of Roman censuses (in the cause, we might note, not of offering fulfilled OT prophecies, but of tying the birth of Jesus into the history of the Roman empire); as well as his ignorance of the actual date of Jesus' birth before Herod the Great died (or his convenient obscuring of that date). For reason given above, if he did know of the Herodian persecution he simply omits that part of the narrative.

In the end the 'contradiction(s)' often alleged between Matthew and Luke's accounts is, perhaps, more about the apparent contradiction of known historical facts within Luke's account re the invoking of Quirinius' association with an empire wide census, than about any straight contradiction(s) between Matthew and Luke's accounts. I know of no attempt to rescue Luke re Quirinius which offers a simple explanation of how Quirinius can be governor of Syria in the period immediately before Herod's death AND there was an otherwise unreported empire-wide census at the same time. There was a local regional census when Quirinius was governor of Syria, 6/7 A.D. so any harmonization between Luke and Matthew involves positing another period when Quirinius was Syrian governor and an otherwise unknown census which required people to return to their ancestral home towns. I am not saying such harmonization is impossible, just that it is not simple to do so. For a site which offers a case for harmonization yet simultaneously highlights the many difficulties re paucity or ambiguity or absence of evidence for Luke's report to be strictly true, see here.

Luke, we might point out, is a complicated historian. Yes, as often observed, he is an outstanding historian re many aspects of his narratives in respect of many dates (especially in the Book of Acts) and details (e.g. we are told that he had an impressive knowledge of ancient marinership; names of consuls are correct, etc). But consider this simple 'playing with time' which occurs within his own two volume narration of Jesus' mission: in Luke 24 the resurrection narrative is told in a manner such that everything narrated, from dawn discovery of empty tomb to ascension could have happened in one "24" hour day. But in Acts 1 he categorically states that everything from resurrection to ascension took place over a forty day period. Suddenly, Luke is hard to pin down re the history of the resurrection through ascension, and, given the significance of the resurrection and ascension, we have to confront the question that Luke the theologian shines more through this part of his two volume story than Luke the historian.

FINALLY for Christmas reflections, H/T Rosemary Behan for her alert in a comment below, John Richardson at The Ugley Vicar offers an excerpt from the Queen's Message which is brilliant, and his own excellent sermon re Christmas.

THINKING about the Anglican Communion and a theme for 2012 ... 'Give one good reason for ACC 2012 not to invite ACNA to join the Anglican Communion.' I will come back to this in 2012 but ...

Here is my thinking: when TEC ordained Gene Robinson as bishop in 2003 it opened a new chapter in Anglicanism. First, it declared that what other Anglicans think does not matter re an action deemed to be 'Anglican.' Secondly, it declared that the past is irrelevant to Anglicans acting as Anglicans. In this case the past includes the grain of Scripture, the Tradition and traditions of Anglicans, and Resolution 1.10 of just five years earlier. Thirdly, it underlined that previous rules, regulations, articles and canons pertaining to Anglicanism, especially the Thirty-Nine Articles, are indeed to be held lightly and let go if they stand in the way of a desired action. Fourthly, it stretched the concept of Anglican diversity yet further, while loosening the sense that 'diversity-in-unity' might be an important Anglican value.

If then we ask why ACNA could not be invited to join the Anglican Communion we should seek to be consistent in offering an answer to the question. We should not worry about what TEC thinks about making the invitation. We should set aside any concerns about lack of precedent for it or the weight of Tradition or traditions being against it. We should not invoke any ancient rules etc, and certainly not any canons of Nicea which talk about only one bishop with jurisdiction per region. As for such an invitation stretching the idea of what Anglican diversity means: we should welcome the invitation being made. Not only would it increase our diversity, it would be of no concern if it weakened our unity. Further, such an invitation would strengthen all Anglican claims to inclusiveness of the outsider and the marginalised.

We can in fact go further. If the Covenant is a bad idea because the crucial value at the core of the Communion is simply ++Desmond Tutu's "We meet" then what harm could be done by inviting a new member to the meeting? If the Covenant is a good idea for the Communion then we would have a potential barrier to ACNA being invited to belong to the Communion: what if it refused to sign the Covenant? At that point I think they should be refused membership.


Father Ron Smith said...

A Blessed Christmas, Peter, to you and yours. It looks as though we shall be celebrating Christmas Services (including Midnight Mass) outdoors - as the Bishop has banned indoor services at Saint Michael's and in the City because of Shaky Quaky. All OK. Deo gratias!

Peter Carrell said...

Thank you , Ron. I hope your Christmas is blessed, starting with fine weather tonight.

I shall be worshipping indoors ... such services can be found :)

Mark Harris said...

1.glad you and family and friends are ok.
2.You are right. Christmas is not the right time to question virgin birth, etc. Christmas is a time to relish the wonder. Details and hypotheses later. The Feast of the Incarnation can bear the weight of celebration (although some of the celebration gets pretty wacky.) But it is a Feast, not a debate time.

Likewise, Easter is not a time to try to explain or provide a theological rationale for the event. It is a time to celebrate the fact. Wonder about Resurrection all the time, but on the Feast, celebrate.

If you can't celebrate, then perhaps you need to stay home.

Hope you heard and / or gave words of celebratory wonder and witnessed the amazing grace of it all.

Meanwhile God bless and keep the dullards who can't see beyond debate.

Have a wonderful 12 days....

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Mark!

Rosemary Behan said...

Peter has seen fit to remove the link to the vicar of Ugley's webpage, but for those interested in the Queens Christmas message [better than most clerics] and John's Carol service sermon [which I sincerely recommend] go here ..

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Rosemary!

I can't remember why I removed that link ... you have prompted me to restore it!

Andrew Reid said...

Dear Peter,
Merry Christmas and thankyou for a year of stimulating discussion, reflection and argument about our Communion and its mission. I'm very pleased to hear you and your family are ok, and continue to pray for Christchurch that you might know peace and joy despite the fear and anxiety you are experiencing.
We get 2 bites at the cherry when it comes to Christmas in the Middle East - Western and Eastern - so there's double the celebration and more importantly for my 2 girls, two lots of presents!
Let me add my appreciation for the Queen's Christmas message and the way she connects the Christmas story to the challenges we face. Despite my Australian republican sympathies, I think it's probably the best message of any kind I've heard this Christmas.

Peter Carrell said...

Thank you Andrew!

carl jacobs said...

Peter Carrell

If then we ask why ACNA could not be invited to join the Anglican Communion we should seek to be consistent in offering an answer to the question. We should not worry about what TEC thinks about making the invitation. We should set aside any concerns about lack of precedent for it or the weight of Tradition or traditions being against it.

Heh. I would pay good money to see this actually happen. TEC would be apoplectic. It may be diverse and tolerant and inclusive when it comes to doctrine, but it is positively reactionary when it comes to it's exclusive franchise in North America. The fact of the Resurrection may be negotiable but not the inviolability of a bishop in his boundaries. The heart is revealed by what it loves.

At the center of TECs ecclesiology is the 'Dictatorship of the Episco-Proletariet.' TEC makes a pretense of democratic governance but it is the Episcopal nomenklatura that actually runs things. Like any organization built upon the ideas of Democratic Centralism, it expects obedience from the masses. Unfortunately, it doesn't have a secret police organization to keep the masses in line. What it does have is 1) property and 2) Anglican identity. It will surrender neither without a fight.

TEC has about 20 years left. It's living on bank accounts and aging baby boomers. An organization is doomed when accessions simply dry up. And that is what has happened to TEC. When ACNA exceeds TEC in size, then there won't be much controversy about this subject anymore.


Paul Fromont said...

A blessed Christmas to you and yours Peter. All the very best for 2012.

Pleased too that you're all okay following the pre-Christmas Earthquakes.


Father Ron Smith said...

re Carl's last comment - about TEC's lack of diversity in not allowing ACNA to become part of the official Anglican scene on the U.S.;

Guess who moved away from the Unity of Communion-recognised Anglicanism in North America in the first place! Was it TEC? NO, Was it ACNA? Yes. How do you reconcile overtly intentional scismatics with the parent Church? There can only be one answer: They would have to want to be RE-UNITED!

Is that likely to happen? Let's be honest here: NO.

Another problem is with the real internal politics of ACNA itself.
Are the different sodalities united? Obviously not. (See AMiA)

Anonymous said...

A Happy New Year to Peter, Ron & everyone here. May God our Father guide us in His paths, sanctify us in the Holy Spirit, and cause us to overflow with the love of Christ. 'I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year ...'


Father Ron Smith said...

Thank you, Martin - on behalf of us Kiwis who look to Christ for our redemption.

Do have a Happy New Year


Fr. Bryan Owen said...

I take delight in the fact that Spong rhymes with the word "wrong."

Epiphany and New Year's blessings to you and yours, Peter.

Father Ron Smith said...

And Wright, with Trite?

Kalo Epiphania!

Fr. Bryan Owen said...

Ha, good come back there, Fr. Ron!

Of course, Wright also rhymes with "right." :)

carl jacobs said...

Father Ron Smith wrote:

And Wright, with Trite?

Who said that miracles have ceased? FRS has at long last written a post with which I can joyfully agree - albeit for completely opposite reasons I am sure. But why look a gift horse in the mouth? We must take our victories (however small) where we find them. Who knows when we shall again find ourselves behind the same barricade?

No Pasaran!

carl ;)

Anonymous said...

Jefferts-Schori ..... Never, sorry!
Holloway .... Follow? Nay!
Lloyd Geering .... void steering
"Thinking" Anglicans .... Sinking Angry 'uns

Happy Orthodox Christmas!