Love him or hate him, Charles Darwin had a point. Species that are well adapted to their environment survive. Those who are not, do not. It occurred to me that this theory (the bane of modernist Christians everywhere) might well be applied more broadly. Those of us who refuse to use a computer are maladapted in our environment. With the passing of enough time, there will be no-one left who remembers first hand the pre-digital age. What about the evolution of church? There is no doubt that the church as we know it today is a different animal to the early church of the apostles. The structure, theology and style is perfectly adapted to modern culture. Therein lies the problem. The environment has changed, evolved. We live in a time referred to as post-modern, a slippery term that is as hard to nail down as the sociological construct it describes. It almost seems as though the church is now an endangered species. Parts of the church have responded with “supersize me” methodology. There is an attempt to realign church and culture through pursuing “bigger” and “better”. Other parts of the church are in a state of atrophy. The church must evolve, or it will go the path of all living things that do not adapt to their environment. This does not mean the church needs to be indistinguishable from its host culture, nor does the message need to change. The message of Jesus stands for all time, and will always fly in the face of culture. But our ecclesia, the “how” of church must adapt to survive.
Several years ago I attended a youth conference where I heard Mike Frost (of Small Boat Big Sea) speak for the first time. I remember little about the conference except playing chicken with the waves at Manly (I was knocked off my feet twice by big waves – bit of blood, lots of water) and hiring a little convertable sports car. And one significant talk by Mike. He spoke simply and powerfully about the wonder of God. The “wow”. I don’t mean the trendy penty “God is like, He is just so cool” kind of “wow”. Mike talked about the wonder that draws us irrisistibly, yet fearfully. He gave the analogy of the child seeing fireworks for the first time. Nothing could be more attractive, exciting, but also a bit scary.
Why am I reminiscing? I have been thinking about the Christmas story, and it has occured to me that as Christians we have been innoculated to some extent to the wonder of the story of Jesus. When was the last time you read the bible and marvelled over its contents? Spoke out loud your surprise. “He did that?”. He said what? How could fourteen (or so) year old Mary say to an angel – may everything you say come true, when told of her forthcoming divine pregnancy? It is as though we are spiritually desensitized. We have lost the “wow”. We have domesticated Jesus, and reduced the bible to a bunch of nice feel-good stories.
Christmas is so much more than the iconic images of the Christmas card. Unborn babies are filled with the Holy Spirit. Laws of nature for procreation are transcended. Ordinary people are visited by angelic beings. The arrival of God moving into the neighborhood of humanity is marked by the thin cry of a newborn. God connected to humanity by an umbilical cord.
I got the idea for the brackets in my title from here… It is December, and the build up to Christmas (or should I say Chri$tma$) is as consumeristic as ever. I have to sadly admit that my focus thus far has been on what presents I should buy for people, how much to spend (the big bills always seem to come in at Christmas), and the inveritable challenge of where to spend Christmas day, traditionally as carved up between scattered family members as the beloved roast dinner. Somehow, if we are really honest, the “reason for the season” is often a lesser focus than presents and family. I came across a cheeky website called buynothingchristmas.org, and found some great posters that challenge our western Christmas obsession with Christmas gifts. Here are a couple of examples:
Jesus is not that interested in Chrissie presents – no gift we could ever give could come any where near the ultimate gift he gave us. I know this is rather obvious for those of us who follow Jesus. However, if my priorities are reflected by the time I spend on them, then I certainly need to shift my focus somewhat…