Published: December 2007
Related Topics: Christmas
Those of us a certain age may recall the BBC radio program, ITMA--It's That Man Again--that man being Tommy Handley, ably assisted by his comic crew, Colonel Chinstrap--"When I was in Poona..."--"I don't mind if I do"--Mrs. Mop--"Can I dy' yer now, sir"--Miss. Monalot--"(sob, sob) It's bein' so cheerful (sob, sob) that keep's me goin'" and others They kept us in stitches during the darkest days of the war. But now, listening to it by tape I can barely raise a smile. How could we possibly laugh at anything so inane and stupid?
In much the same way, when I heard the Christmas story as a boy in the church, or out singing carols in the village--living in the rectory as one of six boys we had certain responsibilities to take the message of Christmas to everyone by means of caroling, and I thoroughly enjoyed it--I was profoundly stirred in my heart by the wonder and awe of the Christmas story. But now, even when I hear carols about the babe in the manger, shepherds watching their flocks in the hills at night, of wise men coming from afar, it all sounds so ho-hum. I still love to celebrate Christmas, but more for its rich food and the warm, fuzzy feeling. I sometimes try to induce the awe by contemplating the creator of this vast universe pitching his tent in this insignificant planet, but that only stimulates my mind, not my heart.
What spoiled it, I think, was learning that the angels' message bringing joy to all people was hi-jacked by the faith squelching teaching of the church; that God was only a Christian. It substituted the good news about Jesus with bad news of religion. Since we lived in Iran before the war I've always suspected that God had something more for all people. Our teen-age house boy died suddenly of an insect or snake bite, and my mother assured us that we would see him again in heaven. But how could we, we learned later, if he wasn't a Christian?
That idea had been reinforced by every thing I've heard, or read; until this year, when I encountered Robert Farrar Capon. Capon dares to say that the good news of salvation is for everybody, not just for those who think they are saved. I recently reviewed his Fingerprints of God, and now I've read Kingdom, Grace, Judgment, a composite of three books, Parables of the Kingdom, Parables of Grace, and Parables of Judgment. It's a mammoth work, with the feel that they're transcripts of Capon's lectures on all Jesus' parables, spoken and acted out. He's outrageously funny, but dead serious. His central theme is that God's grace is catholic or universal; it's showered on everybody alike, orthodox and unorthodox, believers and unbelievers; all are invited to the party, the resurrected life, now. Now's eternity, not some time in the future. That grace is procured by Christ's death and resurrection. But only those who are 'last, least, littlest, lost and dead' can really enjoy the party. The rest make excuses not to attend.
God can only raise those to resurrected life who are already dead. Actually we're all dead, but some of us don't know it yet, not until we're really dead. The saddest thing is that we all reject God's grace. Capon writes: "Free grace, dying love, and unqualified acceptance might as well be a fifteen-foot crocodile, the way we respond to it: all our protestations to the contrary, we will sooner accept a God we will be fed to than one we will be fed by." That's when we receive his judgment, and go to hell, not accepting his free gift of grace. But it's a judgment by mercy, not anger; he's not a vengeful God. He uses left-handed justice, of weakness, rather than the right-handed justice we prefer, of strength, reeking vengeance on all his, and our, enemies. This Capon proves in every one of the parables, even the parables of the wheat and tares and Dives and Lazarus....
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