A few weeks ago (in a post on authors and books that have been most instrumental in my spiritual formation, cf. “Read Any Good Books Lately?”), I gave some background to the high regard I have for for Philip Yancey:
Yancey addresses some of the age-old questions against the Faith—questions about pain and suffering in a world supposedly loved by God, about the incongruity between the Jesus of the Gospels and too many Christians and Churches across time.
In his The Jesus I Never Knew, Yancey addresses the incongruities between the Gospels as we’ve received them and “know” them… and the Gospel as the revolutionary message they were (and still can be). Take, for example, Christmas – as we have it framed it and understood it… versus the potential for our “reading it again, for the first time” (as one author has put it):
Sorting through a stack of Christmas cards, I notice that all kinds of symbols and sentiments have edged their way into the Christmas celebration. But when I compare today’s Christmas cards to the Gospel accounts of the first Christmas, I hear a very different tone. In the Gospels, I sense mainly disruption at work. Mary was a pregnant teenager and a virgin! The news an angel brought couldn’t have been entirely welcome to Mary or Joseph, considering the closely knit Jewish community in which they lived. In contrast to what the cards would have us believe, Christmas did not sentimentally simplify life on planet earth…
The facts of Christmas, rhymed in carols, recited by children in church plays, illustrated on cards, have become so familiar that it is easy to miss the message behind the facts. We observe a mellow, domesticated holiday purged of any hint of scandal. Above all, we purge from it any reminder of how the story that began at Bethlehem turned out at Calvary. After reading the birth stories once more, I ask myself, If Jesus came to reveal God to us, then what do I learn about God from that first Christmas? (Jesus I Never Knew, pp. 29, 35f.)
What Yancey is pointing to here is very much at the heart of our most recent issue of Ruminations, focused on “Rescuing Christmas from ‘the Obscurity of the Familiar.’” For those who do not know or haven’t experienced it yet, Ruminations is the name we’ve given to a quarterly/seasonal resource — especially designed as a guide for personal or small group retreats-devotions. And here, in this issue, we take time to share some Christmas-related teachings and preachings from my ministry through the years – messages very much informed by and grounded in my work with Dr. Jim Fleming in the Holy Lands.
Of course, the dynamic upon which we focus here (I.e., how the ways we think we know can blind us to what we could and should know) has a life well beyond the story of Christ’s Nativity. Across the years, spiritual directors and masters have affirmed that there is no real progress in the spiritual formation journey until we abandon our control – including the notion that we know it all already.