Christmas with Barth
Earlier this year I received Deliverance to the Captives from Wipf & Stock. This is a collection of outstanding sermons from Karl Barth. Most of the sermons were delivered in the prison of Basel, Switzerland. My old 70's edition has fallen apart from multiple readings, and I was gracious for an opportunity to read and review these fine sermons again.
During the Christmas time, I am always struck by the incessant fighting over whether Christians should or should not celebrate Christmas. I do not intend to interact with those arguments. I merely mention them to confess that they often put me in a foul mood. In an effort to ease my discomfort, I intentionally sought out Barth's Christmas sermons in this treasured volume. I would like to share some of my favorite quotes with you from his Christmas sermon from 1954.
"A little absent-mindedness, a little unbelief and a little Christmas sentiment, these are our reactions, not only yours, but mine is well! Until the angel of the Lord appears in shakes us up!" (Deliverance to the Captives, 22)
Preaching on Luke 2, Barth recounts the Christmas story and how it is spoken straight to each one of us. He postulates that during the reading of the text, some might not listen as they should, some might doubt, and some might reflect back on memories of Christmas long past. These are all human reactions to the Christmas. However, God's message shakes us out of this human reaction. It frees us to say "Glory to God in the highest" along with the angels without any hypocrisy.
As I sit getting ready for to attend our Christmas Eve service, I confess that I am in need of hearing God's message. Christmas is not sentimental feelings. It is not even my theological postulations on the Incarnation (of which they will be some shortly). The Christmas story is spoken to us about our savior. It is a time to stop and listen.
"This then is the Christmas story. You see, we cannot possibly hear this story and not look away from ourselves, from our own life with its cares and burdens. There he is, our great God and Savior, and here we are, human beings, and now it is true that he is for me, is for us" (Deliverance to the Captives, 26)
As I have written multiple times, the glory of Advent is that it denies any attempt by man to look inward for self-justification. The Incarnation of Christ is a movement of God towards us. It denies our ability to earn God's righteous. Man cannot through good works make God their God. We cannot make Him be pleased with us. But that does not mean that man is alone and apart from God. Instead, the Incarnation tells us emphatically that God has willed to be our God. As Barth says, "For your sake God was not content to be God but willed to become man" (25).
Though more could be said, I have three kids running around my house and a wife napping upstairs. I close with a portion of Barth's opening prayer,
"Grant today to the whole Christian church and to the world as well that many may break through the glitter and vanity of the holiday season and truly celebrate Christmas with us. Amen." (20)