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Finally.  The success they deserve -  Rage Against the Machine have the UK's Christmas number 1.

And for those who have been following the exploits of this feisty four-piece, it's more apt than you know.

It all began when Zachary Ragg formed his little beat-combo Ragg and the Be Cleans.  They hit the road, playing the usual tent crusades and church picnics.  But while their lyrics were outstanding, soaked as they were in the best of Patristic and Reformation theology, their rap / heavy metal fusion (birthed in the Anfechtung of their Lutheran heritage) was often lost on the good church folk.

Their career took a decisive turn when Sony snapped up the talented young boys and re-branded them as Rage Against the Machine.

From that point onwards, young Zachary's profoundly Christian lyrics were altered by cynical producers riding the wave of 90s angst.  But Christ the Truth can now reveal the original words to 'Killing in the Name.'  We reproduce them here with comments in the hope that its Christmas wonder can be reclaimed.

The song is introduced with its own title:

Carolling in the Name of...

So sacred is the divine Name the Be Cleans dare not speak it.  And yet they unfold His majesty with a moving ode to His divine kenosis:

Now the One who works forces

Is the same who bears crosses

So taken is Zachary with this Christmas meditation that he dwells on the theme at length.  Then, with a discernably Lutheran slant, he launches into a stunning exegesis of Galatians 3.  He addresses Israel under the law, hammering down upon them the slavery in which they are bound:

And now you do what they told you

And now you do what they told you

And now you do what they told you

And now you do what they told you

Soon the antiphonal response will be added, pronouncing the divine judgement:

And now you're under a curse

And now you're under a curse

And now you're under a curse

And now you're under a curse

The tension builds until we find release in Christ's marvellous exchange:

He Who dies - He justifies

He wears your bad - now the chosen: white

He justifies - He Who dies

He wears your bad - now the chosen: white

After this chorus of exultation in Christ's substitutionary work, the Be Cleans recapitulate their meditations on Galatians 3.  Soon all is resolved as they turn to Galatians 4:4.  With ever increasing certitude, Zachary takes on the role of the incarnate Christ, born of a woman, born under law.  Now, from within our humanity He fulfils the law and reverses the curse.  He pronounces His benediction in words reminiscent of Hebrews 10:7 -

Bless you, I now do what I told you

Bless you, I now do what I told you

Bless you, I now do what I told you

Bless you, I now do what I told you

The excitement of the Be Cleans reaches fever pitch and who can blame them?  Christ has come, He now shoulders the burden, the curse is reversed, slaves are turned to sons.  The final line from Zachary proves le mot juste - what else can we do but adore the condescension of this Great Shepherd of the brethren!

Brother-Flocker!

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Anyone know any good Christmas videos available online?

Here's a couple I know:

UCCF's The Christmas Tale

St Helen's - Christmas

Worship House Media

Any others to recommend?

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Here is a Muslim street preacher defending an act of terror.  Don't bother listening to his tirade.  But at 6:40 tune in. Then you can hear the voice of a Christian woman passing by.  She says about Jesus: 'there is no other Lord... He is the Lord of all of you.'

The preacher responds: "Everyone ignore the flesh worshippers...  Let her go worship her flesh God."

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WhHYiWCm8Gs&feature=player_embedded]

ht TheOldAdam

Christmas celebrates the Word becoming flesh.  The humanity of God.  God the Son becomes God our Brother.

Muslims insist on a transcendence to Allah that insures his inhumanity.  (Who can fail to see a link between the inhumanity of the god and the inhumanity of those acts done in his name!).  The very notion of the Creator becoming flesh is, for Muslims, blasphemy.  For us it is cause for worship.

In my sermon on John 1:14 this morning I tried a kind of response to this thinking:

The Muslim says that God is so transcendent He cannot become flesh.  The bible says the very opposite.  In the bible, the Creator Word of God is so transcendently, immensely, divinely, passionately loving that nothing would stop Him becoming flesh.

You see, if a king remains on the throne and never climbs down.  That’s one kind of greatness, I suppose.  But there’s another kind of greatness.  It’s the greatness of the King who climbs down, who humbles Himself, who condescends, who joins His people, and then who descends even further – to take the clothing of a slave, to serve His people, to suffer and fight and bleed and die for them.  That’s another kind of greatness entirely.  That is the transcendence of the Word who became flesh.

Just think of an adult who speaks to a toddler while towering over them.  And now think of one who stoops down to their level.  Or think of a homeless man lying drunk in the gutter.  One man gives advice from on high.  Another lies down in the gutter with him, speaking to him face to face.

We are in the gutter.  And Jesus joins us.  On our level.

As our carol said earlier:

Sacred Infant, all divine,

What a tender love was Thine,

Thus to come from highest bliss

Down to such a world as this!

Never has One so Mighty become so Meek.  That is the transcendence of the Almighty Word.  A transcendence that leads to incarnation.  Because His glory - the glory of the Only Begotten from the Father - is a glory of grace and truth.  And the incarnation is the very expression of this glory.

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Full sermon audio here.

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Here's a great post on Christmas preaching.  Three points Barth emphasized about Christmas.

I'll summarize them in my own way, but read the original:

1) The inclusion of Bethlehem, Caesar Augustus, and Quirinius in the Christmas narrative reminds us that this not a myth, a legend, or fairy tale, nor even a morality tale of “peace and goodwill to all men.

We don't preach Christmas spirit but concrete fact, in the town of David a Saviour is born.  We must embrace the scandal of particularity.

2) Not only is Christmas a mystery of God with us, it is a miracle of God with us.

This is the in-breaking of God into the world.  A surprising and earth-shattering personal presence.

3) “The message of Christmas already includes within itself the message of Good Friday.” (CD II/2, 122.)

The crib and the cross are cut from the same piece of wood.

Read the whole thing here.

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Last week at youth club it was pandemonium.  We had to ban 3/4 of the kids for this week.

So tonight we were expecting small numbers.  But not as small as it turned out.  Only four turned up.  And three of them had actually been banned the week before and should not have been there.  The one legitimate member was desperate that we let in her three mates.

What should we do?  Should we let them all in even though word would get around that our 'no' doesn't mean 'no' (these kids really need to learn boundaries!)?  Or should we stand on principle, keep the three out and admit the one girl who really didn't want to be the only kid in the club?

Well the other youth leaders know I'm a soft touch, so before I caved in and let everyone come they issued a firm 'no' and we ran the club with five leaders and one youth.  The one youth was not happy.  She neither spoke nor joined in any of the activities.  Sigh.

It was only as we left that I realised the right course of action.  See as we left, the three banned youth were still hanging around church property - they had nothing else to do on a Thursday night.  And then it struck me - I should have gone out and joined them in their exile.  Wouldn't that have been the Christmas thing to do?

Wouldabeen great!  We would be telling them, Our no means no - they can't come in.  But nonetheless, I will go out to them.  If they can't come in to hear the word of life I'll go out into their cold, dark banishment and bring it to them.

And so I kicked myself all the way home.  Why didn't I think of that earlier?  But as I was berating myself, a plan began to form...  In future, I'll ban 'em all just so that the following week I can join them in it!  Cunning huh?

Which brings me to the moral of this story: Don't trust the supralapsarian youth leader.

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Last week at youth club it was pandemonium.  We had to ban 3/4 of the kids for this week.

So tonight we were expecting small numbers.  But not as small as it turned out.  Only four turned up.  And three of them had actually been banned the week before and should not have been there.  The one legitimate member was desperate that we let in her three mates.

What should we do?  Should we let them all in even though word would get around that our 'no' doesn't mean 'no' (these kids really need to learn boundaries!)?  Or should we stand on principle, keep the three out and admit the one girl who really didn't want to be the only kid in the club?

Well the other youth leaders know I'm a soft touch, so before I caved in and let everyone come they issued a firm 'no' and we ran the club with five leaders and one youth.  The one youth was not happy.  She neither spoke nor joined in any of the activities.  Sigh.

It was only as we left that I realised the right course of action.  See as we left, the three banned youth were still hanging around church property - they had nothing else to do on a Thursday night.  And then it struck me - I should have gone out and joined them in their exile.  Wouldn't that have been the Christmas thing to do?

Wouldabeen great!  We would be telling them, Our no means no - they can't come in.  But nonetheless, I will go out to them.  If they can't come in to hear the word of life I'll go out into their cold, dark banishment and bring it to them.

And so I kicked myself all the way home.  Why didn't I think of that earlier?  But as I was berating myself, a plan began to form...  In future, I'll ban 'em all just so that the following week I can join them in it!  Cunning huh?

Which brings me to the moral of this story: Don't trust the supralapsarian youth leader.

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6

ok the Christmas clock is against me.

So let me just say that for all the talk about incarnation manifesting the triune glory and incarnation giving coherence and consummation to creation, the biblical emphasis falls overwhelmingly on salvation as the reason for incarnation.  (Though of course the interconnectedness of God's outgoing being, creation and salvation ought to give us much to chew on!)

But let's realize that Jesus comes as Saviour.  And Saviour from sin.

John 3:17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. 

1 Timothy 1:15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners--of whom I am the worst.

 1 John 3:8 The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil's work.

How's it all work?  Well due to time constraints, let me simply link to a sermon I preached last year from Hebrews 2Audio here

Christ as the Seed of Abraham (singular) lays hold of us, the seed of Abraham, (plural).  He sums us up so as to be our substitutionary Lamb and merciful High Priest.  He lives our life, dies our death and now presents us to the Father in Himself.  Therefore...

"As you look into the manger this Christmas, look with irrepressible hope.  There, in the face of Christ, you see not only the Father's self-giving love.  There also you see yourself.  There in the manger is your humanity laid hold of by Immanuel.  There is your life, hidden with Christ.  And His victory is your victory, His future is your future, His righteousness is your righteousness, His joy is your joy.  God has gotten hold of you, permanently, irreversibly.  Christmas guarantees it."

I wish you all God's blessings in His Son.  Rejoice that they flow to you because today He became our Brother.  Happy Christmas.

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6

Yesterday we looked at incarnation and trinity.  Today I'll just make some observations about incarnation and creation.

Christ is "The Beginning", "The Alpha", "The First".  His Person is itself the basis for creation.  He is the One who is eternally Other from the Father and the foundation for all else that is other than Him.  Because of Him, through Him and for Him flows a creation. 

Christ is by nature and eternally from the Father in the Spirit. 

Creation is by grace and in time from the Father through the Son and in the Spirit. 

This shows us

a) the spreading goodness of the triune God, Whose being is outwardly curved.  Creation is not necessary to God.  But God's being, like a fountain, by nature overflows.  It is a being going out towards the other.

b) creation is not a free floating reality but something beginning in the Son, crafted by Him, cohering in Him and headed towards Him as His inheritance.  While God's being reaches out towards the other it is simultaneously a being that draws the other in bonds of love. 

These twin tendencies - the going out and the drawing in - find fulfilment in creation and incarnation.

Let's think about Genesis 1.  The heavens (masculine) and the earth (feminine) - like head and body, husband and wife - set the scene for this theatre of God's glory.  And centre stage is man - Adam made from the Adamah (the ground).  He is not spoken into being.  This man of dust (Gen 2:7) is made of the very stuff of the earth - drawn up, pinched off like clay and breathed into.  The earth-man is strongly united to the earth over which he is placed as head. 

Adam means 

a) that particular bloke;

b) 'a man' (a true human being) and

c) 'humanity' (as a whole).   

This central actor - man - is king.  He is God's ruler, through whom He exercises dominion.  From the outset God's rule is a mediated rule - through man.

Now when man is disobedient you may have thought that God would renege on His determination to rule through man.  But no.  He takes this mediation through man very seriously.  It is because of the cosmic kingship of man that man's fall entails the fall of all creation.  The ground (adamah) is cursed because of man (adam).  Man remains king.  But while man is perverse, so is his world.

But all of this looks towards the Man of Heaven (1 Cor 15:47-49).  Flesh and blood could never inherit the kingdom of God.  Men of dust were never the intention.  The intention was always the union of heavenly Man and earthly man.  The intention was always for the Logos to take this flesh and as Man to rule as God's true king.  This rule was not to be a divine rule over and against man.  It was to be a heavenly rule in and through man.

And so came the eschatological Adam (1 Cor 15:45).  He is

a) that particular bloke, Jesus;

b) 'a man' (a true human being) and

c) 'humanity' (an eschatological humanity to answer Adam's)

He sums up the man of dust, his being and life.  He retraces the steps of his disobedience and hammers out instead a being and life of perfect faithfulness.  And then, exalted as the pinnacle of all creation, this eschatological Adam is lifted up between heaven and earth - absorbing the curse of both and reconciling one to the other.  As Priest He ministers by the Spirit, offering to God the true worship of earth (Heb 9:14).  As Lamb He receives the curse of God on behalf of man (Gal 3:13).  As King, He reigns from the tree, manifesting God's righteous rule to the ends of the earth.

Ascending as Priest, Lamb and King to the Father's right hand, Jesus has lead captives in His train and sat down as Head over all things for the church.  The True Man, our Brother, sits in heaven as ruler of earth, not over against earth.  Rather, having taken Adam (and in him, adamah!) to Himself, He rules as and for man for all eternity.  When the heavenly Husband (masculine) moves house with His Father to earth (feminine) there will be the Marriage to end all marriages.  The manifested union of Bridegroom and bride will be at the same time the manifested union of heaven and earth.  Christ and creation will be consummated that day.

As Alpha, Christ has crafted a creation and granted it a gracious otherness.

As Omega, He has entered in and drawn back that creation to a gracious oneness.  

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7

Here's the first of three sketches of posts:

Incarnation and trinity

Incarnation and creation

Incarnation and salvation.

I'll try to be brief.

Have you ever heard the history of trinitarian thought taught like this:

Once upon a time everyone was a strict monotheist.  And then the incarnation happened.  And it messed with our heads for the first 4 centuries of the church.  But eventually, through some philosophical sleights of hand, we managed to slip Jesus into our assumed monotheism.  Phew. 

Ok that's a bit of an exaggeration.  But perhaps you'll recognize that order of explanation - i.e. the incarnation forces us to do trinitarian theology.

Now - as you'll probably know - I firmly believe that Christ is the foundation for all knowledge of God.  Christ, as He introduces us to His Father and Spirit, is indeed the starting point for trinitarian theology.  But - as you'll also probably know - I think Christ is revealed long before the incarnation!   And therefore it is not 'incarnation' that makes us think 'trinity'.  It's 'trinity, revealed in the eternal Son' that then helps us think through 'incarnation.'

And here's the pay off:  Attributing divine honours to the One Sent from God is not a New Testament novelty.  To give one example - Christ appears often in the OT as the Angel of the LORD.  As such He is One in Whom God's Name dwells (Ex 23:20ff), One Who is Himself called LORD (everywhere!) and Who, as God of Abraham, is the Object of prayer and Source of blessing (Gen 48:15,16).  A proper Hebrew doctrine of God is already comfortable with the One Sent from God being distinct from God and yet Himself God. 

Now fast forward to the New Testament and let's confront those questions that the incarnation naturally throws up:

  • Why doesn’t Jesus just say ‘I am God’?  Why all this ‘I am sent…’ stuff?
  • Why does Jesus keep saying things like: ‘I can do nothing by myself’? (e.g John 5:19,30)
  • How come Jesus sleeps?
  • How come Jesus doesn’t know when He’s returning?

Typically such questions make people question His divinity.  'How can He be other than God and yet be God?  How can He be divine when He defines Himself as the ultimate servant?'  Yet if we'd properly understood the OT doctrine of God, such considerations might well make us affirm His divinity!

You see it's a revelation of His divine nature (and not a concealment) that we see in Jesus such dependence on the Father.  When He says ‘I am sent’ it reveals His divine nature as the eternal Son of the Father - THE Angel.  When He says ‘I can do nothing’ it reveals His divine nature as the eternal Servant of the LORD.  When He sleeps it reveals His divine nature as One dependent upon the ever-wakeful Father.  When He says He doesn’t know when He’s returning He reveals His divine nature as One sent from God.  He waits on the Father’s command and does not initiate His first or second coming.

All of this means we can take His humanity with the utmost seriousness.  He really can’t do anything by Himself.  He really does sleep (He really does die even!)  He really doesn’t know when He’s returning.  He says He doesn't, let's just go with the Word on this one.

We don’t need to assign these differences in Jesus to some ‘human nature’ locked off from a special sphere of uncorrupted deity.  Jesus’ deity is not insulated from these differences, it includes them.  It is the Man Jesus who says ‘If you’ve seen me you’ve seen the Father.’  It is the Man Jesus who says ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’  In His differences, in His complete humanity, He is the living God. 

So for all of this He is no less divine.   In fact all this is the very expression of His triune Godness - a Godness that has always included distinction and servitude.  Jesus is God precisely because He is the Spirit Anointed Servant of the LORD - in other words, the Christ, the Son of God.  This divinity is not at odds with His humanity but fully expressed within it.  (For more on this see Nicea comes before Chalcedon.)

In this way the incarnation is not a departure or a nuance but a true expression of God's nature.

And this is where I'd like to end for now - to see Jesus of Nazareth is to see into the deepest depths of the divine life.  Jesus is not like diluted orange squash - His humanity watering down a divinity that would otherwise be too strong for us.  The Man Jesus reveals the eternal life of God at full strength and in its true nature.  Because the life of God is a life of Offer and Receipt, Command and Obedience.  It has ever been outwardly curved.  It has ever been a being towards incarnation.

Christmas is not our best shot at getting an angle on God.  Christmas is looking into the manger and staring the trinitarian God full in the face.

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I sometimes post up kids songs.  Here's a collection I've put together for my nephews and neices for Christmas.

(If you've downloaded my other songs, notice an old song not seen on the blog before - the Poison Cup.  I've also re-recorded Power and have done the Christmas round in a lower key at the end).

Anyway, here are:

Uncle Glen's Silly Songs

1.  Christmas Round - Good News of Great Joy

2.  The Jonah Song

3.  Moving - The Egypt Song

4.  John 3:16

5.  Shipwrecked (from the Holiday Club of the same name)

6.  Power - Romans 1:16-17

7.  The Secret Song - Philippians 4:13

8.  The Poison Cup (part of a Garden of Gethsemane assembly)

9.  Fake Plastic Trees - Country Hoedown

10.  Christmas Round (remix - in lower key)

11.  Christmas salutation

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