“Exmas”: a satirical essay by C.S. Lewis

20 12 2011

I found myself chuckling out loud a few times during this great piece of satirical writing. Lewis’ fictional country of Niatrib represents Great Britain but it could just as easily be present day America. I’m sure you can figure the rest out on your own. Enjoy!

In the middle of winter when fogs and rains most abound they have a great festival which they call Exmas , and for fifty days they prepare for it in the fashion I shall describe. First of all, every citizen is obliged to send to each of his friends and relations a square piece of hard paper stamped with a picture, which in their speech is called an Exmas-card . But the pictures represent birds sitting on branches, or trees with a dark green prickly leaf, or else men in such garments as the Niatirbians believe that their ancestors wore two hundred years ago riding in coaches such as their ancestors used, or houses with snow on their roofs. And the Niatirbians are unwilling to say what these pictures have to do with the festival, guarding (as I suppose) some sacred mystery. And because all men must send these cards the market-place is filled with the crowd of those buying them, so that there is great labour and weariness.

But having bought as many as they suppose to be sufficient, they return to their houses and find there the like cards which others have sent to them. And when they find cards from any to whom they also have sent cards, they throw them away and give thanks to the gods that this labour at least is over for another year. But when they find cards from any to whom they have not sent, then they beat their breasts and wail and utter curses against the sender; and, having sufficiently lamented their misfortune, they put on their boots again and go out into the fog and rain and buy a card for him also. And let this account suffice about Exmas-cards.

They also send gifts to one another, suffering the same things about the gifts as about the cards, or even worse. For every citizen has to guess the value of the gift which every friend will send to him so that he may send one of equal value, whether he can afford it or not. And they buy as gifts for one another such things as no man ever bought for himself. For the sellers, understanding the custom, put forth all kinds of trumpery, and whatever, being useless and ridiculous, sell as an Exmas gift. And though the Niatirbians profess themselves to lack sufficient necessary things, such as metal, leather, wood and paper, yet an incredible quantity of these things is wasted every year, being made into the gifts.

But during these fifty days the oldest, poorest and the most miserable of citizens put on false beards and red robes and walk in the market-place; being disguised (in my opinion) as Cronos. And the sellers of gifts no less than the purchasers become pale and weary, because of the crowds and the fog, so that any man who came into a Niatirbian city at this season would think that some great calamity had fallen on Niatirb. This fifty days of preparation is called in their barbarian speech the Exmas Rush .

But when the day of the festival comes, then most of the citizens, being exhausted with the Rush , lie in bed till noon. But in the evening they eat five times as much supper as on other days and, crowning themselves with crowns of paper, they become intoxicated. And on the day after Exmas they are very grave, being internally disordered by the supper and the drinking and reckoning how much they have spent on gifts and on the wine. For wine is so dear among the Niatirbians that a man must swallow the worth of a talent before he is well intoxicated.
Such, then, are their customs about the Exmas. But the few among the Niatirbians have also a festival, separate and to themselves, called Crissmas , which is on the same day as Exmas. And those who keep Crissmas, doing the opposite to the majority of the Niatirbians, rise early on that day with shining faces and go before sunrise to certain temples where they partake of a sacred feast. And in most of the temples they set out images of a fair woman with a new-born Child on her knees and certain animals and shepherds adoring the Child. (The reason of these images is given in a certain sacred story which I know but do not repeat.)

But I myself conversed with a priest in one of these temples and asked him why they kept Crissmas on the same day as Exmas; for it appeared to me inconvenient. But the priest replied, “It is not lawful, O Stranger, for us to change the date of Crissmas, but would that Zeus would put it into the minds of the Niatirbians to keep Exmas at some other time or not to keep it at all. For Exmas and the Rush distract the minds even of the few from sacred things. And we indeed are glad that men should make merry at Crissmas; but in Exmas there is no merriment left.”

And when I asked him why they endured the Rush, he replied, “It is, O Stranger, a racket, using (as I suppose) the words of some oracle and speaking unintelligibly to me (for a racket is an instrument which the barbarians use in a game called tennis ).

But what Hecataeus says, that Exmas and Crissmas are the same, is not credible. For the first, the pictures which are stamped on the Exmas-cards have nothing to do with the sacred story which the priests tell about Crissmas. And secondly, the most part of the Niatirbians, not believing the religion of the few, nevertheless send the gifts and cards and participate in theRush and drink, wearing paper caps. But it is not likely that men, even being barbarians, should suffer so many and great things in honour of a god they do not believe in. And now, enough about Niatirb.

Read it yourself in C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock “Xmas and Christmas: A lost chapter from Herodotus”





John Donne: God clothed himself in vile man’s flesh

20 12 2011

A remarkable little piece by John Donne

Oh let me then, his strange love still admire:

Kings pardon, but he bore our punishment.

And Jacob came clothed in vile harsh attire

But to supplant, and with gainful intent:

God clothed himself in vile man’s flesh, that so

He might be weak enough to suffer woe.

John Donne, The Complete English Poems (Penguin 1996 pg 313)





Augustine: On the Incarnation

19 12 2011

This is not only a clever bit of Christology, but it is also a powerful argument for the orthodox claim that salvation is found exclusively in knowing Christ. Note for Augustine, it is in the knowing that we are saved because only Christ does man  (Jesus) mark a trail for men to follow.  Only Christ as God can mark a trail to our salvation.  Thus, it is only in knowing the God-Man, Jesus Christ, that we can come to salvation.

It is a great and very rare thing for a man, after he has contemplated the whole creation, corporeal and incorporeal, and has discerned its mutability, to pass beyond it, and, by the continued soaring of his mind, to attain to the unchangeable substance of God, and, in that height of contemplation, to learn from God Himself that none but He has made all that is not of the divine essence.  For God speaks with a man not by means of some audible creature dinning in his ears, so that atmospheric vibrations connect Him that makes with him that hears the sound, nor even by means of a spiritual being with the semblance of a body, such as we see in dreams or similar states; for even in this case He speaks as if to the ears of the body, because it is by means of the semblance of a body He speaks, and with the appearance of a real interval of space,—for visions are exact representations of bodily objects.  Not by these, then, does God speak, but by the truth itself, if any one is prepared to hear with the mind rather than with the body.  For He speaks to that part of man which is better than all else that is in him, and than which God Himself alone is better.  For since man is most properly understood (or, if that cannot be, then, at least, believed) to be made in God’s image, no doubt it is that part of him by which he rises above those lower parts he has in common with the beasts, which brings him nearer to the Supreme.  But since the mind itself, though naturally capable of reason and intelligence is disabled by besotting and inveterate vices not merely from delighting and abiding in, but even from tolerating His unchangeable light, until it has been gradually healed, and renewed, and made capable of such felicity, it had, in the first place, to be impregnated with faith, and so purified.  And that in this faith it might advance the more confidently towards the truth, the truth itself, God, God’s Son, assuming humanity without destroying His divinity, Homine assumto, non Deo consumto. established and founded this faith, that there might be a way for man to man’s God through a God-man.  For this is the Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.  For it is as man that He is the Mediator and the Way.  Since, if the way lieth between him who goes, and the place whither he goes, there is hope of his reaching it; but if there be no way, or if he know not where it is, what boots it to know whither he should go?  Now the only way that is infallibly secured against all mistakes, is when the very same person is at once God and man, God our end, man our way.   Quo itur Deus, qua itur homo.

From Augustine’s The City of God, XI.2

the thought is expressed almost word for word in Chrysostom, but since I can’t remember the reference I must resort to what Calvin and Luther often do; “Chyrsostom somewhere says…”  Anybody know the reference? 





Was Jesus born to die? Is Christmas really about the cross?

19 12 2011

I recently read a post from a pastor who I respect enormously.  Unfortunately, I found myself disagreeing with him!  Much like Calvin used to do when he disagreed with Luther, I will decline to name this pastor.  Rather than draw attention to the man, I will draw attention to his words for on this point they fall short of the mark.

He writes:

During this time of year, it may be easy to forget that the bigger purpose behind Bethlehem was Calvary. But the purpose of the manger was realized in the horrors of the cross. The purpose of his birth was his death.

I must admit that I am sympathetic with this statement.  I’ve attended too many Christmas Eve worship services where the pastor made warm fuzzies of the babe born in the manger while neglecting the larger purpose of redemption.  Make no mistake about it, Jesus is born in the shadow of the cross.  He is a child whose fate is sealed.  He is a babe of destiny.

And if I were being honest, I would say that it is the crucifixion and not the incarnation which is the focal point of New Testament thought.  The cross is the thing that the New Testament authors continually return to.  Even John’s Gospel, which is the Gospel with the most mature articulation of the incarnation,  makes clear that the reason Jesus came was to suffer and die on the cross (John 12.27).

And while the cross must be given its due honor so must the manger.  The miracle in Bethlehem is not simply a stepping stone to Golgotha.  I am much more comfortable saying that Bethlehem and Golgotha are two sides of the same coin.  Each in its own special way reveals the glory of God.  Let us follow the argument of the Apostle Paul:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. (Philippians 2:5-7 ESV)

In this passage, the Holy Spirit through Paul gives us a backstage pass to the person of Christ.  In this passage we get to know his mind, how he thinks.  Now to fully illustrate this it would be worth reflecting on our mind.  Most of the people who will read this post today are what we might call small fish in a big pond.  But this is not how most of us consider ourselves.  Most of us consider ourselves to be big fish and we feel entitled to all the benefits that big fish are entitled to.  But this is not the mind of Christ.  He is a big fish.  He was in the form of God.  But he doesn’t have the mind of a big fish.  He has the mind of a small fish.  He “made himself nothing.”  He takes on the form of a servant.  Even though he’s God, he becomes a human.

Now I know a few college grads who have been looking for work for years.  They could get a job in the service industry but they won’t.  ”I’m a college grad,” they say which is just another way of saying “I’m too good for that kind of work.”  All of us on some level have this operating in our hearts.  ”I’m too good for that.”  Imagine a Doctor who willingly leaves his practice to become a garbage man.  Imagine this and you will not have even begun to plumb the depths of Bethlehem.  Imagine a King who willingly becomes a worm and you might be getting closer.  God willingly made himself nothing and became a man.

Paul does not view God making himself a man as merely a stepping stone to the cross.  Rather he sees this as part of larger project to reveal the mind of Christ.  Paul goes on to say:

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:8 ESV)

Now what is Paul drawing attention to here?  The cross?  Not so fast.  Rather it is the humbling and condescension of Christ that Paul is drawing attention to here.  Christ humbled himself by becoming obedient to death.  Mark the astounding nature of this.  God became a man.  More than that he became a man who would die.  More than that!  He became a man who would die on a device designed to shame and torture those who hung upon it!  All this to say, mark the humility of the Son of God!

Paul concludes this section of Philippians by saying:

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11 ESV)

Now why has God highly exalted him?  It is tempting to say “because of the cross!”  But this would be to miss the thrust of this passage.  The exaltation of Christ is not a Medal of Honor.  By this I mean, the exaltation of Christ is not a reward for one brave action.  Rather the exaltation of Christ is more like a lifetime (an eternity!)  achievement award.  God exalts Christ because of his character, his mind and how his mind is made manifest throughout eternity.  And what is his mind?  His mind is that even though he is the creator, if necessary he would take on the form of a created thing.  Even though he had a home in heaven, he would be born in a stable.  Even though he is Lord of all, he would become a servant.  Even though he is immortal, he would submit himself to death.  And even though he is sinless, he would die for sinner’s sake.  That is who he is.  That is the character of the God we worship.

Bethlehem does not acquire our redemption.  But make no mistake about it, the same character that moved the Son of God to be born in a stable is the same character that moved him to die on the cross.  Understood this way, both Bethlehem and Golgotha are stepping stones.  But stepping stones to what?  Stepping stones to see the glory of God in his loving mercy, his sacrificial kindness, and his unbelievable humility.

What do we learn from Bethlehem and Golgotha?  We learn a little something about ourselves.  If it took so much from God to recover us, we must have fallen very far from him.  The more serious the treatment the more serious the disease.  How terrible must have been the disease that necessitated Bethlehem and Golgotha!   But the good news is that the character of the Son of God is such that there is no place too low, no shame too shameful, no sin too sinful, no pain too painful, to keep the Son of God away from pursuing those he loves.  That’s just who he is.  That just might be the best news of all.





Abraham Kuyper on the Incarnation

19 12 2011

For my own amateur musings on the effect of the incarnation on human sin you may want to check out this article “Jesus, Puberty, and the Mid-Life Crisis” that I wrote some time ago availablehere

First, in the conception of Christ not a new being was called into life as in all other cases, but One who had existed from eternity, and who then entered into vital relation with the human nature. The Scripture clearly reveals this. Christ existed from before the foundation of the world. His goings forth were of old, from the days of eternity. He took upon Himself the form of a servant. Even tho the biologist should discover the mystery of the human birth, it could not reveal anything regarding the conception of the Mediator.

Second, it is not the conception of a humanperson, but of a human nature. Where a new being is conceived, a human person comes into existence. But when the Person of the Son, who was with the Father from eternity, partakes of our flesh and blood, He adopts our human nature in the unity of His Person, thus becoming a true man; but it is not the creation of a new person. The Scripture clearly shows this. In Christ appears but oneego, being in the same Person at once the Son of God and the Son of man.

Third, from this it follows not that a new flesh was created in Mary as the Mennonites used to teach, but that the fruit in Mary’s womb, from which Jesus was born, was taken from and nourished with her own blood—the very blood which through her parents she had received from fallen Adam.

Last, the Mediator born of Mary not only partook of our flesh and blood, such as it existed in Adam and as we have inherited it from Adam, but He was born a true man, thinking, willing, and feeling like other men, susceptible to all the human emotions and sensations that cause the countless thrills and throbs of human life….

Throughout the ages the Church has confessed that Christ took upon Himself real human nature from the virgin Mary, not as it was before the fall, but such as it had become, by and after the fall.

This is clearly stated in Heb. ii. 14, 17: “Forasmuch as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself took part of the same . . . . Wherefore in all things it behooved Him to be made like unto His brethren, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people.” It was even such a partaking of our nature as would make Him feel Satan’s goad, for there follows: “In that He Himself hath suffered, being tempted, He is able to succor them that are tempted.” Upon the authority of the divine Word we can not doubt then that the Son of God became man in our fallen nature. It is our misery, by virtue of the inherited guilt of Adam, that we can not live and act but as partakers of the flesh and blood corrupted by the fall. And since we as children are partakers of flesh and blood, so is He also become partaker of the same. Hence it can not be too strongly emphasized that the Son of God, walking among men, bore the same nature in which we spend our lives; that His flesh had the same origin as our flesh; that the blood which ran through His veins is the same as our blood, and came to Him as well as to us from the same fountain in Adam. We must feel, and dare confess, that in Gethsemane our Savior agonized in our flesh and blood; that it was our flesh and blood that were nailed to the cross. The “blood of reconciliation “is taken from the very blood which thirsts after reconciliation.

With equal assurance, however, bowing to the authority of the Scripture, we confess that this intimate union of the Son of God with the fallen human nature does not imply the least participation 85 of our sin and guilt. In the same epistle in which the apostle sets forth distinctly the fellowship of Jesus with the human flesh and blood, he bears equally clear testimony to the fact of His sinlessness, so that every misunderstanding may be obviated. As by virtue of our conception and birth we are unholy, guilty, and defiled, one with sinners, and therefore burdened with the condemnation of hell, so is the Mediator conceived and born holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, made higher than the heavens. And with equal emphasis the apostle declares that sin did not enter into His temptations, for, altho tempted in all things, like as we are, yet He was ever without sin.

Therefore the mystery of the Incarnation lies in the apparent contradiction of Christ’s union with our fallen nature, which on the one hand is so intimate as to make Him susceptible to its temptations, while on the other hand He is completely cut off from all fellowship with its sin. The confession which weakens or eliminates either of these factors must, when logically developed, degenerate into serious heresy. By saying, “The Mediator is conceived and born in our nature, as it was before the fall,” we sever the fellowship between Him and us; and by allowing that He had the least personal part of our guilt and sin, we sever His fellowship with the divine nature.

Does the Scripture not teach then that the Mediator was made sin and bore the curse for us, and “as a worm and no man” suffered deepest distress?

We answer: Yea, verily, without this we could have no redemption. But in all this He acted as our Substitute. His own personality was not in the least affected by it. His burdening Himself with our sins was a High-Priestly act, performed vicariously. He was made sin, but never a sinner. Sinner means one who is personally affected by sin; Christ’s person never was. He never had any fellowship with sin other than that of love and compassion, to bear it as our High Priest and Substitute. Yet, tho He was exceedingly sorrowful even unto death, tho He was sorely tempted so that He cried out, “Let this cup pass from Me,” (Matt. xxvi. 39) in the center of His personal being He remained absolutely free from the least contact with sin.

A close examination of the way by which we become partakers of sin will shed more light on this subject.

Every individual sin is not of our own begetting only, but a participation in the common sin, the one mighty sin of the whole 86 race against which the anger of God is kindled. Not only do we partake of this sin by an act of the will as we grow up; it was ours already in the cradle, in our mother’s womb—yea, even in our conception. “Conceived and born in sin” is the awful confession which the Church of God’s redeemed can never deny.

For this reason the Church has always laid such stress upon the doctrine of inherited guilt, as declared by St. Paul in Rom. v. Our inherited guilt does not spring from inherited sin; on the contrary, we are conceived and born in sin because we stand ininherited guilt. Adam’s guilt is imputed to all that were in his loins. Adam lived and fell as our natural and federal head. Our moral life stands in root-relation to his moral life. We were in him. He carried us in himself. His state determined our state. Hence by the righteous judgment of God his guilt was imputed to all his posterity, for as much as, by the will of man, they should successively be born of his loins. By virtue of this inherited guilt we are conceived in sin and born in the participation of sin.

God is our Creator, and from His hands we came forth pure and undefiled. To teach otherwise is to make Him the Author of individual sin, and to destroy the sense of guilt in the soul. Hence sin, especially original sin, does not originate in our creation by the hand of God, but by our vital relation with the sinful race. Our person does not proceed from our parents. This is in direct conflict with the indivisibility of spirit, with the Word of God, and its confession that God is our Creator, “who has also made me.”

However, all creation is not the same. There is mediate and immediate creation. God created light by immediate creation, but grass and herbs mediately, for they spring from the ground. The same difference exists between the creation of Adam and that of his posterity. The creation of Adam was immediate: not of his body, which was taken from the dust, but of his person, the human being called Adam. His posterity, however, is a mediate creation, for every conception is made to depend upon the will of man. Hence while we come from the hand of God pure and undefiled, we become at the same time partakers of the inherited and imputed guilt of Adam; and by virtue of this inherited guilt, through our conception and birth, God brings us into fellowship with the sin of the race. How this is brought about is an unfathomable mystery but this is a fact, that we become partakers of the sin of the race by generation, which begins with conception and ends with birth.

And now, with reference to the Person of Christ, everything depends upon the question whether the original guilt of Adam was imputed also to the man Jesus Christ.

If so, then, like all other men, Christ was conceived and born in sin by virtue of this original guilt. Where imputed original guilt is, there must be sinful defilement. But, on the other hand, where it is not, sinful defilement can not be; hence He that is called holy and harmless must be undefiled. Adam’s guilt was not imputed to the man Jesus Christ. If it were, then He was also conceived and born in sin; then He did not suffer vicariously, but for Himself personally; then there can be no blood of reconciliation. If the original guilt of Adam was imputed to the man Jesus Christ, then by virtue of His sinful conception and birth He was also subject to death and condemnation, and He could not have received life but by regeneration. Then it also follows that either this Man is Himself in need of a Mediator, or that we, like Him, can enter into life without a Go-between.

But this whole representation is without foundation, and is to be rejected without qualification. The whole Scripture opposes it. Adam’s guilt is imputed to his posterity. But Christ is not a descendant of Adam. He existed before Adam. He was not born passively as we, but Himself took upon Him the human flesh. He does not stand under Adam as His head, but is Himself a new Head, having others under Him, of whom He saith: “Behold Me and the children whom Thou hast given Me” (Heb. ii. 13). True, Luke iii. 23, 28 contains the genealogy of Joseph, which closes with the words, “The son of Adam, the son of God”; but the Evangelist adds emphatically, “as was supposed”; hence Jesus was not the son of Joseph. And in Matthew His genealogy stops at Abraham. Altho on Pentecost St. Peter says that David knew that God would raise up Christ out of the fruit of his loins, yet he adds this limitation, “according to the flesh.” Moreover, realizing that the Son did not assume a human person, but the human nature, so that His Ego is that of the Person of the Son of God, it necessarily follows that Jesus can not be a descendant of Adam; hence the imputation of Adam’s guilt to Christ would annihilate the divine Person. Such imputation is utterly out of the question. To Him nothing is imputed. The sins He bore He took upon Himself voluntarily, vicariously, as our High Priest and Mediator.

Abraham Kuyper, Work of the Holy Spirit, vol I chs XVIII-XIX

read it all here





What if Jesus was born in the age of Facebook?

19 12 2011

a very cool video





Santa, Fairy Tales, C.S. Lewis, and Pre-Evangelism

19 12 2011

 The author’s logic is the type that makes me squirm while simultaneously perking my interest.  At the end of the day, I like it…I think

I suspect that fairy tales and Santa Claus do prepare us to embrace the ultimate Fairy Tale, the one Lewis believed was ingrained in our being. New research from the Université de Montréal and the University of Ottawa indicates that children aren’t overly troubled upon learning that Santa is a myth. But the researchers remained puzzled because while children eventually abandon Santa, they keep believing in God. Lewis would say this is because God is real, but Mr. Dawkins fears it is the lasting damage of fairy tales. While Mr. Dawkins stands ironically alongside Puritans in his readiness to ban fairy tales, Christian apologists like Lewis and Chesterton embraced them, precisely because to embrace Christian dogma is to embrace the extrarational.

Today’s Christian apologists, by contrast, seek to reason their way to God by means of archaeological finds, anthropological examinations and scientific argumentation. That’s all well and good, but it seems to miss a fundamental point illuminated by Chesterton, which is that, ultimately, belief in God is belief in mystery.

read it all here