Born at the Right TimeWhat the Incarnation means for us all A sermon delivered December 18, 2016and lightly edited for posting
Taiwan, it seems, has one of the highest rates of Caesarian births in the world, which leads to two questions: “What are you talking about, Al?” and “Why is that?”
A Caesarian section is an operation whereby a baby is born by surgically opening the womb of the pregnant woman, usually because of some medical emergency. It was done in ancient times, nearly always at the cost of the life of the mother. I would have guessed that it was called a Caesarian birth because Julius Caesar was born that way, but that is apparently a myth. In any case, it is relatively common these days, and not terribly dangerous.
It is always terribly hard to be sure exactly what happened, but it is easy to collect opinions.
Dieu a établi la prière pour communiquer à ses ceatures la dignité de la causalité. Pascal
The Bible says Sennacherib’s campaign was foiled By angels: in Herodotus it says, by mice— Innumerably nibbling all one night they toiled To eat away his bowstrings as warm wind eats ice.
But muscular archangels, I suggest, employed Seven little jaws to labour at each slender string, And by their aid, weak masters though they be, destroyed The smiling-lipped Assyrian, cruel bearded king.
No stranger that omnipotence should choose to need Small helps than great—no stranger if His action lingers Till men have prayed, and suffers their weak prayers indeed To move as very muscles in his delaying fingers,
Who, in His longanimity and love for our Small dignities, enfeebles, for a time, His power.
C.S. Lewis, “Sonnet” (Oxford Magazine, May 14, 1936) [link]
The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold, And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold; And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea, When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.
Like the leaves of the forest when Summer is green, That host with their banners at sunset were seen: Like the leaves of the forest when Autumn hath blown, That host on the morrow lay withered and strown.
For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast, And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed; And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill, And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still!
And there lay the steed with his nostril all wide, But through it there rolled not the breath of his pride; And the foam of his gasping lay white on the turf, And cold as the spray of the rock-beating surf.
And there lay the rider distorted and pale, With the dew on his brow, and the rust on his mail: And the tents were all silent, the banners alone, The lances unlifted, the trumpet unblown.
And the widows of Ashur are loud in their wail, And the idols are broke in the temple of Baal; And the might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword, Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord!
Lord Byron, “The Destruction of Sennacherib” [link].
The next king was the priest of Hephaestus whose name was Sethos. He despised and had no regard for the warrior Egyptians, thinking he would never need them; besides otherwise dishonoring them, he took away the chosen lands which had been given to them, twelve fields to each man, in the reign of former kings. So when presently king Sanacharib came against Egypt, with a great force of Arabians and Assyrians, the warrior Egyptians would not march against him.
The priest, in this quandary, went into the temple shrine and there before the god’s image bitterly lamented over what he expected to suffer. Sleep came on him while he was lamenting, and it seemed to him the god stood over him and told him to take heart, that he would come to no harm encountering the power of Arabia: “I shall send you champions,” said the god.
So he trusted the vision, and together with those Egyptians who would follow him camped at Pelusium, where the road comes into Egypt; and none of the warriors would go with him, but only merchants and craftsmen and traders. Their enemies came there, too, and during the night were overrun by a horde of field mice that gnawed quivers and bows and the handles of shields, with the result that many were killed fleeing unarmed the next day.
And to this day a stone statue of the Egyptian king stands in Hephaestus’ temple, with a mouse in his hand, and an inscription to this effect:
“Look at me, and believe.”
Herodotus, Histories, II, 141, 1-6 (tr. A.D. Godley) [link].
[The Lord says] “I will shield this city [Jerusalem] and rescue it for the sake of my reputation and because of my promise to David my servant.” That very night the Lord’s messenger went out and killed 185,000 men in the Assyrian camp. When they got up early the next morning, there were all the corpses. So King Sennacherib of Assyria broke camp and went on his way. He went home and stayed in Nineveh.
Many of you are aware of Andrew Peterson’s online Christian Community The Rabbit Room (rabbitroom.com).
In August The Rabbit Room is sponsoring an online reading group on John Perkins’ 2006 Autobiography Let Justice Roll Down.* I thought it sounded interesting and I’ve signed up to participate.
John Perkins was a sharecropper’s son who left Mississippi for California, but came to Christ and returned to minister and devote his life to reconciliation:
“His brother died in his arms, shot by a deputy marshall. He was beaten and tortured by the sheriff and state police. But through it all he returned good for evil, love for hate, progress for prejudice, and brought hope to black and white alike. The story of John Perkins is no ordinary story. Rather, it is a gripping portrayal of what happens when faith thrusts a person into the midst of a struggle against racism, oppression, and injustice. It is about the costs of discipleship—the jailings, the floggings, the despair, the sacrifice. And it is about the transforming work of faith that allowed John to respond to such overwhelming indignities with miraculous compassion, vision, and hope.”
The class is being led through once a week Zoom meetings by Belmont University professor and musician Steve Guthrie. The class will take place on Thursday night at 8:30p ET/7:30p CT. If you are interested, here’s the [link] to sign up.
I’ll look for you on Zoom next week!
*The Kindle book is available for $1.49 at Amazon. [link] — I’ve begun reading and it is a moving story.
More than usual, sorry, I usually post when I have three, this time I have five for you. Please don’t miss the last one.
Stephen L. Carter, “How We Got to Capital-B ‘Black’: America’s long conversation about race has often stumbled over which specific words to use,” BloombergOpinion (July 1, 2020) [link]:
So black is now Black. In the wake of the protests following the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and too many others, editors everywhere have decreed with sudden and remarkable unanimity that the formerly common adjective referring to African Americans will henceforth be a proper adjective.
I’m all for the change. Yes, as a card-carrying Grammar Curmudgeon I have a few curmudgeonly concerns. But before we get to that part, let’s do a little history.
Over the past half millennium, the U.S. and its predecessor colonies have invented all sorts of ways to refer to the Africans they bought and sold and their many generations of descendants. Many of those terms were derogatory at the time; most are considered derogatory today. The nation’s difficulty in finding the proper word to describe a people dragged unwillingly to its shores itself mirrors the difficulty the nation has had in digesting the original crime.
Carter continues to look at the history and significance of the usage, with his usual insight. Alas he is behind the Bloomberg paywall, and (so far as I am aware) his earlier columns are not released after a period of captivity like some other writers. See, e.g., Peggy Noonan [link]. Choose your one free article for the month wisely (now I will have to wait until August).
Sarah Willard, “Remember This,” Blind Mule Blog (June 29, 2020) [link]:
In January I wrote the word Eucatastrophe down on a scrap of paper and propped it up on my desk. A sudden turn of good events, it means, which ensures the protagonist does not meet some very probable doom. It was with barely a mustard seed of belief that I wrote it down. Really I just liked the way it looked on paper. I didn’t name it and claim it. I didn’t presume to pray for it. I was, in fact, avoiding it personally.
Great word, Sarah, and one we need to remember. She gives us a scrap of story about unexpected grace.
Nadia Nadim, “The Outsiders,” The Players’ Tribune (June 18, 2020):
Although I’m encouraged by the Black Lives Matter protests, I still feel that too many people have become numb to what’s going on in certain parts of the world. Take one of them aid campaigns about Africa, where children are suffering from hunger. People see it, in the literal sense, but they don’t really see it. You know? But then let’s say that you live in Denmark, where I arrived when I was 12, or in any other privileged country. If two Danes die or get killed in Africa or Syria or wherever, that’s suddenly big news. You’re like, “Oh my God. They were Danish!!”
Our task is learning how to apply all that we have received from God so that we can witness to the truth about him in ways that are effective and that truly connect with people today. We do not need to get angry, shouting at our culture. We do not need to feel defeated, staying silent in our culture. We can be hopeful, as we share the message that the whole word so desperately needs to hear. To put it another way, we can still be disciple-makers. We can—we must—stay salt!
If God can reconcile those who have real and God-ordained distinctions between them, He can certainly reconcile people who have arbitrary and artificial differences and distinctions between them.
This is a very powerful sermon—by the way, Dr. Baucham is not (1) saying there is no problem, or (2) reading books is worthless, or that (3) we can experience no peace with non-believers. What he does say is worth multiple hearings.
Dr. Baucham has many online sermons—does anyone have other suggestions? This was the first I had heard.
Alan Jacobs, again, with a nicely captured piece of worldly wisdom completely at odds with orthodox Christian belief:
“[M]etaphysical capitalism”: I am a commodity owned solely by myself; I may do with this property whatever I want and call it whatever I want; any suggestion that my rights over myself are limited in any way I regard as an intolerable tyranny. I am what I say I am. I am my own. As a Christian I do not and cannot believe this. My only comfort in life and in death is that I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.
“last word on critical theory,” Snakes and Ladders (June 17, 2020) [link]. There’s more here, and you can follow Jacob’s interior links, but this is an immediately important concept that is relevant in many political, social and personal contexts. “You are not your own.” 1 Cor. 6:19-20. Let us strive to live as Christ’s δουλοι.
Stephen L. Carter, “Are the George Floyd Protests Different?” Bloomberg News (June 4, 2020) [link]”
Is it different this time? That’s the question on so many lips as furious protesters march through streets all across the U.S. and major cities impose curfews. We ask because we’ve seen this movie before — explosions of activism that seem for an instant to herald a tectonic shift in the nation’s self-understanding, only to turn out to be the distant fading trumpets of a movement in retreat.
But what if this is an actual uprising? A revolution? Not in the silly way the words are sometimes used, as synonyms for “really big demonstrations” — but an actual uprising, the sort of thing that over history has toppled regimes?
That’s the question, but you need to read the entire piece to see what Mr. Carter thinks.
W.H. Auden, A Certain World: A Commonplace Book, 87 (1970), quoted in Ian Sansom, September 1, 1939: Biography of a Poem 224 (2019)*:
By all means let a poet, if he wants to, write engagé poems, protesting against this or that political evil or social injustice. But let him remember this. The only person who will benefit from them is himself; they will enhance his literary reputation among those who feel as he does. The evil or injustice, however, will remain exactly what it would have been if he had kept his mouth shut.
Matters aren’t solved by words, spoken or written, it is true; but matters are not normally solved by silence, either.
I was reminded today of a wonderful anecdote told by C.S. Lewis in Surprised by Joy. Unsatisfied by the progress of his son’s education, Lewis’ father transferred him into the care of a private tutor, William T. Kirkpatrick (“Kirk” or “The Great Knock”) to prepare Lewis for university. Kirk walks Lewis from the train station to his house, and Lewis recalls:
I began to “make conversation” in the deplorable manner which I had acquired at those evening parties and indeed found increasingly necessary to use with my father. I said I was surprised at the “scenery” of Surrey; it was much “wilder” than I had expected.
“Stop!” shouted Kirk with a suddenness that made me jump. “What do you mean by wildness and what grounds had you for not expecting it?”
I replied I don’t know what, still “making conversation.” As answer after answer was torn to shreds it at last dawned upon me that he really wanted to know. He was not making conversation, nor joking, nor snubbing me; he wanted to know. I was stung into attempting a real answer. A few passes sufficed to show that I had no clear and distinct idea corresponding to the word “wildness,” and that, in so far as I had any idea at all, “wildness” was a singularly inept word.
“Do you not see, then,” concluded the Great Knock, “that your remark was meaningless?” I prepared to sulk a little, assuming that the subject would now be dropped. Never was I more mistaken in my life. Having analyzed my terms, Kirk was proceeding to deal with my proposition as a whole. On what had I based . . . my expectations about the Flora and Geology of Surrey? Was it maps, or photographs, or books? I could produce none. It had, heaven help me, never occurred to me that what I called my thoughts need to be [based] on anything. Kirk once more drew a conclusion—without the slightest sign of emotion, but equally without the slightest concession to what I thought good manners: “Do you not see, then, that you had no right to have any opinion whatever on the subject?”
By this time our acquaintance had lasted about three and a half minutes; but the tone set by this first conversation was preserved without a single break during all the years I spent at Bookham.
Perhaps it is all too clear how this anecdote struck me on April 27, 2020. We are now surrounded by a myriad of opinions justified by nearly nothing at all. In the age of too much “information,” we consider it a useful skill to discern which opinions to ignore, but it has been a long time since I remembered that a person might actually be held to account for expressing an irrational opinion.
Jesus said (admittedly in a different context) “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak,” and this is worth remembering and taking to hear—may we be intentional in our speech and take great care with our opinions.