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Not a Pretty Picture . . . Or Is It?

If you’re like me, you find the cover of this issue of RW thought-provoking. Chris Stoffel Overvoorde’s That Glorious Form stops us short and makes us think. The Christ child in a crown of thorns? It’s not a pretty picture. It’s not the typical picture of Advent and the Christmas season. If given the choice, we would rather focus on the perfect, beautiful baby in the manger with the loving gaze of his mother and father falling upon him. We prefer the pretty picture.

But Advent is not a pretty time. Though the world around us may be filled with sparkling lights, festivities, and words of cheer, Scripture calls us to remember that we are living in a time of preparation, not just in remembrance of Christ’s first coming but in anticipation of his second.

We live in an Advent time of upheaval, of unknowns, of earthquakes and tornados, famine and sickness, wars and threats of wars, hatred and abuse. As a church we can gloss over these realities and opt to paint the pretty picture. But if we do so, the full impact of Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection will be lost to us.

We need to name our pain, our fears, and our troubles so that the Advent message of hope may ring loud and clear. We need to keep the whole story in perspective: the child in a crown of thorns. This Advent season I encourage you to take up the challenge of the Series for the Season and truly live in Advent so that the amazing gift of Christmas may shine that much brighter.

Another opportunity to look at the pain in our lives and then name the greater reality of God’s grace and victory over sin is at New Year’s. The services on pages 21 and 24 do just that.

There are other challenges within this issue that are worth mentioning up front. The profile of Madison Square Church on page 30 calls us to stop and ask what we are doing to promote healthy relationships between people of all races.

This issue also includes the first of three articles by Bishop N.T. Wright. In this first article he outlines a theology of the sacraments, that “sacramental theology is all about discovering, ‘in fear and trembling,’ how to allow that Word [Christ] to go on becoming flesh.” Wright then calls the church to live a sacramental life, to see Christ in the stranger and to be Christ to others.

Now as I sit back and reflect, I wonder if my first instinct to view Chris Overvoorde’s That Glorious Form as “not a pretty picture” was correct. By the world’s standards, a baby in a crown of thorns certainly isn’t pretty. But for Christians it’s the most beautiful picture there is.

It’s a picture of God incarnate, come to earth to save his people in the midst of the thorns of life—the Word made flesh, come to dwell with us here and now. What is more glorious than that? The wonderful truth about the gospel message is that in the midst of the pain and struggles we have hope for a second advent.

To paraphrase John 1:14: “The Word has become flesh and is dwelling among us.” Rejoice!

Excerpt

Here I Am to Worship

Light of the world,
you stepped down into darkness,
opened my eyes, let me see.
Beauty that made this heart adore you,
hope of a life spent with you.

King of all days,
oh so highly exalted,
glorious in heaven above.
Humbly you came to the earth you created,
all for love’s sake became poor.

So here I am to worship,
here I am to bow down;
here I am to say that you’re my God.
You’re altogether lovely,
altogether worthy,
altogether wonderful to me.

Here I Am to Worship, Tim Hughes,
© 2001 Kingsway’s Thankyou Music (admin.
EMI Christian Music Publishing). Used by permission.
See also Songs for the Season, page 20.