“And you were dead…” What a bizarre statement. I was reading Ephesians 2 last week, and that phrase shocked me anew. You were dead. The past tense verb assumes that the recipients of Paul’s letter were no longer dead but alive. Which takes us back, back to Genesis 3, when God told Adam and Eve that if they were ever to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil they would die.
Quite obviously they didn’t die physically – the human race is still carrying on some thousands of years later. Had Satan rightly said, “You will not die…” when he accused the God who had placed them in in the Garden of Eden, where everything they needed was at their fingertips, of holding out on them. Did God lie? Was He just a cosmic bully, threatening and manipulating in an attempt to control them and keep them from forbidden pleasures? (So many still see the church that way.) Or was He perhaps a little wiser, a little more knowledgeable, and a lot more loving than they ever imagined?
God does not lie nor does He utter empty threats. So how are we to understand that scene? Years ago I read a great passage by Dallas Willard on the various levels of life on the earth. A cabbage, a kitten, and a man are all alive, but they experience life on different levels or planes. A cabbage is alive to the world of sun, soil and water but it can’t respond to a ball of string. A kitten, although it can play with a ball of string, cannot respond to poetry or math. Likewise, man can be biologically alive but cut off from God, unable to respond to His spirit.
Cut off from God, Adam and Eve became the first of the living dead. Zombies. Or, perhaps a more palatable metaphor, energizer bunnies whose batteries were running down. As human beings made in God’s image, we are meant to be fully alive, body, soul, and spirit. Cut off from God, unable to respond to His spirit, humanity is most often just going through the motions, lacking purpose, hope, answers, and the help and strength that come from the Spirit of God. .
So, here are a couple of poems on the motif of death – and the possibility of life. While the first is a bit dark for the season, ( my apologies), there actually are people, who given the choice, prefer death to life on God’s terms.
There's No Place Like Home I've made my bed with the dead. I've made my bed with the dead. It's not zoned residential, But it's damn confidential So I've made my bed with the dead. I choose to dwell in the morgue. I choose to dwell in the morgue. I smell like hell But there's no one to tell – So I choose to dwell in the morgue. The walls are thick in the morgue. The walls are thick in the morgue. No, I'm not a tortoise – It's just rigor mortise. The walls are thick in the morgue.
You Must Be Born Again Because a corner of your soul died that day, and deep inside the shock waves ripple yet. Because rough hands bruised you, though your soul, already calloused did not feel. Because nameless, faceless hands make worse the wound, and the only cure you know makes matters worse. Because your anger and your pain are fertile ground for seeds of noxious weeds to send forth shoots, and the long roots of bitterness stretch to the farthest reaches of your soul. And the doctor says you’re dead mate, and the undertaker too, and the pallbearers hurry to the wake. Because of that, you must be born again.
Why am I sharing this now? Haven’t we heard enough about death in Dec 2020? The reality of death has been played out before us more this year than any time in the past many decades. A respite from the grim numbers we hear nightly on the news might be nice. Why? Well, because Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Christ who broke the power of death. “She will bear a son and you shall call his name Jesus for he will save his people from their sins…” Matthew 1:21. Ultimately His death on the cross paved our way to life. He carried the weight of our sin, shame, guilt, and made a way for us to be reconciled to God.
People who have experienced this rebirth invariably comment on how everything changed the moment they believed. Though it was a long time back I remember the fresh resplendance of the world, as if I were seeing it for the first time in Technicolor rather than black and white – as if I’d woken to a new and improved reality. That transformation has never been portrayed more joyously than in the old Allistair Sim’s version of Scrooge, in Charles Dicken’s ‘The Christmas Carol’. Watching that movie is the holiday tradition I most relish.
Christmas 2020 will be unlike any in my lifetime. There will be many heartfelt losses and sorrow for them. But, as is my custom, I will be the first in my household to wake on Dec 25. In the still dark dawning of the day, I will stand by the window, look up to the heavens filled with gratitude, awe, and love for the Father who loved this world enough to send His son to reconcile us to Him.
And as Dr Seuss triumphantly proclaimed in How the Grinch Stole Christmas…
Every Who down in Whoville, the tall and the small,
Was singing! Without any presents at all!
He HADN’T stopped Christmas from coming! IT CAME!
Somehow or other, it came just the same!”
Wishing you and yours a very merry and blessed Christmas.