One of my greatest joys as a writing pastor is that every year I am obliged to spend several weeks focusing on the two most earth-changing events in history–the birth of Jesus Christ, and his death and resurrection. You cannot make sense of one without the other. I’m currently working on a Lenten Narrative to follow last year’s Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative. With the season of Lent starting this week, I thought I’d offer here a chapter from Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative that looks at the incarnation of Jesus through the lens of his purpose for coming: to defeat the death I deserve and raise me to newness of life with him in his resurrection.
Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative
Chapter 24: The Hearts of Many Revealed
The old man was a member of the old guard, the last of a generation of faithful ministers in Jerusalem’s temple. He was something of a fixture—the kind of man who seemed to have always been there. It was hard to say whether Simeon smelled like the temple or the temple smelled like Simeon, but the minds of those who passed him in the street would often drift to notions of smoke and blood and a guilty resolve to attend to their worship more regularly.
The old guard to which he belonged was on a permanent watch. They were waiting for something in particular, something unique, something wonderful. The years had taught Simeon patience, so he was good at waiting. Still, he felt an unrelenting sense of urgency. He always had. He was waiting for the consolation of his people Israel. He had been waiting a long time, and his people even longer.
Back when The Rabbit Room first went live, part of our mission was to indulge in the pleasure of good and beautiful art. We launched with the understanding that there would always be plenty of sites online where readers could form a community around picking apart and criticizing what they didn’t like about certain music, books and film, but that this wouldn’t be that sort of place. Here at the Rabbit Room, we would focus our energy on the books, music, film and ideas that made us want to gather our friends, sit them down and oblige them to discover the Josh Ritters, Hurt Lockers, and Peace Like A Rivers of the world.
Another unspoken, but pretty obvious reality concerning our DNA can be summarized by slightly modifying that wonderful Buechner quote Eric Peters likes to put before us—“the story of any one of us [here at the Rabbit Room] is in some measure the story of us all—[we’re nerds of varying degrees].”
Todd and Christie Bragg gave me a gift, and I’m going to attempt to regift some of what they gave me with these words. Todd turned 40 the other day. It was Sunday, December 18—the day of the Behold the Lamb of God concert at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium.
Christie put together a huge after party for Todd in the upper balcony of the Ryman. She invited what looked like at least a hundred friends. But it wasn’t just a party. It was a surprise party.
Todd is a drummer in Nashville and he’s worked with countless musicians in this town over the years, so he knows a lot of people. But Todd is not just a drummer with a lot of connections. He’s a very kind and generous friend who, when you’re talking with him, treats you like you’re the only person in the world. So this party wasn’t just a room full of business associates. I imagine most all of them would call Todd not just a friend, but a dear friend.
[Editor's Note: We want to take a moment to celebrate the release of Russ Ramsey's first book. He's worked long and hard on it we're anxious for each of you to enjoy the fruits of his labor. So congratulations, Russ. I'm happy to add the title of "Author" next to your name on the masthead.
Here's the first chapter of Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative. If you'd like to download a sample and see what the actual book looks like inside, you can do so here. --Pete Peterson.]
He did not have a home.
People said he survived on little more than wild honey and locusts, and by the look of him, it couldn’t have been much more. He wore a coat of camel hair he cinched together with a leather belt, just like the prophet Elijah had done.
Normally he was the one people stopped to behold, but at this particular moment, as he stood waist-deep in the Jordan, anyone looking at him saw that his attention was fixed on the man from Galilee headed his way. His face wore a mix of astonishment and joy as the man approached.
“Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!”
“Let’s spend the afternoon at the art museum.” How do those words make you feel? Many, if not most of us, would probably admit to some apprehension. Why is this? Most of the art museums I’ve been to have been really affordable if not free, save for the suggested donation. So it’s not the money. And every one I’ve ever visited has been a beautifully designed facility. So it’s not the architecture either.
So what restrains our excitement about a day in a building full of art? May I suggest it is the art? I don’t mean to suggest the art is bad. Of course it isn’t. The apprehension many of us feel is due to the fact that art is demanding. It hangs on the wall with its amigos calling “look up here, look up here.” A day in an art gallery will wear you out and you’ll wonder how the simple act of looking could be so exhausting. The answer is, of course, that there’s nothing simple about really looking at art. If you let it, a great painting can demand as much from you as reading War and Peacein one sitting.
A few years ago there appeared a post here about The Jesus Storybook Bible. That post was my introduction to the writings of Sally Lloyd-Jones. I don’t know what Sally’s writing process is like—if she tucks away in the corner of a coffee shop or spreads out at her own kitchen table, and I don’t know if she types her words into a computer or writes them by hand on a yellow legal pad. What I do know—and what is obvious to anyone familiar with her work—is that she is a disciplined, careful, whimsical and dead-serious writer of children’s literature.
Have you ever looked at an actual Rembrandt? I mean really looked? I have. And at the risk of sounding hyperbolic, it’s exhausting. Why? Because Rembrandt was a master. If you will dare to look, he will provide more than you can take in. This is what masters do.
Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn was a Dutch painter who lived from 1606-1669, and has been widely regarded as the greatest painter Europe has ever produced. Even while he lived people called him “the master,” and eager, rising artists would study under him, trying to reproduce his technique and form. The result of this, as German art historian Wilhelm von Bode noted, was that “Rembrandt painted 700 pictures. Of these, 3,000 are still in existence.”
Follow me a bit further, if you will, down the road I started in my previous post about the woman who anointed Jesus on that Wednesday evening of that first Easter week. Mark writes, “While Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman [...]
(I’ve included the primary Scripture reference for this meditation at the end of the post.)
The first several days of the first Easter week were filled with tension and anger from Jesus’ opponents and unflinching resolve from Jesus. He had been on the move, juggling His time between Bethany, Jerusalem and the Mount [...]
My first journal was a yellow legal pad. So was my second. Then came a series of leathers, hardbacks and spiral bounds. The pens evolved from whatever was on hand to a few chosen favorites—mostly black, mostly medium point.
Early on, the pages were filled with the prayers of a high school kid who wanted everything [...]