Friday, 30 November 2007

Who Do Say That I Am?

Nathan says: For those of you who want to know what it is like at the high-octane divinity school that is New College, Edinburgh, here's an appropriate bit of humor I found in Sojourners:

And Jesus said unto them, 'And who do you say that I am?'

They replied,
'You are the totaliter aliter, the vestigious trinitatum who speaks to us in the modality of Christo-monism.’
' You are the impossible possibility who brings to us, your children of light and children of darkness, the overwhelming roughness’ in the midst of our fraught condition of estrangement and brokenness in the contiguity and existential anxieties of our ontological relationships.
'You are he who heals our ambiguities and overcomes the split of angst and existential estrangement; you are he who speaks of the theonomous viewpoint of the analogia entis, the analogy of our being and the ground of all possibilities.
'You are my Oppressed One, my soul's shalom, the One who was, who is, and who shall be, who has never left us alone in the struggle, the event of liberation in the lives of the oppressed struggling for freedom, and whose blackness is both literal and symbolic.’

And Jesus replied, 'Huh?'

Friday, 23 November 2007


Advent is one of our favorite times of the year. We love the idea of practicing hope as a spiritual discipline, and have developed our own Advent tradition over the last four years of our marriage. As part of my sabbatical, I have tried to put that tradition into writing so that we can share it with others. Below, I'm posting the intro, and if anyone has any interest in seeing the whole thing, just leave a comment or e-mail me, and I'd be happy to send it all to you.

A Season of Hope

Scriptural readings for the season of Advent

Written and compiled by
Christina Hitchcock

An Introductory Story
In 163 BC Israel suffered under the oppressive rule of Antiochus IV. This Syrian king, also known as Antiochus Epiphanes, had invaded the Temple, going where no Gentile should go, stealing the gold and precious jewels for his own treasury, and desecrating the sacred alter by sacrificing a pig there. He intended to wipe the Jews out, and set out to do so with decrees that made anyone faithful to commands of Yahweh subject to capital punishment. While many Jews capitulated to Antiochus, a small remnant refused to do so. This remnant, led by Judas Maccabee, finally recaptured Jerusalem and the Temple. This event is still celebrated in the Jewish festival of Hanukkah.

But reclaiming the Temple was not enough; it also needed to be cleansed. Yet how could such radical desecration of God’s house be reversed? Judas knew that the altar was defiled, yet he also knew that it was still God’s altar, not to be put aside lightly. So “they deliberated what to do about the altar of burnt offering, which had been profaned. And they thought it best to tear it down, lest it bring reproach upon them, for the Gentiles had defiled it. So they tore down the altar, and stored the stones in a convenient place on the temple hill until there should come a prophet to tell what to do with them” (I Maccabees 4:44-46).

Advent means “coming” or “arrival”. In the church calendar, Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas, and marks a time of anticipation, expectation and hope. It is a time for the Church to remember God’s work in the past, but at the same time to realize that God’s work is not done, but rather that we, like the children of Israel in the Old Testament, still look forward to the completion of God’s work. Advent denies us the illusion that God’s work is finished, either in the world or in ourselves. We still experience a world defiled by sin and guilt and sadness, yet it is a world that cannot be tossed aside, because it belongs to God. Therefore, like Judas Maccabee, we look forward to the day when a prophet will come to tell us what to do.

But, unlike Judas, we Christians also look back with the knowledge that God’s prophet, priest and king has already come in Jesus Christ, and he is already telling us what to do. Therefore, for Christians, Advent is a season of looking back in remembrance and looking forward in hope. The prophet has come, and the prophet is coming. This is what we remember and this is what we hope for.

Have you noticed how tempting it is to celebrate Christmas during Advent? It seems that the marketing of Christmas begins earlier each year. Christians are not immune to this, and in the process, Advent, a season of hope and expectation, is replaced by Christmas, a season of fulfillment. It is good and right for the Church to celebrate Christmas, but not before she looks backwards and forwards in repentance and anticipation. It is my hope that this small book of Advent meditations can help us anticipate the coming of God’s Prophet in these four weeks. And, as you well know, anticipation makes the Christmas celebration all the more sweet.

This book is inspired by the story in I Maccabees cited above. It recognizes that we live in a world that, like the desecrated altar, belongs to God yet has been defiled by sin. Because it belongs to God, we cannot toss it aside. Yet because it is defiled by sin, we cannot pretend that all is as it should be. And we must recognize with Judas that we cannot make things right. We must wait for God’s prophet, who will make all things new. Advent teaches us to live in a broken world with repentance but without despair. It teaches us our own limitations and yet points us to the God for whom nothing is impossible. Advent is a time to practice the discipline of hope. These meditations and Scriptural remembrances will attempt to bring out those ideas simply by telling stories of God’s work. Each story is symbolized by a stone, gathered up by the person who tells the story. The stones will be stacked together, one added each day, as each day a new story is told. Together, the stones will be an altar like those in the Old Testament which are there to remind us of God’s work and faithfulness.

The stories told here begin at the beginning, with God’s promise to Adam and Eve to send an avenger. They progress through the Old Testament, recounting various moments of redemptive history where God acted on behalf of his people. Each story is chosen because it reminds us that God will keep his promises, and because it articulates God’s promises for our future. These will include but certainly not be limited to, the stories of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac, the Exodus, the birth of David, and the Messianic prophecies. Towards the middle of Advent, the story of the desecrated altar will be told, and then the stories will move into the New Testament era, recounting the promises given to Zechariah, to Mary, to Joseph, and to Elizabeth. On Christmas Eve, the story of the birth of Christ is recounted, preparing us to celebrate the fulfillment of God’s promises on Christmas day.

However, it is important to remember that God’s work is not finished. While God has sent his Messiah, who died on the cross and rose from the dead for our salvation, our salvation is not yet finished. We still look forward to the day when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. We still look forward to the day when death, which is the last enemy, will die. We still look forward to the day when Christ returns and makes all things new. In other words, the New Testament era, like the Old, is still a time of great anticipation, expectation, and hope. So even while we celebrate the first coming of Christ, we must close the Advent season, and begin the Christmas season, with the hope of the second coming, or advent, of Christ. Therefore, our Advent meditations will not end on Christmas Eve, but rather will conclude on Christmas day with the reading of Revelation 21-22. Our celebration of Christmas must be marked by our hope of the second advent.

How to Use This Book
This book of devotional readings can be used by yourself or with others. Each story is accompanied by a stone which acts as a reminder of God’s work. Each day of Advent, one story should be read or told. In writing the book, I have paraphrased some of the stories, and others (particularly the prophecies) have been taken straight from Scripture. As the stories are told each day, you should feel free to read them from the book or to paraphrase them yourself. The person who is reading the story for the day is also responsible for finding a stone to go with that story. Designate a place where the stones will be piled. This should be a place that everyone can see each day. As each story is told, a new stone is added to the pile, acting as a reminder of God’s work in the past and a sign of hope for God’s work in the future. As you read each story, allow yourself to feel a sense of longing and expectation for God’s future. Do not think of all these stories as simply referring to what has already been done, but let us look forward with great anticipation to the things that God has still to do in the future. Use this Advent season to practice hope.

Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. Therefore, there are 28 stories in this book. However, depending on where Christmas falls each year, there are a varying number of days in Advent. Because of this, in some years there will be too many readings in the book for the season. For example, in 2007 Advent begins on December 2, which means there are 24 days in the Advent season. In order to get all the stories read during Advent, I suggest that on each Sunday in Advent, two stories be read (rather than just one). That way, all 28 stories can be read during the Advent season. Each year will have to be worked out a little differently, depending on the dates. The one thing that should remain constant for each year is that the telling of the stories should be timed in such a way that the story of the birth of Jesus (Luke 2) should always be read on Christmas Eve, and the promise of the New Heavens and New Earth (Revelation 21-22) should always be read on Christmas day.

Thursday, 15 November 2007


A couple of weeks ago we took a short trip to Oban, which is on the west coast of Scotland. They have a distillery there that Nathan wanted to see, and besides, it's just beautiful. So we took the train from Edinburgh to Oban and had a great time. Nathan got to see the distillery (although I didn't -- no babies allowed on the tour). We also got to visit the Isle of Iona, which has a very famous abbey on it. Iona was the headquarters for St. Columba as he evangelized the area in the 7th century. To get to Iona we took a ferry to the Isle of Mull, then a bus across Mull to another ferry, which took us to Iona. Below are some pictures. Enjoy!

A pretty day on a pretty street in Oban.

The ferry and train station at Oban.
Walking around Oban. (Sorry for the tilt!)

Z in one of his less photogenic moments.
We took the ferry from Oban to the Isle of Mull. Here we passed a lighthouse.
We took a bus across Mull, to the ferry which would take us to Iona. It's hard to see how beautiful the scenery was!
A highland cow. (It's a little blurry because we're in the bus.) The cattle and sheep were all over the place, including the road, sometimes!
The Iona Abbey.
Outside the abbey.
Small chapel at the abbey, which can still be used for prayer by the public.
Inside the abbey.
The old nunnery wall.
Leftovers from the nunnery.
Nathan standing in front of what's left of the nunnery. ("Get thee to a nunnery!")
The beach at Iona.
McCaig's Tower overlooks Oban and is its best-known landmark. It was sponsored and paid for by a wealthy Obanite in the 1800's, basically as a way of keeping the town employed during a economic depression. Now it's on all the postcards!
You can see the whole town from up there.

It was really windy up there!
Z in his weather-proof stroller.
Just as we were leaving, we saw an incredible, full rainbow. It was so big, the whole thing wouldn't even fit in the frame!