Before Bethlehem

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The joke is told about a priest, Father Murphy, and little Eileen O’Connell, a third-grader in his catechism class. Father Murphy was explaining one day that Jesus was a Jew, not a Christian. Jesus was born a Jew, lived a Jewish life, and died a Jew. The implacable, red-haired Eileen O’Connell shoved her freckled arm into the air and shook it violently. “Yes, Eileen,” the unflappable priest responded, “What is it?” “Well, Jesus may have been a Jew, Father Murphy, but his mother was a Catholic!”* … [Read more...]

The Curious Case of the “Kick Ass” Messiah

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Don't be surprised if, during Advent, you hear a sermon that goes something like this: The Jews wanted a political messiah, but Jesus brought a peaceable kingdom.The Jews wanted someone to destroy Rome, but Jesus came to make peace.The Jews wanted a military ruler, but Jesus inaugurated a spiritual reign. I’ve heard this formula so many times that I’ve developed a gag reflex to it. Yet it keeps coming up. I was reading Christian Piatt’s Postchristian, for example, and came across this s … [Read more...]

Simeon’s Song and the Clarity of Christmas

Simeon Rembrandt

We are obsessed with power, but the story of Jesus begins in the corridors of powerlessness—in the Jewish temple, though not among the hustle of priests and the din of the Pharisees’ discussion of Torah, but at the seemingly insignificant fringes of Jewish life, in the world of widows and old men. The scene is prompted by the appearance of peasant parents from Galilee who are so poor they can't afford the offering of sheep for purification after the mother gives birth; this peasant couple brings … [Read more...]

After the Jelly Beans Are All Gone … Comes Pentecost

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Last night, my son and I were chatting about baseball, school, his girlfriend—father and son sort of stuff—before he headed to bed. During our conversation, I spied the remnants of an Easter basket on top of a shelf in the corner of the room by his desk. “Can I have a jelly bean,” I asked. “They’re all gone,” he told me. I love jelly beans. I can do without chocolate bunnies (it still bothers me to bite their heads off) and marshmallow peeps, but jelly beans I love.That’s it, then. It’s offic … [Read more...]


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