Tag Archives: Incarnation

God Comes to Us Not As We Wish We Were But As We Are



At first the quotation I’m about to share may sound a bit cynical, but when you have a little time to think about it, I think you’ll agree with me that it is not only realistic and true, it is filled with hope.

You see, when God came into this world “in the flesh,” he was laid in a manger, a feed trough, in a stable surrounded by everything anyone in first century Palestine would expect to find in such a place—including the very thing you can find in ample supply in almost all stables today—a serious and almost unending supply of manure.

So a gentleman named Morse has written, “That the treasure of God’s grace reaches us surrounded by garbage will not seem surprising to anyone who is personally familiar with life in the church. . . . Grace comes to us, so Martin Luther argues, hidden sub contrario, beneath its opposite. From this perspective, any idealized view of the church as only treasure is as faulty a vision of reality as any cynical view that the church is only garbage. Mangers, by definition, are found where there is manure.”

You see, God comes to us “while we were yet sinners”—while we are as we always are—not what we wish we were, but what we are.

God comes to us as the angels sing “Glory to God in the highest!”

God comes to us as as those shining and mighty heralds proclaim the amazing message that the Savior has been born—and with that wonderful news comes the accompanying note that is almost as surprising—that we common mortals whom God’s Son has been born to save are those “on whom his favor rests.”

When the God of the universe comes to us, the amazing paradox is most fitting: He comes as the heavenly hosts sing, as heavens lit up with splendor declare the glory of God, but he comes in a tiny helpless form, lying in a manger, God in a most unlikely situation and shape, but having entered that situation and taken that shape, most likely crying just like any other of a thousand little babies, even those lying in far more appropriate cribs. And he comes surrounded by manure that smells, I think you can be sure, just like the manure in any of a thousand other stables.

In that manner of coming, we see God’s grace shining even more brightly than the Christmas star, and in that paradox of his coming, we find our best, our truest, our only, our highest hope.

God comes to us not as we wish we were, but as we are.


       You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!


Copyright 2018 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

When Christ Was Born, the Situation Was Normal


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In some ways, the world just a few moments before the birth of Jesus in that Bethlehem stable was almost exactly the same as the world just a few moments after his birth.

The state of the stable, and the inn out in front of it, and Bethlehem, and Judea, and Rome, and the whole wide world, was pretty much the same. As they say in the military (well, sort of as they say), it was one big SNAFU. The Situation was absolutely Normal. It was All Fouled Up.

The government was pretty much like governments have always been—happiest when people are standing in long lines getting crunched by bureaucracy and about to be burdened by one more tax to keep the crunching wheels crunching.

Joseph’s probably been working his fingers to the bone trying to make a living, and now he gets to take days and weeks and maybe even months off—all of which is death to productivity and income—so the bureaucrats can fill out one more form with his and Mary’s name on it. Now he’ll have more taxes to pay and less money to pay them with. Nobody’s more effective than the government at keeping really small businesses—say, a carpenter shop—really small.

Actually, all of this stuff with Mary had pretty well sapped him lately of much ability to concentrate and work very effectively anyway. First, he was so shocked and perplexed that he didn’t know how to feel. Then he was worried sick. And then he got the visit from the angel. Yes, that was a wonderful thing, a marvelous comfort, an amazing experience. But if you think seeing an angel, even one with good news, isn’t incredibly unsettling, it’s obviously been a day or two since you’ve seen one.

Then the tired carpenter gets to make the trip to Bethlehem with his very pregnant wife who is simply exhausted—not to mention enormous and well along toward D-day, by the time they get there. No cheap tickets left on Mideast Airlines. No tickets at all. So they get to go by donkey (which hospitals’ O.B. departments ought to keep tied out by their parking lots; they’re cheaper than I.V.s and Pitocin and are pretty much guaranteed to get things going).

Mary’s just about had it (literally), but they get to the Bethlehem Inn, and the place is overbooked. They end up stuck out in the stable, stomping around in the straw (which Joseph knows will have his allergies in full bloom before you can say Gesundheit!).

And then Mary’s birth pains are becoming very regular. Even first century folks don’t need the New England Journal of Medicine to tell them what that means. This baby is coming! And he’s coming right here, right now, “ready or not, Joseph!” in barn straw that was the real thing, not sanitized stuff for a manger scene.

The situation in the world and in that Bethlehem stable that night was normal—the same as usual in many ways—fouled up with lots going wrong.

But with the Baby’s first cry, the world would never be the same. And God was making sure that one day, all that is wrong with this world could be made right.


You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne! If you’d like to purchase some music, or just listen to some–hey, there’s lots of Christmas music there–you’d be welcome! And a Christmas special is . . . any combination of three CDs for $35 plus shipping. Email me at ckshel@aol.com or use the contact form on the site if you’d like that “special” discount! Merry Christmas! 



Copyright 2016 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.



Christians Can Celebrate Christmas with Deep and Genuine Joy

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I hope Christmas is a wonderful, “wonder-filled,” time for you. If our hearts are prepared and ready for it, it can be. Hence (and this is fodder for another column), the very good sense of having a time of real preparation before Christmas. (Look up “Advent” if the word jingles no bells.)

I know. A lot about the way our society “celebrates” Christmas is nothing to celebrate. In fact, as Andrew Greeley writes, some aspects of the sometimes-not-so-holy “holy-day” might make us tempted to run from the whole thing: “It might be easy to run away to a monastery, away from the commercialization, the hectic hustle, the demanding family responsibilities of Christmastime. Then we would have a holy Christmas.”

He warns, though: “But we would forget the lesson of the Incarnation, of the enfleshing of God—the lesson that we who are followers of Christ do not run from the secular; rather we try to transform it. It is our mission to make holy the secular aspects of Christmas. . . . And we do this by being holy people—kind, patient, generous, loving, laughing people—no matter how maddening is the Christmas rush.”

By George, I think he’s got it!

C. S. Lewis wrote similarly, observing that a small child cannot really separate “the religious from the merely festal character of Christmas or Easter.” Lewis appreciated both the poetry and the piety of the little boy reported to have gone about on Easter morning muttering a poem he’d made up about “chocolate eggs and Jesus risen.”

“Of course,” Lewis writes, “the time will come when such a child can no longer effortlessly and spontaneously enjoy that unity.” One day, Lewis says, the child will realize that the spiritual aspects of Easter are different from the festive aspects, and he will have to put one or the other aspect first and choose what is most important. We all get to that point. Do we major on egg-hunting or on the Resurrection? Or, for us at Christmastide, do we major on Santa Claus or on God in the flesh at Bethlehem?

In making the choice, people tend to make two mistakes.

One serious mistake is to choose rightly to major on the real reason for the season but to decide that necessitates also adopting a dour pseudo-piety that says, “Out with lights and Christmas trees and all the other festive trappings of the holiday. Humbug!”

But the other mistake is even worse—to refuse to celebrate such days as religious holidays at all and focus only on egg hunts and Rudolph.

As Lewis writes, “If the child puts the spiritual first he can still taste something of Easter in the chocolate eggs; if he puts the eggs first they will soon be no more than any other sweetmeat. They will have taken on an independent, and therefore a soon withering, life.”

Christians who know the real meaning of the holy days should celebrate everything that is good about them with more joy than other people and not less. If we truly love Christ more than Christmas, then we’re free to love Christmas with a freedom and genuine joy we could never have otherwise. God is so good!

It’s nonsense to thank Santa for God. It may be very good sense indeed to thank God for Santa!



      You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!





Copyright 2015 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or profiteering is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

“No, I’m Not the King of Christmas, But I Know Who Is!”

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“The king of Christmas.”

That’s what some of my kids called me the other day. It’s a world-class compliment, and I way more than halfway hope they’re way more than halfway right! But surely it’s far too strong a statement.

No borderline blasphemy is intended. There’s only one King of Christmas. But, loving him, I do indeed love this time of year!

I’ve found that the more my hope is centered on the real Reason for the season and the more I focus on that marvelous mystery—“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us”!—the brighter seem all the lights and candles, the taller and more verdant the trees, the more beautiful and soul-stirring the music, and the more brimful of joy are all of the sights and sounds of Christmas.

Yes, the season may lend itself to excess, and it is often twisted and misused by those desperate for artificial joy. But that a very good thing can be badly debased does not rule out its being a very good thing. Quite the opposite! Satan is far more keen to besmirch the truly beautiful than ever he would something of much less worth.

Those who fear wholeheartedly celebrating Christmas as honoring Christ’s coming, lest the celebration become an idol, may fall to the greater danger of refusing a deep blessing from the hand of the true God. As his coming truly blesses us, so may a true and good-hearted celebration of his coming.

But it is odd, isn’t it, that those who, for whatever reason, adopt old Ebenezer Scrooge’s opinion of the season (“Humbug!”) come from such diverse camps.

Some who are irreligious are suspicious of anything that purports to be of Christ. Some whose politically correct “spirituality” is largely a matter of wispy feelings and vapors are afraid of celebrating a season that bears Christ’s name so particularly. I’d have thought our buying so many Christmas trees from China, many of which I suppose are made by Buddhists whose religion bears another name particularly, would have made the PC folks feel better. But no. It’s the name of Christ that particularly bothers them.

G. K. Chesterton once wrote that skeptic Bernard Shaw criticized Christmas as being simply “a conspiracy kept up by Poulterers and wine merchants from strictly business motives.” Laughing, Chesterton wrote that it would make as much sense to say that “the two sexes were invented by jewellers who wanted to sell wedding rings.”

No, for centuries people have found all sorts of reasons to oppose Christmas and decry its celebration. Some most stringently opposed have been those who wear Christ’s name but, wedded to the stone cold tablets of law they call their religion, won’t allow themselves to love anything that smacks of joy and color, fiery warmth and full-to-overflowing life. After all, the joy of God’s Spirit is uncontainable and unpredictable. Where might such lead? Freedom can be quite frightening!

Oh, but it is also beautiful! May the God enfleshed at Bethlehem also beautifully inhabit our souls anew in this sweet season, and may we honor the true King of Christmas with hearts fully open to his joy.


 You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com! Blessings to you for a wonderful and joy-filled Christmas! Merry Christmas! 



Copyright 2014 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

Bethlehem Is About What God Has Done and Still Does

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The glory of Christmas is that it centers on something only God could have done.

No committee could ever have come up with Bethlehem.  While God was busy saving the world, they’d have still been arguing over the shape of the table or the wording of the mission statement or fussing about regulations regarding sheep droppings and the environment or the perplexing problem of camel emissions.

No pow-wow of politicians, be they Democrats, Republicans, Conservatives, Liberals, Whigs, Tories, Labor, Green, Independent, Mean, Dumb, or Dull, or any combination thereof, could ever have drafted legislation to dispatch the right angel to the right virgin and send the right Baby. What politicians were on the scene fouled up royally. Herod was being Herod, which means being murderous. While Heaven was sending angels to glorify God, Caesar was sending bureaucrats to glorify government with its usual answer to every problem–longer lines and higher taxes.

No covey of theologians could ever have written enough books about the problem of sin and the nature of deity to have given any of us a clue as to how the God of the universe would choose to break in and save the world from sin.

No, what God did was something that only God could do. And that’s the glory of Christmas. It’s not about what we could do. It’s completely about what God did. And, though through the prophets, God had sent some tantalizing hints long before the birth at Bethlehem, what God did and how he did it was a complete surprise.

The amazing thing about Christmas continues to be that every time we celebrate the Grand Event, God still surprises us in the midst of the great blessing with a whole host of smaller ones.

When I strung the Christmas lights to spread a little holiday cheer even out in my shed, I didn’t know that a sweet granddaughter would go to sleep one evening out there on my lap after pointing her little finger upward and pronouncing one of her first little words in sleepy wonder, “Lights!”–and light up her PawPaw’s heart.

When at church we planned and rehearsed a little Christmas pageant with the angels and Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and the wise men, we didn’t know how completely and sweetly the flock of two-year-old sheep would steal the show by defying even the best shepherd’s attempts at corralling them. But they warmed a church’s heart.

You can’t program and plan joy. When it comes in its purest and most beautiful form, it’s always a glorious surprise, and God is always the One behind it, stealing the show wonderfully.

And maybe that’s one of the deepest truths behind everything wonderful that God did at Bethlehem and the most important things he still does in our lives. If God lives in our hearts, Bethlehem’s Child is born there each day, surprising us yet again with His Joy.


     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.come! You might even find a Christmas gift there, and you’ll certainly find some Christmas music!


Copyright 2014 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

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