O Holy Night: Candlelight Service Tonight at 7:00 p.m.

Our Christmas Eve candlelight service will be held live tonight at 7:00 p.m., Thursday, December 24, 2020, at Evangelical Seminary in Myerstown. The worship packet and sermon outline are attached below for those who will be live streaming the service by Zoom. Contact us if you need a link.

Whether you join us on ground or online, I hope you will be able to participate in this most beautiful service of the church year. Featuring traditional Christmas carols, Scripture readings, and candle lighting, this worship experience will last about 75 minutes and be held at:

Dech Chapel
Evangelical Seminary
121 S. College Street
Myerstown, Pennsylvania 17067

Plenty of parking is available around the building and in the student parking lot. Attendees who are less ambulatory may use the smaller faculty lot along Route 501. The ground floor elevator can then be taken to the chapel, which is located on the first floor. 

We ask that on-ground participants wear masks and practice social distancing while on site. Every other pew will be roped off to assist us in spreading out across the sanctuary.

Christmas Eve 2020: ‘She’s Still the Same Girl’

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” And the most frazzled, too! But it’s a good frazzle. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Final preparations are now being made in the sanctuary and on the sermon for the candlelight service tonight at church. We’ll be on-ground and online this year because of the virus.

Final cleaning and food preparation is also taking place in our home, as we’ll be having more guests than we did for Thanksgiving. With my mother-in-law’s cognition declining, her kids and grandkids want to gather while she still knows who they are. It’s a good reminder for all of us to live life to the fullest while we have a life to live.

Lorena is a godly woman, and she’s most like herself when she prays. I’ve asked her several times not to say, “Amen” so we can all enjoy “the old her” longer. But she forgets and says, “Amen,” anyway! 

Lorena Moore, holding the Christmas flowers she just received from her brother Tony, who lives in California.

The “new her” is still her, and we seek to honor her for who she is. God’s entire point in giving the fifth commandment through Moses was so Israel would be a good place for people to grow old. Our calling is now to live out that same vision for Lorena.

It’s often challenging (e.g., answering the same question dozens of times; adding an hour or two to cookie baking, etc.), but the Golden Rule helps keep us on track. I might be old some day, too, so I need to treat her the same way I would want to be treated if I were in a similar situation. Most of the time that approach works well, but I have lost my patience a few times. Thank God for the Savior, whose birth we celebrate tonight and tomorrow.

I also think of that poignant Twila Paris song, “Same Girl” in regard to Lorena. It captures well how I want to regard her, even today.

Look behind the lines till you remember
She’s still the same girl

So, there are lots of emotions swirling around today. There’s the awe and wonder of the incarnation. There’s the “thrill of hope” in the salvation that Jesus brings. There’s the joy and laughter of extended family members gathering to celebrate. There’s the pain and disappointment of suffering and loss. 

And then, of course, there’s a lot of nostalgia this time of year, too. Emotional triggers can come in the form of seeing old Christmas decorations, hearing old Christmas songs, writing out new Christmas cards, and smelling great Christmas recipes we don’t make the rest of the year.

One trigger for me is an old Santa pin that my siblings and I used to wear this time of year. You could pull a string, and his red nose would light up. It’s a silly thing, really. A worthless trinket. But it touches something inside me, although I’m not exactly sure what.

The Santa pin on the left is my original—now well worn and aged. The one on the right is a re-make. 

Maybe it’s the extra love we felt as kids at Christmas. Dad was a little nicer at that time, and mom was a pargon of positivity. We could also stay up later and eat more junk food. And, of course, we got a few gifts. What’s not to like about Christmas when you’re a kid?

In any event, I’ve met quite a few folks who had these pins growing up, and they always brighten up when they talk about them. They’re usually connected to pleasant memories “of Christmas long, long ago.” (We’re all getting older, aren’t we?)

So, yes, it’s the most wonderful time of the year—even when life is hard. “For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.”

I can hardly wait to fall on my knees tonight.

Picture with me if you can
A little girl in a younger land
Running, playing, laughing
Growing stronger
Now the aging limbs have failed
And the rosy cheeks are paled
Look behind the lines till you remember

She’s still the same girl
Flying down the hill
She’s still the same girl
Memories vivid still
Listen to her story
And her eyes will glow
She’s still the same girl
And she needs you so

Picture with me if you will
A long white dress and a wedding veil
Two young dreamers pledge their love together
Now her lifelong friend is gone
And she spends her days alone
Look behind the lines till you remember

She’s still the same girl
Walking down the aisle
She’s still the same girl
With the shining smile
Listen to her story
And her eyes will glow
She’s still the same girl

Same girl
She’s still the same girl
Wiser for the years
She’s still the same girl
Stronger for the tears
Listen to her story
And your heart will glow
She’s still the same girl
And we need her so
She’s still the same girl
And she needs you so

This Year’s Christmas Cookie Adventure

After all these years, I’m still learning the secrets of baking. Not just the recipes, but the techniques as well—things like temperature, pressure, consistency, mixing, cooling, decorating, and so forth. Let’s just say I have a long way to go! Here are the “win, place, and show” awards for this year’s Christmas cookie adventure.

Win—Peanut Butter Blossoms

The best cookie this year turned out to be the peanut butter blossoms. They’re delicious! We used an online recipe this time around and deviated from the instructions only by putting Wilbur Buds on top of them instead of Hershey Kisses. Half got the dark chocolate buds, and half got the milk chocolate. Readers of TNL will know that I’ll be eating the dark chocolate ones first! Everything about this particular cookie—the look, smell, taste, and ease of preparation—was top notch.

Place—Sugar Cut Outs

The sugar cookies turned out to be wonderful this year, too. They’re just a whole lot of work. And, sheesh, the flour can wind up in the strangest places! With all the rolling, cutting, trimming, and re-rolling of excess dough, the process can get tiring after several hours. We used my Nana’s cookie cutters, which always puts a lump in my throat. They may be 60-70 years old by now, and they bring back a lot of beautiful memories. She was a gem of kindness, and I was always in awe of her baking skills. We put red and green sugar sprinkles on the cut outs. They’re fun to look at and fun to eat!

Show—Chocolate Chip Cookies

Oh, what a near disaster! The chilled dough seemed “spot on” in terms of consistency (and taste), but I must have botched the recipe somehow. The first tray didn’t bake correctly, leaving us with greasy blobs of unrecognizability all over the oven. (I now know what a pregnant amoeba looks like.) I semi-rescued the rest of the dough with added flour and baking soda, and the subsequent bakes were okay-ish. Still, I was frustrated. Chocolate chip cookies have never been a problem before. Ugh!

My frustration led to other miscues on my part (e.g., kitchen spills, misplaced utensils, etc.), which just made me more disappointed with myself. I was not at the top of my game for part of the night, so I never got around to whipping up the snickerdoodles. 

* – bottom lip out – *

The unseen benefit was the reminder—once again—of how much I need a Savior. Fortunately, we have one in Jesus. The cookies were made in his honor, anyway. Eating them this year will be a kind of communion with him. But most of them will be given away to the neighbors when we go Christmas caroling tonight.

Except the chocolate chip cookies. Those are staying here. They’re not ready for prime time.

But, hey, two out of three ain’t bad!

Random Thoughts for One Week before Christmas

1. Certain kinds of cookie dough are so delicious, it’s a wonder we put them in the oven to bake them at all. I’d be o.k. with going halfsies on each batch. That is, bake 50 percent of the lump, and then just eat the other half as it is. Or put the remaining half in vanilla ice cream to make a DIY DQ Blizzard. Either way, pray against salmonella because of the eggs, right? 

2. Our dough for the chocolate chip and sugar cookies is now mixed and refrigerating. Next up is the mixing of snickerdoodles and peanut butter cookies, but I need to go to Lititz, PA to get some Wilbur buds to top off the PB cookies. (Hersey Kisses are good, but Wilbur buds are in a league of their own.) I’m fairly certain I won’t be able to restrain myself and buy only Wilbur buds while I’m in their store.

3. What is it about hitting the “Publish” button on a WordPress post that suddenly enables you to see all your typos? It’s hard enough to be a writer, but being a writer with perfectionistic tendencies is intolerable sometimes. Is there any medication for this disorder? On the other hand, if we don’t wrestle with our work the way Jacob wrestled with God, we may not be writers at all. Stephen King was right when he said, “Some stories cry out to be told in such loud voices that you write them just to shut them up.” But that means our first drafts will always be messy. Just like the kitchen when we’re making Christmas cookies. So what? The payoff is right around the corner, so go ahead and make a jolly mess!

4. Speaking of writing, the metaphor I use for my own process is “sculpture.” I plop down some clay and then keep turning it and chiseling it until I see something resembling what I’m trying to say. It takes a lot of work and patience to smooth out the rough edges. And sometimes it doesn’t work at all, so I just wad up the lump and start over. To my fellow writers honing your craft, this is tough, so you have my admiration. The key is to get started. As James Thurber once said, “Don’t get it right, just get it written.” We can always go back and polish it later. Likewise, Margaret Atwood has said, “If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.” So, blob it down and then start chiseling. 

5. A lawyer friend of mine thought I overstated my case when I claimed that Shiphrah and Puah lied to Pharoah about why they didn’t throw the Hebrew boys into the Nile, and God seemed o.k. with it. I pushed back on the pushback, arguing that the contents of what the women said may have been true as far as it went, but they weren’t completely forthright with the Egyptian king when he asked them why they defied his edict. The real reason they didn’t kill the babies was because “they feared the Lord” (Exod 1:17). In other words, they didn’t tell Pharaoh “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,” something I don’t think I could get away with in a courtroom.

6. That conversation by text led to a fascinating exchange about Rahab, too, so I raised the question: Since disinformation is a tool of national security, can a conscientious Christian work for the CIA? Similarly, what about people hiding Jews in their homes during the Holocaust and denying it to the authorities? Are deceptions like that ever morally justified? If not, why all the accolades in Scripture for Rahab? I’m still processing this myself, and we’re going to hash it out together over dinner next year. There are difficult and intertwining questions in both of these ethical conundrums. Each of us is open to persuasion, and we both appreciate the sharpening.

7. Michael Bruce (1746-1767) was a Scottish poet and hymn writer. He had a good word that might apply to anyone who may be experiencing a blue Christmas this year: “In every pang that rends the heart / the Man of Sorrows has a part; / he sympathizes with our grief, / and to the sufferer sends relief.” May it be so for those who are hurting right now.

8. I’m not sure I’m a fan of online learning for elementary school children. When they grow up and become parents themselves, they won’t be able to tell their children they had to walk up hill to school. Both ways. In the snow. During a blizzard. In sub-zero temperatures. Sheesh, no one should ever be deprived of the opportunity to share that boast with their children.

9. Dave Rubin has an interesting idea: “Suspend the salaries of all politicians until the country re-opens. We’ll be open in five minutes.” I’ll just leave that here.

10. Alzheimer’s is a cruel disease. Every time I get frustrated living with someone who has it, I start thinking about how much harder it must be for the person who actually has the condition. We’re doing the best we can, and God is giving us daily grace. It’s part of my spiritual formation, but it can be challenging. “Breath of heaven hold me together.” 

11. Albert Schweitzer gave the world a lot to think about. While there’s plenty of stuff in his theological corpus I couldn’t endorse, I can wholeheartedly amen this sentiment: “At times our own light goes out / And is rekindled by a spark from another person. / Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude / Of those who have lighted the flame within us.” A few precious faces come to mind in this regard, and I am grateful for each one.

12. Santa has come to our house already, but baby Jesus has not. That’s by design. Only one more week until we celebrate (again) the birth of Immanuel, “God with us.”

Be blessed and have a great weekend! 

Random Thoughts as SNOWVID-20 Comes to Say Hello

1. I’m catching my breath after a long semester—just sitting here enjoying the sights, sounds, tastes, and smells of the season. Jim Carrey’s A Christmas Carol was playing last night in the background, but I couldn’t watch it because I was finishing up my last class. The animation in that production is amazing (even if dark in tone and temperature), so I’m going to have to catch it later. Right now, the grading marathon begins.

2. The countertop is loaded with Christmas cookie ingredients, all waiting to be mixed in the right proportions and then baked to perfection. Most ingredients don’t taste too good on their own, but together they form a delightful treat that’s not to be missed this time of year. There’s probably a sermon illustration in there somewhere—isolation vs. interaction, and all that.

3. I’m eating a Mint Milano cookie even as I contemplate the homemade delights to come—chocolate chip, sugar, and peanut butter cookies to start. Snicker doodles and sand tarts could make an appearcnce, too, but we’ll see. Either way, Nana’s old fashioned cookie cutters are ready to go. She was a kind and gracious woman who taught me the real meaning of Christmas when I was very young. She always lit a babyberry candle on Christmas Eve to serve as the birthday candle for Jesus.

4. I changed a car battery in 24° F weather today. Didn’t mind at all since the wind wasn’t blowing. Fall is my favorite season, and winter is a close second. Spring is very nice, and summer brings up the rear. (I’m not for hot.) Snow can be both beautiful and fun, but I always want peole to stay safe on the roads. I’m hoping the snowstorm that began an hour ago doesn’t wreak too much havoc on our region. Pennsylvania has had enough challenges for one year. Nevertheless, let it snow!

5. Firewood for the new fireplace is stacked and ready to go. We have a real one and a simulated one. Both are lovely, and both are flanked by Christmas trees right now. Gifts are piling up in the living room, and the nativity set is prominently dispalyed, minus the baby Jesus. His due date this year is December 25, though some years we grant him preemie status.

6. Speaking of nativity scenes, I’m fast becoming a fan of the 1515 painting by an obscure artist depicting the first Christmas, titled The Adoration of the Christ Child. The angel next to Mary and the shepherd in the focal center both display facial features associated with Down syndrome. Yes, Jesus came for the preemies, the Downs, the miscarried, the stillborn, and orphans like me. All are precious in his sight.

7. I’m looking forward to wrapping up the grading, celebrating our Savior’s birth, and then diving into the dissertation full bore. As noted in a previous post, that’s nearly a full-time job, so I’ll have to cut back on my TNL frequency for several months. I’ll stay as engaged as I can, though, since I love to write. I find it therapeutic, clarifying, and devotional. Academic writing, however, is another matter. That’s just tedious and painful, but there’ll be no more degrees after this, so I might as well go out with a bang.

8. Here’s a delightful song called “Memories” as performed by the One Voice Children’s Choir. It lifted my spirits and made me smile. Maybe you’ll enjoy it, too. We don’t all have photographic memories, but we all have phonographic memories. 

9. Finally, in all of our merry making this time of year, it’s good to remember that the cradle led to the cross. And the cross led to the empty tomb. And the empty tomb led to the ascension. And the ascension led to the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. Some day, history itself will culminate in the return of Christ for his people. But how to convey all that in one picture? Here’s one church’s noble attempt:

Praying for the safety, health, and joy of all who pass by TNL from time to time. Thank you!

Be blessed.

Image Credits: downsyndromeprenataltesting.com; shutterstock.com.

Christmas Eve Candlelight Service at 7:00 p.m.

Yes, we plan to hold our annual Christmas Eve candlelight service this year on Thursday, December 24 at 7:00 p.m. The hour-long traditional worship service will be held at:

Dech Chapel
Evangelical Seminary
121 S. College Street
Myerstown, Pennsylvania 17067

Plenty of parking is available around the building and in the student parking lot. Attendees who are less ambulatory may use the smaller faculty lot along Route 501. The ground floor elevator can then be taken to the chapel, which is located on the first floor.

We ask that participants wear masks and practice social distancing while on site. Every other pew will be roped off to assist us in spreading out across the sanctuary.

A Few Minor Adjustments to the ‘TNL’ Site Map

I recently tweaked a few things at TNL and added a new landing page to help with navigation. The new page is called “Fun Stuff,” which is located here. It allows for quicker retrieval of four new subcategories. I found myself wanting to see all the “Throwback Thursday,” “Friday Fun,” and “Just between You and Meme” posts grouped together rather than intermixed in the blog feed, or even in the narrower “Fun Stuff” category. Here’s the gist of the new page:

Fun Stuff

Life can be hard sometimes, so we like to laugh here at This New Life whenever we can. As King Solomon once said, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones” (Prov 17:22). Things that make us chuckle usually come in posts that fall into one of four categories, which can be separated as follows:

On the Lighter Side
Just between You and Meme
Throwback Thursday
Friday Fun

If you prefer the chronological listing without subcategory separations, click here:

Fun Stuff

Landing Pages

That brings the total number of sections (including landing, static, and interactive pages) to nine:

About
Blog
Categories
Sermons
Studies
Resources
Fun Stuff
Events
Contact

As always, thanks for reading This New Life. Thanks also for keeping in touch.

Be blessed!

Image Credit: cxl.com.

Holiday Thoughts on the Pain and Privilege of Fatherhood

“Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1, KJV)


After the birth of my son, Andrew, I understood a little better why God wanted to be a Father. The same thought washed over me after the birth of my daughter two years later. (Her first act on the planet was to pee on the doctor. After I got his bill, I was glad she did.) I embarrassed both my kids last week with some incriminating kiddie pics. They took it well.

Tonight is movie night with Andrew. Last night was daddy-daughter date night with Bethany. We had a blast together, and we were texting today about what a wonderful time we had. I love lavishing them both with affection, encouragement, and good times. They even let me theologize once in a while. They’re the ones God gave me to care for, and it’s a joy for me to do so, not a burden.

The opera fudge bomb Bethany and I got last night at Trattoria Fratelli. My head is still buzzing today.

Yes, there were a few rough spots during the teen years, but I can honestly say today, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 1:4). My kids’ interests, personalities, and love languages couldn’t be more different, but the delight they bring me is the same.

Additionally, my son-in-law Micah is no less a son to me than Andrew. He’s an incredible young man, too, and an answer to prayer. He’s been grafted into our hearts as well as into our family. When the kids have a joy, I have a joy. When the kids have a hurt, I have a hurt.

That’s why I’ve been grieving from a distance the death of Tim Challies’ son, Nick. Tim is an uber-blogger whom I read regularly, and I’ve shed some tears for the tragedy that has recently befallen his family. His young son passed away unexpectedly while attending my alma matter, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.

I’ve never met Tim, but he serves the church well with his daily aggregations and reflections. I’m grateful to the Lord for him and his ministry. He has recently born witness to the power of God’s sustaining grace during this time, but oh what hard road for him to walk as a father. His persevering faith testifies to the reality of God. Many others have walked a similar path, but every step is agonizing. God the Father walked this path, too.

In a previous post, I wrote about “Three Songs to Sing When Christmas Comes in a Minor Key.” Another song to add could be Charles Wesley’s “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing,” probably the “meatiest” carol we have, theologically speaking, and it includes these hopeful lines:

Born to raise the sons of earth.
Born to give them second birth.

Next December, Lord willing, I’ll write about how my mother passed away in the hospital while we were singing her favorite Christmas carol, “O Holy Night.” All her equipment flatlined just as we were singing, “O hear the angel voices.” And then she did—she heard the angel voices in her new heavenly home. 

But we’ve had enough heaviness this year, so I’ll save that story for some other time. For now, let’s just settle into the reality of the Father’s love for us—fully revealed in Jesus Christ, the one who was:

Born that man no more may die.

The Father loves us a whole lot more than I love my own kids. And that’s a lot.

The family room tree is finally complete.

Image Credit: shutterstock.com.

Cookie Monster’s Brother Says, ‘Thank You’

Since many of my students read TNL, I’d like to send out a great big THANK YOU to whoever it was that sent me a box of Pepperidge Farms Mint Milano cookies yesterday via Amazon. Wow! I mention it one time in class, and I get deluged with these little delectables featuring the best flavor combination on the planet (viz., chocolate and mint). Much appreciated!

Marketing departments often overpromise and underdeliver, but PF’s description of the Milano line is spot on: “The perfect balance of crisp cookies and rich, luxurious chocolate for a truly indulgent treat.” Yes! 

Next semester I may just have to casually mention that I’m rather fond of Jaguar convertibles, too, and see what happens. 🙂

Seriously, thank you to the culprit. My taste buds are glad we’re all past the days of giving teachers an apple (although my doctor might not agree with that).

“Nom! Nom! Nom! Nom! Nom!”

Image Credits: zendha.blogspot.com; pepperidgefarm.com.

A Holly Jolly Family Night

The family gathered last night to celebrate the birthday girl, and also to decorate the family Christmas tree in the newly renovated living room. (We don’t even have curtains yet!) This is the tree that gets the homemade ornaments and various other decorations that represent our interests or were given to us over the years, each bearing some special significance to us. I then fell asleep during the movie. Ooops! Too much grub at Longhorn’s, I guess! Hopefully, the “Hallmark” tree in the family room will be finished later this weekend.

The “family ornaments” Christmas tree.
First fire in the new fireplace.
An ornament I made in elementary school.
Placed on the bottom branch because the Phillies are usually at the bottom of the standings.
The goggles look more like sunglasses. And I’m breathing to the left, which my coach wouldn’t like.
An ornament made for me by a cousin who lives in Connecticut.

Image Credit: istockphoto.com.

Mary Comforts Eve, Part 5: The Hands, Feet, and Faces

Today we conclude our reflection on Grace Remington’s “Mary Comforts Eve,” a simple sketch with profound theological messaging. In Part 1 we looked at the picture without comment, scanning the piece and letting it have its impact on us. In Part 2 we looked at the encounter in general, noting the significance of these two women meeting in the presence of Christ. In Part 3 we looked at the three types of fruit presented in the sketch, two of which are visible and one of which is not. In Part 4 we looked at the artist’s strategic use of color and how each one telegraphs important spiritual truths. In this last part, we look briefly at the hands, feet, and faces of the two women. They, too, tell a story.

Garrett Johnson has noted, “We find Eve; that is, we find ourselves, walking along our path, tripping upon the serpent’s scales, dolefully latching onto our symbols of self-satisfaction and divine pretensions.” Johnson is perceptive in his assessment of the fallen matriarch. A similar and contrasting observation can be made of Mary. She clings to nothing; instead, her hands are free to gently caress the one who desperately needs her Son, whom she will soon share with the world. Indeed, all of Eve’s children need her Son, and God brings him to us as promised though this young obedient servant of his.

The two women make contact through look and touch, banishing the isolation and alienation that often accompany sin. Yet there is a hint of reluctance on Eve’s part, so the scene has begun, but it is not yet completely resolved—leaving us to contemplate her response to Christ. And ours. 

Specifically, Eve’s right arm takes a defensive posture, as if she were trying to cover herself, even while holding onto the forbidden fruit. The bend in her arm forms a V, one of the universal symbols of women. Moreover, this V creates an arrow pointing down toward the serpent, which is entwined around her legs. Despite the entanglement, Eve is able to walk, though it is clearly difficult for her to do so. Her journey is encumbered every step of the way by the enemy, but the mother of the redeemer now stands before her. Consequently, Eve is stepping in the direction of hope—but not without assistance.

Eve’s left hand is touching Mary’s belly, but only because Mary has apparently pulled it toward the child, overcoming Eve’s hesitation. Her reluctance is no doubt rooted in her sense of shame and unworthiness. Mary knows, however, that it’s precisely for such people that Jesus has come. Confidently, then, she helps Eve touch the one who will undo the effects of her cosmic treason.

Additionally, Mary gently strokes Eve’s cheek with her right hand, giving her assurance that all will be well. The promised deliverer, “the seed of the woman,” has finally come. Jesus will take her shame and nakedness to himself on the cross, and in the process, his “heel” will be “bruised,” as the prophecy says. Crucifixion is ugly business, but no longer will Eve need to bear the weight of her own sin and all the calamity it unleashed on the world, for the world’s sin bearer is now here.

Mary, of course is stomping on the head of the serpent, rendering it impotent in the presence of the gestating Christ. This dramatic act portrays the protoeuangelion of Genesis 3:15, where God judges the serpent with these words: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” 

Protestants need not object that Mary is the one crushing the serpent’s head in this scene because: (1) Jesus will do exactly that in his death, burial, and resurrection; and (2) Jesus will give his followers authority to do the same. As Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (Rom 16:20; emphasis mine). Believers will share in the crushing because Jesus did the neutralizing of satanic authority: “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Col 2:15). Consequently, Eve is able to drop the forbidden fruit and step into the future with freedom, confidence, and joy. Will she do so? Will we?

Perhaps the most striking aspect of the sketch is the contrast of expressions. Eve’s face is crestfallen, downcast, and ashamed. She blushes profusely because of the humiliation that comes from having her sin exposed to the world. It’s difficult for her to look up, although she clearly tries to do so, daring to hope that Mary’s child might offer the relief her soul so desperately needs.

Mary’s gaze is priceless. She smiles gently at Eve, knowing full well that her child is the hope of the world and the remedy for all its miseries. She conveys no sense of judgment, haughtiness, or condescension toward Eve, only love. Her eyes are wider than Eve’s because she knows from the angel exactly who this child is and what he has come to do. Eve is still in the process of discovery, so her face is not yet relieved of all its agony, nor is she yet able to look at Mary directly.

King David had a similar experience. In his prayer of confession to the Lord over his sin with Bathsheba, he pleaded to God, “Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity” (Ps 51:9). So ashamed was he of his sin that he asked God to stop noticing it, something he was unable to do himself (cf. Ps 51:3). But as soon as the king made that request of God, he virtually reversed course and cried out, “Do not cast me from your presence (literally, “your face”) or take your Holy Spirit from me” (Ps 51:11). Did he want God’s face to stay or go?

The crisis was devastating to David. In v. 9, he wanted God to hide his face from his sin, but in v. 11, he didn’t want God to hide his face from him. The dilemma was acute. If God chose to look on David’s sin, it would produce in him a deep sense of unbearable shame; if God chose not to look on him at all, it would produce in him a deep sense of awful abandonment. Neither option was pleasing to David, and his only hope was that God would somehow find a way to cut the Gordian knot of unacceptable choices. The knot is finally cut by Mary’s child, who grew up and became “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). 

I, too, know the shameful blush that comes from sinning against God and wounding others—precious people made in his image who deserved better from me. Maybe you know that feeling, too. We cannot undo our own treason against God, but Jesus can. Be assured that the grace of God in Christ is greater than your failures. Humbly accept his gift and turn from what made it necessary in the first place. If your face is downcast in shame, humiliated by your own sin, dare to look at Christ by faith this Christmas. You’re why he came. 

We’re why he came—sons of Adam and daughters of Eve. As the old carol says, Jesus came “to save us all from Satan’s power, when we are gone astray.” Indeed, he came to be “the glory and the lifter of [our] head” (Ps 3:3) so that we could look God in the eye again, stepping into the future with freedom, confidence, and joy. He came so the ancient blessing given to God’s people could fully and finally be true:

The Lord bless you and keep you; 
the Lord make his face shine upon you 
and be gracious to you; 
the Lord turn his face toward you 
and give you peace (Num 6:24-26).

Amen.

Part 1: The Gasp
Part 2: The Encounter
Part 3: The Fruit
Part 4: The Colors
Part 5: The Hands, Feet, and Faces

Image Credits: elledecor.com; illustratedprayer.org.

Random Morning Questions

Isn’t this a great coffee mug to use in the morning? It’s filled with my daily go-to, Eight O’Clock Italian Dark Roast, which makes the mug secondary in importance. But still.

Do I have to get Mrs. Mosby a Chritmas gift this year? I’m not sure what holiday protocol is for my new grandkitty, but I’m suddenly more attentive to all the cat comics in my GoComics.com feed.

Isn’t it significant that the first person to recognize Jesus was an unborn baby? Zechariah and Elizabeth’s son John does a back flip in utero. “A person’s a person no matter how small.”

“When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.”

Luke 1:41

Mary Comforts Eve, Part 4: The Colors

We continue our reflection on Grace Remington’s “Mary Comforts Eve,” the portrayal of a hypothetical encounter between the two main mothers of Scripture—the mother of the human race and the mother of the new human race. The descendants of the former are spiritually broken and stand in need of redemption; the offspring of the latter is spiritually perfect and thus stands able to serve as humanity’s redeemer. The colors in the sketch assist the artist in telling the story.

Eve is covered in her own beautiful brown hair, and brown is the color of the earth. In fact, the garden floor in this sketch is also brown. It’s the earth from which Adam was created by God. Eve, who was derived from Adam, was therefore made of the same “stuff” as Adam. As such, Eve is of the earth, and to the earth she will return in death because of her sin (Gen 3:19).

On a side note, what Eve is wearing underneath her hair is not immediately apparent in the sketch, but Scripture tells us it would have been the garment of skin that God had made for her so her shame and nakedness could be covered. God replaced the garment of leaves she made with her own hands with a more suitable covering made by his own (Gen 3:21). The theological point is that salvation is never rooted in human effort; it is always rooted in divine grace. Self-salvation is no salvation at all.

And do note that it was God who drew first blood on the planet, not Cain. God sacrificed the life of one of his own creatures so that Eve could be spared the imminent death sentence she rightly deserved. Somewhere in the garden, a bloody carcass lay dead because of Eve’s sin (and God’s mercy in covering that sin). 

Mary is covered in a garment of snowy white, which is the color of purity. In Catholic theology, Mary’s purity is due to her own “immaculate conception” in her mother’s womb, preserving her from spiritual depravity. In Protestant theology, however, Mary is a member of the fallen human race like any other woman. As such, she needs a Savior, too (cf. Luke 1:47). Her purity comes from the fact that “the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). I hold to the latter view, as the former is a late theological development with no biblical warrant. 

In any event, the white garment signifies that just as Mary is made pure by the gracious presence of Christ in her, so the fruit of Mary’s womb, Jesus, can make Eve and her descendants pure, too—but only through the cross, which also makes an appearance in the sketch.

In addition to her white robe, Mary is also draped in a blue head scarf, and blue is the color of the skies and/or heavens. She herself is not from heaven, but she carries the one who is—Jesus, “the man from heaven” (1 Cor 15:14-49). Ominously, her headscarf forms a crown in the shape of a cross, which corresponds to the awful prophecy Simeon gave Mary just after the birth of Jesus: “And a sword will pierce your own soul too” (Luke 2:35). 

Eve’s “crown,” on the other hand, is earthy brown—a row of curls made by her own tainted fingers. It’s a hint, perhaps, at the crown of thorns that will go on to encircle the head of Christ in his atoning work on the cross. But notice further that the blue cross seems to flow like living water down Mary’s shoulders and back, directly toward the head of the serpent. The crafty beast will soon get what’s coming to him.

The fair skin of the women is not historically accurate. They would have been much browner in tone, Easterners as they were. I suspect the fair skin represents an application of the universal biblical story to the specific race of the artist—an acceptable practice if applied across the board with equal acceptance. That is, were the artist non-Caucasian, Eve and Mary might well be portrayed in that artist’s race, too. “Red, and yellow, black, and white—they are precious in his sight.”

The garden arch is predominantly green, which speaks of life, abundance, and divine goodness, a theme discussed in the previous post. Moreover, the archway is lush with ruddy-yellow fruit, an indication of the kindness, grace, and provisions of the generous God who gave it. He delights in giving good gifts to his children. The single forbidden fruit in Eve’s right hand is solid red, distinguishing it from the copious good fruit made available to her throughout Eden. The serpent is green, too, because it’s a living creature, but it also features dark splotches, an indication of its sinister intentions toward God’s treasured child.

Best of all, the encounter takes place in a yellow-gold light, one that illuminates the entire scene. This color can represent both royalty and divinity, so the stage is awash in the presence of God. That presence envelops both Mary and Eve. Moreover, the in utero Christ is “Emmanuel,” God with us. The point is that God is here. He is in this scene despite the presence of the sinner and the serpent. He has not been put off. He has not abandoned his people.

The implication is that God is with us in our moments of failure and shame (as represented by Eve) as well as our moments of faithfulness and obedience (as represented by Mary). He does not run away. Rather, he pursues us with his “goodness and mercy…all the days of our lives” (Ps 23:6). 

That pursuit took Jesus to another garden—the Garden of Gethsemane, where he “prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44). Quite significantly, the first blood shed by Christ in his Passion was not drawn by human hands (cf. Gen 3:21). He bled freely of his own accord in the garden before placing himself into the hands of his captors. In other words, he had already given what his tormentors would claim they had taken (cf. John 10:17-18). 

God sacrificed the life of his only Son so that we could be covered by him and spared the imminent death sentence we rightly deserved, similar to what happened in Eden. One hymn writer described it like this: “Amazing pity, grace unknown, and love beyond degree.” The result is what the Apostle Paul argued in 1 Corinthians 15:47-49:

“The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.”

In other words, we can go from earthly brown to heavenly blue, wearing snowy white—all because the golden Christ once became bloody red for us.

No wonder Mary is comforting Eve.

Part 1: The Gasp
Part 2: The Encounter
Part 3: The Fruit
Part 4: The Colors
Part 5: The Hands, Feet, and Faces

Image Credits: elledecor.com; illustratedprayer.org.

Mary Comforts Eve, Part 3: The Fruit

We’re reflecting on Grace Remington’s “Mary Comforts Eve,” a simple pencil-and-crayon sketch portraying a hypothetical encounter between the two towering matriarchs of the human race according to the Christian Scriptures. My comments are from the perspective of a Protestant evangelical pastor and seminary prof with an appreciation for what this Catholic nun has produced, even though our views on Mary and the church will not always align completely. No matter: it is my privilege to learn from (and be blessed by) others.

Remington does not consider herself to be a professional artist. She simply likes to doodle while thinking and studying. She got the idea for this piece while pondering the differences between Mary and Eve. Interestingly enough, the practice of Bible journaling art has taken off among evangelicals in the last decade or so. In an age of ubiquitous online memes, this practice is a welcome trend, and getting started is not difficult. I’m not an accomplished artist, but I can’t study the Bible without a pencil in my hand, either. There’s a treasure trove of truth gems in the canon to sort out. Some of these gems make their way into Remington’s sketch.

The scene portrays three kinds of fruit, two of which are in plain sight. First, there is the good fruit of Eden, scattered throughout the garden archway. It’s important to note that there’s much more good fruit available to Eve than the one bad fruit she wound up eating. As noted in a recent post, God’s openhandedness is seen on the very first page of Scripture: “Then God said, ‘I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food’” (Gen 1:29). Right out of the gate, God is a giving God, and generosity is seen as a prevailing attribute of his.

It’s not specified in the text how many edible plants and trees with fruit were available for the taking. Were there a hundred? A thousand? Ten thousand? A million? We don’t know, but the scene is marked by lush and lavish provisions from the hand of the benevolent God who gave them. Indeed, Yahweh is portrayed as a God of abundance. He says to the first human, “Eat!” and only one tree was said to be off limits—“the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Gen 2:17). 

Celebrate the goodness of good in this divinely intended imbalance: God gave ten thousand “yeses” to one solitary “no.” Consequently, he’s not a stingy, crotchety God at all; he’s a God who overflows with blessings, provisions, kindness, and grace. And even the one “no” he gave was for our benefit, not our misery. Indeed, it was meant to prevent our misery.

Alas, Eve ate the one bad fruit of Eden, which is the second fruit visible in the picture. This fruit was “good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom” (Gen 3:6). What made it bad was not its internal composition but the fact that God said it was off limits to Eve. In the sketch, she is still clutching the forbidden fruit, which brings with it all the miseries of guilt, shame, and despair (as seen in her downcast, blushing expression), as well as crippling bondage and eventual death (as seen in her legs, which are encoiled by the serpent).

Every descendant of Eve, save one, has experienced this sense of guilt, shame, despair, and bondage. Such is the beguiling nature of sin. We want what we want, and we take what we want, ignoring the clear instruction of our kind and generous God. Consequently, we are justly placed under the sentence of death for our spiritual treason. “In the day that you eat thereof, you shall surely die” (Gen 2:17). Is there no hope? Is there no way out? Is the human race irreversibly doomed? Blessedly, God’s grace is much greater than human rebellion.

The way out is the third fruit in the Remington sketch, the fruit of Mary’s womb, soon to be born. “Blessed are you among women,” said Elizabeth, “and blessed is the fruit of your womb” (Luke 1:42). Mary’s fruit—Jesus—is the way out. Indeed, he is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). He is our hope. He is our deliverer. He is our salvation from guilt, shame, despair, bondage, and death. In fact, Mary’s fruit is the fulfillment of the protoeuangelion in Genesis 3:15. Jesus is the good fruit that can undo the effects of the bad fruit.

And yet on the cross, Mary’s fruit looked exactly opposite of Eve’s fruit. The crucified Christ was seen as worthless, not pleasing to the eye, and foolish—another messianic pretender who got himself killed. But Scripture tells us he was wounded for our transgression. He was bruised for our iniquity. Our punishment was upon him. And by his stripes, we are healed (cf. Isa 53).

Both women in the scene are looking at each other’s fruit. Eve gazes at Mary’s fruit—the fruit of the coming Christ, while Mary gazes at Eve’s fruit—the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. While only Eve touches the fruit of the tree, both women touch Mary’s belly since both need that fruit for their own salvation. And both are mothers of Christ, the good fruit who “comes to make his blessing known far as the curse is found.”

Part 1: The Gasp
Part 2: The Encounter
Part 3: The Fruit
Part 4: The Colors
Part 5: The Hands, Feet, and Faces

Image Credits: elledecor.com; illustratedprayer.org.

Mary Comforts Eve, Part 2: The Encounter

We’re reflecting on the pencil-and-crayon sketch titled “Mary Comforts Eve” by Grace Remington, OCSO, of the Cistercian Sisters of the Mississippi Abbey in Dubuque, Iowa. The image first appeared on a greeting card and is available for purchase online. I received my own copy last year as a gift for participating in a friend’s wedding. He knew of my appreciation for the piece, so he surprised me with a print of my own. 

The scene shows an encounter between Eve and Mary even though they were not contemporaries. In fact, they lived thousands of years apart on the timeline. As such, the piece functions as a historical hypothetical. What might it look like if Eve were to meet with Mary? What might the nature of their interaction be? 

The sketch, then, is a thought experiment. How would you picture an encounter between these two women? Would their conversation be cold? Awkward? Condemnatory? Hostile? Would there be a conversation at all? Using her theological imagination, Remington gives us a glimpse into how such a meeting might go.

Eve, of course, is “the mother of all the living” (Gen 3:20). She represents the entire human race, tainted as it is by sin. In the Genesis account, she was blitzed by her own disobedience to the clear command of God not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen 2:16-17). Consequently, she was judged along with her husband (Gen 3:16-19) and banished from the garden of Eden for the rest of her life (Gen 3:24). 

Before her expulsion, however, God made a promise that a descendant of hers would someday come and destroy the serpent (the creature who enticed her to sin), with her own offspring getting seriously wounded in the process (Gen 3:15). The prophecy is rather cryptic, but the implication is that a special descendant from Eve would reverse the damage done in Paradise.

That special descendant from Eve is now here in the scene, gestating inside Mary and soon to be born. Though a virgin, Mary will give birth to the one who is none other than “God with us” (Isa 7:14; Matt 1:23). He is the one who will reverse the curse that has befallen the planet (Gen 3:17). They will “give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matt 1:21). Note that in Remington’s sketch, Eve is back in a garden again. Her banishment has ended, and Jesus is the one who ended it!

The nature of Eve’s encounter with Mary is revealed in several clues throughout the sketch, which we’ll look at in future posts. For now we’ll simply mention that it does not go unnoticed in Christian theology that Mary is a kind of new Eve. Indeed, the Fall began through the false belief of one virgin (Gen 3:4-6); the Restoration began through the true belief of another virgin (Luke 1:38). 

Irenaeus (ca. 130 – ca. 202 A.D.) wrote, “The knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the virgin Mary set free through faith.” Tertullian (ca. 155 – ca. 240 A.D.) wrote, “What had been reduced to ruin by this sex, might by the selfsame sex be recovered to salvation. As Eve had believed the serpent, so Mary believed the angel. The delinquency which the one occasioned by believing, the other by believing effaced.” 

We have in this scene, then, an encounter between human sin and divine grace. Which will win? Remington leaves no doubt as to the outcome.

When God showed up to save the world from the consequences of Eve’s disobedience (and her husband’s), he came as a baby in the person of Jesus Christ. A crude manger—an animal feeding trough—would serve as his first bassinet (Luke 2:7, 12, 16). He would go on to die for the sins of the world and be raised to new life on the third day. Shockingly, God’s entire rescue project hinges on Mary, a young woman from a nowhere town and a no-account family, saying “Yes” to the impossible. She carried the weight of world’s salvation in her womb.

So, Eve is the mother of Mary, who is the mother of Christ, who is the creator of both. Jesus came from both in order to redeem them both. And us.

Only God could author a story like that.

Part 1: The Gasp
Part 2: The Encounter
Part 3: The Fruit
Part 4: The Colors
Part 5: The Hands, Feet, and Faces

Image Credits: elledecor.com; illustratedprayer.org.