Last night I sat with some friends, and we talked about our favorite Christmas songs. For whatever reason, ever since I was a little kid I have always loved the version of “Little Drummer Boy” with David Bowie and Bing Crosby. I used to think I was one of the only ones who knew about it (the sort of thing people — especially we Enneagram 4s — used to think before social media), but now I know I’m am FAR from the only one who is aware of this beloved Christmas classic…
I just love it. It has just the right mix of playfulness and reverence and harmony and Hope. You probably don’t know this about me, but I can sit down at a piano and play just about any song by ear (As long as it’s something I’m familiar with)… It’s just something I can do. Anyway, one of my favorite Christmas traditions is sitting at my keyboard and doodling on the piano and filling the house with the sound of Christmas songs and carols. Maybe that’s why I love that video so much. I don’t know…
There are so many good Christmas songs. A friend reminded me of this one… It’s a song by Chris Rice called “Welcome To Our World.” It’s a precious song. I hadn’t thought of it in a while, so when I got home last night, I listened to it… Even if you’ve heard it before, you should listen to it again:
It’s strange for me to think about how much my theology has changed over the past 10 years. Last night I thought about the fourth verse of the song, where he sings…
Fragile finger sent to heal us
Tender brow prepared for thorn
Tiny heart whose blood will save us
Unto us is born
… and I found myself thinking about the God and the Christmas story of my youth… The one with the God who impregnated a teenager with a perfect child — God’s own son — All with the plan to have that perfect child grow into a perfect man, just to have him necessarily tortured and sacrificed on a cross, so that his “blood will save us.” And I thought to myself: “If that is the story of Christmas, I don’t believe anymore.” I don’t believe in the God who requires a blood sacrifice in order for us to be safe.
Because for most of the history of Christianity, this has been the story:
1) We are hopelessly broken and sinful, and deserving of an eternity of hell…
2) God is unapproachably holy…
3) God sends Jesus to die for our sins…
4) The son’s blood saves some of us (if we believe the right things) from the consequence we deserve, which is an eternity of torment and torture in Hell.
But this version of the “story” is based on the idea that there has to be a TRANSACTION. There is a PRICE that has to be paid… and that price is BLOOD. This is based on the foundational belief that there is no such thing as a free lunch… That there is always a transaction… That there is no way God could be so good as to not require one. Because — as the story goes — God is perfect, we are not, and the only way we could ever hope to get close to God is by someone paying a very steep price. And in the story we have told ourselves, the God of the universe uses a currency of blood. Something — SomeONE — has to die. That is the transaction.
And so, for the majority of human history, we have believed in a transactional god who requires our best… Who requires a sacrifice… Who requires blood. It is the Volcano God who requires a “pure” virgin to end the rumblings that shake the mountain… And even THEN, sometimes the Volcano erupts, the lava burns the village, and we tell ourselves that it must have been because we are so Totally Depraved that we DESERVED it. Human consciousness realizes that a god who needs us to sacrifice our kids could NEVER be called “Good,” and so — just like in the story of Abraham and Isaac — God provides a ram to be the blood transaction. But here’s the truth: God never needed the blood. WE did.
And then along comes Jesus, trying to convince the world that God is so much better than that Transactional God Who Requires Blood, and he gets killed for saying it… Killed by the very people who need that picture of the Transactional God Who Requires Blood to maintain their positions of power. And THEN, the people who were unable to imagine that God was actually like the Good Father Jesus described looked at Jesus’ death and said, “See? One final transaction! Except for that OTHER perpetual transaction of us having to believe all the right things (instead of making all the right sacrifices) in order to be safe, that is…”
I don’t believe in that story anymore. If that’s the story, I am a non-believer. But here’s the good news (the “gospel,” if you will): That is not the only story! They want you to believe that that is the only story, but it’s not. They told us that in order for people to believe that Jesus was worth anything, we also had to believe in the Volcano God. In order for Jesus to save us, he had to save us FROM the Transactional God Who Requires Blood. In order to believe that we needed saving, we needed to believe that God, as the song says, “saved a wretch like me.” But what if they got it wrong? Who told you you were a wretch? What if Jesus saves… Not FROM the Volcano God, but instead saves us from feeling like we need to believe that THAT’S who God is? And who we are?
What if the story of the baby born in a manger is about saving us — FREEING US — from the belief that our brokenness is too much for the God who loves us and longs to be close to us? A love so true and a longing so intense that it is willing to lower itself… For an eternal God to enter time… For an omnipotent God to limit their own power… For God to make herself vulnerable, and feel our pain… For God to reveal himself as Emmanuel — The God Who Has ALWAYS Been With Us… The beautiful story of a child born in a manger, a king who rides on a donkey, and a God who flips the script by telling us that the first shall be last and the last shall be first.
I don’t know if an angel spoke to shepherds. I don’t know if a great multitude appeared in the sky and started singing in Latin to a people who spoke Aramaic. I don’t know if a star appeared in the sky. I don’t know if wisemen from the East traveled from afar and followed that star (It would have taken them over a year to get there… and why in the world would Jesus, Mary, & Joseph still be hanging out in a Bethlehem manger a year later when they just visited for a census?). I don’t know if Herod heard of a newborn “king” and tried to kill all the male babies… It sounds a little too suspiciously like the story of Moses. I don’t know WHAT I believe anymore. But here’s something I DO believe: This video right here is pure magic. I can’t get through it without crying.
And I believe that God loves diversity. I believe that music can change the world. I believe that love and hope are stronger than fear and hatred. I believe that humanity is slowly but surely learning what it means to be made in the image of God. I believe that the hope represented in Jesus is bigger than Christmas or Christianity or the name “Jesus.” I believe that God is Good, and I believe that our brokenness is not too much for the Good God who loves us. I believe that it is not our right theology which saves us, but that we are safe because God is so very good. I believe we love God best when we take care of each other — Including the “each others” outside of our borders… And I believe that if the Nativity can’t teach you that one simple lesson, you’re probably not going to understand much else. And even though I don’t believe in the old Christmas story of my childhood anymore, I believe that something deep inside me still longs to stand with you and sing, “Oh come, let us adore him.”
I’ll leave you with David Bowie’s part from my favorite Christmas song:
Peace on Earth, can it be?
Years from now, perhaps we’ll see
See the day of glory
See the day when men of good will
Live in peace, live in peace again
Peace on Earth, can it be?
Every child must be made aware
Every child must be made to care
Care enough for his fellow man
To give all the love that he can
I pray my wish will come true
For my child and your child too
He’ll see the day of glory
See the day when men of good will
Live in peace, live in peace again
Peace on Earth, can it be?
Can it be?
So yeah… Maybe Christmas isn’t a statement. Maybe Christmas is a question. And maybe that question is “Peace on Earth… Can it be?” Regardless, my prayer and wish for us is that we give all the love that we can… And teach our kids to do the same. So Happy Holidays, and Merry Christmas… From this non-believer.
Thank you so much for reading. If you love this blog, and you want to leave a Christmas tip because of how much you appreciate it, you can do that ON PAYPAL. If you’d like to become a Patron and give a little each month, you can DO THAT RIGHT HERE. Otherwise, you can follow me ON FACEBOOK and ON TWITTER. And remember to get into an argument this Christmas (as long as it’s FOR ALL THE RIGHT REASONS).
Hey man. Really appreciate your blog. I’ve forwarded several of them on to my world this year.
I wrote this song this year and just recorded and released it this week. I think you might dig it:
Trying to shift some hearts this season.
It’s also at pretty much every other service. Any proceeds from the paid ones through the end of the year are going to Project Connect here in Nashville. We’re just trying to get it out there.
Many years ago it was around Christmas that I realized I needed to shut out certain voices that were polluting and corrupting the way I understood and heard from God. It started with Fox News and Limbaugh about 18 years back, and has expanded. I think there’s hope for folks caught up in fear and self preservation. Maybe not the masses, but individuals.
Anyway, here’s hoping. And I hope you dig the song.
John J. Thompson http://www.JohnJThompson.com (Sent from my iPhone.)
Thank you, thank you, thank you!
You are more than welcome!
Have you read The Cloister by James Carroll? You might find it interesting. The book centers on Peter Abelard, a medieval French philosopher and priest. (This is historical fiction) Abelard believed forgiveness is not contingent on Christ’s death. Human redemption did not require the death of Christ on the cross because of God’s loving nature. I am not doing a very good job of explaining his philosophy but I found the book fascinating.
(Abelard also blames the Catholic church for the suffering of Jews but I’ll leave that for another time.)
I found this a very interesting book
I haven’t read it. I will try to get my hands on it… It sound right up my alley. THANKS!
I haven’t read this particular historical fiction, but, as an atheist (not an anti-theist) I’m somewhat familiar with Abelard’s theology.
Another of his beliefs was what’s been labeled “intentionalistic”: a person’s intention is what alone makes that person’s subsequent action or behavior moral or not.
Meaning, Abelard would say that as long as people who, even if in naivety, ignorance, misguidance, or subconscious selfishness, support Trump do so out of sincere intention to foster and accomplish what they believe to be “good” , then their subsequent acts and behaviors ARE “good”.
This is so on point.
Well put Chris Boeskool! It’s all about H
Richard Rohr goes into this quite a bit, he says in the first thousand years it was the devil that was the bad guy, then in something like the 1100’s AD a Catholic “lawyer” type decided that it was God who must be mad at us. God never required Blood, we did, we believe in a binary world, tit for tat, but that not what Jesus showed us, he showed us a loving God, but we couldn’t believe it.
I also think the blood thing in the early Church came out of there temple culture, i read somewhere that up to 80% of the temples\Jerusalem’s industry was the slaughtering of animals for sacrifice, it was an industry. Lot’s of blood there, its what they were use to, so it transferred i
t to how they saw the Jesus story. Just a thought.
Much like when God asked Moses to sacrifice his son in Genesis, its because there was that thought in there culture at that time or the recent past. The key for me was starting to understand that the sacrifice wasn’t the important part of the story, its that this “New God” didn’t want the sacrifice, the story moved forward.
While we’re recommending books, I’d like to throw Lamb, by Christopher Moore into the mix. Usually in December I read A Christmas Carol, but this year I was wanting a change. This book humanizes Jesus in ways that are missing from our western society. two thirds of the book veers off course from scripture and this is where it shines. It reminds me how Christian Christ was. Good post.
Good thoughts. I am sure that trying to believe in penal substitutionary atonement (the theory of the Atonement that you’ve rejected) did damage to my spiritual life. The book “Christus Victor” by Gustaf Aulén was of immense help. Also take a look at “Transformed Lives: Making Sense of Atonement Today” by Cynthia S. W. Crysdale. Thanks.
I really appreciate this post. I had not considered the problem with the transactional God, but could not make peace with God being less loving to us than I would be to my kids.