Myrrh Again: Red Letter Year 12/25

John 19.38-42

38 Afterward Joseph of Arimathea, who had been a secret disciple of Jesus (because he feared the Jewish leaders), asked Pilate for permission to take down Jesus’ body. When Pilate gave permission, Joseph came and took the body away. 39 With him came Nicodemus, the man who had come to Jesus at night. He brought about seventy-five pounds of perfumed ointment made from myrrh and aloes. 40 Following Jewish burial custom, they wrapped Jesus’ body with the spices in long sheets of linen cloth. 41 The place of crucifixion was near a garden, where there was a new tomb, never used before. 42 And so, because it was the day of preparation for the Jewish Passover and since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.


Merry Christmas! It is very late/early as I sit in the twinkling glow of our Christmas lights. The presents are all wrapped, everyone else is asleep (except maybe Emily who is making everyone presents this year and has been working very hard). The night is dark, quiet, and still. I love Christmas. One of my favorite parts is hanging out with Amy on Christmas Eve after the kids are all in bed. We unpackage toys, wrap gifts, and check one last time to make sure all the gifts are even between the kids. I imagine their reactions to that new thing they have been wanting, or even better, that thing I know they will love that they don’t even know exists yet. I know some Christians go on about the commercialization of Christmas. There are reasons to be concerned, but they relate to the consumerist nature of our culture generally, not some anomalous thing that happens once a year.

I think some of the Christian reaction against Christmas can be chalked up to being contrary for its own sake. I think they are insulted that people enjoy Christmas but avoid religious expressions of it, so they return the insult and fight for their religious day. But I’m not interested in a culture war because that makes it hard to love neighbors and connect with people. Like most people, I love giving gifts. It is a good thing that this has become such a dominant cultural event. It makes it easier to capture people’s imaginations with the amazing gift of God’s love, of God’s Son. They have received gifts before (perhaps amazing ones) and have some idea of how that feels. More than that, they have given gifts, and not just gift cards and socks, they have some experience in finding just the right gift, just what is needed, just what is most wanted, and then waiting with anticipation for the moment when the recipient opens the gift. Will they love it? Will they keep it? We know how this feels because we are a gifting culture (at least once a year), which helps us relate to a God who gives his own Son to us and then waits for our response. Will we like him? Will we love him? Will we keep him? Instead of fighting against culture, we can participate in culture and leverage it to help tell the story of God’s love.

And today we see that part of God’s story is receiving gifts from us. Jesus was given myrrh as a small boy (Matt. 2) and here he is given myrrh again. Both times it is a gift fit for a king. Both times it is given by a half-follower, someone who has heard of Jesus but is not (yet) a committed follower. When the wise men came through Jerusalem, Herod and his court asked about when and where to find the baby, but they only did so they could fight, not follow. No one else went down with gifts. Here after Jesus has died, none of his followers have come to bury him. They were too worried about an ongoing fight with the religious leaders to show their faces in public. The magi, Joseph, and Nicodemus are free to offer such gifts to Jesus precisely because they are not part of a cultural struggle that becomes more determinative than the Good News itself.

My point is – enjoy today. Enjoy the gifts you receive. Enjoy giving gifts to others. Enjoy the gift of time with family. Enjoy the food. Enjoy Christmas in all its spiritual and cultural significance. And don’t feel guilty for enjoying it, just enjoy it. Instead of distancing ourselves from the culture around us, let’s reengage it, let’s participate in it. And not in artificial ways that mimic culture while keeping a ‘safe’ distance from it (I’m looking at you Christian sub-culture), but for reals. Only by participating in our culture can we show God’s love for this world and only in dropping our war on culture can we become like the wise men, Joseph, and Nicodemus – people who give good gifts to God.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale HousePublishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

It Is Finished. It Begins. Red Letter Year 12/24

John 19.28-37

28 Jesus knew that his mission was now finished, and to fulfill Scripture he said, “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar of sour wine was sitting there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put it on a hyssop branch, and held it up to his lips. 30 When Jesus had tasted it, he said, “It is finished!” Then he bowed his head and released his spirit.

31 It was the day of preparation, and the Jewish leaders didn’t want the bodies hanging there the next day, which was the Sabbath (and a very special Sabbath, because it was the Passover). So they asked Pilate to hasten their deaths by ordering that their legs be broken. Then their bodies could be taken down. 32 So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the two men crucified with Jesus. 33 But when they came to Jesus, they saw that he was already dead, so they didn’t break his legs. 34 One of the soldiers, however, pierced his side with a spear, and immediately blood and water flowed out. 35 (This report is from an eyewitness giving an accurate account. He speaks the truth so that you also can believe.) 36 These things happened in fulfillment of the Scriptures that say, “Not one of his bones will be broken,” 37 and “They will look on the one they pierced.”


Here at the highest moment of the passion drama, what we might call the moment of truth, we once again see the divine-human theme that John has been developing so consistently, and we see it at its most poignant. Jesus admits to being thirsty. It is hard to imagine a more human sensation than thirst. More often (by far) than our desires for food, sex, or companionship, we want, we need something to drink. A glass of cool water on a hot day. A cup of hot coffee in the morning. Warm tea on a chilly, rainy evening. A glass of wine on an intimate date. A beer with friends. When I was a kid, anytime I got sick enough to miss school, my mom would get me Coke in the little 8oz. glass bottles. To this day there is nothing quite so refreshing, no tonic quite so potent to me when I’m sick as an ice cold Coca-Cola in a glass bottle. It communicates love and care to me and a promise of well-being to come. Whatever you’re doing right now, I am willing to bet you will get yourself something to drink within minutes of reading this, because we are human and we get thirsty.

And don’t mistake what John means in v. 28. He is not suggesting that Jesus said this on purpose just to tick off some mental list he had of Scriptures to fulfill. Yesterday we read about the guards gambling for Jesus’ garment and how that fulfilled a prophecy about Jesus. But the guards weren’t aware of that or in on it. They were just doing their thing. Same thing with Jesus here. He said this because he was thirsty. What he said fulfilled prophecy because the prophecy was accurate, not because Jesus forced it.

In the very next moment Jesus showed his divinity by releasing his spirit. This is no mere succumbing to his injuries. It is both a willful relinquishing of his life-spirit and a pre-figuring of his giving of the Holy Spirit (as we will see on Friday). Jesus had already said that it was necessary and good for him to go away so the Holy Spirit could come and dwell in his followers. This giving up of the Spirit marks the end of Jesus’ earthly life (it is finished!) and makes possible the Pentecost outpouring of his Spirit onto all people: men, women, young, old, rich, poor, and all ethnicities. This moment is both a finishing and a beginning. The ultimate signifier of Jesus’ divinity is his ability to give up the Spirit and give out the Spirit to others.

Remember, we are told to trust Jesus based on the miraculous works he did and the miraculous works we do – both of which are done by the power of the Spirit Jesus gives. It is in pouring out the Spirit on the whole world that Jesus becomes what Dali depicts – the cosmic savior of the whole world. God loved the whole world. Jesus saved the whole world. The Spirit convinces the whole world of God’s love and Jesus’ salvation. And all this gets done through us. The church is God’s love for the world, the church is Jesus’ salvation of the world, the church is the Holy Spirit’s convincing the world.

Jesus says, It is finished. The church says, Amen. It begins.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale HousePublishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.