Saturday, December 23, 2017

The Joy of Repetition

One of the classic pieces of cinema that is about the Christmas season is the animated cartoon, by the late Charles Schultz, creator of the comic strip "Peanuts".  The movie is called, "A Charlie Brown Christmas".  There is one scene in this movie that features Linus offering the Christmas text in an extremely nasally, and slightly boring way, "And there were shepherds watching over their flocks by night...and they were sore afraid."  What Schultz captures so well in this movie is the repetitive, almost Ambien sleeping aide quality of the Christmas texts.  We have heard them so many times that they literally put us to sleep.

As I sit down to write this blog post on the eve before Christmas Eve, I have been asking myself a question.  How many times have I preached the Christmas Eve texts?  I think I have come up with an answer of about 20 times.  Of course, that is not counting the multiple times that I preached in some churches on Christmas Eve.  I think there were 6 services (or maybe 7, I can't exactly remember) each Christmas Eve at First Pres. Colorado Springs, and in many other churches there were at least 3.  So, given this consideration, I think I have preached the Christmas texts over 100 times.  I must have heard Christmas sermons texts at least ten times that number in my lifetime.  Over a thousand!

How many times have you heard the Christmas texts?  Are they new to you?  Are they fresh?

My friend and mentor Will Willimon, former chaplain of Duke University, has recently reminded me that part of the power of the Gospel is that there is repetition throughout.  And as a preacher, he has told me that one should not try to come up with something "new" to say, but rather, should find;

The Joy of Repetition

Willimon writes,  "Faithful preaching is always repetitious reiteration, always preaching again" (Undone by Easter, p. 51).

Willimon goes on to point out that many great artists relied heavily on repetition.  Mozart was known to repeat certain phrases of music in his piano concertos as many as 10 times in one piece of music.  Tolstoy is, "known for his deliberate, frequent, and sometimes exasperating repetitiveness."  Wittgenstein said that, "he was only attempting to think what people had already thought."  Plato said that, "all teaching is a form of midwifery."  G.K. Chesterton once said that, "Almighty God is a bit like a young child, saying every single morning to the sun, 'Again!'" (Undone by Easter, p. 56).

Many years ago, when I was at a pastor's conference taught by the great Middle Eastern Bible scholar, Ken Bailey, I will never forget him offering an ancient proverb, "If it's true, then it is not new, and if it's new, then it is not true."  This dictum, from the ancient world is a warning against things that seem innovative or cutting edge when it comes to God.

The biggest mistakes I have ever made in preaching, I think, have been times when I tried to do something creative with a text, and the sermon didn't "work" because I was trying to do something that the text did not really reflect.

Our God is a God who loves repetition.  God created each week to begin with Sabbath (in most Christmas traditions that day is Sunday).  Since the beginning of time there has been a repetition of Sabbath, Sabbath, Sabbath, every seven days.  7, 7, 7, 7...

For the Jewish people, the repetition of the festivals, particularly Passover, was part of its intrinsic holiness.  Since at least the year 1,500 BC, the Israelites have celebrated passover.  By my count that is 3,517 times.

So, as you listen to the Christmas texts one more time over the next couple of days, and find yourself dozing off to sleep, or thinking of other things instead (stockings, parties, presents), remember, that part of the sanctity of our faith is in repetition.  And that there is;

Joy in Repetition

All For Now,


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