Posts Tagged ‘Back to the Future’

Advent Podcast Day 19: “The Light Shines in Darkness”

December 21, 2017

From the first day of Advent until Christmas Day, I’m podcasting a daily devotional. You can listen by clicking on the playhead below.

Devotional Text: John 1:1-5

You can subscribe to my podcast in iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher.

Hi, this is Brent White. It’s December 21, 2017, and this is Day 19 of my series of Advent podcasts. You’re listening to the band Jethro Tull, and a song they wrote and recorded about—well… this very day: December 21, the winter solstice. This song, “Ring Out, Solstice Bells,” comes from the band’s 1977 album Songs from the Wood.

My scripture today is John 1:1-5, which I’ll read now:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Do you remember that scene in Back to the Future when Doc Brown is introducing Marty McFly, Michael J. Fox’s character, to the wonders of his time-traveling DeLorean? Brown shows McFly an LED-based instrument built into the car’s dashboard and explains that you simply enter any date in the past that you want to travel back to and—voila!—that’s where you’ll end up. 

At one point he tells Marty, “We can go back and witness the birth of Jesus Christ.” And then you see Doc Brown punch in the date December 25 of the year “0000.”

And at this point, many people in the audience groaned. For two reasons. First, there wasn’t a year “0.” According to the calendar that the church created, which divides history between the time before Christ and the time after Christ was born, the calendar changed from 1 B.C. to A.D. 1.

And the second reason some people watching Back to the Future groaned is because Jesus wasn’t born on December 25—or I should say, there’s about a 1 in 365 chance that he was born on December 25! If you’ll recall a podcast I did last week, my amateur astronomer friend believed that Jesus was born some time in April.

But the Church chose the date of December 25 to celebrate Christ’s birth for an important reason: Under the old Julian calendar, it marked the winter solstice, the so-called “longest night of the year”—or, put the other way, the day with the least amount of sunlight. Just think: for the next six months, each day will be marked by progressively more daylight.

And in ancient times long before the birth of Christ, people attached religious significance to this day—thanking their god or gods that the solstice marked the “end of gloom and darkness and the victory of the sun and the light over the darkness.”[1] Because of this pagan association with the solstice, even some Christians today have misgivings about celebrating Christmas.

I certainly don’t share these misgivings. Even if under the old calendar December 25 was a pagan holiday, I would say that the day has been redeemed—like so many other things, including our very lives—by Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us. Read the rest of this entry »

Sermon 11-06-16: “Generosity, Part 4: Generosity and Ministry”

November 10, 2016

generosity-sermon-series-graphic

A few years ago, the newly crowned World Series MVP, Ben Zobrist, said that if you spend your life chasing championships, “there will always be a next thing.” In other words, we will never be satisfied. In today’s scripture, by contrast, Jesus challenges three would-be disciples to be satisfied… in him alone. And so he challenges us. Is Christ enough for us? Or do we want or need something else?

Sermon Text: Luke 9:49-10:2

[To listen on the go, right-click here to download an MP3.]

Well, he was only off by one year—I’m referring to the screenwriter of Back to the Future II. As you may have heard, he nearly predicted the World Series victory of the Chicago Cubs. The movie, if you recall, showed it happening in 2015 instead of 2016, but still… Pretty close. Of course, it makes me feel old either way. Because I saw Back to the Future II in the theater when it came out, and like everyone else of my generation, 2015 seemed like a long, long way off! Where did the time go?

But great win for the Cubs. Great win for World Series Most Valuable Player Ben Zobrist, whose one-out, opposite-field double down the third base line in the tenth inning helped put the Cubs ahead for good.

Ben Zobrist, 2016 World Series MVP

Ben Zobrist, 2016 World Series MVP

Aside from being an outstanding utility infielder who’s now won not one but two world championships, Zobrist is also an outspoken Christian. In 2013, he gave his testimony at Lipscomb University. He said that up until he got to the Major Leagues, his life was “all about sports. Even though he was a Christian, baseball was number one in his life, not Christ. “The bottom line,” he said, “was I needed to repent of this great need that I had to achieve and succeed at this earthly level.” Because, he said, if your goal is winning championships, “there’s always going to be a next thing. I don’t want to be like that. I want to rest and be at peace. That peace only comes from Christ.”

Did you hear that? Apart from Christ, we will always have a next thing—something else, out there—some new goal, some new award, some new achievement, some new recognition, some new relationship—that keeps us striving, keeps us worrying, keeps us restless, keeps us doubting ourselves… unless or until we attain that thing that our heart desires. At which point, we’ll find it’s not enough. We’ll find that there’s still something else that we need. “We will always have a next thing,” Ben Zobrist said. And he’s exactly right. Read the rest of this entry »

“Good News of Great Joy,” Day 18: Heavens Declare the Glory of God

December 17, 2015

booklet_coverI recently created a 26-day Advent devotional booklet for my church called “Good News of Great Joy.” I will be posting a devotional from it each day between now and Christmas day. Enjoy!

Scripture: John 1:1-5

Despite what the dashboard of Doc Brown’s time-traveling DeLorean displayed in Back to the Future, Jesus wasn’t born on December 25 of the year “0000.” In fact, there wasn’t a year “0000.” (The calendar changed from 1 B.C. to A.D. 1)

I should qualify that heading by saying there’s about a 1 in 365 chance he was born on December 25!

But the Church chose the date of December 25 to celebrate his birth for an important reason: Under the old Julian calendar, it marked the winter solstice, the longest night of the year. For the next six months following the winter solstice, each day will be marked by progressively more daylight.

back_to_the_future

Some Christians are bothered by the fact that Christmas falls on (or near) what was traditionally a pagan holiday. Ancient people celebrated the solstice because it meant “the end of gloom and darkness and the victory of the sun and the light over darkness.”[1]

As Adam Hamilton points out, however, the solstice is a fitting symbol of Christmas:

Many believe that when Christians in the fourth century settled on a date to celebrate the birth of Jesus, they chose the date not because it was a pagan holiday, but because the heavens themselves declared at this time the truth of the gospel. The winter solstice represented astronomically what John’s Gospel proclaimed was happening spiritually in the birth of Jesus Christ. Just as darkness was defeated by light, so in Jesus, God’s light would defeat the darkness of sin and death.

This meaning is captured in John’s telling of the story. John doesn’t mention angels or shepherds or wise men; he speaks only of light and life and the defeat of darkness. John writes, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with  God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:1-5).[2]

Describe in your own words ways in which the “light of Christ” has driven out darkness in your own life. In what areas of your life do you still need Christ’s life to shine? Pray that God will make that happen through the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit.

1. Adam Hamilton, The Journey (Nashville: Abingdon, 2011), 126.

2. Ibid., 127.

Sermon 12-28-14: “They Rejoiced Exceedingly”

January 2, 2015
Giotto's "Adoration of the Magi, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Giotto’s “Adoration of the Magi, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Star of Bethlehem, which God graciously gave to the magi in order to bring them to Jesus, can teach us a great deal about the gospel of Jesus Christ and our church’s mission.

Sermon Text: Matthew 2:1-12

The following is my original sermon manuscript.

Years ago, the senior pastor at the church where I was serving as an associate pastor got a call from a man who was not a member of our church, but who said he was sick and in desperate need of a pastoral visit. So Don, the senior pastor, called me in his office and said, “Brent, I got this weird call from this man—and just so you know, he might be crazy. I’d send Larisa”—the other associate pastor—“but frankly, I’d be worried about her safety. So I want you to go…”

I promise he said that! So I made an appointment to see him. And over the course of the next couple of years, we struck up a bit of a friendship. Turns out he was a deeply eccentric man—not crazy. More like Doc Brown from Back to the Future. He had a Ph.D. from Harvard. He was an engineer who retired with NASA. And he was an amateur astronomer. Once when I visited him, he was excited to tell me about a discovery he had made. He said, “I know the date on which Jesus was born.”

Let me preface this by saying that the church has never known Jesus’ actual birthdate. They chose to celebrate Christmas on December 25 because of its proximity to the winter solstice—the solstice marks the point at which the darkness recedes and the days get longer and longer. Symbolically, the solstice represents the light of Christ—the “light that enlightens everyone,” as John says—coming into the world. Read the rest of this entry »

Does the Pope really hate Christmas?

November 26, 2012

The DeLorean dashboard from “Back to the Future”

There was a scene in the 1985 movie Back to the Future in which Christopher Lloyd’s Doc Brown demonstrates to Michael J. Fox’s Marty McFly how easy it is to time-travel in his tricked-out DeLorean. You just punch in the “destination date” on the dashboard and away you go. At one point, Doc Brown tells McFly that he can even go back and observe first Christmas, whose coordinates he types in as “DEC 25 0000.” (Or did he put “0001,” I can’t remember. There was no year zero. The calendar starts in year 1.)

Even as a 15 year-old, I rolled my eyes. Hollywood! The first Christmas didn’t take place, as far as anyone knows, on December 25, nor did it take place in the year AD 1, never mind AD 0, which doesn’t exist. Even my old NIV Study Bible, if memory serves, said that the birth of Christ took place around 6 B.C. Herod the Great died in 4 B.C., and the Massacre of the Innocents included all male children under 2, implying that Herod thought Christ’s birth had taken place within the past two years.

Does it matter that we got the date wrong? No. Does it have any bearing whatsoever on the historicity of Jesus or the Virgin Birth? No. Is it controversial to say that Christ wasn’t born on December 25, 1? No.

The Church set the date to begin with. We’ve known for a long time that the Church got it wrong. And the fact that Christmas corresponds to the winter solstice is uncontroversial (unless you’re one of these people).

With this in mind, I’m confused about the news coverage regarding the Pope’s new book on Christmas, including this overheated lede from CNN:

(CNN) — It’s Christmas, but not as you know it: a new book released this week by Pope Benedict XVI looks at the early life of Jesus — and debunks several myths about how the Nativity unfolded.

In “Jesus of Nazareth — The Infancy Narratives,” the pope says the Christian calendar is actually based on a blunder by a sixth century monk, who Benedict says was several years off in his calculation of Jesus’ birth date.

According to the pope’s research, there is also no evidence in the Gospels that the cattle and other animals traditionally pictured gathered around the manger were actually present.

“According to the pope’s research”? Please! The pope is an accomplished scholar and theologian, but he hardly needed to do any primary research to come up with this. None of this is new. And none of this is controversial. We were taught in seminary that animals weren’t a part of the manger scene until St. Francis in the 13th century.

Regardless, the news media are wrong to use the word “myth” to describe these things. It isn’t a “myth” that Jesus was born on December 25 or that there were donkeys, sheep, cows, or camels at the manger; it’s a tradition. Nor is it a myth that Jesus was born in the year 1; it’s a mistake, long since corrected.

In clarifying these issues for the public, Pope Benedict is merely sticking to what the Bible tells us. As a Protestant, I can only say a hearty “Amen”!