• On Christmas Eve I sang carols about angels and wrote a brief reflection on Twitter and Facebook that concluded with St. Augustine’s famous prayer asking God to “give your angels charge over those who sleep.” But like most evangelicals, I really have no idea what I believe about angels, nor think about them all that often. That’s a problem, wrote Tish Harrison Warren.
• Celebrate consumption, ignore those without shelter, and eight other things Christians shouldn’t do during Christmas. (Or probably the rest of the year.)
• It’s hard being the earthly father of Jesus: “Joseph’s quiet heroism often goes overlooked in the Christmas story and in many Nativity scenes, where kings, angels, shepherds, sometimes cattle, upstage him…. Yet there is something profound and compelling in Joseph, who has become a patron saint to Roman Catholic stepfathers and a role model for all Christian dads.”
• One of the most moving moments in the history of World War I is the Christmas Truce of 1914, when German, British, and French troops along the Western Front spontaneously decided to stop fighting. Uri Friedman explained how this “uplifting if surreal moment in an otherwise soul-crushing war” has inspired imitation everywhere from South Sudan to Colombia.
• Today many Christians will have heard sermons about the Massacre of the Innocents (Matt 2:16-18), but how many will have asked what it was like to be one of the soldiers sent by Herod to murder those children? Coleman Baker did, and it led him to reflect how civilians today still are largely unaware of what’s required of soldiers: “…because we don’t hear their stories, we often don’t fully understand the struggles they face when returning to civilian life after serving in war. We don’t understand the ways that many military veterans struggle with the morally complex issues they have faced in war. While we recognize the physical wounds many soldiers come home with, we need to see with new eyes many bear invisible wounds, or moral injuries, that result from either violating their moral conscience or experiencing the profound moral ambiguities of war.”
• Lots of commentary over Christmas about the continuing persecution of Christians in the region where Christianity was born, and the failure of Western Christians to do much of anything about it — e.g., this piece from Kate Maltby.
Then in non-Christmas-related news…
• In a post that considered the relationship between “moralistic therapeutic deism” and the Wesleyan tradition (including its Holiness and Pentecostal wings), Dale Coulter concluded, “Wesleyans should not allow Reformed critics to set the agenda within evangelicalism as though the Reformed tradition has the final word. Historically speaking, Reformed Christianity offers no more safe haven from theological positions that ultimately deny the central truths of the gospel than Wesleyanism does.”
• The United States is not fighting a “new Cold War,” concluded Anne Applebaum, but China and Russia are engaging in some tactics from that period: “We in the United States may not believe that we are engaged in an ideological struggle with anybody, but other people are engaged in an ideological struggle with us. We in the United States may not believe that there is any real threat to our longtime alliance structures in Europe and Asia, but other people think those alliances are vulnerable and have set out to undermine them.”
• Whatever you make of his opening claim that “Any resemblance to real persons or organizations” in his parable of the Carnival and the “Freak Show” was “purely coincidental,” keep in mind that Roger Olson wrote the following four days before A&E restored Phil Robertson to Duck Dynasty:
“I’ve got it!” said one of the businessmen. “Let’s pick a controversial social issue and get one of the family members to say something offensive about it”….
“…At first we side with the people who are offended and suspend the ‘freak’ from the show. But then, in response to the avalanche of criticism defending his ‘right’ to express his opinions, we restore him to the show. We’ll appear both sensitive and progressive, on the one hand, and forgiving on the other hand!”
• “Looking over the year that was, the increased coverage of higher education is rather amazing,” wrote Tressie McMillan Cottom, who thought that such attention reflected how Americans are “still hopeful that the promise of higher education is alive, for with it goes the promise of American mobility, opportunity, and identity.”
• I’ve particularly appreciated how much coverage my sector of the economy has received from outlets like The Atlantic, which closed the year with this dismal assessment of the “McDonaldization” of colleges and universities.
• The Ignatian Educator might well be a Jesuit cousin of The Pietist Schoolman: I certainly appreciated his reminder — written by “someone who is solidly in the pro-humanities camp” but understand them “not only from my own intellectual background but also from the perspective of the acts and words of Jesus and the holy figures of the Gospel and Christian history” — that “If the fullness of our humanity is in living and loving like Christ, oftentimes those who are least intellectually credentialed are the ones who can teach us the most.”