Thursday, November 7, 2013

Can a Bible passage be underrated?

With Christmas now *only* 48 days away, I--and pastors everywhere--have begun planning for Christmas Eve services in earnest.  And I came to realize something:

I need to come up with more Christmas sermons, and fast.

It isn't that I don't appreciate the Christmas story--I do.  Nor is it that I haven't spent enough time with the Bible's accounts of Jesus' birth in Matthew's and Luke's Gospels--I have.

No, it's the conundrum that many a preacher faces--what can you possibly say that is new about a story that everybody knows, everybody cherishes, and that everybody has heard a thousand times?

(Oddly, I don't face the same conundrum about Easter, but I think that is because Holy Week is so jam-packed with action, there is so much that gets left on the proverbial cutting room floor every year.  But that's the topic for another post.)

Mind you, I'm not trying to complain, either.  I *want* people to know the Christmas story, I *want* people to know that God made Himself incarnate by being born impoverished, to impoverished parents in an impoverished setting.  I *want* people to know just how big a deal that really is.  The freaking Son of God came to earth for no other reason than because God wanted Him to.

But there are so, so many other passages that can--and should--evoke such emotion from us as the Christmas story that we hold dear.  And by and large, we forget that such passages even exist.

Sure, Scripture has its share of "begats," of lists of descendants and catalogs of legal minutiae, and wacky-sounding ramblings from Ezekiel and friends.  And we tend to skip over those parts.  But in those parts also lie some real gems, some passages that we miss out on if all we focus on is what we know: the Christmas and Easter tales.

These are the underrated parts of Scripture--the passages that offer great love, but don't get much love or attention from us in return.

What sorts of passages am I talking about?

My yardstick for this has long been Habakkuk 3:17-19, which ends Habakkuk's book--a three-chapter dialogue between him and God that begins with the prophet being pretty upset at what he feels is an absentee landlord of a deity.  And yet he ends his book thusly:

Though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines;
Though the produce of the olive fails, and the fields yield no food;
Though the flock is cut off from the fold, and there is no herd in the stalls;
Yet still I will rejoice in the Lord.
I will exult in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength.
He makes my feet like the feet of the deer,
And makes me to tread upon great heights.

Habakkuk is, in fact, singing a song--as evinced by the directive "to the leader, with stringed instruments."  And I imagine whatever stringed instrument he was singing it with--the ancient version of a guitar, or a violin, or a ukelele--it was probably pretty awesome.

Dig deep, and I'm sure you have some passages like those of your own--passages that get obscured by the more famous stuff, but that truly and deeply move you, passages that might be underrated to the wider Christian audience, but that to you represent hidden gems.

So, in a word, yes, a Bible passage can be underrated by the church at large.  Which really should not be that suprising--after all, we all have a "canon within a canon" (that is, parts of the Bible we cling to especially closely due to our own perspectives, interpretations, and church upbringing).

But that does not mean the underrated parts of Scripture should remain underrated.  These are a few other such verses and passages (in my book):

Psalms 42:7-11
Isaiah 26:19
Zephaniah 3:17-19
Romans 8:24-26
James 2:1-5
1 John 4:7-12

What about you?  What lesser-known Bible verses and passages do you especially cherish, and why?  What do they say to you about the nature of God?

Yours in Christ,

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