Tag Archives: Further In

Layton Friesen: The ‘Joke’ that is Epiphany

by Layton Friesen

Proclaiming Jesus is like telling a good joke.

Back in high school, my friend John would regale us with jokes for hours on end and they were roaring funny. Watching him I could see that a good joke is a precarious thing. It has to come off perfectly or it’s worse than no joke at all. If the teller stumbled over words, or had to make corrections in the telling, it got unfunny fast.

A joke separates those who have the wit to “get it” and those too dull. If you don’t “get” a joke, there is no help for you. It’s hopeless to go over the joke again in slow-motion, trying to make it funny by explaining. It depends on a common culture and experience, but gives a sharp kicking surprise in the end.

All of this is an analogy to preaching about Jesus.

Did you ever notice that in the preaching of the apostles nobody once “explains” Jesus? Never do you hear Peter holding forth about the verb tenses that Jesus used when he called Lazarus from the dead. Paul, in his letters, never waxes on about the historical background of Zealots. John does not “take apart” the story of the prodigal, explaining why this story shocked Jews in Palestine. Nobody pontificates on the various word-choices for “love” in the Greek of John 21. Why not?

Maybe the story of Jesus has some of the same qualities a good joke has. It was all-together one event, a wondrous, startling, completed occasion in the life of the world. It was perfectly timed and delivered. Situated just-right within the culture of Christ’s time, it drew into one lightening-bolt a host of back-stories from Israel.

It was delivered once, caught the world unawares, and sent it rolling in sudden happiness—even laughter. In one strike, history was changed. Christ’s life was complete and had to stay complete—the resurrection was like the best punchline.

Could the good news arc across the divide between an Aramaic-speaking Jewish fisher-peasant from Capernaum and an urban Greek-speaking pagan in Rome? It’s a huge question for the apostles, but never once did it occur to them that the secret to the Gentiles “getting the joke” was sermonic rabbit-trails on rural Jewish culture, or tutoring in Aramaic, Jesus’ language. They moved in and told the story again and again to whoever would listen. Some got it and others definitely did not. There was little help for those who didn’t.

And if the apostles didn’t pulpiteer on Christ’s participles, maybe we shouldn’t either. Preaching is telling the good story again, now hilarious for Canadians. It’s proclamation, not dissection.

Now, I need to also say that if we preachers are going to tell the story faithfully so that listeners “get it,” we do need to know something about the language and ancient culture of Jesus. We need to study to get the rhythm, the timing, the tone down into our bones.

Layton Friesen
Layton Friesen

But as the old Methodist preacher W. R. Moltby said, “The well is deep, and you must have something to draw with. But there is no need to make people drink out of the bucket, still less to chew on the rope.”

A preacher that makes you chew on the rope just sounds like someone with no sense of humour, which in my high school was not the guy you wanted to be.


Layton Friesen: Distracted in Two Directions

by Layton Friesen

Christmas is upon us and with it all the distractions that so quickly encumber and the busyness that so thoroughly wears. That’s a bleak midwinter way of starting off, but here we go a drearily. I have noticed two ways the Devil diverts our attention from the birth of Jesus. The first distraction is familiar to us: all the parties, the decorations, the family kerfluffles, and the ho, ho, ho that gobble our time and drain the bank, leaving little of our lives as gifts for the Saviour.

But the second distraction is trickier simply because it comes more sanctified. It’s the December-long war against distractions, which has now become its own cottage industry. We can spend the entire Christmas season scolding the world about how they are abusing Christmas. We preach sermons against the busyness of Christmas, or against the evils of Santa. We write blogs against the consumerism of Christmas, haranguing shoppers for being in malls. We put on Sunday School musicals in which distracted, annoyed revelers have last-minute conversion experiences and finally realize “the reason for the season.”

We get involved in political campaigns to “save” Christmas, tallying references to Christmas at our public school “holiday concert,” relieved that once again our secularist world has given us something to be angry about. We stage “buy nothing” Christmases and make sure everyone knows.

I don’t think the Devil cares much whether we forget Jesus via the first distraction or the second. He might even prefer the second one since the more holy he can make people feel in their neglect of Jesus the better for him. The devil has always had to rely on the imitation of holiness since naked evil is pretty hard to swallow even for the worst of us.

The point is, whether we forget Jesus because we are so wrapped in tinsel, or because we spend our time condemning people for being wrapped in tinsel, either way we forget Jesus.

Remember the parable about fitting rocks and sand into a jar? He puts the sand in first and now he can’t fit the rocks. Then he starts with the rocks and all the sand fits in fine.

Take some time to read the story of the birth of Jesus. “Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). Attend church and sing aloud with the carols of the season. Give a gift you can’t afford to a local charity that helps the poor in the name of the homeless Christ. Say a prayer of thanks to God “that those who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Isa. 9:2).

Thank God for not forgetting us in this dark, cold world, for loving us so much as to send his only begotten Son. In short, worship Jesus with your heart, voice, mind, and bank account.

Layton Friesen
Layton Friesen

And then party like it’s AD 1. Cook good food. Surprise your uncle with a gift too late in the season for him to return the favour. Go to the mall and be amazed that all these thousands of harried, tired people are buying expensive gifts for other people! It’s all a vast expensive, convulsion of love that’s good news for the economy. Go carolling at your neighbours in the hope that they invite you in for drinks.

Get the main thing right, and then relax and enjoy the lights.