For the Christian, certain times of the year mean that certain Scriptures need to be read again. During Thanksgiving, many bloggers look to the opening and closing lines of Paul’s letters. During Easter, we open the Gospels to their last few chapters. And this past Christmas time, we once again read Luke 1-2 and Matthew 1-2. We are creatures of habit. The holiday calendar asks us to be re-reading the same Scriptures repeatedly.
If you are like me, you might think to yourself, Is there not anything else we can read? We do this every year.
Make it New
This was a famous line from an infamous, and disreputable, twentieth-century poet, Ezra Pound. He exhorted the creative world with such a simple phrase that it became the rally-cry for an entire generation: Make It New.
With this phrase, Pound summarized the spirit of the modernist era. A time ripe with innovative technology, seemingly-new ideologies rising against organized religion, and an awakened obsession with expressive individualism. Sound familiar?
The idea to make it new, this simple exhortation, was nothing new, of course. People in all cultures and all generations have sought to be new. This was a struggle that even Solomon, David’s son and Jerusalem’s king, had to wrestle with.
Is there a thing of which can be said,
“See, this is new”?
It has been already
In the ages before us. (Ecclesiastes 1:10)
The verses above offer true wisdom, because they begin to push back on the value of newness. If I think I have something new, then I can use that to fuel my own pride. I am worth more now than I was worth before. But the “the Preacher” (1:1)—Hebrew word Qoheleth, which could also mean collector—knows that newness itself is untrustworthy.
I certainly need to learn this lesson! As a writer, I am always looking for a new idea to express or a new expression for an old idea. Embedded in me is the assumption that something new is more valuable than something old. This assumption contributes to my temptation to roll my eyes when I hear the same Scripture passage cited over and over. Or my temptation to skip passages in my daily devotions that I’ve read many times before.
Are you, like me, caught up in the ever-present cultural craze to make it new?
Re-Reading the Bible
I am not suggesting reading more of Scripture than Luke 1-2 around Christmas is in any way bad. I am, however, suggesting that we need to be aware of how we are influenced by the ever-present spirit-of-the-age prompting us, however vaguely, to be different. To be new. And our feeling that reading something new is better than something old may be one of many ways which we are influenced.
I want to advocate strongly for an increased appreciation of re-reading. In his essay “Good Readers and Good Writers,” one twentieth-century university professor wrote:
Curiously enough, one cannot read a book: one can only re-read it. A good reader, a major reader, an active and creative reader is a rereader.
He taught this idea to his undergraduate students as a strategy for making it through difficult literary texts. I want to apply this, rather, to the Christian life. A Christian cannot read the Bible, he or she can only re-read it. Re-reading, as a practice, is Christ-honoring, biblically-based, and leads a Christan to great joy in the Lord.
And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19)
In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” (1 Corinthians 11:25)
Inherent to remembrance is repetition. Repetitive reflection on the same event, person, or idea from the past. Jesus calls the disciples, and us, to remember the establishment of the new covenant.
I find it remarkable that Christ takes two very common activities—breaking bread and drinking a glass of wine—and says, “Do this in remembrance of me.” I’m no expert on first-century life, but wouldn’t the disciples either break bread or drink wine daily? I imagine they would. And like them, we are to return to a daily reflection of what Christ has done for us. The remembrance conforms us to the image of Christ.
Here’s one last thing I’d like to say on remembrance. The same Greek word appears in Hebrews 10. but in that context, the author of Hebrews refers to the annual sacrifices which occurred as a result of the Law. These annual sacrifices brought the reminder of sin:
…in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. (Hebrews 10:3)
Do you see the two big differences between that remembrance and the one Christ calls us to? The old covenant brought a reminder of sin, and that reminder happened a few times throughout the year, but the new covenant brings a reminder of God’s great grace, and that reminder happens every day.
Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder, since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things. (2 Peter 1:12-15)
Peter acknowledges that his audience is already in-the-know. They have not only heard but also established their lives “in the truth.” Even so, Peter knows it is right and profitable to say things to them that they already know.
Peter is saying, “Look, there is nothing new here. But what you already know is the truth. It alone will stir you up. And I want not to fill your head with something else taking precious space your mind away from the Gospel but to cause to memorize these wonderful truths.”
Perhaps we all know the general narrative arch of Luke 1 and 2, but how many of us can recall it, with complete accuracy, “at any time?”
Once again, I am not suggesting there’s anything wrong to read something other than Luke or Matthew this Christmas. Instead, I am suggesting caution at the spirit that may be driving that choice. More so, I am affirming the infinite value of re-reading those passages.
Leads to Great Joy
Let me clue you into the great paradox of re-reading the Bible. It is through reflecting, remembering, recalling, and re-reading the ancient truths of the Bible that we can apply the newness it offers to our lives.
We all have the yearning for something new. But you do not need to strive after newness very long before you can resonate with Solomon’s anguish:
“Is there a thing of which can be said,
“See this is new”?
The answer to his question is yes. Jesus Christ took on human flesh in order to offer something truly new to all who believe in him. He came to give life to the dead. He came to give immortality to mortality. He came to give humanity a new heart, so that we may worship him and glorify in him forever.
Christian, this is why we return to the story of Christ’s birth. Re-reading about the gifts given to Jesus. Re-reading the story of Mary and Elizabeth. Re-reading about Simon and Anna. We re-read this story because it is the start of the only new thing the world has seen since the fall of man.
Christ does not simply offer us a new idea or mode of expressing ourselves. Christ offers us new life.