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  1. The light of Christ illumines the dank cellar of our human condition. And not surprisingly we find ourselves shrinking back, pulling into the shadows, suddenly aware of the dirt, the smudges, the overall ugliness of our own sinful selves. Thus comes Advent, the last of the three winter seasons to develop in the Christian calendar. It is a time of preparation leading to the appearance of the light. Indeed, for the early Christians it was a penitential season like Lent. You dared not approach the light without first searching your soul, cleaning up the mess, preparing yourself for its sanctifying presence.

    During Advent, we make way for the coming of a Savior for whom the world is not worthy. And not only that, we brace ourselves for his coming again in judgement one day. We rehearse both the first and second coming, juxtaposed against a backdrop of the world’s longest night, all creation holding its breath for the final turn, the last and best sunrise.

    As I write early on this December morning, snow lies deep in my garden. Night retreats westward; stars slowly start to fade. Two small boys sleep across the hall, resting in the grace-filled inertia of the very young. Many, many things must be done today, not only to sustain a household but to navigate the cultural expectations surrounding the coming holidays. But I will choose—if you do—to sit. I will choose to breathe in the words of others who celebrated the Word made flesh. Here in the dark I will seek points of light that cannot be extinguished, no matter how frenetic the world.

    So let it begin.

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  2. It won't. And that's (mostly) a good thing.

    The remains of Fidel Castro are being displayed in Havana as part of Cuba’s nine days of official mourning for the deceased dictator. Many world leaders will not attend the funeral next week for the man who raised literacy rates but kept a rigid grasp on civil rights.

    For Cuban Christians, his death isn’t likely to be a sea change in how the island nation’s Communist government approaches religion.

    Like most Cubans, Castro himself was raised Catholic, educated by Jesuit priests as a child. He rejected his faith during the 1959 revolution, after the church rejected his movement toward atheism and socialism. Priests were killed and deported, while Christians (and other groups) were discriminated against and banned from joining the Communist Party.

    But Castro—and his brother, current ruler Raúl—softened with time. Some credit the Catholic Church and its popes with influencing Cuba’s slow turn from Marxism.

    They were also good for religious holidays. Pope John Paul II visited the country in 1998; the next day, Castro reinstated Christmas. In 2012, Pope Benedict visited; soon after, the government allowed Good Friday observances.

    This year, Cuba was the site of a historic step toward religious reconciliation: Pope Francis sat down with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill in Havana in the first meeting between Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox heavyweights since the Christian church split into West and East in 1054.

    Even though Castro’s last writings recalled the stories of Adam and Eve, Noah and the ark, and God’s provision of manna, the level of his faith remains a mystery, reported Crux.

    Despite the tension between church and state in Cuba, Christianity there has been undergoing...

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  3. (UPDATED) What the president-elect's unusually broad and diverse clergy lineup tells us.

    Donald Trump has enlisted a larger, more diverse lineup of clergy than usual to pray him into office at his upcoming inauguration ceremony.

    The group—bigger than any president’s since Ronald Reagan—reflects his politics, pragmatism, and personality. It includes evangelical leaders Franklin Graham and Samuel Rodriguez, as well as spiritual advisor Paula White, the Florida televangelist credited with his rumored recent Christian conversion, and a Detroit prosperity preacher, Wayne T. Jackson.

    “Taken together, [Graham and White] have embodied Trump’s embrace of the twinned ideologies of Christian nationalism and capitalist Christianity,” Kevin Kruse, a history professor at Princeton University and author of One Nation Under God, told CT.

    The two represent the type of “pragmatic spirituality” that Trump evoked throughout his campaign, with Graham advancing a political agenda and White a financial one, according to John D. Wilsey, author of American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion and an assistant professor of history and Christian apologetics at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

    Despite Trump’s Presbyterian identity and upbringing, mainline traditions are not represented among the half-dozen clergy involved, which include one Catholic and one Jewish leader. As Wisley noted, “his Protestants are evangelicals”—a crucial voting bloc that helped Trump win in November.

    Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham and president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, recently defended God’s role in securing Trump’s victory in November, and appeared alongside the president-elect during Trump’s “thank you” tour this month. Graham...

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