You are currently browsing the monthly archive for December 2008.

Christians must discover contentment the old-fashioned way: We must learn it.

…It is commanded of us, but, paradoxically, it is created in us, not done by us.  It is not the product of a series of actions, but of a renewed and transformed character.

…This seems a difficult principle  for Christians today to grasp.  Clear directives for Christian living are essential for us.  But, sadly, much of the heavily pragmatic teaching in evangelicalism places such a premium on external doing and acheiving that character development is set at a discount.  We live in the most pragmatic society on earth (if anyone can ‘do it,’ we can).  It is painful to pride to discover that the Christian life is not rooted in what we can do, but in what we need done to us.   -Sinclair Ferguson, In Christ Alone 

The Christian life is anything but an exercise in self-will.  The gospel message is the quintessential anti self-help message—a message that says we haven’t, we can’t, and we never will.  We are powerless to save ourselves.  And get this, we are unable to change ourselves.

We offer zilch.

Salvation is of the Lord.  (-Jonah 2:9b, ESV)

A cruel reality for many of us is this: God helps those who can’t help themselves—a tough pill to swallow for us self-assured American believers who’ll beat ourselves to a pulp before we let anyone save us.  But unless we can somehow, by the grace of God, let go of our efforts to save ourselves, we never were saved to begin with.  How we need help!

As Ferguson reminds us, The Christian life is not rooted in what we can do, but in what we need done to us.

Helping ourselves isn’t even an option. 

We need something we can’t provide.

Advertisements

Could it be true, this Bethlehem story of a Creator descending to be born on one small planet?  If so, it is a story like no other.  Never again need we wonder whether what happens on this dirty little tennis ball of a planet matters to the rest of the universe.  Little wonder a choir of angels broke out in spontaneous song, disturbing not only a few shepherds but the entire universe.   –Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew 

Jesus came to earth and made it his custom to visit those the world had forgotten.  And so, we should do the same.  We can get out of our comfort zones and familiar ruts and enter the lives of others.  There are the homeless — who could use a hug.  The hungry — who’d appreciate a meal.  The elderly shut-ins — who’d welcome a smile.  The children of prisoners — who’d otherwise get no gifts.  Christmas is not the time to feel sorry for ourselves, it’s a time to reach out to others who may be just a tad bit more lonely, broken, and less fortunate than ourselves.

10 “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”   (Luke 19:10, ESV)

It is Christ who embraced us.

This Christmas, while we are busy stuffing our faces with hors d’oeuvres we wouldn’t gorge ourselves with on any other day of the year and telling one another stories of the past year’s business challenges and of vacations fit for a king — there is another world oceans away and quite possibly right outside our front door.  A world where young and old don’t feel much singing along to the tune of Deck the halls with boughs of holly — Tis the season to be jolly.  Sadly, for many, it is a world in which they have been abandoned by those who didn’t find it convenient or advantageous to love them any longer.  

Truth is, Christmas is for such unfortunates.

The Word became flesh.  Ultimate Mystery born with a skull you could crush one-handed.  Incarnation.  It is not tame.  It is not touching.  It is not beautiful.  It is uninhabitable terror.  It is unthinkable darkness riven with unbearable light.  Agonized laboring led to it, vast upheavals of intergalactic space/time split apart, a wrenching and tearing of the very sinews of reality itself.  You can only cover your eyes and shudder before it, before this: “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God… who for us and for our salvation,” as the Nicene Creed puts it, “came down from heaven.”  –-Frederick Buechner, Beyond Words    

For me, Christmas represents many mysterious truths.  The virgin birth to be specific.  It is also our annual reminder that the Son of God entered life as we know it.  It was that one certain moment when heaven and earth truly met at a sort of bizarre intersection.  God coming to earth.  The Creator visiting his creation.  The Savior fulfilling his mission to rescue the damned.  Go figure.

15  When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.   (-Luke 2:15-19, ESV)

A few years back, an acquaintance of mine brought to my attention his difficulty identifying with the idea that Jesus entered into the world on a silent night.  I’ve thought about that since.  Silence may have covered the hills of Bethlehem that magnificent night like a blanket covers a newborn baby.  You may have even been able to hear a pin drop on the floor of the stable if you listened close enough.  Even the livestock stood quietly by, not making a sound, bewildered no doubt.  But it was no silent world Jesus was entering.  Far from it actually.  It was a world much like ours. 

There was a massive census going on in Bethlehem and the hotels were booked—so much so that Mary and Joseph ended up in a barn.  People were waiting in line pushing their way to the front in order to be accounted for, moaning and mumbling the obscenities of the day I’m sure.  It was a world screaming with pain, suffering, torment, confusion, questions, and destruction.  A world overflowing with brokenness untold.  Lives, dreams, homes, bodies, relationships, hopes, and hearts torn apart.  It was a world littered with hate, war, murder, anguish, grief, confusion, sickness, and hostilities of every kind. 

These are the lives, places, and situations into which Jesus came.

And he still does today.

Christmas itself is by grace. It could never have survived our own blindness and depredations otherwise. It could never have happened otherwise. Perhaps it is the very wildness and strangeness of the grace that has led us to try to tame it. We have tried to make it habitable. We have roofed it in and furnished it. We have reduced it to an occasion we feel at home with, at best a touching and beautiful occasion, at worst a trite and cloying one. But if the Christmas event in itself is indeed—as a matter of cold, hard fact—all it’s cracked up to be, then even at best our efforts are misleading.   -Frederick Buechner, Beyond Words       

Miraculously, Christmas has somehow remained Christmas despite the continued efforts to re-name it and reduce it into merely a mega-shopping and spending spree.  Christmas has survived the deliberate onslaught to ultimately squeeze out the One who the whole holiday is about.  And Christmas remains  the day the entire known world stops and bows down in adoration, unless we miss it of course.
 
Jesus Christ in a manger hasn’t been replaced by Santa Claus on a sleigh.  
 
We are a culture consumed with distraction and content with avoidance, failing to recognize and ponder the magnitude of the real gifts our Lord Jesus came to bring.  The miracles of grace and peace and joy overflowing that Jesus came to bring get drowned out amidst all of the noise really. 
 
And the wonder of it all is that the Wonder is just as alive as he was that initial Christmas Eve—and the next time he comes, he won’t be the baby in a manger—he’ll be the reigning King.
  
With all of the glitz and glitter, the cookies and cakes, the giving of and gifts, the glee and laughter, the loves and lost loves, the eggnog and mistletoe, the tree and the trimmings, the sadness and sorrow, the reminders of Christmas’ past and hopes for brighter ones to come—in it all, may we simply visit with him.  May we get uninvolved with the busyness of it all so we  can be reawakened to the wonder of it all.  The wonder of why Jesus comes to any of us?  
 
8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
 14 “Glory to God
in the highest,
     and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”   (Luke 2:8-14, ESV)
 
May the Prince of Peace bring us peace to last the whole year round: Peace in our hearts, and peace in our homes.  For those of us who are peace fakers—may he make us peacemakers.  For those of us who are peace breakers—may he make us peacekeepers.  And for those of us who are peace haters—may he make us lovers of peace.
 
This Christmas, may the untold miracles of Christmas be ours.
The lovely old carols played and replayed till their effect is like a dentist’s drill or a jackhammer, the bathetic banalities of the pulpit and the chilling commercialism of almost everything else, people spending money they can’t afford on presents you neither need or want, “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” the plastic tree, the cornball creche, the Hallmark Virgin.  Yet for all our efforts, we’ve never quite managed to ruin it.  That in itself is part of the miracle, a part you can see.  Most of the miracle you can’t see, or don’t.  –-Frederick Buechner, Beyond Words 
 
   
The stockings of red and white with sparkled names are hung one by one.  The decorated tree  is surrounded as a guarded city—boxes and boxes lined up like soldiers decorated and spattered with shiny ribbons and bows.  The bright lights are set to dim, creating the ideal tone with thoughts of Yuletide.  The empty hallways are booming up and down with melodies humming shouts of glee.  And the dining room table is strewn in all it’s glory with food and drink as far as the eye can see, appearing as if it were adorned by Martha Stewart herself. 
 
If we are not careful to remember the kind of world Jesus visited some two-thousand years ago, we will be duped.  Just as hurriedly as we pack up and box up the bulbs and ceremic nativity scene in bubble-wrap (and take the tree to the closest recycle site)—we can just as quickly miss the messages of grace and wonder.  Back to life as usual happens without our even knowing it (that is if we ever remove ourselves from it to begin with).  With all of the excess of the Season and the slick-deliberate commercialization of the sacred, we skate right by Christmas, not even stopping to consider anything—let alone everything—that it so pointedly represents. 
 
1 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.   (Luke 2:1-7, ESV)
 
Its become just another Hallmark Holiday as a friend of mine is fond of saying—referring to the likes of Sweetest Day and Presidents Day.  No disrespect to George Washington or your sweetie pie, but the celebration of our Saviors’ arrival isn’t some faddish or special day designed just to sell some more greeting cards, get the day off work—or even make us feel a little better about this dog-eat-dog world. 
 
On our cultures mainstreet in many ways, Christmas has become nothing more than a holiday on steroids.  It remains tops among driving consumers (as if it were our primary function in life to get and get until we can get no more) out to the malls by the droves to trade-in their paychecks for trinkets and trash, even if it means signing off on the next who knows how many checks.  It has become our civic duty to see to it that our economy continues to have a pulse if we consider ourselves true-blue Americans you know. 
          
Let us remember this Christmas, that Christmas is about more than just another occasion to get deeper into debt—and it isn’t another Hallmark Holiday.
a blog about radical discipleship, the gospel of grace, a theology of the cross, Christian spirituality, the mission of the church in this world and whatever else on the same wave length that may be running around the brain of a hopeful Protestant.

follow me on twitter

My Blogs Elsewhere

Photo Credit

...just to be safe and ethical—there is a Creative Commons liscence on the photo. Here's the link to give credit where credit is due—thank you. http://www.flickr.com/photos/ shoebappa/1080642528/