Monday, December 24, 2012

 

Annual Christmas Post--The Mystery of Christmas

Hey y'all:

Since I started this blog about 8 years ago, I have posted a piece I wrote around Christmas 2003. It kind of sums up for me what is the "Mystery of Christmas" as I meditated on the Incarnation and its implications for humanity (and perhaps for God as well!). The very idea of God becoming "one of us among us" (Immanuel) still fascinates and overwhelms me. God, the creator of all things, entered his own creation so as to renew and redeem us (and, ultimately, all of creation as well). God, the Creator of all things, became flesh so that he might be the perfect sacrifice for our sins. The God who never knew death would die for us. The God who never knew sin would become sin for us. What amazing love! Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift! As you celebrate the first advent of our Lord Jesus Christ, I hope you enjoy this rerun. Feel free to make comments if you'd like.

A little over 2000 years ago, a tiny child was born in some pretty bleak conditions. Oh, he wasn’t the only one born in a bad state. In fact, in some ways, he was one of the lucky ones. He and his mother actually survived childbirth and thrived. Still, this story is unique and amazing on several levels.

First, this child would literally change the way time is reckoned in the world. His life and abilities would so impress generations of others that a brand new movement would be created, one that would radically change the very face of the earth (sometimes for good, sometimes for bad). His name would become recognized among the names of the greatest of humans, yet he never forgot his humble beginnings or lost a sense of who he was.

The second thing about this child is tied to the first in that this baby, this helpless lad full of spittle and mush, was born as the very Son of God. When Mary held his little head to her breast, he drank human milk. Yet, he was (and is) the God of the universe. Can you picture this simply ridiculous, yet somehow poetic scene? God, who calls the stars by name, pressed to the human breast for sustenance. Humble, yet almighty, is how most folks would no doubt recall this child.

A little over 2000 years ago, God proposed that the only remedy for the human condition of sin would be if he humbled himself, stepped out of eternity and into human flesh, and suckled at Mary’s breast in preparation for the greatest, most impressive conversion of all. God, in Mary’s arms, toddling around Joseph’s shop, learning to talk, learning to walk, tasting and touching things with human hands! As the Psalmist says in Psalm 139, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for us, we cannot contain it!”

God knew that the only way to redeem us was if he did it himself. Haven’t you ever had that thought? You know, the one where you say, “If I want something done right, I’ll just have to do it myself?” Imagine God having that thought about bringing us to proper relationship with him. Imagine again that the only way he knew he could do that is if he came to earth as a baby. Think of it—-how vulnerable the almighty God was at that moment, how paradoxical that the God of all creation had to learn to walk! And why did he put himself in this situation? Out of his divine sense of justice and righteousness, out of his inexpressible love for each of us he acted in this manner.

In a sense, he became insane that we may be sane. He became flesh so that we might walk in the Spirit. He became sin that we might be righteous. He became poor so that we might be rich. He who had the reputation of Creator became a humble servant with no reputation. He became a toddling, dribbling, helpless babe so that we could become mature humans in the image of the almighty Son of God. What wondrous love! What humility and service! How then can anything he asks of us be too difficult?

Lord, in this Christmas season, remind me of your sacrifice and love so that I might be a light shining in darkness to others. Teach me to live a life of humble service like your Son did on my behalf so many years ago. As I celebrate the babe in the manger, may the glory he revealed in his life shine through me towards others that they may know God. May the grace of God and the peace of Christ rule in my family and my life.

Thanks for reading!

Merry Christmas!

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Saturday, December 22, 2012

 

No Reputation--A Christmas Meditation and Plea

Philippians 2:5-9 NASU
"Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross."
This passage may not usually be associated with Christmas, but for some reason that is how it comes to me this year. Look closely at the passage above, then read the quote from The Jesus Style by Gayle D. Erwin below.

“Christ Jesus . . . made himself nothing.

“He made himself nothing, he emptied himself—-the great kenosis. He made himself no reputation, no image.

“I can recall my father shaking his head and repeating over and over to himself, ‘If only I knew what this meant. There is something powerful here. If I only understood it.’ Maybe that is why this Scripture has glued itself to my mind and equally disturbs me. Reputation is so important to me. I want to be seen with the right people, remembered in the right light, advertised with my name spelled right, live in the right neighborhood, drive the right kind of car, wear the right kind of clothing. But Jesus made himself of no reputation.”
Christmas in America means lots of things to lots of different people.

For some it becomes a political event that pits “the true meaning of Christmas” against the bias of some against religion. For others Christmas is just another time to visit families and to pretend to get along with each other. For others Christmas is a season that involves incredible profits (or expenses) and lots of activities. This year some may see Christmas as a bleak season filled with bad economic news and the dread of a new year. For still others Christmas is simply a winter break, a time to regroup for a new year.

I know I’ve left a large group out! There are those who see Christmas as the celebration of the birth of the world’s Savior. But I want to twist the prism a bit and look at Christmas from a different angle.

Almost all of the views above look at Christmas from the perspective of what humans gain from the season. I wonder if we can look at the season as something we can offer to others, a gift of sorts. I wonder, can we make a gift of Christmas? Can we this year find a way to give the "spirit" of Christmas to those around us?

Hear me out . . .

This passage from Philippians reminds me that Christmas for Jesus wasn’t about what he would gain. In fact, he lost just about everything! He left the comfort of his Father’s place, he became a tottering, dribbling little baby, he had to learn to talk, to walk, to eat, he left his riches behind for the poverty of a manger, and ultimately he would even become sin and even die, two things he had never experienced. As Paul says, he made himself of no reputation.

Imagine what Christmas would be like this year if those of us who follow Jesus would do as Paul admonishes here and have this approach to the season. Imagine if we actually attempted to have the same attitude towards others that Jesus has towards us! What would Christmas look like if we didn’t care about what we got out of it but became more concerned about what we could give to others? How would our world change if we laid down our lives . . . our reputations . . . our desires in order to bless others this Christmas? What if we even went further and did it anonymously, with no expectation of reward or recognition?

Ronald Reagan is credited with the saying “There is no telling what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit.” We don’t like that approach though, do we? We kick against it! I mean, we deserve to be recognized, don’t we?

You came up with the idea that made the company money, shouldn’t you be rewarded? Maybe you found a problem and fixed it, and that fix saved someone’s job. Shouldn’t you be shown gratitude? Maybe you did some kindness for someone you knew couldn’t pay you back, shouldn’t you get credit for that? You gave that money to charity, shouldn't someone say "thank you"? You gave of your time to that charitable organization, shouldn't there be some "benefit" in it for you?

Don’t we all think that we should be center stage, center of the world, the most important person in the world? How many times have you heard “I quit going to that church because MY needs weren’t being met”?

No reputation.

Let that sink in.

NO Reputation!

No fame, no credit, no automatic acceptance, no celebrities, and no place where who you know or what you know earns you admittance or recognition.

Jesus made himself of no reputation. The very God of the universe became nobody. He emptied himself, he became a servant. As Isaiah said, he was not handsome or attractive in such a way as to draw attention to himself. He lived to give attention only to God. He had "no reputation."

Ouch!

We love our awards, the acceptance of others, the glamor of being “somebody,” or the wonderful happiness of fame, don’t we? We like to be recognized, remembered, acknowledged, accepted, and celebrated.

“Don’t neglect me” is the motto of many in our society and our churches.

The motto of Christ and his followers should be “No reputation.” God chooses such people to further his agenda. Will we be involved, or do we like our perks too much?

In Job 1, Satan appears in God's court. God acknowledges the good job done by Job, and asks Satan if he has noticed what a righteous person Job has become. Satan's response is a tough challenge: "Does Job fear God for nothing?"

Think about what the evil one is implying here. He is asking, "Will a human serve God with no expectation of something in return?"

Will humans serve God for nothing?

That hurts, doesn't it? Even the mere thought of it as a possibility smarts a bit. Surely the mighty God of the universe wouldn't expect me to show him respect and serve his purposes without expectation of payment for services rendered, right?

RIGHT? (yeah, the question kinda lingers harshly, doesn't it?)

Will you serve God for nothing?

Can we humble ourselves to the point where we realize that God owes us nothing? Quite literally, we have done nothing to merit a reward. Even our service is a response to his continued mercy.

Will we, like Christ, humble ourselves to the point of no reputation? Are we willing to be "nobodies" in God's service, among his people, even among those who ought to "recognize" us?

What would Christmas look like this year if we (all of us) decided to give with no expectation of return? What if we humbled ourselves and expected no acknowledgment? What if we chose to serve anonymously and to bless others without receiving a blessing in return? What would happen?

What can you do this Christmas season that will bless others and garnish no reputation for you? Who can you serve that can't repay you? This year let's commit ourselves to serving, giving, and loving as Christ did. Let's look for opportunities to bless others in a way that does not give us recognition. Instead of asking for things for ourselves, let's give to the needs of others. Instead of expecting gifts, let's give our lives away in blessing others.

How would that change Christmas in your neighborhood?

Thanks for reading!

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Friday, December 14, 2012

 

One Response to Tragedy and Grief

I sit here in my comfortable home and realize that my almost 8 years in Virginia have been at times chaotic. The month before I moved here, my father passed away after an extended illness.

Ten months after moving here a cousin close to my age passed away unexpectedly.

Then in October 2005, a pastor friend in Waco passed away unexpectedly. He was electrocuted during a baptism. He was 33, had a wife and children. More grief!

In December 2005, a very dear friend died in Waco. He was 44, healthy, and died in his sleep. No one knows why.

In the Spring of 2006, my aunt (the mother of the cousin above) passed away after a time in the hospital.

Then in the summer of 2006, one of my best friends died in a plane crash. More grief!

In 2007, there was the tragedy at Virginia Tech and the death of Jerry Falwell.  Even more grief and sadness.

Many of these tragedies and experiences of grief have been documented on my blog.  I am sure there are others, but I can't recall them at the moment. 

Then comes Friday, December 14. A sick person kills almost 30 people on the campus of school in Newtown, Connecticut.

The news of the event makes many people numb, angry, even scared.  I don't know how to respond. I mean, so many lives ended in an instance.

How do you move on? What do you do?

I feel so (what's the word?) angry, upset, sad. . . . I'm not sure what to say.

The shock of hearing about these untimely deaths (is death ever timely?) is bad enough, but this sudden bit of bad news has hit some people harder than I would have imagined. You see, grief comes knocking on our door, and he (Grief) was not expected. We weren't prepared, in fact we were getting ready for the celebration of the birth of Jesus, the Prince of Peace.  We were in the middle of celebrating Hanukkah, the festival of lights and of dedication in which the story of a mighty miracle by God is told.  And in the midst of these holy seasons, Grief came for a visit!

As a result, we don't know how to act or what to say!  Some of us are actually in shock!

Grief often shows up at the most inopportune time. He is seldom a welcome guest and even more rarely an invited one. He walks in unannounced and tries to take over the household. Grief immobilizes you. It makes you stop and hurt. I guess grief is useful, but when you are experiencing it you just want it to stop. You want the uninvited pest to go away. Something important was taken away without our permission!

Grief has come to us, he came uninvited. We will walk a while with Grief, probably in silence. In the end, we will still miss our friends or family members, but hopefully we will cherish life more.

Grief is not my friend, but he helps in some ways, I guess. Grief came knocking on our door, and we didn't check to see who it was before we answered. Now Grief is a guest in our homes again. How long he'll stay is anybody's guess. He'll leave quietly one day and the only evidence that he was there will be the memory of our missing friends and a few tear-filled tissues. Grief will go, but hopefully he will leave us wiser and more grateful.

Don't misunderstand me . . . I'm still confident in God's character.

I know God is faithful and good.

But this whole thing is just so wrong.

I hate death.

Yes, I hate it.

On the day when Death and Hades are kicked into the bottomless pit, I will stand and cheer. I will dance about wildly, flinging my arms and body in all sorts of directions in praise of a great accomplishment--greater than any touchdown, home run, or pay raise. I will celebrate madly the final death of Death. I long for the day.

For now, we will pray and grieve, though.

On the other hand, please remember that your grief is not in vain. Let it work a good work in you. Don't use it as an excuse to turn to anger or bitterness, but rather use it as a reminder to cherish those around you more, to revel in the friendships, the relationships, the life you have today.

Let grief drive you to enjoy the good in life today! Let it push you to a kind and merciful God who knows how to see you through it.

Let grief be the tool that causes you to appreciate life.

Life is precious, may we remember to cherish it and to nurture it.

I know, it is time to turn off the rant. You've heard enough.

Remember to pray for the community of Newtown, Connecticut and the friends and families who are hurting now.

Remember to express your own grief (or anger or sadness), to develop an appreciation for life.  You are precious.So are those around you. Cherish them, cherish the moments, the "little" things.

Okay, I'm done.  I'm praying for mercy and grace in this time.  May the Prince of Peace chase sadness away and give us true peace.  Blessings!

Thanks for reading!

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