Christmas Day is on a Sunday this year, and just like in 2005, we hearing about churches cancelling their Sunday services because it is Christmas and they want to free people up to be with their families. I understand that the secular version of Christmas is about family and friends and gift giving and what not, and I'm not saying that there is anything wrong with that - those things are worth celebrating and Christians should celebrate them too. But, the Christian version of Christmas is obviously about Jesus and it just seems like a big cave to the secular nature of the holiday for churches to cancel their weekly Sunday worship service because it happens to also be Christmas Day.
Of course, the vast majority of churches ARE having worship on Sunday, but it is the ones that aren't that are attracting attention. Many of the churches that are not having worship are REALLY large - like of the 10,000 to 20,000 members variety. I say something about this here not to cast judgment on other churches (admittedly, I do not know every reason why every church cancels worship on a Sunday). But, since the megachurches usually set the trends for the rest of Evangelical Christianity (what the megas do one year, others seem to do in following years thinking that if the big churches do it it must be a good thing), I think that it is worth considering if this is the best approach.
My view is that it is better for churches to go ahead and have worship on Sunday (radical, I know), even if, perhaps ESPECIALLY if, that Sunday happens to be Christmas Day. Christmas is the day that Christians have chosen to celebrate the birth of Christ. It is when we celebrate the Incarnation, when God put on flesh and made His dwelling among us, when Jesus
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7 but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross! (Phil. 2:6-8)
Jesus went through a great deal to be our Savior, including being born very, very small, as a human baby, to live among us and take our sins upon Himself and die so that our sins would die with Him and raise from the dead to give new life to all who believe in Him. Worshiping Christ with the church on the day that we set aside to honor His birth, especially when that day is a Sunday, the day each week that we gather for worship to celebrate the Resurrection, seems like the appropriate thing to do.
It is not my intention to reduce our relationship with Christ to attendance at a worship service on a certain day. Obviously, that would be a mistake. I also do not take aim at individuals or families who, for different reasons, are genuinely not able to be in worship on Sunday - Christmas Day. I am not anyone's judge and do not intend to decide in every case whether an individual or family should or even could attend worship on Sunday. But, I do find it ironic that churches are cancelling their worship services on Sunday. Why would you cancel outright? Maybe a reduced, scaled down worship service would be appropriate. Worship in church on Christmas used to be one of the biggest days of the year. Now, we are cancelling services because some pastors/leaders say that it is better to stay home with our families and enjoy the day. What if there are even better ways to celebrate than spending the entire day immersed in consumer electronics, wrapping paper, and rich food? What if being in God's presence with the Body of Christ was actually better?
No, I don't think that you are going to hell if your church cancels worship on Christmas. But, I do think that it sends a message, as a church, about what your priorities are, and that is important too. I will not be looking around my church to see who is there or who isn't and judging anyone. I have no idea what each situation is and why people come and why they don't. But, I will worship God with whoever does come and thank Him for Jesus' birth and life and death and resurrection, as we do every Sunday as a worshipping community of Christ.
I know that some might say that I should not talk about this, that it is better to live and let live and not to make a big deal out of what others do. I am supposed to be positive all the time, especially at Christmas. Ok. But, I also know that Christ is a scandal, a stumbling block, and even an inconvenience. He messes with our traditions, customs, and cultural practices. He calls us to reorient around Him, not the other way around, and perhaps this seems strange to us. But, we are in good company if it does. 1 Corinthians 1:20-25 says,
20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.
We live in a country with complete freedom to worship how we choose and that can sometimes be a mixed blessing when choices are made according to what we prefer or what seems easiest to us. Everything is very convenient for us. We have air conditioning and heat and automobiles and comfortable seats and nice sound systems and messages tailored for us that are not too long with video and pastors who are entertaining and relevant and coffee and donuts and good friends and greeters and smiling faces and nothing that would make us uncomfortable. And, we have constructed a religion that does not really require us to sacrifice anything at all because it is all so wonderful and easy and hey, let's just spend time with our families at home in our pajamas and I'm sure that Jesus is okay with that. Maybe He is and I've got it all wrong. Maybe it doesn't matter to God if we cancel worship on Sunday because it is Christmas Day. Maybe God doesn't care if we celebrate Christmas at all. I don't know. I'm not trying to speak for God here. But, it just strikes me as strange, odd even, that those who are known by the name of Christ, as Christ-followers, would be ones who find it too inconvenient to worship Christ together on the day we celebrate His birth.
It just seems to me, that if we are Christians and if we are going to do a bunch of Christmas stuff because it is the time that we celebrate the birth of Christ and we say that Jesus is the "Reason for the Season," that it is contradictory to cancel worship on Sunday because it happens to be Christmas Day and we are used to having that day off. We only get a chance to have worship on Christmas day once every 6-8 years. Maybe instead of seeing it as an inconvenience, we could see it as a great blessing - something our children will remember and be thankful for. Perhaps we should see it as a chance to make a prophetic statement about what we value most - that we are people who orient our lives around Christ and the worship of the Saints together.
At the time of Christ's birth, there was no room for Him in the Inn and he was born in a stable among the animals. Let us make room for Christ in the midst of our traditions and festivities so that we can celebrate Him with the Body of Christ, His family, the children of God. Let us reorient around Christ, even at, no especially at Christmas.
"Let every heart prepare Him room . . ."
At LIFE Group this past Friday night, we were sitting outside by the fire and talking about prayer and fasting and how the discipline of fasting has a two-fold objective, which is to put away distractions and dependencies to bring us to God and then to give ourselves away to others. Gabe Posey, a member of our group, brought up The Apology of Aristides, which was a 2nd century writing by the Athenian philosopher, Aristides, that he delivered to Emperor Hadrian as a defense of Christianity. I had never heard of this, so I asked him to send it to me, which he did. This is really interesting:
But the Christians, O King, while they went about and made search, have found the truth; and as we learned from their writings, they have come nearer to truth and genuine knowledge than the rest of the nations. For they know and trust in God, the Creator of heaven and of earth, in whom and from whom are all things, to whom there is no other god as companion, from whom they received commandments which they engraved upon their minds and observe in hope and expectation of the world which is to come. Wherefore they do not commit adultery nor fornication, nor bear false witness, nor embezzle what is held in pledge, nor covet what is not theirs. They honour father and mother, and show kindness to those near to them; and whenever they are judges, they judge uprightly. They do not worship idols (made) in the image of man; and whatsoever they would not that others should do unto them, they do not to others; and of the food which is consecrated to idols they do not eat, for they are pure. And their oppressors they appease (lit: comfort) and make them their friends; they do good to their enemies; and their women, O King, are pure as virgins, and their daughters are modest; and their men keep themselves from every unlawful union and from all uncleanness, in the hope of a recompense to come in the other world. Further, if one or other of them have bondmen and bondwomen or children, through love towards them they persuade them to become Christians, and when they have done so, they call them brethren without distinction. They do not worship strange gods, and they go their way in all modesty and cheerfulness. Falsehood is not found among them; and they love one another, and from widows they do not turn away their esteem; and they deliver the orphan from him who treats him harshly. And he, who has, gives to him who has not, without boasting. And when they see a stranger, they take him in to their homes and rejoice over him as a very brother; for they do not call them brethren after the flesh, but brethren after the spirit and in God. And whenever one of their poor passes from the world, each one of them according to his ability gives heed to him and carefully sees to his burial. And if they hear that one of their number is imprisoned or afflicted on account of the name of their Messiah, all of them anxiously minister to his necessity, and if it is possible to redeem him they set him free.
And if there is among them any that is poor and needy, and if they have no spare food, they fast two or three days in order to supply to the needy their lack of food. They observe the precepts of their Messiah with much care, living justly and soberly as the Lord their God commanded them.
Every morning and every hour they give thanks and praise to God for His loving-kindnesses toward them; and for their food and their drink they offer thanksgiving to Him. And if any righteous man among them passes from the world, they rejoice and offer thanks to God; and they escort his body as if he were setting out from one place to another near. And when a child has been born to one of them, they give thanks to God; and if moreover it happen to die in childhood, they give thanks to God the more, as for one who has passed through the world without sins. And further if they see that any one of them dies in his ungodliness or in his sins, for him they grieve bitterly, and sorrow as for one who goes to meet his doom.
This gives us a great picture of the lifestyles of the early Christians. Apparently, they were dramatically different from the pagans around them. What I find of particular interest here is the statement above in bold that says that if there were any who were poor and needy among them who had no food, others would fast for two or three days to supply what was lacking in the poor in their midst. Those who had food would sacrifice for those who did not. This goes along with the injunctions about true, Biblical fasting in Isaiah 58:6-9.
6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
The perspective of the early Christians was that their life was not their own and that they were to sacrifice for one another. May we have the same perspective.
I was talking with a friend of mine about the church the other day and he mentioned how much he had grown to love the church. He said that there were certain people that he and his wife connected with that were really helping them grow and that they really enjoyed spending time with. He said that his experience of the church was great and he really enjoyed it. I was glad to hear it.
Then, a thought hit me. I told him that what he was experiencing was not the church. Or, it was just a small part of it. What he was experiencing was great – it was the love between brothers and sisters in Christ that we get to experience when we are in good relationships and when encouragement is flowing from one to the other in really positive ways. But, that wasn’t really the church – at least not all of it.
I told him that the “church” really happened when he spent time with someone that he didn’t really like, when he gave of himself to others, and when he was with someone who aggravated him, but yet he persevered in relationship because they were unified in Christ. I’m not talking about tolerating sin here. I am talking about being in relationship with those that we don’t have much in common with – except for Jesus.
We experience the church when we forgive, when we overlook an offense, when we love sacrificially, when we give of ourselves. The church happens when we get outside of ourselves and we cross barriers, be they racial, social, economic, or just personality differences. The church really happens when people who are different and would not be together except for Jesus, begin to live life together because of Jesus.
Jew. Greek. Male. Female. Barbarian. Scythian. Slave. Free. Rich. Poor. Impressive. Invisible. Brilliant. Common. Broken pieces formed together to make something beautiful. Everyone and everybody.
This morning, I was reading Psalm 73 and it affected me greatly. It says that God is good, but the Psalmist lost his vision of that because he began to focus on the arrogant and wicked and how they seemed to prosper even though they didn't follow God. Why was this? Why did wicked, prideful people who had no use for God seem to do well in their lives, be healthy, and appeared to be free from burdens? I can hear Asaph, the Psalmist saying, "But, Lord, I have done everything right! I have followed you and trusted you and I am struggling and am not seeing success! And, these other people who don't do things your way, only exalt themselves, and have no desire to do right seem to have one success over another and don't seem to have nearly as many problems as I do. What's going on!" He goes on to say that the wicked are "always carefree, they increase in wealth." Then, Asaph says that he has kept his heart pure in vain - he followed God for nothing.
This is one thing that I love about Scripture. It is honest and it captures what we all think at times. In reality, we often follow God so that He will bless us and give us what we want. We want prosperity, health, and a good life. We follow God so that He will give us those things and so that He will protect us from evil and harm. We obey so that we will receive blessings and so that things will go well with us. When trouble comes we wonder what has happened. What did we do wrong? Then, we look and see people who do not follow God who are super successful and seem to be happy and we wonder if following God is really worth it. If they are going to be rich and healthy and happy without following God and we are going to follow God and still struggle and have problems, then what is this all for?
When the wicked prosper and the righteous struggle, it is actually a great blessing. It reveals our motives and what we really desire. It shows us how we see God as a means to an end and not the End Himself. It reveals to us how we are really just following God and obeying Him as a talisman to ward off evil and bring blessing. Our jealousy, envy, and bitterness over the blessings of those who we think do not deserve it shows that what we really want are those same blessings - our hearts have been captured by what the world has to offer - and we use God to get them. We use God to gain control and secure blessing and keep evil at bay. This is Christian witchcraft, plain and simple, and it is not just the prosperity preachers who are guilty. We are all guilty when we see God as the means to some understanding we have of blessing apart from just being in His presence.
I took a deep breath, stepped off of the plane, and began the journey into mystical India. After traversing oceans and continents, it was time for my return to this far off land. The Indira Ghandi Airport is much improved and the long walk to immigration and baggage claim helped orient me to my new and not-so-new surroundings. Changing money, the man in the Thomas Cook uniform miscounted, shorting me 2000 rupee. I counted for him and he addressed the error. We stepped into the warm night amidst the cars, buses, and hundreds of people looking for and giving rides. There is always that moment of hope in the midst of the unfamiliar, that someone would be standing there with your name on a placard, even if it is misspelled. You are far away from home and are looking for anything familiar - anything that tells you that you are not on your own - even it is is your own name misspelled.
Nothing. But, we have been through this before. People are not where they are supposed to be. Something happens. A car breaks down. Plans change. Miscommunication. We called the hotel and they said that they had sent a driver, but he was broken down, so just grab a taxi. That is an adventure, to be sure, because you never know who you are dealing with. A man comes up to the 6 white people with bags on their shoulders and offers us a ride. We tell him we are going to the Hotel Classic Diplomat and does he know where that is. He says, sure, and we then start haggling price.
"1800 rupee," he says.
"Too much. No deal," I say.
"Okay then, no deal." he says. So, we start to walk off, but then hesistate to see his next move. You NEVER accept first price in India. Plus, he was charging 300 rupee per person ($6) for a very short ride up onto the freeway. Robbery.
After a few steps, he comes back and says, "1500 ruppee, but no more."
"1200 rupee and you have a deal," I say.
1200 rupee it is.
He takes us to the place to wait for the car. We tipped him 100 rupee.
Everything in India is up for negotiation. It is all one big dance, a flow down a meandering, yet often rushing river. You don't know where you stand, often. If you are looking for what is fixed and stable, you will only find it in relation to yourself, others, and the whims of the universe and all of that keeps changing as well. It is difficult to navigate a nation where there are few fixed points.
But, we are here and in being here I am reminded that in this place and at this time that God, the Creator is at work to reconcile all of the wild streams of India back to Himself and that He has grafted me into one of those wild strands, the children and hills of the Himalayas. I am here in the midst of the unpredictable to worship and be a child of God, a fixed place in a shifting envrionment, not because I am geographically rooted down, but because my God does not change like the shifting shadows. He is a God who can be worshiped because He is a God who can be known and who can and does reveal Himself to us.
In thinking of the relativism and constant negotiations in India and the fixitity of the essence of God, I am led to reflect on what my own worship looks like. Do I worship according to negotiations for the best deal, according to the price that I set or according to what seems best to me in the moment? That is the HIndu way - since all streams lead into one, it doesn't really matter how you get there as long as you are sincere.
But, the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob, is not to be approached as I see fit according to the moment, He is to be approached on the basis that He has established through the finished work of Christ on our behalf. There is a way to come to know and live in and through God - the Jesus Way, and it is not up for negotiation - it is threw faith in Christ alone.
But, we so often miss that way.
I hope to explore that way this week from Northern India with fresh eyes. I apprecieate your prayers as I seek to encounter Christ in every situation with the attitude and power that He gives. I hope to learn directly from the old sages who have brought the message of Jesus up to these hills years before - people the world has never heard of. Who knows what supprises will be waiting for me as I worship this way, clinging to the Cross, waiting for resurrection, enjoying surprises along the way.
I found a very interesting article today by Michael F. Bird called Counter Imperial Gospel: Only One King. It makes the point that during the early Roman Empire, the claims of "Jesus Is Lord" ran right up against the claim that "Caesar Is Lord" and it was very controversial and subversive. It is a short post:
As I read more of Greco-Romans sources, I’m increasingly convinced that the gospel would have been perceived as counter-imperial. Paul’s colleagues in Thessalonica were mobbed because: “They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus” (Acts 17:7). This story reminds of an an episode from Caligula’s life described by Suetonius (Caligula 22):
“Upon hearing some kings, who came to the city to pay him court, conversing together at supper, about their illustrious descent, he exclaimed,
Eis koiranos eto, eis basileus.
Let there be but one prince, one king.
He was strongly inclined to assume the diadem, and change the form of government, from imperial to regal; but being told that he far exceeded the grandeur of kings and princes, he began to arrogate to himself a divine majesty. He ordered all the images of the gods, which were famous either for their beauty, or the veneration paid them, among which was that of Jupiter Olympius, to be brought from Greece, that he might take the heads off, and put on his own.”
Evidently, Caligula did not like the idea of their being other kings in other lands. So one must wonder what his response would have been to the first Roman Christians who believed in King Jesus. Would the birth narratives of the Gospels that establish Jesus’ Davidic and Divine credentials be a potential rival to Roman claims about the origins of their Emperors?
The implications for us today involve the competition between Jesus as Lord and the existence of other king and kingdoms and empires that vie for our allegiance. As Christians in a North American context, we are used to thinking that we live in a Christianized culture, so we don't have to worry too much about idol worship or about a culture that tries to subvert our worship of God. But, we do. We actually live in a world that is set against us following Jesus so it constantly calls for our allegiance to it and to its ways, often violently so. If you really take seriously the call of Jesus on your whole life, you will run into ways in which the kindgoms of this world oppose you and call for your submission to them.
In the ways that we deal with money, sex, and power, we find that Christ gives us an alternative to the world system. In how we treat other people, in whether or not we love our enemies, in how we deal with our possessions, and in where we get our worth from, we find that a Christian who takes seriously the commands of Christ will find himself in contrast with the world and its dominant culture. This even happens in areas that are considered to be heavily influenced by Christianity. We find instead that those areas are often influenced by a cultural religion that in key ways are something very different than biblical Christianity (for example, the South during Segregation days when it comes to race or now when it comes to consumerism and material prosperity). To truly live for Christ will often mean that you have to step away from allegiance to Caesar, and that can be a very difficult thing to do.
We need an alternative community that can live out the implications of the Kingdom and the Lordship of Christ, what Eugene Peterson calls a Colony of Heaven in the Country of Death. Enter the Church.
On Wednesday at Gateway, Dr. Matt Jordan, philosophy professor at Auburn University - Montgomery and part of the fellowship at Gateway Baptist, will be teaching on a concept popularized by C.S. Lewis called The Argument from Desire. He sent me his notes today and I wanted to reproduce them here. I think that the intuitive argument for God and us being made for God here is very convincing, at least for me.
God and Desire (Matt Jordan)
1. Desiring the right things
People sometimes think that Christian faith is inherently opposed to desire. After all, Christians are called to be temperate and self-controlled, to restrain their appetites, to resist temptation, and so on. Indeed, James tells us that “each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (1:14-15). But it’s a mistake to think that desire itself is the problem here. The Christian view has always been that desire is evil only when it is aimed at the wrong things, or at the right things in the wrong ways. Consider this excerpt from James 4:
What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions…
“God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
More simply, there’s Psalm 37:4: “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”
There is nothing inherently wrong with desire. What we need to learn is to desire the right things in the right ways; to desire God above all else, and to receive his gifts as he would have us receive them. To be conformed to the image of Christ is, in large measure, to love the things that God loves. This is a big part of living in God’s “upside-down kingdom.” Compare the words of Jesus in Matthew 13:44-45 and Paul’s statements in Philippians 3:8-21 with the passage below from C. S. Lewis’s “The Weight of Glory”:
if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at sea. We are far too easily pleased.
2. Desire as evidence for God
In the spirit of 1 Peter 3:15, we should note that some of our desires—deep-seated longings for meaning, goodness, and “something more”—are evidence for the existence of God. Philosophers sometimes call this the argument from desire. Peter Kreeft of Boston College is one of its best-known proponents; here is how he explains the argument:
Claim #1: Every natural desire within us corresponds to some real object that can satisfy the desire.
Claim #2: There is a natural desire within human beings that cannot be satisfied by any finite thing.
÷ Solomon (Israel, 10th century BC): “God has set eternity in our hearts.”
÷ Augustine of Hippo (Algeria, 4th century AD): “Thou hast made us for Thyself, O God, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.”
÷ Pascal (France, 17th century AD): “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus.”
÷ Aldous Huxley (England, 20th century AD): “There comes a time when one asks even of Shakespeare, even of Beethoven, is this all?”
÷ Tom Brady (U.S.A., 21st century AD): “Why do I have three Superbowl rings, and still think there’s something greater out there for me? I mean, maybe a lot of people would say, ‘Hey man, this is what it is. I’ve reached my goal, my dream… My life is…’ Me, I think, ‘God… There’s got to be more than this. I mean, this isn’t, this can’t be what it’s all cracked up to be.”
Claim #3: Therefore, there is some real object that can satisfy these deepest longings.
Claim #4: That object is what we call “God” and “life with God forever.”
3. Questions for discussion
 Paraphrased from <http://www.peterkreeft.com/topics/desire.htm>.
 This is from the afterword to the third edition of The Pilgrim’s Regress, but I poached it from <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sehnsucht>. In case you’re wondering, “Kubla Khan” is a 1797 poem by Samuel Coleridge. Its opening lines are “In Xanadu did Kubla Khan/A stately pleasure-dome decree:/Where Alph, the sacred river, ran/Through caverns measureless to man/Down to a sunless sea.” I got that from Wikipedia too.
For many in the church today, worship has become entertainment - just one other thing to consume (or not) as we live in the land of endless variety. We have forgotten how to enter the presence of God. We talk about how awesome the praise band was, how good the choir sounded - or, we complain that the band wasn't upbeat enough or the service just didn't do anything for you or the preacher was boring, or too long, or didn't use enough stories. I don't think that worship should be boring, but I also don't think that we should be entertained. There is a difference between significance, high drama, meaning and entertainment.
Eugene Peterson in Practice Resurrection talks about what happens when we worship together.
Common worship, that is, corporate worship (worship 'in common'), gives the basic form and provides the essential content for this aspect of 'growing up' to the 'full stature of Christ.' Private worship while alone in semi-paralysis before a TV screen is not mature worship. Certainly we can worship in solitary. Some of our richest moments of worship will come while strolling on a beach or wondering in a garden or perched on a mountain peak. What we must not do is deliberately exclude others from our worship or worship selectively with like-minded friends. These are not options on offer in Ephesians. Maturity develops in worship as we develop in friendship with the friends of God, not just our preferred friends. Worship shapes us not onlhy individually but as a community, a church. If we are going to grow up into Christ we have to do it in the company of everyone who is responding to the call of God. Whether we happen to like them or not has nothing to do with it.
We are to join in friendship with the friends of God - not just our friends or the people that we personally like. This is key. We often make our choices about church or worship based on who is going to be there or if we think ahead of time that we will get something out of it. That is faithlessness. The real question is, "Will God be there? Will He meet with me? Can He speak through His people, assembled together from the ranks of the riff-raff and the unimpressive and the ranks of the least and last?" Do we believe that God can do something beyond what we can ask, think, or imagine even if we don't expect it?
In worship, we come to meet with God and God can do anything. When we come together in faith, He shapes us and forms us. Entertainment cheapens this and actually can push us further away from God because we are distracted by things that ultimately do not feed our soul.
How are we shaped by the Easter event? Life breaks forth from death. Death cannot hold the Son of God. He was crucified and died for our sins - the sins of the whole world placed upon the innocent Lamb of God. He who had no sin became sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21). But, death couldn't hold Him. He was raised by the power of the Holy Spirit. The tomb is empty. Death, the most sure thing in life that everyone must experience, was swallowed up in victory (See John 20).
Death has lost its sting.
Sin has been atoned for.
Sin has lost its power.
Satan has been defanged.
Jesus is the First and the Last. He is the Living One. He was dead, and behold He is alive for ever and ever! He holds the keys of death and Hades (Rev. 1:18).
God has rescued us from darkness and has brought us over into the kingdom of the Son he loves (Col. 1:13-14). He died for our sins, once for all, to bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18).
He is the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were (Romans 4:17).
The Resurrection proves that nothing is impossible with God.
Jesus is the Way. He is the Truth. He is the Life (John 14:6).
Yet, we often don't believe. We live with eyes shut, unhearing and unperceiving. He calls to us through the gospel, through the church, through Scripture and the Holy Spirit. He works on our behalf. He gives us rain and food and shelter and clothing. He gives us the air we breathe. But, we go on in our own way, living by our own truth, drawing from the strength of our own life, oblivious to the God who is at work all around us. But, He keeps calling.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6).
We are, by nature, wanderers. It started in the Garden when Eve and Adam reached for the forbidden fruit. At that point, separation, alienation, self-worship and self-focus entered the human experience. We tried to make ourselves gods. We made gods for ourselves, in our own image. We began to grasp and strive and look for our own pleasure. We were made in God's image, but it became distorted and, like Humpty-Dumpty who fell off the wall in the nursery rhyme, we could not put it back together again. We were broken.
But, we kept trying. King Manassah in 2 Chronicles 33:1-11 is a good example of someone who was raised in the house of God, but he went his own way. He forgot about his God. He tried to find his own way, live by his own truth, establish his own life. He didn't believe in the God of his forefathers, so he began to pursue other gods. He consulted witches and astrologers. He engaged in detestable practices. He led others to do the same. God warned him and warned him, but he wouldn't listen. Finally, God took him from his throne and put him in captivity. It was over for Manassah. He lost everything.
But, he did something surprising. He turned back to God and called out to Him.
God heard and rescued Manassah. It wasn't over for him afterall. Once God stepped into the picture, everything changed. God is the God of life and restoration and healing and hope. Manassah was set free and restored to his throne and he led Juday to repent and turn back to God.
This is what the Resurrection is all about. We can return to God. We can be born again. We can start over. Death and self and sin and this world system is not the final answer. God speaks to all of this and He sent His son, Jesus, as the definitive answer to what is real and true and sure. Jesus' way is one of sacrificial love, sacrificial death, and then resurrection by the Spirit of God. His truth is that He is the center of all things and that God has turned the world over to Him. His life is eternal and pure and is available to all who believe in Him, who turn from the worthless idols they make to Jesus, the Giver of Life.
Easter says definitely that new life in Christ is possible for all of us IF we throw our faith into Jesus. Maybe you feel locked in to death or sin or yourself. YOu have tried to change, but realize that you can't. Or, you have been seeking pleasure and hope and rest, but have found out that nothing satisfies the ache within you. Come to Jesus. He is your creator, your salvation, and your hope. He will forgive and restore.
Easter says that everything tainted by sin can be reversed and made new again. Even you.
Our church is observing Lent for the first time this year. We are actually bringing in the liturgical calendar in a modified form into our church calendar, which is kind of strange for Baptists. Baptists are low church, non-liturgical, non-sacramental Christians. Except, that we aren't. We just end up replacing the church calendar for our own calendar that primarily revolves around the civic calendar. So, prominent Sundays (in addition ot Easter) include Mother's Day, Father's Day, the weekend of the 4th of July, Valentine's Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas celebrations, in addition to other events. In thinking through all of this, we've decided that one way to more thoroughy embed the gospel story into our lives as a believing community is to reclaim the Christian tradition in a liturgical, but non-sacramental way.
Baptists are not sacramental. In other words, we do not believe that grace is conferred through the sacraments such as baptism, eucharist, or observation of the church calendar. We believe that the only sacrament is Christ and that we only receive grace through faith in Him. I agree with this. But, we go too far, I think, in making what we call the ordinances of the church (baptism/Communion) into nothing. We say that these things are "just" symbols, mere reminders. It has been observed that for many Baptists, Jesus is everywhere but in our observance of Communion (what we call the Lord's Supper). We basically fall all over ourselves explaining how He is not in the wafer or the thimble full of grape juice and that this is just a mere symbol. We try really hard to not be confused with the Catholics on this and I think that we are worried about nothing. No one is going to confuse us with the Catholics.
Once I got over my Protestant imposed "Catholic-phobia" (as well as Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian, and every other denomination besides Baptists), I started to look more deeply at the richness of Christian tradition and what it really means, or rather, what it could mean if you didn't assert that grace was conferred through practiciing it. I began to discover that the current Baptist fascination with nothing meaning anything was really not very helpful when it came to rooting a church in the gospel story. The more that I thought through the plastic, transitory nature of our culture, the more that I began to long for something that we could ground our collective story in - something that was bigger than ourselves and that transcended the local school holiday schedule for families. There had to be something more to our calendar than Christmas, Easter, and Super Bowl Sunday.
So, as I dug through Scripture and church history, I noticed that God instituted many holidays (holy-days) and festivals for His people, all as reminders of His saving work and as displays of His character. I had always been taught that those things were irrelevant. Now that we had Jesus, we didn't need all of that. Well, that is true from a salvific sense, but we don't go to church every Sunday to attain salvation. We go to meet with God and be reminded of His saving work in our lives. We go to declare the praises of Him who called us out of darkness into His wonderful light. We go to gather together and become attentive to God together. This perspective brings me to Lent and how a non-sacramental, Baptist church can practice it.
Lent is the traditional period of fasting and preparation for Easter, beginning on Ash Wednesday and lasting for 40 days. It will begin this Wednesday, March 9th. Instead of seeing it sacramentally, we are encouraging people to observe Lent by taking extra time to focus on God. Are there any attachments in our lives that we might benefit from laying down? What can we put aside for a time to help us focus on God more clearly? It might be food, a meal, technology, television, or some other form of entertainment. Is there anything in your life that you have become dependent on, that if you laid it down, you would have more time to spend with God to be more attentive to Him and His ways? Then, according to the principles of fasting in Isaiah 58, how might you use what you have freed up to bless those in need and reflect the character of God into the lives of others? Instead of seeing Lent as sacramentally, we are seeing it positionally - how can observing Lent over the next 40 days position us to better love God and love other people?
Those are all questions that we are exploring as a believing community. I am praying that we will see personal and corporate breakthroughs as we enter into this time of fasting, prayer, and changing of priorities. I am praying that we see this as a means of aligning our lives more closely with Jesus' story. Last night, we spent some time in prayer and preparation before the Lord, repenting, asking for healing and deliverance, and aligning ourselves with His purposes. We prayed for the team of 23 headed to Guatemala this Saturday. Mostly, we prayed for God to change our lives.
Now, we believe God for transformation.
Did you know that only arround 16% of Christians claim to read the Bible every day? I saw that in a poll last year. I know that we are to hide the Word of God in our heart and that God doesn't love us less if we don't actually read the Bible everyday, but apart from rationalizing away spending time with God and in His Word, there is really no real reason as to why Christians don't make an attempt to meditate on Scripture every day. With all of the technology and resources that we have, it is more convenient now than ever to be shaped and formed by God's truth. When you also consider that the average American is bombarded with approximately 3,000 advertising messages a day trying to get you to buy merchandise and shape your identity according to the marketplace, immersing yourself in Scripture is more important now than ever for those who want to be spiritually formed into the image of Christ.
So, here are a few resources for spending time in God's Word every day:
http://www.biblegateway.com has a host of Bible reading plans. Most of these reading plans are similar, but you can choose between multiple options on the length of the plan and even have updates emailed to you. Here is a good link: http://www.biblegateway.com/resources/readingplans/
http://wwww.crosswalk.com has a lot of devotionals, articles, and Bible study tools related to the spiritual life. It is always changing and updating and I use their site for Bible study regularly. Check it out at http://www.biblestudytools.com/.
One Year Bible Online has a quite a few Bible reading plans and devotional helps. If you want to read through the Bible in a year or a few months, you can choose options that aid you in this. Sometimes it is hard to stick with something like this, but that is why it is a discipline that needs to be cultivated. One Year Bible Blog is full of commentary on each of the One Year Bible Readings and is a great companion FULL of information on every Scripture passage that you will read throughout the year. I highly recommend it!
If you want to memorize Scripture, my friend, Tim Brister has developed a way to memorize the book of Philippians between today and Easter Sunday. If you would like to join them, he gives instructions on how to do this. Check out his post that gets everyone started today with the words of Jesus in John 15:1-8. Timmy also has a PDF that breaks down Philippians into daily readings with tips for memorizing the whole thing. Many of us don't spend time memorizing Scripture anymore and this would be a great discipline to get the Word into our hearts.
So, no matter what your situation, you can make a decision to interact more deeply with the Bible every day in 2011. How do you think your life would be different if you positioned yourself to live in a more God-centered way? It all starts with a devotion to the Word of God and an obedience to what it says. The foundationo of a Godly life staring with combining the reading of the Word with daily prayer and dependence on God and His power.
What if THAT was your first resolution for the New Year?
Thinking through the message for Sunday (in which many in the Western Church will celebrate Ephiphany), I ran across Psalm 72. In contemplating the visit and gifts of the Wise Men, the worship of the infant Jesus by the lowly shepherds, and the overall fact that God chose to pull people from the margins of the society to worship Jesus at his birth, I have become convinced that God is trying to tell us something through this. The Wise Men were pagan astrologers from the East who were following a star that they thought foretold the coming of a great king. They were completely outside the religious establishment of the day and were also outside of the scope of Roman society and government as well. The Shepherds were at the bottom rung of society - illiterate, lowly, common. They were not exactly the people that we would at first expect would be the first to worship the King of Kings.
Regarding the Wise Men, or the Magi, many believe that they were from Babylon and they would have been introduced to Jehovah from the Jewish captivity there 500 years earlier (see Jeremiah 29) and the revelation of Daniel. Remember, that during the reign of Nebudchanezzer, Cyrus, and Darius, decrees about the God of the Jews were sent to the edges of the Babylonian and Persian empires, which butted up against kingdoms in India, Greece, and Egypt. These decrees would have spread beyond these empires to others lands as well through trade routes and oral histories, spurring other religious reforms and innovation throughout the known world (see Axial Age, as popularized by German philospher Karl Jaspers - think of the Biblical revelation to Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah, and Daniel and the corresponding decrees by the Babylonian and Persian emperors as the historical link that Jaspers cannot find). So, the Wise Men would have lived in this context.
Their coming to worship Jesus represented the nations coming to worship Jesus, as will happen at the end of the age. The gifts that they brought were also prophetic in nature as they spoke to who Jesus was and what would happen to him. The gold represented his kingship. In worship, we should recognize Jesus as Lord and King. The frankincense (incense) represented Jesus' priestly function (incense referring to prayer). Prayers should be offered up to Him as our Advocate before the Father. Finally, the myrrh was used as an embalming oil and it spoke of his coming sacrificial death. We can only approach a Holy God through faith in the sacrificial death of Jesus on our behalf for the remission of sins. All of this was arranged by God and included in the Biblical record to speak to the person and ministry of Jesus.
All of this leads me to Psalm 72:1-14. This psalm is originally about King Solomon, but it applies to the Messiah as well, as it displays the character of God:
1 Endow the king with your justice, O God,
the royal son with your righteousness.
2 May he judge your people in righteousness,
your afflicted ones with justice.
3 May the mountains bring prosperity to the people,
the hills the fruit of righteousness.
4 May he defend the afflicted among the people
and save the children of the needy;
may he crush the oppressor.
5 May he endure as long as the sun,
as long as the moon, through all generations.
6 May he be like rain falling on a mown field,
like showers watering the earth.
7 In his days may the righteous flourish
and prosperity abound till the moon is no more.
8 May he rule from sea to sea
and from the River to the ends of the earth.
9 May the desert tribes bow before him
and his enemies lick the dust.
10 May the kings of Tarshish and of distant shores
bring tribute to him.
May the kings of Sheba and Seba
present him gifts.
11 May all kings bow down to him
and all nations serve him.
12 For he will deliver the needy who cry out,
the afflicted who have no one to help.
13 He will take pity on the weak and the needy
and save the needy from death.
14 He will rescue them from oppression and violence,
for precious is their blood in his sight.
He will endure as long as the sun and moon through all generations. All kings will bow down to him and all nations will serve him. He will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help.
Theologian Stanely Hauerwas says, "Christians are called to nonviolence not because we believe that nonviolence is a strategy to rid the world of war. But, in a world of war as faithful followers of Christ we cannot imagine being anything other than nonviolent. And that will make the world possibly more violent because the world does not want the order it calls peace exposed as the violence it so often times is. Now, learning how to wait as a people of nonviolence in a world of war, you'll know what Advent is. Advent is paitience. It is how God has made us the people of promise in a world of impatience. And, Christ has made that possible for us to live patiently in a world of impatience."
This is stunning. Americans are notoriously pragmatic. We do what works - or, what we perceive works. So often, we take the commands of Jesus and strain them through the filter of what seems to be most effective for us in any given situation. The commands of Jesus regarding giving to the poor, living faithfully, turning the other cheek, forgiving others, etc., are often considered to be valid if we can see how they will work for us or for others. And, what determines best how something works? If it benefits us or advances our agenda. But, could it be, as Hauerwas has said here, that we are obedient to Christ NOT because we see it as a strategy to make the world a better place, or even (not necessarily what he is saying here) to make our own lives better? Could it be that we obey Christ because that is the only way that we can truly give witness to who He is? Maybe we are not supposed to help the poor because by doing so we be believe that we will end poverty. Maybe we are not to fight against injustice because by doing so we believe that we will eradicate injustice in this world. Maybe we are supposed to do these things because we cannot imagine being a follower of Jesus and doing anything different. I don't want to put words in Hauerwas' mouth here, but I believe that He is saying that we should live prophetically instead of pragmatically. I think he is saying that, instead of asking what works to achieve our desired ends, we should instead ask what gives witness to Jesus and His Kingdom.
Maybe if we lived prophetically instead of pragmatically we would not concern ourselves so much with results and instead, we would focus on what gives witness to Christ and what shows love to people. Perhaps the observance and discipline of waiting at Advent can help us to understand what it is like to not have everything we want but still wait patiently for the Lord's provision anyway.
Quote taken from this video.
"Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord." ~ Angel of the Lord to the Shepherds. Luke 2:10-11.
Joy is different from happiness. Being happy is related to our circumstances. It is related to our "happenings." If good things are happening, I'm generally happy. If bad things are happening, I'm not. Many of us ride up and down on waves of emotions caused by the current and winds of the various happenings in our lives. One day we're up. One day we're down. People ask us what's wrong and we tell them about so-and-so or this-and-that. Or, we're walking on air because we got that promotion or made that sale or something great happened with our children or someone likes us who didn't before. Our entire lives end up being based on the circumstances that "happen" to us.
Everyone wants to be happy, right? I mean, people want to feel good ,to look good, and to be good. We want to be liked and prosperous and have things go well for us. We want to be surrounded by people we love and people who love us. We want to be able to do want we want and have things go our way. Since life doesn't just hand us all that (despite what some might tell you), we attempt to secure it all for ourselves. We try and build a life that will guarantee us happiness. After all, isn't this what America was founded on - "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?"
To be happy, we'll do just about anything, take any drug, follow any number of steps, start and end relationships, change jobs, and change addresses. We'll do whatever it takes to experience our own version of happiness. "Well, as long as you're happy," we say. "I just want you to be happy," we tell our loved ones. It seems that the whole world is pursuing happiness.
Then, why are so many so unhappy? Why are rates of depression and the amount of medications taken for emotional issues so high? Why are there so many broken marriages, broken homes, and broken lives? Why are so many addicted to so many coping mechanisms and why are we so stressed? It seems that for all of our striving, we are less happy than we've ever been.
Enter Jesus. He didn't come that first Christmas to make us happy. He told us that we would have trouble in this world. He warned us that we would be persecuted and that people would turn away from us. But, through Him, we were promised great joy. Joy is different from happiness. Joy speaks to a deep abiding assurance and confidence. It is a bubbling up of satisfaction from a well that will never run dry. Joy transcends happiness and does not change with circumstances. It lasts.
Where does joy come from? It comes from the Lord. Look at this progression of Scriptures:
"Be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the Devil's schemes" Eph. 6:10-11.
"for the joy of the Lord is your strength" Nehemiah 8:10.
"You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand" Psalm 16:11.
The Devil is a theif who seeks to destroy our lives. How do we stand against him? By being strong in the Lord, not in our selves. We look to God, not our own abilities. Where does our strength come from? From the joy of the Lord. We stand firm in joy that does not change or fade. How do we find this joy? In God's presence. If I want to stand through the trials of life, I have to be rooted in joy instead of happiness. Happiness is based on what is happening in the moment. Joy is based on what is eternal. God doesn't promise us happiness, but He does promise us joy. I can only find joy in God's presence.
Here is a video that illustrates the difference between happiness as we define it and joy. The Africans in the video might not have much to be happy about because their circumstances are so bleak. But, they have joy because they are tapped in to something beyond themselves, even though we are suffering. We can learn a lot from this.
As we have journeyed through Advent this year as a family and as a church, I have found it to be a very meaningful time of expectation, hope, longing, and worship of God. I have talked with my kids about this a lot and they have said that they've enjoyed it as well. This whole season has been richer this year and, even though we have done lots of the fun Christmas stuff that we always do, it has all felt more right. The Christmas "stuff" has felt like it has been in its proper place. Advent has really helped with that.
I'm not wanting this season to end, so we are deciding to continue on with the very rich Christian calendar and jettison the world's expectation of what Christmas is supposed to be. I've been talking with the kids about the "Twelve Days of Christmas," which has been celebrated in church history as the time between December 25th or 26th and January 5th or 6th (depending on your tradition). Advent consists of the four weeks leading up to Christmas Day, and Christmas (or Christmastide) is generally thought of as the period between Christmas Day and Epiphany on January 6th, when the visit of the Magi is celebrated.
So, instead of having four weeks of shopping, parties, school plays, and general busyness during the time leading up to Christmas, we have Advent. And, instead of the whole thing being over on the afternoon of Christmas day when we all collapse in a heap of torn wrapping paper, a dying tree, unwashed dinner plates, cranky relatives, and presents we might never use still in our boxes, we actually continue the celebration for TWELVE MORE DAYS! My kids like this idea.
Here's what I'm thinking: What if for the 12 Days between Christmas and New Year, we explore creative ways to reflect the truth of the Incarnation, "God With Us"? That is what is celebrated at Epiphany as we look at Christ's revelation to the Gentiles through the Wise Men. What if we continue to give different types of gifts to one another that represent who Jesus is and what if we continue to serve others, bringing tangible expression to the coming of Christ?
What if Christmas didn't end on December 25th? What if it kept going, day after day, on through the new year? What if we celebrated Ephiphany and that launched us into a Christ-centered perspective on the new year and the revelation of God to man through Jesus Christ? What if we did all of this with intention and purpose?
I don't have this all worked out yet, and I am sure that it would be much easier for me if I were connected to the liturgical church, but the concept of marking time through the Biblical story of the person and work of Christ has become very appealing to me, in a non-sacramental sort of way. Perhaps, this is the way to recapture the story of Christmas and of Scripture in a way that is tangible and livable, without it becoming just a rote observance.
More thoughts later . . .
The Message says, "His ruling authority will grow and there'll be no limits to the wholeness He brings."
Ever increasing shalom. The Kingdom is come and is coming and Jesus is going to keep extending His reign and rule and will keep taking over. The Lord's Prayer tells us to pray this way: "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." We are told to pray for the coming reign and rule of God. We are to pray that the way things are in heaven will be the way that they are on earth. Those are Advent prayers. (Image included is Rembrandt's "Adoration of the Shepherds," 1646).
Isaiah 9:1-7, as we looked at yesterday, shows us yokes of bondage being broken, oppressors being put to flight, and military equipment being put aside and done away with. It shows light shining on those in darkness and joy spreading across the land. All of this happens because
One day, the desire of every beauty pageant contested will come true: there WILL be peace on earth. Of course, it is also the hope and prayer of all mankind. We all long for peace. We want the absence of war and striving, of hostility, pain, and death. We also want to see interpersonal conflict cease and to see people be able to get along. Most of all, we need peace between us and God. It seems like we are all at war with one another, with ourselves, and ultimately, with God.
The idea of peace comes from the Hebrew word, shalom, which is more than just the absence of conflict. It is the presence of right living, right relationship, and everything in life being ordered correctly under God's benevolent rule. The message of peace is the very work of Christ to put right a world gone wrong. It is a cliche to say that we want peace, as illustrated in the remark about beauty pageant contestants. We all want it, but we don't know how to get it. And, we don't understand the price that had to be paid to secure it.
Isaiah 9:1-7 says,
1 Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—
2 The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.
3 You have enlarged the nation
and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice
when dividing the plunder.
4 For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor.
5 Every warrior’s boot used in battle
and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
will be fuel for the fire.
6 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty
will accomplish this.
Advent is about looking back to Christ's first coming, recognizing that He has come into our hearts, and looking forward to His second coming. He has come and He has come to bring peace. There will be no end to the increase of His peace. His peace just keeps increasing and increasing in all who submit to His Lordship. In other words, everywhere that Jesus goes and everywhere that He is invited, He makes things right. He makes crooked paths straight and He fills in holes and levels mountains. He sets us all on firm foundations and He reconciles us to Himself and to other people. We get to experience this now, but it is all not yet fulfilled. But, it will be one day.
Christmas is a time that we recognize that Jesus is the Prince of Peace and He has come to bring right relationships and right living into the world. Armies have stopped fighting on Christmas to recognize the birth of the Prince of Peace. People put aside their differences and give to one another. Peace comes into our lives when we stop grabbing for control and we surrender our wills to God. Kris, one of our elders, said it that way this past Sunday. He was right. We have conflict because we want control. We receive peace when we quit trying to control our lives and we live rejoicing in Christ and trusting Him with all that we are and all that we have. For many, Christmas reflects this.
What if we lived this way all year long? What if Christians embodied the spirit of peace everywhere they went all year long and helped spread shalom (right living, right relationships) all over all year? This is what Jesus is ultimately bringing when He returns. He will establish His reign and there will truly be peace on earth. But, maybe we could help bring that into our daily experiences now. Maybe we could give witness to Christ by being in right relationship with God and others and by being peacemakers. I think that Jesus said something about peacemakers being blessed.
What if we gave gifts of peace at Christmas and all year round?
"Always winter, never Christmas." That is what described the reign of the White Witch after she had placed Narnia under her spell in C.S. Lewis' "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe." Aslan eventually freed Narnia from the White Witch's curse and restored springtime to the land with the aid of the Peter, Susan, Lucy, and Edmund. The frozen winter that encompassed Narnia and their waiting for deliverance gives substance to our thoughts about Advent and our eager expectation for the Christmas that IS coming.
As we wait for, or hope in the Lord, we will renew our strength (Isaiah 40). The Hebrew word for renew there means that we will literally exchange our weakness for God's strength. So, as we wait and hope for the Lord during this Advent season, we exchange our weaknesses for God's strength. As God's people look for the Lord in eager anticipation in the land-between, we exchange the weakness of our flesh and the bondage of the curse for the strength of the Lord and the freedom of the promise revealed in Christ. Deliverance is coming. The victory has been won. Christ has defeated death and decay and that victory is making its way into our full experience. Christmas is just the beginning.
Without Jesus and His deliverance, we are frozen in bondage. We have no hope. It is always winter but never Christmas. Jesus' coming brings a thaw to the world. He makes all things new. He is Christmas and Easter combined. He has come in history. He has come into our hearts. And, He is coming again. We have received Him and experienced Him, but we still find ourselves waiting for the consummation. We wait for things to be finalized, for everything to be made new. We live with the groaning of those who know that things are to be better, but have to wait to fully experience it. We are like children in December who cannot wait for Christmas morning. They dream about it. They hope for what is to come. They position themselves and prepare for what they are about to receive. They awake on Christmas morning and their expectations are fulfilled.
The awesome thing about what we are waiting for is that there will be no letdown. Since, as N.T. Wright says, faith, hope, and love will remain in eternity (1 Cor. 13:13), then we know that we will always be hoping for more of God - and He will not disappoint us. He will keep giving us more of Himself for all eternity and we will live forever with eager expectation (hope) of what is to come. We will continuously experience more of God but we will never experience all of Him. He is limitless.
Can you imagine? The expectation that we now feel as we wait for the Lord will one day be satisfied completely. And, we will have even more expectation - and more fulfillment! The world that we now live in can be well described as "Always winter and never Christmas," but life with Jesus is best described as Christmas and Easter together for all eternity!
We have much to look forward to.
I already posted this to my Facebook the other day, but wanted to put it here. You've probably seen it already as it has gone viral and around 10 million people have seen it so far. If not, check it out. It is a choir in Canada that sang Handel's Messiah in a local mall's food court. Awesome. This got me thinking. What if we took much of what we do in the church out into our community? What if we thought about what could benefit the community through the arts, education, service, counseling, peacemaking, and community development through gospel involvement? What if we gathered for worship and edification and then took everything else that we did out to the world? This video is amazing and it has me thinking what it means for the Word to become flesh and make His dwelling among us (John 1:14).
Incarnation. Emmanuel. Missio Dei.
Oh yeah. Watch the video.