Christmas Waiting

It’s hard to wait. Right now, as I write this, I can think of three big things that I’m waiting for. I don’t like it. Everything within me wants to twist and lurch about in the reins, anything to feel like I’m moving closer to my goal.

But that isn’t the way of God. Our God, so slow and methodical, plods away, patiently working out the details of our salvation. Me, a tiny speck and no more, bolts around, believing I’m actually accomplishing something.

Christmas, every year, is a reminder to wait. For almost a solid month, we begin the process of celebrating Christmas Day. We decorate, we shop, we go to parties—everything leading forward to the day.

This advent waiting is practice for the bigger waiting of our lives. We are waiting for the day that creation groans for—the day of full redemption of our bodies and souls. All that has been broken will be made new, the lion will lay down with the lamb.

So we wait, not as one without hope, but as one who has been invited to the best celebration ever. We will get ourselves ready and patiently prepare because even Christmas has nothing on this.

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The Gift of Transformation

Many of you are aware that some of our cherished Christmas symbols (like the tree and the wreath) were originally a part of the pagan festival celebrated on December 25th. Instead of shunning these symbols, the early church adopted and transformed their meanings. No longer do they hold any hint of paganism to us–now the tree represents sacrificial life and the wreath the eternality of God’s love.
This is God’s great business–transformation! He takes all the twisting of His glorious will and instead of being defeated (as though that were possible), He weaves a new image of grace upon grace and hope where we think hope would be impossible.
Let’s learn from the early Church and our Lord! Whatever is thrown at you, no matter how evil or hurtful, do the beautiful work of transformation by applying the truth of the Gospel. In this way, the message of Christ’s redeeming work will be visually displayed in our lives.
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Humble Theology

I’ve been studying the Bible for the twenty years that I’ve been a Christian. I attended Bible college and peeked over the shoulder of my seminary-attending husband. I’ve gone to conferences, done studies, and led my own studies. Despite all this, I realize what an amateur I am. I love God’s Word, but I am under no delusion that I have mastered it in thought or action. Instead, every time I approach His Word, I am careful to approach it in humility knowing that I am exploring only the parts the light can reveal.

I also approach it knowing that there are parts I will misunderstand and might even get plain wrong. This doesn’t discourage me though because what the light reveals is plentiful and challenging. What it does do is hopefully quell some of the spiritual pride I might have, especially when I think I’ve really “got” something.

Believers, we are often caricatured as angry know-it-all’s. Perhaps a little humility will help restore the image we’ve tarnished. I love theology and have no interest in compromising what I know to be core beliefs; however, can I communicate this in a way that doesn’t say I’m right and you’re wrong?

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The Christmas Light

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I’m a sucker for Christmas movies. Every year, the day after Thanksgiving our family pulls out the well-known Christmas movies such as Polar Express, Elf, and The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.  Surprisingly, these Christmas movies and others dabble in issues of faith, hope, and deeper meaning within ritual.  However, each of them falls short of the true hope found in Christmas.  Here we see the hint of an unfulfilled desire–the desire to believe in something pure and good and undefiled by the greediness of man.  Perhaps the problem is that our own Christmas promise is not articulated in a way that speaks to this hope–we do not adequately express the anticipation of the season.  Instead, our Christmas message is a checking off of the list of nativity events, stripped of the powerful context of human need.

We enjoy Christmas movies because they have an aroma of the supernatural despite being entrenched in the daily quagmire of life.  We are offered a taste of the divine through our rituals and family celebrations.  The phrase “peace on Earth and goodwill towards man” fills us with a longing for a world where dreams come true and the hurt and pain of life are erased.  This longing is real, and it is the place where we can truly begin to consider the incarnation of Christ.  

It Begins With Longing

Before we can offer the great news of God becoming man, we must depict the longing we all have for something perfect.  Christmas is an excellent time to do this!  With Christmas around the corner, we all have a list of things we would like to own (be honest).  We imagine the perfect Christmas day spent with family or friends, or we mourn what we know cannot be.  In every hope, there is a longing and an unmet desire.  What if we extended that longing to our world entire?  What would be the perfect world?  What would it look like and how would people act?  We might imagine the things that would happen in order to create a place of beauty and peace.  Let’s not stop there–what about ourselves? What would it take to make us be the people we wish we could be?  What would change to make us people of peace and joy?

It is in this moment that true longing is awakened because we understand that the change we crave is not just for the world, but it is for us.  It is here that the mystery and glory of the incarnation come to us, for now, we can see Christmas is not about what happens out there–it is very much about what happens within us.  

Light in the Darkness

To imagine this visually, I want us to picture a world cloaked in darkness–a darkness so deep that you cannot even see your hand in front of you. To borrow Byron’s description from his apocalyptic poem “Darkness”:

The bright sun was extinguish’d, and the stars

Did wander darkling in the eternal space,

Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth

Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air;

Now imagine in this infinite darkness, a spark of light.  Consider how overwhelming this tiny light would be in a sea of darkness.  What if this light grew and grew until all was like day?  How glorious would that be?  How awe-inspiring?

When God created the world, darkness was over the face of the deep.  He spoke “Let there be light” and the light burst into existence.  C.S. Lewis captures this in Magician’s Nephew when describing the creation of Narnia:

The second wonder was that the blackness overhead, all at once, was blazing with stars.  They didn’t come out gently one by one, as they do on a summer evening. One moment there had been nothing but darkness; next moment a thousand, thousand points of light leaped out–single stars, constellations, and planets, brighter and bigger than any in our world.

This was not the last time such light was to break into the world.  Instead, John draws a parallel between this momentous occasion in history and Christ’s birth.  “In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:4-5 ESV).

A Reminder Every Day

Every morning when the sun rises to dispel the darkness, we are invited to once again consider the impact light makes in our world.  God began everything with the beautiful display of created light and then comes Himself as light incarnate to a world in darkness.  The psalmist recognizes this and states in Psalm 130:6, “my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than the watchmen for the morning.” They wait for the morning because the morning is a time of hope and a reminder that they have survived the night.

On Christmas day over two thousand years ago, the Son arose and brought with him a promise of peace and safety.  His light still shines for those who have eyes to see. This Christmas, consider the light.  As you gaze on your tree and your homes adorned with the living example of light bringing beauty and surprise in the darkness, consider that the light has come. Isaiah prophesies this event several hundreds of years prior when he says: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them a light has shone.” (Isaiah 9: 2 ESV)

Let this thought help us anticipate the wonder of Christmas morning when we celebrate the true Christmas light that is still shining. 

 

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The Personal Point

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One question that constantly repeats through my mind is “what’s the point?”  This question helps me evaluate things in my life and whether it is needed. As a teacher, I ask this to increase the effectiveness of my lesson plans. The more extraneous things I remove from my lesson, the better it becomes. This also works in my life too. For me, asking the purpose of things helps me to see if my activities fit into the greater vision of my life. As a Christian, I have a large and multifaceted vision including loving others, studying God’s word, being involved in church activities and more. At times, though, this vision, great as it is, can be a hindrance to me really walking the Christian walk.

The church of Christ is a busy church with lots of activities and plans. We want to serve God and serve others, and we often give sacrificially, some to the point of burn out. It’s often hard for us to find time for rest because we feel guilty if we stop these activities that mean so much.  However, we are in danger of a person-less relationship if we live in this way–we may be living according to a vision, but perhaps that’s not the point.

Jesus Followed a Person, Not a Vision

Jesus did not really live according to a vision. Instead, he chose a person–His Father–to follow and obey.  Jesus’s great ministry was not founded upon an idea, but His Father. This point is communicated over and over again in the book of John.  When the Jewish leaders were angry at Jesus for healing on the Sabbath, “So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.” (John 5: 19 ESV). Jesus waited to see what God was doing, and He joined Him.

We forget that Jesus did not come out of his mother’s womb proclaiming the message of God.  He quietly lived with and served his family.  It was part of God’s plan, this waiting.  I almost wonder if Jesus was impatient to begin.  Did he look around and see the need and question when He would be ready to get started?  Perhaps though the wait did not have to do with Jesus’s personal readiness.  Maybe God was waiting for Jesus’s family to be in a place of sustainability.  With Joseph most likely dead, Jesus, as the oldest son, would have been providing for his mother and siblings. They needed Him. And even on the Cross, Jesus made sure to make provisions for her. Jesus was not in such a rush to fulfill His grand purpose that He did not take care of even the more mundane aspects of life.

Missing the Point

Today the church has a great vision, but we’ve forgotten the person.  When we do this, we forget what being a follower is about.  It is not always about running ourselves ragged for the cause of Christ.  It is instead about quietly sitting at the feet of Jesus–to receive love and to receive instructions.

Richard Swenson in his book titled, Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time to Overloaded Lives, explains that

We must have room to breathe. We need freedom to think and permission to heal. Our relationships are starved to death by velocity. No one has time to listen, let alone to love. Our children lay wounded on the ground, run over by our high speed good intentions. Is God pro-exhaustion? Doesn’t He lead people beside still waters anymore? Who plundered these wide-open spaces of the past, and how can we get them back?

Mary understood this quite clearly. While her sister Martha ran around serving others in the grand vision of taking care of Jesus, Mary sat at his feet and let Him take care of her.  When Martha complains,, “But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”  Mary is not one who misses the point; instead, she chooses what is most valuable.

The Point of the Gospel

And this right here is the Gospel–God calls you not to the vision of the Cross, but to the man hanging on the Cross. You are not just to follow principles of truth, you are called to follow the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  You cannot just know about Him, you must know Him.  And this is done by waiting and listening.  

When the calling of our lives starts clamoring in our ears, we need to stop and hear His voice.  When we are swept up the busyness of serving God, we must sit quietly at his feet.  We must every day be careful to choose the person and not the calling because the calling can change.  Just like Jesus–one day he was a dutiful son and brother and the next He was being baptized and sent out.  We must focus only on recognizing his voice when he calls.  In John 10:4, Jesus says, “When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.”

When we do this, it is easy to see the point. The point isn’t to accomplish anything except knowing Him more. When that comes first, the needed margin we need in our lives can be found. We won’t feel guilty for that time of quiet because nothing can be more important than making sure we have ears to hear his voice. And then, when we do this, the world will really see what the point is–it is Him.

 

 

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

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