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christmas

December 26, 2009

Yesterday was a good day. How could it be otherwise, really? We were together as a family: my parents, my brother, my three sisters with their husbands and children and, of course, my wife and kids. It was a wonderful kind of chaos as the twenty-one of us crammed into quite a small house to celebrate Christmas. We laughed and ate and exchanged gifts and cuddled nieces and nephews. But mostly we just talked. It was beautiful.

One thing we did not do was any overt celebration or remembrance of Jesus’ birth. This has never been part of our family tradition, perhaps because my parents were not raised as Christians and hence did not have it as part of their background. Or perhaps because when they were saved they found themselves in conservative, Scottish-influenced circles where Christmas was not celebrated in that way. Either way, our family has always loved Christmas and has always been grateful to God for it, but without specifically making it a day to celebrate the birth of Christ.

There has been a sense in which I’ve felt a little guilty about this, especially when so many Christians heap so much attention on this day. For a while it seemed that we might have been among a majority of Christians; today is seems that we are part of a slim minority. That’s how it feels, anyway.

And yesterday, as I thought about this, I realized that I really have no cause to feel remorse or regret. What gives December 25 its value is not that we dedicate it to special remembrance of the birth of Jesus, though certainly that is a fine thing to do (Romans 14:5). What gives December 25 its value is that Jesus is alive. It is another day for each of us, given in trust and given in love. It is a day we are to use in God’s service and for God’s glory. For some this means setting it aside as a day to mark Jesus’ birthday; for others it means spending time with family and friends and enjoying the good gifts of family and fellowship—these things that have inherent value in being blessings from the hand of God.

I suppose it comes down to this: we do not need to attribute to the day any extra meaning or any extra significance in order for it to be a valuable day or in order to wring from it its greatest worth. The greatest significance of December 25 is that it is a good gift from a good God given for our delight and his glory.

December 12, 2009

One of the things I enjoy about blogging is that a blog is, in a sense, a living media. It is a reflection of my life, of what I am thinking of at a certain time or in a certain place. Occasionally I go back and read something I wrote years ago and post it again, offering new reflections on it or even just leaving it as-is. Such is the case today as I began thinking about an amazing (and seasonal) word. This one was first posted about 18 months ago.

*****

For the past few weeks I’ve been transfixed by a word. That may sound a little bit strange but it is exactly what’s happened. It keeps coming to mind and I keep pondering it, trying to gain a sense of its meaning. Though the word appears just three times in Scripture, twice in Isaiah’s prophecy about the coming of Christ and once in Matthew in the fulfillment of that prophecy, it’s a word we have all used and a word whose meaning most of us know. Our children read about it every Christmas and our pastors mention it in their Christmas sermons. That word is Immanuel. God with us. God is with us.

I sense there is a lot to this word and to the truth behind it that I’ve never thought about before and I know that there must be great application to my own life. I hope to spend more time studying it and discerning how God wants me to live based on the awesome fact that “God is with us.” But even now as I’ve meditated upon this word I’ve been profoundly moved. How can we ever exhaust the wonder of God, the One who created the heavens and the earth, taking on human flesh? And even then, how can we but marvel that He did not come in the form of a great and mighty warrior, but in the form of a tiny, helpless baby. God in flesh; God in human flesh. Like every baby before and since He entered this world through pain and agony, sweat and blood. Though He was the power that had created the world, He depended upon His mother’s breast for physical sustenance. Though He upheld the creation by the Word of His power, He needed His parents to protect and nurture Him as a helpless infant.

What mind could conceive of a God who would walk this world and be so misunderstood? Why would God come to earth only to have almost everyone He encountered ignore His divinity? How could people see God and not understand?

Yesterday my pastor preached on John 8, one of two chapters dealing with Jesus’ time at the Feast of Booths. Here, as in so many passages of the gospels, we see people trying to figure out who this person is. They accuse Him of being a Samaritan and of being possessed by Satan: “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” They wonder how He could claim to know Abraham: “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” They ask if He is going to commit suicide: “Will he kill himself, since he says, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come’?” They are utterly bewildered, blinded by their own ignorance and their own hatred of all that is good and true. Before them stood “God is with us” and all they saw was a wicked and perverse man who blasphemed their faith.

As Jesus’ ministry continued, people continued to seek but not find His identity. Even as He stood trial the questions continued. “Are you the King of the Jews?” asked Pilate, and then “So you are a king?” Pilate was incredulous, unable to understand who this man was. Even His beloved disciples wondered and wavered.

As I sat in church yesterday and pondered the mystery of so many who were unable to see that God was with them, standing before them, I was struck by the fact that this will not always be so. Jesus came to earth incognito, announced only to a group of shepherds as they tended their flocks in the night. Suddenly the dark night was disturbed and God’s glory shone all around. An angel announced the birth of Jesus and immediately a host of angels poured forth their praise at the wonder of it all. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” To so many others, though, Jesus appeared just as a man, walking the dusty roads of Israel. No angels foretold His coming; no trumpets blew as He approached. Even today, Jesus is present with us through the Word of God. He is quietly but powerfully present there, though just as when most people looked at Jesus and saw only man and not God, today most people look at the Bible and see words but not Word.

But this will not always be. God gives us today, He gives us now, to understand who Jesus is and to humble ourselves before Him. He tells us that today is the day we need to put our faith in this God who came as man. When Jesus returns to earth, He will not come incognito. He will come with all of the power and the glory and the honor that are rightly His. When He returns to earth, there will be no mistaking who He is. When He comes again, every knee will bow before Him and every tongue will confess that He is Lord. And God will be glorified in every one of us. There will be no mistaking who He is.

December 09, 2007

On Friday evening the menfolk and womenfolk of this household went separate ways. I took my son upstairs and he and I continued playing a computer game he enjoys, saving the world from tyranny. We were sure that this was much more important than what the ladies were doing. Aileen and the girls stayed downstairs and began getting the house into the Christmas spirit. A couple of hours later, with the threat of evil worldwide domination thoroughly vanquished, my son and I returned downstairs to find the house transformed. The Christmas tree was decorated and popcorn strings were almost finished being strung together. Christmas lights and garlands were wrapped around the handrail from upstairs to downstairs. I was pleased. I know how much it means to Aileen to keep the house “seasonal.”

It was not until later that night, as I was turning out lights and locking doors right before heading to bed, that I noticed that Aileen had put a Christmas tablecloth on the kitchen table. I don’t know why, but for some reason seeing that just made my night (and, by Aileen’s own admission, it’s not even a very nice tablecloth). I went to bed that night, just praising God for my wife. As she lay beside me, fast asleep and breathing softly, I was filled with gratitude that God has given her such a desire to tend to our home.

If I were a single guy, I’m quite sure that it would not occur to me to decorate the house for Christmas. I definitely would not have a Christmas tablecloth for my kitchen table. In fact, I probably wouldn’t have or need a table since I’d likely just eat takeout at my desk every day while working 16-hour days. I wouldn’t decorate for Christmas because Christmas decorations don’t mean anything to me.

Or that’s what I thought. But that silly tablecloth told me that they do mean something to me. In that tablecloth and in those decorations I see my wife’s desire and her ability to make this season special. I see her God-given ability to do something I cannot do—make this house a home.

February 29, 2004

This has been a long and somewhat difficult week. I spent the first part of the week stressing about The Passion of the Christ, wondering what the movie was going to be like and wondering if I should even see it. Finally Wednesday rolled around and against my better judgment I went to see it. I chronicled my disappointment and concerns in four rather long articles. I was gratified to see that there are many people who share my concerns with this movie. Many of these people took the time to post their concerns or to email me with comments and suggestions. The overwhelmingly majority were positive but there were few that were very challenging and led me to ask myself some important questions. I appreciate these as much as the positive comments provided they are posed in a constructive manner.

This week I hope to begin a new series that I am very excited about. Many times lately my thoughts and prayers have turned to a desire for wisdom and discernment – discernment to see what is right and what is wrong and wisdom to know what to do about it. I considered going to the Christian bookstore to look for a book that would teach me about discernment, but soon realized that God has given me the ultimate book on just that topic. Read the words that begin the book of Proverbs:

1The proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel:
2To know wisdom and instruction,
to understand words of insight,
3to receive instruction in wise dealing,
in righteousness, justice, and equity;
4to give prudence to the simple,
knowledge and discretion to the youth—
5Let the wise hear and increase in learning,
and the one who understands obtain guidance,
6to understand a proverb and a saying,
the words of the wise and their riddles.
7The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge;
fools despise wisdom and instruction.

So through the month of March I hope to do a 31-day study of the 31 chapters of Proverbs. Though I will continue to post about other topics, this study will be the major focus of my site for the month. I am excited to learn what God has to teach me about wisdom and discernment.