I went to Christmas Eve services at two different churches last night. Heard some great music. Sang those wonderful old carols. Listened to two very well thought messages. And still I am not sure what to make of Christmas.
The past year since last Christmas has been an incredible ride for pretty much anyone in the world. And I mean “incredible” in the sense of almost overwhelming. The election. The economy. The war. A world which is hugely inclined to take advantage of people rather than build them up. Job losses around me. People losing their homes. More people who are overwhelmed and seeking comfort in self-damaging and soul-damaging ways. Then you throw in seeing Lisa go through cancer … throw in what I saw and learned in Tijuana … throw in my own life-changing health diagnosis. Incredible indeed. Overwhelming.
It’s not that I feel empty inside. I do feel the emotions of Christmas. But they do not involve the baby in the manger. Yes, this season, I have talked and written about the hope and promise of that child … the hope and promise that our little family clung to this year through weeks of anxiety and uncertainty. But yet, with Christmas being here the past few days, my mind is still not with the Christ child.
My mind is with the adult that the child turned in to. Not His final hours here on earth when He was hanging on the cross in that final pre-planned atonement for my sin … but instead to some of his teachings … teachings that came near the end of His ministry on earth … teachings He had been building up to.
When the Pharisees heard how he had bested the Sadducees, they gathered their forces for an assault. One of their religion scholars spoke for them, posing a question they hoped would show him up: "Teacher, which command in God's Law is the most important?"
Jesus said, "'Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.' This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: 'Love others as well as you love yourself.' These two commands are pegs; everything in God's Law and the Prophets hangs from them." (Matthew 22:34-40, The Message)
Jesus spoke these words at a time when He was nearly being attacked by those who questioned what this rabbi was saying … but I imagine His reply came very calmly … these were the messages He was brought here to earth to deliver … Love God … Love one another. His entire ministry was for these messages.
And the other teaching I keep thinking of this Christmas actually came after His resurrection … this one was so critical to what He wanted us to know that He saved these words until after He’d come back from the dead, when those around Him were certain to know that this was no ordinary rabbi, that His words carried weight beyond measure … weight that would last forever.
Meanwhile, the eleven disciples were on their way to Galilee, headed for the mountain Jesus had set for their reunion. The moment they saw him they worshiped him. Some, though, held back, not sure about worship, about risking themselves totally.
Jesus, undeterred, went right ahead and gave his charge: "God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I'll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:16-20, The Message)
I don’t know what to make of Christmas this year because my mind is not with the child but instead with the adult Jesus. Love God. Love others as yourself. Go and make disciples.
Aside from His atonement for our sins, these were the messages the baby was made for. God sent His son here … to us … to deliver these messages … and yet do I live them out?
Not as well as I should … I am judgmental of others, I am selfish with my time, my resources, and my thoughts. These things all affect my ability to love God, love others, and Go out into the world to carry the baby’s promise of hope.
We live in a world that wants to judge others … that wants to constantly compare itself to others. That seems okay with the concept of “I’m not perfect but I’m not as bad as that other person over there.”
We live in a world that wants to tear others down, not build them up. The recent huge lottery winning by a group of co-workers in the city where I work has led me to hear all sorts of conversations about jealousy … it has already spawned a huge lawsuit from co-workers who claim they should have been in on the winnings as well. We can’t just be happy for one another.
I remember one of my biggest bouts with jealousy. Lisa and I were dealing with infertility and I didn’t understand why all sorts of people who were unmarried or else couldn’t support or deal with a baby had no problems conceiving yet we did. Undoubtedly, when Jesus was born, more than a few people looked at Mary and Joseph with those thoughts.
We also live in a world where we want to worry about ourselves more than others. The pressures are there for us to do that. It’s known as a dog eat dog world. You have to look out for yourself because no one else will. These attitudes prevail … and they affect the world’s behavior in dramatic and ugly ways.
But that is how this world lives … and I am a part of this world.
So, while I cannot deny the beauty and promise of the baby in the manger, this Christmas I am drawn instead to the adult Jesus … not as He hung on the cross … but as He walked and talked and taught. That is why He was here … why God became incarnate … to teach us, to lead us.
How can the world better embrace what He taught? Love God, love others, Go. But, most importantly, how can I better live that out?
This is where Christmas 2008 is for me. The world right now is about as dark as I have ever known it. How do I better live out what the Christ came here to teach us?
But doesn't it trouble you that our government's idea of how to stimulate the economy just focuses on bailouts rather than really creating business?
Obama will be pushing for his infrastructure rebuilding; of course the news yesterday already brought evidence of the push for pork in all of that -- something I have warned about. There are requests for a water park and a program to end prostitution -- all in the name of necessary infrastructure. Hmmmmmm.
So, here's my latest idea ... if Congress really wants to stimulate the economy, then it needs to free up cash in the pockets of those who will actually spend it -- not those of us like me who would just use it to pay down debt or try to replenish retirement savings. The best way to do that quickly and efficiently would be to figure out a way, even at this late date, to raise the AMT thresh hold for 2008 federal taxes. This would clearly create money that would be spent on consumer items, stimulating the economy. Yes, for my business, this would be huge I believe but I think it would be for many other businesses as well. Consider writing your congresspeople about this; I have.
P.S. As an aside, I must admit that generally I am pleased with what the president-elect is putting together. Pretty bugged by his Labor Secretary pick though.
So, on Monday I traveled to see my favorite doctor up in Bluffton. I told the nurse that I thought I was a little diabetic. She did the little poke your finger and check your blood thing. Her response was something like "Yeah, I'd say you're a little diabetic." My blood sugar was at 399. Apparently when your number is higher than a perfect bowling score, it's pretty bad.
I could have done more to prevent it but it was pretty much bound to happen. There's so much diabetes in my family that if you put us all in a pot and stirred us for a couple of minutes, we'd turn into cotton candy. Flaky cotton candy but cotton candy.
The upside is that when you're diabetic, the doctor sends you home with some really cool poky things and a little electronic gizmo. I'm a succor for gadgets. I'm running around testing everyone's blood sugar now. Lisa's, Evan's, the dog's, the philodendron's, the cow whose rump we ate for dinner. Cool stuff.
Anyway, another journey begins. Not a good year for health at our family. Next year will be better. I am determined to get in better shape and lose some weight.
More about this journey as things unfold ...
In the coming months, difficult though it may be, we may see more people around us suffering in more ways than we have ever seen before.
But in that comes opportunity ... comes fertile soil into which we can cast God's love broadly and richly.
This is a challenge for me ... I have commented many times in recent months how blessed I feel to have had only minimal impact from the recession ... how I see responsibility being driven by that blessing. But yet fear tries to overtake me ... what if the recession and tough economy do catch up with me ... what if the blessings seem to run out? Don't I need to store up now in order to cover the "what ifs"?
God doesn't call us to that, though. He instead promises His faithfulness to us. And we've seen Him provide for us all before. But still ... the "what ifs" sneak in and plague me ... they desire to ruin God's plans for me ... and for those around me.
Here are verses 8 - 15 of this chapter. May they show me the necessity of overcoming the "what ifs" with gratitude and giving.
8-11God can pour on the blessings in astonishing ways so that you're ready for anything and everything, more than just ready to do what needs to be done. As one psalmist puts it,
He throws caution to the winds,
giving to the needy in reckless abandon.
His right-living, right-giving ways
never run out, never wear out.
This most generous God who gives seed to the farmer that becomes bread for your meals is more than extravagant with you. He gives you something you can then give away, which grows into full-formed lives, robust in God, wealthy in every way, so that you can be generous in every way, producing with us great praise to God.
12-15Carrying out this social relief work involves far more than helping meet the bare needs of poor Christians. It also produces abundant and bountiful thanksgivings to God. This relief offering is a prod to live at your very best, showing your gratitude to God by being openly obedient to the plain meaning of the Message of Christ. You show your gratitude through your generous offerings to your needy brothers and sisters, and really toward everyone. Meanwhile, moved by the extravagance of God in your lives, they'll respond by praying for you in passionate intercession for whatever you need. Thank God for this gift, his gift. No language can praise it enough!
Anyway, there is a lot more water to go under the bridge and over the dam but this sure is interesting.
Are there any Obama fans out there who are disappointed? I have not been a fan but am a bit upset he did not have some higher up Latino appointments.
I heard him speaking on Monday though about how the US needs to be a protector of the world. Pretty interesting talk ... not quite sure how that jibes with a rapid pull-out from Iraq.
Anyway, I guess we're all still trying to figure the guy out ... he either really know what he's doing or he is a weak leader who folds and just tries to make as many people as possible happy. Or can those two go together?
Like I said, lots more water to flow under the bridge and over the dam.