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?