As each of us celebrates the birth of the Christ Child today with family and friends, I want to wish you a merry Christmas! I’m so grateful that this newborn Jesus, who was to become our Savior-King, sympathizes with us as well. Nineteenth-century musician Cecil Alexander said it this way in his song Once in David’s Royal City:
For He is our childhood’s pattern;
Day by day, like us He grew;
He was little, weak and helpless,
Tears and smiles like us He knew;
And He feeleth for our sadness,
And He shareth in our gladness.
Jesus is not simply God come to earth, but He came wrapped in our own humble flesh, making His arrival like no other birth beforehand or afterward. In this Christmas season, I pray that you remember the wonder, joy and hope that Jesus brings, made all the more amazing because of His incarnation—His ability to compassionately recognize our struggles, feeling and sharing in the human condition. And may this knowledge bring you great joy and confidence in the year ahead. Peace to you and yours!
In recent weeks, conversation in our home has included words and phrases like “second term,” “fiscal cliff” and “unrepresented.” And as we’ve entered this time of Advent, it’s been wonderful to focus on something more stable and less unsound than the raising of a debt ceiling, party lines that are supposed to be crossed instead of bickered over, and that uneasy feeling inside that Washington and Sacramento just don’t nor probably can figure it out.
Lest I make my first politically motivated blogpost on Enjoying the Surface, let me share with you this past Sunday’s church service, where the familiar passage in Isaiah 9 was read. This is the prophet’s passage about the Messiah that would one day come to Israel and save it from evil attacks and raise up a new era of hope and restoration where “the government shall be upon His shoulders.”
What a minute. . . . Did that passage say “the government?” Referring to those same ones that can’t ever seem to figure it out in their own wisdom (my southern friends would say insert a “bless their hearts” here)? “Shall be upon His shoulders”? What did Isaiah mean here? Would the coming-soon Messiah be a political leader that would finally end Israel’s political restlessness and restore it to what had been under King David, and then some? Whoever this Messiah was to be, they were to be radically different than anything Israel, or the nations of the day—or the nations of our day—had ever seen.
There is new life in these words. Words of hope. Of longing. Of a desire for settledness within. Of a conviction that the desire for wholeness that each of us hold so dear was to be brought to Israel by that long-awaited Messiah.
I find as well that these words of Isaiah are also words of caution—caution about not looking to my fellow man to fix the issues of the day. For Isaiah, the words were a call to a recently liberated people to not look to their surroundings for their long-term hope. For us some millennia later, the message is the same. One’s fellow man cannot provide any sense of security for the long-haul. Rather, that security can only come from the One for Whom this Advent is all about.
And this is what is so amazing about Advent, about that first Coming of the Messiah. For that long-term security and hope is found in that helpless Babe born in a manger. So profound and paradoxical of a birth—the hopes and fears of all the years were met in Him that one night, says the Christmas carol. Jesus of Nazareth was indeed the “Light of the World” and it is in Him whom we can find a hope that doesn’t go away. May each of us seek Him in this season.
With losing two relatives this year, this Christmas, admittedly, does not have the usual pomp and circumstance that I’ve experienced in the past. It’s a sad-Rudolph-sort-of-Christmas, involving the joy of the season intermingled with moments of grief and memories of Christmases past that can no longer be relived. It’s in times like these that French theologian Charles de Foucald’s quote rings true, and is a reminder to all of us of the real importance of Christmas:
Let us thank God a thousand times if in the sadness which invades us it seems to us as if we are rejected by the world. The depression and suffering, the bitterness with which we seem sometimes to be soaked to be soaked, were the lot of Our Lord on earth. Are we not fortunate to share them? We should pity the happy people. Pity those whose happiness, even though it be quite legitimate and innocent, keeps them attached to the world. God is good that he has so despoiled us of everything, that we can draw breath only by turning our heads towards him. How great is his mercy, how divine his goodness, for he has torn everything from us in order that we may be more completely his. So the sufferers are the happy ones through the goodness of God. In suffering, I give thanks. May these days of Christmas festival bring you, in your suffering I do not say consolation, but the blessing God intends for you. The child Jesus will perhaps not give you any sweetness, – he reserves that for the weak ones, – but his hand will none the less be spread to bless you in these days of Christmastide, and whether you feel it or no, he will pour abundant grace into your soul (from Meditations of a Hermit).
Amen. To all who are grieving or are in places of suffering, may the grace and blessing of Jesus be upon each of you.
It hit me yesterday that it was the New Year’s Eve of Sundays. The church calendar flips over this week to start a new year. And that new year begins with what has become for me one of my favorite seasons—Advent.
Advent comes from the Latin words “ad” and “venio” meaning to “come toward.” As we come toward the holy day of Christmas, Advent offers a time to prepare our hearts for receiving the Christ Child Jesus, our Messiah! As you do this this year, consider an Advent Guide that may be useful for you and your community.
I think the early church fathers were on to something when they, centuries ago, noticed the dreariness of fall and winter—the change of the colors, the bleak snow-covered hillsides—and put the celebration of Jesus’ birth—Christmas—on the calendar during this cold and dark time. And to think that this was years before anyone knew about Daylight Saving Time ending.
I find that that dreariness is fought off through the celebration of Advent. In the midst of the darkest times of the year, Advent celebrates the joys of the Christmas season in its anticipation of the big day of Christmas. Advent, which starts this coming Sunday November 28th, is a time to reflect on God’s goodness this past year, thank Him for His presence and to allow Christmas Day to be with us a bit beyond the one afternoon or evening with family and opening presents. To this end, I’ve put together an Advent Guide that will show you what to consider as you make your own wreath and how to celebrate each Sunday of Advent together as a family. If you have celebrated Advent in the past, you know the fun that this practice brings you and your family. If this is your first time to consider celebrating, start now!
To download the Advent Guide, click here. And if you decide to celebrate, please let me know—I would enjoy knowing who is celebrating with my family this year.
In Charles Schulz’s Christmas classic A Charlie Brown Christmas, Charlie Brown, fed up from the commercialism and materialism of the holiday in 1965, asks with some angst, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?!” Forty-four years later, the question has just as much need for an answer as it did then. The truth is, the real meaning of Friday’s holiday gets a bit convoluted in the midst of getting presents for this relative or that friend, ensuring the Christmas cards get out on time, plus living life on top of that.
Over the weekend, I went with Jennifer and some friends to look at a neighborhood that had really done a great job decorating with Christmas lights. Street after street, home after home were covered with lights, reindeer, grinches and crosses. That’s right, crosses. The Christians in this neighborhood put up not only nativity scenes but also crosses, linking this week’s wonderful holiday with April’s wonderful holiday of Easter, giving us an answer to Charlie Brown’s existential question. The incarnation of Jesus, which we celebrate this week in Christmas, is only great in that Jesus’ work on the cross allows the God-man to pay the price for our sins—salvation—and allows us to enter into a life worth living as we are sanctified—a life based on forgiveness, relationship, play, joy and meaning. Thanks be to God for His goodness and His plan in the midst of our living in a chaotic and busy world of reindeer, lights and grinches!
Merry Christmas to each one of you!
Wasn’t it just two weeks ago that we were up to our elbows in turkey and dusting off the Christmas decorations from the garage rafters? We’re now two weeks in to Advent, the time of preparing for the coming of Jesus, and Christmas is just around the corner. This is most evident as one drives the roads between 4 and 6 in the evening—it seems that there is just not enough time to get all the things done done, nor parking spaces at the local shopping center!
Take heart, however. Martha’s begging of Jesus that her sister Mary serve their guests during a dinner party of their own is an important reminder for us to remember during this busy Christmas season. What was it that Jesus told Martha in response? He said that “Mary has chosen the better part” which would not be taken away from her. The better part, for Mary, while her sister was distracted by much serving—errands, hustling and bustling—was to be with the One for whom their own party was for.
Take a moment and reflect on your own Christmases past—what memories do you recall? What presents do you remember receiving? If you’re like most, the memories of spending time with family and friends are more vibrant, fond and worth holding onto. As we celebrate the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, may we remember the example of Mary Magdalene, and for Whom Christmas is all about, and choose the better part.