Merry Christmas!!!!!! Oh my, how I love Christmas. Before I knew God, I loved it, and after I gave my life to Christ, I've come to love it even more. I love it for so many reasons: the music, the time with family, the snow, the decorations, the traditions, all the parties and lightings and parades, the coziness of the season, and most of all, the slowing down to focus upon one single magical and mind-boggling thought--that around 2,000 years ago, the God by, through, and for whom everything was made, took on human flesh and dwelt among us. Intrinsic to this time of year, whether or not you worship Jesus, is the mystery of this, the wonder, the miraculousness of such a possibility. It underlies all the festivity, and even if you focus more on Santa Claus than Christ, you can't help but experience a hope and gratitude that is unique to December--not because this is the actual calendar month in which Jesus was born, but because it is the designated time when much of the world turns its attention, even just in lip service, to the birth of the Messiah when salvation became not only for the Jew, but also for the Greek. Yes, as a Christian, Jesus' coming to die on the cross for my sins is the reality out of which I should always be living and keenly aware, but I love that there is a special time of year set aside for a deeper mediation upon this deepest of truths.
I find myself often dwelling on the joy and anticipation in heaven as the plan God had made before He laid the foundations of the earth at last came to fruition. The angelic visitations announcing Christ's coming, the spontaneous praise and worship that the Savior of all mankind had been born, the awe and humility of the faithful men and women whom God chose to play such pivotal roles in His salvation plan; it's all this incredible convergence of everything God had stored in His heart being unveiled and revealed to mankind. Mary's poignant reaction to Gabriel's telling her she would give birth to God's Anointed One is the same poem in my own heart when I reflect on all that God has done for me: "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name" (Luke 1:46-49). I mean, how do you not just shout "Hallelujah?!!!" I love about our God that He sent angels to tell the shepherds and not the Sadducees and Pharisees; that He chose a carpenter's wife to carry and give birth to and mother His Son, that while the salvation He offered would be for all kinds of people, it was to the lowly and common that He initially and most powerfully showed Himself.
And yet, in the midst of the joy that the longforetold Messiah had finally come, there was the heartrending knowledge that the majority of the Israelites, despite anticipating and longing for His arrival, would not recognize the time of their visitation and would reject the very Savior for whom they'd endlessly prayed. Why didn't the Jewish people see Jesus for who He was? They knew the prophecy. They were God's people. They knew Yahweh better than anyone on the face of the earth, and the promises and covenants were all theirs. Yes, they thought of their Messiah more as a king who would overthrow Roman rule and free them from oppression, establishing an earthly kingdom, someone more like David. But I believe the underlying problem is the same reason we, today, reject Jesus. They didn't think they needed the kind of salvation Jesus offered. They didn't think they were sinners. They'd looked at the Law given through Moses and decided that, yes, they could follow it. They thought they were righteous. They thought they were pleasing to the Lord. They didn't really understand God's character or how God viewed them. Accepting Jesus meant seeing their own sin. It meant viewing the Law as God had intended it, as a signpost pointing to Jesus in which man's depravity was revealed in light of God's holiness. Instead of receiving the Law and coming away with a comprehension of how desperately unable they were to keep it and the true state of their hearts, they'd concluded that they could follow the rules and, therefore, were righteous before God.
The crux of it is that if I don't understand my brokenness and sinfulness, I will never embrace or appreciate Jesus, the healing gift that cleanses and restores me to right relationship with my Creator. If I don't think I'm broken, I won't think I need fixing. And that is one of the biggest lies that keeps so many from running to God. Although most of us nowadays aren't Law-adherent Jews, we do the exact same thing. We trust in ourselves. We say we are fine. No, we are better than fine. We are good. We are god of our own life and certainly don't need the "crutch of religion". We decide what is right, true, and best. We tell people to get out of here with their Jesus talk. It's foolish, narrow-minded, dogmatic and irrelevant. We redefine morality to what we decide makes sense to us, and we do all of this without necessarily realizing it. It's the same pride and arrogance that has always been in man, and it keeps us from the miraculous truth of God's gift in Christ Jesus: we are sinful and wretched and far from okay, but God loves us anyway, and He's provided us a way back to Him. And the shocking thing we discover when He gives us the grace to surrender is that He is actually what we were after all along. When we drank to excess, when we slept with people outside of marriage, when we flaunted our sexuality, when we ate too much, when we said there was no such thing as ultimate good or truth, when we centered our lives on work and looked to our talents to define us, we did so because we were missing Him. We were missing our God who made us to know Him, love Him, worship Him, glorify Him. The life I have settled for and thought was so shiny and good is revealed to be a shabby, filthy, husk--a Santa Clause instead of Incarnate Deity. All I have to do is agree with God. All I have to do is be willing to take the top off and take a good, honest look inside and admit my sin, turn to Jesus, confessing that He really is the Son of God, that I need Him, that I want Him to be the ruler of my life, the Lord that He is. I cannot save myself. I cannot rule myself. This is where the abundant life Jesus died for begins to live and flourish in us.
God is that father, standing in the wheat field, scanning the horizon for the rebellious, disrespectful son he prays will come back home, and when the boy finally comes to his senses and returns home to humble himself and confess his wrongness, that father runs toward him with open, forgiving arms. He doesn't condemn him; he has compassion for him and throws him a party. Heaven rejoices when a sinner, when a prodigal child, returns home to the Lord. That's what God did when He sent His Son to earth to be born as a man. He ran to us while we were yet sinners, strangers, and enemies, so far from Him. He stretched out His arms to us to embrace us, and He did it at tremendous, unfathomable personal cost, dying for our sin on a cross.
This is what I think about as I think about Christmas this year. As David wrote in his 139th Psalm, "Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it."