Tuesday, December 16

Christmas broodings......

"Even though an army sets up camp against me, my heart will not be afraid. Even though a war breaks out against me, I will still have confidence [in the LORD]. I have asked one thing from the LORD. This I will seek: to remain in the LORD's house all the days of my life in order to gaze at the LORD's beauty and to search for an answer in his temple." Psalms 27:3-4 (GWT)

It is so easy to look around our world and despair. There is nothing in the world that seems to bode good will and everywhere we look there is only fear and confusion. The duality of our nature; the human side worrying and stressing about the reality of a fallen, broken creation and the Christian side, matured in the realization that true peace is obtainable even in the ferociousity of the storms that ravage this world because of who's we are......and the event we celebrate this coming 25th of December. The birth of our salvation in the manger of Bethlehem, right underneath the corrupted human government of Herod.

It is a reality we are facing – the economic outlook grows gloomy and dismal with each passing day. Many Americans are looking to a human savior, in the form of our President-elect Barack Obama, to save us from the entitlement lifestyle that we have lived....far from our true American roots that our forefathers envisioned and set to paper years ago. Even in the form of the faith, we have moved far beyond the unbelievable gratitude and awesome experience of mercy for a gift that none of us deserve and none of us could obtain on our own to a 'God delivering on His promises' faith that emboldens us to an expectant entitlement of the many blessings that we find in the Bible. All we need to do is name it and claim it.

With the Government spending billions of dollars to 'bail out' the economic crisis, we find out the true nature of most Americans today. Instead of dropping to our knees in supplication and appreciation for the coming celebration of the birth of the WORD made flesh, we rush out to the stores in search of the big bargains and super deals.....we shop, shop, shop using credit cards for money we do not have, dealing with the created traffic jams of vehicles and humanity because WE deserve that deal armed with our to-do-lists and who-to-buy-for lists while making sure that we schedule the most convenient service (we pick between three to five) at our church. We get caught up in the production; after all, the CEOs who come (Christmas and Easter Only) come not for the value of the show but the entertainment quality of the Christmas story. We fret about how much to spend on each person, some of us wondering if we should spend any at all since the looming possibility of being unemployed in the new year overshadows the Christmas spirit.

Years ago, in my youth, I was one of those CEOs (by my mother's insistence). We gathered at the local church, Dunning Park Chapel in Redford Michigan, for the Christmas celebration. I remember the Pastor standing off to one side, reading the Christmas story from the Gospels as the young children 'acted' it out on the stage behind him. In less than an hour, it was over. But there has never been a more impactful Christmas 'production' that I've seen since. The children in the background weren't the focus....it was the retelling of the beginning of the plan to redeem mankind from sin. In two thousand years, that story hasn't changed, but the elaborate glitter of human involvement has.

The innocence of that youthful experience has been lost, by all of us. I guess that is why I don't like the 'holiday' season, not because of what happened but because what I have lost in the hustle and bustle of the searching for the 'perfect' gift for those I love and the 'peace and goodwill' expressions that only happen once a year at this time. We expect the stores we shop at to use the proper titles for the season, "Merry Christmas" instead of 'Happy Holidays". We argue against the growing trend to be 'inclusive' by our village, city, county, state, and federal governing bodies with the additions of the Star and Crescent, the Atheists statements, and so on. We create committees and argue about the best way to 'produce' an culturally sensitive, welcoming to all kind of play that will fill our pews and chairs in the main sanctuaries of our churches. We brood over the money we spend, bouncing back and forth from giving to missions or buying simpler gifts for our loved ones. We create the illusion of joy and peace that lies empty and unbelievable in the morning light.

In the midst of the hustle and bustle of a census demanded by the Roman Empire and the national celebration of Passover, a family journeyed to Bethlehem to meet the demands of the governing body to be counted. Mary, pregnant with Christ, went with her husband Joseph to his home city. In the self-centered environment of to-do-lists, shopping for the meal to be prepared, and the stress of being counted, our salvation was bore on a donkey quietly into the small village, only to find room in the stable cave with a bed to be made from a feeding trough for the WORD made flesh. The magi began their journey to visit this King, whose birth was displayed by a star high in the night sky. Shepherds, tending their flocks in the alienated world they lived in, were rocked by the heavenly choir that proclaimed our Savior's birth to such lowly men. Upon fine linen and enclosed within warm walls was not this baby born, but among the animals and cold of the night air. Attended by only His earthly father and mother.

Hearts despairing over their plight in the economics of the times, children going hungry, families bearing the celebrations with illnesses or deaths of loved ones, the poor still poor and the rich still rich swirled around the 'royal' family of peasant beginnings. Did Mary know what the child she carried would do? Did Joseph's thoughts center around just how he would raise the promised Messiah? They didn't make demands of their status in any of the places they stopped at in search of a room. They didn't claim privilege because of the honor they were given. No one whispered as they passed on their way to that luxurious cave filled with animals of their 'royalness' or the importance of the child the woman bore.

Joseph's thoughts past the birth of this child the angel told him was the Messiah, Immanuel (God is with us), probably wandered to the pressing concerns that assaulted his mind; lodging for his young family, the census, and the host of fatherly and husbandly duties that he faced. The bills still had to be paid and work had to be done. Evidence shows us that the family stayed in Bethlehem for at least two years, possibly with the intention of staying longer, so Joseph would have been looking to start his business anew in a new city.

The nation that waited with desperation and hope for the coming of the promised Messiah went about their lives with no clue that in their midst was the one they waited for. They continued with their joys, their sorrows, their worries, and their planned attendance at the synagogues for worship services. Families gathered together to celebrate the Passover and to be counted, friends met with friends, and hearts ebbed and flowed with the emotions of love, hatred, peace, joy, sorrow, and expectation.

I wonder how many future believers resided close to the Promised Messiah when He was born what their thoughts and dreams were as the WORD made flesh took His first breath of this broken world's air and His new ears were assaulted with the sounds of animals restless around Him, His nose filled with the fragrance of the stable smells. I wonder if they looked back thirty-three years later, as that baby boy's arms were stretched out painfully to be nailed upon a cross of wood by iron spikes, and thought of that night past when their salvation was born upon this earth. How they missed the biggest event of their lives and how that baby's life was ended.

I can remember the worry, the joy, and the fretting that I felt when my son Casey was born premature. I can remember the long wait for my daughter Sara to be born in the birth room of another hospital a year+ later. I can look back in my life and see those personal events that caused a course change, for good or bad, and realize in hindsight how important those things were, though at the time they seemed just another part of the life I live. I can see God's hand moving in my past even when I rallied against Him and shunned His hand. I wonder if the children that grew up with Christ looked back upon those childish incidents of ridicule or scorn that all children seem to visit upon each other at one time or another…..I wonder if their shame was amplified by their hindsight.

We have the blessing of being able to live our lives peacefully - in the midst of chaos - and find joy in the midst of tears. We know that our Savior lives, that from the beginning of our physical birth that He was knocking at the door to our hearts and asking to be allowed in. Our ability to live lives of expectation in the face of despair and fear is due to our amazing God, who provisioned for us before we were even born to find our way back to Him, to be in relationship with Him. He shows us His amazing mercy, joy, and peace in the pages of the Bible illuminating His kingdom through His word, His Holy Spirit, and in a birth that took place a day 2,000 plus years ago.

As we gather with our family this Christmas morning, amid the gift wrapping paper discarded in heaps upon the living room floor and the excited content voices of our friends, family, and children who play with the physical representations of happiness and joy…….let's stop and listen.

In our hearts we'll hear the moo of the cow, the brisk neighing of the donkey, and the sigh of a mother cradling a baby in her arms. In our mind's eye, let us take in the smells and the quietness of this moment in time with this family who were chosen to bring God's promise into the reality of this world.

And let us give thanks to our Heavenly Father, who loves us so much that He allowed the WORD to become flesh, fully God and fully Man, to usher the beginning of the redemption of mankind and the end of the evil one's reign upon the broken creation.

And feel in the heart of hearts which the Spirit resides that glorious and thunderous joy of the assembled Angels as they praised the birth of our Savior.

"Behold! Unto you this day a child is born………"

A story who's power will never be lost and whose impact upon the world has never dimmed. The power of my God displayed in a poor, working stable in the mundane life of humanity where the painful process of redeeming mankind from their sins began with the newborn cry of the Promised King whom God sent because of His love.

Freedom is a prayer away because of that birth.

Let us remember that beauty and that love that upon that day in Bethlehem was born to us a Savior by name......

No matter what the culture says,
Or what society may display upon the lawns of governments.

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