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Friday, December 23, 2011

Journey to Christmas: Knowing Our Part

This is Part III of "Journey to Christmas"

Knowing Our Part (12/11/11)
In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”

I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her. (Luke 1:26-38
Mary was a young girl that had a set of expectations, hopes, and dreams (a path) for her life. But, with one brief moment / interchange with the angel, all of these things were gone and she was told that she would have God's baby (and the world would have expectations of this baby). Mary was "most perplexed" (i.e., freaked out) by the news that the angel brought her.

Her life was turned upside down / completely changed... she was now faced with the path that God lay before her, a life that she had not chosen. But, amidst all of the change and chaos, Mary said, "Here I am, a servant of the Lord. Let it be with me not according to my way, not to my desire, not to my plan, not to my list of right and wrong, but let it be according to God."

The Christ-child didn't just change Mary's life... he changed everyone's lives. That's the Christmas story... an encounter witht he Christ-child is supposed to change us - to change the way we think things should be, the way we want to organize things, the paths that we've set out for ourselves, and the journey that we've picked for out lives. When we encounter the love, grace, and forgiveness of the Christ-child, we're supposed to say, "Here I am, a servant of the Lord. Put me on whatever journey / path you want. Put me in whatever circumstance you want. I'm not going to try to do things my way, I'm going to do them your way, God.. not my way, but your way."

Christmas is supposed to change, and we're supposed to be different because of it. If we really find the truth in Christmas (the joy, hope, peace, and love), we can't keep going down the same path we've always been on... we can't keep living life the way we want to... we can't keep assuming that we have the right answers and that we know what's best... we have to change in the face of the light of Christ, and say with humility, hope, and joy: "I'm scared to death to not do things my way, God. I'm perplexed at how I can possibly live life on your journey instead of my own. But here I am, a servant of the Lord, send me."

Mary wasn't "qualified," per se. But, she had a willingness, an open heart to do things God's way, not hers. That's what God is looking for! He's not looking for us to be perfect. He's not trying to call those that have it all figured out. He's interested in those that are willing to say, "I'm scared to death. I'm perplexed. But here I am, a servant of the Lord... use me."

"God doesn't call the qualified, He qualifies the called."

All of the chaos and busyness of life tends to get in the way of us being as open and willing as Mary was. We get uncomfortable with all of the complexity and change around us that we become rigid. It's engrained in us that we're supposed to have all the right answers, but we forget that God is the only one that does. We become so commited to the path that we've set for ourselves that the idea of getting off that path and doing something different (even if it's an angel telling us to do so) seems crazy to us. Even when God brings opportunities to us, we're often too busy on our own paths that we don't even see God's path / opportunity right in front of us. We mustn't let the opportunities to be the light and the hope of Christ slip right by us because we're so caught up in thinking we have so much to do and that we have all the right answers.

I pray that we might have the eyes and the ears of a child. That we might finally come to understand that there's more... more to this life... more to Christmas than just a day. It's about seizing the opportunities in front of us and saying (like Mary), "Lord, here I am, your servant, use me."

Stay tuned for Part IV (The Sounding Joy) of "Journey to Christmas"

Journey to Christmas: Knowing Our Preparation

This is Part II of "Journey to Christmas"

Knowing Our Preparation (12/4/11)

God wants so much more for us than all of the hype, to-do lists, planning, and other chaos of the holiday season. Christmas is not just a birthday party or memorial for Jesus - it's so much more.

God didn't send His son, so that on December 26 we can just go on living the way we have been (or living how we lived back in November) - He doesn't want us to go back to "business as usual." Christmas is supposed to be about a change... about something happening in our lives and in our hearts, so that we wake up on December 26 different than we were on December 24. We should be able to make a list for the things that will change because we remember Christ has been born unto us... and we must hold ourselves accountable to that list.

God wants Christmas to change our lives and our hearts. But, it takes intentional preparation to get what God wants for us. First, we must recognize / realize that we need a change... that we need something different (see Part I). Then, we must do some things intentionally so that we can prepare ourselves and the world for what Christ wants to do.

OURSELVES

In Mark 1:1-8, there's a description of how we can prepare so that Christmas can really make a difference and transform our lives... and perhaps even the world around us with Jesus Christ as change-agent. In Mark, the people came out of the woodwork and into the wilderness to repent of their sins, to admit that they'd fallen short, and to so aloud and publicly, "I can't live this life successfully on my own... I need help," and then to be claimed, forgiven, and loved by a God who said, "I'll always be there for you."

John the Baptist Prepares the Way
The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way”— “a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’” And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:1-8)

We must repent...
  • of all those times we believed we were good enough on our own
  • of all those times we think we have all the answers
  • of all those times we think we're better than somebody else or that we've got the right way of doing something and sombody else doesn't
We must repent and admit that we can't do it by ourselves... we need God. Because, how can God even begin to give us a gift of something wonderful, something changing, something dynamic... if we don't think we need anything?

When times are good and we feel like we have all the answers and like we have it all figured out, Christmas may just go by unnoticed because we don't think we need the gift of Christ. But, when we realize how inadequate we really are, how we don't really have any of the answers, and how much we really can't do... the gift of Christ means so much and makes such a difference.

Individually, we must prepare ourselves by making room for the needs that we have. We have to admit that we need a gift, so that when the gift comes, it means something to us and it does something for us. In preparation, we must ask ourselves...
  • Are we admitting to it (i.e., our sins, need for God's help)?
  • Are we asking for forgiveness?
  • Are we talking about our shortcomings?

THE WORLD

But, Christmas isn't really about us (as individuals) - Christ came to change the world. We are responsible for preparing the world for the coming of the Christ child... preparing them to receive the good news of Jesus Christ... by helping others to be ready to understand and to know that Christ can make a difference for them, too.

"A voice of one calling: 'In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God [make straight the paths of our God]. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.'" (Isaiah 40:3-5)

Our world is full of valleys / pits / ditches - where people live so deep down that they can't see the light, no matter how bright it is. We are to reach out to those that suffer from depression, physical pain, loneliness, oppression, discrimination, etc... It's our job to raise these people up... to look for those people that the world has pushed down (those that have been told they're not good enough / they're wrong / they don't fit in)... and to pull them up and make the ground more level, so that they might see the light of Christ.

Our world is also full of mountains, where some people live so high up on mountains (thinking they've got it all figured out...) that they won't see the light either.

The glory of the Lord will be revealed for ALL to see.

Christmas is about getting the world ready to see the glory of Christ's love. We're supposed to prepare the way by making a highway (straight, narrow, directly to Christ), to knock down any barrier / burden / or ditch between every single person, and to develop an understanding of how unconditionally loved and accepted they are by God.

Ultimately, when we allow Christmas to be about the world around us (rather than about ourselves), it becomes about letting others journey to Christ along side us.

THE SEASON OF ADVENT

The season of Advent has come to be celebrated as a time of expectation and anticipation. There is a hope that comes with the season, as we anticipate a King who will come and rule with peace, justice, and righteousness. But, part of the expectation that comes with the anticipation is a judgment on sin. The world will be called to accountability before God. However, we must remember that we are contributors to the sin of this world, and we will be held to the same judgment and accountability as "the rest of the world." As the prophet Amos warned, "Woe unto you that desire the day of the Lord! to what end is it for you? the day of the Lord is darkness, and not light. As if a man did flee from a lion, and a bear met him; or went into the house, and leaned his hand on the wall, and a serpent bit him. Shall not the day of the Lord be darkness, and not light? even very dark, and no brightness in it?" (Amos 5:18-20).

Still, the season of Advent is celebrated as a time of expectation and anticipation, a longing for God to restore all things and vindicate the righteous. Thus, during Advent, we also anticipate the Second Coming of Christ. Thus, we begin the journey (as the disciples did) with the anticipation and joy of Advent, which slowly fades into the realization (and subsequent repentance) of the sins that we have made... leading to the awful reality of Good Friday. And, it is through this realization that we can be ready to receive the Good News on Resurrection Sunday.

The Parable of the Ten Virgins expresses the spirit of Advent well (Matthew 25:1-13). The ten virgins await the coming of the bridegroom, with joy and anticipation. And, yet, the parable provides a warning of the need for preparation.

Stay tuned for Part III (Knowing Our Part) of "Journey to Christmas"