Christmas thoughts fill our minds, even as the wrapping paper sits in crumpled heaps in the corners of our living rooms. Meals have been served and children have laughed and danced. The rushing around and the shopping is finally over and we are all slumped in our chairs enjoying a much deserved rest at the end of weeks and weeks of festivities. One question haunts and startles me: Have we celebrated the birth of Christ, or have we celebrated something else?
The Crucified King has come. Jesus emptied himself – made himself nothing. He became a servant. He did not consider equality with God something to be grasped. He made himself nothing taking on the very nature of a servant. A servant. He did not come to be served but to serve. He gave himself as a ransom for many. A suffering servant. Broken, beaten, despised and rejected. A man of sorrows. We esteemed him not. God was pleased to crush him. He who knew no sin became sin for us that in him we might become the righteousness of God. He was wounded for our transgression, crushed for our iniquities, the punishment that brought us peace was upon him. By his stripes we are healed. He came to serve, not to be served.
As Christmas celebrations come to an end and we move on with life, I wonder if we are any closer to being anything like Him. We talk a lot about our identity in Christ. Are we serious? Is Jesus really our identity? Are we willing to suffer and serve? To be poured out and broken? Do we consider others better than ourselves? Do we sacrifice ourselves for others? Do we have the same attitude as Christ Jesus? He became poor for us so that we might become rich in Him. Are we willing to be poor so that others might become rich in Christ? Are we willing to give up anything to incarnate Christ? Has Christmas come and gone and left us exactly the same as before? Has anything changed in our hearts and our lives? Do we want anything to change? Tough questions, I know, but these are the questions I am asking myself after considering the birth of our Savior while I live a life of material excess.
The Pope gave his annual Christmas message today. I have made it a yearly habit to pay attention to this message because it usually speaks to issues in the world that the Evangelical Church refuses to touch. We don't talk about war and peace, unless we are talking about America waging war so that we can keep the peace for ourselves. And then, we defend the practice. We do not talk about economic issues or issues regarding the rich and the poor unless we are talking about how we can be rich so that we avoid being poor. Pope Benedict XVI told us that we were headed to ruin because of economic selfishness. He is right. We are selfish to the core. I am simply defining selfishness as a preponderance of thought and activity directed toward ourselves. I admit that I am selfish. I think primarily of my own desires, my own comfort, and my own situation. Not good. Money and comfort and fun and pleasure have become our gods. Maybe it has always been that way, but the sad thing is that it is that way for Christians as well as people in the world. There is little discernable difference between the world and the church in this. There should be, but we cannot seem to grasp it. Maybe we cannot grasp the difference that should exist because our hands are so full of cheap and tawdry things. We cannot grab God while holding onto this world.
Do we hate God? Another tough question. Jesus said in Matthew 6:24 that if we try and serve two masters, if we love money, then we will end up hating God. We cannot love both God and money at the same time. There are a lot of preachers out there that will not tell their church the truth about God and this world because they are afraid that they will be rejected and will lose their comfortable church jobs. They will not lead their church the way that they are supposed to because they are afraid that their people will fire them. A couple of months ago, when talking about addressing issues of racial prejudice in our churches, I had a pastor tell me that he could not call his church to righteousness in this area. If he did, he would be asked to leave. He was close to retirement and did not want to rock the boat. How do we love God and pursue retirement? How do we love God and fear that our church might fire us? Many of us refuse to share Christ with anyone because we are afraid that they will reject us. How can we love God and fear the rejection of man at the same time?
Jesus went through a lot for us. Actually, everything. He put on flesh and made His dwelling among us. He became so very small – a baby, born in a stable among animals, attended to by shepherds and pagan astrologers. I wonder if I love Him. Do I love Him enough to make Him the center of my existence, to obey Him no matter the cost? Do I love Him enough to want to be like Him? To serve like Him and live for Him? To allow Him to live through me? To join Him in His sufferings? Or, do I just love His benefits? Do I just love what He does for me? When it comes to Jesus, do I just love the presents? Am I just a consumer, hoping to get something else that makes me feel good? When the wrapping paper is crumpled in the corner and the shine has worn off, do I go looking for something else to satisfy?
If Christmas means anything to me, I must live differently. I must be the hands and feet of Jesus. I must care about what He cares about, not just a little here and there, enough to get by, but a lot. All the time. I have not been that person, not like I could be. Because of grace, I do not feel condemned over that fact. I fully trust God's forgiveness and unconditional love. But, I do feel convicted. I am convicted, and that is good. God is kind and His kindness leads me to repentance. I want to die with Christ and live for Him. His grace and love compels me to nothing less.
Christmas must mean something - the real Christmas, not the tinsel and wrapping paper Christmas. So, because of grace and the love of my Savior . . .
I repent. Or, at least I want to. I don't know exactly what that means in this case, but I know that I want to know the real Jesus more. Maybe I should just ask Him to show me and take it one day at a time. Maybe, I can experience Christ in my heart and my life afresh this year if I ask Him to have His way with me. Maybe a miracle can happen.
Maybe it already has begun.