Discovering Spiritual Truths & Celebrating God's Grace in the Every Day Happenings of Life.
Happy 4th Day of Christmas!
Hope that you all had a wonderful, healthy Christmas weekend!
The Christmas pageant in the small, neighborhood Episcopal church was a carbon copy of similar pageants around the country. Only in this one, in this year, at a critical moment, a little nine-year-old girl said something that people never forgot.
The manger was in front, as always. Young Mary wrapped in her blue mantle. Joseph sported a beard glued together from cotton balls. The wise men were there, too, as were the shepherds. And in the middle of them all, was baby Jesus, lying in the manger. The nativity story was read, carols were sung, everything went off without a hitch. Well…, almost. Various children were the angelic host. They were robed in white with little gold garland halos above their heads. They were sitting beside their moms and dads throughout the church. At the designated moment, they were to walk up front, circle the manger, and sing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, good will among men.”
And so they did. But there was a problem.
As the little angelic children gathered round the manger to sing, one little girl couldn’t see. She was nine years old, smaller than the rest of them, and ended up being so far back that even on tiptoe she couldn’t see what was going on. In the momentary pause after the angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest…,” this little girl electrified the entire church by crying out in a voice shrill with irritation and frustration and enormous sadness at having her view blocked. She said, “Let Jesus show!”
Let. Jesus. Show.
I believe that service could have ended right there in that moment. No need for further preaching or proclamation. Let. Jesus. Show. Mic Drop! What more could be said? This little girl has an incredibly profound message that we can take to heart. We must. My hope, prayer, and goal is that our church is always a place where Jesus is clearly and proudly proclaimed. That we shine and show Jesus on Sunday morning (and every other day of the week). That when people walk in and worship with us in these walls, they would feel the love, hospitality, and kindness of Jesus in all that we say and do.
Certainly, as a church we must let Jesus show. But this is true for each of us on a personal level too. In these days of Christmas—and really any day thereafter—we need to make sure our view of Jesus is never obstructed. We dare not lose sight of our Savior because of the crowds and clutter around us. Worldly chaos is good at distracting us; it is good at irritating and frustrating us. There are far too many things in this world that loudly demand our time and attention. But in every moment, we remember those three clear words from that wise, yet innocent little girl... Let. Jesus. Show.
As you turn the calendar to a New Year, what is getting in your way?
What is blocking your view of Jesus?
“Look to Jesus this Christmas. Receive the reconciliation that he bought. Don’t put it on the shelf unopened. And don’t open it and then make it a means to all your other pleasures. Open it and enjoy the gift. Rejoice in him. Make him your pleasure. Make him your treasure.” (John Piper)
“Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from beginning to end. He did not give up because of the cross! On the contrary, because of the joy that was waiting for him, he thought nothing of the disgrace of dying on the cross, and he is now seated at the right side of God's throne.” (Hebrews 12:2 GNT)
*** H/T to author Chad Bird for initial pageant story.
What’s your least favorite Christmas song? A couple of days ago, I read an article that listed the most despised Christmas songs. From “Santa Baby” to “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” to “Christmas with the Chipmunks,” the article listed the most hated and annoying music during this time of the year. What is yours? For me it is easily Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You.” Hands down. No contest. Skip to the next carol. The piercing noise of this song blasts unwanted through my earholes. This song is cringeworthy for a number of reasons. For almost a month I had successfully managed to avoid this song. Until we went to Zoo Lights at the Turtleback Zoo this past Saturday night. Soon after we entered the gates, we heard that song begin to pollute the open airwaves. Once they started blaring that song (at least twice in the short time we were there) over the loudspeakers, there was no way to avoid it. I couldn’t change the channel. Not able to hit the “thumbs down” button. I couldn’t turn it off. I couldn’t plug my ears. There was no safe place, nowhere to hide from this holly-junky anthem. Before long, my daughter and I were delightfully (obnoxiously) singing along to our least favorite tune. Truth be told, we may have ruined that song for several of other of our fellow zoo-goers. What is yours? Whatever the yuletide song that you enjoy the least this time of the year, we can usually evade it before it gets too firmly stuck into our head. We can change the station. We can turn off the radio. Easily avoidable.
What’s your least favorite Christmas movie? There are several movies my family loves to watch this time of the year. It just wouldn’t feel like Christmas until we watch “Elf” or “Christmas Vacation” and, of course, “A Christmas Story.” But there are also a few stinkers; and they’re not always from the Hallmark Channel. Is there a movie or two that makes you quickly look for something else to watch? Whatever the yuletide movie you enjoy the least this time of the year, we can usually elude it. Power down. Turn the channel. Stream something else. Easily avoidable.
What about THE story at Christmas? It does not start with a “Once upon a time…” There is no wintery scenery, with snow falling down, as the opening credits begin to roll. Instead, we hear these familiar and timeless words: “For unto you is born this day…” Ah yes, these beautiful words from the Gospel of Luke. Of course, you have heard this story many times. You know how it goes—a census… a trip to Bethlehem… no room in the inn… shepherds in the fields… angels in the sky… But will you slow down this coming weekend to really listen and internalize the divine message of God’s gift for you? Will you gaze in awe and worship the miracle of that first Christmas from 2000 years ago?
This year, over 90% of ALL Americans plan to celebrate Christmas. This percentage is true for those that self-identify as religious and for those that have no religious affiliation at all. Even among those that identify with a religion other than Christianity, close to 80% plan to celebrate Christmas. Of course, and sadly, this is the secularized Santa-Claus version of Christmas. They have the gifts, the cookies, and the matching family pajamas. They watch the same Hallmark movies and listen to the same Rudolph and Frosty songs. But they lack the manger; there is no “good news of great joy.” Walking through my neighborhood, many families who have recently celebrated the Hindu festivals of Diwali, now display Christmas trees from their front windows. What gives? Talk about mixed messages or crossing signals. What happened to Jesus? In far too many homes, the very namesake for this holiday has become an afterthought. The truest and most pure message of CHRISTmas, the reason for the season, has become as easily and frequently avoidable as our least favorite songs and movies.
If you have an extra 2 minutes, check out this fun video. It’s clever and on point. Although I won’t be using it in worship this weekend, I still wanted to share it. Be intentional; don’t avoid the heart of this weekend’s celebration. It is far too easy to get overwhelmed in the family gatherings and office parties of this season. It is far too easy to become sidetracked and distracted that our Christmas festivities look no different than our secularized neighbors. So many of these things can make the Christmas season more than it is, but less than it should. Don’t replace baby Jesus this Christmas!
“Each of us is an innkeeper who decides if there is room for Jesus.” (original author unknown)
Yesterday, during our Advent Luncheon gathering, we discussed the Advent concept and promise of peace. Like any past Miss America contestant, we all would love to see “world peace” achieved in our lifetime. It’s the perfect answer for any wannabe politician or philosophical savant. It fixes everything. Who wouldn’t want to give peace a chance? Tis also the season for songs to yearn for “peace on earth” and yet we see just the opposite flood the daily new cycles. Wars. Violence. Hatred. Judgement. The work of Satan, the rattler of peace, is on full, heartbreaking display. As we often understand it, peace is certainly desirable, but it is also very unattainable. Dictionary.com defines peace as the “non-warring condition of a nation, group of nations, or the world.” More than detailing what it is, it speaks to what it is not. The problem with regulating peace to a secular definition of only the absence of war or conflict, is that we don’t come close enough to what God’s intention for peace is. God offers His people a peace that is absolutely available here and now—a “peace that surpasses all human understanding and will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (cf. Phil. 4)
The word PEACE is common in most languages. People can talk about peace treaties or times of peace; it universally means the absence of war. In the Bible, the word peace can refer to the absence of conflict; but it also points to the presence of something better in its place. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for peace is shalom. The most basic meaning of shalom is complete or whole. The word can refer to a stone that has a perfect whole shape with no cracks. It can also refer to a completed stone wall that has no gaps and no missing bricks. Shalom refers to something that’s complex with lots of pieces, but that is in a state of completeness, wholeness. Think of Job who says his tents are in a state of shalom because he counted his flock, and no animals are missing. Shalom can also refer to a person’s well-being. Like when David visited his brothers on the battlefield, he asked about their shalom. The core idea is that life is complex—full of moving parts and relationships and situations—and when any of these are out of alignment or missing, your shalom breaks down. Life is no longer whole. Peace is absent. It needs to be restored. But how does this happen?
Do you remember the song “Let there be Peace on Earth?” I don’t recall who originally wrote it, but it has been covered by many artists. The repeated verse says “Let there be peace on earth… And let it begin with me.” Although I can appreciate the sentiment behind the song, it also completely misses the mark. Indeed, we should all strive to live peacefully with one another. The Apostle Paul tells us this very thing. It is also the very force behind Jesus’ words to “love your neighbor as yourself.” However, if “peace on earth” in any capacity is up to me, we’re all in trouble! The same is true for any one of us. We may have moments where we work towards peace, but our own sinfulness and brokenness will eventually limit the extent to which peace can overflow into this world. Walking with each other in perfect harmony is not something that will ever happen if peace begins with me, or you, or anyone else. Peace on earth will never be fully realized when we look within ourselves—to governmental parties, motivational seminars, or worldly cliches.
That’s a hidden reality in the message of Christmas. Peace cannot permeate the world without an outside force. The inbreaking of God in human flesh is the answer to a world that is no longer whole, that needs to be put back together. Humans cannot establish or cultivate peace, only God can do that. Only God can restore. This is why Jesus’s birth in the New Testament was announced as the arrival of eirene (cf. Luke 2:14); in the New Testament the Greek word for peace is eirene. Jesus came to offer His peace to others like when He said to His followers, “My peace I give to you all” (cf. John 14:27). Advent peace is a worshipful recognition that Jesus has restored what was no longer whole, what was broken. And what is that? YOU! The peace that we are given as Christians does not hinge on the circumstances around us. It is not defined by what is lacking, but by what we have. We have Jesus! This peace is found in knowing that we are beloved children of God who have been completely restored and redeemed by our Savior. Our peace, this Advent and all year round, is found in knowing that our God who restored us through His cross, is always with us and still growing us towards wholeness. In this second week of Advent, we place ourselves in the posture of God’s people of the Old Testament, groaning for and excitedly awaiting their Messiah. We too eagerly await the (second) coming of the Prince of Peace.
“All you beneath your heavy load, by care and guilt bent low,
Who toil along a dreary way with painful steps and slow:
Look up, for golden is the hour, come swiftly on the wing,
The Prince was born to bring you peace; of Him the angels sing.” (LSB 366, stz. 3)
“God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.” (C.S. Lewis)
“The peace of God is first and foremost peace with God; it is the state of affairs in which God, instead of being against us, is for us. No account of God's peace which does not start here can do other than mislead.” (J.I. Packer)
Pastor Steve Vera