The God Revealed By Christmas

snow-and-flowers

Christmas never saved anyone…but without Christmas, salvation would have never come.

Christmas–that is, the events of Christ’s birth that many people celebrate on December 25th–broke a 400 year silence from God. Since His last words in the book of Malachi, He sent no prophecies and added no revelation.

Then, one day, that all changed..

An angel appeared next to the altar of incense in Herod’s Temple. And the silence was broken, as it had been so many times before, with the news of an unexpected birth.

“Impossible!” the startled Zacharias said.

I can just see the angel narrowing his eyes. “I am Gabriel! I stand in the very presence of God. It was He who sent me to you with this good news!” (Luke 1:19, TLB)

Maybe miracles had been hard to come by lately. But that was about to change, dramatically.

God the Father, in eternal communion with His Son and His Spirit, sent down His Son Jesus to this lonely world, to be one of us.

And that event, more than anything else up to that point in history, told us a lot about the God that we serve.

  • God keeps his promises

Since the promise of a Seed who would destroy the serpent (Genesis 3:15), God had been making promises of a future heaven-sent deliverer (Isaiah 11:1-5). Christmas shows us that God means what He says. In the form of hundreds of prophecies, He promised a the arrival of a certain kind of man, a certain God. And every single one of them came true.

  • God controls history

Only an all-powerful God with a perfect sense of timing can make unchanging promises. To be truthful, by necessity He must also be in control of history. And that He is…and demonstrated at Christmas. An unheard of thing–a virgin girl having a child (Isaiah 7:14). A hectic Bethlehem tax registration…just in time to bring the pregnant Mary to the city predestined to be the Christ’s birthplace (Micah 5:2 ). A hurried escape to Egypt–just as He said “out of Egypt I have called my son” ( Hosea 11:1).

  • Social class does not impress God

While God certainly does not bar the rich or the powerful from His kingdom, the Christmas story does not star many of the world’s elite. In fact, the story is full of common–even disadvantaged–people. Peasant parents, middle-class innkeepers, shepherd guests…a baby born in a barn among the animals. From His birth on, Jesus seems to go out of the way to appear to the poor, the medically isolated, the ethnically outcast, and the religiously deficit. He did not come for those who thought they were enough, but for the ones who–in God’s grace–were humbled enough to see that they could never be enough (Luke 5:31).

  • God reveals Himself

A star blazed the trail for hopeful astronomers. Angels shouted glory over the hillside. An angel appeared to both Zacharias and Mary with special birth announcements. Joseph and the Magi both dreamed of what they should do. Zacharias, his wife Elizabeth, and Simeon at the temple all prophesied through the power of the Holy Spirit, telling of the Christ’s coming and His messenger, John the Baptist.

After so much silence, suddenly light broke over the darkness. If God was whispering before, now He was shouting.

Here’s the truth: if God had hidden Himself, we would have never seen Him. We would have missed Christmas. It would have been too high for us, going right over our bent heads and right past our blind eyes. Even with a cast of angels, prophets, and a cooperative star, most Israelites missed out on the significance of this far-from-silent night. Aside from a passel of shepherds stunned by the glory of God, the newborn Son of God had no adoring visitors. I wonder if any children stirred in their beds at the shouts of the angels. I wonder if the light of the star kept anyone awake.

But God is good and gifted some with the capacity for comprehension (John 1:5). In His purposes, someone saw the light. Someone saw the angels. Someone saw the baby enthroned on the cow’s trough. And soon, such glorious things were done in Israel that the world could not contain them.

  • God identified with us through vulnerability

Jesus, beginning in the stench of hay and barn, loves us enough to live the barest, most humble life. He was a baby, a refugee, a peasant, a citizen of a conquered nation, a blue-collar worker’s son.

In His humanity, Jesus endured every pain and temptation that the rest of us endure. He felt the cold biting his skin. He was ripped by the claws of betrayal and scalded with scorn. He understood the keen pull of temptation, because He too endured the siren song of the Evil One.

He does understand.

  • He is God of the everyday

“It is ingrained in us that we have to do exceptional things for God—but we do not. We have to be exceptional in the ordinary things of life, and holy on the ordinary streets, among ordinary people—and this is not learned in five minutes.

—Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest”

In his birth, Jesus made the commonplace holy. His humble beginning shows me that my everyday living does matter. My “small things” are still important to Him. My years of normal living, unmemorialized by men, can please Him. After all, He is God, and only about 10% of his earthly life made it into the Bible. What did He do in those 30 unrecorded years? Small deeds of absolute faithfulness and love. We’re not called to live in the spotlight, at least not all the time. He will take my small days and small hours with pleasure, if I give them to Him in love.

  • God deals in relationships

“Jesus does not turn away from the world, but turns to face it. Jesus came down. He turns toward. He makes his face to shine upon. He shows compassion. He sits with. His with-ness is so important that every time we say his name, we declare it—Immanuel, God with us.”
― Emily P. FreemanSimply Tuesday: Small-Moment Living in a Fast-Moving World

Not only is our triune God in close communion with Himself (Mark 1:11), He delights in pouring out His love on His children. Unlike the gods of lore who seem to poke at their creations with a long pole, not caring to be near to them, our God is a God of relationships. This is clear in the Christmas story. He is the God who cared enough to tell Mary, “Do not be afraid.” He is the God who came to earth to actually enter into the closeness of human living, alongside us.

“I no longer call you slaves, for a master doesn’t confide in his slaves; now you are my friends, proved by the fact that I have told you everything the Father told me.”

– John 15:15, TLB –

  • Our God is a God of great joy

“At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.”

– Luke 10:21 NIV –

I do not usually think about the joy of our God. But it only makes sense. If we are to become like Christ, Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 3:1). The Spirit of Christ in us produces joy (Galatians 5:22-23). Jesus, “for the joy set before Him, endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2).

If we creatures can be full of joy, then think how much joy must be contained in our uncontainable God! Christmas shows us this mind of the Father for rejoicing:

“The angel said, “Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people.”

 – Luke 2:10, CEB –

Our God certainly understands the longings of our hearts.

“Oh, that men would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness,
And for His wonderful works to the children of men!
For He satisfies the longing soul,
And fills the hungry soul with goodness.” – Psalm 107:8-9, NKJV

Christmas was the beginning of the end of Darkness. Over thirty years later, the Darkness would be permanently dethroned from its hold on the world. Over thirty years later, the red-faced infant would be a bloody-faced convict, still suffering for the world He had borne and been born into. Over thirty years later, He would become the only man whose own power was too great for Death to keep Him in its grasp. His rising would become the pattern for our own resurrection day.


 Christmas is almost here! Take the time to read the stories our Savior’s arrival again, and think about what our God shows us about Himself in this season.

Christmas certainly does not save. But the Christ of it does.

I think that calls for a celebration.

“Who can add to Christmas? The perfect motive is that God so loved the world.
The perfect gift is that He gave His only Son.
The only requirement is to believe in Him.
The reward of faith is that you shall have everlasting life.”
– Corrie Ten Boom –

Christmas for Real People

a-christmas-gift

“Blessed is
The season which
Engages the whole
World in a
Conspiracy of love.”

 – Hamilton Wright Mabie –


I adore Christmas. I really do.

But I am also a girl becoming more and more an adult…and I’ve seen things this year that make me look at Christmas differently.

I’ve made decisions that have rippled their effects through my future.

I’ve stared into the eyes of a laughing girl–eyes that laugh to hide how deep the often-inflicted pain has scarred her.

I’ve held other hands and prayed for peace to come at last, after dark days and frightening nights.

I’ve known pain, especially the pain of others.

Becoming an adult, ever so slowly, means I can’t help but see Christmas differently.

But “differently” doesn’t mean that my love of Christmas is dimming. In fact…maybe I am just beginning to understand. I think I get it now.

Christmas is for real people.

Christmas is not made up of fake, perfectly-cast families that you see on the Hallmark Channel. Christmas is not flawless decorating. It is not smooth ornaments and trees without bare spots and everlastingly-cheerful radio music.

Christmas is made of real people. Chipped china and deformed gingerbread. An undercurrent of stress combined with the wonder. People who get tired and cranky and who don’t always get along. People who hurt and love and want to know if Christmas is really for people like them.

Just like we create false ideas of God in our minds, I think we create wrong ideas of the purpose of Christmas.

Christmas is not for the people who have no problems and gather together to celebrate flawless lives.

Christmas is the beginning of God’s expression of love, a response to all our outcries for help and deliverance. When the angels proclaimed Jesus’ birth to the nearby sheep herders, what did they say? “We bring you good news of incredible joy which will be for all nations.” (Luke 2:10-11, my paraphrase)

Good news–after centuries and centuries of waiting. At last, good news!

“Like cold water to a thirsty soul is good news from a far country.” (Proverbs 25:25)

So God spoke from the Far Country, bringing at last the refreshment, the consolation–both to Israel and, through them, to the world.

He didn’t bring Christmas to the King Herods entranced by their own power, to the religious right impressed with their own piety, to the well-satisfied in their own prosperity.

“The well [at least, those who think they’re well!] have no need for a doctor–the sick are the ones who need the doctor.” Jesus would one day say. “I come to call sinners, not the self-righteous. “(Mark 2:17, my paraphrase)

Christmas is for those who see the bare truth of their own powerlessness, sinfulness, and emptiness apart from a God who opens the way for redemption.

I’ll tell you the truth–I’m having to re-think Christmas in my own heart. I’m having to consciously remember that it is not  a holiday made for the perfect and put-together. It is a holy day because God came down to our level–pitiful and impoverished as we are– and made all days holy, because He is with us in them.

If you don’t feel up to celebrating Christmas…

If you feel too empty, too broken, too needy, too much like a refugee from the wounds of life…

If you don’t feel worthy, or capable…

If you think you have nothing to give…

Remember–this is why He came. He came for people like you, “to bring good news to the suffering and afflicted. He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted, to announce liberty to captives, and to open the eyes of the blind. He has sent me to tell those who mourn that the time of God’s favor to them has come, and the day of his wrath to their enemies. To all who mourn in Israel he will give: beauty for ashes; joy instead of mourning; praise instead of heaviness. For God has planted them like strong and graceful oaks for his own glory.” (Isaiah 61:1-3, TLB)

He came for real people, giving real, satisfying love, and will eventually bring real wholeness to the entire earth.

My inadequacy, my scars, my falling-short–these are not barriers to celebrating Christmas. Since Jesus came, my barriers are now the very reasons I can rejoice in this season. Because Jesus came to bring healing and true joy at last. Because Jesus’s birth and life, death and rising, mean that this world’s suffering isn’t meaningless. Because this good news is for me, too.

I learned a lot about myself this year…and that changed the way I look at Christmas.

I think, maybe, I’m starting to understand.


“The more unworthy you feel yourself to be, the more evidence have you that nothing but unspeakable love could have led the Lord Jesus to save such a soul as yours. The more demerit you feel, the clearer is the display of the abounding love of God in having chosen you, and called you, and made you an heir of bliss.”

 – Charles Haddon Spurgeon –

 

The Best Place to Be

 

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“Let my soul smile through my heart and my heart smile through my eyes, that I may scatter rich smiles in sad hearts.”

– P. Yogananda –

Every once in a while, I stumble across something that thrills me through and through with so much joy that I realize what souls were made for.

It’s not always the same thing.

Sitting in the sun sharing Chex Mix with two children whose father abandoned them, loving them in their blunt, innocent pain.

Nina at the nursing home, who wheels her chair up until she rams the piano bench and keeps offering to be my sister, since I don’t have one of my own.

It’s not so much a place or an activity as a pattern. The Lord sets me in opportunities, and I realize with surprise that this is what I was created to do. This is where I belong. This is where my strange, mysterious, unexplainable mix of qualities can flesh out healing and love and joy.

On Thanksgiving Day, a friend and I were discussing personality types over turkey and mashed potatoes. We have very similar personalities, so we were enjoying comparing our in-common experiences with people.

“I often tell people ‘I understand’ when they are telling me about terrible things I have never experienced, ever!” I confessed to my friend. “I know I haven’t gone through those things, but I feel a little of what it must be like.”

Sometimes, that can be a lot of pressure. To discern the pain that someone is feeling and knowing that you have to do something is a big responsibility. Another friend wrote me about a woman fighting sex trafficking, who said:

“I know too much to not do something.”

Story of my life. Like that woman, I know too much not to do something.

Recently, another friend and I were talking about this mysterious piece of me, and I felt a little overwhelmed.

God has given me this strange, crazy ability to be able to deeply feel people’s’ pain, absorb their discomfort, cry their tears, exult in their joy.

And it’s a little scary. I have to be vulnerable–not only to my own life’s trials, but to all the pains and aches and bright places of the lives around me. I have to open myself up to others even when, at times, I long to insulate myself from the suffering of a broken world.

But as I thought about my personality this week, I realized something:

My happiest moments–the times when I feel most alive, full, and complete–are when I am loving God (and loving others through Him) in the context of my design.

That’s the best place to be.

If you’ve been questioning how you were made, wondering why you were given a particular gift…If you’ve been struggling to understand your calling…If you’re afraid of the hard, painful work of sharing love with the hurting and the hopeful…If you’re wondering why your life has played out the way it has, to bring you to this very place–this encouragement is for you.

“Our constant sacrifice to God should be the praise of lips that give thanks to his name. Yet we should not forget to do good and to share our good things with others, for these too are the sort of sacrifices God will accept.”

 – Hebrews 13:15-16, Phillips paraphrase –

I’ve come to believe that it takes vulnerability to embrace God’s gifts in our lives. The point where He made me to be strongest is also the point with the most potential to overwhelm and devastate me.

But it’s worth it.

When I’m doing what I’m created to do–and surrendering myself to coming out the other side changed and even scarred, if necessary–that is when I best worship God with my life.

When I am faithful to my design, my soul sings, because that is what it was made to do.

Maybe you’re wondering if it’s too risky to do what you know God have gifted you to do. Maybe it’s outside your comfort zone. Or maybe it’s your immediate instinct, but it costs you.

Are you afraid to give your special design, your amazing gifts, to God in worship? Are you running from your compassion, your teaching ability, your serving heart, your analytical mind, your artistic talent, your leadership capabilities, because you fear that diving in will cost too much?

I sometimes feel the same way.

But we know too much to stay quiet and unmoving:

“Tell those who are rich in this present world not to be contemptuous of others, and not to rest the weight of their confidence on the transitory power of wealth but on the living God, who generously gives us everything for our enjoyment. Tell them to do good, to be rich in kindly actions, to be ready to give to others and to sympathise with those in distress. Their security should be invested in the life to come so that they may be sure of holding a share in the life which is permanent.”

– 1 Timothy 6:17-19, Phillips –

We are the rich of this world–many of us literally, all of us spiritually. As Christians, we have everything we need to do the works that God has prepared in advance for us (Ephesians 2:10). “By his divine power the Lord has given us everything we need for life and godliness through the knowledge of the one who called us by his own honor and glory” (1 Peter 2:3, CEB).

That means He has given you resources and personal gifts that are too precious to waste. And trust me, nothing will give you greater joy than resting in the love of your heavenly Father and then sharing His love in the context of your design.

It’s what He made you to do–glorify Him by doing what He commands with a redeemed heart of love.

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”

– James 2:14-17, NIV –

If the Spirit of Christ fills us, we are equipped. We are ready. Nothing can hold us back from joyful obedience, when we surrender to His Spirit. He gives us all we need. Trust God with how He made you to love and go take the risk of loving. Put those scary, wonderful gifts He’s given you to work.

It sometimes hurts. It sometimes bursts over you with fullest joy. Sometimes, it is a mix of bitter and unexplainably-sweet.

But the center of His design is always, always the best place to be.


“And God is able to make all grace [every favor and earthly blessing] come in abundance to you, so that you may always [under all circumstances, regardless of the need] have complete sufficiency in everything [being completely self-sufficient in Him], and have an abundance for every good work and act of charity.”

– 2 Corinthians 9:8, AMP –