Christmas is Done

It’s a refreshing feeling. Everything is back to normal. Stores are open. The house is back in order. The radio DJ’s I know are back on live and all the ‘best of/syndication’ is finished. Traveling is behind me, business hours make sense again and my friends are all back in town. The commercials, the tv specials, the marketing… it’s all about spending money now. That fear of ordering in time or would I receive a gift from someone I didn’t consider? All gone!

Everything changes for the holidays and I usually sigh in relief when it all changes back. I wouldn’t call myself a scrooge… I just see the busyness and stress in all of it. My summary might be…

It was great, but I’m glad its over

Do you cringe any when you see the commercialization of Christmas? Do you see childhood memories and innocent ideals squashed by the machine and trivialized by the masses? Rudolph, Santa and Frosty all have price tags now and Baby Jesus is either left out or promoted with an agenda.

I think we can do this same exercise with church and our relationship with God if we aren’t careful. Sundays can quickly become about parking, childcare, awkward conversations, “I hope he doesn’t ask us to greet our neighbor for 5 minutes”. Whose seat did I take? Song choices are weird, sit down, stand up, I can’t find that verse in the Bible, sit down again, another offering?!!? Lunch plans, getting asked to serve, guilt trips… and when we find our way back home… wheh! That is all behind me now.

When Jesus turned the tables over in the temple He noted that His Father’s house was being operated by a bunch of thieves. But before He called out their transgression, He first stated the original intent.

‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers

Matthew 21:13

“My house shall be called a house of prayer”. What a contrast! It would have worked had He just called them robbers and drove them out, but He first established the proper baseline. This place is for prayer. Prayer is communication and worshiping THE God. You have taken something Holy and made it into something human.

While I’m not writing this to call us all thieves… I do see us approaching our time of worship against the original intent. I know this easily because I have done it.

What if we decided to approach the church with the same humility, love, and sacrifice that Jesus approached the cross for us?

Could we simply change some verbiage? I don’t have to lead a prayer or pass out cards, or shake hands, or smile, or meet new people, or teach a class… I get to. I am honored to. A man climbed on a torture device that I deserve and He took my place because He desperately wanted me to be saved.

He didn’t just die for me… I was His prize. He cherished a relationship with me. The thought of not having me was worse than the pain of the cross. He longs for me. When Jesus was born into animal filth and the cruelty of this world, the angels cheered! His plan was in motion… the plan to get me to Him.

So can my response match His? Can I muster together activity in my heart that will allow me to reciprocate in this life a desire to be with Him?

When my six year old gets vegetables on his plate he eats what he likes and then claims he is full. If I offer chocolate, he invariably exclaims, “YES!”. But he was just full one second ago. And, if I return to the vegetable, he is still full. He has no desire for what is good for him, only for what his appetite enjoys.

He has to want to be healthy. He has to learn about what harming his body with junk can really do. He will never truly be healthy… he will always return to the bad food, as long as his thought process is… ‘I have to eat vegetables to get what I want”.

What he needs is a love of himself. A love for health and purity and for what the body was created to take in and process. What we need is a love for Christ. A desire for the bread of life and to yearn to be what we, as temples of the Holy Spirit were created to be.

This can easily be checked. Do we have to… or do we get to? Is it a task or an honor? Do we anticipate, or are we glad when it’s over? Do we come to pray, or have we commercialized religion?

Some of the trivial things will not change, but our outlook on them certainly will. Christ gave His all… His very best. Do we have to give back? Do we cringe when we give a tenth? Do we roll our eyes or sigh when the newsletter announces service days? Are we proud of the response to our Savior? Can we go to simply pray to our Savior and commune with Him… or do we have another agenda?

Remember the Price, because we are the Prize.

A manger is defined as an animal feeding trough. It is what the hay goes in. The cow or horse will stick its head into the box and use it’s lips, gums, and tongue to maneuver the straw into it’s mouth. In addition to eating, these mammals will scratch up against the corners to cure a good itch as well as sneeze and cough into the eating area while consuming food.

In short, a manger contains animal hair, germs, mucus, saliva, some blood and any remnants of feed that fell back out of the animals mouth. oh… and bugs along with whatever bugs do (molt, lose wings and legs, leave waste, etc). I asked Lysol and they said they couldn’t do much to disinfect the manger that Jesus laid in… they didn’t come to be until almost 1900 years after Jesus was born.

I see two problems with how we view our Savior. First, we don’t view Him accurately in the manger. And second, we don’t view Him properly on the cross.

We try. Especially on the cross. We have some bloody and gory movie depictions of what He must have gone through. And it’s difficult to watch. But in our day to day, I think we lean toward miracle Jesus. He is the man that walked on water. He told the children to come to Him. He freed possessed people, cured blind, and raised the dead. He confronted the pharisees and really put them in their place.

His birth was stage one of His death. Filthy and disgusting, he lay in the mess of this world. Our hero, our Savior, our King, longingly anticipated is now finally here… laying in the place animals eat. Not in the same room, but in their actual food dish.

And as He lay with the animals, who just happened to be the only ones who would accept Him when He needed a birthing place, He was now on path to die a miserable death. These are His book ends. His alpha and omega are miserable birth and torturous death.

When we think about how unpleasant it is to think of our Savior this way, we tend to go back into the habit of picturing the kind man that fed thousands. Rarely do we ponder His discomfort. How often do we consider that His birth pain was merely foreshadowing to what He came to do for us?

He was overwhelmingly un-welcomed by those He came to save. Yes we have the angels and the shepherds and the wise men… but we also have the Herod’s, the pharisees, the mobs, the Romans, and even the disciples who neglected Him in prayer and in allegiance.

Yes, the disciples. Denying Him. Fleeing. Selling Him out. Yet we well up with pride when the shepherds are exited to see baby Jesus. Jesus was condemned to die in that manger. It was His mission. We disservice Him directly when we pretty up the picture to something it wasn’t. We imagine a hollywood moment where Jesus is comfortably resting in cozy clothes and the animals all bow down in honor set under a star filled, clear sky with peaceful quiet all around.

I’m not a fan of going for the harsh, bitter, gruesomeness of it all… but that is all it was. This is our Savior. It’s what He came to do. When we forget the story… the whole story, we reduce His sacrifice for us. He came to die. From day one He gave for us. He gave His birthright as King. He gave up comfort, prestige, peace, family, friends, dignity, and so much more.

This time of year we have help in one thing we must always do… remember. Remember who He was, what He made Himself, and who exactly He gave it all away for. You. He took your place. He is your King, lying helplessly among the animals… occupying their feed box, and waiting His turn for the nails to go through as punishment for all the things He didn’t do, but we did.

We remember Jesus in all of His pain, because He did that for us. He took our place. He battled the enemy we can’t beat and He won for each of us. We have to remember the price because we are the prize. He did it for us. To receive us to Himself. A miracle wielding Savior isn’t the whole story. He humbled Himself. He subjected Himself. He was humiliated, shamed, and discarded.

Don’t remember Him out of pity. Cherish the accurate story of what He endured to make it possible to get to us. No one becomes a Christian because they have to. A Christian is someone who experiences the gifts of Jesus and runs out of their life to follow Him. He gave Himself. He is the gift. We are the prize to Him. We will meet and relish that the journey is over. Until then, we remember. He gave everything to receive us.

He doesn’t want a Sunday morning “Christian” that looks the part for a fraction of the story. He wants someone who remembers and follows. The angles rejoiced as Jesus lay in that manger. Can you imagine that? Look at God… in that filth. Yet it invoked a joyous response.

If the angels can rejoice at Jesus’ arrival to pain and misery… what can we muster at the thought of His triumphant return that marks the end of this mess that sparked both the manger and the cross?

And that sums it up splendidly for me. The life and death of Jesus isn’t meant to inspire guilt… It’s meant to bring hope. Because of what He did for us, we have an amazing, supernatural hope. But we must remember what He did and respond.

How will you respond to the Man that endured both the manger and the cross for you? Do you think about the rules and the difficulties like the disciples in their weakest moments? They struggled because they had not yet experienced the cross. But once they did… they traded in everything for the honor of wielding His name. We have double the hindsight as we have both the manger and the cross in our good news.

How can we celebrate the Son who started in a feeder and ended as a tortured spectacle? While that answer must ultimately be up to you, I’ll start you off with this. I think the angels celebrated Christ’s arrival to the manger because they knew something not yet known to the rest of us. I think they knew of the tomb. When you finish the story with an empty tomb… it changes everything.

Christ didn’t suffer so we wouldn’t have to. He suffered and died so that we could have an empty tomb too. Being a Christian is hard. To do what is right, our lives would look like that of Jesus, misery and all. We would know pain and strife. But the empty tomb is the gift Jesus gives to those who remember and follow Him. Not miracles and not easy lives. But hope and eternity in a restored world.

So many refuse Jesus because life doesn’t get easier. It won’t get easier. He didn’t promise that. He promised an empty tomb among other things, but never an easy life. But as He endured the cross I believe He looked at the end game and saw us with Him… and that reminded Him to finish His goal. I also believe we need to do the same. To look to the end game and see Him and the restoration and the empty tomb and we will find nothing is worth not remembering and following Him.