Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The True Meaning of Christmas

Chuck Sackett, the former President of Lincoln Christian College, once told me something that I'm sure has been repeated hundreds of times, but he was the first I'd heard it from. He said “If you can do anything other than preach, do it... if you don't have a passion for preaching, you're never going to make it.” That stuck with me throughout college, even though I decided not to attend Bible College, and when the time came to start looking for jobs, I spurned immediately looking for jobs in my degree area (teaching English) and focused on ministry jobs. My decision was questioned by some, but most people supported me... except for one person who challenged my readiness in a way that no one else dared.

Apparently, her brother had died when she was younger. I'm a little fuzzy on the details of that part of the conversation because the next part shocked me. She told me that her father's faith was shaken to the core and that the minister of her church had gone over to talk to him, to console him, and to counsel him. That minister was met with this response: “Which of your sons has died?” The minister hadn't had any of his sons die and told this woman's father that. The father replied, “Then you have nothing to say to me.” The woman then asked me how I would respond to that when I was a preacher... how a 23 year old might be able to comfort someone who had been through such an ordeal.

I responded first with the fact that, when I was 7, I had a friend pass away and that I understood loss. She retorted, “It's not the same as a son, Adam.” So then I said, “Well, then I suppose I might say, God lost His Son.” This was the end of the conversation. Both she and I were so exasperated at each other that neither one of us really felt like talking about it anymore. I don't really blame her for having these feelings-- it was pretty obvious that we had been treading on some pretty serious ground, but I still think I had a valid point.

Christmastime is that special time of year when we tend to conceptualize the fact that Jesus was actually once a baby, that he was the Son of Joseph and Mary, but also one to God Himself. Joseph and Mary cared for this child, loved this child, raised this child. So did God, but God knew fully what was in store for Jesus when He grew up. The fact that God loved us enough to send His Son, His Holy perfect Son, as a sacrifice for humanity is nothing short of amazing. I'm not a father, so I don't know that I'll truly understand just how BIG that is until I am one, but I know that it's big.

I don't want to gloss over that fact at all. It's enormous. So I gave it this mini-paragraph. And I'll follow it up with Romans 8:3,4

The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.

Now we know that God desires all men to be saved. Romans 11 talks about how Jews and Gentiles and how the Jews are the true descendents of Abraham, but some have fallen away. Those Jews are like dead branches on an olive tree, and the Gentiles can replace them: Romans 11:17

But some of these branches from Abraham’s tree—some of the people of Israel—have been broken off. And you Gentiles, who were branches from a wild olive tree, have been grafted in. So now you also receive the blessing God has promised Abraham and his children, sharing in the rich nourishment from the root of God’s special olive tree.

To me, that would have been more than good enough. If God had said, “Ok humanity, you messed up, but we'll let you come along for the ride,” that would have been great. Think of it like a prosthetic hand. There are now prosthetic hands with individually powered digits which are controlled using myoelectric signals (which are generated from the residual limb).* It's not quite a real hand, but it's the next best thing. No one, I don't think, would complain and say, “I'd rather have no hand at all than this stupid prosthetic!” But that's not where God drew the line. Romans 8:14-17

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.

Christ was a Son to God, and we're told that Christ loves us like the Father loves Him-- and since Christ and the Father are one, we're loved as sons and daughters of God as well! Just as Jesus was God's Son, that's how God views us.

I mentioned last week how Christ was the redemption plan since Adam and Eve's first sin. To put this in perspective, I like to imagine Adam and Eve taking that piece of fruit and partaking in the first sin as the moment where all the angels collectively go “NOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” like someone just missed a crucial field goal in a football game. But when Christ was born on earth and all the angels are there to announce the birth of Christ, it's like the game winning kick and everyone starts to celebrate.

Check your inboxes in the next few weeks and you'll start to see e-mails circulating about the “True Meaning of Christmas.” There will be talk about how Christmas is over-commercialized, and how “Jesus is the reason for the season.” That's all true. But just as true is this-- when the angels said the “First Noel” they were celebrating the birth of Christ, as well as the fact that millions of other believers would soon be adopted as true sons and daughters into the family.

The end of the second passage I quoted from Romans 8 “But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering” is telling. Just because we're sons and daughters of God doesn't mean that things will be peachy, or even easy. God is a loving gracious father, but He is also fair and just. Sometimes fairness and justice hurt. I can't give an account for why God chooses to do what He does, and I never will be able to. I also don't know if it would provide any solace to the father of that woman to whom I was talking, but I do know this-- God cared for her brother enough that He sent His actual Son to die for him, so that he could be justified as a Son of God, and loved him like one too... just like He cares for all of those who faithfully follow Him.

*Thanks to my friend Nicole for giving me the “jumping off point” that inspired this blog entry. All of that prosthetic limb technical business are her words, not mine.