Are you crazy? It’s February. Why don’t you say something about Valentine’s Day or maybe even Presidents’ Day?
I know, I know, but you’re reading this in February and I’m writing it in December...actually just a few days before Christmas. So, if you like, you can consider this a very early (or very late) Christmas wish.
Or you can consider the fact that it’s always Christmas if one lives outside the timeline. Have you ever thought of the implications of God being outside of space and time? I first heard that concept from C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity. Lewis made the point that whereas we see everything on a timeline, God sees everything on a plane. For us, things happen one after another; but, for God, everything is present all at the same time. That explains a lot of Scripture’s confusing time language (for example, “today you will be with me in paradise” and “at the sound of the last trumpet, the dead in Christ will rise”). It also explains how Jesus, if he’s God, can pray to himself. When Jesus prayed from his incarnate state within the timeline, he was praying to himself…eternal and outside of time.
I got an email this morning from a friend who is very busy getting ready for her family’s visit over Christmas. There is so much to do and so little time. I get that. Me too! She said that she understood why God took so long to give us Christmas. He did. In fact, Christmas was in the heart and mind of God even before God created the world. Jill Briscoe wrote that when Eve bit into the forbidden fruit, with the juice dripping down her chin, Jesus prepared to leave for Bethlehem.
February is a good month to think about Christmas. You don’t have to get distracted buying Christmas presents or writing Thank You notes for the ones you got. You don’t have to attend the interminable social functions that surround Christmas. You don’t have to decorate a tree or clean up after it’s over. Maybe this is a good time to be still and quiet, to remember, and to be glad.
Last week on Steve Brown Etc. we interviewed my friend Andrew Bauman about his book, Stumbling Toward Wholeness. He talked about his relationship with Jim Cofield, then a psychologist/professor at Reformed Theological Seminary where Andrew was a student. God is using Andrew in some wonderful ways; but he is, and was, a bit out of the box. When Jim invited Andrew to live with his family, Andrew was flattered. However, he was also worried, and had questions, “What if I blow it and then blow my relationship with Dr. Cofield? What if he is forced to ask me to leave? What if I’m not who he thinks I am?”
“What about my offer?” Jim asked Andrew in a phone conversation. Andrew said he was so grateful for the kind offer, but expressed his concerns. Do you know what Jim said to him? “Andrew, I made up my mind about you a long time ago.”
The Lamb of God was “slain before the foundation of the world” and for those whose names are included in the Lamb’s book of life also written there before the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8). What does that mean? It means a lot of things, but one thing is clear. God made up his mind about you and me long before the world was created. And that means he won’t change his mind, no matter what we do or don’t do. It’s called God’s immutability. That means it’s all settled.
Do you remember in John 1 when Jesus first met Nathanael who would later become his disciple? Jesus had called Philip to follow him and then Philip found Nathanael and said, in effect, “You aren’t going to believe this, but we found the Messiah, the one we’ve heard was coming, the one about which Moses and the prophets prophesied.” Nathanael expressed skepticism until Jesus saw Nathanael, pointed to him, and said, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit.” Nathanael was blown away. He wanted to know how Jesus knew him but, more importantly, what was unsaid, how Jesus knew that Nathanael was without deceit. Jesus said, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” In other words, Jesus watched Nathaniel...when he didn’t even know Jesus’ name.
That’s always been true for believers. I remember the time I wrote to John Frame, one of the most brilliant and important theological minds of our generation. Dr. Frame was then living in California and he had stood by a young friend of mine in an ecclesiastical meeting. And he received a good deal of criticism as a result. I loved my friend and wrote to Dr. Frame to thank him.
(As an aside, I once heard Dr. Frame say “Oh dear” in response to a question just before he gave a biblical and correct—but rather controversial—answer. After the meeting, I told him, “Dr. Frame, you are a revolutionary, but revolutionaries do not say ‘Oh dear.’ If you want me to teach you how to cuss, I would be glad to do that.” To this day, Dr. Frame isn’t sure whether or not I was kidding.)
At any rate, I wrote to Dr. Frame and said, “You don’t know me, but I’m a preacher in Florida, and I wanted to thank you so much for standing with my friend when no one else would.” When Dr. Frame wrote me back, he opened his correspondence with, “I know you! And I know about you.” That blew me away, so much so that I almost framed his letter and hung it on my study wall. One of the great Christian thinkers of the church knew my name!
I obviously still think about that, but it’s nothing compared to the fact that the King of kings knows my name, knows all about me, and, not only that, likes me. I’ve often told you about my father. He didn’t think he could have a party unless I was there. And Jesus feels the same way about me. That’s what Christmas is...a birthday party to which we’ve been invited because it just wouldn’t be the same if we weren’t there.
In Jeremiah 29, the prophet writes a letter to the exiles in Babylon. What he wrote was...uh well...prophetic. Among other things, he wrote that God told him to tell them, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11).
Some scholars say that we can’t use that verse personally because it’s wrong to apply what was written to a specific people in a specific place about a specific problem. They might have a point...
...except for Christmas.
Christmas takes what Jeremiah wrote and makes it personal to every Christian. He knows your name and his plans for you really do give you a hope, a future, and a joy that unbelievers (including Nebuchadnezzar in Jeremiah 29 who deported God’s people to Babylon) will never know. They don’t have anybody who can make that kind of promise.
So it’s February. I live in Florida and it’s never bad in February, but if you live somewhere up north, it isn’t that great. As I remember, it was always cold and gray. You might get some relief by celebrating Valentine’s Day, but probably not. It’s not big enough. And there’s no way that celebrating Presidents’ Day will make up for the sun. So Christmas might do it.
Don’t thank me. I was glad to help.
He told me to wish you Merry Christmas...even if it is February.