Steve’s Devotional – How to be Christmas to the World
DECEMBER 3, 2018
As you may know, most of my life I’ve been a Scrooge about Christmas. While I still sometimes struggle with that, I’m a lot better. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because I’m growing in Christ, maybe Anna’s Christmas spirit is transforming me or it could be that I’m no longer a pastor with all the work a pastor has to do at Christmas.
However I think the real reason I’m a bit more into Christmas is that God has been teaching me that I don’t have to be so much in control. Actually it’s a deeper lesson than that. He’s teaching me that my efforts to control things are silly because I never was and never will be in control of anything.
Let me give you a nontraditional Christmas text, a powerful statement about the incarnation of God in Christ. Paul said in Philippians 2:5-11:
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Talk about going to a dangerous place without any weapons or any control…That’s what the incarnation was all about. Paul said that Jesus “made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” and that “he humbled himself.” The world has always been a dangerous place for babies…and God became a baby.
Good heavens! What was he thinking?!
He was thinking about you and me.
The reason Christmas is such a wonderful time is because it is the time we set apart to remember how much God loved his people. It was the time when God came to us because we couldn’t come to him. It was the time when God told us he wasn’t angry and that he would love us without reservation and without condition. It was the time when God took the armor off and became vulnerable to the worst we could do to him.
A long while back, when they were young, our grandchildren were with us in Florida. Jennifer, their mother, tried her best to get the girls to eat quickly because they needed to get out the door and were running late. She tried begging, she tried telling them how good the food was, and she told them that if they didn’t eat, they wouldn’t get to go out. Everything she tried didn’t work.
So I decided to fix it. In my deepest and most authoritative voice I said, “Girls! Eat the food or I’m going to break your face!”
It got very quiet around the dinner table. Then Christy, who was five at the time, started laughing. She said, “Pops, I know you. You would never break my face!”
Christmas is the time when God let us know what he was really like. He went to a lot of trouble to tell us that he wouldn’t “break our faces.” When we understand that and say, “Father, I know you now. You would never break my face,” I suspect he is as delighted as I was with Christy’s understanding that her “Pops” loved her and would never hurt her.
Of course you already knew that. Christmas is God’s gift to us. But let me tell you something perhaps you didn’t know. We are called to be God’s gift to one another and to the world. Note that Paul said, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.” In other words, Christmas is not only the gift of God to us; it is our call to be a gift to one another and to the world. It is the model of what we are supposed to be.
How do we become “Christmas” to others? The same way Jesus became Christmas for us.
Jesus was defenseless.
Jesus didn’t try to protect himself. He “made himself nothing.”
I don’t know about you, but I spend a lot of my time trying to defend myself and God. I know. That’s silly and a bit neurotic. I don’t have anything to defend and God doesn’t need any defending. (He was doing fine long before I came along.)
I spent a lot of time recently talking to a dear friend who was feeling horribly guilty about something he did almost 19 years ago. He said that there was no excuse for what he had done. I told him, “Of course there was no excuse. You’re a sinner and, as Paul said to the Romans, you have no excuse. But God loves you and has forgiven you. Just don’t pretend to be anything other than what you are…a man without an excuse.”
That is what it means to be defenseless. In Jesus’ case, it was because he chose to be defenseless. In our case, it is because we really are. We don’t have to pretend to be better than we are to our brothers and sisters in Christ or to the world to which we have been sent. It is our gift to them. If we pretend to be better than we are, if we defend ourselves, if we put on our “emotional and spiritual armor,” they will think that Christmas is only for good people who are very religious. Until we become defenseless (without excuse, without armor) we will be only a curse to one another and to the world.
Jesus was demoted.
Paul said that Jesus “took the form of a servant.”
Have you ever thought that we are here for “them” in the same way that Jesus was here for us? It’s true. We think that we are special because we are Christians. Being special in the army at boot camp and as a Christian mean pretty much the same thing…we clean the latrines.
In his teaching the parable of the Good Samaritan, I heard a preacher make the following observation: The thieves said, “What you have is mine, I will take it.” The religious leaders who passed by said, “What is mine is mine and you can’t have it.” The Good Samaritan said, “What is mine is yours and, if you need it, you can have it.”
We are called to be Christmas to one another and to the world…and the way we do that is by being a servant the way Jesus was a servant.
Jesus was determined.
He knew the “end of the story.” Paul said, “Therefore, God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name…”
It’s the same with us. We will be exalted (not because of who we are, but because of whose we are). At Christmas, God said to us that this world isn’t all there is and someday we will have the mother of all parties…a Christmas party to last all year long.
So Merry Christmas! Enjoy the tree, parties, family, celebration and gifts.
I know, I know. The really religious people will tell you that you’re supposed to be very serious at Christmas. They are wrong and, because they are wrong, they will never be able to be vulnerable and free enough to be a Christmas for anybody else. Enjoying Christmas and “being” Christmas are sort of like dancing. You can’t think about it. You just have to let go and do it.
Yeah, it’s really crazy to be defenseless in a dangerous world. You can get killed.
It’s really crazy to be a servant and to not care about power. We really do have to look out for ourselves by lording it over one another.
Being Christmas to one another and to the world is really crazy…crazy like a fox.
Time to Draw Away
Read John 13:1-15
Are you into control? Best to let it go. Servanthood is revolutionary. It impacts, changes and challenges us (both the giver and the receiver) in radical and grace-filled ways. Being vulnerable, loving and open to the world is what Christ did at Christmas. We are called to do the same. So be yourself (warts and all)…and be Christmas.