DECEMBER 25, 2021
PREPARE TO LIVE
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14
For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. Mark 8:35
I have come that they may have life and life more abundantly. John 10:10
First, congratulations if you are reading this because Christmas day, ironically, is one day that most modern people do not have time for reflection. There are excited kids to attend to, open gifts, perhaps get ready to travel or make sure dinner and the house is ready for guests.
Paraphrasing GK Chesterton, a great 20th century thinker who said, “When you have found something that you prefer to life itself, you have for the first time begun to live!” When people ask, “what is the purpose of my life?” they are essentially asking “is there something bigger than life itself that is worth living for?” We are all searching for something bigger than our little lives to live for. Christmas is God’s answer to that question with a resounding “Yes!” God took on flesh to show us that life.
When Jesus and his kingdom become greater to us than life itself, we truly begin to live. And, unlike other things this life does not consume us, but enables to live more abundantly.
Today, as you prepare for family to arrive, or travel somewhere, open gifts, and interact with family, rejoice, and see beyond the small disappointments of not getting what you really wanted, or the letdown of another not-so-ideal holiday gathering you had imagined.
Rejoice that God became flesh to redeem you, thereby showing us that being human is good, and gave you something to surrender to, something bigger than life itself, so you can truly live!
DECEMBER 24, 2021
PREPARE TO SURRENDER
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.”
And Mary said:
“My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.”
Luke 1:38, 46-49
Remove all the modern accoutrements and sentimental emotions, and we see that the first Christmas was a story of disappointment. It was a story of unfulfilled hopes and dreams of a young teenage girl. Mary was a typical teenager with happy dreams of a normal life when the angel appeared. I can imagine Mary going through emotions such as “why me?” or “how about we wait until I am married?” or perhaps, “how about someone else, God? I just want a happy and normal life.”
In this context of disappointment, Mary’s response is simply astounding and instructive. She said yes with no guarantees, and no roadmap for the rest of her life. Mary shows us what it means to surrender to God, and how to respond to disappointment. She not only said “Yes” to God but she turns it into worship! She had no idea of what life would be, of how Joseph would respond, what her parents might think, and what social consequences she would have to bear. All she knew was that she must do the will of God for in God’s will is ultimate safety, joy, and fulfillment. All she had was an intense desire to do the will of God! We often wonder and fret about what God’s will is in our life. But God’s will most of all is that we intensely desire to do his will. This is true surrender.
When we truly surrender to God, we then have the ability to turn our disappointments into worship!
Question for Reflection: Reflect on the thoughts and choices in your life in the past, and the ones before you today - do you above all have an intense desire to do the will of God?
DECEMBER 23, 2021
PREPARE TO BE AMAZED
“My spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant…
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.”
Luke 1:47; 51-55 ESV
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:18-19 ESV
Ask any Christian, the purpose of Christmas and the most common answer will be “Jesus was born to take away the penalty and guilt of my sin.” It is interesting however that the first words that describe Jesus’ purpose in Mary’s song, the Magnificat, and Jesus’ own words at the beginning of his ministry do not mention him coming to get rid of the penalty and guilt of sin at all. Mary's song indicates Jesus coming to strike those who are rich, powerful and influential with phrases such as “brought down thrones,” and “sent rich away empty.” A careless reading of the words may make Him seem to be like an ancient Robin Hood. But we know Jesus is not Robin Hood, who operated on the assumption that rich were bad, and stole from the rich to bless the poor.
Now to be clear, Jesus did come to take away our personal guilt and sin but reducing Christmas and Christ to a personal guilt-removing, sin-washing agent alone flattens the great Gospel, and siphons away the power of Christmas. Mary’s song indicates that Jesus came to strike at the very heart of what is wrong with the world. The world honors and chases after power, influence, and riches. The kingdom of the world gone wrong places its bets on these. Jesus came to strike at the very heart of this kingdom and set up an alternative kingdom of God. He did not come to simply to modify our behavior, but to strike at the deepest idols of our times.
The story of Christmas is much grander. It is the story of God’s dramatic rescue of the world, a rescue that is still unfolding in our world, and Christmas is God’s invitation to join Him as participants in this amazing story!
When we reduce the Gospel to simply a story of personal salvation, we can make it one-dimensional. We may begin to think that believing in Jesus means I am free to do what I want as long as I modify my behavior to the biblical moral norms and look to receive a great future in Heaven. But the Christmas story is so much more grander – it is full of wonder. Christmas says Jesus came to reverse every value of the world we hold dear, he came to establish a Kingdom that is and is yet to come, and I am a part of this story!
Question for Reflection: Today, I invite you to reflect on Christmas as the grand story of rescue by God, and your part he has invited you to play in it.
DECEMBER 22, 2021
PREPARING TO CHANGE OUR MINDS
Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” John 9:39 ESV
Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.” Matthew 21:31-32 ESV
Christmas is God’s attempt to change our minds.
In John 9:39, Jesus tells us that he came so that the blind may see, and those who see may become blind. That seems like a contradiction until we understand the context, and realize what Jesus was saying. He was pointing out the fact that the essential pre-requisite for entering the kingdom of God is the willingness to “change our minds about ourselves and about God.”
We see this played out towards the end of Jesus’ ministry. In Matthew 21, Jesus says that the tax collectors and prostitutes enter the kingdom of God before those who are morally upright and the religious elite. In other words, those who would seem “far” from God seem to be getting in the kingdom of God easier than those who are seemingly “near.” Jesus is not validating sinful behavior, instead he tells us that the difference was that the prostitutes and tax collectors were willing to “change their minds (Matt 21:32)”. Jesus calls this “change of mind” as believing in Him.
This is the true Gospel. This is the beauty of Christmas. The richness of God’s gift at Christmas is impossible to see until we see the poverty of our own spirit. We not only have to “change our minds” once, but it is a continual effort to remind ourselves about our own poverty, and the richness of God’s gift at Christmas because our minds default to continually trying to fortify the sense of our worth in our own estimation.
This is the gateway to the joy of Christmas! It is directly proportional to how much we have truly changed our minds about God.
Question for Reflection: In what areas, or in what people do you “refuse to see” the grace of God? Where do you need to change your mind about God?
DECEMBER 21, 2021
LIVING A LIFE OF PREPARATION
“When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” John 19:30 ESV
“He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.” Revelation 22:20-21 ESV
The last words in the Bible, ‘Come Lord Jesus,’ are very instructive to our Christian life. They appropriately sum it up and tell us that the Christian life is one deep longing for Jesus’ ultimate arrival.
What does this mean for us? It means that the story is not over. It means that our life essentially has all its Hope anchored in these words - ‘Come Lord Jesus.’ Therefore, if we demand that our lives be on our terms, and we demand all our anxieties and struggles be taken away, and live with a great dissatisfaction of spirit we are essentially refusing to say ‘Come Lord Jesus.’
In this deep longing is our hope. But how can we have confidence in these last words of the Bible? What makes these words not a cry of desperation? It is because of Jesus’ last words on the cross - ‘It is finished.’
A life of hope is therefore a life of joy. It is a life of contentment, willing to live without all my questions answered and striving to make all my demands be met. We live our lives between these two last words - ‘It is finished’ and ‘Come Lord Jesus.’
Question for reflection: What demands, anxieties or grief has taken hold of your heart and obscured your joy and contentment this season? How can you find joy in surrender to the most powerful words of hope - ‘Come Lord Jesus.’
DECEMBER 20, 2021
THE DANGER OF CHRISTMAS
“And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.”
Matthew 2:11 ESV
The wonderful sentiments we experience at Christmastime are also potentially the great danger of Christmas. We can get fixated with the baby Jesus, and all the sentiments evoked by the stories of his birth. We face the danger of reducing Christmas to a celebration of emotions evoked by the baby Jesus rather than grapple with the implications of the grown up Jesus who demands a complete Lordship of our lives!
The Bible captures this wisdom of the wise men who came to see the baby Jesus - “They saw the child.. they fell down and worshipped him.” What an adult and mature response to a “baby!” May we learn from them and see past the haziness of our sentiments that want to keep him permanently as a baby requiring no response except a warm and fuzzy feeling we can mistake for spirituality.
Question for reflection: What ideas of Jesus do you have that are mere sentiments that you must let go? What are some implications of Jesus’ birth in your personal life right now?
DECEMBER 19, 2021
PLANNING VS. PREPARING
He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Luke 1:16-17
There is a great deal of difference between planning and preparation. Planning is figuring out what you are going to do, but preparation is getting ready. Planning is awareness, but preparation is readiness. Most of us spend considerable time planning what we are going to do for Christmas, few of us make time to ready ourselves - our hearts, minds, and our whole selves - for Christmas. So, this week, as we approach Christmas, while you may have planned everything - the foods to make, the gifts to give, the people to call, I invite you to join in a journey of preparation of your heart and mind for Christ, the very essence of Christmas.
In today’s reading, Luke tells us that as Christmas approached, before Jesus was born, God sent John with a mission. He was to “make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” First, the preparation was for “people of Israel.” That is, God’s people. We often think it is those who do not know God need to prepare, but the first message to prepare was to those who were the people of God. Second, the preparation, in essence was to “turn hearts.” That is to “take attention and energies away from one thing to another, more important thing. It is to bring the heart in line with what God is doing. It is to stop being distracted by small tasks when something big is happening - God in flesh is coming. It is to pay attention to the really significant thing that matters - our lives before God. This week my prayer is that we will take time, not just to PLAN, but to PREPARE for Christmas.
Question for reflection: What has grabbed your attention in the recent days? What do you need to put aside to prepare for the most important thing ever - your heart and life before God?