I am heartsick and hopeful as I pen these words. Colleagues and friends have shared tragic stories of emotional and physical pain. At the same moment I am absorbing their concerns, I am happily awaiting the arrival of my adult children for Christmas. My heart is bursting with gratitude for my family and breaking with empathy for some friends.
The affections of Christmas have always been paradoxical. Michael Card said it well in one of his songs, “Behold the mystery, fantastic and wild: a mother made by her own Child.” We have angelic choirs viewed by humble shepherds. We have aristocratic scholars from Persia dealing with a devious King Herod. The family dwelling was full of older relatives, so Jesus is born in the first story room with the animals and sleeps in a feeding trough. The newborn King, the Savior of the world, will evoke worship from the humble, provoke an evil King to murder, move the hearts of an elderly prophetess and prophet, and ultimately split history in two as he grows and fulfills his mission to atone for sin and bring eternal hope.
These paradoxical affections are also fueled by current events in our nation and around the world. The followers of the Bethlehem Babe are growing in number around the globe and transforming the social and spiritual landscape in scores of nations, even while the entire Christmas Story is scorned in the elite corners of the West. Thousands of innocents are dying at the hands of murderous thugs while arrogant fools debate on how to spend money we do not have. At the same time, millions of people are giving sacrificially so that the victims of earthquakes, hurricanes and tsunamis can have water and food.
All of these feelings incite a deep longing for peace, rest and stability. The promise of Scripture is clear: there is a Day coming when swords become plowshares, lambs and lions lie down together, and there is no more war and want. As a follower of Jesus Christ, I am invited to bring this future into the present. Christianity is not a nostalgia trip. It is not a romanticized look back. God’s kingdom in Jesus Christ is a reign of joy and justice perfected in the future and participated in today. Every reconciled relationship is a window into a Day when all tears are gone. Every child fed and loved is a glimpse into the glory of heaven. Every war that ends anticipates the Day when the King of Kings ends all wars.
How will I celebrate Christmas? I will enjoy family and friends and laugh as much as I can. I will pray for my colleagues and friends and try to help. I will feast on great food and help make sure others are fed. I will love my wife and kids and seek to build communities where no one is a stranger. I will long for heavenly peace and do my best to bring it on earth. I will demand integrity of politicians and be honest in all I do.
Christmas affections are powerfully paradoxical. We have Eternity stepping into time; the Almighty is forever a human being. We discover that real authority begins with service. Transformation is not just behavior modification. We need a relationship with Christ, a loving community and personal purpose to be whole people.
Merry Christmas friends – may we all celebrate and serve in a spirit of faith, hope and love.
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