And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests (Luke 2:8-14).
Holiday Greetings and Merry Christmas!!
Despite the materialistic association of reducing Jesus to simply the commercialistic frenzy of our mass consumerism, despite the fear of the religious association of Jesus with paganistic elements to a holiday that cause some Christians to question why we even celebrate such a holiday, and despite the temptation to treat Jesus as little more than a symbolic civic function, this seasonthrough Christmas songs, holiday decorations, and everything else that goes with this time of the yearwe, nonetheless, are reminded once again of just how amazing Gods love for us really is. I want to challenge you this season. This year, dont just get caught up in the traditional holiday hustle and bustle of preparation and celebration. By all means celebrate, if you feel so inclined! But I want to inspire you to make time, also, not just for celebration but meditation as well. What is this season really reminding us? What was the gift of Jesus all about? And what does it reveal to our hearts about the great Heart thats at the center of this event we call the Incarnation.
Ponder with me, if you will for a moment, that little baby wrapped in strips of cloth and laid in a feeding trough. There He is, in a messy, overcrowded, commercial, smelly, manure-filled, unventilated, unbearably hot and humid stable in the middle of the summer, in the little town of Bethlehem. Nothing could be more contradictory to think than that this little baby is God Himself, come to us in the form of little human baby and born in these conditions. God Himself enters our human family as one of usbut also as one of us in the worst of circumstances. And to top it all off, He comes to establish His Kingdom of unsurpassable other-centered love, in a territory of His creation that has abandoned that love and set up a rebellious kingdom of self-interest and self-concern. You see, the real Jesus isnt about all the stuff mentioned in the first paragraph, and following the real Jesus isnt, either. Following Jesus is about having a realnot symbolic (and certainly not religious)relationship with a real God, through a real Savior, who brings about real transformation in and through our life through association with and reception of His unsurpassed, other-centered love for us all. Its about having a heart that, in love, is fully surrendered to a much larger Heart that, in love, is fully surrendered to us. Its about living with intentionality and purposeto swim, as it wereupstream in the ever-increasingly self-centered culture in which we find ourselves living, committed to living each day of our lives in radical, self-sacrificial, other-centered love, replicating Calvary (and Bethlehem, too, for that matter) to everyone we come in contact with. (Some have called it Loving like the rain. Loving like the sunshine. See Matthew 5:4445.) Its about responding to His other-centered, self-sacrificial love for us and living out the other-centered principles of a kingdom that were historically injected into this world through a lowly (and messy) manger in Bethlehem.
But dont think for a moment that any of us can live a life of unsurpassed love like that by simply pulling up our bootstraps and trying. Lets take a quick look at 1 John 4:7, 8, 19. (My comments will be in italics.)
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.
Notice that this radical, self-sacrificial, other-centered love proceeds and comes from God. It does not come from us. It may flow through us, as it does throughout the entire unfallen universe, but it does not come from us. It comes from God Himself.
Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.
This radical, self-sacrificial, other-centered love is the natural fruit of seeing, believing in, and knowing God Himself.
Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.
Therefore, if we find ourselves not loving in this radical, self-sacrificial, other-centered love to everyone we meet, the solution is not to try harder, but rather to turn our attention on seeing, believing in, and knowing Him who IS love more accurately and more deeply.
We love because he first loved us.
We need NOT strive to be more loving, but rather to know more intensely how deeply we ourselves are loved. Then, by that Love for us, the same love in us will be awakened and flow forth to all we come in contact with.
This holiday season, set aside some time to become reacquainted with what that little stable in Bethlehem reveals. From that messy stable, and in perfect harmony with that stable, flowed the incarnation of Gods radical, sacrificial, other-centered love for us, a revelation that climaxed on a cross. Everything we see in Gods heart, as revealed through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, began and flowed out of the truth of that original, small, dirty stable in Bethlehem. May we truly begin to see, believe in, and know Him as He really is. And may His peoplethrough that seeing, believing and knowingbecome that radical, self-sacrificial, other-centered Love, incarnate once again.
From all of us here at Renewed Heart Ministries: Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas!