Day 4: The Sacred Conspiracy of Christmas

Published on December 8, 2011 by CT in Blog, Thoughts

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The English have the 12 days of Christmas in song.  The high churches have the 24 (ish) days of advent.  Here at Crave Something More, I’ll be writing a series called the “21 Days of CSM Christmas.”  Starting December 5 and finishing on Christmas Day, I will write once a day about all things Christmas, in the hopes that we will all continue to see Jesus as the greatest satisfaction to our soul’s deepest cravings.

Day 4:  The Sacred Conspiracy of Christmas

Let’s be conspiracy theorists for a moment.  Say you are a guy (let’s call you Joseph), and you’re engaged to this sweet hometown girl (let’s call her Mary), and you have watched this girl for years and years and have finally mustered up the courage to ask her to be your wife.  And then she goes to visit relatives for a few months, and she comes back pregos, and you’re wondering what you should do.

The law gives you the right to have her killed, but you are a just man, and you love this girl, and she swears she has broken no law, so you resolve to break the engagement quietly.  But then an angel comes to you and tells you that the conceived child belongs to no man, but to God, through the work of His Holy Spirit.

Now let’s say you start to get this devious plan in your mind.  You remember your teacher telling you that there was this Coming One, the Messiah who would restore Israel to its former glory, and that this Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, because the prophet Micah foretold it.  And you also remember a story about the coming one being born of a virgin, because the prophet Isaiah foretold it.  And you have watched foreign occupiers suck the life out of your village and your people, and you want to see your nation restored.  More than that, you want power yourself.

So you come up with this plan to take advantage of Mary’s situation, and your family happens to be from Bethlehem, so when Caesar issues a decree that everyone should return to their hometown for the census, you see this is your chance.  You can work the situation into fulfilling a couple of prophecies by going to Bethlehem and having Mary deliver this child there.  And then you could start telling people that your son is the long awaited Messiah!  And then you’d coach your son into fulfilling other prophecies, and as he rose to power, you’d rise along with him.

You could do all of that right? I mean, it would be really strange, and you’d be a megalomaniac, and it’d be a super long shot, but it’s possible, right?

Clearly, Joseph and Mary do no such thing.  They probably had no idea that any of these prophecies were actually being fulfilled—they were likely just dealing with the really difficult situation they found themselves in.  But what strikes me most in this story is the impossibility of any power-hungry man fulfilling Micah’s prophecy himself.  You can maybe ride into Jerusalem on a donkey because Zechariah said the king would come into the city in this way, but you can’t control your birth.  You can’t, as a child in the womb, control where your mom and dad go to deliver you (or control that pesky star).

Unless, of course, you’re God.  And this is the wonder of Christmas.  When Micah, facing the prospect of siege, spoke hope into the crumbling heart of Israel, “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from old, from ancient of days,” it meant that the deliverance of Israel was going to be of God.

This is why Christmas was God’s doing.  It was the sacred conspiracy, a plan formulated in secret before the ages began, and not one of evil (as conspiracies are), but one of holy origins.  Jesus was to be born in Bethlehem, and He would be a ruler in Israel who would “shepherd his flock” of God’s people, and He would be “their peace”, all because God planned it long ago and promised it through His prophet, Micah.

Let us wonder at the delight God has in taking small things (Bethlehem, a manger, a baby; us) and making great things from them (a Messiah who would shepherd His people and be their peace; a redeemed people who are conformed into the image of God’s Son).  Let us realize that Christmas was promised long ago, in the midst of great trial, by a God who has our good in mind, and loves to use the weak in this world to shame the strong.  And let us feel the love God has for us in this promised Messiah, a love that was made clear some 33 years after that miraculous birth, and a love that gives the substance to our Christmastime today.

For the rest of the 21 Days of Crave Something More Christmas, go here.

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Day 3: The Sign of Christmas

Published on December 7, 2011 by CT in Blog, Thoughts

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The English have the 12 days of Christmas in song.  The high churches have the 24 (ish) days of advent.  Here at Crave Something More, I’ll be writing a series called the “21 Days of CSM Christmas.”  Starting December 5 and finishing on Christmas Day, I will write once a day about all things Christmas, in the hopes that we will all continue to see Jesus as the greatest satisfaction to our soul’s deepest cravings.

Day 3:  The Sign of Christmas

If you had to pick just one symbol or sign for Christmas, what would it be? If Google Images is of any help, then Christmas is symbolized by the Christmas tree, or bells, or snow fall against a lit home, or Santa, or ornaments, or gifts, or candy canes, or Homer Simpson on a rooftop in a Santa costume.

But God’s sign was much simpler than all of this.  God’s sign was a baby.

“Ask a sign of the LORD your God,” the Lord said to King Ahaz of Judah, “let it be deep as Sheol or as high as heaven.”  Ahaz was facing a great threat when he heard this from the Lord.  Rezin, the king of Syria, and Pekah, the king of Israel were at the foothills of Jerusalem, readying an attack.  And the hearts of Ahaz and his people “shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind.”  There was no steadiness of heart; there was no resolve.  There was only the unsettling fear that blew gusts of dread among the people.

So the Lord sent Isaiah to calm Ahaz and his people:  “Be careful, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint…It shall not stand, and it shall  not come to pass…If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all.”

Ahaz’s faith must not have been firm, because this is where the Lord came to Ahaz to tell him to ask for a sign—an impossible sign!  How deep is Sheol?  There is no depth to speak of.  How high is heaven?  There is no height to measure.  God was basically saying this:  My word will stand, Ahaz.  What I have promised, I will bring about.  I will deliver My people.  In fact, you can ask anything you can think of as a sign to prove it—anything at all.  Because I have power and control over all things.

And when Ahaz refused God’s offer, saying “I will not put the Lord to the test,” God promised a sign anyway.  “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel (which means, “God is with us”).”  This is a strange sign to be sure.  I’m not sure how Ahaz would have felt at hearing this sign.  Great, who is the virgin?  Is she conceiving soon, because those two armies are still encamped against us?

But God’s story was greater than Ahaz’s story, just as God’s story is greater than our own.  And God’s sign was the impossible sign.  Virgin’s don’t conceive and bear sons.  No one would think to ask for a sign like this.  But all things are possible with God.  And wrapped up in this sign, for Ahaz and for us, is the promise of God for deliverance, the promise for salvation from our enemies, the promise that God has our good in mind.

Jesus is this sign.  He is this promise.  He is our deliverance from sin, and our salvation from Satan’s grasps, and our promise of God’s goodness to us.  So when we see the symbols of Christmas in our homes and on our streets and in the public squares this month, let us see through them to the impossible sign that God promised, the glory of a helpless baby who would be our great Deliverer.

For the rest of the 21 Days of Crave Something More Christmas, go here.

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Day 2: The Hint of Christmas in the Garden

Published on December 6, 2011 by CT in Blog, Thoughts

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The English have the 12 days of Christmas in song.  The high churches have the 24 (ish) days of advent.  Here at Crave Something More, I’ll be writing a series called the “21 Days of CSM Christmas.”  Starting December 5 and finishing on Christmas Day, I will write once a day about all things Christmas, in the hopes that we will all continue to see Jesus as the greatest satisfaction to our soul’s deepest cravings.

Day 2:  The Hint of Christmas in the Garden

If you consume any sort of media these days, you’re likely party to the sport of Christmas.  By sport, I mean the struggle that rages on the field of a slowly dying religious society between those who seek to destroy Christmas (or so one team says) and those who seek to shove Christmas on everyone whether they like it not (or so the other team says).  Just as businesses have come to count on the massive revenues generated during this season, so too have talk radio hosts and bloggers and reporters come to expect the instant fodder that’s created every year as December rolls around.

No matter that much of our Christmas celebrations—the tree, decorations, gift-giving, Santa Claus, Father Christmas, feasting, carols, card-exchanges—have no Biblical significance at all.  Even our most religious traditions—the Christmas hymns, special worship services, nativity scenes—have no Biblical basis.  From the Bible’s standpoint, the celebration of Christmas as a holiday doesn’t exist.

But that doesn’t mean the Bible doesn’t tell a Christmas story.  It just means the Bible doesn’t tell our kind of Christmas story.

The story begins where most good stories begin:  at the beginning.  “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”  Here is the word of God, or more accurately, the Word of God, doing something amazing.  His Word is making something out of nothing.  He’s making everything out of nothing.  As humans, we can create things, but we also created out of something that already exists.  God, God’s Word, creates out of things that do not exist.  So already this story starts with a bang, with a hint of mystery, almost with a sense of otherworldly power.

John and Paul (not those ones, but the other ones) clarify something important for us:  That this Word is not a force, it’s not a power, it’s a person!  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.” John writes.  And Paul chimes in:  “All things were created by Him and through Him and for Him.”

We need John and Paul to help us make this connection, but we don’t need them to meet the Word.  Moses introduces us to this Person back at the beginning of his story. God has created all things through His Word, including people and a garden.  And God puts those people in a garden, and He loves them, and lavishes them with beautiful things, and enjoys His relationship with them.  But they soon fall prey to the same thing we all fall prey to:  they sought to satisfy themselves with something other than God.

“Where are you?”  God calls to the man.  “Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”  And the man points his finger at the woman, and the woman points her finger at the serpent, and the serpent has nowhere to point.  All three are responsible, and all three bear the burden of their sin.

This is where we see the Word.  “I will put enmity between you and the woman,” God says to the serpent, “and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”  A seed of woman would one day come, and while Satan would win a skirmish, he would lose the battle.

Christmas marks the arrival of this seed, the beginning of the fulfillment of this prophecy, the first shots of the Battle at Calvary, and we are free from their burden because He came.  Let us be grateful today, as we look forward to the Christmas story we will write with our families this year, and let us remember that God’s story is the best of stories.

For the rest of the 21 Days of Crave Something More Christmas, go here.

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Day 1: My Top 5 Favorite Things About Christmas

Published on December 5, 2011 by CT in Blog, Thoughts

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The English have the 12 days of Christmas in song.  The high churches have the 24 (ish) days of advent.  Here at Crave Something More, I’ll be writing a series called the “21 Days of CSM Christmas.”  Starting December 5 and finishing on Christmas Day, I will write once a day about all things Christmas, in the hopes that we will all continue to see Jesus as the greatest satisfaction to our soul’s deepest cravings.

Day 1:  My Top 5 Favorite Things About Christmas

This past week, I thought of the five things I love most about Christmas.  Here they are, in no particular order:  food (particularly Mama T’s fudge and chex mix), physical warmth on a cold day (to include fires, warm slippers, thick plaid shirts, and the like), aesthetic warmth (soft lights in a cozy room, the greens and reds and golds and silvers about the house), candle light services (although I’m partial to the now-rare old-school, long-burning, multi-song services), and being with family.  (Oh, and A Charlie Brown Christmas, and the Grinch Who Stole Christmas, and, my favorite of all, The Night They Saved Christmas).

You’ll notice that Jesus isn’t on that list.  I love Jesus, and I want to celebrate His birth, but for whatever reason, when I think of Christmas, I don’t first think about Jesus.  Which, of course, is puzzling, since this day is set aside to celebrate His birth.

In some senses, that’s not a huge problem.  Feeling affections towards family traditions or food or worship services is all fine and well.  And the passage of time helps here as well—memory tends to chip away the bad and polish the good, so that when I make up a list of Top 5 Christmas Memories, they are all idealized versions of what actually happened.  But in another sense, this is a huge problem.  “All things exist,” Paul tells us, “for Him.”  He is the center of the universe and the peak of history, so surely His birthday should be about Him too.

You’ll also notice that gifts aren’t on that list either.  I’ve never been a big gift kind of guy; I always feel a little awkward as the center of attention, which every gift-opener always is, I’m not very good at coming up with things I want.  Of course, this leads to all sorts of problems, because I tend to treat others as if they were just like me, because I think being just like me is great and all, so I struggle with giving gifts as well.  And I can rationalize that all that I want, saying Christmas isn’t about the presents, and we should all be content with what we have, but really, I’m just masking the part of my heart that doesn’t think of others as more important than myself.

It’s a little strange that we celebrate Jesus’ birthday by giving each other gifts.  I guess that’s in part because we can’t physically hand Jesus a gift, and He owns everything in the universe anyway and doesn’t need anything from us.  But there’s clearly a connection between this idea of giving and Jesus.  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son,” John writes, and perhaps we give to each other as a reminder of the Gift God gave to the world two thousand years ago.

I know that this year, I want Jesus to be number 1 on my list.  Or to say it more accurately, I want Jesus to pervade the other 5 things on my list, to be the means for enjoying them, and the cause for joy in them, and the ultimate end of them.

Question:  What are your Top 5 Favorite Things About Christmas?

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