Month: December 2015

Christmas Mourning

There isn’t a typo in the title of this article. We are all know the phrase “Christmas Morning.” But Christmas and mourning? This is not the stuff that catchy holiday songs or Hallmark channel Christmas movies are made of. Yet to one degree or another, most of us have experienced disappointment, disillusionment, discouragement, or depression on Christmas day.

It can be tempting to laden Christmas with a weight of expectations that no day can bear. And as it buckles under the weight of our expectations, in some cases dashing them to the ground, we may begin to see more clearly that perhaps we’ve been a bit intoxicated by the Christmas “spirit” and need to revive our spiritual senses.

It is natural, understandable, and even good to want an enjoyable Christmas. After all, who wouldn’t want a day of familial harmony, joy, and togetherness? Who wouldn’t want to enjoy a wonderful, home-cooked (to one degree or another!) meal? Who wouldn’t want to give and receive gifts surrounded by twinkly lights and flickering fireplaces with carols playing in the background, perhaps with a few cute children thrown in for good measure? And if any of us lack imagination as to what that day “should” look like, there is no shortage of commercials and movies around the holidays to give us warm and fuzzy images of what an ideal Christmas should look like.

But what if it all falls flat? What if the family gets together and it’s nothing but frustration and disappointment? What if sickness or serious illness makes the planned Christmas celebration impossible? What if bad weather keeps you from seeing your family and causes you to spend Christmas all alone? What if someone you love is conspicuously absent through a recent break-up, divorce, or death? From the trivial to the traumatic, we can easily become disillusioned, discouraged, or depressed, when Christmas doesn’t “deliver” the type of peace on earth and goodwill toward men that we expect (and sometimes wrongly demand) from it. The perfect day we long for ends up just like the other 364…not perfect. Somehow broken. Never immune from the curse of sin.

It is these Christmas experiences that reveal our hearts, and even how we fundamentally view the celebration of Christmas and the incarnation of Jesus Christ on the ground level of real life. Many of our Christmas expectations come from a longing for a perfect day that’s a break from the brokenness of everyday life. Yet Christmas means that Jesus left the perfect days of heaven to situate Himself right in the midst of the brokenness of this earth. We long for loving and harmonious union with friends and family. Yet Christmas means that Jesus left perfect fellowship with the Father and Holy Spirit to situate Himself in the midst of people who didn’t understand Him, tried to use Him, hated Him, betrayed Him, and abandoned Him. We long to be in a beautiful, warm, and cozy home. Yet Christmas means that Jesus left His Father’s house and came to situate Himself in the feeding trough in a barn with poor parents. There were no twinkly lights in the manger.

In different ways, we all come to Christmas (as we do in all of life), with some set of expectations. They may be small or large. They may be recognized or unrecognized. They may be fulfilled or they may be shattered. And when they are shattered and we are confronted with them, we find ourselves at a crossroads. Just as we seem to be moving further away from the meaning and celebration of Christmas by our disappointing circumstances, we may actually be moving into position to press deeper than ever before into the true meaning of Christmas, if by God’s grace we choose to step in that direction.

One Simple Question to Gauge Your Love For God

I’m well aware that no single question is the definitive litmus test for a person’s love for God. However, there is one particular area that I’ve been contemplating lately, and I’ve been noticing its absence or presence in the lives and speech of other believers. It’s something that should be a huge part of our longings and our language. Yet it sometimes seems to occupy a tiny corner space, at least here in America. I can’t speak to other nations, though I’d love to hear the thoughts of readers in other countries.

Allow me to set up the question with a scenario: imagine that you are engaged to the person you say is the love of your life. You’ve finally found him or her, dated, and are preparing for marriage. There’s one catch, though. You are living in the U.S., and your intended is living in Europe. Now, imagine that both of you are completely content with this long-distance relationship. You’ve both got jobs you enjoy, a good church, friends, and a decent place to live. You say the other person is the love of your life, but both of you are completely fine living on different continents, content to maintain your relationship via text, email, phone, and Skype. Maybe someday you’ll live in the same place, but there’s no urgency, no longing, to be face-to-face in real space and time. Truth be told, there are some things you’d like to accomplish where you are before you have to move. You’re not quite ready to leave the job, the church, the friends, or the apartment. But maybe when the excitement and activity of your current life wears off, then sure, of course you’d like to eventually live with your spouse. You’re just not in any hurry. And it really doesn’t emotionally affect you too much.

Anyone with half a brain knows that there is something seriously wrong with this relationship. Any concerned friend, parent, pastor, or counselor would tell you so. I would hope they would ask you to seriously consider whether marriage to this person is a good idea, given your relative indifference about the long-distance situation, and your lack of longing and anticipation to be with that person.

Here is the purpose of the analogy: how many Christians treat their relationship with God in basically the same manner? And now we get to the diagnostic question of this post: how eagerly do you long for, and how frequently do you pray for, the return of Jesus?

If we don’t, I might suggest that we have some things in common with the dysfunctional couple of our illustrative scenario. It doesn’t necessarily mean that we don’t love God at all. But it may suggest that there is more worldliness at play than we realize. Oftentimes we equate “worldliness” simply with blatantly ungodly devotion to the things of the world. But really, worldliness is more subtle than that. It’s simply preferring the world and temporal things on any given day more than God and the eternal state. That’s it. It’s preferring to have the temporal gifts of God for 70 or so years before Jesus’ return. It’s wanting to get a nice earthly life first, and then being ok with Jesus’ return. Would you long for Jesus’ immediate return the night before your long-awaited wedding? The night before your big job promotion? The night before your prestigious ministry opportunity? The night before your kid’s graduation? The night before your first grandchild is born?

The Christmas season can be an interesting sociological study on a number of fronts. But one of the things that puzzles me is when people get really excited to celebrate His first coming, but have very little interest in His second coming on a day-to-day basis. They don’t long for it. They don’t feel homesick. They don’t pray every day for Jesus to return quickly to bring comfort to the afflicted, justice to the oppressed, to destroy Satan, and to set up His everlasting kingdom. So it always stands out to me when I find people who do. Like one of my former pastors, who prays every night with his family at the dinner table that Jesus would return soon. Like Joni Eareckson Tada, who lives in hope of her bodily resurrection someday, freed from her wheelchair and a crippled body. Like my current pastor, who chooses songs for us to sing about being bound for the Promised Land, and prays in our corporate gathering for Jesus to return.

Perhaps, just perhaps, the best thing we could seek to cultivate this Christmas as believers in Christ is that heart of deep and continual longing for His return. That we not be content with a long-distance relationship. That we pray to be face-to-face with Him, as we were created to be in the Garden, lost in the Fall, was reintroduced by Jesus’ first coming, and will be consummated in His second coming. Because at the end of the day, Christmas Day is Part I of the story, but we’re still waiting for Part II to arrive. Even so, Lord Jesus, come quickly!

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