I have the pleasure of teaching the Sunday before Christmas and the Sunday before New Years. I wonder if anyone will show up.
The format will be extremely informal. I just want to know where everyone is, spiritually speaking. Are there challenges with the Christmas season that are unique? What are they? Why are they more challenging now than other times during the year?
What are you most looking forward to this season? Maybe the holidays being over?
“After the holidays” is something that is heard a lot more this time of year. People put off things until after the holidays. They put off weight loss, starting a new habit or breaking an old one. Conducting business this time of year can be a challenge. Everything from construction projects to just getting in to see the doctor. Try traveling by air for a good time. It is difficult to get anything done’
In our church group we are every bit as much caught in the web. Family night supper…not until after the holidays. Choir practice…after the holidays. Church office….closed for the holidays.
All in the name of celebrating the birth of Jesus. But when Jesus was born, people still were living their daily lives. They were in the midst of being counted for a tax declared by Caesar Augustus. They were tending vineyards and flocks, fishing, making and dying clothe, trading, bartering and selling.
We talk all during the season of lent about anticipating the coming of the baby Jesus. It’s an odd thing to talk about this. Wasn’t he already born? Why do we look forward to the birth of the baby all over again? Why do we insist on putting Jesus back in the manger every year?
It is a good time of year to celebrate the coming of Christ. We commemorate this event because it is when God came to live among us. God loved the world so much the He came here to be one of us. Why? It wasn’t to bring some more laws and commandments. He already sent Moses and the prophets for that. It was not to set up an institution. The Jews had a fine institution with a temple, synagogues, priests and other leaders to judge and interpret the law. The scribes and Pharisees carefully preserved the laws and traditions during the exile and during various occupations and persecutions.
God did not need to come to Earth in order to set up a religion or a religious government. There were already elders, priests, teachers of the law and civil authorities in place. In fact, the Roman Empire afforded unprecedented opportunities in civil government, leadership and peace and security. There had already been prophets, judges and kings.
The institutions and laws set up by God were not going to suffice. God has a bigger plan which He had from the beginning. God wanted His creation to be able to walk with Him as Adam did in the Garden of Eden. People needed God but God wanted a people who would know Him. A people who cared about knowing Him. The only way to restore that relationship was to deal with the problem of sin which ruined that relationship in the first place. That relationship can only be restored by somehow dealing with sin. Jesus, God with Us, was the only solution that would do.
All the hoopla is about God being in relationship with us and us being in relationship with Him and each other. It is about restoring a relationship broken by sin. Without relationship, Christmas makes no sense. It’s no accident that many broken relationships are often restored this time of year. People who don’t speak to each other any other time of year seek to connect around Christmas. Why?
I think it is because relationship is hard wired into our psyche. We’re made in God’s image and God created humans especially to have relationship with Him and with each other. Once relationship is broken (on account of sin) we are in a state of unrest until we can reconcile. This time of year is about human relationship for most people but for God it is Him reconciling people to Himself. And it all began with the baby in the manger. It is all difficult to understand unless we consider how we feel about our own broken relationships. In order to truly reconcile we need to physically connect and touch. And that’s what God did. He reached His hand out to us. Will we reach back? Will we return the embrace? God leaves that entirely up to us, but He’s there whenever we decide to show up in the relationship.
Through being in a human relationship where only one of us shows up at a time, I’ve come to understand how God feels when we do that to Him. He understands rejection in the most intimate and personal way possible. It happens to Him everyday on a massive, global scale.
[This morning the lesson went swimmingly well as the other folks really did bring their game on and we had some dandy discussion. Even a few resolutions about getting along with hard-to-take relatives based on this lesson which I started out reading Matthew 1:12-25 (I think) focusing on “God with us” and what it means.]