Christmas

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[I’m sure no real poet would call this a poem, but I suppose that is part of the point…]

I’ve done some bad things. Words have
Spilled out both with and without intent to harm.
It’s true, though I try not to dwell on it.
I wish I’d kept my mind and body pure,
Sure, but I look back now and see, well,
I didn’t and didn’t want to.

There must be some people who live upright lives, never riding the
Bumper of a senior-citizen driver, stealing stuff, wishing harm, drowning
In resentment and bitterness, or secretly hating
This or that group of image-bearers.
Maybe you’re one of them, but I don’t know, I guess I wonder
about all of us, just a little, based on experience.

You know how we love more by giving money than serving our neighbors?
And it’s not that systems aren’t broken, but if we’re
Speaking plainly here, sometimes we like working on them
To the exclusion of all things. Because so much of the time
we’re driven not by love—not really—but by habits, fear, and a desire
To feel safe and right even though we know it’s not safe
And it’s possible, although doubtful, we’re not always 100% right.

We say mean things on Facebook (especially in the comments)
because we’re frustrated and believe humans should be getting
Better. ‘Course we know from Facebook and Twitter
That for sure they are not. Still we just can’t figure
Out why everyone else is so wrong especially when
We’ve demonstrated so clearly how right we are.
Well, maybe next year.

I don’t know, our souls don’t really
Glorify the Lord or rejoice other than once or twice
A year, maybe. And far from being humble, we are strivers,
wanting top-spot. We try, especially around January 1st,
A new year, a new attitude and resolutions, but
When so much has gone wrong by February,
We just wear down and stop altogether.

I guess what I’m saying is that we really need
Christmas. And I don’t mean the lights and garland
and family cheer and eggnog, but Christ Jesus,
the one who came though he knows all this about us.
It’s never so evident as it is when we’re talking
Politics and family history around the table, you know?
We really need Christmas, and the Resurrection, for that matter.

 

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How All the Pieces Fit Together

Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted
eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the
whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.
– Ecclesiastes 3:11

I can tend to get a little lost at the end of the calendar year. I forget the plot a bit. It happens every year and still every year it’s a surprise. I long for an extended break as mid-November approaches and look forward to time with my daughter. But midway through the break, I get restless and become paralyzed by the stretch of open hours. I wonder if what I’m doing for work and ministry matters. I think about relationships past and feel a combination of regret and nostalgia. I think about money and whether there will be enough. I wonder what my purpose is and whether I’m fulfilling it. I think about decisions I’ve made and whether they were right. I don’t mean to be overly dramatic, but I become a little unhinged.

And then I think about puzzles.

In January 2013, I tried a case in federal court in San Diego. It was the first case I’d ever tried in which I was the lead lawyer, which meant not only increased pressure, but also the ability to present the case in the way I thought was best. So, when I stood to give my opening statement, I began by showing the jury this giant puzzle piece:

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After all, the jury has a tough job—even though events take place in chronological order, not every witness was there for every event, and yet each witness generally only testifies once.  As a result, the jury hears the story in pieces—part of the story from one witness, another part from another witness, and so on. No witness can share every aspect of the story from beginning to end. In this way, the story told at a trial is very unlike the stories told in books or movies. Telling a story through trial testimony is more like putting together a puzzle. The case I was trying was no exception—the evidence would be presented in pieces, out of order, and sometimes without any context. Also, there was no picture on a box sitting nearby so they knew what the final picture looked like. Not until the very end would they know the whole story and how all the pieces fit together.

Life is this way—the evidence is presented in pieces, out of order, and sometimes without any context. And there is no box anywhere that shows the final picture. The lack of routine and structure around the end of the year makes me lose sight of the fact that all the pieces will eventually come together into something beautiful and stunning and that every piece had a purpose in the bigger story.

One of the most meaningful gifts I received this year for Christmas was from my niece Lucy. It was this puzzle, which I put it together today:

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Without even knowing it, Lucy reminded me what all the pieces point to—love and the crucified and resurrected Christ (I’m not as convinced about the pets)—and that eventually they will all fit together.

In Whom We Live and Move and Have Our Being

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Jesus Christ—
our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace;
the One through whom and for whom all things were made; and
the One in whom we live and move and have our being—
became flesh and made His dwelling among us.

And nothing—neither death nor life, angels nor demons, the present nor the future, not any powers, height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation—can separate us from the love of our God, which is in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Does the God You Follow Look Suspiciously Like Santa?

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Have you ever thought about all the images of God you carry around in your head and heart without even realizing it? From time to time, I reflect on whether any false or lesser images of God have crept into my psyche. During one of these reflections a while back, I discovered that my image of God looked more like Santa Claus than I would have believed. It seems ridiculous, I know, but let me show you what I mean.

Santa relates to the children of the world based upon their behavior—whether I’m good or bad determines his view of me. If I’m good, I’m placed on the “nice list” and I get good things. If I’m bad, I’m placed on the “naughty list” and I get a lump of coal as a sign of my depravity. And, by the way, the standards about who makes the nice list and who makes the naughty list are not public so none of us even know how to qualify. It’s all pretty arbitrary. We don’t know for sure until we open our eyes on Christmas morning and see what he brought. So, if you’ve done some bad things here and there (and I’ll just speak for myself, when I say I have), you’re on pins and needles for the whole month of December. Plus, Santa only comes around once a year. He’s not involved in the day-to-day matters of life. He’s more absent than present. When you send him a letter, he doesn’t write back and you’re never sure whether he gets your mail. Finally, Santa has no power other than to fly with reindeer, mobilize magical elves to make toys, and squeeze his body into chimneys. This is all sweet, but once you’re about 15, or if your life isn’t picture-perfect, it seems a bit irrelevant. His power doesn’t heal sickness and he doesn’t provide long-term hope.

This analysis led me to ask myself these questions: Are you unsure where you stand with God? Are you hoping that at the end of the day, your good outweighs the bad? Do you find yourself “good binging” to make up for the bad you’ve done hoping to even out the scales? Do you pray not knowing whether anyone actually receives your pleas or is interested enough to listen? Is God more absent than present? Do you believe God is unable to empower you and supply you the courage, wisdom, and grace you need to live a full life?

If my answer to any of these questions is yes, then I have replaced the actual living God with someone who looks a lot like Santa. And God is not at all like Santa. With God, in Christ, I know exactly where I stand—blameless, saved, secure. I have no work to do; no good-binging is required to restore me to His good graces. God receives every prayer, whether I utter it or not. He knows the deepest parts of my heart. God is actually within me—more present to me than any other person or thing in all of creation. And nothing can separate me from His love.

What false or lesser images of God do you carry around with you without even realizing it?

A Woman

I am torn by this baby’s birth just as I am
by the spring when it arrives suddenly
out of long days and hushed grays.

Greens push out of damp earth with such
promise and my soul opens to the light,
cautious of what could be exposed.

Springs have come before only to leave
me in the midst of barren winters with
cold hands and a faltering heart.

Something about this baby seems different
because, as he grows, light surrounds him
and life quickens even in the winter months.

My dirty, doubting soul reaches out to him as he
walks dusty roads. I am compelled to follow
as he calls, touches, and feeds.

I watch the ones who have refused my pleas
spit and slash him, breaking his body apart
before all of us who saw him with our own eyes.

His last gasp stabs me in unknown depths
and no amount of strength can hold me fast
through the death of this once-baby boy.

The heavy darkness covers us all. We must
have imagined the grace in his eyes and
power in his hands, desperate as we were.

And then behind me a single word is spoken,
“Mary.” My lungs fill again with air and light.
A spring without end has begun.

Daily December Devotional — Day 30

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Today’s Verses:

Luke 2:36-40

There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.

Today’s Questions:

What is the significance of Anna’s age as you read this passage?

What do you make of the fact that the person who spoke about Jesus “to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem” was a woman?

What do you think it means that the grace of God was on Jesus? How do you picture that manifesting itself?

Can you identify all the people or groups that we have come into contact with over this month of study who were waiting in expectation for the arrival of the Messiah? How might you refer to their example as you wait for the second coming of Christ?

Today’s Prayer:

Father, thank you for your Word. Thank you for the example of Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary, Joseph, the wise men, the shepherds, Simeon, and Anna. Their sacrifice, devotion, and faithful obedience and waiting amaze me as I have come to learn more about their lives and context. Thank you for your servant, Luke, for writing his account with a commitment to investigating what happened so that we may be certain of what we have been taught. Never let me forget, Lord, that these were real people who lived on this earth and struggled with the same kinds of doubts and fears and longings that I struggle with today. Thank you, Lord for the sacrifice that Jesus made on my behalf, for the robe of righteousness I now live within as a result, and for the knowledge that Jesus will come again and make all things new.

Daily December Devotional — Day 29

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Today’s Verses:

Luke 2:25-35

Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.”

The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

Today’s Questions:

What is the importance of the Holy Spirit being on Simeon as he speaks?

What words does Simeon use to describe Jesus?

What does Simeon say Jesus will cause? And why?

How do you think Mary felt when Simeon said, “a sword will pierce your own soul too”?

Today’s Prayer:

Father, where would I be without your salvation? Thank you that you keep your promises! Thank you, Lord, for extending your saving grace to all the nations, to me. Thank you for the moment I realized your light was for me, would overcome the darkness, and would satisfy the deep longing of my soul. I pray, Father, that the thoughts of my heart would be of you and that they reveal my faith in and devotion to you. Where my thoughts wander, God, I pray that you would forgive me quickly and redirect them so that my eyes and heart are fixed on you and my words and actions reflect your love and grace.