The True Meaning of Christmas 

“O God, you have caused this holy night to shine with the
brightness of the true Light: Grant that we, who have known
the mystery of that Light on earth, may also enjoy him
perfectly in heaven; where with you and the Holy Spirit he
lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen” (from The Book of Common Prayer).

It seem like the old adage is true. The older you get, the faster time goes. As a kid, I thought Christmas would never arrive. Now, I feel like if I blink, I might miss it.

This year, I’ve barely had time to revel in the season of Advent and Christmas, and tomorrow is Christmas Day. If only I had a remote control for life with a big pause button to slow everything down for a bit just so I could savor all of the sights and sounds and scents.

But the true meaning of Christmas is for more than just December 25. Its still good after all those ornaments have been taken down and the tree put away for another year. It goes beyond December and into the new year and follows all the days of every year.

God has come near. As my pastor says often, Christianity isn’t that we can get to god but that God in Jesus has come to us. He didn’t wait until you and I got our acts cleaned up and made ourselves ready to receive the Incarnate. He came when we were in the middle of our biggest messes. He came when we needed a Savior the most.

Even after the shine wears off of those gifts, the best gift will still be that Emmanuel is still here. He has not left us and He never will. The hope of Christmas is the hope that will sustain us always.

 

 

Come, Lord Jesus: An Advent Prayer for 2016

“Come, long-expected Jesus. Excite in me a wonder at the wisdom and power of Your Father and ours. Receive my prayer as part of my service of the Lord who enlists me in God’s own work for justice.

Come, long-expected Jesus. Excite in me a hunger for peace: peace in the world, peace in my home, peace in myself.

Come, long-expected Jesus. Excite in me a joy responsive to the Father’s joy. I seek His will so I can serve with gladness, singing and love.

Come, long-expected Jesus. Excite in me the joy and love and peace it is right to bring to the manger of my Lord. Raise in me, too, sober reverence for the God who acted there, hearty gratitude for the life begun there, and spirited resolution to serve the Father and Son.

I pray in the name of Jesus Christ, whose advent I hail. Amen” (A Catholic Advent Prayer).

At this time of year, I’m always on the lookout for prayers and quotations that reflect the true heart of the Advent season. I found one just now.

The incarnation of Immanuel means so much more than my world getting put right. It’s about the entire world getting put right. It’s about God inviting me to be a part of the revolution that started not from a throne room and a king or a battlefield and a general but from a manger and an infant.

The question this advent: how can we show tangible love to those around us with whom we live and work and play? How can we be the visible body of Christ to those who have never seen or heard this gospel (or who have seen and heard a very distorted version of it)?

I’m praying that this Advent is about more than just me and my own serenity and fulfillment. I want it to be about more than buying and receiving presents. I want to see change in the world and I want it to start in me.

 

Christmas In the Eyes of a Child

“Seeing isn’t believing. Believing is seeing” (from The Santa Clause).

I think the reason so many don’t like Christmas is that they’ve stopped seeing it through the eyes of a child.

Christmas isn’t so much for children as it is for the childlike. I don’t mean the childish who pout every time they don’t get their own way.

I mean the childlike, the ones who never stop believing in good and right and magic and happy endings. The ones who see more than just the physical and still have room for miracles and pixie dust. The ones who still have the ability to be amazed and astonished at life.

Jesus said that anyone who wanted to enter the Kingdom of God must do so as a little child. Whoever really wants to experience all that God is must go back to before the cynicism took root, before disillusionment set in, to when just about anything was possible, because for God, anything IS possible.

So let’s go back to the faith of a child.  Let us once again rediscover the ability to be amazed and astonished by the wonder that is Advent and Christmas and the miracle that made it all possible.

“Let the stable still astonish:
Straw-dirt floor, dull eyes,
Dusty flanks of donkeys, oxen;
Crumbling, crooked walls;
No bed to carry that pain,
And then, the child,
Rag-wrapped, laid to cry
In a trough.
Who would have chosen this?
Who would have said: “Yes,
Let the God of all the heavens and earth
Be born here, in this place”?
Who but the same God
Who stands in the darker, fouler rooms
of our hearts and says, “Yes,
let the God of Heaven and Earth
be born here–
in this place”  (Leslie Leyland Fields from Let the Stable Still Astonish).

Advent in 2015

“See the Virgin is delivered
In a cold and crowded stall
Mirror of the Father’s glory
Lies beside her in the straw

He is Mercy’s incarnation
Marvel at this miracle!
For the Virgin gently holds
The Glorious Impossible” (Carl Cartee, Wendy Wills, Joe Beck).

I love Christmas and I’m growing to love Advent, the season of preparation for what Christmas is really all about– Emmanuel, the God who took on flesh and bone and moved into the neighborhood.

I think the theme for Advent and Christmas in 2015 should be this– anything’s possible.

If the God bigger than the whole universe can somehow manage to fit as an embryo inside the womb of a teenage virgin peasant girl, then anything’s possible.

If God could look at humanity at its very worst and still want to become one of us to provide a way of salvation for all of us, then anything’s possible.

If God could see me at my most fearful and timid and say, “See, that one? I’m going to die for that one, not because He’s anything special, but because I’ve set my affection on him and chosen him before he was even a sparkle in anyone’s eye,” then anything’s possible.

Anything doesn’t mean that one day we’ll all start flying or that we’ll all suddenly become fabulously wealthy and super good-looking.

It means that we can and will one day become everything God intended and designed when He created you and me.

It means that right now, the worst thing will never be the last thing, because God always saves the best things for last. All things, even those you’d rather not have happened, will one day work out for good, your good, and God’s glory. One day, Love in its truest form will win.

Truly, anything’s possible.

The end.

Three Reminders for Those of Us Who Need it Tonight

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When I was a senior at Union University, my roommates and I used to go dumpster diving. At least I remember the one time. I came away with a worn out baseball glove and a television. I kid you not. I got a television from the dumpster.

When I ceremoniously placed it in my dorm room and plugged it in, lo and behold it worked. It even had a button on it that would turn the images on the screen green. I still don’t know what the purpose of that was.

That rescued television served me well all the rest of my senior year of college. In fact, it worked all the way up until the day I brought it home. Then it became a very heavy and super bulky paper weight.

I sometimes wonder how God puts people and places and things into our lives for a season. Sure, some friends are for life, but those are rare and precious. Most of the people in my life have come for a week, a month, maybe a year or two. I’ve learned not so much to be sorrowful when they’re gone but to celebrate the lessons they taught me.

I was reminded of three things tonight. 1) Jesus is for me, 2) Jesus is with me, and 3) Jesus is in me.

My pastor tonight said that Jesus was the best evidence that God isn’t pursuing you and me because he’s angry, but because He’s desperate for us to save us from our sins and ourselves. I agree with that. Jesus Himself said He came not to condemn the world, but that it might be saved through Him.

I know Jesus is with me. He promised He’d never leave me, abandon me, or forsake me. That’s a promise I’ve found to be true, whether I could feel it or not.

I know Jesus is in me. Sometimes, I find myself saying and doing things that I know could never come from me. At least based on what I’ve said and done the other 98% of the time. I know that’s not me speaking and acting, but Jesus in me.

So remember tonight that Jesus is for you, with you, and in you.

S-D-Gordon-Quote-Jesus-Life

 

My Creed (A Work in Progress)

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Note: I don’t intend this to be in any way universal or a replacement for any of the historical creeds that have served the Church so well down through the centuries. I do think it’s a good thing to formulate your own beliefs and to be able to summarize all that you believe. It’s vitally important to KNOW what you believe and to be able to explain it to someone else. So here goes:

I believe God created the heavens and the earth and called it good.

I believe God created male and female and called it very good.

I believe the woman was deceived and the man soon followed after and sin entered the world.

I believe in that moment, death entered the world.

I believe that God became one of us and came to dwell among us.

I believe He died in my place for my sins so that I might live with Him.

I believe He rose again to defeat death once and for all.

I believe He offers rest to the weary, hope to the despairing, and life to all who call on His name.

I believe that whoever calls on His name will be saved from death to eternal life.

I believe He is returning soon for His own.

I believe in the end, Love wins.

The Condescension of God

con·de·scen·sion

 [kon-duhsen-shuhn]  Show IPA

noun

1.

an act or instance of condescending.
2.

behavior that is patronizing or condescending.
3.

voluntary assumption of equality with a person regarded as inferior.
Ok, for the purposes of this blog, forget #1 and #2. Put them out of your mind. I want to focus on #3. Because that’s what God did for us.
Let me explain.
This is the God of whom Isaiah wrote, “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
This God would be completely unknowable unless He had first chosen to reveal Himself to us. He would have remained completely incomprehensible unless He had chosen to reveal His nature and His character. And  He didn’t get all high and mighty with us or look down His celestial nose at us. He looked at us with pity and compassion. But mostly with love.
Truly, this God is not like one of us, only bigger, stronger, faster. He is not the ultimate $6 million dollar man. He is holy, set apart, wholly other.
Jesus is the ultimate example of God’s condescension to man. He who was infinitely higher than we could ever hope or aspire to be, voluntarily assumed equality with those who were His inferiors, i.e. us. He became one of us. Or as Paul puts it in Philippians,
Though He was in the form of God,
    He chose not to cling to equality with God;
But He poured Himself out to fill a vessel brand new;
    a servant in form
    and a man indeed.
The very likeness of humanity,
He humbled Himself,
    obedient to death—
    a merciless death on the cross!
So God raised Him up to the highest place
    and gave Him the name above all.
So when His name is called,
    every knee will bow,
    in heaven, on earth, and below.
And every tongue will confess
    ‘Jesus, the Anointed One, is Lord,’
    to the glory of God our Father!”
I’m thankful that when I couldn’t get to God, He came to me. I’m grateful that it wasn’t me who found God, but rather it was He who found me. He wasn’t lost. I was. I’m mostly glad that He didn’t (and doesn’t) leave me where He found me but constantly makes me a little bit more like Jesus every day.
So, yeah, I suppose I do like that word condescension now.

A Repeat

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“Everything will be fine in the end. If it’s not fine, it’s not the end.”

Every time I hear those words, they ring more true than ever. These words are from a movie, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, but that doesn’t make them any less true.

That’s the story of the Bible. That’s the story of unfolding redemption, played out through history. The Gospel.

Adam and Eve knew fine, but their wrong choice ended that. Their sin, the choosing of self over God, made it so that everything was not fine. And so it remains.

Ever since that first sin, it’s been the opposite of fine. It’s been a catastrophe, a disaster, an epic fail. We are cut ofd from God, from each other, and from our true selves– who we really were designed and created to be.

But Jesus came to undo what Adam did, to bridge the gap between man and God, as only God in human skin could. He came to make everything fine again.

Paul says it a little more poetically in Romans 8:28: “We are confident that God is able to orchestrate everything to work toward something good and beautiful when we love Him and accept His invitation to live according to His plan.”

That’s the whole story. It will be fine in the end because God has promised it would be.

Everything will be fine in the end. It’s not fine yet, but that only means it’s not yet the end.

A Ragamuffin’s Take on the Gospel of John

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As part of a Wednesday night class I’m taking at my church, I read through each of the four gospels, ending up with the Gospel of John this past week.

As I’ve mentioned before, my favorite is the Gospel of Luke because of his attention to detail and his inclusion of those on the fringes of society. But I really, really like John.

To me, the Gospel of John is like an epic movie in the style of a Cecil B. DeMille or a David Lean. Think grand along the lines of a Lawrence of Arabia or Doctor Zhivago.

Of all the gospel writers, John is the most unapologetically apologetic (not in the sense of saying “I’m sorry,” but in the sense of defining and defending the faith). He practically puts his purpose in bold red letters: so that you may believe that Jesus is the promised Messiah and believing, find eternal life in His name.

I like to think of John 1:1-18 as a kind of overture with themes expanded upon in the rest of the book. It’s got Jesus as the incarnate Word coming to pitch His tent among us, rejected by His own, but granting life to those who recognize Who He is and believe.

It has light versus dark, life versus death, righteousness versus sin, ultimate good versus ultimate evil. And in case you’re wondering, good wins.

I love how John’s Gospel is the most love-centered gospel. John even refers to himself as “the beloved disciple” and “the one Jesus loves” because he can’t get over the fact that Jesus could love a hot-headed mess like him.

Ultimately, I love how each gospel writer injects his own personality into the stories and helps draw out different facets about the life and ministry of Jesus. The end result is a very three- (or four-) dimensional portrait of the Messiah.

On a totally random note, I wonder if John read the other Gospels and said something like “Oh, you have the ascension of Jesus in yours? That’s cute. I have the freakin’ vision of Heaven in my book.”

Probably not. But that’s just the way my warped mind works.

I still highly recommend reading through all four Gospels as often as humanly possible. Those books never get old.

God Bless Us, Every One!

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“Man’s maker was made man that He, Ruler of the stars, might nurse at His mother’s breast; that the Bread might hunger, the Fountain thirst, the Light sleep, the Way be tired on its journey; that Truth might be accused of false witnesses, the Teacher be beaten with whips, the Foundation be suspended on wood; that Strength might grow weak; that the Healer might be wounded; that Life might die.” (St. Augustine of Hippo)

It’s Christmas Day.

For me that means a contentment that goes deeper than me getting all the presents I wanted. It goes even deeper than seeing the faces of family when they unwrapped one of my presents.

For me, contentment on Christmas Day comes from knowing that the baby born on this day doesn’t live in men’s hearts only one day of the year, but all the days (I “borrowed” that line from a movie I watched again earlier today).

The true meaning of Christmas will be just as true on December 26 and beyond. It remains true 365 days of the year, every year. Even on those weird leap years.

I’m content. Even if I watch every girl I’m ever interested in fall in love with someone else, I’m content. Even if I never get that dream job, I’m content.

God became human for me so that I could be like Jesus one day. So that everything that belongs to Jesus– perfect peace, complete joy, unending love, eternal riches– could be mine. Better yet, it is mine.

Like Scrooge, I don’t deserve to be so happy, but I just can’t help it. I really can’t.

May that kind of joy be yours on this Christmas Day and on every day that follows!