I'm not a loyal royals watcher, but I do confess to a bit of curiosity when the news tease is about William, Kate and baby George. I mean, they have it all: good looks, perfect smiles, money, the perfect life. Whatever they want, they have. Seems idyllic. I'm betting George has never known need is his entire, though short, life - and that isn't likely to change any time soon.
You know this is heading to another king, right? What a contrast, though. There were no 1000 count sheets comforting Mary's baby, just rough swaddling clothes with a straw mattress poking through. It was a borrowed bed - borrowed from the cows and donkeys.
After a lifetime of service and giving and loving and teaching, He is laid to rest in a borrowed tomb - dependent again on the kindness of a stranger. There was no state funeral - quite the opposite, actually. The burial was hurried and the most basic customs placed on hold in deference to the Sabbath. At least it was a new tomb. It could have been a paupers grave if Joseph of Arimathea hadn't stepped up.
William, Kate and George have everything they desire - everything that money can buy, at least. Jesus had nothing. Throughout His life He was dependent on the kindnesses of others. On the other hand, Jesus gave everything: His position, His lifetime, His life.
Sometimes it feels like life makes choices for us. It's not true, of course. At the very least, we chose how we will react what life presents. Sometimes we get to see how two different people react to the same situation - a psychological microcosm. Before Christ's birth, Zechariah and Elizabeth were just such a study in duality.
The angel Gabriel announced to Zechariah that his wife, well beyond childbearing years, would have a son. "Name him John." (Luke 1:13-17) Ever practical, Zechariah demanded proof - of God's messenger - as if a swelling belly would not have been enough. And for his doubt, the father-to-be was struck mute for the next nine months. Elizabeth, on the other hand, acknowledged and praised God for the babe. (Luke 1:23-25) She had the honor of naming her son - not Zechariah as tradition would have dictated, but John. And the pronouncement of the child's name loosed her husband's tongue again. (Isn't he glad she listened and obeyed?)
Thirty some years later, as Christ suffered on the cross, two others had a choice to make. Both were criminals. Both we receiving their just punishment. Each hung next to the Christ, all condemned to die the same horrible death. One joined the taunts of the crowd, "Save yourself and save us!" (Luke 23:39) The other acknowledged Jesus' innocence,
his own guilt and asked forgiveness. (Luke 23:40-41) Christ, ever the gentleman, even to death, gave each man according to his heart. And that made all the difference.
May we all be wise enough to ask for what we really need this Christmas -
In Luke 23:13-23, the crowd chose to release Barabbas rather than Jesus. They demanded the release of a hardened criminal rather then the author of the Universe - the King of the Jews. And in doing so, they condemned Jesus to death - not accidentally, but by design. It's easy to read the text and shake my head. It's harder to admit my complicity, but my cry is too often no different than the crowd's.
How many times have I demanded Barabbas over the Christ?
When I say "Happy Holidays"?
When "Jingle Bells" is sung with gusto and I hum "O Little Town of Bethlehem"?
When the 'right gift' gets more attention than the Advent Wreath?
When I take more pride in the perfectly wrapped gift than the swaddling clothes?
When the hustle of the season crowds out contemplation of the reason?
Thank you, God, that I do not get what I ask for - Barabbas.
"Are you the King of the Jews?" Pilate asks. (Luke 23:3)
Well, there's no denying that! A star shone above His birthplace guiding other kings to come worship Him. And if the star wasn't doing a good enough job, angels lit the sky with both their brilliance and their singing, proclaiming "Glory to God in the Highest" (Luke 2:14) Shepherds came running from the hills to see the new born King.
Just the week before Pilate's question the people made a spectacle of Jesus as He road into town on a donkey. They placed their coats on the ground in front of Him, waved palm branches before Him and shouted, "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!" (Luke 19:38)
"Are you the King of the Jews?" Seems like a silly question, doesn't it?
But just in case someone might miss it, Jesus answers affirmatively.
I have 3 sons and 5 grandboys. I cannot count the number of times I have kissed each them: their button noses, their fresh from the bath squirmy toes, their skinned knees, adolescent broken hearts, their celebrations and their fears in the night. No matter how old they get, I want my kiss to heal whatever ails them. I've been at it long enough to know it doesn't always work, but I've been at it long enough to know to try.
Jesus was the recipient of just such kisses, too, starting in the manger and continuing though out his life. I can't imaging it any other way. Mary loved her son. I'm sure she said "love" and "support" and "belief" with a kiss for all of her Son's 33 years of earthly life.
But the Christ's only kiss recorded for generations to come is the perverted one from His betrayer. Even Jesus seems to be incredulous, "Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?" (Luke 22:48). His friend broke the universal unwritten law against perverting a kiss for something evil.
It started with a kiss on a baby peach fuzzy head.
The end starts again, with same but twisted gesture.
Luke 22:31-38 tell us about Jesus prediction that Simon Peter will betray Him three times. Pete is incredulous - it won't happen! He will follow his Lord to prison or death! Sometimes, for Pete's sake, I wish he was right. But then, we would have missed a sorely needed illustration of redemption.
I guess I could tie this back to Herod, the ultimate Christmas bad guy. But he never toppled from his best intentions - his intentions were never that good. If a Bethlehem shepherd was
at the Crucifixion, maybe. When they left the manger, "they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child." (Luke 2:17) But that's not really the same thing thirty three years and a lifetime later.
What I really see in my Christmas story, and my Easter one, too. I see my resolve shattered by fear in the blink of an eye. I hear the words resounding in my head, the ones I should say but don't. I feel my feet moved to action as I sit idly by. And I feel, with grateful shame, the grace of my Savior: "And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers." (Luke 22:32b)
It's the stuff of Christmas Carols! After a long journey, God provided a place for His son to be born. It didn't look like what anyone would have expected: a stable and a manger and a rough cloth to comfort the King of the Universe. But apparently it was provision enough. The babe was not surrounded by sterile facilities or even generations of relatives and casseroles from friends. But He was loved and comforted and heralded from on high. In fact, his visitors included shepherds and angels and kings. Not bad for such a lowly start.
In Luke 22:7-13, among Jesus last days on earth, He and His friends needed a place to celebrate the Passover. Now this was more like it! He sent two friends to look for a man carrying a jar who would lead them to a large upper room to celebrate Passover - a completely furnished room! Kind of a snap-your-fingers-and-receive-your-wish kind of place. Seems more Lord of All, doesn't it? There He was surrounded by His most loyal friends AND His betrayer. That last part might make the manger look pretty good after all.
The Lord will Provide.
Sometimes I just don't get it.
Even in hind site, it leaves me scratching my head.
I love Christmas! I love the trees and the lights, the carols and the food, the gatherings and the wrappings, the hustle and the bustle - I love it all! But if the truth is told, sometimes I like Christmas more January through mid-November. Sometimes I like the idea of Christmas more than the actual Christmas crush. Every year I try - generally unsuccessfully - to simplify the holiday. It all becomes not small like a baby or huge like a Savior, but heavy like a duty and tiring like a treadmill. It can indeed be a struggle to keep CHRISTmas in the holiday.
Being fully human (and fully God), Jesus understands just how heavy life can be. He experienced it in ways I don't dare even try to imagine. In Luke 21:34-37, He warned us to "be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with...the anxieties of life..." His advice? "Be always on the watch." In truth, He was referring to much more than just self imposed holiday mayhem. I imagine He has a kind of sad smile when He watches the stress we allow His birthday to create.
Mary is my Christmas roll model. A young girl far away from home and family, she gives birth to the light of the world. The guest list is unimaginable: donkeys, cows, sheep, shepherds, kings. She "treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart" (Luke 2:19).
This year I will heed Christ's warning and follow Mary's example. The wrapping paper will go on with appreciation that there are things to wrap and in anticipation of the joy of the unwrapping. The cards will be sent with a pray for each beloved addressee. The hurry will remind me that I have somewhere to go, someone expecting me. I won't do it perfectly. I'm only hoping for some success, for some self-aided, God-granted rest from the rush - some time to gaze upon our Savior.
For all appearances, things were going very well for Jesus in those scant days between Palm Sunday and Good Friday. The adoring crowds, silenced religious leaders tucked back into their rightful hole with Christ's perfect logic. So when the disciples started a discussion about the future with their leader, they must have been hoping for tales of conquest and glory (Luke 21: 5-24). Certainly they had no inkling of the dread that would settle upon them when Jesus answered their questions: wars, revolutions, famines, pestilences, persecution, betrayal, hatred and death. Not a bedtime story for the faint of heart.
I wonder if His mother, Mary, was there? Did she remember a similar warning given her some thirty-three years earlier? When her babe was a mere eight days old, a stranger named Simeon spoke similar words to her. "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." (Luke 2:34-35)
God did not hide or deceive the earthly mother of His son. Amid the joy of the birth came the truth of the future - a warning of the cost of the future. The true cost of Christmas.
My youngest grandboy, Elijah, will celebrate his first Christmas this year. He will be largely non-plused, I imagine, though I'm sure he will spend some time staring at the lights on the tree. An ornament in his honor will hang there as well. Maybe I'll put it at eye-level for him. Then again, that would also be hand-level for Josiah, so maybe not.
Is there any more precious than a babe held lovingly in his mother's arms? It's a universal symbol of love and protection and LIFE. It has been said that every baby born is God's Vote that life should go on. Christmas is the epitome of that of that Vote. Christmas cards and carols and creches all echo God's will that life continue.
I struggled with today's reading, Luke 20:27-47. The topics listed in my Bible are "Religious Leaders question Jesus about the Resurrection" and "Jesus Warns against the Religious Leaders." My first thought was, "I'm in trouble now. Where am I going to find Christmas in here?" Frankly, I held that thought for quite sometime as I read and re-read the text.
Then I saw something again, for the first time. Jesus replied to a question from the religious leaders with, "He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to Him all are alive." (verse 38) That echos the Christmas sentiment loud and clear. I can wrap my head around that.
This affirmation of the Vote is not given while snuggling a helpless babe - all holly and singing angels. Rather is it just days before Christ will be brutally sacrificed on a cross - and He knows it. His imminent death is not a new revelation to Him. He was born to die - to die unjustly and thereby create the perfect path to life. In the face of death, Jesus affirms life. As a result of death, Jesus brings life.
Both our current world and history are ripe with men and women with satin-coated though forked tongues. The wild West had a name for such individuals: snake oil salesmen. A recent example on a national scale would be Bernie Madoff. By all accounts he was intelligent, charming, remorseless, conniving.
As a newborn, Jesus faced just such a person: Herod. But in addition to the above attributes, Herod was also deadly. Herod applied his craft to the Magi, telling them to "Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him." (Matthew 2:8) The Magi listened politely but did not swallow the snake oil. Instead, they returned to their land by a different route. Herod, finding himself bested, showed his true colors and ordered the massacre of possibly hundreds of little boys, Jesus' contemporaries born in and around Bethlehem. Herod not only sold snake oil, he was indeed a snake.
If only history would cease to repeat itself, but alas, Jesus was offered a drink of the same kind of toxin from the chief priests and teachers of the law in Luke 20:1-8. Sidling up beside Him, they hoped to entrap Christ by asking, "Who gives you your authority?"
Jesus, of course, has had much experience with snakes dating all the way back to the Garden of Eden. His response was classic: sure, I'll drink with you, but you take a draft from your own elixir first. Guess who slithered away to await another round.
In the end, Jesus drank their poison. He drank deeply, swallowing every drop - knowingly, willingly, obediently. The end, it turns out, was just the beginning. But I'm getting ahead of myself. It isn't Christmas yet...
You can't read the Christmas story without noticing a donkey. Mary, of course, being too pregnant to see her toes, much less walk, rode on the back of a beast of burden. A donkey carried the King to His place of birth. Not a gilded chariot, a thoroughbred, or even a plow horse, but a lowly donkey. If your creche has more than just the Holy Family, a donkey is sure to be in attendance. It makes so sense, of course. Joseph was not a wealthy man. He used what he had and God blessed it. God elevated the lowly donkey to the status of King carrier.
It wouldn't be the last time, either. Luke 19:28-44 tells us how Jesus entered Jerusalem, no longer a babe in His mother's womb, but a man publicly and popularly recognized as King! Men and women sang His praises spreading their coats before the donkey- riding Lord of the universe. Children waved palm branches, also placing them on the ground with their parents' cloaks to prepare the way for a KING! Riding on a donkey...
Jesus, all grown up now.
Jesus, stepping up to His rightful place as Deity.
Jesus, from humble beginnings to humble acceptance.
Jesus, rode a donkey to fulfill His Divine purpose - Twice.