"Are you ready for Christmas?" It seems like an innocent question enough but what are we really asking? Most times we're wondering if you're done rushing around to the many over run shopping malls and sale displays too which you are looking to buy the greatest gift for your loved ones and family. I must admit that even I have caught myself in this frame of mind from time to time throughout the last few weeks. After all, who wants to be stuck in traffic and that last weeks rush before the big day arrives on December 25th. Yet is that what Christmas is really all about? Just us consumers delighting in the buying of gifts for others while waiting to see just what presents they might also have for us?
Last week while taking a moment to relax, I came across a post called 'The 5 Stages of Relationship With God'. It didn't really have any particular holiday theme but as I read it, I couldn't help but truly see the meaningful beauty it connected with in the story of Christmas and our relationship with Emanuel during this time of season.
I have a Kinship with Religion
It is pretty much impossible to say today that you do not know who Jesus is. At least that is true for a North American culture and society. We all have in one way or another been impacted by an understanding of the word Christianity and the general story of the Nativity. I think every year I hear about someone stealing the little baby Jesus from some church's Nativity scene as a bad practical joke!
The spirit of Christmas as a religious relationship finds its expression for those of us who brave the cold to find a local church community who is hosting a Christmas Eve Service so that we might join in with carols and song while not feeling we have to attend church any other time of the year. Or as my fellow columnist Chris Hammer at the Calgary Beacon writes in his post 'The Christmas Dichotomy', "Christmas is a time to engage with the comforts of tradition; whether celebrating the birth of a baby in a manger or the arrival of a jolly soul in a red suit."
This is without a doubt a deep and meaningful relationship we have and Jesus is there too of course, but the relationship is distant. Not distant in presence per say but more so in the meaning of relevance. Soon the daily activities of life resume and the fable story of a little baby in a manger have little to no significance in our activities or thoughts.
Still for some, that distance might like other far reaching relationships cause us to question, "Who is this baby Jesus?" What happens to him when he grows up?" "Is Jesus real and if so, what makes him so special?"
I have a Kinship with Doctrine
Every year around Christmas I hear the conversational whispers of the battle between perceived Consumerism and the "true" meaning of Christmas. On one side are those who want to see a greater focus on the celebration of the birth of Jesus while on the other side are those who simply want to find a sense of joy in giving and receiving gifts from family and special loved ones.
Doctrine makes us want to create and follow certain beliefs or principles according to our understanding of faith or truth. It is the foundation to our world view and by definition creates "laws which are established through past decisions". But following doctrine at the absence of feelings and emotions is outside of human natural behavior and becomes void to the essence of our need for relational acceptance and support. We need community and with community is our need for a greater sense of grace and tolerance.
Last week I was strolling through South Center Mall and came upon a quote from William Arthur Ward. He said, "Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it." I pondered the feelings that I have of gratitude, as a Christian, for God sending his son Jesus to us here on Earth. What or who would I be today if Jesus had never been born? How would I feel knowing that my faults, my sin had never been forgiven by my creator? Or how could I have known what purpose I might have; what on earth is right and wrong; is life meant to have a moral, ethical, and emotional compass? And if so, how could I possibly relate to it?
Words cannot express the emotions of gratitude, joy, love, and admiration which I have for Jesus and the relationship we have today. It is a relationship which not only sets a living compass for doctrines which guide my thoughts and actions but; it is also a human kinship filled with the workings of grace, forgiveness, and life long blessings.
It is that relationship which makes me want to share that same spirit with those around me; my friends, loved ones, and even the stranger I pass in the mall as I look up and smile while giving a friendly greeting, "Merry Christmas!!!"
I have a Kinship with Jesus
Have you ever listened to the lyrics of the Christmas song 'Little Drummer Boy' and wondered, "What is the essence of my drum to play?" "What is my gift for Jesus?" I know I have and at times and in some instances I have felt like the little boy, in that my gift isn't really that special. Yet, in Jesus' eyes all our gifts are special!
When we find ourselves realizing our relationship with an incarnate and living Jesus, we begin to explore the gifts, talents, and passions in our life in a new way. They're no longer meaningless and pointless but instead they are unique and special just between us and God because they become expressions of our relationship with Jesus. Our hobbies become the praxis of His presence in our lives!
I wonder what the wise men must have thought as they packed all their belongings, gathered their family, servants, and helpers, and headed west across the continent to see a little baby Jesus in a manger who would one day be king? The pride they must have felt, knowing the relationship they had with this future king must have been great as they even bragged about it to King Herod while coming close to the end of their journey! (Matt. 2:1-2)
Jesus has a Kinship with Me
I am just a guy but if I were Mary I cannot imagine the terror that would have filled my heart when an angle stood before me saying “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus." (Luke 1:30-31) At 14 years old, the thought of being pregnant and unmarried must have been scary to say the least. Even more so would be facing the whispered judgments of the many who would watch her as the little baby Jesus grew inside of her.
Being in relationship with Jesus brings the comfort of friendship and unconditional acceptance that we all love but when the realization of Jesus' character as Lord and the Son of God settles into our minds it becomes a little terrifying to think of his relationship with us. So how do we get beyond this fear so that we can bridge his Lordship from our minds to the heart?
There is a well known proverb in history that says, "The Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding." (Psalm 111:10) This is not a fear of harmful intent or life threatening danger. More so this is a fear which inspires us to become something better and maybe in the process we might just make a difference in the community and world around us!
My colleague Justin Bills has been my friend for several years now and I was inspired by his post that he wrote last week called 'The War on Christmas'. When he shared that he was giving half of his parents Christmas gift to Living Water International so the people in Africa might have clean water I was moved by his faith. Justin doesn't just want to lead through his knowledge of scripture or authority by position; he wants to inspire others by following the life calling of Jesus being in relationship with him.
Mary faced some amazing fears in those moments standing in front of God's appointed angle. Yet with awe inspiring courage she spoke, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Matt. 1:38)
"Never get stuck with the angels---if shepherds in fields or Mary in tomb (Jn.20) had stayed with angels, they never would have seen Jesus!" - Leonard Sweet
Jesus and I have a Mutual Kinship
Many years ago I can remember exploring the Anglican cathedral church of St. Steven's in downtown Calgary. My mother would bring me there late on Thursday evenings while she practiced with the choir for the yearly Christmas celebrations and I would have my prodigious imaginary adventures while exploring the "catacombs" and secret passage ways within the halls of the church (usually consisting of over and under the pews and the tunnel passage way behind the altar front) :-).
At four years old I had little knowledge to the relationship I had with Jesus nor the way he and I would encounter one another in the future. Yet looking back I now know that he most definitely knew and loved me. There were many people he placed in my life at that church that showed his love at Christmas and many other times of the year. People like Bob, "Aunt" Ruth, Meredith, Graham and Barbra Goode. People who are still in my life today.
Jesus and I having a mutual relationship is so much like my imagined adventures in that church as a boy. Through the exploration of the unknown and the relationships we develop along the way, Jesus shapes who we are, loves who we are, and in turn allows us to in our own time, come to know who he is freely in our own way and at our own pace. There never is a "right" way to do it. Just the slow prodigious adventure of being in mutual relationship with him at Christmas and every other time of year.
So where do you find yourself in relationship with Jesus this Christmas? Which of the 5 kinships do you find yourself this year? It doesn't matter which answer you might discover because it is the right one for you today. In all of the 5 Kinships with Jesus at Christmas we find the real Spirit which fills this season... “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16)
May you find yourself surround by a Spirit of Love and Joy this Christmas as Jesus blesses you, your family, and loved ones. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!!