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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Why Does Christmas Matter?

This past Sunday Caleb was asked to close out the Kids' Christmas Program with a short talk.  He and I collaborated on it a bit and so I'll put it here in case anyone wants to read it.  This is the unedited version - his was a bit shorter.

Why Does Christmas Matter?

In this season of Advent we wait - looking ahead to Christmas day - the day we remember and celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus.  For us kids, front and center of our minds is of course the presents we look forward to opening - and the goodies, sweets, treats and desserts that we will enjoy in the coming weeks.  For many of us, we imagine sipping hot chocolate by a warm, softly glowing fire and the songs of children - singing of truths we can hardly grasp in our own minds.  The songs we have sung and played today contain meanings and depths we can only hope to someday begin to understand.
The birth of Jesus means more than a tree, presents, lights and fancy feasts.  So, let's explore, and ask ourselves this question: Why does Christmas matter?

For school I had to memorize the first 4 stanzas of John Milton's Poem: On the Morning of Christ's Nativity.  This amazing work reflects on Christ's birth and what this means for us.

After reflecting on what Christmas means, I'd like to quote the fourth stanza and invite you to worship at Christ's feet - Who was born, taking on human flesh, lived and died and rose again to secure our salvation.  In this stanza we are invited to race to the manger - beating the magi - and being the first to greet the newborn Saviour:

See, how from far upon the eastern road
The star-led wizards haste with odours sweet:
O run, prevent them with thy humble ode,
And lay it lowly at His blessed feet;
Have thou the honour first thy Lord to greet,
And join thy voice unto the angel quire,
From out His secret altar touched with hallowed fire.

Later, in the poem Milton describes how nature takes a back seat at Christ's birth when the sun refused to take its place:

And though the shady gloom
Had given day her room,
The Sun himself withheld his wonted speet
And hid his head for shame,
As his inferior flame;
He saw a greater sun appear
Than his bright throne,
Or burning axle-tree could bear.

Even further on Milton describes what Christ's birth means: 'Yea Truth and Justice then,
                                                                                                    Will down return to men.'

"And Heav'n at some festival,
Will open wide the gates of her high palace hall.
But wisest Fate says no; This must not yet be so,
The babe lies yet in smiling infancy,
That on the bitter cross,
Must redeem our loss;
So both Himself and us to glorify."

These words, expressed poetically, can be obscure and hard to grasp at first glance: Heaven opening her gates? We'd think, "Yay! Heaven opens to us!"  But the poet goes on to say, "This must not yet be so."  I emphasize 'yet' - he isn't saying heaven won't ever open - but that up to this point in the nativity narrative, it hasn't happened yet.  He goes on to explain, 'The babe lies yet in smiling infancy' - Jesus, still a baby in the manger, has not yet fulfilled His earthly mission: That on the bitter cross, Must redeem our loss.  Christmas matters because it is the dawning of the Gospel - the revelation of hope and reconciliation between God and man.  Jesus' birth is holy, awesome, quiet, humble, pure.  His enfleshment - wearing our skin - feeling our brokenness and shame is the beginning of a work that led Him all the way to the cross.  In many ways this is a very sad story - the pain, the suffering, the agony and loss He was to face are horrifying to consider.  But in the sadness we are met with a redeeming hope - and are inspired to worship and adore Christ the newborn King - Who became a suffering servant, a sympathetic high priest and our serf-sacrificing redeemer.  As one hymn puts it: 'Love came down at Christmas' - only divine love could enter our world so humbly and so miraculously.

My Mom tells me her favourite Christmas song is Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.  The title doesn't present much of its rich content: an announcement of angels - sounds basic enough.  But the reason it is such a powerful song isn't because the angels are 'harking' us to hear their message.  It's because of the message ITSELF.  And it answers for us the question: Why Does Christmas Matter?

It matters because we are a people in need: we need peace: "Peace on earth and mercy mild."  And because we are sinners in need of reconciling with our Creator and God: "God and sinners reconciled."

Christmas matters because we needed an agent - a mediator - a worthy representative to open the way for us to know God as our own - as our Father.  Only a perfect, fully human person could intercede for us: we find our need met in Jesus: "Veiled in flesh the Godhead see: Hail the incarnate Deity.  Pleased as man with us to dwell: Jesus our Immanuel."

Thirdly, Christmas matters because we need hope and the birth of Christ means we can have true hope.  We enter life needy and helpless.  Jesus entered our world, taking on our very skin - our very human experience.  Many of us find our world a confusing, dark, complicated and sad place - a place of pain and suffering.  Jesus tells us He is the Light of the world - and in His light is life.  Not only do we face sickness in our flesh but in our spirits also.  And Jesus' birth brings hope - Light dawns in the darkness.  His death brings healing - for our sin-sick souls; and His resurrection brings life to us: "Light and life to all He brings, Ris'n with healing in His wings."

Oh how very much we need this Light, this life, this reconciling, THIS healing.
Scripture tells us, "Born this day, a Saviour."  This Saviour is the One we worship and celebrate at Christmas.

He is why Christmas matters.

Thank you for joining with us today as we anticipate the coming of Christmas day.  Happy Advent!!

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Reflections on Death...and therefore, Life

These past months I have been reminded again and again of how very brief and unpredictable life is - or can be.  A man lost his life at age 27 - due to some internal conflict with his illicit activities or family members I suppose.  Every day people lose their lives - some unexpectedly, some with short warning, some with longer warning.  I am 38 - and have been given the gift of these years.  I cannot presume to expect 40-50 more of them - that is for God to decide.

I see those who have lived life fully - with purpose, love, devotion to God.  And then I see a life ended prematurely on our lawn.  The Bible tells us to 'number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom.'  I don't want to be morbid in reflecting on death, but I do want to gain a heart of wisdom.  I want to embrace life - all of it.  Yet there are times I shrink back from the living of life.  Sometimes I can't help it, other times I simply lack courage (read: heartiness - full-heartedness) to walk into the full experience of life - it's pain, struggles, joys, hopes - all of it.

In these daily experiences and exposures to horror and life's brevity, I don't want to miss the opportunity to hear what God is saying: "The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of God stands forever."  Our lives are like withering grass.  But even in the moments of the flower of life blooming, there is beauty, fragrance and a welcoming of sunshine.