Who is like the LORD?

On a recent morning walk, a phrase came into my thoughts: “Who is like the LORD our God?” The all-caps “LORD” in this question is YaHWeH, the personal name of the God of Israel. In a variety of ways, the unique and superlative nature of Yahweh comes up again and again in the pages of the Bible. As Christians who worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in a post-Enlightenment, post-Christian culture, we are in danger of missing the significance of this repeated question: “Who is like Yahweh?”

In our post-Christian world, the one true God of the Bible is the default in discussions of all varieties that involve “god talk”. When someone says “Oh my God!”–an empty oath– which god are they thinking of? Even for equal opportunity atheists, the “god” they really, really don’t believe in is the monotheistic God of the Bible. The Biblical question: “Who is like Yahweh” comes across as being rhetorical: “There is only one God so, duh, no one is like the Lord.” But that is not what the biblical writers were communicating.

Think about this: if you are the winning participant in a race of one runner, or the last man standing in boxing match featuring just you, is that much of an accomplishment? All the nations that surrounded or opposed Israel had gods: gods of war and love, of fertility & harvest, of the moon and sun, of sky and ocean. Some rulers, like the Pharaohs of Egypt claimed divine or semi-divine status. A defeat of an enemy was proof that their gods were inferior to yours (2 Chron. 32:17). The gods worshipped by the nations were powerful… but petty and capricious. They had to be placated with gifts and sacrifices and they seemed to favor the strong and ruthless.

And then Moses encounters Yahweh: a God who is utterly unique. After 400 years of slavery in Egypt, the God who had spoken and walked with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, completely and utterly humiliates the gods of Egypt (Exodus 12:12), parts the Red Sea, and destroys the ancient world’s most powerful army in a single blow.

 You blew with your wind; the sea covered them; they sank like lead in the mighty waters. “Who is like you, O YAHWEH, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders? You stretched out your right hand; the earth swallowed them. – EXODUS 15:10-12

Living as Egyptian royalty, Moses would have been educated about the Egyptian gods; he would have known what were like and how they acted. But this God, Yahweh? He was not like any god Moses had ever heard of, and not just because of His awesome power. Yahweh is unique in what is important to Him:

Who is like YAHWEH our God,… He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes with the princes of his people. He settles the childless woman in her home as a happy mother of children.
–PSALM 113:5-9

Yahweh is not a God who needs to be on the side of winners. He loves and cares for the least, the weakest, and rejected. And just as amazing, you can count on this God; he entered into a covenant relationship with His people, binding himself to them. He is not capricious, He doesn’t get distracted or bored. He keeps his word continually:

“O YAWHEH God of Israel, there is no God like you, in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and showing steadfast love to your servants who walk before you with all their heart” – 1 KINGS 8:23

In a battle, the strongest army wins. It is easy to say the victor’s god has given them victory. Who could argue with that logic? No god actually showed up, but whose to say he or she wasn’t present? Yahweh isn’t like that either; he is unambiguous and he can act even in the territory of other so-called “gods”: three faithful jewish boys walked into and out of a giant oven without even the smell of smoke on their clothes. Having seen a mysterious fourth person walking around in the fire with the young me, the King of the Babylon whose god, Marduk, had made itthe most powerful empire of the age said this about Yahweh, the God of the conquered Jews:

Any people, nation, or language that speaks anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb, and their houses laid in ruins, for there is no other god who is able to rescue in this way. – DANIEL 3:29

Incredibly, this one-of-a-kind God, the One who created everything (John 1:1-3,14) did something no other God has ever done in entering human history to die in the place of his rebellious creatures so they could live. (Philippians 2:5-8). In the person of Jesus, this God has brought us into His forever family (Ephesians 1:5-7). Search the pages of history and mythology; you will never find any god like the one who shows love and forgiveness to law-breakers and enemies (Romans 5:8) in this way. Now, more than ever before we can ask with awe and wonder: “Who is like Yahweh our God?”.

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Restoring Discrimination

Discrimination gets a bad rap. In English, the word has changed from being a useful workhorse to being a nasty one-trick pony.  Broadly, discrimination is decision-making based on a set standard or criteria. Obviously a person’s criteria, their standards of testing or evaluating competing options, are crucial to determining if the resulting discrimination is good or evil. Everyone discriminates. We have to or we would never take any action. The question of what criteria we use to discriminate 一 how we determine how to live and how to treat others 一 goes all the way back to the beginning of the Biblical story.

In Genesis 3, humanity’s representatives faced a choice: trust Yahweh’s Creator-defined criteria or define good and evil for themselves. Adam & Eve chose to make judge (i.e. discriminate) based on what was “right in their own eyes”. What do you do when someone opposes your personal happiness? Without a single external standard, conflict, chaos, and domination inevitably result, as the Biblical authors painfully document. In the book of Judges for example, this pattern of everyone acting according to their own individual standards results in downward spiral of horrendous suffering and misery.

The first problem with using our individual-defined standards is that they can’t produce a unified vision of goodness that accounts for the needs of everyone.

A few years ago I spoke to a young man who had rejected Christianity in favor of atheism. He believed that he was basically a good person, good according to his own standards. As we talked he shared how he he evaluated his relationships with people: in general he had a live-and-let-live attitude, but if a friend was unreliable in some way he would cut them off. I asked him for examples and he mentioned being dishonest, even one time. I then asked if he had ever lied before. After a short pause he admitted that he had. I pointed out that he held people to a higher standard than he held himself to.

The second problem with using our personal criteria to judge: we can’t even follow our own standards!

The Good News is this: the good King who rules by God’s perfect standards has come! Jesus absorbed in himself the consequences of human rebellion against God’s standards and has given his subjects a permanently clean slate because he perfectly lived by God’s standards. He invites everyone to live according to God’s standards so that Yahweh’s  “will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.”  Even better, the Holy Helper empowers all who trust and obey the King so we increasingly make choices (i.e. discriminate) according to God’s standards,  rejecting our own self-focused criteria.

The Good News about Jesus the King is no less than a complete transformation of how a person thinks, desires, acts and feels. As such it is first and foremost a renewed relational connection with the God who thinks, desires, acts and feels perfectly. Brought into a Father/Child family relationship with God by the Son through the indwelling Holy Spirit, we live in intimate personal contact with the One who is by nature the standard for how to live and how to treat others.

The author of Hebrews, quoting Jeremiah says that God’s standards are now written internally. It is because of this new reality that Paul writes:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. 一 Romans 12:2

Renewing our minds,seeing things from His perspective, ensures our evaluation (i.e. testing) of  life choices will allow us to discriminate good from evil according to God’s standards (i.e. His good pleasing and perfect will) and act upon them.


THREE ways we can renew our minds/ reset our discrimination criteria:

  1. Looking to God’s thoughts, character, actions and promises in scripture helps us evaluate what is important to God, what is good, and what is evil.
  2. Specifically, we look at the words and actions of Jesus who is the best revelation of the Father’s character and will.
  3. Invite the Holy Spirit to reveal to you items in your “list” of standards that do not agree with His and ask for His help in thinking God’s thoughts.

REGARDING EVIL DISCRIMINATION: A FEW TOPICS GOD HAS MADE HIS THOUGHTS CLEAR ABOUT

  • Humanity is special (Genesis 1:26)
  • Men & Women are of equal worth to God (Genesis 1:27)
  • Children are fully human and inherently valuable (Genesis 5:1-3 , Psalm 127:3)
  • All humans, regardless of physical, ethnic, geographic or linguistic differences, are God’s image-bearers. (Acts 17:26)
  • Non-citizens of God’s Kingdom are not to be shunned (1 Corinthians 5:9-10)
  • Children of God seek to do good for everyone, even enemies. (Galatians 6:10, 1 Thessalonians 5:15)
  • Treat foreigners like family: they are fellow image-bearers (Exodus 19:34, Ephesians 2:12-13)
  • Don’t use wealth as a standard for judging (James 2:1-6)
  • Don’t give preference to beauty and fashion  (1 Samuel 16:7, 1 Peter 3:3-4)
  • Don’t give preference to those who are cool, hip, or cutting edge (1 John 2:17)

Parenting with Ephesians 1 in mind

In the first 14 verses of Ephesians, Paul lays out 6 benefits that God (the Father) has given to us through our immersion into Christ (the Son) (Romans 6:3-4). These benefits are “spiritual blessings” , enabling us to succeed in the new life we have been born into through (God) the Holy Spirit (John 3:5-8):

  1. A privileged standing before Him (v.4)
  2. A Father-son, family relationship with Him (vv.5-6)
  3. A forever forgiveness from Him (V.7)
  4. “Insider” truth about the purpose & end of human history (vv.8-10)
  5. A shared inheritance with Christ (vv.11-12)
  6. The Holy Spirit as a present benefit & guarantee of our inheritance (vv.13-14)

In reminding the Ephesians of these things, Paul encourages us  to live lives transformed as a result of keeping these realities on the forefront of our minds.

This leads to an important question:

Since every area of our lives are impacted by the Good News about the Kingdom of God, how can these six benefits help us to succeed in our everyday lives?

If I were to summarize the net effect of these blessings I would say the Father’s blessings transform us by changing our priorities. 

If we stop to examine  our interior lives, especially the sinful tendencies that reveal themselves in the trenches of marriage and parenting, and employment (anger, resentment, anxiety, selfishness, etc.), I think we will find we misvalue things and people. We tend to value personal projects, possessions, “me time”, convenience and comfort. We tend to misvalue the people who interfere with those “treasures”.

In considering the benefits the Father has given, we come face to face with a Divine Person who doesn’t operate that way. We are not obstacles to Him, so he doesn’t treat us as obstacles. We are made in His image, so he values us highly. The three persons of the Trinity always exist in perfect, loving community, so the Father doesn’t need our obedience or behavior to validate himself.

I’ll illustrate how these benefits have been personally helpful.

When I am doing something I enjoy, am immersed in, or “have” to do, I feel resentful when I have to intervene in a squabble with my children. Where does this feeling come from? It comes from my belief that my personal satisfaction is more important than my relationship to my children as their teacher and representative of their Heavenly Father. How can the six benefits help me?

  1. Since I have a privileged status before the God of Everything, I should reflect on what he values.
  2. Jesus died in order to secure a Father-Son relationship with me, therefore the relationship with my children which mirrors that most important of relationships is worth the small sacrifice of time I give.
  3. Since I have forever forgiveness, I must remove all bitterness or resentment towards my children from my heart.
  4. The Father’s long term plan is to unify all things in Christ. I should value helping my kids grow in their understanding and experience of life in Christ more than my personal comfort or entertainment.
  5. I share in the inexhaustible wealth the Father will lavish on me. Why am I making a big deal out of things that are passing away? The novel I’m reading or the show I’m watching are negligible in the face of eternity with Jesus.
  6. The Holy Spirit has been poured out on me as evidence of the transformed life I am called to. I have full access to the life of God through the Spirit so I can absolutely overcome my bad attitude or anxiety or anger.

In the same way that a board game will sit unused if you forget that you have it in your closet, these benefits–given to us by the Father in the Son through the Holy Spirit–can do nothing if we don’t keep them in focus. Remember, these are not things you DO they are blessings you HAVE. A sports car is meant to be driven. A gift card is not a bookmark. A gourmet meal is not a table decoration. Spend some time thinking about the things you misvalue and let the truth of God’s Word show you how to experience the benefit of living in the Family of God.

 

GOSPEL BEAUTY ON DISPLAY

During the month of February, with Valentine’s Day as the occasion, advertisers and other purveyors of culture naturally emphasize romantic love. The proliferation of balloons, cards and chocolate, while a delightful opportunity to  appreciate “beloved ones” is accompanied by the darker side of Cupid. What in former times was delicately  veiled and enjoyed within the protection of marriage is emblazoned on magazine covers, graphically described in popular music, and endlessly forwarded and tweeted about on social media platforms. Our children are flooded with ideas, words, images assumptions and expectations about sexual experience that are difficult to filter. As followers of Christ, living under his rule of Agape love, we as parents have been given a wonderful gift to help us steer our children through these turbulent waters.

In Mark 1, we are introduced to the concept of “the gospel” in the very first sentence, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”,  or to put it in a more expanded way : “The start of the good news of Jesus the divine rescuing King”. Later in verse 14  Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”  No cross is mentioned, no sin is mentioned, no resurrection mentioned. Instead, Jesus’ gospel is that 1) the time is fulfilled and, 2) the kingdom of God has arrived. What is going on here and how does this help parents?

Jesus understood himself as the climax of a huge story. Throughout the New Testament reference is made to Jesus’ ministry including his death and resurrection as the fulfillment of the entire Old Testament (e.g. Luke 24:25-27). His coming inaugurated God’s rule on Earth: the overthrow of rebellious spiritual rulers , the rescue of a humanity that had be enslaved to sin and death, the unification of Jews and Gentiles into one people empowered to live in perfect fellowship with God. Now, anyone who is in Christ is part of a renewed humanity, living lives of others-focused, self-giving love just as our Divine King has done. It is a beautiful, magnificent story, with a divinely given, Holy Spirit empowered calling! And it effects everything we do, think  and say.

Flash forward to now.

As we—Christian parents—grow in our capacity to grasp the immense love of God for us displayed in Christ, and the beyond-our-wildest-imagination privilege we have as belonging to God’s divine family, we must paint in vivid colors the beautiful vision of the good news: God’s divinely-appointed King has established God’s Kingdom and we can all live in it — right now. When we talk about learning, or playing, or music, or marriage, nature or anything, we bring the good news about the Right-Now-Kingdom-of- God into the conversation. We commend to our children the beautiful vision of a deeply loving, merciful Creator, a self-giving rescuing Savior, and an ever-present teaching, guiding, helping and comforting Holy Spirit who free us from the chains of depression, anxiety, hopelessness, loneliness, worthlessness, bitterness and every other torment of that other kingdom . We have been given everything we need to live in the new Kingdom and to lives of joy in the face of difficulties and hope in the face of suffering. Our worth and value are unshakable because we are hidden inside the perfection of Jesus.

We are not called to be fearful of our culture: it is passing away. We are not called to be anxious parents: we have a Heavenly Father who cares for us and for them. There is a place and a time to talk with our children about the empty temptation and confusion that our culture offers up under the guise of sexual pleasure and fulfillment. It is tempting for us to focus on the negative consequences of engaging in sexual contact outside of a marriage covenant… but that is not the best way.

The best way, or as Paul put it , the more excellent way, is to commend a massive and breath-takingly beautiful vision of life in the Kingdom of the Beloved Son, including the complimentary nature and shared purpose of male and female image-bearers of God, and God’s design for sexual union in Marriage. To paraphrase a well-known hymn, when you consistently show the beauty in the face of Christ, “the things of Earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace”.


QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION

  1. Are you fearful and anxious for your children when you think of the direction our culture is moving in?
  2. When thinking on the topic of sexuality—especially in regards to teaching your children—do you mostly think about the negative consequences of sexual sin (e.g. disease, teenage pregnancy, gender confusion, divorce) or do you think with wonder and joy at God’s design for men and women, living in a community of love, whether married or unmarried?
  3. Has your grasp on the massively beautiful story of God’s love revealed in scripture, in Jesus and in your own life, grown over time?
  4. How can you make a beautiful picture of the gospel central to all your discussions about life with you children?
  5. Read Ephesians 3:14-21. Paul prays for the Ephesians to have supernatural power by the Holy Spirit to grow in their comprehension of God’s love so that they may filled with the “fullness of God”, in order to live like He lives. Take time to pray for yourself and your children this way. God’s love is so massive, you can’t understand it without His help.

Rethinking Your News Diet

“This idea–that there is a content called “the news of the day”–was entirely created by the telegraph (and since amplified by newer media)… the news of the day is a figment of our technological imagination. It is, quite precisely, a media event. We attend to fragments of events from all over the world because we have multiple media whose forms are well suited to fragmented conversation. Cultures without speed-of-light media…do not have news of the day.”
–Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death (1985)

“And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” –1 John 2:17

An article published on the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission website addresses a significant but often invisible element of modern society: the News. As Christian parents, we communicate our values and beliefs by more than just what we say. As the adage goes: “More is caught than taught”. What lessons are our children learning by how we engage with and respond to our news sources?

As children of God, we are called to live in the light of Eternity  (i.e. act like our Father, 1 John 1:5-7), ambivalent to the attitudes and desires of the world which continually pass away (1 John 2:15-17). Few things are more temporary than the daily news cycle which constantly shifts its gaze–more to titillate than to educate–through stories seemingly selected to stir fear, outrage, anxiety or pride… only to be forgotten and replaced in 24 hours. Is this emotional tug-of-war in harmony with the new life we have in Christ? In an effort to be well-informed world citizens are we instead being co-opted into conforming to old habits and desires?

Paul writes in Ephesians 4:11-24: 

Christ himself gave [variously gifted servants] to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ…

…you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding …Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.

That, however, is not the way of life you learned …You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Rather than be “tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching”, we are commanded to actively develop a kingdom perspective characterized by:

  • Unity in the Faith & Knowledge of the Son of God
  • Maturity in living like Jesus, speaking truth in love
  • Stable in our understanding, no longer misled or distracted
  • Renewed in the attitude (direction) of our minds
  • Living as true image-bearers of God: overflow with goodness and life

Take some time to consider how your media consumption impacts both your spiritual maturity and the spiritual and emotional health of your family. As  Neil Postman wrote, “daily news” is itself a new and limited idea, and while it constantly passes away, “the Word of the Lord remains forever.”  (1 Peter 1:25)

REFLECTION QUESTIONS

  1. Where do you get your news (TV, Radio, Social Media, Friends, Magazines, Newspapers)?
  2. How much time do you spend in a week absorbing, sharing news, and being emotionally affected by the news media?
  3. What are the positive results of your news diet?
  4. Are there any “benefits” that are actually sin? (e.g. pride at being “in-the-know” , self-righteously comparing yourself to the world, people pleasing by being able to commiserate with friends)?
  5. Read Colossians 3:1-10. Is your news diet a source of life that draws you into living in the manner Paul describes?
  6. Read Romans 12:2. Does your news diet renew your mind, enabling you to live with confidence in the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God?
  7. What steps can you take to be more spiritual healthy in how you interact with the news?

>>> READ THE ERLC ARTICLE

A Parent’s Worst Nightmare

Being a parent means being vulnerable to unexpected suffering. From health and safety concerns (“Will my child survive to adulthood unharmed and whole?”), to worries about success and happiness (“Will my child make good life decisions?”), to issues of character ( Will she overcome her self-centeredness” ?), there are many ways for parents to be hurt through our children. Additionally, of fundamental concern for Christian parents is whether or not our children will put their trust in Jesus Christ. How do we handle these possibilities? We can try to ignore them, but life doesn’t always accommodate us. We can choose to worry and wear ourselves thin. We can try to create our own “Bible Code” of promises that we can hold God accountable to.  Or we can renew our minds with God’s word so the truth, wisdom and confidence of the gospel can guard our hearts and minds.

If I were to boil down gospel hope into one phrase it would be this: God definitively demonstrated the full extent of his faithfulness, love, mercy, goodness and justice when the Unique Son entered human history to be a willing sacrifice for human evil. Since God has shown his character once and for all in the person and work of Jesus, we can choose to trust Him and experience a freedom of mind and heart that does not depend on our life circumstances.

GOD SUFFERED
A rescued and renewed humanity was so valuable to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit that the Father sent the Son into the world (John 3:16). Disease and death are so hateful to God that the Son took them on himself to destroy them (Acts 3:15, Hebrews 2:14). Having conquered death, he always lives to intercede on our behalf (Hebrews 7:25) and his Kingdom is growing, culminating in the conquering of death (1 Corinthians 15:25-26).

Conclusion: Human sickness, frailty and death cannot undo the New Life. Even though we as parents may experience the pain of watching our children suffer, perhaps even die before we do, the Good News of Jesus the King removes the sting of death.

GOD PROVIDES
If we are to trust God with our own lives, let alone the lives of our children, we have to first listen to what he promises. After all, it is unjust to demand from God a promise He never gave. A few things not mentioned in the Bible: college acceptance, financial stability, retirement benefits, protection from the earthly consequences of foolishness and sin. Jesus did say that if we set our hearts on the things of God’s Kingdom we could trust that he would take care of our basic needs (Matthew 6:25-34). Jesus also promised suffering and a degree of persecution when we live like he did (John 15:20. Yet he also assures us that he has overcome the source of our suffering (John 16:33). Furthermore, in Christ our children can have the highest status possible: the right become Children of God (John 1:12-13) and co-inheritors of Eternal life with Christ (Romans 8:17).

Conclusion: The Good News about Jesus enriches our kids beyond anything a Fortune 500 company or government pension could do and offers a security that not even death or taxes can beat.

GOD TRANSFORMS
After his resurrection and assention, according to the long-standing promise of God, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit into the world (Joel 2:28, Acts 2:17, Jeremiah 31:33-34, Hebrews 8:10-12). He brings conviction, cleansing & renewal, transforming power (Titus 3:5-6) and understanding to live like Jesus (John 16:7-15). His purpose, to draw people into relationship with the Father through the Son, stems from his desire to rescue all who will come to him (2 Peter 3:9).

Conclusion: Connected to the life of God through the Holy Spirit, our children have everything necessary to develop godly character (2 Peter 1:3-4)

GOD SEEKS
The last concern “Will my child receive or reject the gospel?” is in many ways the most painful. The other questions and answers grow from this one. Rather than hunt through scripture for promises that we can force God to keep in a legal fashion, the hope we have is grounded in the revealed character of God. Right out of the gate God promises to send a rescuer to crush the power of the Deceiver whose lies had corrupted humanity (Genesis 3:15). In his covenant with Abraham, God promises a descendent who will bless all the families of the earth (Genesis 12:3). Through the nation of Israel, YHWH makes a case study of his long-suffering, merciful, loyal love (Exodus 34:6-7) while consistently giving examples of his love for all people (Jonah 4:11). When Jesus comes on the scene he says he has not come for those who are morally pure but for the lost, the sinners, the strays (Luke 15:1-32, Luke 19:1-10). Finally, God’s own beloved Son, sent by the Father for this purpose, willingly takes the punishment we and our children deserved so that we could have life. No expense was spared.

Conclusion: We can rely on God’s amazing love to woo and guide our children to His Son despite sin, doubt, anger, pride, and hardness of heart. Anything that can be done will be done since God did not spare His own Son. (Romans 8:31-32)

GOD LISTENS
Finally, God who is a Father to us, want to walk with us, comfort us and carry us through our parenting anxieties. Parents, we must, we can, and we get to talk to our Father. We are called to cast our anxiety on Him for the very reason that He does care for us (1 Peter 5:7). We are reminded not to be anxious about anything but in everything to bring our requests before the Lord so that we can experience the peace beyond circumstances that only He can give (Philippians 4:6-7). If we parents, who are imperfect, can give and wish good things for our children, we can rely on our perfect, merciful, persistent Heavenly Father to exceed our care for our children in every way when we ask ( Luke 11:13).

INNER CHRISTMAS TENSION

Thousands of Christmas cards and books display endless variations on scenes from the Biblical account: shepherds with sheep and angels, wisemen on camels, barnyard animals surrounding perfectly illuminated mangers. Like many adults, the Christmas season creates internal tension for me. The familiar postcard depictions draw me toward the nostalgia of a childhood that experienced Christmas without the responsibilities and knowledge that adulthood brings. One scene from the Christmas story doesn’t appear on any postcard but  I believe offers a way to reconcile the joy of the idyllic Christmas season with the realities of life in the modern world.

The human soul longs for peace on earth, rest, harmony. The Incarnation perfectly addresses this deepest of needs and, at its best, Christmas celebration blossoms from the hope of Emmanuel, “God with us”. As Simeon sang after seeing the infant Jesus:

Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel. 

Luke 2:29-32

As adults, though we feel the need for peace and hope more acutely we less able to engage with the hope. Just because December 25th is rolling around doesn’t mean we get a break from bills, or caring for aging parents. We enjoy the delight of children, but many of us feel we have to “fake it” for their benefit; we don’t want to be anyone’s Grinch. So on top of our burden of life we add the pressure of feeling cynical or hypocritical. (If this doesn’t describe you, keep reading because you will be able to care for other adults in your life who struggle this way).

Some critics have called Christianity “pie in the sky” implying that the gospel doesn’t deal with the realities of life, offering instead good feeling and crossed-fingered blind optimism. Matthew 2:16, a postcard-resistant scene in the Christmas account, dismantles this charge:

 Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men.

Matthew and Luke weren’t writing “Christmas Stories”, they were telling the amazing news of an invasion from Heaven into a world “in sin and error pining”. Jesus’s birth was the cause of great rejoicing for many, but was simultaneously the event that motivated a grasping, jealous king to murder many innocent boys:

 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:“A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children;she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.” – Matthew 2: 17-18

So yes, as Isaiah proclaimed:

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone… For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder,and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of YHWH of hosts will do this. – Isaiah 9:2, 6-7

At the same time, life continues. We remain in the world and we continue to wrestle with our own human bent toward sin (Romans 8:13), a way of thinking that is opposed to the mind of God (Romans 12:2) and with powerful spiritual enemies who actively war against the expanding kingdom of the Prince of Peace (Ephesians 6:12).

Here’s my advice to myself. Instead of feeling cynical during this season,
Let Chrismas be: 

  1.  a memento of my personal peace with God (Romans 5:1)
  2.  a foretaste of my future glory with Christ. (Romans 5:2)
  3. a reminder that the story isn’t finished yet (John 15:20)
  4. an assurance that Jesus shares in life’s struggles, even at Christmas (John 16:33)
  5. a call to think of the day when Christ will wipe away every tear (Revelation 21:4)