Merry Christmas

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.

Merry Christmas!

Chri$tma$

Retail sales this Christmas are expected to exceed $500 billion in total. You would have to live in a cave to somehow be without a cell phone, cable tv, or the internet in order to avoid the onslaught of advertising related to gift-giving and Christmas. For instance, I know that as a guy I have already blown it this Christmas – I didn’t go to Jared’s.

I often hear from other Christians as they lament over the commercialization of Christmas. It seems Christmas is more about the cash than it is Christ. We often even refer to this as the War on Christmas. My problem is we act as if this is something new.

We have bought the idea that Christmas was somehow never about the money and yet I would suggest to you that it has always been about the money – from the first day.

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. Luke 2:1

Jesus was born into a place of conflict, occupation, and oppression.

Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem so that the occupying Roman empire would know how much to tax their subjects. The birth of Christ in Bethlehem happened amidst a money-grab by those in power. And you can bet the vendors in the market place were taking advantage of the influx of outsiders to make their money.

The Good News is that Jesus came to us in this unlikely and unexpected way to show us the depth of God’s love for us to show us that God is so in love with us that God would go to any length for us, even to being humbly born in a stable (because there was no room in the inn).

And the really GOOD NEWS is that Jesus still shows up in the unexpected places in our world and in our lives. Jesus still shows up in our time whenever there is struggle, strife, injustice – wherever violence threatens and seeks to destroy the innocent and the good. Jesus even shows up in the midst of the over-commercialization of Christmas – IF you will let Him.

Jesus is born to bring hope in the midst of our despair; born to bring light in the midst of darkness.

Jesus is born to give us a choice of giving over greed.

In Jesus, God entered into our reality and our lives. God knows what it is like to be human. God knows intimately what we go through. God knows what it is like to have hopes and dreams, fears and doubts, to belong and to be rejected, to succeed and fail.

I think sometimes the most unexpected place for us to think of God is in our own lives – amidst our frustrations. We somehow think that God is too distant, too busy, to break through all the gift-giving, advertisements, and business of Christmas and reach us.

But that is the point of Christmas. It reminds us that God chooses to be with us, wherever we are. God is with us, today, tomorrow. Always.

Jesus is God’s love made visible. His humble birth amidst the business of the Roman Empire puts that love on full display. It is a beautiful and unexpected gift in a humble and unexpected place.

Sometimes the greatest gifts you will ever receive are the ones you least expect. I pray that your Christmas will be filled with unexpected gifts – presents, relationships, or moments of grace. And may they come to you in unexpected places – the mall, home, or in church.

May they remind you of the original unexpected gift of Christmas—Jesus—and of God’s great love for you.

Elf on the Shelf meet John Wesley

You gotta love the idea behind Elf on the Shelf.  What a great way to engage children in good behavior during December.  The children actually self-police their good behavior as an imagery stuffed elf looks on.
As a adults, we even find ourselves caught up in the fanciful world; hence, the countless photos appearing everywhere of elves in the craziest of places. BUT, as adults we also find ourselves noticing are kids doing good things AND we actually take the time to speak words of kindness and thanks to our children – maybe that is more important than the elf?

When our elf (Buddy) made his first appearance in the house, our son proudly declared, “Buddy is back and watching! But that’s okay because I’ve been good.”

His statement got me thinking …

Remember that famous quote by John Wesley (1703-1791) the founder of the Methodist movement?

Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.
So, what if we created little John Wesley dolls and had them appear around town – at the grocery, at the bank, at the workplace, at the gym, at the mall – you know all the places we live, work, and play.
And what if we told a story about how he is watching to see if we are living out our faith?

Would something as little as this help us figure out that how we live our faith matters?

After all how we live our faith matters a lot more than a few presents showing up on Christmas day! or at least that’s how I interpret the story that Jesus told:

31 When the Son of Man comes in his glory with all of his angels, he will sit on his royal throne. 32 The people of all nations will be brought before him, and he will separate them, as shepherds separate their sheep from their goats.
33 He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. 34 Then the king will say to those on his right, “My father has blessed you! Come and receive the kingdom that was prepared for you before the world was created. 35 When I was hungry, you gave me something to eat, and when I was thirsty, you gave me something to drink. When I was a stranger, you welcomed me, 36 and when I was naked, you gave me clothes to wear. When I was sick, you took care of me, and when I was in jail, you visited me.”
37 Then the ones who pleased the Lord will ask, “When did we give you something to eat or drink? 38 When did we welcome you as a stranger or give you clothes to wear 39 or visit you while you were sick or in jail?”
40 The king will answer, “Whenever you did it for any of my people, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you did it for me.”
41 Then the king will say to those on his left, “Get away from me! You are under God’s curse. Go into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels! 42 I was hungry, but you did not give me anything to eat, and I was thirsty, but you did not give me anything to drink. 43 I was a stranger, but you did not welcome me, and I was naked, but you did not give me any clothes to wear. I was sick and in jail, but you did not take care of me.”
44 Then the people will ask, “Lord, when did we fail to help you when you were hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in jail?”
45 The king will say to them, “Whenever you failed to help any of my people, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you failed to do it for me.”

46 Then Jesus said, “Those people will be punished forever. But the ones who pleased God will have eternal life.”            Matthew 25:31-46 CEV