I've noticed something about Christmas this year. There are a lot of people who are hurting through it. 'Joy to the World' gets belted out from radios, choirs, joyous individuals, and entire churches but as I look around, I notice something other than carefree enjoyment of carols, lights, and tinsel. I see pain and hurt in people's eyes. Perhaps it's because of the recent and growing occurrences of terror and hate that destroy lives. Perhaps it's because we are now so connected to every corner of the globe, we have come to actually realize that 99% of the world will wake up with no Christmas or running water or adequate shelter. Perhaps it is just because the more life I live, the more I see the hurt that inevitably comes with it.
Christmas is a time of joy. From the time we are children we are geared toward Christmas being a happy, jolly time of goodwill and peace on earth. Even that great song, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day which at first decries the reality of there being any peace on earth eventually declares that yes, right WILL prevail. So what happens when that peace gets interrupted or hurt invades and pain, for the moment, prevails instead of joy? What do we do when it's hard to sing those familiar Christmas carols or wish someone a merry Christmas?
Cling. To. Christ. I think this is becoming my answer for everything these days. Just as in Sunday School where you learn that the answer is always "Jesus," so too, in life the answer is always this - cling to Christ. It is from Christ that we derive our hope and joy and peace and satisfaction and contentment and love. It is in Christ that we prevail through peace-destroying pain and walk on. It is in Christ that we live with pain and still weep tears of joy at the realization of just how good He is. It is in Christ that we must truly live and move and have our being. All else will fade or fail or break just as sure as the presents under the tree will tarnish and fade.
So this Christmas, whether you are in rapturous joy or walking your way through pain which life so often brings, take a few moments to pour out your heart to the One who makes a way for peace through pain and joy through trials. Take a moment and bow before that manger and let Him fill you with hope eternal. For hope eternal is why we celebrate Christmas at all.
It is very common, in our cushy American church, to live a cushy Christian life with nary a thought about the lost and dying world beyond 'Oh those poor souls.' Even more rare are the occasions when we take the time to stop and think about what we have been saved from, to ponder over the horrors that we have been pulled out of, to examine what our life could have been. And I'm talking about way more than 'going to hell.'
Think about it for a minute. Think of the worst person you know about from any time in history. A murderer. A rapist. Serial killer. Torturer. Someone who simultaneously makes your blood boil and strikes ungodly fear into your heart. Now realize the fact that you could have been them. Yes, YOU. You, but for the grace of God could have been that murderer. You, but for the grace of God could have been that rapist. You, but for the grace of God could have become the worst person you know. But you aren't.
Sometimes I think the realization of what I could have been strikes more fear into my heart than hell itself. God could have left me to rot. He could have left me sink into the deepest pit this world has ever known and die a living death until I died and went to hell. But He didn't. That realization right there leaves me quaking with awe and trembling in wonder. It leaves me humbled and upon my knees, unashamed tears washing my face. In some ways, it leaves me with more gratitude for the work of my Savior than even the thought of hell.
What Christ has done in my life is literally everything to me. It forms the reason for every hope, dream, desire, and wish. His death is literally the reason I live and move and have my being. He did not save me because I was good or raised in the right home. I could have been something terrible. He saved me from that fate - just as He saves many out of that fate. But whether saved from it or out of it, one thing we all have in common: we, that is you, me, your friend, the holiest person you know to the worst sinner saved you can think of, we literally nailed Christ to the cross. And He LET us do it all because He wanted to save the world.
Oh brothers and sisters, from so great a death we have been saved! From such great misery! He has given us all and it is all to Him we owe! Dwell upon His might and love, dwell upon what you might have been but for the grace of God. Bow in holy terror of what He has done, and LIVE for Him! Live for Him with all and everything you are. Because He did not die for you to live a life that says you do not care about what He has done.
Mass shootings, school shootings, random shootings... Senseless acts of violence, planned violence, premeditated murder. We hear about these things all the time now. And they're not sporadic events that mark a calendar year. They are not things that happen in some far off place. They happen here, close to home, and in our backyards. Or in our friends' backyards. Or our families' backyards. Calls and texts shoot across space to inform, warn, and urge to stay safe. Just maintaining contact brings a solid sense of relief and gratitude that you know your loved one is okay at that present moment.
There was a day when the Columbine shooting rocked our American world and was thought to be a one-off. Now, there is a temptation to never feel safe regardless of where we live. So what do you do when it's suddenly your loved ones and your backyard that are threatened? How do you approach it when it's your faith, not that of someone far away, that is being tested?
Let it drive you to Christ. There is such a temptation to look at things like this and want to hole ourselves away but we are still called to live in the world and let our light shine in the darkness. The darker it gets, the brighter we shine, the more our faith and trust must grow. Living this way is a conscious and active decision we have to make, it is not something we will just fall into. Is it easy? Of course not. Living in a way that displays constant and continual trust in the Lord is the harder option, the more rigorous of choices to pick between. But it is the right one. Because if the light does not continue to shine, then all the world would be darkness and then all would be lost.
When one considers the follies and foibles of humanity, that there are none perfect nor will there ever be, regardless of a search through history or a combing through of this present age, one truly begins to marvel that God chooses to use us at all.
I recently had the fantastic opportunity to visit the Passages Museum in Santa Clarita, a museum that makes it's sole focus to inform visitors about the Bible. Before I go any farther, yes, it is absolutely as awesome as it sounds! As a visitor, you will learn about the Bible from it's inception to how it came to rest in your hands. It's an awesome journey and if you have a chance, I absolutely recommend it!
One of the interesting aspects about the museum is that the exhibits highlight many of the men who were involved in the transcription and translation of the Bible - men like Martin Luther, Erasmus, Wycliffe, King James, and Tyndale, to name a few. These men went against the establishment, were abused, jailed, tortured, killed, and one was nearly assassinated because of their dedication to getting the Word of God into the hands of the common people. They are the reason why you are holding your copy of scripture today. And each man had problems.
One was anti-Semitic, one had views that were thought to border on heresy with regards to free will and sovereign grace, some were of one theological camp, some were of another. Looking back, we can say that 'this person had incorrect views here,' or 'that person should have done that differently,' but the fact remains that today we hold the precious words of scripture in our hands because of these men. Despite failings and flaws, of which we all have an abundance, the Lord saw fit to use them and used them greatly.
Lest we fall into the prideful pit that, consciously or unconsciously, declares we "have it all together" and are the only Christians to walk the face of the planet who have it right, let us dwell on the fact that God is gracious to use us despite our humanity, not because of it. We are flawed and we will fail. It is God's grace that says we can still be used. We will sin and will need to seek the forgiveness of our Savior. It is God's grace that says we can still be used. When it comes right down to it, we really have nothing to do with the fact that God uses us. It's all Him. We're just vessels He decides to graciously allow to be a part of the history He is writing. We are not used because of us. We are used because of Him.