Sunday, December 22, 2013

Sending out a Christmas Card

The snows falling peacefully outside, covering the muddy ground and hiding the mangy grass and dead leaves that fell too late this Fall. From the comfort of a warm house and shielded from the blustery wind, the frosted branches and the gentle blanket of white displays a majestic beauty.

It makes me think about how dark the days are, yet how bright the snow gleams under the winter moon and the brilliant pinpoints of stars. The trees and plants are sleeping underneath this nightly glory. It's as if God knows that everything needs a little rest some times. The globe settles into its rhythm of growth, fruitfulness and rest.

Here in the Northern hemisphere we enjoy this rest at the time of Christmas. Not long ago, pagans would use this time to revel in celebrations of life, with evergreen fronds and bawdy parties. To sanctify this celebration, the holiday was given the name Christmas and people were redirected to focus on the birth of Christ, the Savior.

I don't really care about the debate. It doesn't matter, really. Everyone agrees that we need light in this dark world, particularly when the days get short and cold. Everyone agrees that peace is better than war.

With LED lights decorating the houses and the words PEACE and JOY adorning various displays, we should keep in mind what Jesus really meant. Babies are cute. They represent innocence to us. We remember fondly holding little, helpless babies and giving gifts to children at Christmas. But Jesus was far different. He was born in a time when Israel was occupied by a hostile force: Rome. People were oppressed. There was no peace. Jesus' parents had to register for Rome, who was taking a census. Power was a big deal back then, as it is now. Rome didn't tolerate insurrection. And Herod was fearful of anything that would threaten his sweet deal with Rome.

Into this hostile world, torn up with politics and power came a defenseless baby. He was also the creator of the cosmos! He humbled himself to be dependent on two of his own creations. Mary and Joseph changed the Creator's diapers.

But he didn't come just to show us an example of loving humility. He came to die.

There's an expression in the legal world: Buy peace. Two parties are litigating over something. One has wronged the other and owes a debt. The one can "buy peace" with the other by settling outside of court.

This is what God has done for us. We owe God an eternal debt that we can't pay. If we "went to trial" we'd lose and need to pay off our debt in eternal torment. But God arranged a way to buy our peace. He humbled himself as His son, Jesus, became a human and then lived perfectly. He never sinned. But then he took on the penalty as if he had sinned, letting us kill him on the cross.

Love brought Jesus to earth. Love kept him obedient to God in sinless perfection. Love carried him through the agony of false accusation, whipping and beatings. Love held him to the cross for us.

If God did this for us, to bring peace between us and Himself, we should try to love each other, too.

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