Deserving a Different Christmas

During this advent season we focus our thoughts on the first coming of the Messiah, about the Father sending His Son from heaven to earth. The Christmas story, as told by Matthew and Luke, is a story of the Son’s contentment with His Father’s decision.

In those days many gods of men were getting a lot of man’s attention. But Jesus didn’t come out of petty or bitter jealousy. In fact, that sort of jealousy doesn’t come from above.

If you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. (James 3:14-16)

James wrote to believers. Christians aren’t the only ones who have these problems, but they are at least the ones who should know better. Instead, too often what we think is that we deserve better, or we wished we had better.

It’s not only kids who are discontent in December; “But I want THAAAAAT!” Big people have their “virtuous gimmes” when they see someone else blessed, and assume that those blessings are absolute, no heaviness attached. It must be better to have more money, a bigger house, an easier or more secure job. It must be nice to have more energy, to need less sleep, to be more strong. “I want THAAAAAT!”

This is not Christmas wisdom. This is not Christian wisdom. This is earthly, unspiritual, demonic, and divisive, even if it’s only in your heart.

If anyone “deserved” a different Christmas it was Jesus. Yet Jesus was content with His Father’s plan and timing to get Him glory. Are you?

When You Can See More Cracks in Contentment

I thought it would be good to check in on #NoDiscontentDecember. Well, what I mean is I thought it would be good to give you a report about how our #NoDiscontentDecember is going, since the Higgs are the ones who committed to it; we didn’t make you do it. It’s just supposed to be sparking ideas for you and/or your family.

The first thing, now eight days through December, that I can report is that contentment is both harder and easier when you focus on it. It’s harder because I didn’t lead our family in this particular hashtag month because we were awesome at it already. We need to work on this, and you can usually see even more cracks when you’re trying to fill the holes.

It is also easier in another way, though, because it’s the plan. It’s like wearing a brace; it keeps pushing or holding things in place that are trying to get out of place. The more I meditate on contentment, the more I’m thinking about being content. The more days you run on the treadmill, the less surprising it is the next day; it’s discipline, and it becomes what you do.

Contentment also connects with a point I made last Sunday night about our lives as an apologetic, especially with our giving of thanks for the abundance of blessings we have. I’ve mentioned Jeremiah Burroughs (The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment) a few times this past year, and his book is all about Philippians 4:11 where Paul said that he learned contentment when he was brought low and when he was abounding. Burroughs entire book is about being content when being brought low, except for the final paragraph.

Now there is in the text another lesson, which is a hard lesson: “I have learned to abound.” That does not so nearly concern us at this time, because the times are afflictive times, and there is now, more than ordinarily, an uncertainty in all things in the world. I such times as these are, there are few who have such an abundance that they need to be much taught in that lesson. (228)

That’s the last thing he addressed, which he didn’t feel was quite as applicable to his audience. It’s absolutely applicable to us. We need to learn contentment in our many blessings, and seek the blessing of contentment.

No Discontent December

If you could have only one thing for Christmas, and you knew you would get what you asked for, what would it be? If you could commit yourself to do one thing for Christmas, what would it be? I’m sure there are some great answers, but I’m going to share one as an example.

We decided as a family that there was too much to do in December to have bad attitudes about it. I mean, really, starting with myself and Mo, we don’t have enough time to complain about all the extra events and responsibilities, and then confess the complaining and then try to get back into the right spirit of things. With #NoQuarterNovember still ringing in our ears, we committed to #NoDiscontentmentDecember. This starts with me, in my heart, it’s something that Mo is likewise excited about (I didn’t make her agree to it), and something that we’re going to require of our kids.

If I could look back at advent season 2018, and I will look back at it one way or another, how great would it be to get the gift of contentment in our house? This is something that we can ask God for, it is something that we can commit to. Paul learned to be content in any and every circumstance (Philippians 4:12), why can’t we do it for a Christmas season?

For fun, even though it’s quite a serious ask, we’ve agreed that if one person is not quite fulfilling the hashtag, one of the others get to choose a line from the Grinch song (“you’re as cuddly as a cactus,” “you’re a bad banana with a greasy black peal,” and so on) and happily ask the temporarily incarnate grinch if that’s really how they want to ride the sleigh. This applies from kid to parent, too.

Maybe your next four weeks are more free and you have time to be envious, or bitter, or anxious, or grumpy. You still shouldn’t be.

Keeping the Incarnation on the Front Burner

For the past three weeks I’ve been reminding us that God came in the flesh. We need reminding about certain things, and the Christmas season is a strategic time to keep the incarnation warming on the mental front burner. The apostle John stated that to deny Christ came in the flesh is the spirit of the antichrist (1 John 4:2-3). The apostle Peter referred to Christ’s suffering in the flesh as key to our thinking (1 Peter 4:1-2). And the apostle Paul considered the truth of Christ’s incarnation to be the church’s responsibility to protect.

He wrote to Timothy about “the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). The church supports and defends the truth. Then he continued with an amazing hymn of truth.

He was manifested in the flesh,
vindicated by the Spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory. (1 Timothy 3:16)

Most of these belong with godliness. It suits God to be vindicated and appreciated and believed then received into heaven’s glory. All of those fit. It does not fit, not naturally, that godliness would first be “manifested in the flesh.”

The Old Testament prophesied it. The virgin would bear a son and his name would be called Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14). God would be with us (Matthew 1:23). But it was still a mystery. It still didn’t all make sense. Yet now we know. God, and true godlinesses, was revealed in Jesus.

We are to love and proclaim and believe and support that truth. It is not secondary or optional. Our salvation depends on it. And we also should desire that godliness be manifest—made known, gone public—in our own flesh. The work of the Spirit is a sanctifying work until we are taken up into glory with Jesus.

A Season to Be Made More Sturdy

We believe that by the power of the Holy Spirit God’s Son became incarnate from the virgin Mary. We believe that He is now recognized in two natures, truly God and truly man, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation. There is no one like Him.

We confess that Jesus came in the flesh (1 John 4:2-3). Not only so, we remember that Jesus came in the likeness of sinful flesh (Romans 8:3). And what did He do in the flesh? Among all the normal human things such as eating and drinking and sleeping and walking and working, He suffered.

Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. (1 Peter 4:1-2).

Peter’s previous paragraph talked about Christ the righteous suffering for the unrighteous. He was “put to death in the flesh” (1 Peter 3:18) for us. It is amazing that God became man. It is more amazing that God came to suffer.

It is an annual temptation to forget the suffering part, His and ours in imitation of Him. Christmastime is not a time to get out of suffering, it’s a time to remember the God who wrote Himself into the suffering story with us and for us. Christmastime may include sweet things to eat and a sense of security, but those are only possible because others sacrificed, and in some cases died, to give us what we have.

We receive cards that use soft colors to portray calm, warm evenings by a fire with lots of presents under a decorated tree. Such sentimental sketches don’t keep anyone from sin, they often stimulate false expectations and holiday idols. The same is true with so many “seasonal” songs; they are superficial and saccharine and don’t make us more sturdy. But Christ came in the flesh and suffered in the flesh so that we also would live for the will of God, and that includes our sanctified suffering, even on and around Christmas.

The Spirit of AntiChristmas

Christmas is seven days closer than it was last Lord’s Day. I don’t really care if your shopping is done, or close, or not. I do care if your soul, and body, are in harmony.

We believe that God, in Christ, came in the flesh. This has been debated since Jesus’ birth, and it was an issue the apostles addressed unequivocally even in the first century.

By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and is now in the world already. (1 John 4:2-3)

It was so important that John repeated it in his second letter.

For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist. (2 John 7)

To deny the truth that Jesus Christ has come “in the flesh” makes one an antichrist. As we are the church assembled for worship in the name of Jesus, I do not suspect there are many among us who deny the teaching. But I do suspect that we may deny the doctrine in our behavior. Let us call it AntiChristmas.

You believe that God took on a body, rubbed elbows with smelly men, ate untasty or cold meals, dealt with unappreciative people. It’s all true plus some. So what do you do when people are late, or make you late, or keep you from doing what you want, or get in your way? Do you want Christmas without getting tired? Then perhaps you want to celebrate the idea of incarnation and not the incarnation itself. This is the spirit of AntiChristmas, and it should be forsaken.

Twenty-Four Whole Days

One of the most important jobs of a pastor is to tell the flock things that they already know. He must remind them of God’s truths regularly. A disciple is a learner, and sometimes we need to learn things again, to learn afresh. Equipping the saints for the work of ministry means furnishing them with staple/basic supplies, not just surprises.

It is also true that we cannot be reminded about everything always. I have a growing list of verses and thoughts that I wish I could keep in the front of my mind every moment. That’s not how God made us to work. So we need reminders that are placed strategically.

The month of December is strategic in that it has twenty-four whole days before the 25th, the day that has been recognized as the day of Jesus’ birth for many centuries. I don’t believe Jesus was born on 12/25/00; I don’t think any of those three numbers work. And I don’t have to in order to see it as a strategic time to remember, and remind my people, that God came in the flesh.

Emmanuel means, “God with us.” John said, “The Word become flesh and dwelt among us.” This is what we mean by the word incarnate: enfleshed. So I want to consider implications of the phrase “in the flesh” these advent Sundays.

As glorious as the idea is that the eternal, almighty Maker of heaven and earth became a man, as joyful and celebratory as this season can be, it is because when Jesus came in the flesh He came “in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin” (Romans 8:3). He didn’t just do it because He had always wanted to visit in person, but because He had to partake of the same things as “the children…in flesh and blood” (Hebrews 2:14) in order to destroy the sinful flesh.

However we plan to celebrate advent and Christmas, let us remember that He came to bid our fleshly envy, strife, and quarrels cease.

What was He doing here?

Someone has said before that many babies have been born a king, but only one king was born a baby. Jesus came to inaugurate His kingdom coming to earth.

In Pilate’s headquarters Pilate questioned Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus was disrupting things already, but not in the typical way. He said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” His kingdom is not established by family lineage or use of force. If that were true, then His servants would have been fighting already.

His kingdom is not of this world, it’s not worldly, but that doesn’t mean that His kingdom is not in the world or for the world. If His kingdom had nothing to do with the world, then why did He come into it? What was He doing here?

Pilate replied, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth” (John 18:37). Truth is a large category, and there are many truths that Jesus embodied, taught, and confirmed by His incarnation and life. The particular truth He’s talking about with Pilate, the truth for which He was born, is that He is King.

This was the question of the wise men. “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?” This is why Herod the king was troubled so much that it boiled over onto all Jerusalem (Matthew 2:2-3).

Mild He lays His glory by,
Born that man no more may die,
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King.”

Jesus grew up. He’s fought and won His greatest battle, defeating sin and death. Now He invites us to eat and drink around this outpost table of His kingdom until He returns to reign on earth.

Songs Working Overtime

Advent is a season of anticipation. I’ve given four exhortations to confession for sake of our preparation the previous four Sundays, and, now that we’re here on Christmas day, I’ve got a final imperative: rejoice exceedingly with great joy!

The angel told the shepherds that he brought “good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (Luke 2:10). If we don’t have great joy, then we haven’t believed the good news. And when the wise men came a while after Jesus’ birth, “when they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy” (Matthew 2:10). Surpassing delightedness, not barely not complaining, is the response of those who see the Son of God, the Son of Mary.

One of my favorite lines from our Christmas carols, the line that has provoked my imagination more than others this December, is “let men their songs employ.” It makes me think of a company hired to promote a new cure, or a product certain to please those who get it. The team must consider how to get maximum reach, the most appropriate medium, and utilize their best resources to pull off the announcement.

Here we are to receive and respond and proclaim that His blessings flow far as the curse is found. Earth should receive her King. He rules in truth and grace. What should we get ready in order to rejoice exceedingly with great joy? We need to find some songs and put them to work. It’s going to be a long day for some of these songs, and some of them have been working overtime for a month or so. But the songs can handle it. Joy to the world—Jesus Christ is born to save-let men their songs employ.

A Time to Give, Apparently

We are less than a week away from Christmas day, and we’ve been trying to make sure we’re ready. It’s not best to do all your gift-buying at the last minute, and neither to do all your heart-prepping. I’ve exhorted us to be broken, to embrace the flesh (with provisos), and to expect anticipation.

With crunch time upon us, here is the fourth exhortation: give blessing. My son said the other night, “Christmas is a time of giving, apparently.” Yes, it is, apparently.

Here is our time to be little-Fathers, copying our heavenly Father who loved and gave His Son (John 3:16). We are also little-Christs, to be Christians, imitating the Son who gave Himself (Galatians 2:20).

Such divine giving was not according to the worth of the receivers. We’re just indirect objects. The greatness is in the subject. In other words, the ones who get aren’t the standard, the one who gave is. We learn something about His nature, especially when we realize what kind of grabby, selfish, petty kids we are.

So give, but not grief. Give freely, not with strings attached. Give generously because you are generous, or at least because your God is generous and you want to be more like Him.

And give blessing. That means that you desire the good of the other person, not just to give them something good. This can feel impossible when they are in a mood to complain and criticize. He is ungrateful about the package you gave him, which, if he saw the price you paid on the receipt in your wallet, he probably would have at least kept quiet. She is irritated at the food you cooked for her, too much refined sugar, or not enough. Okay, so you are not done giving. Give the gift, then give a gift in your response to how your gift was received.

“Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for revealing, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called that you may obtain a blessing” (1 Peter 3:9). Here is a call for the sacrifice of the saints. We must give up our lives for others, as many times in a row as it takes. We’ve been called to give blessing all the time, and remembering the gift of Christ is a bright star to follow.