Tag: <span>Christmas</span>

Perhaps you’re curious what the fourth advent communion meditation is going to be. If you’ve been following for the previous three, you probably remember that we’ve talked about the Father, the Son, and the Spirit in relation to Christmas. The gift of a Savior was the Father’s idea, the incarnation was the Son’s identification with us, and it was accomplished by the Spirit’s work. There are only three Persons in the Trinity, so what’s left?

Communion. Love would also be a good choice, so would life. But communion is what love wants and what life is.

Why is the Incarnation so glorious? It does reveal the Father’s generosity, and communicate the Son’s humility, and remind us of the Spirit’s interests. The Father sends, the Son was born, and the Spirit still says, Come. But why?

Christmas is not primarily a story of angels and stars and shepherds and a manger. The details are true, and the details point to the good news. Peace on earth! Here is good news to those who had offended God. The star led wise men to the King of Israel. Here is good news to those who were far off. There was no room in the inn. Here is good news that the Spirit makes room in our hearts for Him to dwell in us.

God was not merely making a point about His creative ability or His dramatic timing or His embrace of humble beginnings. All of those make a point about what He aimed to achieve through it all: reconciling God and man through the God-Man. We desire to be together with family because we are made in the image of the Triune God.

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A common Christian abuse of Christmas poses itself as spiritual behavior. The abuse occurs when Christians reluctantly, or plainly refuse to, love others who don’t rise to the level of understanding that we think they should have about Christmas. In other words, since they don’t get Christmas like we do, they’re not worthy to share our Christmas joy. I might be a relative, it could even be how parents treat their kids. If only they would just grow up, then we wouldn’t have to teach them a lesson by being so condescending.

This behavior reverses the gospel. It abuses Christmas.

Jesus didn’t wait for people to get it before He came. He didn’t take on flesh because that’s where the glory was. Flesh is precisely not where the glory was. He came to redeem and restore fallen men, the very ones who didn’t get it. That’s the point of Christmas.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. (Romans 5:6)

In some ways, Christmas is the anti-holiday, at least as the Hallmark channel portrays it. The birth of Christ in Bethlehem was the anti- “everything is just right” moment that brings people together. We’re stressing to arrange all the details to be perfect. Jesus came because nothing was perfect, and He came in an inconvenient and unacknowledged way. And, of course, 2000 years or so later, we’re still talking about it.

We want to be with people when they get it. Jesus went to people because they didn’t. May your joy in Emmanuel come first, like a gift to your people, rather than held back like a wage that they must earn.

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It shouldn’t be that big of a surprise, but God’s Spirit has a lot to do with Christ’s coming. This is the third part of our advent meditations for communion, having considered the Father’s gifting of His Son, and the Son’s identifying with flesh and blood as His brothers. Consider the Spirit’s work.

The Spirit is responsible for the virgin birth, fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy that a virgin would conceive and bear a son and call his name Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14). As the angel told Mary,

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power fo the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy–the Son of God” (Luke 1:35)

The Spirit is responsible for believers recognizing that Jesus is God in flesh. The Spirit enabled God with us, and the Spirit enables us to recognize God with us.

By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God. (1 John 4:2)

Again, the Spirit enabled the Son’s birth, the Spirit witnesses about the Son, and the Spirit works to open our eyes to know that God has come in the flesh.

And it is not the first Advent only that concerns the Spirit. The Spirit is given to us as a guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it in the fullness of time (Ephesians 1:10, 13-14), and in the final chapter of Revelation, it is not only the Bride who desires the second coming (Revelation 22:17).

“The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.”

As we come by the Spirit to celebrate Immanuel’s sacrifice of flesh and blood, we look forward with the Spirit to Immanuel’s return.

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Here is the second week of Advent and we come to consider the Second Person of the Trinity. Last Lord’s Day we considered that Christmas is the Father’s idea and how His gift altered the world.

In an obvious way Christmas is about God’s Son. Christ’s birth is a celebration of Emmanuel, God with us. The birth of a Savior is the enfleshing, the incarnation, of God. His mother even laid Him in a nativity scene.

But it is easy to remember that Jesus is the reason for the season and still not get it. It is just as easy to give a Christmas gift instead of giving yourself, in other words, to give something in order to maintain distance. “I gave you something, now get off my case.” This is the opposite of why Jesus came. God in flesh and blood is God identifying with flesh and blood.

In Hebrews God says that His Son is “not ashamed to call [those who are sanctified] brothers,” and puts these words in Jesus’ mouth from Psalm 22:22, “I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.” That is Jesus, talking about His Father, calling us brothers. And then having Jesus speak with the words from Isaiah 8:18, “Behold, I and the children God has given me.”

The conclusion is that “since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things” (Hebrews 2:12), and that “he had to be made like his brothers in every respect” (2:17).

The Father gave His Son as a gift for us, and gave us as a gift to His Son. The fact that the Son of God became a baby is amazing, and the fact that the Son of God became a brother to us maybe even more.

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Maybe some of you have family that you haven’t seen for a while coming to your house for Christmas, or maybe you are headed to see them. If things are good, you’re even eager to see them and share the day together. You’re looking forward to it, and you’re preparing for it. You’ve invited them, you’ve got their trip itinerary printed and hung on the refrigerator door, you’ve put new sheets on the kids’ beds, you’ve bought enough food for two feasts, and you’ve wrapped the presents and put them under the tree.

There’s a lot of work to do for those we love even when we’re not with them. Our care for one another is integrated into how we plan our days, how we spend our money, what we think about and work toward. But by comparison, none of that replaces being with those we love.

As Christians we are eager for Christ’s second return. We live by faith, which is not the same as living quietly in our heads. Our trust in and love for Christ should be integrated into the rhythms of our weeks, into the lines in our budgets, into the extra seats around our tables, into the lyrics we sing and the products we buy and the words we use to communicate. It’s all for Christ.

Yet by comparison none of those things will mean as much to us as when we get to see him face to face. When that happens, our joy will be complete (an even better expectation than that in 2 John 12).

Now we eat with Him by faith, but the day is coming when we will eat with Him face to face. O come again, Emmanuel.

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The Lord’s response to Paul’s request to have his thorn removed is archetypal.

He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9a)

That is a fantastic truth. We should share that on the Internet. Someone should print it in a sympathy card, probably using a gentle, italic font, and adorn it with a soft colored flower. It’s perfect, especially for Paul, and other people.

Paul continues:

Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9b-10)

How many of us don’t really want to be content, we want to be content in a Thomas Kinkade Christmas painting hanging on the wall of a set in a Hallmark Channel movie? It looks so calm, cozy, and probably chocolaty. The fire is delightful, and, if the kids are awake, they’re not stirring one another up to irritation.

But of course the first Christmas was God’s own experience of traveling away from home, of family being displaced, being uncomfortable. God was born in obscurity and weakness, to poor and tired parents.

Us, though, we’ve got big plans to be joyfully adoring Him, until you can’t find the wrapping paper where it was supposed to be, and the house is more messy than Walmart shelves two hours after Black Friday sales started. You wanted to host the extended family, but, not like this.

Christmas, and contentment, is harder than it looks. But God’s grace is sufficient, and He wants His power to be seen as the power of Christ rests upon us when we have problems.

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The apostle John wrote that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). A few chapters later John recorded Jesus, who was talking with some grumbling Jews, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:51).

The enfleshing of God in Jesus led to the death of God in Jesus, which we know led to the resurrection of God in Jesus, and then led to eternal life with God to anyone and everyone who believes. We eat Jesus’ flesh by faith, we drink His blood by faith; the eating and drinking are abiding in Him, and we do that in constant dependence on Him.

This is our life, and this is love. In his first epistle John wrote, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (1 John 3:16).

You can’t take on flesh, you were born with flesh. But you can give it, and that is the way of glory and truth. Love Jesus, love the soul satisfaction only found in Him, eat His body and drink His blood. He is our greatest good and will be forever. So “beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7).

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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?

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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.

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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 peel,” 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.

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