The fancy Christmas tree at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Christmas isn’t what we do, it’s what Jesus did

I was listening to a Christian station on the way to work yesterday morning and heard them say that Christmas is smiling at someone on the street. They must really believe it too because it was an ad that played a few more times before the day was out. And I stopped for a minute to think about that.

But honestly, no matter how I slice it, I don’t see how Christmas can be defined as smiling at someone. That’s how the world sees Christmas, smiling at someone you don’t know, offering kindness to a stranger. And I’m not saying that those things are bad. Heavens, no, smile at people. Do kind things for people. Yes! But those are things we should do all the time as Christ-followers. Not just during the Christmas season.

Christmas is so much more than that.

The fancy Christmas tree at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

The fancy Christmas tree at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Colossians 1:12-14.

He [God] has enabled you to share in the inheritance that belongs to his people, who live in the light. For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son, who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins.

Okay, Christ-followers, let’s get real here for a minute. I love Christmas. It’s my favorite time of year, hands down. I’m the crazy one who buys all the silly, superfluous gifts that serve no practical purpose other than making people smile. I just LOVE to give gifts. But Christmas isn’t about gifts.

I also love serving. I love being able to give my time and my talent and my resources to other people. I love making meals for people. I love hosting parties at my house. I love helping people. But Christmas isn’t about serving others or helping others.

It’s not about the songs or the decorations or the festivities. It’s not about any of that.

Christmas is the time we stop everything and remember that Jesus gave up His throne, His life in heaven, to come here, knowing full well that He would die a horrible death. The manger scene we’re all familiar with is cute and filled with precious moments figurines. But if you know anything about farms and barns and livestock, you know there was nothing cute happening in that stable where Christ was born.

Jesus didn’t leave his glorious home to come down here to be part of a quaint little manger scene. He gave up heaven itself to live in the squalor and the dirt and the cruelty of our broken world, and He did it for one reason: Me. And you. And your neighbor. And your best friend. And that really annoying guy you work with.

Before Jesus, I was lost. Before Jesus, I had no hope. I was wandering around in darkness with no security, no future, no reason to keep going. But because Jesus came to rescue us, we have hope. Jesus rescued us from the darkness, and through Him, God has brought us into the light. Jesus purchased our freedom with His own blood, and because of Him we are made right with God. And that’s what Christmas is about.

Not the cuteness and the presents and the Black Friday shopping and the decorations. Christmas was a rescue mission where the hero would lose His life to save the enemy.

You get that, right? We were God’s enemies. We were Christ’s enemies because we had fallen short of God’s glorious standard. There’s no gray with God. You’re either righteous or you’re not, and our first parents screwed that up for us. But God loved us anyway–so much He sent His Only Son to Earth to die so we could live.

Christmas is about Jesus. Our hero. Our savior. Our rescuer.

Because of Him, I am free, I have a future, and I have hope.  That’s what we celebrate. Don’t forget, Christ-follower. No matter how nice smiling at someone or helping someone may sound, that’s not Christmas.

So, sure, smile at people all you want. And serve people all day long. Those are wonderful, admirable things. And doing those things, especially for the unlovable, does make God happy. But don’t make the mistake of calling them Christmas, because Christmas goes beyond just what we do for other people. It’s about remember what Christ did for us.

Red bird ornament, Haven, KS

The true story of Christmas

Don’t you love Christmas movies? The ones that leave you feeling all warm and fuzzy inside? You know, Christmas movies. Like Die Hard or Lethal Weapon.

I’m only partly joking. But what makes classic Christmas movies so classic? Like A Christmas Carol or It’s a Wonderful Life or other movies from that same vein? The storyteller in me could pick them all apart for hours, but I really think the theme that ties all Christmas movies together is hope. Yes, there are movies about family and forgiveness and selflessness, but if you think about it, the motivation that moves the story along stems from either a lack of hope or a rediscovery of it.

Hope is one of those feel-good fuzzy terms that people throw around a lot, but the tricky part about hope is that if it’s not grounded in something, it’s just a word. It doesn’t mean anything. You can talk about it all day long, but if your hope is only rooted in temporary things, your hope will be temporary.

Red bird ornament, Haven, KS

Red bird ornament, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are 1 Peter 1:3-4.

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay.

The true Christmas story is the greatest story ever told, and the point of it was a rescue mission. That’s what Christmas is about. Cute little Baby Jesus, laying in a manger, may look adorable on a Christmas card or as a plastic ornament in your yard, but His purpose was something much less glamorous. He was here to save us by dying for us. He came to die, but in dying, He brought us hope. Not the hollow, foundationless hope culture talks about this time of year. But real hope.

Hope that this life isn’t all there is. Hope that He will never leave us. Hope that He is working to make everything all right, even when it feels like our lives are falling apart. And it’s not just words either. We have hope because He promised, and He always keeps His promises.

Have you met people who have lost hope? Their lives aren’t very bright. Every day is a struggle, and every challenge is too much. And it takes every ounce of their strength just to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Maybe that’s you. The beautiful part of the Christmas story is that hope isn’t lost. It’s never lost. It’s just waiting for you to make up your mind.

We all have hope. It’s just up to us to believe in it–to believe in Him–or not.

If you’re a Christ-follower, you can live with great expectation. That’s what this verse says. You don’t have to settle for an ordinary life; you were born again to the extraordinary. You were born again for an abundant life. You were born again for eternity. And even though this world isn’t our home, we can have joy through the trials and troubles we face today, waiting for the day that Christ promised to come back for us.

Our world is broken. We all face sorrow and sadness and loss and pain. But if you believe in Christ, this world isn’t the end. There’ s a better world on the other side of this one, and that’s where our true citizenship lies.

No matter what impossible thing you’re facing today, you don’t have to face it without hope. That’s the true story of Christmas.

Iris in the sun at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

He looked death in the face and didn’t flinch

Today is Good Friday. Today, nearly 2,000 years ago, Jesus would die–and not just die, be brutally tortured, put on display, and allowed to suffocate until he died.

This month has been about endurance, and I’m not sure that there’s a better example of endurance than what Christ did on the cross for us.

I don’t usually put up entire chapters, but Isaiah 53 was calling to me this morning. I’ve posted it in the Message version, which is a paraphrase, but it really makes you think about it. I’m not going to post a commentary this morning. I’m going to let Scripture speak for itself.

And I’m going to sit back and be thankful and amazed and silent in shock that Jesus would love me enough to do this, that God would love me enough to do this for me.

Iris in the sun at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Iris in the sun at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Isaiah 53

Who believes what we’ve heard and seen?
Who would have thought God’s saving power would look like this?

The servant grew up before God—a scrawny seedling,
a scrubby plant in a parched field. There was nothing attractive about him,
nothing to cause us to take a second look. He was looked down on and passed over,
a man who suffered, who knew pain firsthand. One look at him and people turned away.
We looked down on him, thought he was scum. But the fact is, it was our pains he carried—
our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us. We thought he brought it on himself,
that God was punishing him for his own failures. But it was our sins that did that to him,
that ripped and tore and crushed him—our sins! He took the punishment, and that made us whole.
Through his bruises we get healed. We’re all like sheep who’ve wandered off and gotten lost.
We’ve all done our own thing, gone our own way. And God has piled all our sins, everything we’ve done wrong,
on him, on him.

He was beaten, he was tortured,
but he didn’t say a word. Like a lamb taken to be slaughtered
and like a sheep being sheared,
he took it all in silence. Justice miscarried, and he was led off—
and did anyone really know what was happening? He died without a thought for his own welfare,
beaten bloody for the sins of my people. They buried him with the wicked,
threw him in a grave with a rich man, Even though he’d never hurt a soul
or said one word that wasn’t true.

Still, it’s what God had in mind all along,
to crush him with pain. The plan was that he give himself as an offering for sin
so that he’d see life come from it—life, life, and more life.
And God’s plan will deeply prosper through him.

Out of that terrible travail of soul,
he’ll see that it’s worth it and be glad he did it. Through what he experienced, my righteous one, my servant,
will make many “righteous ones,”
as he himself carries the burden of their sins. Therefore I’ll reward him extravagantly—
the best of everything, the highest honors— Because he looked death in the face and didn’t flinch,
because he embraced the company of the lowest. He took on his own shoulders the sin of the many,
he took up the cause of all the black sheep.