Focus At Christmas

I read a daily devotional by Brennan Manning called Devotions For Ragamuffins. It is indispensable to me as a source of encouragement and a lens to focus my perspective through on a daily basis. The month of December features a number of devotions focused on Christmas and the one that I read this morning really struck a chord with me because of its emphasis on what really should be more widely recognized as a central tenet of the Christmas holiday season and Christianity as a whole throughout the year:

The wailing Infant bears witness to a God whose Word is fresh and alive, who is not the defender of the old, the already settled, the well established and familiar. The God we encounter in Jesus is free from preoccupation with his own glory, free to be for us, free to be gracious, free to love and let be.

This Christmas such a God might well expect us to be creatively responsive and thus truly Christlike. Indeed, He might call us to set free captives bound by loneliness and isolation, to share our hope with prisoners of gloom and despair, to invite the unlovely to our table, to celebrate our freedom in forgetfulness about our comfort and convenience, to cry the gospel by ministering to widows and orphans, to be the Church by bringing soup to the poor, to ignore conventional expectations, to call His Son out of Egypt once more.

How we interact with and serve those who are less educated, less popular, less cultured and who have less money says a great deal about who we are as people and where our focus is. The real meaning of Christmas is found in facing those who feel like they have the least reason to celebrate.

 

First posted 12/20/08

In The Bleak Midwinter

Of all of the Christmas songs that I’ve heard throughout my life, none have ascended to the heights that this one has in terms of my appreciation for its beauty and lyric. This year the grace of this song is more evident than ever before to me.

A Christmas Carol

Alternate Title: In The Bleak Midwinter;Words by Christina Georgina Rossetti (1830-1894), 1872; appeared posthumously in The Poetical Works of Christina Georgina Rossetti, Poem #426,  1904. Source: “The English Hymnal,” p. 44, 1916;

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty,
Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom cherubim
Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk
And a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Which adore.

Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air,
But only His mother1
In her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the Beloved
With a kiss.

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man
I would do my part,
Yet what I can I give Him,
Give my heart.

Broken Christmas

It was just a couple of hours ago that I was watching “Mickey’s Christmas Carol” with my four-year-old daughter and I realized another way to answer a question that a friend asked me months ago. In reference to a quote from Brennan Manning (“To be alive is to be broken; to be broken is to stand in need of grace,”) he asked, “What does it mean to be broken?”

Part of the answer is at least hinted at by the process of Scrooge facing his past, present, and future demons and realizing he deserves nothing more than death, but, then realizing that he’s been given a second chance which he takes advantage of, humbly looking beyond himself and recognizing the needs of others.

Being broken is when we come face to face with the stark reality that we are self-centered, self-righteous, damned people. It is when we realize that all that we have that is good has been given to us and, in a knee-jerk, natural, and instinctual response, we desire nothing more than to be able to give to and serve others.

The shipwrecked at the stable are the poor in spirit who feel lost in the cosmos, adrift on an open sea, clinging with a life-and-death grip to one solitary plank. Finally they are washed ashore and make their way to the stable, stripped of the old spirit of possessiveness in regard to anything…They have been saved, rescued, delivered from the waters of death, set free for a new shot at life. At the stable in a blinding moment of truth, they make the stunning discovery that Jesus is the plank of salvation they have been clinging to without knowing it! All the time they were battered by wind and rain, buffeted by raging seas, they were being held even when they didn’t know who was holding them. Their exposure to spiritual, emotional, and physical deprivation has weaned them from themselves and made them reexamine all they once thought important. The shipwrecked come to the stable seeking not to possess, but to be possessed, wanting not peace or a religious high, but Jesus Christ.
~Brennan Manning, Devotionals for Ragamuffins, Pp.357

I wish you a broken Christmas.
I wish you a broken Christmas.
I wish you a broken Christmas,
and a broken new year.

Originally posted 12/1/07

Broken Christmas

It was just a couple of hours ago that I was watching “Mickey’s Christmas Carol” with my four-year-old daughter and I realized another way to answer a question that a friend asked me months ago. In reference to a quote from Brennan Manning (“To be alive is to be broken; to be broken is to stand in need of grace,”) he asked, “What does it mean to be broken?”

Part of the answer is at least hinted at by the process of Scrooge facing his past, present, and future demons, but, realizing he deserves nothing more than death, but, then realizing that he’s been given a second chance which he takes advantage of, humbly looking beyond himself and recognizing the needs of others.

Being broken is when we come face to face with the stark reality that we are self-centered, self-righteous, damned people. It is when we realize that all that we have that is good has been given to us and, in a knee-jerk, natural, and instinctual response, we desire nothing more than to be able to give to and serve others.

The shipwrecked at the stable are the poor in spirit who feel lost in the cosmos, adrift on an open sea, clinging with a life-and-death grip to one solitary plank. Finally they are washed ashore and make their way to the stable, stripped of the old spirit of possessiveness in regard to anything…They have been saved, rescued, delivered from the waters of death, set free for a new shot at life. At the stable in a blinding moment of truth, they make the stunning discovery that Jesus is the plank of salvation they have been clinging to without knowing it! All the time they were battered by wind and rain, buffeted by raging seas, they were being held even when they didn’t know who was holding them. Their exposure to spiritual, emotional, and physical deprivation has weaned them from themselves and made them reexamine all they once thought important. The shipwrecked come to the stable seeking not to possess, but to be possessed, wanting not peace or a religious high, but Jesus Christ.
~Brennan Manning, Devotionals for Ragamuffins, Pp.357

I wish you a broken Christmas.
I wish you a broken Christmas.
I wish you a broken Christmas,
and a broken new year.

Originally posted 12/1/07

Cheating At Christmas

Misdirected emphasis on items that come home in a shopping bag
Lights stranded in the cold on a green plastic-encased wire
They don’t make it any easier to see to touch, to feel, and to believe what is true
The scent of nostalgia brought on by familiar songs and tales
Feelings of pseudo-community brought on by germinating seeds of anticipation
That are discreetly, indeed cleverly, rooted in selfishness
We’ve traded in a willingness to accept steadfast grace
In favor of an annual date with comfortable and fleeting greed

Grace, Truth, and the 25th of December

Without grace I would have no hope. Though much of our culture has been suckered into thinking that Christ was actually born on December twenty-fifth, the reality of the fact that He was born and that He did die, as a sacrifice in our stead, is the foundation on which wholeness, peace, and meaning in my life are built. While I continue to stumble and fall on my face daily, the trust that I have in His mercy and the peace that exists because of that trust, sustains me. There is nothing else that is worth so much in this world.

We are made right in God’s sight when we trust in Jesus Christ to take away our sins. And we all can be saved in this same way, no matter who we are or what we have done. For all have sinned; all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Romans 3:22-23 NLT

Originally Posted 12/07

Coming To Grips With The Reality of Christmas

At 32 I still find myself uncomfortable with the experiential gap that exists between the nostalgic ideal of the traditional American Christmas and the reality that is experienced through broken hearts and empty stomachs on the downtown streets and the rural back roads in every part of America, let alone the world.

The truth is that all of the traditions, the flashy paper, the blinking lights, Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer and Bing Crosby, have very little to offer us once the last of the presents are opened and the anticipation of Christmas vanishes like a vapor.

The true joy of Christmas can be found year-round by unfolding your arms, getting out of your chair, and making an effort for those who populate the neediest segments of our society. Lonely elderly people whose best days are long gone, children who live in homes with abusive and addicted parents, men and women who find themselves moving from one homeless shelter to the next. They, and so many others, embody the real Jesus that we all claim to celebrate through Christmas hymns, inflatable nativity scenes, and Christmas pageants.

If we are really serious about celebrating the birth of a king, then, just as the wise men did, we should seek him out and give him the gifts that we have to bring. Look up a homeless shelter, children’s home, hospital, or nursing home in your area and give the most valuable thing you can: your personal time and attention.

“The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’ Matthew 25:40

A relevant post of mine from about a year ago: Christmas In Perspective

A poem that embodies this message by Musician/Poet Kevin Max:

Christmas dreams in a Dark City

hold on to your seat
as we fly past the other side
of the tracks
where wounded mouths
and festering stillness grow
like Evil plants led to bitter water
where wormwood takes root
turn the heater up
and find a good station
the one that plays Bing Crosby
like Religion
the one that reminds us of
our tradition, our family plots
and store bought munitions
our pottery barn lamps
and wing backed chairs
our majestic walls
and our grand stairs
the very same stairs we climbed as children
and came down reverent on Christmas morning
to the smell of baked bread
and apple cider
and pine needles
where we rolled and laughed in the arms of grandparents
and endless boxes of gifts and paper
we know the feeling of Love.
shut down your conscience
as we drive through the Dark City
home to the unfortunates
the ones with bad teeth
and cracked clothing
filled with restless roaming
the gloaming of our lights
mark the sites on which they sleep
fractured sleep
cold, frostbite
and the smell of impending doom
hold on to your seat
as we fly home.