As we approach yet another Christmas, it is hard not to get caught up in the spirit of the world toward this celebration of the birth of the Lord. The drive to find just the right presents, the hurried and stressed atmosphere as we try to fit baking and wrapping and writing cards and planning yet another feast into our already crowded schedules ~ all have a tendency to push the real meaning of this day far down in our consciousness. Celebrating Him gets lost in our list of immediate priorities. Yet, for believers the implications of the birth of this tiny baby 2000 years ago are of enormous importance.
When we think of the Incarnation we usually think in terms of what it meant for us eternally. We can be overwhelmed with the grace of God in His love for us; sending His Son to die for us and bringing us the promise of eternal life through His death and resurrection. We sometimes forget that there is another message. When Jesus came, He also came to model the character of God, and to show us by example the aim of our own walk with God. Most of us try to live up to His paradigm, although unfortunately most of us also frequently fail. If we are honest, a lot of our kinder, gentler words and deeds may be more for show than from the heart. Yet, in God’s eyes we are not the façade we present to the world but what we genuinely are in our hearts. We know the goal, but getting there is hard.
Our response to the example of Christ is meant to go deeper than the surface.
I was reminded of this recently watching the funeral services for President G.H.W. Bush. I also have the understanding gained from my own experience with life. I have lived a very long time. There is a cost to that: I have seen almost all of my friends go on to heaven, and have had to attend many funerals. I have learned that what lives on after someone has died is not the memory of what kind of position they held in life or how wealthy or famous they were. What remains is the essence of their character. It lingers in our memory like the faint fragrance of flowers. It is sweetest when that person has genuinely lived their faith rather than just thinking about it or talking about it.
So ~ another Christmas is here. One lesson I think I have had driven home this year is the realization that the Lord came not only to restore our relationship with the Father through His own death and resurrection, but also that He came as a humble servant. He demonstrated His humility and grace over and over again, as when He washed the feet of His disciples, including those of Judas. The Lord modeled the characteristics of humility, of dignity, of grace and patience. He was a servant-king. He didn’t push Himself forward, boasting and showing off His power. He walked among everyday people and taught us to be servants also.
He taught us to care about others: to love the Lord our God and to love our neighbors. He taught kindness, forgiveness, compassion. He taught us to share with those in need, to extend a hand of fellowship to those who feel alienated and lost. He didn’t judge, but offered forgiveness and understanding to those who recognized and regretted their own wrongdoing. He taught us not to hate, knowing that hatred only destroys the one who hates. He even asked God to forgive His own killers, because, as He realized, “they know not what they do”. He was compassionate to the very end.
This is the goal: to be like Him in the way we think and in the way we live our lives. Are we genuinely prepared to surrender the control of our lives to God, and to give up our own autonomy? God, in His grace, even provides the strength, wisdom and will to those who commit their lives to Him and will open their hearts and minds to letting Him guide us and transform us. The question is whether or not we actually do that, or if we only give lip service to the values of true humility and service.
The celebration of Christmas is not directed in the scriptures. It is a day which people have invented and shaped. We don’t really know the true date of His birth; we have mingled our celebrations with the festivals of pagan gods; we have let materialism and worldly values overwhelm our celebrations of the fact of His Incarnation. Yet, I think our intentions are good. Christmas is meant to be a happy and joyous day of celebration of God’s grace.
Perhaps we can add another dimension to the meaning of Christmas. We could use it as a day of review of our spiritual goals and practice. He calls us to lives of service. He tells us to care about our neighbors, to share with those in need, to interact with those around us with compassion and love. The pastor at President G.H.W. Bush’s funeral service said it well when he quoted St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words”. May this Christmas time be a time of reflection and gratitude for all we have in Christ. Merry Christmas to all, and in all the fun and feasting may we remember to worship and give thanks for the love and grace of God in Christ who came not as a King, but as the servant of both God and man.