Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Christmas Beauty in a Halloween Ugly World

I love watching reruns of the show “Sanford and Son”. I especially enjoy the verbal jousting of the main character, widower Fred Sanford, and his sister-in-law Esther. One morning, on the way to church, as an oldies station played Christmas clips from various 70’s shows, the Sanford and Son clip took the prize as the most memorable. Full of holiday cheer, Esther enters the Sanford home and cheerfully announces, “I have the feeling of Christmas!” As expected, Fred cannot allow Esther’s greeting to go unanswered and retorts with mischievous glee, “…And the face of Halloween!” I spent half of the morning laughing about that exchange and thinking of the contrasts of Christmas and Halloween. Later the same day, I stumbled across a friend’s posting on some of the horrible, diabolical and evil challenges that challenged Christians during the Roman Empire. The evil described was absolutely disgusting to the point that it would not be appropriate to even name here the issues that were addressed in the posting. Nevertheless, the point the article presented and my friend supported was this: The Good Ol’ Days weren’t very good. Every generation has faced crushing evils of one sort or another and has had to make hard choices that were costly to combat the treacherous aspects of their day. The ongoing reality is that we long for Christmas beauty in a Halloween ugly world. This was certainly the case during the First Christmas. It was Halloween ugly when Joseph and his wife Mary set out on a journey mandated by a crushing, heartless empire that had no category in its statecraft for “mercy mild” or reconciliation with God or anyone else. It was Halloween ugly for this holy family in their poverty to have no means to access the finest inns in the land, but rather establish their lodgings in a stable cave that had all of the medical amenities and luxuries of the most primitive of barns. It was Halloween ugly that this family would eventually have to take flight and become refugees as the corrupted leaders suspected the arrival of another King and a different Kingdom and launched a brutal plan to squash this unseen rebellion! It was Halloween ugly that the first Christmas was not set in a tranquil picturesque nativity scene, but rather in a cold, hard, real world setting that was tough, troubling and that sorely tested the faith of those who had to endure it. This reality of the true nature of the First Christmas is often just too much for us to handle. For this reason, Christmas often becomes a platform for a saccharine sweet, artificially sentimental presentation of a magical time where reality is suspended and humanity pretends that just wishing away evil by focusing on the positive will allow the good times to roll and for spontaneous fairyland joy to overcome all! We present Christmas in a sanitized bubble of settings similar to "Leave it To Beaver", "The Andy Griffith Show" or "Happy Days". While I love those shows and celebrate their wonderful presentations of a slice of Americana, just consider the reality of what was occurring in the United States during the times those shows were either produced or represented. It was the reality of a segregated nation, the threat of nuclear annihilation and the looming specter of a painful South East Asian War that would redefine the way the United States saw itself and its place in the world. It was a daily reality that was certainly much more complex and difficult than the Hollywood fantasy presented episodically. The on-going reality is that our daily lives are difficult and our existence is tainted with the ugliness of sin and its fruit. Nevertheless, though we are deeply troubled as human beings, like Hollywood, we are constantly attempting to conceal our problems or deny them entirely, especially during Christmas. The bad news is, if we live in this fantasy existence, we miss the true significance of Christmas and the powerful and redemptive truth that the unvarnished story makes available to us! The Good News is that the Bible refuses to hide truth, but relentlessly presents truth and ultimately exposes The Truth right smack dab in the middle of the chaos and confusion that dominates daily human life! The unstoppable beauty of Christmas is, in the words of an old Christmas musical, "The Very God Who watched as Adam chose to go the rebel’s way, and saw His perfect world destroyed by sins decay, BECAME A MAN!" The Bible states that, “…God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” The beautiful Baby born in Bethlehem didn’t appear for a Kodak moment family portrait but rather came to serve and to die… for us! The Bible further states that for those of us who follow Him, His way MUST become our way too! Here is the FULL message of Christmas: “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” We are called to fight the ugliness of Halloween – selfishness, cruelty, hatred, hunger, divisiveness, and all the other rotten fruit thereof, with the undying pursuit of the beauty of the holy Christmas fruits of encouragement, joy, love, unity, selflessness, humility, and obedience to God to the point of surrendering everything - up to and including our very lives - that others may know the Reason for the Season. The Real Message is stark. The Real Message is arresting. But, the Real Message of Christmas is beautiful. Imagine a world full of Jesus followers who dedicate themselves to this Real Christmas Message every day – a world with people willing to go to the hard places, take on the hard subjects, perform the hard jobs, and face the hard people not for their own agenda or fame, but simply out of love for God and love for those they’ve been sent to reach! A people who are committed to this kind of message will break the artificial bonds of December 25th and truly celebrate Christmas all throughout the year. This is God’s desire for us: He desires that we, like the post-Ghost Scrooge, “keep Christmas” beautifully and completely every day that we live. So, as we engage our holiday traditions, let’s not leave behind our everyday duty to proclaim the Message – God sent His Son into an ugly world to shine with a beauty not built on pageantry or pretense, but on the beauty of His holiness, where Good takes on evil and doesn’t let go until Good wins. Christmas is beautiful but only if you keep it real! So, as you put up your tree, don’t forget to take up your cross! Merry Christmas! Until Next Time, Sam

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