Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Beggars one and all!

"It can't be me!" Judas had the nerve to ask Jesus if he was the betrayer. He probably had the appointment set in his mind. Or can one just pop up at a Pharisee's house and say, "Hey, man. I can deliver Jesus to you," without thinking it out in advance?

Christmas has always seemed a strange holiday to me. We celebrate a baby, innocent and charming, interrupting human history to become part of an obscure rural family. Joseph and Mary don't even have the sense to get to Bethlehem early enough to snag a room at a B&B. And what was wrong with people in their town that they traveled with? Didn't someone take pity on the mom-to-be? Was she shunned? Maybe people thought, "Oh well, it serves her right for being pregnant. Better she has the baby out of sight."

Evangelical Christians tend to focus on the beginning and end of Jesus' life. Jesus does have a compelling story: he's born poor, experiences all kinds of adventures, does miracles, preaches sermons, hangs around with haves and haves-not, and dies a dramatic and cruel death. Well, it's more dramatic in retrospect. At the time, it seemed inglorious and a bad ending for a pretty nice guy.

Today I'm thinking about all the days between. Hours spent at the synagogue, memorizing scriptures with peers. Days when he played with brothers and sisters (who didn't seem to believe in his claims or spend much time following him around, even though he was the oldest). Nights when he sat around and joked with teen friends and listened to town elders. It was all quite ordinary.

Then he started saying some very startling things, intimate things about God that most of us had never thought of, as though he really knew God. Not that people liked what he was saying, or understood most of it. Even when he explained it to those who hung around him, he was hard to understand. He'd use the most ordinary examples, everyday life kinds of parables. But what was he getting at? Sometimes, it was hard to tell.

And he started doing some very startling things, things only God could do, giving God the credit as though it was normal for someone who loved God to heal the sick, walk on water, and multiply a kid's lunch so it fed thousands of people. Whaaaat? Did he want to make a display of his power? He kept telling people to keep things quiet, as though he was doing them a personal favor rather than putting on a production or show. What was the point, besides doing a few extraordinary good works and giving some relief to a hurting person or family? It was hard to tell.

Then, he gathers his friends around. He reminds them of things he's probably said and done for three years, in a final week of telling and showing. Later they'll write down what they remember and share it with others. But for now, instead of going out in a burst of glory, Jesus withdraws to be with an inner circle of his followers. What's coming is so horrible, so frightening, so awful that he breaks out in a bloody sweat praying to God about it. 

I read world news stories last week - murders, terror bombings, child abuse, sex traders, drug addicts, liars, cheats, thieves - I read about people who act out what all of us have thought about, even if our version could be classified as "sin lite." Everything dreadful and hideous - all I read about and thought about and have done against God - crushed Jesus, hanging on the cross. 

Jesus knew the fulfillment of Christmas, the life between, the agonizing death, and the bursting forth of resurrection power. Christmas and Easter, bookends of a life well-lived. (Well, some celebrate Pentecost, so I guess that's the bookend extension for them.) And still he dared it for me. And for you.

No wonder people push against public Nativity scenes, the posting of the 10 Commandments, and the singing of Christmas carols. There will be no little cows or teddy bear nativity scenes cluttering our house. No sports or hobby-themed trees put up at our house.

Think about what that Baby experienced for you and for me. I wouldn't want to celebrate Christmas either, except that I am a beggar. Today I'm on my face before God, asking him to apply his provision of salvation and righteousness. My prayers are shadowed, but lifted with thanksgiving and worship. 

Thank you God, for coming into our world as a little child. 
For living an ordinary life, even when your love for us kept breaking through with miraculous deliverance. 
Thank you for hanging in darkness so I could be redeemed from my brokenness. 
For gathering your hard-won triumph over sin and divine healing in your fists on that glorious resurrection day. 

I can't wait to see you and say, 
"All Glory and Power, 
all Worship and Honor, 
all Strength and Praise 
be unto the Lamb, slain before the foundation of the world." 

Read more:
*Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the dumb sing. For waters shall burst forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert. Isaiah 35:5-6 NKJV

*Psalm 145:1-7 Zephaniah 1,2; Revelation 16:12-21

*May you have a full reward from the Lord, under whose wings you have come for refuge! Ruth 2:12

*A leper came to Jesus begging him, and kneeling he said to him, "If you choose, you can make me clean." Mark 1:40

*When it was evening, Jesus sat down at the table with the twelve disciples. While they were eating, he said, 'I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me.'

Greatly distressed, each one asked in turn, 'Am I the one, Lord?'

He replied, 'One of you who has just eaten from this bowl with me will betray me. For the Son of Man must die, as the Scriptures declared long ago. But how terrible it will be for the one who betrays him. It would be far better for that man if he had never been born!'

Judas, the one who would betray him, also asked, 'Rabbi, am I the one?'

And Jesus told him, 'You have said it.'" Matthew 26:20–25 NLT

Moravian prayer: So many, dear Lord, come to you in sickness, pain, and darkness. Like a parent for a child, you provide a sanctuary of hope and healing. You come to us all with wings that cloak us in compassion and promise. Thank you, dear Savior, for your comfort. Amen. 

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