As we once again inch our way towards Christmas, it's easy to be captivated by what C.S. Lewis called "the great cataract of nonsense that pours from the press and the microphone." Unwilling to let us enjoy a few weeks of holiday joy, political pundits trade barbed accusations with counterattacks.
We're bombarded by sale after sale as our list of needed presents dwindles to a precious but elusive few. The ever-present Santa trappings and holiday decorations become like eye-candy pulling us away from a deeper appreciation for the season.
The church has its own distractions. The faithful argue over God's view of contraception coverage, abortion limits, or immigration reform. Around the world, Christians are being murdered and churches are being burned down because of their faith. Facing a "War on Christianity," believers are asked to send letters, sign petitions, pray fervently, and send donations in the name of our Lord and Savior. Interestingly, those pleas come from both sides of these issues.
Christmas demands more of us. On that first Christmas, God chose not to come to the powerful in Rome. He came to a humble stable in a remote village. He came not to frighten with His mighty power, His Holy agenda, or His desire to rule. Jesus came in the one way that would disarm and draw us to Him; He came as a baby. He came into the playpen of the human condition to actually be with us--to know our pain, our joys, and our longing to know God. He came to serve and to die that we might have life.
His humble mission was reinforced over and over again throughout his ministry. He didn't stay in mansions, he went to be with sinners--to heal and to call them to faith. When his disciple Peter realized that he was Christ, the promised Messiah, Jesus quickly rejected any call to an earthly reign.
Standing before Pilate in the face of crucifixion, Jesus was asked, "Are you the king of the Jews." He answered in a disarming way, "My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest...."
Jesus didn't come to change Rome or to change Washington. He came to change individuals one person at a time. He didn't come to have Rome or Washington help the poor; he came to call you and I to help and serve our neighbor.
He didn't come to justify taking from the rich. He came to challenge rich and poor alike to put their faith in God and to use their gifts and resources to make a difference where they're planted.
When Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan who stopped to help the man attacked by robbers, it wasn't the powerful or the religious leaders who stopped to help. It was a stranger who cared enough to carry a wounded man to a nearby inn; he then paid for his continuing care. He didn't say, "I gave at the office or thorough my taxes." He responded himself to the stranger's need.
Jesus was a "king" who came to serve. He was the king of second chances. The currency of his realm was mercy and love. Even though he called sinners to repentance, his love attracted and affirmed those who the religious of the time often distanced. Although sinners sensed they weren't worthy of Jesus, they weren't worthless in His sight. He was and is generous and merciful and calls us to be the same.
President Kennedy said: "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country." The greatest gift of Christmas comes with the gift of giving of yourself. How are you called to serve this Christmas? The memory of Christmas gifts received fades with time, the gifts of giving to those in need stay with you forever. Let it be so this Christmas...and every day!
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