At the heart of Christmas

“And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold,
I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”
(Luke 2:10)

Hope, Peace, Joy, Love – these words are ingrained into the meaning of Christmas, they sum up all the best of our celebrations, they remind us what this season is all about.

The Hopes and Fears of All the Years are met in Thee Tonight…

Hope is our attitude toward the future.  Hope, in its essence, is the same substance as faith.  It is believing God.  That’s the substance of hope.  It is trusting God.  The only difference is faith is believing God in the present, and hope is believing God for the future.  Faith believes what God has said, what God has done, and hope believes what God has promised yet to do.  In a sense, faith then is trusting God for the present, hope is trusting God for the future…both are trusting God.  To put it another way, faith accepts, hope expects.  Faith appropriates and hope anticipates.  Faith believes God for what He has done and hope believes God for what He will do.  Indeed, Paul says in 1 Tim. 4:10, “we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people.”

Peace on Earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled…

Peace refers to more than just the absence of war, the Hebrew word “Shalom” suggests wholeness or a state of unity among God, humanity, and creation.  It is important to remember that the Hebrew understanding of God’s creation is not that God created out of nothing, but that in the face of chaos, with its power to destroy and render all things meaningless, God brought order and peace.  In the midst of our chaos, with it’s power to destroy our lives and lose our meaning, God has sent His Son.  Paul writes in 2 Cor. 5:19 “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself,” so that now “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1).

Joy to the World, the Lord Is Come…

Joy is a feeling that cannot be contained.  When you are happy, it serves you well; but joy overflows and affects even those around you.  Joy is that condition of inner delight one feels when overcome with blessedness and grace.  Like the mother, holding her newborn child, forgetting the pain of delivery because of the sheer joy of having her child; this is the overwhelming joy we have in Christ.  C.K. Chesterton once wrote, “There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon our earth, and I have sometimes fancied that it was His joy” (Orthodoxy).  Jesus came to make the joy of heaven known on earth.  In the parable of the lost coin we read “there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10).  In fact, in John’s gospel Jesus said “these things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11).

Silent night! Holy night! Son of God, love’s pure light…

Love is the greatest of all the gifts we receive at Christmas, for Christ came from the very heart of God.  John 3:16 says, “for God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  Romans 5:8 teaches that “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  There is no greater testimony of God’s love for us than what we find on Christmas morning.  As the poem by Christina Rossetti says:

Love came down at Christmas, love all lovely, love divine;
Love was born at Christmas – star and angels gave the sign.

SDG

Of the Father’s Love Begotten

“Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us,
that we should be called the children of God; and so we are.”
(1 John 3:1)

It should come as no surprise to those of you who know me that I am a total “fan-boy” when it comes to anything Sci-Fi or Super Hero.  I grew up on Doctor Who, reruns of the Star Trek TV show, and the Star Wars movies as the gold standard for every other story.  I always imaged what it would be like if one day I could learn the ways of the force.  (I can’t tell you how much joy it brings me to see my own sons still use the “force” to open the automatic doors at the grocery store.)

Putting it mildly, I was delighted by this summer’s release of Superman: Man of Steel, a retelling of the origin story of Superman.  While it was not the classic Christopher Reeves story (which I saw countless times in the theater), it was much, much better than the Superman movie that came out in 2006.  The graphics are exactly what you’d hope for from a super hero movie today, there are some great performances from big name actors, and the story is really quite good.

There is, in particular, one scene that resonated with me in the “Man of Steel” movie.  Young Clark Kent is coming to terms with who he really is; an alien from another planet with inexplicable powers.  While he’s just wanted to use his strength to help save those around him, he’s seen as a threat, a freak, a danger.  Talking with his adopted father Jonathon Kent (wonderfully performed by Kevin Costner), Clark/Superman says:

“Can’t I just keep pretending I’m your son?”

Jonathan replies, “You are my son”

Well played, Superman (sniff, sniff), well played.

Jonathon and Martha Kent find a child amidst the wreckage of some distant planet that has fallen to earth, and they take that child in as their own.  He bears their name.  He is raised with their values.  He is strengthened and encouraged by their love.  He learns of courage, commitment, and sacrifice from them, and becomes the hero that every boy who ever put on a red cape wanted to be.

This is the wonder of adoption.  It is no mere pretending, no make-believe deception.  Jonathon and Martha loved Clark.  They were his parents.  He was their child.  There was a stronger tie than anything biology could produce; there was love.

What a remarkable parable for the transforming power of God’s love.  In 1 John 3:1, there is a great pronouncement of a vital truth, We are the children of God.  We have been adopted, claimed by the love of the Father, He calls us His children.  As the prophet Hosea so powerfully demonstrates, we who were once called, “Not my people” are now called “Children of the living God” (Hosea 1:10).  We have been adopted by God, and so we are called the children of God.

And we are His children.  This is not some hope for the future, but a present privilege.  God is our Father, now.  We may enjoy the benefits of His grace, a grace that He bestows lavishly upon His children.  We are the recipients of His Fatherly guidance; through His Word God guides, disciplines, and teaches His children in the way of righteousness.  He is our Father, and by faith we are members of His household, protected by His victorious might.  We bear His name into the world, and wherever we go we may be assured that our heavenly Father will shield and defend us.

Just this week, my 6 year old has come home from school, hurt and upset about the cruel things that other kids in his class have said about him.  I asked him if any of the things they said about him were true, he knew they were not.  I asked him if he thought that I thought these things were true, he knew I did not.  I asked him if he thought that God thought these things were true, he smiled, knowing God did not either.  Then I told him, “You know what I think of you son.  And you know that God loves you, and what He thinks of you.  What does it matter what someone else says about you, when you know what your God and your Father think?”  Strengthened by that love and assurance, that 6 year old could face the day with confidence.

Knowing the great love of God that has claimed you and called you His child, what can you face today?

When facing the lies and accusations of a broken world, we may cry out to God, “Can’t I just keep pretending that I’m your child?”

To which we will hear the voice of God saying, “You are my child.  There’s no pretending.”

“Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us, that we should be called the children of God; and so we are.”  Eternity will never exhaust the marvel of God’s amazing love for us.  May we live in the strength and assurance that such love abundantly provides.

SDG

PS

Inspired by the title of the blog – here’s the hymn that bears that name.  Why this isn’t sung more at Christmas I will never know.