Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Ten Things I Have to Remember about Serving Jesus this Christmas Season

Robert Oscar Lopez


1. When Jesus Christ was born, hundreds of years had passed since the last prophet. Generation after generation had lived with nothing but hope. People born in 270 BC had only hope that someday the LORD would come. It could very well be that all my anxieties and stresses are meaningless, and maybe my great-great-grandchildren will still be hundreds of years away from Christ's coming. Christmas reminds me that's okay. A baby in a manger changes everything.


2. When Jesus Christ was born, there were no easy black and white parties in the war between good and evil. Rome was the imperial power but there were plenty of local potentates who were simultaneously claiming to speak for the masses in Judea, and cutting backdoor deals with the Roman colonizers. On each side there were endless webs of conspiracy, enmity, and dissimulation. Sometimes I have to remind myself that I may have to pick "sides" but my "side" will always include the other "side." Corruption is total, depravity is pervasive.


3. Joseph was not a rich man. He was struggling to provide for a wife and child he did not conceive himself. People can take everything from me and my family will be okay.


4. Every little detail of the birth of Christ invoked narratives from the distant past. The theme of a woman's womb being opened and closed by God reminds us of Sarah, Rachel, and Samson's mother, and many more. Sleeping in the barn reminds us of Ruth. The flight into Egypt reminds us of Joseph. The changes in the night sky remind us of the power of God as described in Job. The plotting by Herod reminds us of the palace intrigues in Samuel and Kings. The little things that happen to us are never lost in the grand narrative. Everything flows into the moment of Jesus coming to save us.


5. When Jesus was born, the Roman Empire had survived many years of civil war, civil strife, wars with foreigners, and political upheavals. They were enjoying a time, by contrast, when they thought they would have peace and a rest from all those stresses. But it was at this time, this Augustan "golden age," with the gates of Janus moved to signify that Rome was not at war--that Jesus Christ was born to shake everything up. What looks to us like war and conflict might not be any clue at all as to when God expects spiritual warfare. Sometimes when a great nation is at peace and in prosperity, God knows that is the moment when spiritual battle against the devil is greatest.


6. When Jesus was born, he came to a culture of people surrounded by institutions and individuals with immense power. The shepherds who first heard news of the birth were people who might be subject to life or death decisions by people in high office, and they might never have a chance to set the record straight in this world. It can feel, at times, that Christians are overwhelmed by the overgrowths of power and intimidation all around them. We can feel so often alone. The fact that Christian "leaders" are very often in the spotlight and enjoying fame and notoriety makes us feel sometimes that we can never prevail against the forces that seek to bring down the word of God. But Jesus was born into the world to prove the irrelevance of what people think of us. Jesus came from a Heaven where all truth is known. Even if people lie about you, frame you, jail you, and humiliate you and your loved ones, God knows your heart. He came as Christ to the world and even knows what it is like to walk in the fragile existence of this world. The power and fame that we see in others should not cow us. Their power is like houses built on sand.


7. God was a child once. He was a baby. This is one of the deepest theological mysteries for people to solve. Was Jesus fully knowing, fully sentient, fully gifted with language, and merely wearing the flesh of an infant and playing innocent during the years when he lived like a common unknowing babe? If we could know that, we would know the fullness of God, which is impossible. But what is important is that Jesus Christ, the very centerpiece of our faith and worldview, was once in the form of someone helpless, someone needing the care and protection of people like us. I must remember that people in my life who are vulnerable, less powerful, scared, and helpless, may actually be the very people who can protect us from the deeper spiritual harms of the devil.


8. When Jesus was born, the devil did not flee. The devil has still not fled, even thousands of years after Christ's arrival. God can be with us but he still expects us to keep our spiritual weapons ready and fight the devil. Jesus did not come to spare us the hard labor and struggle of conquering evil. Even though Jesus knows he will win, we still have to keep fighting.


9. When God came to us, he came inside of a family. He came as a baby with a mother and father. This is the triangle into which God entrusted His Word. God wants us to be social and connected. God wants us to care for his legacy and his promise in the context of love between the sexes, fidelity, tenderness, and affection.


10. Jesus did not come as an intellectual phenomenon, at least at first. He came as a body. Our physical lives matter. The distinction between thoughts and actions is not a dividing line between innocence and guilt, but the distinction matters. We can want to be thin but we have to exercise and diet to become thin. We can long for holiness but we must embody holiness. I cannot get so lost in my intellectual life that I lose sight of where I exist, physically, and what I am doing with my body. It is important to note that when Jesus was born, he spent years not using language to carry out God's plan. He used physical existence, which is why his infancy is so important. Words can be complex and confusing. They can often distract us and even deceive us. Sometimes it is blissful and good not to speak too much about God, but just exist in a way God intended.