As I prepare for Christmas 2009, I feel the same disturbance in my soul that I felt last year and I want to get at its source. The reason I have put these thoughts down on paper is so they may have the ability to provoke thought in someone who is possibly feeling some of the same unease.
I try to sing Christmas anthems of “joy” and “celebration” with feeling, yet I know that my thoughts are far from jubilation. In fact they dwell in the realm of conviction, guilt and even sadness. I know that in order to fully and joyfully celebrate the incarnation, I can never lose sight of my lost and helpless state before it. In order to praise the value of the virgin’s birth, I must first contemplate the intensity of a wickedness that required the slaughter of the son of God to drag me from the precipice of hell.
Each year it’s getting easier to see, in the Christmas rush, a peculiar blend of self-approval and importance, self-deservedness, self-satisfaction and a good old hearty human ‘pat on the back’. Only now you can find that same attitude telegraphed from the pulpit. A Christmas 2007 address on national tv by Pastor Rick Warren included the idea “God is not mad at you....He is mad about you”. So, with that in mind, I can’t help but share a few reflections that I have had with regards to this Christmas, and the idea that we need to hold our heads high, because our Creator has tremendous faith in the human being.
There is a link between the manner in which mankind carries itself at Christmas, and the increasing idea that God had previously somehow placed enormous worth on sinful man, and I can never put my finger on it. It’s obvious that Christmas is the greatest time of idolatry on our calendar. You can sit at the carols with thousands of people, and most will have created a God in their own image to sing to. That’s why you can be promiscuous on stage and seductive while singing to Jesus. That’s why you can sing ‘O Holy Night’ while your molestation or assault charge is going through the courts.
But God doesn’t stop being God at Christmas and His standards don’t change because we wish to be merry. I never want to see myself as the ‘apple of His eye’. He doesn’t expect big things from me, nor does He need my help to make His message more relevant, and He’s not waiting to see what I can do for Him. He is waiting patiently, withholding Judgement, in order to receive maximum glory in every human life.
God knew that we were the only agents of His creation capable of coming up with such an exquisitely cruel method of putting to death our only Saviour, and the unimaginable daring to carry through with the ultimate betrayal. So, in a sense, I do agree that God did look down from Heaven and see such worth and value in the human being. But only in their worth to bring Him ultimate magnificence by committing the greatest crime of injustice of all time. The reality of the extent of our evil and self-justification vividly beams forth when we suggest that our Lord, the one Adam defied, pictured us with a doting adoration and preciousness, and incredible potential.
We underestimate our potential, but omniscient God certainly doesn’t. He understood the potential for evil for the Roman crucifiers to cast lots for the innocent Saviour’s clothing, while He screamed prayers for them. He understood the potential for one of the disciples to reject and betray his deliverer. He saw the potential of the miraculously rescued Israelite nation to turn their backs on Him during decades of supernatural provision.
No. I should not hold my head a little higher at Christmas. The truth is that while santa rewards people who think they have been nice, God’s righteous fury would boil at the idea of Jesus looking down from the bloodied cross at His murderers and seeing such worth and preciousness in the human “enemy of God”
Looking at the face that was “marred beyond description” were the agents of their master, the devil. Speaking blasphemies and ridicule against God were the same mouths that cried “Hosanna”.
Christmas is not Christmas without the cross of our Saviour. The incarnation of God Himself, and conception of the creator of the universe to a God hating and lawless human race, cannot be remembered without contemplating the slaying that the helpless babe in the manger would receive a few decades after that silent night in Bethlehem, to seal our redemption.
How can I be happy at Christmas? Not by feeling good about myself. The only way I can feel joy is to concentrate on the fact that Christ’s story was all brought about this way because it was precisely how God will receive His greatest honour. That’s the ‘joy’ that Christ felt as he ‘endured the cross, despising its shame’.
The following hymn reminds me to place complete faith in God the Creator, and brings the correct perspective of our human potential this Christmas:
My Song Is Love Unknown Hymn Samuel Crossman 1664
My song is love unknown,
My Savior’s love to me;
Love to the loveless shown,
That they might lovely be.
O who am I, that for my sake
My Lord should take, frail flesh and die?
He came from His blest throne
Salvation to bestow;
But men made strange, and none
The longed for Christ would know:
But O! my Friend, my Friend indeed,
Who at my need His life did spend.
Sometimes they strew His way,
And His sweet praises sing;
Resounding all the day
Hosannas to their King:
Then “Crucify!” is all their breath,
And for His death they thirst and cry.
Why, what hath my Lord done?
What makes this rage and spite?
He made the lame to run,
He gave the blind their sight,
Sweet injuries! Yet they at these
Themselves displease, and ’gainst Him rise.
With angry shouts they have
My dear Lord made away;
A murderer they saved,
The Prince of life they slay,
Yet cheerful He to suffering goes,
That He His foes from thence might free.
In life, no house, no home
My Lord on earth might have;
In death no friendly tomb
But what a stranger gave.
What may I say? Heav’n was His home;
But mine the tomb wherein He lay.
Here might I stay and sing,
No story so divine;
Never was love, dear King!
Never was grief like Thine.
This is my Friend, in Whose sweet praise
I all my days could gladly spend.
Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence by Gerard Moultrie
1. Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
and with fear and trembling stand;
ponder nothing earthly-minded,
for with blessing in his hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
our full homage to demand.
2. King of kings, yet born of Mary,
as of old on earth he stood,
Lord of lords, in human vesture,
in the body and the blood;
he will give to all the faithful
his own self for heavenly food.
3. Rank on rank the host of heaven
spreads its vanguard on the way,
as the Light of light descendeth
from the realms of endless day,
that the powers of hell may vanish
as the darkness clears away.
4. At his feet the six-winged seraph,
cherubim, with sleepless eye,
veil their faces to the presence,
as with ceaseless voice they cry:
Alleluia, Lord Most High!
(Article courtesy of Nick Booth)