First, a Christmas wish. I wish each and every one of you the joy of Christmas. May the message and wonder of salvation and God's love permeate your spiritual pores until it embodies all you are and think. May it so fill you with joy and peace that no circumstance that comes your way can dent it. May you find your heart and hands and voice lifted toward heaven with uncontainable, spontaneous awe and worship and love and adoration!
Second, a neat story. We spent Monday in Carmel on our "traditional" (in our family, anything twice becomes tradition) day of Christmas shopping and hanging out with my mom. We begin the "tradition" each time (this is our second time) with my dad joining us for coffee at Il Fornio, and we are batting 100% in getting the seat by the fire. You can enjoy the moment with us in our "traditional" picture, above. Last year's picture is in the right column of the blog, a ways down, if you want to see how much the girls are growing in a year (or how well I am aging—ha, ha).
Anyway, while shopping mom took the girls for a few minutes to a store so Mary Ann and I could be clandestine and get a few things. About five minutes before leaving Carmel Plaza to rejoin them, my left ankle started hurting with a real sharp pain that made it uncomfortable walking. We crossed the street and a woman passed in front of us on the sidewalk, being pushed in a wheelchair by a man whom I assume was her husband. We fell in step behind them and as I looked at her foot in a cast I thought about Jesus and Christmas and His love and power. I spoke kind of loud to them as they were a few steps ahead of us, "Can we pray for you?" They stopped and said, "Okay."
Now often people caught like that think you mean, "Can I pray for you sometime in the future or when I think about it." They usually don't think you mean "right now, on this corner, in downtown Carmel" so I quickly added "now" and moved up beside them. Mary Ann joined me and I put my hand on the woman's shoulder and we all bowed our heads there by the intersection and I asked God to pour out over them, to defy the doctors with her healing, and for it to be the best, most God-filled Christmas they have ever had. After we were done praying they thanked us and we parted. As we left them and began walking up a hill toward our rendezvous with my mom and the girls, I noticed that MY ankle pain was gone! How cool is that!
Third, a Christmas thought. I shared this in much more detail with our church on Sunday, but I wanted to share its core here with all of you as well.
When the angel appeared to the shepherds he said, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Lu 2:10-11). There is, in this proclamation, the foundation of our whole faith and joy. When everything else is stripped away, when theology is confusing us more than helping us, when life has broken us, there is a place of joy we can turn to.
The angels said that the birth of Christ (which would end at the cross) was:
1) Good News!
2) of Great Joy!
and it was to all the people! He didn't say, "to people of secure finances" or "to people who have a great marriage" or "to those who have it all together." No, he said that this good news, of great joy, was available to all people. Now Jesus didn't go and fix every earthly problem, but He did pay for our sins that we might be restored to our Father in heaven if we would embrace His gift and Lordship. So, this is clearly an "eternal" joy—a joy fixed on our eternal condition, tied in to Jesus' role as Savior. It shows the Father's emphasis on eternity over simply the now (though I do believe He desires us to joyfully walk in, and use, the authority He gives us to tackle and destroy the works of the devil in this life, as well).
The other day I hit a real low spot. I wasn't sure anymore what this pastoring was about or supposed to look like, or what I was supposed to be telling people, and it seemed like every "theological" conclusion I came to I was finding a verse to contradict it. I felt closer to stepping down than I have ever felt, and I was sitting by the fire with Mary Ann and I told her, "I don't know what this is about any more." She said, "Yes, you do." She then said something to the effect of, "God loves you and He sent His Son to die for you and you are His forever." It was utterly simple, and it touched and stirred something so deep in me I can't explain it. When all else is stripped away, when you feel like a failure, when life crashes in, that is the core, foundational message that it all comes back to—that is the message that never changes or leaves you—it is the good news, of great joy, that is unto me and you. This doesn't mean we take joy in clear victories of the devil, but it does mean that no matter what is stripped away there is, at the core, a place that can't be touched and which we must always return to—a place which simply is our eternal, born again, new creation life with God that can't be taken from us, and that came because His Son came to earth and died for us out of a love beyond our comprehension.
The utter simplicity and foundational essence of that reminder brought to life for me, again, the Christmas proclamation—and I hope it helps you, too. God bless each and every one of you, and Merry Christmas!