Messy, vulnerable, baby Jesus

So Christmas is here. Soon we will be tearing apart the presents that were wrapped in attempted, not necessarily succeeded, beauty. The stress of it is most certainly here for so many. Family is in town. Maybe some travel. Others have house guests. We have our trees, whether natural or fake. We have our piles of presents. We have our Christmas villages and Santa Clause. Some parts of the world will have snow. I love Christmas. I love Christmas music, cheesy Christmas movies, decorations, ice skating, peppermint…pretty much anything that has to do with Christmas.

Yet in the midst of the Christmas season- holiday season for that matter if we go back to Halloween and Thanksgiving, we lose something. Even for those of us who are “religious”, faith-based, when we attend church, midnight Mass, or something else during this season, we often miss something. I think of something from a movie I find to be hilarious, though to many, they might find this scene sacrilegious. There’s a scene in Talladega Nights where, at the dinner table, there is a comical and ridiculous discussion on how to pray to Jesus. One claimed that he prays to grown up Jesus. Another prays to “6 pounds, 8 oz dear Lord baby Jesus”. It makes me wonder…

When people think of Jesus, even at Christmas, he is often thought of as the Jesus who died on the cross. We forget he was a baby first. We forget that he was vulnerable, exposed, dependent, bloody, uncomfortable, and messy. Jesus was a literal baby. He was born to a woman, just like any other person born. A C-section was not an option. He was born vaginally, where his mother had no pain killer, no doctors, no nurses, no ice chips. He was born and in his birth, the mess followed. There was blood, a placenta, possibly feces from Mary, as that is common for women as they deliver their baby. He was covered in the same amniotic fluid and blood that any other baby would be covered in, only he didn’t have a nice bath and towels to get cleaned. I imagine Mary’s screams being heard in the fields and houses nearby.  I imagine the pain that she would have had, delivering a baby with nothing but will and body.  I imagine Joseph nearby probably freaking out like any dad would be.  I imagine a very messy, very noisy, very painful, very uncomfortable, and yet all the while, very beautiful, powerful moment of history.

Baby Jesus was born.

I think it was on purpose that God chose to let Jesus enter this world painfully, in mess, and in vulnerability. You see, I believe God chose this to be the story of salvation because God wanted the world to see that he gets it…that life is messy and painful. I think God wanted to show Mary and Joseph that his story is bigger and better than we can fathom or understand. Rather than Jesus showing up as a man who had no life experience in relationship to everyone else, he, instead, came as a baby…a baby that pooped, peed, cried, and slobbered depending on Mary and Joseph to take care of him, just like any other baby.

nativity3

This world is very very messy. It is broken. It has so much pain. Moments, sometimes longer for others, challenge us. We are faced with hardship. I believe the Christmas story- the reason we actually go buy the presents, decorate trees, and attend services- completely and fully relates to our realities of brokenness, pain, and mess. Jesus understands and knows and wants to be part of your story. This Christmas, I pray and hope that you don’t pass it without thoughts on Jesus and the truth of his love for the world. Jesus could have chosen to not come. Jesus could have chosen to come as a man and not relate to us. Jesus could have ignored us altogether. Instead, he came in such a way that he truly and deeply knows our struggles and our pain. He knows our mess. And he is aching for you to recognize him. So many people ignored the star that showed over Bethlehem that first Christmas night. Kings and commoners ignored Jesus- the Messiah, Emmanuel, creator, and comforter, but more than anything, the king…the only King that can bring salvation, healing, restoration, and redemption. He can cleanse our mess, restore our brokenness, heal our hurts, and give us a hope.

Messiah.
Savior.
Emmanuel.
Prince of Peace.
Wonderful counselor.
Redeemer.
The Light of the world…

In Him, and only Him, we have life. True life.
Don’t miss Him this year.

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For the One.

“As a prisoner”…I find myself intrigued, convicted, humbled, and moved by this phrase.

Paul, in many of the letters he wrote that can be found in the Bible, started with this phrase in some variation. Last night as I read through the letter [book] of Ephesians, my heart was so deeply moved. He was a prisoner. He was a religious prisoner because of his belief in who Jesus really was: not a story, not a man, but a savior that changes everything.

Paul’s life was completely changed in one encounter with Jesus- the resurrected Jesus- on the road to Damascus. At the time, he was called Saul, he was a Pharisee [Jewish leader], part of the Sanhedrin [Jewish elite], and on his way to imprison and even kill Christians, people that were of both Jewish and Gentile backgrounds, that decided that they believed in the man Jesus, as their savior. His life was changed when he met Jesus and he was the never same. Never.

In his letter to the church found in Ephesus, he urged for the unity of their church. He urged them to keep in focus what was truly important. Not legalism. Not opinion. Not self. But Jesus and how he had changed their lives, individually and collectively. He first reminded them they were redeemed. If they followed and believed in Jesus they were redeemed, forgiven, and new. They were made alive-new- in Jesus. It was for that reason that he challenged their church to be bold and embrace a deeper love for Jesus, one that could not have been questioned or doubted. It could not and would not be something that only ended with loving Jesus; actions had to follow.

This was the challenge.

“I, therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the called to which you have been called, will all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity in the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit- just as you were called to one hope that belongs to your call- one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each of us….put on a new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness…walk in love….for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of Light…we are members of His body.” [sections of the book of Ephesians]

Paul completely understood the challenge of turning one’s life around. He understood the sacrifice, the difficulty, the cost, and also the joy. He understood that Jesus was worth it. But he also understood that with loving Jesus, his life could no longer look like it did before he had met Jesus- before he committed his life to Him. He knew the church in Ephesus, among the others he wrote to, struggled with this for one simple fact: we are human and completely fallible.

But it is in our humanity that we have a choice. If we have been given the option of something better and greater, why would we miss out on that? Why would we choose anything but that which is better and greater? I continue the challenge that Paul set forth 2,000 years ago, one that I know full well that I need to work on personally. I need to live my life in such a way that it shows the love that Jesus has for me, a love that has changed me, and a love that has freed me. I need to be humble, admit my own wrongdoings, be patient and gentle, especially with those that lack a love of Jesus. I need to work on keeping unity with other believers in Jesus, but also show deep, sincere love for those outside the faith, not because of trying to convert anyone, but because I want the love of Jesus to overflow, so that others, if they choose, might choose His love. Everything I do is for Him because He gave everything for me. He is why I am different. He is why I am no longer bound to my own shame, guilt, fears, sin, and selfishness. He is the very One who forgives me when I mess up, despite trying to love him. I was once living in darkness. My darkness looks different than yours. But I can guarantee, we all have darkness…and we are all offered a chance to be removed from that darkness and brought to life into the Light. Paul understood the concept of darkness to light. Persecutor, possible murderer, a man full of hatred, full redeemed and forgiven brought to restoration through Jesus Christ. He is the One. He is the Only One.

He is Jesus.

True and Better

[copyright for video and script in link]

The Bible is not a a series of a disconnected stories.

It is a single narrative in which every story, every character points beyond itself to one who is greater.

The story of Adam and Eve is not just about the first man and woman…. there is a true and better Adam who passed the test in the Garden and who obedience is ascribed to us.

There is a true and better Abel who, though innocently slain, has blood that cries out, not for our condemnation, but for our acquittal.

There is a true and better Abraham who answered the call of God to leave all the comfortable and familiar and go out into the void to create a new people of God.

There is a true and better Isaac, the son of laughter, of grace, who was not just offered up by his father on the mount but was truly sacrificed for us all.

There is a true and better Jacob who wrestled and took the blow of justice we deserved, so we, like Jacob, only receive the wounds of grace that wake us up and discipline us.

There is a true and better Joseph who, at the right hand of the king, forgives those who betrayed and sold him and uses his new power to save them.

There is a true and better Moses who stands in the gap between the people and the Lord and who mediates a new covenant.

There is a true and better Rock of Moses who, struck with the rod of God’s justice, now gives us water in the desert.

There is a true and better Job, the truly innocent sufferer, who then intercedes for and saves his foolish friends.

There is a true and better David whose victory becomes his people’s victory, though they never lifted a stone to accomplish it themselves.

There is a true and better Esther who didn’t just risk losing an earthly palace but lost the ultimate heavenly one, who didn’t just risk his life, but gave his life to save his people.

There is a true and better Jonah who was cast out into the storm so that we could be brought in.

There is a true and better Passover Lamb, innocent, perfect, helpless, slain so the angel of death will pass over us. He’s the true temple, the true prophet, the true priest, the true king, the true sacrifice, the true lamb, the true light, and the true bread.

The Bible is not a series of disconnected stories.

It is a single narrative that points to one person…

Jesus.

the scandal of Christmas

I absolutely love Christmas time. I pretty much celebrate it come Thanksgiving all the way through the winter. I love the joy that comes with it. I love the parties and the candy and the cookies and the eggnog. I love movies like Elf, A Christmas Story, and Little Women. Candlelight services. Scarves and boots. Snow, snow, and more snow.

Of course, I love the story behind the celebrations. You might know the story I refer to. It is not about Santa or elves or reindeer. The story is about a baby being born in basically a barn, a girl with a “16 and pregnant” situation, and a fiance who is faced with the question of unfaithfulness and public embarrassment.

Can you imagine being Mary? You’re a young girl betrothed to a man who is probably much older. Women had no legal rights. She was probably engaged to marry him by the way of arranged marriage. And then the scandal happens. She finds out she will be with child. Think about how that would have looked. A young maiden, pregnant and engaged, in a culture where women had no rights and were relatively dispensable compared to men. The bigger question was who was the father. Joseph was potentially at risk of being accused of impregnating a woman out of wedlock. If not Joseph, then I’m sure Joseph and the rest of the community would be wondering who the father really was. She probably was terrified of the potential consequences- being an adulteress was a death sentence- not to mention the public shaming of the scandal of promiscuity.

Switch gears now.

Joseph, the fiancé, was put in quite the awkward position. Quite the frustrating decision to have to make. Even dangerous. Think about it from his perspective. He was probably frustrated that his almost wife was most likely a harlot by societal standards. Virginity and faithfulness [on the woman’s side] were an absolute. Joseph had every legal right to divorce Mary- society in Israel back then required a legal termination of engagement almost like a divorce. He could have left her to the public shaming and even potential death. He could have ruined her. He could have…but he didn’t.

Joseph is the person of interest for me this year in the Christmas story.

Joseph was a man of character, as Mary also was. But all too often so much focus is placed on Mary because of the virgin birth, her willingness and acceptance of God’s plan. I believe she is due all respect- the LORD definitely chose her for her role in the story. Yet I also believe Joseph was just as equally chosen for his role. He embraced his role just as Mary did. He may disappear from the stories of Jesus’ life later on, for reasons we don’t know [could have been death, etc.]. His character and reliance on the LORD is so evident throughout the the Christmas story and the escape to Egypt. The first few years of Jesus’ life were made possible by God working through Joseph. Had he not been willing, had he not been someone of integrity, honor and faithfulness to God, his, Mary and Jesus’ lives would look very different. He chose to take on the fatherhood role of a baby not his own. He chose to protect Mary’s dignity rather than shame her. He chose to raise Jesus as his own son and teach him the ways of a carpenter- the task all fathers did for their sons. I would imagine that Jesus as a young boy learned the heart of the Father by learning the heart of Joseph- seeing his character lived out on the day to day.

I believe Joseph is a part of the Christmas story we cannot so easily forget as it is one to teach us much about ourselves and our willingness to serve God and others. We can learn character from him. We can learn sacrifice. We can learn discernment and faithfulness, especially when looking at their escape to Egypt.

As you celebrate Christmas remember the people who played a huge role in the story. Yes, it ultimately is about Jesus and eventually his sacrifice, which is celebrated on Easter. But remember Mary and Joseph both for the desire to honor the LORD and live their lives as reflection of that love. The scandal of Christmas is the perfect story.  Jesus came to a world full of scandal, full of pain, full of heartache, and full of so many other things. It was perfectly messy. Its in the mess, the darkness of the stable, the 9 months of pregnancy, the fear of finding Mary pregnant, the worry of a possibly ruined marriage. Jesus came in the midst of all of this and chose to reveal love and life.