Copyright © 1996 Word Publishing, Inc.. All rights reserved.
The Birth of Jesus Christ
Christmas comes each year to drawpeople in from the cold.
Like tiny frightened sparrows,shivering in the winter cold, manylive their lives on the barren branches of heartbreak,disappointment, and loneliness, lost in thoughts ofshame, self-pity, guilt, or failure. One blustery dayfollows another, and the only company they keep iswith fellow-strugglers who land on the same branches,confused and unprotected.
We try so hard to attract them into the warmth.Week after week church bells ring. Choirs sing.Preachers preach. Lighted churches send out theirbeacon. But nothing seems to bring in those who needwarmth the most.
Then, as the year draws to a close, Christmasoffers its wonderful message. Emmanuel. God with us.He who resided in Heaven, co-equal and co-eternalwith the Father and the Spirit, willingly descended intoour world. He breathed our air, felt our pain, knewour sorrows, and died for our sins. He didn't come tofrighten us, but to show us the way to warmth and safety.
The Finishing Touch
An ordinary night with ordinary sheep and ordinary shepherds.And were it not for a God who loves to hook an "extra" on the frontof the ordinary, the night would have gone unnoticed. The sheep wouldhave been forgotten, and the shepherds would have slept the night away.
But God dances amidst the common. And that night he did a waltz.
The black sky exploded with brightness. Trees that had beenshadows jumped into clarity. Sheep that had been silent became a chorusof curiosity. One minute the shepherd was dead asleep, the next he wasrubbing his eyes and staring into the face of an alien.
The night was ordinary no more.
The angel came in the night because that is when lights are bestseen and that is when they are most needed. God comes into thecommon for the same reason.
HIS MOST POWERFUL
TOOLS ARE THE SIMPLEST.
THE APPLAUSE OF HEAVEN
WHEN GOD WANTED TODEFEAT SIN, his ultimate weaponwas the sacrifice of his own Son. OnChristmas Day two thousand years ago,the birth of a tiny baby in an obscurevillage in the Middle East was God'ssupreme triumph of good over evil.
A Dangerous Grace
Untethered by time, [God] sees us all. From the backwoods ofVirginia to the business district of London; from the Vikingsto the astronauts, from the cave-dwellers to the kings, fromthe hut-builders to the finger-pointers to the rock-stackers, he sees us.Vagabonds and ragamuffins all, he saw us before we were born.
And he loves what he sees. Flooded by emotion. Overcome bypride, the Starmaker turns to us, one by one, and says, "You are mychild. I love you dearly. I'm aware that someday you'll turn from me andwalk away. But I want you to know, I've already provided a way back."
And to prove it, he did something extraordinary.
Stepping from the throne, he removed his robe of light andwrapped himself in skin: pigmented, human skin. The light of theuniverse entered a dark, wet womb. He whom angels worship nestledhimself in the placenta of a peasant, was birthed into the cold night, andthen slept on cow's hay.
Mary didn't know whether to give him milk or give him praise,but she gave him both since he was, as near as she could figure, hungryand holy.
Joseph didn't know whether to call him Junior or Father. But inthe end called him Jesus, since that's what the angel had said and sincehe didn't have the faintest idea what to name a God he could cradle inhis arms.
... Don't you think ... their heads tilted and their mindswondered, "What in the world are you doing, God?" Or, betterphrased, "God, what are you doing in the world?"
"Can anything make me stop loving you?" God asks. "Watch mespeak your language, sleep on your earth, and feel your hurts. Beholdthe maker of sight and sound as he sneezes, coughs, and blows his nose.You wonder if I understand how you feel? Look into the dancing eyesof the kid in Nazareth; that's God walking to school. Ponder the toddlerat Mary's table; that's God spilling his milk.
"You wonder how long my love will last? Find your answer ona splintered cross, on a craggy hill. That's me you see up there, yourmaker, your God, nail-stabbed and bleeding. Covered in spit andsin-soaked.
"THAT'S YOUR SIN I'M FEELING. THAT'S
YOUR DEATH I'M DYING. THAT'S YOUR
RESURRECTION I'M LIVING.
THAT'S HOW MUCH I LOVE YOU."
In the Grip of Grace
The Gift of Salvation
WHAT A GOD!
Ponder the achievement of God.He doesn't condone our sin, nor does hecompromise his standard.He doesn't ignore our rebellion,nor does he relax his demands.Rather than dismiss our sin, he assumes our sinand, incredibly, sentences himself.God's holiness is honored. Our sin is punished ...and we are redeemed.God does what we cannot doso we can be what we dare not dream: perfect before God.
In the Gift of Grace
The conclusion is unavoidable: self-salvationsimply does not work. Manhas no way to save himself.
But Paul announces that Godhas a way. Where man fails God excels. Salvationcomes from heaven downward, not earth upward."A new day from heaven will dawn upon us"(Luke 1:78). "Every good action and every perfectgift is from God" (James 1:17).
Please note: Salvation is God-given, God-driven,God-empowered, and God-originated. The gift is notfrom man to God. It is from God to man.
Grace is created by God and given to man....On the basis of this point alone, Christianity is setapart from any other religion in the world.... Everyother approach to God is a bartering system; if I dothis, God will do that. I'm either saved by works (whatI do), emotions (what I experience), or knowledge(what I know).
By contrast, Christianity has no whiff ofnegotiation at all. Man is not the negotiator; indeed,man has no grounds from which to negotiate.
In the Grip of Grace
Imagine coming to a friend's house who has invited you over toenjoy a meal. You finish the delicious meal and then listen to somefine music and visit for a while. Finally, you stand up and get yourcoat as you prepare to leave. But before you leave you reach into yourpocket and say, "Now, how much do I owe you?" What an insult! Youdon't do that with someone who has graciously given you a meal. Isn'tit strange, though, how this world is running over with people whothink there's something they must do to pay God back? Somehow theyare hoping God will smile on them if they work real hard and earn hisacceptance; but that's an acceptance on the basis of works. That's notthe way it is with grace.
And now that Christ has come and died and thereby satisfied theFather's demands on sin, all we need to do is claim his grace byaccepting the free gift of eternal life. Period.
HE SMILES ON US BECAUSE OF HIS SON'S
DEATH AND RESURRECTION. IT'S GRACE,
MY FRIEND, AMAZING GRACE.
The Grace Awakening
FORGIVENESS of SINS
The first step to joy is a plea for help, anacknowledgment of moral destitution,an admission of inward paucity. Thosewho taste God's presence havedeclared spiritual bankruptcy and areaware of their spiritual crisis. Their cupboards arebare. Their pockets are empty. Their options are gone.They have long since stopped demanding justice; theyare pleading for mercy.
They don't brag; they beg.
They ask God to do for them what they can't dowithout him. They have seen how holy God is andhow sinful they are and have agreed with Jesus'statement, "Salvation is impossible."
Oh, the irony of God's delightborn in theparched soil of destitution rather than the fertile groundof achievement.
It's a different path, a path we're not accustomedto taking. We don't often declare our impotence.Admission of failure is not usually admission into joy.Complete confession is not commonly followed by totalpardon. But then again, God has never been governedby what is common.
THE APPLAUSE OF HEAVEN
FOR MOST OF US, the word repentanceconjures up images of medieval monks insackcloth or Old Testament prophets rendingtheir garments in anguish. But repentance ismuch more than self-flagellation, more thanregret, more than deep sorrow for past sins. The biblical wordfor repentance is metanoia in the Greek. Meta means "change"and noia means "mind," so literally it means "a changeof mind."
Repentance is replete with radical implications, for afundamental change of mind not only turns us from the sinfulpast, but also transforms our lite plan, ethics, and actions aswe begin to see the world through God's eyes rather thanours. That kind of transformation requires the ultimatesurrender of self.
Confession does for the soul whatpreparing the land does for the field.Before the farmer sows the seed heworks the acreage, removing the rocksand pulling the stumps. He knows thatseed grows better if the land is prepared. Confession isthe act of inviting God to walk the acreage of ourhearts. "There is a rock of greed over here Father, Ican't budge it. And that tree of guilt near the fence? Itsroots are long and deep. And may I show you somedry soil, too crusty for seed?" God's seed grows betterif the soil of the heart is cleared.
And so the Father and the Son walk the fieldtogether; digging and pulling, preparing the heart forfruit. Confession invites the Father to work the soil ofthe soul.
CONFESSION SEEKS PARDON
FROM GOD, NOT AMNESTY.
In the Grip of Grace
Repentance is the process by which we see ourselves, day by day,as we really are: sinful, needy, dependent people. It is the processby which we see God as he is: awesome, majestic, and holy.
"The Christian needs the church to be a repenting community,"proclaims Richard Neuhaus. "The Christian needs the church to be azone of truth in a world of mendacity, to be a community in which oursin need not be disguised, but can be honestly faced and plainlyconfessed."
It was not by accident, I suspect, that the first of the ninety-fivetheses Martin Luther nailed to the Wittenberg church door read,
"WHEN OUR LORD AND MASTER JESUS CHRIST
SAID `REPENT,' HE WILLED THAT THE ENTIRE
LIFE OF BELIEVERS BE ONE OF REPENTANCE."
Against the Night