Christmess Eve

Ames is beautiful this time of year. Snow piles up on rooftops and highlights the tree branches. Deep grooves in the snow left by sledders streak the hills. Lights wrap the awnings of snow-topped houses, and Christmas music jangles out of cozy storefronts and the crowded mall. It’s the most wonderful time of year. Parties for hosting, marshmallows for toasting, the song goes on. It’s not far from the truth. xmas'

The old high school gang got back together last night for a Christmas party complete with some particularly ugly sweaters and egg nog in fancy glasses. Adam and Chris treated us to some homemade Christmas poetry that probably won’t be published anytime soon. 1488652_10152498743123986_284894489_n

But in the midst of the holiday cheer, I’m worried about something. I’m worried that against this backdrop, we forget.

There was nothing picturesque about His birth. Nothing. No Christmas lights. No inflatable Santa Claus. No snowman. No snow at all. 

Mary and Joseph were confused (albeit faithful) teenagers. The hotel was booked, so they settled on a barn. He came out with that nasty gunk on Him just like every other baby. They laid Him in a feeding trough that animals used earlier that day. The straw was scratchy and uncomfortable. Shepherds were the only ones who showed up at the baby shower.

It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t cute. The scene would make for a lousy Christmas Card.

Questions must have been running through Mary’s mind.

“Did something go wrong God? Did the inn reservations fall through? Isn’t this kid pretty important?”

If God is behind this vast cosmos, if He paints the sunsets and crafts the snowflakes, then He set it up like this. He went rugged, rough, and run-down as he chose the venue. He chose the dumpy town of Bethlehem as the setting. He chose average joes as the supporting cast and shepherds—Bethlehem’s blue collar workers—for the part-time roles.

In doing so, He sent a message to all of humanity.

I’m willing to get messy for the ones that I love. 

We don’t put up lights and sing carols and give gifts to celebrate a distant God. Christmas is a celebration of a God who chose to get messy.

He entered into the fray. He dived into the muck. He got his hands dirty. Our rescuer, our redeemer, He had to be born like this. No other birth would do. It wasn’t pretty or cute. It was a beautiful necessity.

The Christmas Story reminds me of something that I can’t afford to miss: I need to be rescued. I need born-in-a-barn Jesus. I’m not clean on my own, and I wouldn’t be made clean without a God willing to come down and get messy. This is Christmas. This is the reason for the season.

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21

This Christmas eve, don’t forget. 

Don’t forget the stench from the animals.

Don’t forget the humble cast of characters.

Don’t forget the itchy straw that our King laid on.

And then peek ahead in the story a little bit.

Don’t forget where this story ended.

Don’t forget the extent to which our King got messy for us.

This Christmas, look at the tree in your living room. Imagine it stripped of its branches. Imagine a smaller tree nailed perpendicular to the first. Know that He hung on a cross for you. It’s not a pretty picture, but it’s a beautiful one. And it’s one to celebrate.

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Looking Back: One Thing Remains

Looking Back is a series of posts that reflect on my first semester of college.

Whether it’s down the street or 869 miles down I-35, transition is tough. Looking back, I realize why people say the first semester is the toughest. It’s in between.  It’s uncomfortable and insecure. And every day that you’re in this flux, a choice is made. Am I going to take my insecurities and my homesickness to God or am I going to get back into the life boat?

The life boat is a metaphor Donald Miller uses to describe the human condition. The premise is this: it is our natural instinct for humans to obsessively compare ourselves to each other. It’s as if we are in a sinking life boat and we all are desperately trying to plead our case for why we are better than the next guy. We try to plead our case for why we belong and why we matter but stacking ourselves up against the person next to us.

I wrote this in my journal during a vulnerable moment this semester

8/17/12

I feel like I’m back in the lifeboat. I find myself comparing myself to others, feeling like I don’t have what it takes, and caring too much about what people think of me…I just want to love others and know that Christ is sufficient for me.

Christ is sufficient for me. That’s why the song in the video above was my anthem for the semester. That’s why I wept yesterday when we sang it in church. His love never fails. Comparing myself to the guy next to me, finding my worth in what Billy or Suzy or Professor X or Y thinks of me, that fails. Resting in God’s love, knowing that it never fails or never gives up or never runs out on me, that’s what I want to choose to do every day.

On the eve of Christmas, it should be easier. It should be easier to stay off the lifeboat. Every carol, every gift you give or receive, it serves as a reminder of the person of Jesus Christ:

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!  Philippians 2:6-8

Christmas is when we celebrate the beginning of the best love story of all time. Join me in worshipping the very image of love, Jesus Christ, as we celebrate His birth. Let us be so enamored by His crazy love that we don’t need the lifeboat anymore.