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.

Dear Pops

Dear Pops,

It seems only appropriate that I thank you through the medium that you check so faithfully. Reading this blog and encouraging and advising me is just one of many ways that you love me.

And I don’t just say many ways because it sounds nice. I say many ways because there are so many ways, from encouragements texts to vacations to conversations over coffee, that you communicate love to, Miles, Anna, and I.

At nineteen, I have only a partial grasp of what that love means. But in this case, that partial grasp means a lot. It means that when I read my Bible, when I sing a hymn, when I say a prayer and I find myself reading, singing, or praying the words God and Father next to each other, I can grasp that. I can grasp that God is like a father because my father loves his kids.

You don’t just say it, although you do say it. Just about every time I see you, I hear those three words. But you also show it. Verbs describe you better than adjectives do. Serving, giving, sacrificing, smiling, caring, asking, and ultimately loving, those describe you. You and I talk all the time about how love is a verb. And while we probably got that maxim from a book, we both learned it because Love came down. We learned it from our God who sent His Son, Love Himself, to die for us, to conquer sin and death, and to rise again victoriously.

That brings me to the last thing that you do for me, something that is so necessary for your love to be complete. Your love is a humble love. You don’t take credit. The Bible uses the metaphor of light to describe love. You taught me that you’re just a mirror, that you can only love because God first loved you. You taught me that you don’t create or define or invent love; you just reflect it.

And that’s so important. It’s so important that you didn’t set yourself up as the source of light but as a reflection. Because if I lived my life for you, if I worshipped you instead of God, if I scored touchdowns or got good grades or wrote great posts for you, I’d be disappointed because you’re a redeemed sinner that God has rescued just like me. But you taught me that you’re a mirror and that God is the source of the light, of the love.

So it’s Father’s day, a day for saying thanks.

Thanks for being a great dad and for loving me.

More than that, I join you in worshipping our God, because He made us mirrors and gave you and me light to reflect.

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We love because He first loved us – 1 John 4:19