December 22, 2005

The Gift That Keeps Giving

capWhen Christians around the world commemorate Jesus? birth we?re celebrating an event so cosmically momentous that trying to describe its significance is the ultimate exercise in futility.

Some well-meaning reformers point to the pagan origins of December 25 and argue that to celebrate Christ?s birth on that day is to ally ourselves with those who seek to change times and laws. Other Christians, fuming over the crass materialism and consumerism attached to the modern celebration of the holiday, fail to appreciate the extraordinary event connected with its observance. And most of us, observing traditions that go back years, if not generations, find ourselves eating to excess and cramming our evenings and weekends with celebrations and get-togethers that tax us physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Ironically, the event we celebrate, if it happened today, wouldn?t make a blip on the world?s radar screen. When Jesus was born as a baby, He didn?t come to make headlines, but to make a difference. He didn?t come to be honored, but to serve. He didn?t use worldly methods to attract a following; He used heaven?s principles of humble, loving service to communicate a message about God so broad, so lavish, and so indescribable that even now we have a tough time wrapping our minds around it.

1548 page6In the centuries since Jesus was born thoughtful men and women have attempted to explain the process by which God became a man. Wars have been fought and controversies have raged (and still rage) over the significance of Christ?s incarnation. But in spite of the theological and technological advances of the past several centuries, we are no closer to explaining the mystery of Christ?s birth now than when Christians first grappled with it. And that?s good.

The mystery of Christ?s birth requires us to take off our shoes as we approach the manger cradle with bowed heads, because the ground on which we stand is holy. Christ?s birth and His subsequent life require not so much that we explain it, but that we experience it. The living Christ has to be more than just a story told to our children and grandchildren; He has to be a reality in our lives.

It?s tempting, in a society as technologically advanced as ours, to rely on gadgets and gimmicks to tell the story of Jesus--His love, His sacrifice, and His soon return. But nothing will impact our families, friends, coworkers, and society at large as much as a life lived reflecting God?s love.

In the upper room, just hours before His betrayal and crucifixion, ?Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love? (John 13:1, NIV). What follows is the description of Jesus assuming the role of a servant and washing His disciples? feet (verses 2-17).

In the Gospels no other act, no matter how dramatic or spectacular, is described as representing the ?full extent? of Jesus? love. When Jesus wanted to fully reflect God?s love, He stooped to serve. In a world with so many voices, so many messages, perhaps the best way to be heard is to serve.

But serving takes time and energy. It?s not like you can simply flip a switch, slip in a ?service DVD,? or make a PowerPoint presentation about it. Serving in Christ?s name requires that we get out of our comfort zones and live Christianity?s principles in a society in which love, joy, peace, justice, grace, etc. are often foreign concepts.

In Jesus, God sent to earth His greatest gift. This tiny package, silently delivered, forever altered the course of human history. Apparently insignificant at the time, Christ?s presence in the lives of countless Christians since then has borne them (and us) from slavery to freedom, from fear to courage, from death to life.

The mystery of Christ?s incarnation can be demonstrated, albeit imperfectly, when His followers take up the mantle of service and reflect God?s love. Serving in Christ?s name may not help us explain His incarnation, but it will certainly help us experience it. And in the experience we will be giving ourselves, our families, our churches, and our communities the gift that keeps giving.