Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Musings for the days leading up to Christmas

What's most important? How do I understand the true message of Christmas. How is the way I celebrate this blessed season a reflection of my passion and commitment for my brothers and sisters in other parts of the world?

I realize that in the hectic, crazy schedules which define our lives, Judy and I have had to struggle to maintain balance. We have immersed ourselves into the wonder of some amazing lighted Christmas displays. Zoolights (in spite of a long walk from a distant parking lot) was amazing. The creativity, patience and skill of those who designed and constructed this lighting display at the Pt. Defiance Zoo stunned us with beauty, dazzling light and animated displays. I thought to myself, this can't be topped.

Thursday, I took a group out on the boat to follow the Argosy Christmas Ship in a lighted boat display. It is always one of the highlights of our boating experiences. This year was no disappointment. About an hour before we needed to leave the dock, the dense fog lifted and we were treated to a crisp clear cruise around to Dash Point where a lighted tree and giant bonfire shone brightly as we waited for the Christmas ship to arrive. It's always an adventure to travel at night by boat. But we missed any logs, other ships and docked safely in the warm glow of carols and lights and good friends.

A number of people had told us we really should go see the Holiday Lights at the Bellevue Botanical Gardens. So last Friday we jumped in the Hybrid Sleigh, set the GPS, turned the stereo up high and headed out to see another awesome display of lights - even better in my opinion than the previous week's. Wow. I came home determined to do something more creative and complex in our yard next year. Just wait. Now, we have tickets for this Friday to drive through a neighborhood in nearby Spanaway (that's right. You heard me. Tickets to drive through a neighborhood) to see an entire community decorated.

In the midst of all the happy twinkling of colored lights, elaborate displays, joyful music, and throngs of people, one thing seemed to be missing - JESUS.
Last I checked, Christmas is a time to remember and celebrate the birth of God into the world. Incarnation. The divine taking on human flesh. God in a manger; born to give his life in sacrificial love for a lost and hurting world.

And lots of people are hurting. This year more than any other Christmas in my memory, I have heard of and talked to more people who are going through rough times than ever before. Serious illnesses, deaths, loss of jobs, financial pressures, family strife, depression, worry and anxiety are as much a reality and maybe even more so as the dazzling lights and happy music; the parties, dinners, and gift exchanges.

It struck me this year then that the reason God became man was not simply to give us another holiday or reason to party and spend money. It was to bring hope and healing in those places of brokenness, hurt, and fear. That is why the angels told the shepherds not to be afraid. There had been born in the city of David a baby, who was Christ the king. Truly a reason to see glory and experience God's peace and favor.

I was emailing back and forth with one of our missionaries in South Africa and she recounted how Christmas is not really a sacred or special time there as much as it is a chance to go away on "holiday."

That got me thinking about our dear partners and friends in Zambia. They won't be sitting under a brightly decorated tree or in front of a cozy fireplace with a warm, seasonal beverage. They won't be sitting down to a big feast or dashing off to the mall the day after Christmas to return unwanted or ill-fitting gifts. For them, Jesus entry into the world means something much more organic and authentic: eternal hope and profound love - love that is stripped of all the sentimentality, glittering lights and canned music.

The love of God that brought Jesus into human life for them means taking in, feeding, and educating orphans. It means for the first time they have safe drinking water. It means that there is a unity and connection with Christians from half a world away to are inexorably tied in Christian fellowship and service with them.

That is a world and a life that is probably much more like the world into which Jesus came 2000 years ago. How easy it is for me to forget that as I get so wrapped up with all the trappings of Christmas here in my culture and my world. So as I look at brightly lit holiday displays, I also think of darkened fields and dirt paths leading among the small homes of my brothers and sisters in Zambia. As I marvel at the beauty of our statuesque tree and the decorations so lovingly placed on it by Judy, my mind's eye is etched with the picture of a tower supporting a water tank and all the people of a small community gathering underneath it to draw water from it. As I open cards and presents and overeat delicious holiday treats, I remember that the greatest gift ever given was not a present - but a presence; God making his dwelling in our midst. That reality shines through no matter where in the world we might be or what our circumstances are. And it is what unites us with God's people everywhere. I pray I won't forget them and that I can continue to share in the partnership that is ours because Jesus was born.

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