Tuesday, December 24, 2013

For the Giddy and the Heavy-Hearted Alike

merry, merry Christmas, ya'll!  The time has come.  The stockings are hung by the chimney with care, in hopes that St. Nicholas soon will be here!  The packages have been wrapped with shiny bows and red ribbons and any crawling out of bed is now strictly forbidden.  But in a mere couple of hours, just after dawn breaks, we'll hear echoes around the world of, "Wake, wake!  Wake, Wake!"  Kids of all ages will joyfully gather near twinkling trees, as Mommy and Daddy stagger into the kitchen, "First, just one sip of coffee...!"

 I've always been partial to Christmas, as I'm sure many of us are.  There is something magical about it all -- the sparkly lights, joyous music, crackling fires, families and friends coming together, and the exchanging of gifts all in celebration of the birth of our Savior King Jesus.  Yet I've noticed my heart has been somewhat heavy the past few days.  How?  How in the world?  It's CHRISTMAS, for crying out loud!  I love Christmas.  Christmas is my favorite.  It's the most wonderful time of the year!

  So I've found myself asking, what is it?  How can we come to this most joyous holiday with the heaviest of hearts?

I feel like this is one of those moments where I would be sitting in a nursing home, seeking the wise counsel of an elderly couple.  I'm pretty sure they'd turn to each other, smile, and softly say, "Mmmm life..."

We all come to Christmas -- the season and the day itself -- with hurts and pains, hardships and brokenness from the past 358 days.  In some cases, we come to Christmas with wounds from the past 7,160 days -- maybe 21,900 days, you never know.  Some things perhaps we have dealt with, and other things we haven't.  So much is brushed under the rug or stored away in a secret glass jar which no one can touch let alone simply see.  While each individual's story varies at great lengths, I've lived enough (though very little at that) to know one cannot live too many days on this earth without experiencing sorrow.  Any number of days can result in any number of scars.  

We say hurtful, spiteful things to one another.  We act with contempt and arrogance.  We find our value in what others think of us and wind up feeling completely insignificant and insecure.  We allow anger and bitterness to control us.  We scour the world for any possible something that could satisfy our hearts' desires and sooner or later wind up eating from the same trough as the pigs.  We follow our own wishes, seek our own ways, desire our names are made great above all else.  We willingly destroy the bodies and minds we've been given under the guise of, "I just can't help it."  Alcoholism.  Sex.  Porn.  Drugs.  Perfectionism.  Performance.  We want what we want, when we want it, how we want it.  "My will be done," my life often seems to convey.  We vie for attention and recognition, and we're frustrated and confused when all that we sought wasn't quite what we'd hoped it would be.

Others say hurtful things to us.  Not only do others say hurtful things, sadly some people do very hurtful things.  The world hurtful doesn't even come close to depicting the depth of some of these deep-rooted wounds.  Physical abuse.  Verbal abuse.  Sexual abuse.  Rape.  Genocide.  Murder.  Neglect.  My heart breaks as the list goes on and on.  As if the brokenness we experience in our relationships isn't enough, we experience brokenness in our circumstances.  Unemployment.  Divorce.  Death.  Suffering.  Homelessness.  Hunger.  Cancer.  AIDS.  Poverty.  Terrorism.

Yet I still want to put on my favorite shade of red lipstick (Burt's Bees Rasin), my classiest set of pearl earrings, a brand new sparkly dress, and act like everything's "better than fine -- perfect, in fact.  I live in the Leave-it-to-Beaver house everyone wants.  I go to church every Sunday.  Yes, I have problems, but they don't affect me.  I make casseroles like Martha Stewart, workout with Jillian Michaels, lead like Margaret Thatcher, and serve like Mother Teresa.  And you know what, I'm married to a guy who looks like Ryan Gosling, works like J.P. Morgan, and lives just like Christ."

Again I picture the elderly couple -- they're holding back the laughter.

We know that isn't reality.

But gosh dangit, why is that so hard to come to terms with?  I know it's not the reality, but I want it to be.  I want to be fine.  I want to shut everything that's ever gone wrong in my life or the world around me in a cedar chest, stick it in the attic, take a deep breath for composure, and head downstairs to host the loveliest Christmas dinner the fam has ever seen.  But it just doesn't work like that.  I've tried, though it seems there isn't a big enough chest for the long haul.

Now I don't want to generalize because I have no idea where ya'll are at, but if I'm honest with myself, my frustration and heavy-heartedness aren't particularly rooted so much in the world's lack of perfection but in my neediness.  I'm so often heavy-hearted because I'm so needy, yet I'm so quick to deny my need.  "If I admit I need help with one thing, I might realize I need a lot more help than I thought, and I don't need help.  I don't need anything or anyone.  I'm self-sufficient, driven, and determined.  I'm fine."  False.  I'm in deep need.

As I am willing to admit my need, surprisingly the very thing I thought would constrain me, sets me free.  "Lord, I'm a mess.  I am weary and broken and sinful.  I'm so sinful.  I have broken countless times either the letter or the spirit of every one of God's Ten Commandments.  I am so often fearful, self-seeking, prideful, arrogant, rude, angry, bitter, selfish, selfish, and oh-so selfish.  I've been hurt by others, and I've inflicted hurt to others in my insensitivity and -- "

It's almost as if He stops me right there and takes me back to the field...

"And the angel said to them, 'Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.'"

And all of the sudden, everything else seems to fade further into the distance.  The sin, the pain, the suffering, the heartbreak and brokenness, they're all still there, but they're no longer at the forefront of my mind because He is here.  Jesus has come.  Our loving, faithful Father has provided an answer to all of the questions and problems and lies we've ever believed.  


Though we were sinful, He came.  Though He knew we would mock and reject and disdain Him, He came.  Though He knew we would inflict pain upon Him to the point of death, He came.  In His deep, unfathomable love and grace, He came willingly.  

He came for us.  

Jesus came that we might know that when the Bible says God has loved us with an everlasting love, we can believe every word.  We can trust that God loves us more than we could ever imagine because He was willing to give up what was most precious to Him for the lousiest of the lousiest group of scoundrels.  Jesus came so we could know God and experience relationship with Him in the way He intended.

But the story doesn't end there.  With humility, obedience, and victory, Jesus came and lived the perfect life we never could.  He was fully man and fully God.  He never sinned, even though He was tempted by Satan himself.  Jesus genuinely loved people with His whole heart.  He always put His Father first, always thought of others before Himself, and was perfect in every way.  

Yet, He took our place.  It’s this idea of substitutionary sacrifice.  We're sinful, and the God says in the Bible that the wages of sin is death.  So that's the way it goes.  We deserve to die.  

But though we deserved to die, Jesus took on the punishment for our sin on the cross and bore the very wrath of God for us, so we wouldn't have to because He loves us.  We don't have to be perfect because Christ has been perfect on our behalf.  We are able to confess our neediness, and He meets us right where we are -- always -- because He didn’t just die.  Jesus died and rose from death. And in His resurrection lies the entire basis of our faith. He defeated sin and death and was triumphant. And if we confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised him from the dead, we are SAVED.  We have salvation -- the promise of life with God forever and ever and ever and ever.

As if that isn't incredible enough...!  Through trusting Christ, God has given us not only salvation, but He has flooded our hearts with His light.  He has made us new and adopted us into His family, where we have become sons and daughters of the Most High King.  He has given us the Holy Spirit to live within us, to assure our hearts that we are never, ever, ever, ever, ever alone.

 All the grace, all the forgiveness, all the redemption, all the security, all the comfort, all the peace, all the joy, all the stability, all the hope we could ever need and more is found in Christ.  God has provided for us in Christ everything.  We don't have to stuff all of our pain and sorrow and sin into our cedar chests and throw them in the attic, because Jesus identifies with us in our weakness.  He understands the depth of brokenness in our world because He experienced it Himself.  Our circumstances will constantly be in flux, but He will never change.  He is our constant.  In Him, we always find rest for our weary, hurting souls.

Because Jesus came, died, and rose again, we are forgiven and redeemed.  Our sins are washed white as snow.  We are made new, and God has given us the perfect big brother who never leaves, always protects, always provides, always encourages, always sacrifices, always serves, always saves, always teaches,  and always loves.  Christ has committed to sanctifying us and preparing us for our home in heaven until we greet Him at the pearly gates.  

Jesus told us the truth that in this life, we will experience trouble and sorrow, but to take heart, for He has overcome the world. Though we will continue to experience hurt and sin in the world, we now always have reason for deep, abundant joy!  Furthermore, He promised that there will be a day when all the bad things will come undone.  He will wipe every tear from our eyes, and death will be no more.  Neither will there by any mourning, nor crying, nor pain any more, for the former things will pass away.  For He is making all things new.

To think it all began in a manger...!

Turn on some Christmas carols, deck the halls with boughs of holly, sing sweet Silent Night because our Savior has been born -- Christ the Lord!  We were lost, but now we're found.  We were blind, but now we see.  Thank you, Lord, for the best gift we could ever receive.

Praying your holiday season is full of Jesus.
Take heart.  He's here.  He loves you.

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