Sunday, December 25, 2011

Wrapped in Love -- Merry Christmas 2011

One of my favorite places to visit in a store during this time of year is the free gift warping area. You know the place I am talking about. It is the place where someone will take the $9.99 gift you bought and make it look like a $29.99 gift. There is something about taking some shiny paper, ribbon and the ability to make a bow, that makes the ordinary and average look extraordinary. Over the past couple of years in our family there has been less and less extravagant wrapping of presents. We went from actual wrapping paper to, the funnies from the newspaper, which moved quickly to just newspaper. From there we made the move to Duct Tape. Note of caution when wrapping things with Duct Tape you want to be careful as it does not remove as cleanly as you would think, just saying. Now for the adults in the family when it is time to exchange gifts for some reason we simply leave it in the store bag and wrap the tails of the bag as tight as possible. It’s kind of funny, no matter what you put inside that store given plastic bag it looks like a cheap gift.

I have noticed it is not just our gifts we give a wrapping. There is the very literal concept of wrapping our bodies in clothing. It is easy to see there are some people who place a high value on the wrapping and others who do not. My idea of an expensive shirt is anything over 12 bucks. While others pay more for their undergarments. In our culture there is an odd value assigned to the wrappings we put on our body.

We could also look at the lifestyle we wrap ourselves with. Perhaps you are a person who on the outside looks like you are living the filet minion life, when in actuality you have a Raman Pride life. You choose to wrap your life in something different than reality. Maybe you are the person who lives right on the edge of keeping it all together but you present yourself as someone who has it all together and under control. I wonder if the wrapping we are seeing right now reflects who we really are?

That brings me to this Jesus baby. Now if we believe the scriptures and prophecies about the Messiah, and we believe this to be Jesus found in the New Testament, what does the wrapping tell us? Look at the passage in Isaiah and the titles given to the Messiah, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. These are some pretty impressive titles that should come with some pretty impressive wrapping. If we take a look at all the expectations there were for the Messiah, He was going to set the people free from the Romans. The Messiah was going to establish Israel as the most important nation once again. This one person, the Messiah, would make everything just as it is supposed to be. With those expectations you would expect some pretty amazing wrapping.

But what do we find, and ordinary baby, in a less than ordinary nursery being wrapped in scrapes of cloth. This is the anti-wrapping station move. The most precious gift or greatest value is given a wrapping that appears to make the gift look like less than it is. At the same time we take the $9.99 gift to get a wrapping to look like a $29.99 item. However there is another wrapping around Jesus that is not as easily seen as the clothes. Perhaps Jesus is more like the gift wrapped in the Wal-Mart bag. Contained in that bag may be something plain and ordinary, just another item off the shelves. More than the object though is the heart and intention behind the gift. My office is littered with gifts that do not look very impressive until you know the intent. Those tatted gifts are handmade, one-of-a-kind masterpieces made especially for me by my children. This changes everything. Those pictures, rocks and other trinkets are wrapped with so much more than paint and paper, they are wrapped with the love of my children.

That baby in a cave, because there was no room in the Inn, was in many ways a normal baby, treated as most babies in that day would have been treated. To look at the baby Jesus you might think he was the equivalent of a Wal-Mart shelf item. Sure we think about the star in the sky and all the pictures which have a halo around Jesus. The star was there, but the baby was still a baby, remember Jesus was fully human and fully God. This means the experience of baby Jesus was similar to other baby experiences. The difference was not the baby but what the baby was wrapped in. Jesus Christ was a gift from God given to you and I, along with all creation and he was wrapped in love. Not just any love, the love the creator has for that which was created. Love that is pure, true and not matched by anyone or anything on this earth or anywhere else.

Christmas might be your favorite time of year and you wish it would come more than once a year. You might be a person who cannot stand Christmas and you wish it would never come. This time of year might be festive and joy-filled for you, or it might be a time of great pain, regret and struggle. Perhaps you are like me and you get almost physically ill to see the god of consumerism on full display. Whether you are Ebenezer Scrooge, Bob Cratchit or Tiny Tim there is one truth of Christmas which remains. God, the Creator of all things, the great parent to all, gave us the gift of stepping out of eternity and into this world. This gift was wrapped in frail humanity that we might experience wholeness. Jesus was wrapped in the ordinary of life that we might experience the extraordinary of life. The Messiah was wrapped in love in order to make a way for all of us to know the peace, hope, joy and love of our God. What is more, this wrapping is shared with us. Through Jesus Christ we are wrapped in God’s love. My Christmas prayer and hope is that you will feel the love of God wrapped around you.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Life Beyond Maintenance

Chances are you are familiar with the following cycle. You have a moment in your journey when you learn a lesson. It might some great spiritual insight, or a simple principle that helps with daily living. Over time this new insight grows cold and once again something seems broken. In an effort to repair what is broken, you seek after wholeness again. As you seek you remember the insight from before and feel whole again. You repeat this cycle endlessly. This is a cycle describing many peoples interaction with church. On the weekend there is a great insight that makes life seem livable, so you follow it. By the next week the struggle is back on. In this mode attending a church gathering becomes a form of maintenance in our lives. With startling regularity we find ourselves struggling with that same old issue once again, even though we preform our regular maintenance.

It could be that all you need is regular maintenance. Like an oil change in a car, there simply needs to be attention paid to keeping things running at their peak. However, there are times when the recurring problem requires more than maintenance, it requires an overhaul. This moves beyond a simple insight to apply to our lives. An overhaul is when we dismantle something and replace it with something more suiting to the result we are looking for. An example might be helpful. So many people tell me they want to experience a closeness with God like they have not experienced, and they are hoping that regular attendance of services will accomplish this end. Over time there is perfect attendance, however there is not greater intimacy with God. It is not because the services are failing to be effective, it is we need an overhaul. There is a need to change some of the fundamental actions and thoughts of our daily lives. Maintenance gives us the ability to manage the struggles without ever really addressing the issue behind the struggle. An overhaul goes deeper, to the root of the struggle.

I have a feeling that most of us go through life managing the challenges we face without ever really dealing with them. We find ways to function daily and keep our challenges in check, yet there are times when the in place maintenance plan no longer works. Rather than do an overhaul, we simply change maintenance plans. We are called by the God of love to do more than live a life on a maintenance plan, we are called to experience a life of fullness.

So how do we make this happen in our lives. First, is be willing to go beneath the surface. When we want to make changes to the way we experience life, we have to be willing to make more than maintenance changes. Feeling overwhelmed by a schedule will require more than a simple correction to the scheduling of my time. After I make changes in my scheduling patters, over time I will return the former place. The challenge is to dig into the question of why I over schedule my life, what are my motives? Or to put it another way, what need within me is being fulfilled by over scheduling.

If more of us began to ask the deeper questions and make the deeper changes in our lives, then more people would experience life beyond maintenance. Fair warning, this is not as easy as maintenance. Moving beyond maintenance will require digging into sections of our lives we may have ignored for a while. It will require us to re-pattern our lives. Old wounds left to fester will have to be reopened for full healing. So many people choose maintenance rather than overhaul because maintenance is safe and relatively harmless. An overhaul will mean great challenge. On the other side of things however, maintenance will keep you locked in the same place. The overhaul will open the doors of transformation.

So I invite you to a life beyond maintenance. Know that the journey will be difficult. Know also you will not journey alone. We have a God who is there with us. This is the truest understanding of Christmas. We have a God who made a dwelling place among us. This is the person of Jesus Christ who promises to never leave or forsake us. No matter what challenge you are facing, or how long you have faced it, you can move beyond maintenance. There is hope in the struggle.