Monday, December 28, 2009

Post Yuletide Reflections

What will you do after Christmas?

Now that this wonderful, magical season has come and gone, how will you spend the new year fast approaching?

In Matthew 2 we are given both good and bad examples of how to move into and live in a new 12-month period. During Advent we took a look at the characters of that first Christmas depicted in this chapter and discovered what they did in response to the birth of Jesus. Now it might be good to consider how they behaved after all those amazing events surrounding Christ's nativity took place.

Regrettably, according to verses 16-18, Herod decided not to change at all. He had been cruel, malicious, proud, and vengeful before Jesus came into the world and continued on that track following the realization that a long-awaited Messiah had now indeed been born. In his jealous aim to get rid of what he saw as a potential threat to his throne, he ordered the ruthless slaughter of little children in Bethlehem. Though we will surely not match the extremity and severity of his evil, we will imitate his approach to life if we do not resolve to make some alterations in our thinking and in our conduct as we step over into 2010. Are there habits that need to be jettisoned? Relationships that need to be mended? Lifestyle patterns that ought to be adopted? Stinkin' thinking that should be corrected? Ugly attitudes to be confessed and forsaken?

We could really learn something here from the Magi. Verse 12 tells us that after visiting and worshipping the child Jesus, they returned to their homeland a different way.

When you genuinely draw close to Christ and walk with Him, you find that it is impossible to live the same old way you always have. You continually make adjustments as you seek to please Him. The beginning of a new year is a naturally opportune time for evaluation and redirection.Spending some hours before the curtain falls on 2009 to meditate and reflect on fresh courses of action to take as the calendar page turns would probably do us far more good than reveling and putting on party hats and watching the ball drop at midnight New Year's Eve!

And from Mary and Joseph we can pick up the lesson that you can expect the unexpected as time unfolds. After all the exhilaration accompanying the nativity of Jesus, with the angels and shepherds and wise men celebrating His arrival, comes the sudden middle-of-the night summons to get up and take the family and escape to Egypt for the safety of the child from Herod's wrath. Life changed so quickly! These parents were obedient to the divine command, however, and immediately at that. Joseph paid attention to God's warning, made the unplanned move, adapted to the transition and to changes in his day-to-day routines, and stayed tuned in to the Lord for detailed guidance in how to proceed. Read it for yourself in verses 13-15 and 19-23. From the thrill and excitement of that first Christmas to the nitty-gritty of protecting and rearing the treasure who is Jesus these earthly parents were thrust.

They offer us a positive model for personal growth and maturity in the next 12 months. Understand that God is committed to our protection and progress. Listen to Him as He speaks through scripture and sermons and godly counsel from others. Remember that not everything will be easy. There will be some pain and heartache and twists and turns(Mary would later recall Simeon's words in Luke 2:35). Be obedient at the first mention of God's will about something to stop, or something to start. Move forward in confidence even when you can't see all of the picture in advance(verses 21-23). Like Mary and Joseph, realize that having and being with Jesus is worth all the sacrifices that may have to be made.

Have a happy, blessed, and stretching new year!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Movie Messages

I thoroughly enjoyed the new Disney animated motion picture, "A Christmas Carol" a few weeks ago.

It is the latest in a long line of movie remakes of the classic short novel by Charles Dickens, first published in 1843. The simple but powerful story is about how the crotchety, miserly Ebenezer Scrooge is transformed one Christmas Eve night from greedy, selfish, hardheartedness into a joyful, caring, generous individual as a result of some dreams and visions in his sleep about his past, present, and future. It is the quintessential secular holiday narrative. It's loved by kids and adults alike. It packs a punch with its basic theme.

Admittedly, there are some theological flaws here. For one thing, it's never stated that Scrooge's tight-fisted, unsympathetic behavior springs from a fallen human nature. We know that Ephesians 2:1-3 and Titus 3:3 and Romans 3:23 and 5:12 and Mark 7:20-23 and numerous other biblical texts make it clear that we are all sinners who inherited a sin nature from Adam and are thus inclined to commit acts of sin. We need a total heart change! Read Psalm 51.

The plot also sorta leaves the impression that Ebenezer's dramatic transformation comes about solely because he gets some illumination(that sounds a little bit like the old Gnostic heresy) and because he decides to turn over a new leaf and start doing good deeds for other people. That's a works righteousness. We do need to see the light and hear the truth(John 1:5-9 and Romans 10:14-17) but in order to be saved we must be born again, born from above(John 3:3-8). That doesn't happen by our efforts or desire to reform but by the work of the Holy Spirit in applying God's salvation to us on the inside. A completely regenerated heart will then be different and our conduct will change.

Okay, okay, I know Dickens' work is just a story. And we should be grateful for it since it lifts high some significant values and truths. It is something of a window into crucial insights that people need.

It certainly reminds us that second chances are possible in life. That's incredibly good news.

It also demonstrates that sometimes it takes difficult, painful experiences to wake us up, to get us thinking, to help us see ourselves for what we really are, and to stir us to change. Scrooge's night time visitations were anything but pleasant. They got his attention, though. Often God uses tragedy or failures or sickness or loss to move us to listen.

When all is said and done, relationships are most important. Money never ultimately satisfies. It can be stolen or lost. You can't take it with you when you die. You can use it to be a blessing in others' lives and thus send it on ahead of you to Heaven as treasure there(Matthew 6:19-21 and Luke 16:9). A lot of "Tiny Tims" may meet us and thank us.

Enjoy people this Christmas. Your family, your co-workers, your fellow church members. Delight in the parties and get-togethers. Give to the needy. Laugh. Thrill to beautiful seasonal music. Show forth the life and light and joy and peace of Jesus.