Monday, December 05, 2005

The Purpose of Christmas

I don't know about you, but I often get lost in the details of living and lose sight of the big picture. Doing so results in spending a lot of energy in ensuring the details are correct, sometimes to the detriment of getting the job done. People, families, and churches can all fall into the trap of thinking that they must control every aspect of life, and life together. In so doing, they miss the grandeur of living and the blessings we have in God.

I have a chart that, in one page, illustrates Napolean's invasion of Russia in 1812. The uniqueness of the chart is that it includes a map, distances, geographic features, army strengths along the route, and climate information. In short, it portrays the entire campaign including the massive loss of life in one picture. With a little reflection, it is possible to grasp the enormity of that disaster for the French people. Viewing the chart provides the viewer with the "big picture," the complete story in one glimpse. I've used the chart in a couple classes to make the point that the Scripture writer is seeking to provide that big picture to his readers. In some cases my point has been that if Bible teachers are not providing their students with this kind of Gospel understanding, we need new teachers.

I find it helpful to create a similar illustration with students and clients outside my church. Using a Whiteboard, I trace two parallel concerns of God from Cain and Able through the letters of Paul. It becomes apparent that God's concerns have always been that we give Him our allegience and honor, and that we are gracious and compassionate in our dealings with others. In fact, if we are to "glorify God" and "imitate Christ," we must be steadfast in putting others first.

Christmas season is an appropriate time for this discussion. While the birth of our savior is itself a momentous in-breaking of God in this world, it is much more significant than the birth of a baby in Bethlehem.

Paul tells us that it had always been God's plan to send Jesus to reconcile mankind to God and to reconcile us to each other. In a real sense, we cannot be reconciled to God unless we are willing to be reconciled to each other. It becomes clear as we study Scripture that God is not so much interested in the details of our worship to Him as He is in our assuming a spiritual character that matches His. Jesus' birth is simply the beginning of His life, ministry, and death for us. His birth is a reminder not just of God's love for us, but of his love for the people sitting next to us, or those that live across the street, or those in our houses. His birth is a reminder that we too are to be other-centered, gracious givers rather than self promoters.

The season of His birth is not to be one of expectant getting, but of expectant giving. Expectant that our gifts to each other will bless one another; will let others see the grace of God in us so that they can join our worship of our God.

Perhaps that's the best reason to celebrate Christmas. Once the excitement has faded, to remind ourselves that we are called to enter others' worlds as accepting and nonjudgmental dispensers of grace.

Isn't that really the big picture of God's story?

Merry Christmas!

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