Monthly Archives: December 2010

The Holidays – A Parable Enacted

The last six weeks of the calendar are a topsy-turvy time. Ordinary schedules lived the other 46 weeks of the year are almost impossible to maintain during the holiday season. Thanksgiving sends families scurrying to assemble traditional celebrations of the blessings shared through the year. Before the turkey and dressing are cleared, schedules are jam-packed and rearranged with Christmas parties, Nutcracker performances, and a flurry of special seasonal activities. People who do not venture into shopping malls any other time make their annual pilgrimages in search of the perfect Christmas gifts for family and friends. Businesses of all kinds slow to a crawl as nearly everyone has the day off from work for Christmas, then another day off the next week for New Year’s Day. Add appointments for school and church programs and various community events related to the holidays and ordinary calendars and schedules are utterly transformed – all because of Jesus’ birth.

Ordinary life as we assume it is supposed to be is interrupted and changed – infused with thanksgiving, hope, peace, joy, and love – by the birth of Jesus. Our calendars are a parable of the transforming power of God’s love and grace breaking into our comfortable routines. We have life all scheduled out as we seek to manage our own time and to control our future. Scripture cautions us about such complacency and imagined mastery of our schedules: “And now I have a word for you who brashly announce, ‘Today—at the latest, tomorrow—we’re off to such and such a city for the year. We’re going to start a business and make a lot of money.’ You don’t know the first thing about tomorrow. You’re nothing but a wisp of fog, catching a brief bit of sun before disappearing. Instead, make it a habit to say, ‘If the Master wills it and we’re still alive, we’ll do this or that.’” (James 4:13-15, The Message) God breaks through the presumption of order we erect (often to hide our desperation) to touch us with life-giving love and grace that can’t be confined to our structured calendars.

Not only are our calendars today scrambled by events related to the birth of Jesus, but the lives and schedules of the original participants in the Christmas story were shattered by his birth. The first Christmas abruptly transformed an innkeeper’s stable into a maternity ward (Luke 2:7). A heavenly birth announcement shocked the sandals off some unwitting shepherds and sent them on an impromptu midnight run into Bethlehem (Luke 2:8-16). It roused Persian magi to undertake an arduous journey of hundreds of miles to respond to Jesus’ arrival with gifts (Matthew 2:1-2). Herod, the Jewish puppet-ruler of the Roman province of Judea, was sent into a raging panic by the birth of the King of Kings, Jesus (Matthew 2:3).

Jesus’ coming always sweeps away the façade of our ordered lives so that we can taste the irrepressible, unfathomable, boundless joy of living in his presence. Hebrew prophets and Christian evangelists and missionaries have tried to prepare us for God’s disruption of our schedules. Isaiah reported: “This is what the LORD says: {18} ‘Forget what happened in the past, and do not dwell on events from long ago. {19} I am going to do something new. It is already happening. Don’t you recognize it?… {25} I alone am the one who is going to wipe away your rebellious actions for my own sake. I will not remember your sins .’ (Isaiah 43:17b-19a, 25 GWT) God did interrupt human routines with something completely new – the birth of Jesus – in order to accomplish his promised salvation: “When the right time came, God sent his Son . A woman gave birth to him, and he came under the control of God’s laws. {5} God sent him to pay for the freedom of those who were controlled by these laws so that we would be adopted as his children.” (Galatians 4:4-5 GWT) But Jesus’ coming was not just another event for us to find a timeslot to fit into our calendars. His arrival meant that our whole lives were to be rearranged: “Jesus went into Galilee, preaching the Good News from God. {15} He said, ‘The right time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Change your hearts and lives and believe the Good News!’” (Mark 1:14b-15 NCV) The new way of life occasioned by Jesus’ arrival in our hearts is so far superior to our former schedules that we are commissioned to invite others to adopt God’s calendar, too: “If anyone belongs to Christ, there is a new creation. The old things have gone; everything is made new! {18} All this is from God. Through Christ, God made peace between us and himself, and God gave us the work of telling everyone about the peace we can have with him.” (2 Corinthians 5:17-18 NCV)

Time is transformed and reordered by the birth of Jesus, both in history and in our hearts by faith. His birth within us is not confined to one day among the other 365 days of the year or the season we schedule to commemorate it. Jesus’ birth is an ever-present event, occurring each day that we follow him in faith. And every time we have a new reason to celebrate Jesus’ birth, our schedules are rearranged to conform to God’s gift of everlasting life.

Here’s a suggestion for a new year’s resolution: look for spontaneous opportunities to celebrate God’s presence and everlasting love at odd times during 2011. Let the parable of the holiday season become reality as your schedule is interrupted with great joy , as it is at Christmas. It will be contagious!

– J. Edward Culpepper

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