Week of December 10

Todd JonesMy Dear Friends,

Theologian Mary Ellen Ashcroft said, “To get ready for Christmas, God undressed. God stripped off his finery and appeared — how embarrassing — naked on the day he was born. God rips off medals of rank, puts aside titles, honors, talents and appears in his birthday suit.” In other words, the Christmas story is about a God who came to us in a disturbingly human way, travelling a distance longer and giving up more than we can imagine in order to draw near to us. The Nicene Creed puts it so beautifully when it says, “For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven, was incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became truly human.”

This notion of God would have offended not only most first century Jewish sensibilities about God, but also those of the Graeco-Roman world into which Jesus was born. They knew that the gods dwelt on high, above and beyond this mundane world where humans struggle and suffer. C.S. Lewis speaks of the Incarnation in this way: “God could, had he pleased, have been incarnate in a man of iron nerves, the Stoic sort who lets no sigh escape from him. Of his great humility he chose to be incarnate in a man of delicate sensibilities who wept at the grave of Lazarus and sweated blood in Gethsemane.” In other words, Jesus’ mission was not to become big and to rule from a position of strength and power. Rather, Jesus became small in order to work in the midst of weakness and suffering. God knew better than we ever could that the best way to heal this broken world was not in overpowering it, but in loving it.

Yet in becoming small and weak, like one of us, Jesus forever lifted up and transformed what it means to be human. By becoming one of us, Jesus took up our cause, making our cause God’s great cause. Irenaeus (circa 130 to 200 A.D.), that great early church father, called this “the wonderful exchange.” “He became what we are, in order that we might become what he is.” Everything God ever hoped or dreamed for human beings was present in Jesus. In a sense, what Christmas tells us is that if you want to know what it means to be a genuine, authentic human being, to stand and live for what is right in the world, then look to Jesus. Listen to Jesus. Follow Jesus. For Jesus shows us what we can be, what God put it in each of us to become.

The Church calls this the doctrine of the Incarnation, in Latin the Assumptio Carnis. But Christmas is far from only being a doctrine of the Church, however important the central claim of Christmas may be to the life of the Church. More than a doctrine, Christmas is an event. And until Christmas becomes an event in our lives, until we somehow open our hearts so that God is born in us and comes alive in us, then we will miss it completely. Isn’t this the message of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol? Ebenezer Scrooge discovers that Christmas is something that must happen in him, and the event of Christmas forever changes his life. It saves Scrooge from himself. This is what I want for everyone in the life of First Presbyterian Church! I want for Christmas to happen within you. Christmas is way too important, way too crucial, way too joyful for you to miss it.

I love the words Martin Luther penned in his beloved Christmas carol:
  Ah, dearest Jesus, holy Child,
  Make Thee a bed, soft,undefiled
  Within my heart, that it may be
  A quiet chamber kept for Thee.

Merry Christmas and Peace to You!

Todd Jones

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