Each year Christmas night finds members of my family feeling some melancholy. After weeks of anticipation, the Christmas celebrations have flashed by us and are suddenly gone. And we’re left standing, watching the Christmas taillights and music fade into the night.
But it’s possible that this moment of melancholy may be the best teaching moment of the whole season. Because as long as the beautiful gifts remain unopened around the tree and the events are still ahead of us, they can appear to be the hope we are waiting for. But when the tree is empty and events are past, we realize we are longing for a lasting hope.
So last night, as Pam and I tucked our kids into bed, we talked about a few things with them:
- Gifts and events can’t fill the soul. God gives us such things to enjoy. They are expressions of his generosity as well as ours, but gifts and celebrations themselves are not designed to satisfy. They’re designed to point us to the Giver. Gifts are like sunbeams. We are not meant to love sunbeams but the Sun.
- Putting our hope in gifts will leave us empty. Many people live their lives looking for the right sunbeam to make them happy. But if we depend on anything in the world to satisfy our soul’s deepest desire, it will eventually leave us with that post-Christmas soul-ache. We will ask, “Is that all?” because we know deep down that’s not all there is. We are designed to treasure a Person, not his things.
- It is more blessed to give than receive. What kind of happiness this Christmas felt richer, getting the presents that you wanted or making someone else happy with something that you gave to them? Receiving is a blessing, but Jesus is right—giving is a greater blessing. A greedy soul lives in a small, lonely world. A generous soul lives in a wide world of love.
It’s just like God to let the glitter and flash of the celebrations (even in his honor) to pass and then to come to us in the quiet, even melancholic void they leave. Because often that’s when we are most likely to understand the hope he intends for us to have at Christmas.
Jon Bloom, http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/hopeful-post-christmas-melancholy
In this smelly place he lay,
Smelly like the swine,
Smelly like the rotting hay,
Like your sin, and mine.
Do you see how low he lay?
Do you see how low?
There is lower yet to go.
Lower yet to go.
He is lying where they eat,
Lying where the swine—
Lying like a piece of meat
Where the hungry dine.
Do you see the flow complete
Do you see the flow?
There is greater love to show
Greater love to show.
Such a happy toddler there,
Happy like the birds,
Happy like the morning air
Filled with happy words.
Does he see or know or care?
Does he see or know:
O, how deep will be his woe
Deep will be his woe?
Knowing God was born like this
Knowing this is he,
Knowing somehow this is bliss
For the swine and me,
Is this love’s full glow and kiss?
Is this love’s full glow?
There are deeper things to know,
Deeper things to know.
Mary musing every year,
Musing on her son,
Musing with a rising fear
Who will be the one:
Who will strike the blow and spear?
Who will strike the blow?
Does she know that blood must flow?
Know that blood must flow?
Jesus hanging on the tree,
Hanging like the meat,
Hanging there for swine like me,
Gives his flesh to eat.
Here is Life brought low and free.
Here is Life brought low.
O, how vast the debt I owe
Vast the debt I owe.
East Hampton was originally settled by the best sort of men, and had never been divided in religion. There was only one church in place, over which three successive pastors had been settled during a period of a century and a half. The first was Rev. Mr. James, the terms of whose support were forty-five pounds annually, lands rate free, grain to be first ground at the mill every Monday, and one fourth of the whales stranded on the beach.
Lyman Beecher, Autobiography, p. 67
The level of this minister’s pay is deplorable! Only 25% of beached whales? It ought to be at least 30!
Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They don’t mean to do harm, but the harm does not interest them … or they do not see it, or they justify it … because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves.
T. S. Elliot, The Cocktail Party (London: Faber and Faber, 1974), 111.
Conception: God became a fertilized egg! An embryo. A fetus. God kicked Mary from within her womb!
Birth: God entered the world as a baby, amid the stench of manure and cobwebs and prickly hay in a stable. Mary cradled the Creator in her arms. “I never imagined God would look like that,” she says to herself. Envision the newborn Jesus with a misshaped head, wrinkled skin, and a red face. Just think: angels watched as Mary changed God’s diapers! Tiny hands that would touch and heal the sick and yet be ripped by nails. Eyes (what color were they?). Tiny feet (where would they take him?) that likewise would be pierced by nails. She tickled his side (which would one day be lanced with a spear).
Infancy: God learned to crawl, stand, and walk. He spilt his milk and fell and hit his head.
Youth: Was he uncoordinated? How well did he perform at sports? Perhaps Jesus knew the pain of always being picked last when the kids chose up sides for a ballgame. God learned his ABC’s!
Teenager: Jesus probably had pimples and body odor and bad breath. God went through puberty! His voice changed. He had to shave. Girls probably had a crush on him and boys probably teased him. There were probably some foods he didn’t like (no doubt squash among them).
Carpenter: Calloused hands. Dealings with customers who tried to cheat him or complained about his work. How did he react when they shortchanged him?
Sam Storms, Enjoying God Ministries
The omnipotent, in one instant, made himself breakable. He who had been spirit became pierceable. He who was larger than the universe became an embryo. And he who sustains the world with a word chose to be dependent upon the nourishment of a young girl. God as a fetus. Holiness sleeping in a womb. The creator of life being created. God was given eyebrows, elbows, two kidneys, and a spleen. He stretched against the walls and floated in the amniotic fluids of his mother.
Max Lucado, God Came Near, p. 25-6
The Word became flesh!
God became human!
the invisible became visible!
the untouchable became touchable!
eternal life experienced temporal death!
the transcendent one descended and drew near!
the unlimited became limited!
the infinite became finite!
the immutable became mutable!
the unbreakable became fragile!
spirit became matter!
eternity entered time!
the independent became dependent!
the almighty became weak!
the loved became the hated!
the exalted was humbled!
glory was subjected to shame!
fame turned into obscurity!
from inexpressible joy to tears of unimaginable grief!
from a throne to a cross!
from ruler to being ruled!
from power to weakness!
Sam Storms, Enjoying God Ministries
To speak of sin by itself, to speak of it apart from the realities of creation and grace, is to forget the resolve of God. God wants shalom and will pay any price to get it back. Human sin is stubborn, but not as stubborn as the grace of God and not half so persistent, not half so ready to suffer to win its way. Moreover, to speak of sin by itself is to mischaracterize its nature: sin is only a parasite, a vandal, a spoiler. Sinful life is a partly depressing, partly ludicrous caricature of genuine human life. To concentrate on our rebellion, defection and folly–to say to the world “I have some bad news and I have some good news”–is to forget that the center of the Christian religion is not our sin but our Savior. To speak of sin without grace is to minimize the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the fruit of the Spirit, and the hope of shalom.
But to speak of grace without sin is no better. To do this is to trivialize the cross of Jesus Christ, to skate past all the struggling by good people down the ages to forgive, accept, and rehabilitate sinners, including themselves, and therefore to cheapen the grace of God that always comes to us with blood on it. What had we thought the ripping and writhing on Golgotha were all about? To speak of grace without looking squarely at these realities, without painfully honest acknowledgement of our own sin and its effects, is to shrink grace to a mere embellishment of the music of creation, to shrink it down to a mere grace note. In short, for the Christian church (even in its recently popular seeker services) to ignore, euphemize, or otherwise mute the lethal reality of sin is to cut the nerve of the gospel. For the sober truth is that without full disclosure of sin, the gospel of grace becomes impertinent, unnecessary, and finally, uninteresting.
Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin (Eerdmans, 1995), 199.
That God would take human flesh, and that not of one of the great and the good but of a child born of apparently dubious parentage to a young woman scarcely more than a child herself, that he would be delivered in a stable – these are things that are an affront to us as human beings. That God would make himself weak and helpless, vulnerable to all of the things that plague this fallen world is outrageous. That he would risk his person through being born in a stable, without even the most rudimentary of medical assistance then available, is ridiculous. Indeed, had one stood at the door of the stable in Bethlehem on that first Christmas night, and seen the tiny mite lying in a manger, it is very doubtful that anyone could have persuaded you that you were gazing upon the very fulfillment of history, the arrival of the last Adam, and were thus in the presence of God himself.
If we are to be rescued and redeemed, we want it to be on our terms, by a redeemer worthy of us: a great and mighty one, powerful in word and deed, one who strikes instant fear and commands immediate respect. It is an insult to us that we should be rescued by one weaker than ourselves. And yet that is the glory of the gospel. Of course, as Paul points out, this gospel foolishness culminates in the cross on Calvary; but it is foreshadowed in the absurdity of the manger. God needs no advice from us; he does not pander to our expectations; the eternal explodes into time, not with a bang, but with the whimper of a new born infant.
Carl Trueman, Professor of Church History, Westminster Theological Seminary
Apple’s cofounder, Steve Wozniak:
“All of a sudden, we’ve lost a lot of control,” he said. “We can’t turn off our internet; we can’t turn off our smartphones; we can’t turn off our computers.”
“You used to ask a smart person a question. Now, who do you ask? It starts with g-o, and it’s not God,” he quipped.