Christmas and the Hearts of Kings…and Presidents

Christmas

Are you unhappy with our current president? Perhaps you didn’t like the president before him. Complaints about political leaders have existed about as long as nations have had rulers.

Still, how we express our dissatisfaction says much about our worldview…and our view of God.

This is not as big a leap as you might think. That’s because we view our circumstances through the lens of our perspective of God.

When Christians curse their leaders, they’re forgetting the One who turns the hearts of kings (Proverbs 21:1).

Consider the pagan rulers included in the pages of Scripture. For example:

  • The Egyptian Pharaoh whom God used to receive glory during the exodus.
  • Cyrus, the king of Persia, who fulfilled prophecy when he released the ancient Israelites to return to their land after the exile.
  • Caesar Augustus, a ruler as far from the one, true God as anyone could be. Yet God used him and his census to bring Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem at just the right time, also in fulfillment of prophecy.

So what do Christians communicate when we get so worked up over political leaders that we destroy relationships with anyone who does not agree with us?

For one thing, we’re showing the world that we’re looking for salvation in political offices. And we’re communicating that even though we say God is sovereign, we don’t really believe it…that somehow His plans and purposes will be thwarted if our candidate is not elected.

Of course, we should be involved in the governance of our community and nation. At the very least, we should exercise our right to vote for trustworthy men and women who will lead with wisdom, honor, and courage.

But when our responses to political wins and losses begin to emulate children fighting in a sandbox, something is very wrong. We are free to disagree. But disagree without being disagreeable. When you’re in a political discussion with someone who supports the “other” side, would a bystander be able to discern if you are a Christian by your words, tone, and body language?

Romans 13 tells us to submit to governing authorities. We are to honor and respect those to whom honor and respect are due…if not for the individual, then for the office they hold. That doesn’t mean we agree with everything they say and do. Finally, we’re to pray for those who have authority over us (I Tim. 2:2).

Work to elect godly leaders who uphold a biblical worldview. Pray for the Holy Spirit’s discernment as you vote in each election. And pray for those leaders already in office. But don’t speak of the “other” party with language you wouldn’t use if Jesus were standing in front of you.

And remember, if it weren’t for God’s sovereignty over a certain pagan king in Rome, Mary and Joseph would not have fulfilled Micah 5:2….and we wouldn’t be singing “O Little Town of Bethlehem” this Christmas.


Too Early for Christmas Joy ?

I’ve heard the complaints.

November is for Thanksgiving. December is for Christmas.

Eat the turkey before you set up the tree.

And I’ve seen the memes on social media.

Two shoppers: “The mall’s all decorated for Christmas. You know what that means.” “Thanksgiving is coming.”

Turkey to Santa: “Wait your turn, Fat Boy!”

Fairy Godmother to Cinderella: “And when the clock strikes midnight, Halloween will end. Then BAM! Christmas carols everywhere.”

But as a wise person once said:

“The calendar says Thanksgiving comes before Christmas. But in the life of a Christian, Christmas always comes before Thanksgiving!”

Joy means different things to different people. For some, joy is fleeting—dependent on changeable circumstances…or the calendar.

For the Christian, joy is rooted in a relationship with the three-in-one God who created the universe. The One who never changes. It’s a response to:

The Father…who is our joy and delight (Psalm 43:4).

The Son…who tells us to remain in Him so that His joy remains in us (John 15:11).

The Holy Spirit…whose fruit is joy (Galatians 5:22).

When we understand the grace of God, we live minute by minute in the awareness that through His Son, Jesus, God redeemed us out of the slave market of sin. He reached down to pull us out of the mire of a life enslaved to our own sinful nature. He freed us from the futility of trying harder even as we continually fail to attain the holiness He requires.

The past 11 months have been a reminder of this truth for me and my hubby. It started with a diagnosis that often results in death. After months of treatment, we received a declaration that he is cancer-free. And finally, a prognosis recommending caution for the next several years.

Some might say it’s too early to be joyful. After all, we have several years of scans in front of us to watch for the cancer’s possible reappearance. But that’s like saying Christmas joy should be relegated to a particular month or season.

Christmas joy

Joy—Christian joy—rejoices in the present moment as we swim in the ocean of God’s grace.

It remembers that all we have has been given to us by a Father who delights in the children redeemed by His Son—the One whose birth we celebrate every Dec. 25th.

True joy trusts that even though circumstances may appear unhappy, we have a heavenly Father who is always at work for our ultimate good.

If we truly understood the grace of God, we would never relegate Christmas joy to a single month. So yes, the calendar may say it’s still November, but to quote the apostle Paul from Philippians 4:4 (NIV):

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”

So, today, I will rejoice by putting up my Christmas tree. It will join the nativity scene set up a few weeks ago.

And while I’m doing that, I’ll be wishing you a joyful Thanksgiving!

 


See the Baby Jesus

I love Christmas. The music, lights, and decorations. The tree and the ornaments, the Christmas village, and especially the nativity scenes. Of all my Christmas decorations, my favorite is a large tabletop display that includes a manger set in the midst of a hustling, bustling Bethlehem.

A friend has a tradition regarding the nativity scene to remind her young family of the central focus of Christmas. She sets up the crèche with Mary, Joseph, the animals, and the shepherds. On Christmas morning, they read the Nativity story and one of her children places the baby Jesus in the manger. Then they sing a Christmas carol such as Silent Night or Away in a Manger.

Think about our Christmas carols. What do most of them have in common? A baby. Cute. Helpless. Non-threatening. Christmas overflows with images of a Babe whose first bed was a livestock feeding trough.

Baby Jesus

The images are there, but it seems the Babe in the manger is being pushed out of His own birthday. Why are people so against the One whose birthday we celebrate?

Because He did not stay a baby. Jesus grew up and went about His Father’s business. He stepped on toes. He pushed people’s buttons—especially religious people.

He’s still stepping on toes and pushing our buttons by touching the idols that compete with Him for our attention and worship. Even the religious activities that make it easy to avoid intimacy of relationship with our heavenly Father.

Yet that’s the reason the Word became flesh. The God of the universe took human form—not as an adult, but as a helpless baby. Still, when Jesus was born, something happened beyond the simple birth of a baby. The infinite, sovereign, creator God chose to temporarily limit Himself within the body of a finite human being.

J.I. Packer wrote, “The Almighty appeared on earth as a helpless human baby, needing to be fed and changed and taught to talk like any other child. The more you think about it, the more staggering it gets. Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as this truth of the Incarnation.”

Charles Stanley put it this way: “Christmas is that moment in time when God, in His unconditional love, stepped out of heaven onto earth, in order that we might one day step out of earth into heaven.”

And C.S. Lewis wrote, “Once in our world, a stable had something in it that was bigger than our whole world.”

If you think of Jesus Christ as nothing more than an innocent baby surrounded by animals and shepherds, then your Jesus is too small. And if your Jesus is too small, your problems are too big. Your temptations are too powerful. A world filled with terrorism is too fearful. And your hope is swallowed up in despair’s darkness.

But John, the gospel writer, tells us Jesus is both life and light. His light cuts through our darkness. Here’s another description of Jesus from Revelation 1:12-18 (NIV):

Among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”

Jesus is not just a baby anymore. He is the glorious, majestic Son of God! There isn’t a manger big enough to hold Him anymore because the universe itself isn’t big enough to hold Him.

What will you do with Jesus Christ? I’m not talking about the baby lying on a manger. I’m talking about the Son of God who bring light and life.

Will you surrender to, and honor, the Son of God who entered this world as a tiny baby, but didn’t stay a baby? Then, during this Christmas season, will you purpose to tell someone else about your Savior?

This is the Baby whose birth we’re celebrating!


Too Early for Christmas?

Ahhh…the beginning of a new month. This is usually the time when I’m asking if anyone knows where the previous month went…and wondering how we can get it back.

Not this month. And that’s because Christmas is in 52 days!

Yes, I know, most people don’t want to hear about Christmas yet. After all, Halloween just passed and November should be devoted to Thanksgiving. Can’t Christmas just wait its turn?Never too early for ChristmasReminders of Christmas have proliferated for weeks. Retailers display yuletide merchandise earlier and earlier every year. Hallmark has even institutionalized “Christmas in July” with an annual celebration of holiday movies—then and now.

Of course, the commercialism of Christmas is nothing new. A quote from the 1947 movie version of Miracle on 34th Street describes our frustration rather accurately:

“Yeah, there’s a lot of bad ‘isms’ floatin’ around this world, but one of the worst is commercialism. Make a buck, make a buck. Even in Brooklyn it’s the same—don’t care what Christmas stands for, just make a buck, make a buck.”

Still, not all these early manifestations of Christmas are commercialized. Some result from the necessity of advanced planning. Our church distributed Samaritan’s Purse shoe boxes in October for filling and return by October 30. Too early for Christmas? Not if we want those boxes delivered around the world in time to celebrate the birth of Jesus!

Or how about the many Christmas concerts scheduled for December? Rehearsals have already begun, and I’m looking forward to attending several local productions.

Of course, I’m already enjoying the Hallmark holiday movie schedule that began this past weekend. Too early? Not for me.

Is Thanksgiving getting lost in the holiday shuffle? I don’t think so. An attitude of gratitude can be prevalent every day. If anything, the joy of Christmas is the foundation of all our Thanksgiving celebrations. There’s nothing more important to be thankful for than the gift of salvation…brought to us by Jesus, the One whose birth we will soon celebrate.

Thanksgiving and Christmas are not mutually exclusive. Which is why I joyfully say:

Too early for Christmas? Never!


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