The Greatest Gift

Welcome to the Waretown United Methodist Church Christmastime Session Discipleship Initiative! This is the final weekly reflection on Scripture, Mission, and the book Right Here Right Now: by Alan Hirsch & Lance Ford. This Blog/Facebook discussion is part Bible Study, part Book Discussion, and part Practical Worskshop. You may post responses to this post (either on the blog or Facebook), repost, start a new related post, or message with others regarding the posted discussion for the week. Before you begin, please observe the following practices:

1. PRAY before you start! When we are in connection with God daily… God works in and through our lives to bring insight, inspiration, and understanding.

2. ENGAGE others in the group and outside. What God reveals to us through insight, inspiration and understanding is not meant for us alone… but others as well. God wants to use all of us to bring love, grace, hope, and faith to others.

3. RESPECT everyone. Sometimes we don’t agree… that’s OK. Consider every person and post to be earnestly seeking the best that God has to offer.

4. PARTICIPATE. It’s easy to passively observe… it takes guts to get in on the action! God is not calling for armchair quarterbacks, or part-timers. The only way to experience anything from this is to be ‘ALL IN’.

God’s Greatest Gift

As the Christmas season ramps up to its highest pinnacle in just three short days, I have a question: do you have the ‘Christmas spirit’?

Every year I am very preoccupied with getting my ‘Christmas spirit’. I want to experience good times with friends and family. I want to feel that same sense of excitement and wonder that I did as a kid. I want to see my loved one’s eyes light up when I give them that ‘just-right’ gift. So preoccupied I am with getting my ‘Christmas spirit’ that I often get overly concerned when I’m not experiencing it. I start to worry…   saying to myself: “why am I just not into Christmas this year”, or “I know I should feel happy right now…   but I’m really kinda blah”.

Has this ever happened to you?

Usually, the culprit keeping me from the joy of the season is some kind of unhealthy expectation that has slipped itself into my thoughts. Sometimes, the expectation is selfish in nature…   like things aren’t going the way I WANT them to go. Sometimes, the expectation is tied to the past…   like things used to be a certain way and I wish they were that way again. Sometimes, the expectation is cultural…   like I get swept up in all the more more more materialism and consumerism and feel like no matter what gift I buy or party I throw or decorations I deck the house in, it isn’t good enough.

Whatever our expectations are this Christmas (whether healthy ones or otherwise) they really have the power to shape and guide our experience of the season. Of course, this is true at ALL LEVELS of the Christmas season, even the deepest and most important level: God’s level, where the true ‘Spirit of Christmas’ resides.

When Mary (Jesus’ mother) finds out she is pregnant with the messiah…   the one promised by God to save the world, she sings out to God with the following words (from Luke 1):

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

From that first Christmas Day when Jesus was born until the day he was crucified many people did not recognize he was from God. Unhealthy expectations based on selfishness, or ‘the way things used to be’, or the norms of faulty human culture were the culprits. Notice Mary’s words…   God is all about the humble, the obedient, the poor and the meek, not the rich and powerful. They expected the Savior of the world would be powerful…   but he was poor (born in a stable-yard). They expected the Savior of the world to be a king…   but he was a carpenter (a man of modest means and influence). They expected the Savior of the world to be a destructive warrior…   but he was peaceful and his only weapon was love (not even lifting a hand of justice against his evil accusers). And this still happens today. Many people have an unhealthy expectation about God, about Jesus, that just doesn’t fit because it is formed by our own influences rather than God.

In chapter 6 the book we have been reflecting on, Right Here Right Now by Lance Ford and Alan Hirsch, they spend significant time talking about our cultural influences of materialism and consumerism, individualism, and our busy, harried and fragmented lifestyles and how these are just not ‘good soil’ for planting a God-level appreciation for Jesus and the Gospel. And, while they don’t particularly reference Christmas in this chapter, I think the connection is clear:

If God’s greatest gift to the world is Jesus, but a true and healthy and joyful expectation of who he is and what he means cannot grow amidst our other unhealthy expectations, we face the real possibility of missing not only the ‘Christmas spirit’, but also the true and enduring ‘Spirit of Christmas’. This is more than just being disappointed at Christmas time, but a life-long sense that something is missing.

Let’s not miss the reason for the season…   indeed…   let’s not miss the reason of all life, God’s love and promise in Jesus the Messiah and Savior.