Christmas Thoughts

This is the devotion that I gave in staff meeting yesterday:

I’ve been thinking a lot about Christmas, actually all year. Last year, because of my job, Brad and I had to stay in Siloam for Christmas instead of seeing our families in Chicago. It was quite a boring and disappointing Christmas, and I realized a little bit later how much Christmas has always been about the gifts for me. I think Christmas is about the gifts for most Americans, maybe even, unfortunately, for a lot of Christian Americans. It’s almost impossible to fight against the Christmas commercials that start right after Halloween. Since we live in such a wealthy nation, as believers, we are constantly dealing with materialism.

Luke 12:15, “Then he said to them, ‘Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

1 Timothy 6:6-10,”But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”

I think it’s hard for us to wait on God because it is often easy for us to get what we need or want on our own. Many times it looks like we are able to do this by our own strength. We are not often hopeful or expectant because there’s nothing we need to wait for.

My church, CCF is going through Advent liturgy this year in the weeks preceding Christmas. This week the first candle lit stands for hope. The Jews living at the time of Jesus were desperately hoping for the Messiah. The were an oppressed and weak people living under the tyranny of the Roman Empire. Caesar Augustus had been named a god by the Roman Senate, and he declared himself “son of god.” When a city was conquered, they put up an altar to the Divine Caesar. Everyone in the city had to worship Augustus as a god at that altar. Virgil wrote of him, “The one who is to come will be the divine king of salvation for whom mankind has waited.” Virgil also said, “He will establish a universal empire of peace and will lead in the golden age for the blessing of a renewed humanity.” Now in 17 B.C. – 17 years before Jesus was born – a strange star appeared. The Romans believed this was Julius Caesar rising as a god up to heaven. So Augustus announced that his cosmic hour had come, and he started a 12-day celebration of his birth called the 12 days of advent. Sound familiar?

The Romans believed that this was the turning point of world history, that Augustus had united the world. He even distributed advent coins at this time which said on them “Caesar is god.” He was going to bring renewal. And how was he bringing this peace and renewal? He had a huge army. The army would arrive in a city and say to you “Caesar is Lord.” If you replied, “Caesar is Lord” you would become a part of the Roman empire. If you refused, you would be killed or made a slave. Thousands and thousands of people were slaughtered. Thirty thousand people at a time were made slaves. Where Herod ruled in Galilee was even worse. Some believe that Jews in the area where Jesus lived were paying were paying around 80-90% of their income in taxes. Herod was not afraid to rape and murder to get power.

The Jews were displaced, oppressed, hungry – just a little corner of the empire suffering like most of the other people under the Roman rule. The Romans were promising peace and renewal, the beginning of a new point in history, but what was the truth for the people? Suffering, poverty, death. And in this little corner of the empire, a baby was born. Everywhere the people look, they see the hand of Caesar. The Romans say “Caesar is Lord.” But then this baby shows up and people are whispering, “Jesus is Lord, not Caesar, Jesus.”

For at least 400 years before the arrival of Christ, the people had been hoping and praying that He would come. When he showed up, Jesus brought hope with Him, not just for the physical freedom of Jerusalem but for peace and love to come down upon the whole earth. He brought a new light to everyone.

Isaiah 9:2, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness — on them light has shined.”

For me and for a lot of Christians I know, it is so easy to get bogged down by the holiday season, to be looking so internally at the gifts I need to buy or the food I need to prepare for this or that party. The whole purpose of Christ’s coming was peace, hope, and reconciliation for everyone. He had a global view.

Luke 4:18-19, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Micah 1:1-5, “In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and peoples will stream to it. Many nations will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He will judge between many peoples and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. Every man will sit under his own vine and under his own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid, for the Lord Almighty has spoken. All the nations may walk in the name of their gods; we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever.”

This year I feel like God has expanded my view. He has just begun showing me how my choices affect others around the world. Christmas is a time when we are buying a lot of stuff and spending a lot of money. From everything that I read in scripture, I see that God cares about how we spend our money, especially when those choices affect others. There are a lot of products out there that are made by the oppression of others. There are a lot of things that we simply don’t need. I think that Christmas is an opportunity for Christians to be different and creative about the gifts they give and the way they spend their time. I think that every dollar we spend is a vote towards the kind of world that we want to have. It is a challenge to us to make sure that the world we are voting for is God’s world, God’s kingdom. Advent is a time when we remember to hope in God and to make sure that with every choice we make, we are following Him.

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