Christmas Reading: December 15

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ: Though he was rich, for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9 CSB)

Have you ever stopped to ask what makes a great gift? This isn’t new or groundbreaking, but the quality of a gift is basically based on a couple things.

First, how much it costs the giver.

A great gift can cost the giver in a number of ways— money, time, or effort. If a gift is cheap, easy, or required little thought— it’s not a great gift. In fact, giving a gift that costs you nothing can actually be hurtful. Why? Because how much a gift costs you communicates to the recipient how much they’re worth to you.

Second, how much it fits the recipient.

A great gift takes into consideration the unique needs, desires, and personality of the recipient. A great gift for your brother is probably different than a great gift for your gramma, regardless of how much it costs you. Why? Because they are different people. They like different stuff and need different stuff.

Both of these things are obvious. But they help us understand the gift God gives us.

God’s gift to us cost Him everything, and gives us exactly what we need.

  • Jesus was condemned so that we could be accepted.
  • Jesus paid so that we could go free.
  • Jesus was mocked so that we could be respected.
  • Jesus went to the front lines so that we could be safe.
  • Jesus was cast out so that we could be brought in.
  • Jesus was forsaken so that we could be remembered.
  • Jesus was beaten so that we could be healed.
  • Jesus became sin so that we could become sinless.

Jesus became poor so that we could become rich. 

It’s one thing to do this for your kids or grandkids. It’s another thing to do it for your enemies. And that’s what Jesus did for us.

This Christmas, let’s give great gifts as we marvel at the amazing gift we’ve received.

Christmas Reading: December 14

You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, because the Lord’s coming is near. (James 5:8 CSB)

We aren’t generally very good at waiting. We get annoyed with YouTube Ads, long lines, being put “on hold”. Fast food companies are developing apps to reduce the wait, presumably because they are not “fast” enough. The term “On Demand” is a normal part of our vernacular.

And yet, waiting has always been a routine aspect of God’s relationship with His people.

And it’s in the waiting that our devotion is tested. Will we wait, or will we wander? Wandering is what happens when restless hearts can’t wait anymore.

I remember when I was little, every Christmas Eve my family would eat dinner and then open presents. But in between dinner and presents… my mom and grandmother would do the dishes. It felt like they would never finish! I would ask a hundred times about their progress, but I never lost interest. I never quit waiting, because I was so excited to finally have everyone together in the living room under the tree.

And that’s the secret to waiting. If you love what you’re waiting for, you’ll stick it out. If you don’t, you won’t make it.

What are you waiting for? What is the deepest hope in your heart?

The hope we have in Jesus is that someday he’ll come back with a Kingdom. And in that Kingdom will be everything we could ever want and need— forgiveness, joy, friendship, peace, justice, prosperity, glorious bodies.

At Christmas, we celebrate the fact that Jesus did come, just as He promised He would. And because He came at Christmas, we can wait with assurance that He’ll keep His promise to come again. His coming is near.

Christmas Reading: December 13

We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19 CSB)

It’s common to hear people summarize the Christian life in a simple adage— love God, love people.

This is a good sentiment. No doubt the church would be better off if people did more of that.

But “love God, love people” is not an accurate summary of the Christian life. 

You know what Jesus used this adage to summarize? The Law. You know how many people the Law has saved? Zero.

The problem with this way of summarizing the Christian life is that it completely ignores what Christianity is primarily about. Christianity is not primarily about what we have to do for God, it’s primarily about what God has done for us in Jesus. Everything we do for Him is a response to what He has done for us. In fact, it’s only because of what He has done for us that we’re able to fulfill His requirements of us (Romans 8:3-4).

Christianity is the message that while we couldn’t love God and love people perfectly, God still loved us. He entered our world, fulfilled all righteousness, and while we were still sinners, He died for us.

By all means, teach people to love God and love people, but always do it in light of the fact that God loved us first. 

When we get this backwards, Christianity loses its power. It becomes another works-based religion that emphasizes rules and morality. It motivates people out of duty, obligation, and guilt rather than love.

At Christmas, we are reminded the lengths God’s love is willing to go to rescue us. It is an overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love. In the words of Cory Asbury, “There’s no shadow You won’t light up, mountain You won’t climb up, coming after me. There’s no wall You won’t kick down, lie you won’t tear down, coming after me.”

The Christmas season should motivate us to love people more deeply, because at Christmas that’s what God did for us.

Christmas Reading: December 12

In the same region, shepherds were staying out in the fields and keeping watch at night over their flock. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. (Luke 2:8-9 CSB)

Shepherds were like modern day custodians. They were unfairly viewed as below-average people, looked down on because of their unglamorous, “dirty” job.

And these are the people to whom God announced the King’s birth. Angels didn’t show up in downtown Jerusalem. They didn’t appear to the respected elites or the highly influential.

God’s glory was displayed to those without glory. 

And this has two important implications for us.

First, we have to give up our glory.

Recently, I was watching a group of 2nd and 3rd graders figure out who was tallest. Why? Because they want to know how they measure up. Literally. And there’s glory in being tallest.

We do the same thing, just in adult ways. We are constantly looking for ways to stand out, to rise above our peers, to make a name for ourselves. We compare ourselves and rank ourselves, hoping to find something that can set us apart… something that can make us glorious.

Some people fail at this and live with insecurity and self-hate. Others succeed and learn to trust far too deeply in themselves. Both totally miss the gospel.

The gospel says— the way up is down. God chose the poor to be rich in faith and heirs of the Kingdom. Give up your glory so you can see God’s glory. If you want to see the King, you have to become a shepherd.

Second, we have to love those without glory.

The world will prioritize those with power and privilege. If you’ve got money, a big title, a nice house, a beautiful family, good grades, an impressive résumé… we’ll accept you. We’ll listen to you. We’ll give you the benefit of the doubt.

The gospel says— there are no little people and no little places. In Christ, everybody is a son of God through faith.

This means that in our churches we don’t favor those who can give more. We don’t prioritize people based on their job or education. We don’t show favoritism. Instead, we love everyone without judgment. We believe in people. We look at people the world has labeled ‘average’ and we say— anything’s possible! 

And why do we do these two things?

Because Jesus did these two things for us.

Christmas Reading: December 11

After they were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Get up! Take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. For Herod is about to search for the child to kill him.” (Matthew 2:13 CSB)

Herod was a maniac. No question. He felt threatened by anyone who might take his throne. He wanted all the glory for himself.

In one sense, very few people are as evil as Herod. But in another sense, everyone is. To borrow from Cold Play, we’ve all got poison in our blood.

Like Herod, we want to be king. We hate someone telling us what to do. We hate someone taking our glory away, and we’re willing to tear others down to build ourselves up.

  • When a teenage girl insults her parents because she can’t get her way.
  • When a boy makes fun of someone around the girl he likes.
  • When a college student cheats to make an A.
  • When a husband lies to his wife.
  • When an employer takes credit for every good idea.

Relatively minor sins… yet, Herod-esque. There’s a little Herod in all of us.

The world is generally designed for Herod-like behavior. If you want to be great, if you want power, wealth, and prestige, don’t let anything stand in your way. Power up. Exert yourself.

So when it comes to Jesus, many are threatened. 

  • How dare someone claim to be God and demand my worship. 
  • How dare someone take away my freedom and require my obedience. 
  • How dare someone interfere with my heart’s plans and desires. 

And yet, Jesus doesn’t budge. He’s the King, not an elected official. He demands and deserves all glory, honor, and power.

But the Kingdom Jesus brings is radically different from the kingdoms we know. In Jesus’ Kingdom, the way up is down. The path to greatness is not through strength, but weakness. The King is born in a manger, destined for a cross.

The only true cure for a heart like Herod’s… the only way to battle our selfishness, our ego, our pride… the only way to truly love and serve others without selfish motives… is to see the glory of Christ in his lowliness.

In the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Who among us will celebrate Christmas correctly? Whoever finally lays down all power, all honor, all reputation, all vanity, all arrogance, all individualism beside the manger; whoever remains lowly and lets God alone be high; whoever looks at the child in the manger and sees the glory of God precisely in his lowliness.”

Herod couldn’t do that. Can we?