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Christmas – Jesus, the Great and Most Needed Interruption

I remember the look in my kid’s eyes saying it all, “Somebody please stop him!” when I was on a parental roll, taking charge of the situation (usually without consulting Susie), laying down new rules, unleashing a fresh wind in the Frei household.

Have you ever wished for someone to stop you, interrupt you? Like when your mouth just wouldn’t shut up? When you were throwing a fit? When you were making a complete fool of yourself? When you were making lousy choices, spending too much, eating too much, texting while driving, …? When you were mean, petty, arrogant, unkind, or plain dumb or acting stupid?

Of course, there are much weightier things that need interrupting, like addictions, dysfunctional habits, violence, injustice, exploitation, oppression, tyranny, hatred, ignorance, poverty, excuses, lies, unforgiveness, hypocrisy, evil. However, just because something needs interrupting does not mean the interruption is welcome, darkness will fight the light to the bitter end, wrong and evil have no tolerance for interrupters.

“There was no room …” (Luke 2:7) for Jesus Christ in ordinary life, in political life, religious life, and in most people’s personal life. There was no room for the personified Word and will of God no matter how much it was, and still is, needed. Jesus Christ, Son of God, Creator, Source of all life and light came into this world, stepped into history, but he was not understood, human darkness recoiled at his light, and his own did not want him. The “grace and truth”, the innocence, goodness, righteousness, and hope interruption our world so desperately needs still finds few takers, few who will make room for it, welcome it, Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” John 1:12 (NIV).

It’s striking, unless we outright reject it, how much we dress up Christmas, the incarnation of God, in sentimentality, quaintness, and feel good. Let’s make it a superficial, fleeting interruption. But Christmas, Jesus is about God interrupting us at our core, our worst, in our deepest depravity, in our evil, at our most sinful, our total helplessness, our utter hopelessness, and in the darkest reality of ourselves and all humanity. Will we welcome him there? Will we make room for Christ there? Will we praise God for interrupting us through Christ and proclaim the excellencies of him who called (interrupted) you out of darkness into his marvelous light” 1 Peter 2:9 (ESV, parenthesis mine).

Merry Christmas! Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

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The Interruption of Me, My, Mine

It is an amazing thing to watch the acquisition of the words me, my, and mine.  If you happen to attend a Christmas gathering inhabited with a number of kids below the age of five you will have a front row seat to watching, me, my, and mine.  I guarantee, sooner than later there will be a ruckus because one child will play with a toy given to another child. Then the owner child will inform the taker child that the toy s/he playing with belongs to him/her, “That’s mine!” or simply, “Mine!” will be followed by a determined grab. But the rightful owner is unaware that the usurper is claiming the unofficial rule, or even natural law, that anything left unattended long enough to be taken and played with constitutes a transfer of ownership. Thus the determined grab by the rightful owner will be met by a jerk in the opposite direction and a claim, “No, mine!” And before you know it there will be a physical altercation accompanied with tears and screaming. At this point, the inattentive adults, who were happy that the children were  “playing so nicely together,” are alerted and jump in to correct the situation with various, although often ineffective, strategies.

Of course, these little people have been working on the concept of these words since birth, long before they can articulate it into words. They figure out very quickly who is “my Mommy,” which Mommy might interpret as her being super special (which she is, really), but it really is about that little cutie making sure about “me,” that s/he gets taking care of, is being fed, burped, changed, and cuddled. If you think I am being too cynical just watch what happens when someone comes along and does a better job of the things that are important to that little “me (first).”

Now check out the child who was jealous as she saw her sibling or cousin unwrap a present she really wanted. She is looking for an opportunity, the moment her cousin lays down the coveted toy, she looks around, sees that no one is watching, and swoops in. Meanwhile, the owner child is engaged in playing with something else, happy as can be, until she spots cousin with the toy she wasn’t caring about at the moment. Did you see her mood change? The different look in her eyes? The indignation? Me, My, Mine taking over? She glares with disgust at the intervening adults who are trying to encourage her to share. “Hypocrites,” she thinks, although she doesn’t know that word yet, “Let me see you do that when someone uses your toys without asking! It’s my toy and I get to use it when I want to use it.”

While addressing the child owner the adults are also trying to persuade or sidetrack the jealous taker child, who instinctively has tightened his grip. She’s not giving it up without a fight, logic and property rights be damned, in spite of not knowing those words either.

Human history, our personal history is marked and marred by the Me, My, Mine cycle and all the ills that accompany it. Many, if not most, of our laws mean to curtail it, rain it in, yet none have been able to eradicate it. Even the youngest, most untarnished members of our society are unable to be happy and generous in the midst of abundance.

Christmas – Jesus interrupts this Me, My, Mine cycle. It is one of the major reasons we struggle with Jesus (the real Jesus, not the one we have reshaped). He prayed, “Your (God the Father’s) will not mine.” He cared about God’s glory and honor not his own. He gave his life so sinners could live. He exhausted himself by helping, healing, caring. He lived a life that wasn’t about me and calls us to do the same. He didn’t hang onto what most of us wouldn’t dream of letting go. At no time in his life did he succumb to the Me, My, Mine cycle, nor did he excuse us to continue in it, instead he died trying to deliver us from it. “You are familiar with the generosity of our Master, Jesus Christ. Rich as he was, he gave it all away for us—in one stroke he became poor and we became rich” 2 Corinthians 8:9 (MSG).

Merry Christmas. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

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How much do you like being interrupted? In the middle of dinner? During an important conversation? While on vacation? By a phone call when you are up on a ladder? By your dog’s wet tongue while you are pinned under your car holding up a heavy part? By a pesky fly right when you dozed off? With a crisis just when everything is going great? …? By God?

Christmas, the incarnation of God, the unfolding of God’s redemptive plan, the coming of Jesus, was, and still is, the Great Interruption. It interrupted Mary and Joseph’s love story and future plans. It interfered with King Herod’s political ambitions. It shook Zacharias and Elizabeth’s religious routine. It scared the bejeebers out of the shepherds. It stopped the wise men in their stargazing tracks. It interrupted all of their lives, blew their expectations, forced them to make choices, and had eternal implications for each of them.

Jesus Christ is the greatest interruption in all of history, threatening to the powerful, startling to the wise, confusing to the religious, inconvenient to the young, frightening to the tough, too bright for the wicked, inexplicable to the rational, but as real as anything has ever been.

It’s one thing to be interrupted by a call, a fly, a dog’s slobbery tongue, a pushy or loud person, or even a crisis, it is quite another thing to be interrupted by God himself. The implications are bigger, the stakes of our responses are higher, the consequences are eternal. You have to quickly decide whether to dam up the breach, swat at the intrusion, ignore the interruption, or whether you allow Christ to flood into your life, invade your romance, change your plans, impact your understanding, alter your life and destiny, and surrender to God’s will and plans.

There are plenty of interruptions we don’t need, nuisances, pains in the behind – annoying altogether. We rightly swat them and try to minimize or eliminate their occurrences. Then there are the interruptions that are fantastic, like the falling in love interruption and interrupting the happy lovers’ lives with kids. Just those two made my life immeasurably better. But there also the interruptions we need and there is no interruption our world, humanity, and each one of us personally need more than the Jesus interruption. There are not enough decorations, wrapping paper, Christmas lights, and schmaltzy cash-filled Holiday Cards to gloss over the fact of humanity’s brokenness and our personal sinfulness. The week after Christmas the dumpsters will be full, the worries will return, and our need for God and Christ will still be as real as ever, This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’”1 Timothy 1:15 (NLT2)

“For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. … For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” 2 Corinthians 5:21 (NLT2)

How you and I respond to the Jesus interruption will be the most important and most consequential decision we will ever make.

Merry Christmas. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

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Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.”

Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”

The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God. And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. For nothing will be impossible with God.”

And Mary said, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. Luke 1:26-38 (NASB)

We have a way of changing the story, not just the Christmas story, but stories in general. This too, is what marks sinners. It happens every day, in editorial meetings, communications offices, courtrooms, lunch conversations, principals’ offices, telephone calls, press releases, leaks, history books and documentaries, and … The focus gets changed, facts are omitted, small details are exaggerated, emphases are shifted, fingers get pointed, personal and political agendas take hold and rearrange.

The birth of Christ, the incarnation of God, the redemptive plan of God centered in his Son Jesus Christ is a case in point. What has happened to Mary, the young woman whom God offered to become the mother of the Christ. We actually know precious little about her. How do you picture her? For the most part her story has been taken into three directions: 1. She is a demur young woman who is all but passive, holding up the baby Jesus to visitors and artist/photographers with a peaceful smile on her face. 2. She has been elevated to the status of semi-goddess. 3. She has been reduced to a fictional character in an utterly absurd religious story. All of these have changed the story.

Mary’s name means “obstinate, rebellious.” Her Old Testament name sake is Miriam, Moses’ sister, who was anything but a demur soul, but rather outspoken, strong-willed, and quick-witted. God clearly saw Mary for more than breeding stock with the right blood line, he, above anyone else, knew that this young woman knew how to think, had inner strength, had a faith willing to take risks, was honest, and didn’t need the limelight. God invited her into his story and she volunteered herself, her body, and her life for life. And she didn’t change the story, her story – others did. She let the story be about Jesus, her life be about Jesus.

So, this Christmas, what have you done with the story, the truth of Jesus? How much have you changed it? Have you dismissed it? Have you replaced it with your own narrative? Have you reduced it to sentimental movie tradition, to a leggy lamp and a Red Rider BB gun? Has it become about your family instead of God’s family?

“Jesus Christ came into our world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15), that is the unchanged story of Christmas. You and I can respond to it like Mary, “I am the Lord’s servant, …” (Luke 1:38), and from then on let our lives be about Jesus Christ, or we can to decide to do what sinners do, change the story, but only one can actually save you.

Merry Christmas! Love you, Pastor Hans

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Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking,
“Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”
Matthew 2:1-2 (NLT)

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” Luke 2:8-12 (NLT)

For sure I would’ve flunked the Ancient Eastern Astrological Society’s entrance exam, because my knowledge of the night sky does not extend past the Big Dipper and North Star. I would have completely missed Jesus’ cosmic birth announcement, and would have been a no-show. There would not have been any presents for Jesus if those wise men seeking to worship the King of the Jews would have had to rely on my astronomical skills.

I don’t think the shepherds living out with the sheep saw what the wise men saw either, even though they did spend a lot of time looking at the night sky. They too, just walking distance of Bethlehem, would have missed the birth of Christ.

I wonder how many Magi from the East didn’t make the journey? They saw the same star as the those traveled, maybe they were even consulted, maybe they thought their colleagues had strayed too far from astronomy to astrology? It’s one thing to observe and study the stars, it is quite another to read a divine message, a heavenly invitation out of the stars.

Do you, like me, wonder why God in his infinite wisdom thought it important to inform those shepherds and deliver a grand invitation to them? In fact, they were given the honor to be the first witnesses of the God incarnate, of God in the flesh.

What a contrast between those shepherds and the Magi from the East. Think about it: uneducated shepherds – learned wise men, men spending their nights outside with sheep – scholars sleeping on soft beds in fine houses, simple men who most likely never travelled more than fifty miles from home – men who had both the time and money to travel far, Jews – gentiles, subsistence sheep-herders – wealthy men with gifts fit for a king, men who wouldn’t be allowed to come close enough to smell the inside of a palace – emissaries who got an audience with king Herod on the spot. Yet both were invited to come and have a look, to see, in the flesh, the very Son of God. Neither would have anticipated receiving an invitation from God himself to come, see, know, and worship Jesus the Christ.

God is still inviting people, you, your family members, your friends, co-workers, neighbors, even your enemies, to come and see his Son, Jesus Christ, and follow him, believe in him, acknowledge him, worship him. It doesn’t matter if you have calloused or soft hands, smell like sheep or Hugo for Men™, if you are wealthy or dirt poor, educated or illiterate, rough or refined, important or obscure, religiously engaged or not. God, through the Holy Spirit and the Church (the body and bride of Christ) is still sending out Christmas invitation, The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say (respond), ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost” Revelation 22:17 (NASB, parenthesis mine). And sometimes and invitation to follow, believe in, and worship Jesus looks a lot like a pastor’s note.

Consider yourself officially invited.

Merry Christmas, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

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For from his (God’s/Christ’s) fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.
John 1:16 (ESV, parenthesis mine)

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 (NIV)

In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive. Acts 20:35 (NIV)

If you are reading this pastor’s note it is safe to assume you awoke this morning. You also learned how to read sometime back, most likely because someone taught you. This means you have lived long enough to acquire the skill of reading and I am certain a few others as well. It also means you have had some opportunities, maybe many, and you will have more opportunities today. You also could have chosen not to read this p-note, but you didn’t (which makes me glad); no, you decided to read it, to give dergremanshepherd (the German Shepherd) a small voice in your life today. You have made lots of decisions like that throughout your life, and many of vastly more significance, and you will make more today.

The story of your and my life is a story of receiving, from its very inception until now, and it will remain so until the very end. It doesn’t matter whether we think we have received the short end of the stick, gotten the shaft, were born into bad circumstances, have suffered from injustice, are trapped in poverty, had few good breaks in life, … The very fact we are breathing today, that we have opportunities to make choices today, even if they seem limited, verifies that every single day we have opened our eyes we have received. This means that someone gave, someone was gracious to us, and none more so than God, than Jesus Christ, For from his (God’s/Christ’s) fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” John 1:16 (ESV, parenthesis mine).

The truth is there is no one who comes close to having given us as much as God, as Jesus has; there isn’t anybody from whom we have received more. You would think the whole world would line up each day to say, “Thank you,” to brag about the goodness and graciousness of God. So, have you? And have you accepted from God the gift he thinks you need the most, his son, Jesus Christ? “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”. John 3:16 (NIV). You and I need Jesus Christ because we not only need daily grace to survive in the temporal, but we need God’s grace even more for the eternal, in fact we are completely dependent on it.

All this receiving equips us and ought to transform us into givers. Many of you reading this p-note went to work today. One of the great things about work is getting paid (Can I get an “Amen!”), and one of the great things of getting paid is that it enables a receiver to be a giver, In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” Acts 20:35 (NIV). Let’s do that today, turn our receiving into giving, turn our receiving into thanksgiving and praise to God and Christ. Let’s not stop with today, let’s turn it into a lifestyle, like God who has been giving to us all our life.

To God be all glory. Merry Christmas, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

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I have double confession to make: 1. I am not good at giving gifts. I love to help, be generous, but gift-giving is not my spiritual gift. 2. I am not very good at receiving gifts either, a weakness for sure. I am way too German/Schwaebisch, which means I am terrible with “Kitsch,” useless, knick-knack, cheap stuff. When it comes to gifts the running joke and question in my family is whether I am going to take things back and exchange them. I am slowly improving, thanks to intensive tutoring by Susie (my wife, who is super good at the gift and receiving of gifts thing), but progress has been very slow.

Christmas is about giving and receiving, specifically God giving and us receiving. Above anything else, this Christmas would you think about, contemplate God giving us the ultimate gift (2 Corinthians 9:15) and your response to this gift of Jesus Christ.

However, before reflecting on God’s “indescribable gift,” Jesus Christ, think about everything else you have received from God. Let’s start from the very beginning. Your life, your first heartbeat, your first breath, all the way to this present moment is a gift from God. Your ability to laugh, cry, feel, do good, think, and chose, are all things God gave to you and me. The characteristics that make you you and me me, whether it is our tenacity, courage, boldness, tenderness, kindness, intelligence, handiness, …, are from God as well. The “lucky breaks,” the opportunities, the things you survived, can also be traced back to the giving heart of God. The fact is you and I have received from God all our lives, from the very beginning until now. It makes no difference whether you acknowledge this fact or sneer at it, it still stands as the truth; the only difference is that acknowledging it will make you grateful and not doing so will render you ungrateful, acknowledging it will cause you to have an increasing sense of responsibility towards God, disavowing it will cause you to be blind in your responsibility towards God. It is not a matter of whether you have received from God all your life but whether your life expresses your gratitude towards God.

Esau (Genesis 25-27, 25:34, 27:38) was born before his twin brother Jacob, which, in his ancient culture, meant he also got the significant firstborn rights and responsibilities. Unfortunately, he could have cared less about these gifts from God (admittedly, it is often hard to think of responsibilities as gifts), so in a careless moment he literally sold his birthright for a pot of stew, for mere pocket change. And he regretted it bitterly when it was too late. How grateful and careful are you for and with all God has given you up to this point in your life?

Esau is not in lonely company when it comes to being ungrateful for what God gave him, being careless with what God entrusted to him, shirking the responsibilities God handed to him. He is not the only sinner, the only one who has blown it, the only one who exchanged God’s gifts for something far less. No, you and are sitting right next to him in this historical boat (Romans 3:23). Which brings us back to Jesus, back to Christmas, back to God’s greatest gift, the gift that can save sinners, the gift that can help ungrateful screwups like you and me find forgiveness, restoration, and salvation. But like all gifts, it won’t benefit you unless you receive it, in this case him, Jesus Christ, God incarnate, God the Son, the Savior of the world.  “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of Go” John 1:12 (NIV).

To God be all glory. Let’s get ready for Christmas, Pastor Hans

 

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