Monday, December 28, 2015

Baby Christ Grew Up--Do Christians?

Jesus is born. Christmas is over. Some people are already posting pictures of their treeless living rooms and spotless kitchens, devoid of any remembrance of Christmas. Some people will not post a picture of their living rom for another three months because they know the garlands are still up and they do not want to deal with haters. Whatever works.

I'm not quite ready to give Christmas up yet. But I do wonder about the aftermath. Not mine, but His. I do imagine what happened after the stable was empty and the shepherds and magi had all gone home. What then?

The Bible gives us a few hints. Jesus was sought after—in order to kill him. Already, before he could walk, someone wanted him dead. His family ran to another country to be safe. That's certainly a familiar story to anyone who pays attention to the news this year.

The glass bubble didn't last long.
Jesus' first five years were not the idyllic preschool romps through the countryside we imagine. They were filled with fear and danger. Within months, the world (and the devil) knew there was a new power in the world intent on turning our feeble ideas of power upside down and endangering our notions of what we deserve. Anyone intent on that becomes endangered himself.

Often, we ask ourselves the question, “What next after Christmas?” We remember the slightly depressed felling we got as children, looking around at all the loot a week later, and wondering, “Is that it?” As adults, we do the same. We look around at all the carnage of wrapping paper, boxes that need to be refilled with decorations, and the reality check of our credit card bill, and we wonder, “Is that it?”

It is, if we never look beyond the baby in the manger. It's time now to look at what happens next. It gives us an excellent clue as to what should happen next for us. 

Is this it? No—there is a whole lot more. But it involves danger and fear and confronting power that does not enjoy being confronted. It could get messy. Even messier than childbirth in a stable.

This is not comfortable to think about the week after Christmas. We prefer to keep the cuddly baby. Who wouldn't?

But when we pack him away, don't we want to know if it mattered at all? Doesn't something nudge us to wonder if there's a point beyond shiny paper and jingling bells? And even if we're Christians who do believe there is, is there anything in our lives that demonstrates we know the grown up Jesus? That we've looked deeply at the aftermath for that baby and we've signed on to what it means?  

So let's move into it in the coming year. What happens next? What does Christmas move into? Does what happens to baby Jesus have anything to say about what should happen to us? Let's discover that together in 2016. I'd love to hear your discoveries.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Th First Christmas Parade

If I had the funds and the electrical ingenuity, mine would be one of those houses that can be seen from outer space at Christmastime. I love the lights the most. The bigger and crazier the display, the more I want to drive by it. Light displays are my guilty Christmas pleasure.

But maybe it shouldn't be so guilty. God doesn't seem to find unsparing celebration problematic at all, when the celebration is about Him.

In 2 Samuel, David celebrates the return of the ark of the covenant. He celebrates jubilantly, making sacrifices and dancing in the streets before God's ark. It's a vibrant parade, and David is the grand marshall. His wife doesn't appreciate the dance, and the Bible says she despises him in her heart for his undignified display. It's a drama-filled story, but what does it have to do with Christmas? (Here is the story, if you would like to read it.)

The ark represented God's presence with His people. It held His covenant to be their God and guide them. When Exodus says a mercy seat covers the ark, it literally means “atonement seat.” Here, God met his people to broker reconciliation. For the Israelites, being without the ark meant being without an approachable God. Now, they felt they were bringing God's presence back. David had reason to celebrate.

Christmas celebrates the place where God met with His people to reconcile finally, completely, with full atonement. 

In His birth, Jesus provided a new and eternal mercy seat—Himself. Instead of an ark, a stable cradled a new covenant.

We have good reason to celebrate, and to celebrate wildly. David's rapturous dance before the Ark poured from his adoration of God. It sprung out of his gratitude that God allowed his presence to be with His people.

Certainly our Christmas celebrations should be equally full of crazy, abundant gratitude. Our celebrations should “Make your faithfulness known through all generations” and “declare that your love stands firm forever” (Psalm 891-2). Letting something be known, making a declaration, dancing in the streets—these are all unabashed actions. It's OK—it's good—to make a big deal out of the fact that Jesus declared his presence among people with a cry in a manger.

There is no room in the season for a Michal who shakes her head at the joy and mutters, “Why so much?”

So how do we know when the big deal is about us and when is it about Jesus? We know the same way David did. When we are decorating trees or baking cookies out of the gratitude in our hearts that God is with us—we are celebrating like David. When we do it because we're supposed to or we want to impress someone, we're just having a holiday.

When we're staring at the twinkling lights and reminding God (and ourselves) that we want to be all in in this new covenant, we're celebrating like David. When we're thinking instead about all the blacked-out spaces on our calendar, we're enduring a season.

When we're giving gladly to those we love, and to strangers who need it most, we're celebrating like David. When we spend money we don't have on people who don't need it, we're following customs rather than Jesus.

And when we're judging other peoples' celebrations— we're being Michal. We're pretending to enjoy the holiday, but we're not celebrating Emmanuel. God with us.

Bright lights aren't the point of Christmas; they're a nice byproduct. When I can watch their colors arc across the darkness of a December night, I think of the Light of the World who arced across our darkness to bring His presence and mercy. I may even dance a little.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Tech-free Christmas?

In a terrifying fascinating study recently, researchers asked people aged 18-77 to spend fifteen minutes alone. Completely alone. No cell phones, trivia crack, media, or sensory input of any kind. Over half the participants chose to give themselves electric shocks as a distraction, shocks they had previously said they would pay to avoid, rather than spend this period of time completely without outside input. 

Fifteen minutes. I wish I had read this in the Onion, but I did not.
This is incomprehensible to an introvert like me.

The average teen spends as much time in front of a screen as he would at a full time job.

So by now perhaps you're thinking what I'm about to say--December is an ideal time to release your family from this technological tyranny. This Christmas, how about a technology black out? Or at least, a grey out. Close enough.

Something so wrong but so right about this.

Don't worry--no way no how I am going to tell you not to shop online. That's just crazy talk. I could not survive Christmas without shopping online. It is the best invention ever in the history of history. This is a sanity-saver, so go ahead and take it. In moderation.

But maybe December is a month for taking an electronic break, if not a fast. During our 7 experiment this summer, we were supposed to eliminate seven forms of media from our lives for a month. I chose facebook, online puzzles and trivia games, non-work-related articles, pinterest, snapchat, and movies. While I missed those things, I found it restful. I found it peaceful. I found I got a lot more work done. And, I have carried some of those habits into the following months.

Christmastime is the ideal time to revisit slowing down electronically. Tweeting, buzzing, and whirring are not sounds you want to hear while roasting chestnuts by the open fire, anyway. It's a time we want to talk about peace on earth, so why not talk about peace inside our own heads, peace from the incessant feeling that we need to be available, accessible, responding at all times to every input? 

It's a time we want to talk about peace on earth, so why not talk about peace inside our own heads?  [tweet this].

Peace that we could use to connect more closely with our people and our God. That's a peace on earth we all could use.

So what can we do to take back our digital lives during December? And, can these habits carry through? Here are some options if you, too, think this sounds appealing.

Create some limits. 

Did you know most Silicon Valley parents strictly limit their kids' time on technology? That Steve Jobs was a low tech parent? They know better than anyone the talent tech has for sucking us in and draining us dry. They use safeguards. Why shouldn't we? 

Create some zones that are going to be tech free for the month of December. Mealtimes. An hour before bedtime. Homework time. An hour after school. The car. (Hey, we've had our best discussion in the car. This does not happen when Angry Birds and videos are playing in the backseat.) Whatever works for your family. Agree that the phones, tablets, etc go down for that time. On penalty of death by battery drain. Parents—this applies to you. Tech addiction is not confined to the young.

Declare a Fast. 

Determine some media that is going to be put down for the entire month. Trust me—you will feel freer. You will find time where you didn't know it existed. Choose some of the ones I mentioned above or choose something that works better for yourself. Choose something that's going to be felt. (Ex: I don't watch TV, so giving that up would not have been a challenge.) Let family members choose what will make them the most free. 

Make a competition out of it, if that's the way you roll. Anyone caught cheating has to put a dollar in the jar. At the end of the month, donate the money or let the “winner” for the month choose a fun thing to spend it on.

Just don't choose to eliminate Christmas movies. Because Charlie Brown Christmas.

Plan alternatives. 

Keep a list of things you can do instead of going on Facebook or Youtube. Snowball fight. Library trip. Reading. Volunteering. Have a real discussion, bake Christmas cookies, address cards. Have board games, puzzles, or art supplies set up in a central location. If there are choices that are ready to go, the mindless electronic siren call won't be as alluring.

Make a new habit. 

Create a go-to choice for those times you feel yourself moving toward that Facebook tab. Pray for the person you wanted to check on instead. Think of a kind act to do for someone. Text someone something encouraging. Do something to be the hands and feet of Jesus during his holiday season. (Don't go eat a Christmas cookie. Bad new habit. Trust me on this one.)

And have a wonderfully quiet December.