Part One: The Tension of the Crush and the Crèche
No doubt for many folks Andy William’s hap-hap-happy Christmas crooning about good cheer, caroling, marshmallows, mistletoe, hearts a-glowing, and when loved ones are near… is truer than true! But, alas, sometimes it’s not as hap-hap-happy as it could, or somehow should be, right?
For many, more than ever actually, Christmas is about a “holiday spike” in the daily struggle to live in the tension, the in-between place, of the crush of despair and the crèche of hope.
There’s Hope… And Lots of It!
There’s a built-in paradox, a tension, buried deep within (the universe and) the heart of Christmas. It’s at the heart of why Jesus Christ took the unspeakably loving and sacrificial steps to leave the timeless and harmonious realms of the Trinity to be “illegitimately born” to peasant family, from a backwater town called Nazareth, and on the run for His life until He was finally flogged to pieces and crucified by the very people who preached the predictions of His coming… to save them!
The “redemptive paradox” I’m referring to can be seen in many, many ways throughout the Bible, but, for the purposes of this Training Table fare, I would beseech those gathered who are running the good race (Hebrews 12:1) to consider one of the most important aspects of what Jesus came to do… or, equally as important, came NOT to do:
“(Jesus said) Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household’ (Micah 7:6).
Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:34-39).
That’s what I’m talkin’ about! Finally, someone who’s willing to pull the curtain back on what Christmas is REALLY like for lots of folks, right?!
But, “Wait just a minute now! This is pretty radical.” you say? Jesus Christ the Prince of Peace, Mercy Mild, little children all cozied-up on His lap, baby bah-bah, furry little lambs bleating at His feet, the palsy-walsy guy who just loves us up… no matter what. THAT Jesus is said to be quoted as promoting such abysmal family discord, cross-bearing, ready-to-die loyalty, and bloodied self-loosing/self-discovering sacrifice?!
Geez, how about this for getting one’s noggin whiplashed worse than Aunt Thelma’s “Christmas Stars Eggnog”—one part nog and three parts Kentucky Bourbon?!
Got Peace? True, Deep, Unassailable Peace?
Whether we describe ourselves people of faith or not, we can all exist somewhere in this “in-between space” I referred to above: somewhere between the crush of despair and the crèche of hope. We may have a big brokenness OR a hint of a hurt sequestered away within our heart. And we may have a waxing and waning assurance of everlasting hope OR a constant feeling of desperation and hopelessness. But living somewhere along the spectrum of “the space in between despair and hope” is not conducive to an abiding peace, is it?
Be at Peace! Or, put another way, do not worry—which is exactly what The Babe Born in Bethlehem said at the end of His most replete and famous address, The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:25)!
There is a peace that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:4-7) in the paradox. And Jesus, in everything that He was about, lovingly and forthrightly sought to use the Sword of Truth to cut through the fog and polarize our hearts—so humankind could distinguish between having a sort of false peace… apart from Him… or completely at peace being devoted to Him. There is a vast gulf fixed between these two sorts of “peace”. And God loves each of us so much He will not leave us wondering why our hearts may be aching so—in small or large ways!
Devoid of Jesus’ polarization of the heart (and the emotions and actions associated with our core beliefs), we will live lives akin to standing in line everyday for the “Magic Mountain Emotional Ambivalence Thriller-Killer”: Not simply the scariest rollercoaster imaginable, but a ride that is an absolute killer of the heart. The heart: Jesus made it; He desires to save, purify, and inspire it for service.
But we have to say “ENOUGH!”, “get out of the line”, admit we need help, contact a faithful friend, and look more deeply into His claims. We cannot allow pride or any illusions about being in control of our life to leave us looking like Edvard Munch’s, The Scream … deep down inside our heart.
All “Peace”… Is Not True Peace!
Our hearts are such that we can make a pact with “the peace of the world, our sinful habits, or the ways of the devil”. This is the sort of peace that is at war within, and destroys everything in its path!
It’s the “peace at any price” that dares not intervene (or polarize) when marriages and families are being destroyed by generational dysfunction and deeply rooted co-dependencies (Matthew 10:234-39); a “self-centered peace” that enables narcissism at the cost of millions of anonymous children who dare to end the peace by screaming for help (Psalm 127:3-5); an “uninterrupted noisy peace” of techno-clutter that drowns out the din of a desperate plea for calming of the heart (Psalm 46:10); an “it’s the economy stupid peace” that allows for the destruction of a civilization in return for a rusted and moth-eaten security (Matthew 6:19); a “truth-supplanting peace” wrapped in expediency and political correctness, and resulting in a countless loss of life (Romans 1:18-32).
The Deeper Peace in the Paradox? It’s About Ascendancy, Identity, and Priority.
The peace that Jesus was born for, died for, and resurrected for—and He desires more than anything that we partake in it… as well as being part and parcel of the tapestry of the completed, “Shalom Peace” which will occur when He returns to make all things new (Revelation 21)—is three-fold: Ascendancy, Identity, and Priority.
Peace unsurpassed… is the peace that Jesus is advocating for in the polarizing passage above (Matthew 10:34-39). When anyone loves someone else enough, we too will take on the tough task of helping them polarize their thinking. There is no long-lasting peace without going through the pain involved in polarizing our core beliefs, emotional ambivalences, and choices to live a better life.
There’s only one sort of peace our hearts are made for: Not just a piece, but the whole! Jesus’ use of some attention-grabbing hyperbole about family and the real cost of discipleship is meant to help us realize that when we love anything more than Him—even or especially something good—our hearts will never, ever experience the sort of peace HE wants so much to provide… that He was born, crucified, and resurrected… for you and me (See also: Mark 9:42-50; Luke 14:26).
Please enjoy the foundational Bible passages below—about God and His children—that Jesus wants you and me to know… BY HEART, IN TRUE PEACE!
Please get in touch with and listen carefully to your emotions as they are the best indicator of “what’s upstream”: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me—(so that I will seek to love You more than anything)” (Psalm 51:10—parenthesis added).
“In the beginning, God made the heavens and the earth…” (Genesis 1).
“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 4:31).
“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea…” (Psalm 46:1-2).
“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit…” (Romans 14:17).
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God” (Revelation 21:3).
“For You created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well” (Psalm 139).
“Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again” (John 3:3).
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
“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).
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
“Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground, for it is the time to seek the Lord, that He may come and rain righteousness upon you” (Hosea 10:12).
“Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:31-33).
“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22).
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).
“For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7).
“Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him” (John 13:16).
See you back at The Training Table on December 25th for a special Christmas Night Banquet, “True Grace in the Extreme—For Serving on the Extremities”.
May God richly bless you with surpassing peace,