Tuesday, December 23, 2008

justice and compassion

Merry Christmas.  I’m going to sound a bit grinch’ish on the front end here, so I figured I’d start out with the ol’ happy holiday greeting.

Much of the Bible makes me uncomfortable – but not for the reason you might expect (well, maybe).  I was posting something in regard to a project helping with the poor and adjustable eyeglasses, and thinking about Christmas and it’s place in my little world.  Like many things, this is how the world works – how does it fit within my sphere of life.  How does it affect me, make me feel, what is the chief end of time as a whole in regard to me?  Christmas is a great time for family (we’ve already had one great Christmas in our household this year, with another two coming this week), and when set together with Advent, you get a real sense that there is a streak of hope that isn’t to be denied.  I’m not trying to do that here.  I get uncomfortable because as I read more of it, meditate on more of it, pray over more of it, I get the sinking sensation that I am missing the point over and over and over again. That above posting did that to me today.  I’ll try to explain.


What I’m thinking about is why Jesus was sent in the first place.  After 400 years of silence to the Jewish people, I’m sure the hope was palatable.  They were prisoners, in a sense, in their own homeland, ruled over by and empire that had little regard for them on the top level (see Herod and the genocide of babies to refuse a coming King). Just below that, a corrupt political and religious mid-level that claimed to hope with their lips, but the practice of these white-washed tombs said something entirely different.  They were content with the current system in many ways (in a sense, they were the ultimate sell-outs, but that’s another story).  In the end, even they saw the coming redeemer as a conqueror – one that would replace the current empire and put them at the right hand, helping bring in a new kingdom of power and peace.  For them, the proverbial Christmas or Advent was one about them – a redeemer from political oppression.  But, if you are familiar with anything with the tradition of Christmas, you know that wasn’t the point.  Instead, we have shifted our thoughts to the other end of spectrum – Jesus as the precious baby in the manager, adored by the visiting people – truly a specimen of happiness and joy.  So, Christmas tradition today is largely about that portion – the hope, the coming, and the giving.


This is what is bothering me.  Christmas is great for so many reasons.  But it is incredibly tragic for the One who was sent.  Incredibly, indescribably, and if we were in His place for even a moment, we’d see this part even more clearly, tragic.  Imagine just for a second about the loss for our gain.  Not just on the cross – in the manger. There are a myriad of analogies that could be used here, none even getting close to doing this moment justice.  There was never another plan – this was not a contingency.  When He created, He knew.  This small baby in manger is destined for nothing else on this earth. Talk to me if you will about your anger with God – how He is unjust for letting the weak suffer, for the poor to perish, and the hungry to starve and I will point you here.  He who breathed life into flesh, to do with whatever He might will, chooses to become flesh to save condemned flesh.  The just became unjust, for the righteousness of God was destined even in birth to bearing of unrighteousness outside the camp He created.  It was this righteousness alone that allowed Him pay the price.  He took His own rules and played by them. There is joy in that, in obedience, but I think there is much sadness too.  If we had not sinned, there would be no need for Christmas. 


In the end, you may feel bombarded by various causes and charities seeking some of your hard earned and often meager cash in this season.  But before you turn from them, I think it should be understood that we do so often because we have no concept of the poor like His concept.  We have no compassion for the needy and dirty like He has.  We have no knowledge of justice like His – we fear the consequences of our sin so much that we lie, cover up or blame with barely a second thought. He sees the wage of our sin and offers Himself, who had done no wrong, to provide justice, to provide payment.  This coming to earth wasn’t some sort of goodwill tour, spreading cheer and joy to the 4 corners of Israel.  He was sent for justice, a price to paid on His own back.  This baby in a manger is the Holy God in flesh, the One whom no man could see prior for fear of complete destruction.  Isaiah was left on his face, trembling.  Moses could only bear to see His backside glory, and that alone left him aglow.  John falls down before the angels who served in His presence, for even they are beyond him.  And now He is dwelling not in the creation of Genesis 1-2 that He Himself wrought, but in the Genesis 3 fallen creation.  This is the ultimate in compassion. He is left with the shepherds and later the magi come to worship Him, a small solace for the legions of worshipers He left in heaven. This is our manger, like it or not.


In the end, Paul says it best in his letters to the Corinthians - He made Him who knew no sin became sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.


What if you and your family were to take that on in this season – to become something for someone that they themselves cannot become? 


So, somehow, we need to mix this manger with sorrow.  There is great joy in the coming of the Redeemer.  But let’s not forget why they call Him the Redeemer.


That’ll keep my head buzzing for the rest of the week I think.


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