Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Keep An Eye On Your Kids Keeping an Eye on Their Presents...

He sees you when you're sleeping.  He knows when you're awake.  
He knows if you've been bad or good.  So be good for goodness sake! 
- J. Fred Coots and Haven Gillespie

It was 1988, I was 12 and I no longer believed in Santa Claus or the above phrase.  I was addicted (not too strong of a word here) to a certain Nintendo video game called Zelda.  I spent countless hours with a controller in my hands and a bowl of Cheetos at my side.   I'll spare you too much geek-talk here except to say that when The Adventure of Link (Zelda Part II) was released, I lost sleep at night thinking about the day when I could get my hands on a copy.  

The game became available just a month before Christmas that year and my parents, well aware of my deep desire for it, purchased it, promptly wrapped it and placed it under the Christmas tree where it was to sit for the excruciatingly long month of December.

I couldn't wait. To see the box there, wrapped beautifully yet secured by only one thin strip of scotch tape, was too much for me to bear.   Within days of it's purchase I'd carefully unwrapped it, so as not to tear any of the paper, and lifted the game cartridge from within.  Having resealed the wrapping paper I placed it back under the tree.

Unbeknownst to my parents I spent the better part of that December enjoying the forbidden pleasures of a gift not yet given.  Through the years, the memory of having, in a sense, "cheated the rules of Christmas" has seared my conscious in a way that has far outlasted the joy of those first days playing the game.

It would be hard here to overstate the joys of Christmas for children.  While there are obvious downsides to the wholesale embrace of materialism that Christmas in America seems to represent, learning to be good receivers is a vital aspect of the Christian life.   But what does it mean to become a good receiver?

Humility, as always, seems to be the answer.   Without humility patience (predicated on trust) is impossible.  The story above exemplifies the devious nature of the self.   My twelve-year-old state of mind was not so unlike my 25-year-old state of mind.   I sought always and only to be satisfied.  Believing myself to be above "the waiting" and essentially entitled to Christmas morning NOW all the time!   I was in most all ways without patience and completely undeserving of the gifts with which I was showered that (and every) Christmas morning.  What a picture of Grace!

The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ. John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. - Luke 3:15-16

As Megan and I seek God's leading in discerning which of the Christmas traditions we grew up with we should carry forth with our family, we search for their meaning and truth.  Christmas time for us seems to be more like Lent, a time for learning to wait expectantly, a time to reflect upon what is coming, a time to remember that we do not wait on a hope that disappoints, but rather a hope that is abundantly fulfilling.

I pray that gift-giving in our home will become a tool to teach our children that their mother and father are indeed good to them and want to provide them joy, but primarily I pray that it will be a means of grace, teaching them to wait well.   Maybe in the time between their wishing and their receiving they will learn that hope matters.

(Incidentally if we don't make the gift-giving a means for preparing the minds of our children for the grace of God in Jesus Christ, we risk doing what artist and satirist, Robert Cenedella, depicts in the picture below.  Namely, replacing the Cross of Christ with Santa...Ouch!  Talk about mistaking the finger for the moon!)

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.   For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. - Romans 8:23-25

I have learned that the spaces in my life between my desiring and God's fulfillment of my desires (let me rephrase that: God's rearrangement of those desires and then His fulfillment of those new desires) are the most fruitful.  The world did not know that Jesus Christ was what was it needed (1st John 1:10).   But God did.   Most could not receive his teachings and even those that were closest to Him turned their backs on Him when the "light of the world" (John 8:12) was presumably being snuffed out on the cross.

It must have looked like the gift that God had sent the world in the Christ child, the baby born in humility who would grow up to heal many, perform great miracles and teach of a new covenant of love that could free people from their enslavement to the law that left them "dead in the trespasses", was no gift at all.   For a time it must have seemed to Peter and the other earliest disciples that God had disappointed man in sending Jesus Christ.   That hope had disappointed.

If any are inclined to despond, because they do not have such patience, let them be of good courage. It is in the course of our feeble and very imperfect waiting that God Himself, by His hidden power, strengthens us and works out in us the patience of the great saints, the patience of Christ Himself. - Andrew Murray

But then He rose from the grave!  Resurrected He appeared first to Mary Magdalene asking, "Woman why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?" (John 20:15). Appearing next to the disciples, He breathed on them saying receive the Holy Spirit (John 20:22).  Jesus had given them the greatest gift of all, Himself.  The power of hope fulfilled - resurrection life after physical death.

That grace in Jesus Christ has come to sinners who rather than wait on the promised reconciliation, "unwrap" and devour counterfeit idols fearfully and selfishly is nothing short of astonishing.  God did not count men's sins against them (2nd Cor. 5:19) but rather "reconciled to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross" (Col 1:20).   It is for this final reconciliation that we Christians are called (and equipped) to wait.

To wait open-endedly is an enormously radical attitude toward life. So is to trust that something will happen to us that is far beyond our imaginings. So, too, is giving up control over our future and letting God define our life, trusting that God molds us according to God's love and not according to our fear. The spiritual life is a life in which we wait, actively present to the moment, trusting that new things will happen to us, new things that are far beyond our own imagination, fantasy, or prediction. That, indeed, is a very radical stance toward life in a world preoccupied with control. 
- Henri J.M. Nouwen

May God lead you this Advent season to wait on Him in all your ways.
Grace and Peace,


This Week

* Wednesday Men's Group - Tempted and Tried by Russell D. Moore - Chapter 4 @ 7am - 2 American Center, 5th Floor (Ritcheson Law Firm)

* The Magills - Grace Fellowship Church - Flint, TX - Christmas Dinner and Concert - Call (903) 894-6042 To RSVP 

* Please pray as we meet with many groups this week for Christmas gatherings.   So many are hurting during the holidays especially...

Next Week...

* Monday Men's Lunch - Dakota's 12pm - Tempted and Tried by Russell D. Moore - Chapter 3


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