Leanness comes in many forms, not just material. We can all feel this way sometimes even if life looks full and rich and abundant on the outside. There can be leanness in confidence about identity or value or worth. There can be leanness in health or security about the future. There can be leanness in numbers at the table if we are missing loved ones who have left us through death, or departure, or anger, or neglect.
There is a leanness a lot of us are feeling this year.
This Christmas, embrace the oddity that causes angels to desire to look into the incarnation of redemption. Go outside the camp, yearn for the lasting city, echo the joyful songs of the angels, make your home welcome to strangers, and to the King, the one born on Christmas day.
Has it ever occurred to you that Christmas is meant to be less about nostalgia and expectations for the perfect day and more about identifying with the Chief Sufferer this babe in a manger was to become?
James tells us it is the essence of Christian love to care for the orphans and the widows, the poor in spirit and the impoverished in heart, the sick in soul, and the discouraged (1:27). This is an all-year exhortation, and yet, it’s not difficult to see how now, during the season of warm fuzzy Christmas commercials and reminders of what used to be, when there are not the same number of gifts under the tree, or when the traditional experiences are missing a participant, that the orphans and widows among us need care. Now is when the ache is most pronounced, when the holes seem to echo.
Fleshly desires are a powerful lot, intrusive, manipulative, and deceitful. At this time of year, they are especially compelling when driven by the idolatry of “the perfect Christmas.” She who would be victorious over them cannot just “remember the reason for the season” or “keep Christ in Christmas” or “believe”, still craving something more, something better.
There is no room in the inn for both the cravings that fester in and erupt out of a heart of unbelief and ingratitude and a desire for Christ. If, like me, at some point in the craziness of this season, you look around you and realize your flesh has been ruling the conduct of your heart, come back to Jesus.
A flood of images washed over me: of wives whose husbands would never come home again. Firefighters, police officers, emergency crews, medical technicians, and many brave, good men who weren’t trained to be heroes but who stepped up to the job. There were mothers who would give anything to have their sons or daughters arrive late or infrequently, just to have them walk through their doors again, and daughters and sons who wondered why daddy hadn’t come home, who would miss out on memories that my children were able to make.
My words for you this day, while I think of so many of you putting your foot forward for your next step on that tightrope, are prayers for joy in the soaring moments and the gut-wrenching struggles; for confidence in what’s true about your sure foundation in Christ regardless of insecurities that swarm around decisions about math books or DVDs or ability to keep your children healthy and growing in wisdom; for strength for the long days and rest for the sleepless nights; for union with Christ, wherein we find our only rest and from whom flows our only strength.
In short, I pray for perseverance.
Fellowship and communion cannot happen where everyone arrives as rulers of their own little kingdoms. There is no glory in winning the argument over the best way to do a potluck.
We are none of us safe when we act against God.
What Jonah wanted was the world his way, and he was discontent and rebellious when it was denied him, even to the point of being willing to give up his soul.
If I’m not careful, that’s where I end up, too.