by Linda Rex
Have you ever had one of those days when no matter where you turned, something horrible was happening or had happened, and someone’s life was shattered and broken? Do you ever have your heart so broken by what’s happening around you you think you will never be able to put it back together again?
There is so much awfulness going on around us today. It seems like there is no end to the horrendous things people do to one another. No matter how hard we try to make this a healthy and happy experience, we still lose dear ones and children. And it can seem like that’s all there is to this world. The possibility of hope in the midst of all this can seem very small.
This time of year during Advent we celebrate the coming into a dark and forbidding world of a ray of light, a beam of hope—the coming of God into our humanity to share our struggles and sufferings and to bring us new life. How fitting it is that our common desire for a messiah, a rescuer, was met with the gift of a little infant who bore the very Presence and Being of God himself.
The problem is we prefer God to rescue us on our own terms. During Jesus’ life here on earth, he was expected to be the Conquering King messiah, when he was really meant to be the lay-down-his-life Suffering Servant messiah. Our expectations of how God should rescue us often drive the way we see him and the way we experience our world, and they need readjusted.
Truth is, while this God/man Jesus Christ was on earth, he healed a lot of people, but he didn’t heal everyone who was sick. He may have thrown some vendors out of the temple, but he didn’t get rid of them over and over while he was here. He may have raised Lazarus and the young man in Nain from the dead, but he did not raise all the other people around him who died while he was here on earth.
It’s hard to picture this about our Savior, but he did not stop the slavery he saw about him. Nor did he intervene in every situation to stop the Romans from crucifying people. No doubt he saw and experienced much suffering and grief while he was here. But he didn’t stop it all and fix it all right there and then. His Father had something much different in mind.
Our way of dealing with things so often focuses on the right-here-and-now. It seems we need to be given an eternal perspective—one which focuses, not on morality or a pain-free life, but on relationship. Relationships can be difficult, messy and painful, and we so often prefer not to deal with the truth of the issues which are going on in our own hearts, much less those going on in the hearts of those around us.
The engagement of human hearts with the Divine Heart of love is something which takes us down paths we don’t want to go. We want peace, joy, love, happiness, hope. But we don’t want a relationship with the One who gives us those things, nor do we want to live in agreement with the truth of the reality for which we were created. I’m just being real here: We prefer to live in our own little bubble of reality, rather than in the truth of who we really are, the humans God created us to be—people who love God and love one another with outgoing, self-sacrificing love and humility.
God—Father, Son, and Spirit—has such a deep respect for our personhood, which reflects the divine Personhood, he does not impose his will on us, but rather invites us to participate in the true reality of life in the Trinity. There is a way of being we were created for which reflects the divine Way of Being, and we can live in this way, or in a way of our own devising.
We can decide for ourselves how we are going to use our bodies, our belongings, our world, or we can surrender to the reality we are not God and begin to use them all in the way God created them to be used in the first place. God has given us incredible freedom, and does not ever impose his will unless it is imperative to accomplishing his ultimate purposes in the world—to bring many children into glory.
So often we want God to straighten up things in the world, but the minute we begin to experience the possibility of him intervening, we get all upset, because he isn’t doing things the way we want him to do them. We struggle with the real dichotomy within our own human hearts—our desire to love and be loved, and our natural human rebellion against allowing God to be the supreme lover of our soul.
This puts us in a very difficult position. We are experiencing the consequences of our human rebellion against the Lord of the universe, but we are angry with God because we are experiencing these consequences. It is not our fault when we get mugged by someone or our loved one gets murdered—we did not do anything to deserve this suffering. It is not our fault someone dear to us developed cancer and died—they were a good person, so why did they have to die—we didn’t deserve this.
And this is all true. So many of us are experiencing the consequences of things others have done and which are not our fault. Others of us seem to get away with everything and never suffer any consequences. It all seems so unfair. And it really is, in one sense.
But from the viewpoint of the Divine grace of God, neither was the suffering and death of the little infant who lay in a manger that Bethlehem night. Here was God’s supreme gift to humanity—his very Person in human flesh. And we did to him what was in our hearts—we rejected him, abused him, and crucified him.
At no point did Jesus refuse to embrace the truth of the evil in our human hearts. Yes, he shed great tears and earnestly sought a different way, but in the end, he surrendered himself to the truth of the darkness in human hearts. And by doing so, he opened a way for Light to enter the world. In his life in this dark world, his suffering and crucifixion, he bore all that we go through, and then he died and rose again—to offer us hope in a new life, a new world to come where we could truly begin to experience life in the Trinity as God intended.
The Light of God entered the world, but then in Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension, we find that the Light of God has entered human hearts. The Spirit has been sent of offer us our new existence in relationship with the Triune God of love. Our experience of the new life Christ has forged for us is found in the midst of this relationship of love—in true community with God and others.
If we were to look around us and even within our own hearts, we might find instead of darkness, the glimmer of the hope created for us in Jesus Christ by the Spirit. Opening our hearts to the Light of God, we might find that this Light is shining all around us, in other human hearts, in difficult and painful situations, in the offering of joy and happy relationships in the midst of a dark world. The Light has come into the world—will we open our hearts and lives and embrace the wonder of this precious gift? Or will we continue down our own stubborn path of resistance to the truth of how things really are?
Either way, we have been given a hope, a joy, a peace we did not deserve. God has declared his heart toward us is love and grace. He has ordained peace on earth, in and through his Son Jesus Christ and by the gift of his Spirit. And one day, we will begin to experience the truth of this in a way we cannot even begin to imagine now.
Today and in this moment, we can participate in this gift by receiving it, opening it up, and enjoying the blessings of all God has given us in this gift of his Son. May you each have a very blessed Christmas, enjoying all the blessings of life in Jesus by the Spirit as Abba’s good and perfect gift. Merry Christmas!
Dear Abba, thanks for giving us the best of all gifts, your Son in the form of a baby in a manger. How can it be you love us so much you would give us your very heart?! Forgive us—so often we are unappreciative of your many gifts, especially this One Who was meant to bring us near to you in real, intimate relationship for all eternity. May we set aside all our expectations of you, and receive in true humility all we need for life and godliness—your most precious divine gifts—your Son and your Spirit. In your Name we pray, amen.
“The true Light, who shines upon the heart of everyone, was coming into the world. He entered our world, a world He made; yet the world did not recognize Him. Even though He came to His own people, they refused to listen and receive Him. But for all who did receive and trust in Him, He gave them the right to be reborn as children of God; He bestowed this birthright not by human power or initiative, but by God’s will. The Voice took on flesh and became human and chose to live alongside us. We have seen Him, enveloped in undeniable splendor—the one true Son of the Father—evidenced in the perfect balance of grace and truth.” John 1:9-14 (The Voice Bible)
by Linda Rex
This Sunday is the last day of Advent, and the topic for the day is Love. What crossed my mind this morning was that one of the most difficult things God asks us as humans to do is to love the unlovely.
At one point in our team meeting Wednesday, we were looking at the sermon Jesus gave on the Mount of Olives. It seems that Jesus gave a lot of “impossible” imperatives, including praying for and doing good to those who use and abuse us. We all know how impossible this is for us as humans—we have enough of a challenge just loving those who love us back.
And we agreed that that was Jesus’ point. We can’t just naturally love the unlovely. It’s not in our nature to do it. Apart from the grace and power of God, we will not and cannot do this impossible task he is asking of us.
Anyone who lives in a painful and difficult marriage can attest to the fact that it is very difficult, if not humanly impossible, to love someone who is critical, selfish and even downright abusive all the time. It is very hard to love someone who dumps a truckload of emotional baggage all over you whenever they get the chance. Loving the unlovely is not a job for sissies, that’s for sure.
But that doesn’t make it any less a requirement for us as human beings to love one another. God’s two great commandments include loving God with all we are, and loving our neighbor as our self. Loving our neighbor and loving God, Jesus said, is the fulfillment of the law.
So why would God ask us to do something we cannot of ourselves do? Could it be that God never meant for us to try? For in the scriptures we see that God, from before time, always meant to send his Son, to stand in for us, to take our place. God always meant for us to love him and love others, within the context of a relationship—the eternal relationship he had and has even now with his Son.
Here at Christmastime, we celebrate the coming of the Word of God into human flesh—the Father’s Son given as a gift for all humanity. This gift is so precious, because in Jesus, God gives himself. God gives us his love—through a Son who lived died and rose again—and through the Spirit Jesus sent from the Father to transform human hearts by faith.
It is by the love of God within through Jesus and in the Holy Spirit that we are able to love God and love one another the way we ought to. It is as we live in loving relationship with God and each other that we are able to be the people God asks us to be. It is not something we have to try and figure and work out on our own by following a lot of lists of do’s and don’t’s. They come in handy as guideposts, but they do not transform human hearts. Only the Holy Spirit does that. He is the love of God shed abroad in our hearts.
Finding the will and power to love the unlovely comes only from God. It is God’s gift to be able to love both with grace and with truth. There are times love has to be tough and times when it needs to be gentle. It is the Holy Spirit who guides us in discerning what is needed and empowers us to do it in a timely way. And it is God through Christ and in the Spirit who gives us grace when we fail to love as we ought to love—something that will happen, since we are still very human and very faulty.
We need to see our loving of God and of others as a participation in Christ’s loving his Father and loving of others in the Spirit. It’s not something we do on our own. We were never meant to.
So this Christmas season, as we find ourselves in situations in which we are with people who are difficult to be with, or around people who are very unpleasant to be around, let’s remember that we are called to love the unlovely in the midst of a relationship with God who through Jesus and in the Spirit loves the unlovely in our place. We just get to join in with what he’s already doing. We can be alert to the possibilities of doing the impossible, because we are in Christ and he is in us through the Spirit.
Dear God, thank you for never asking us to do anything you are not already doing yourself, and for never asking us to do it on our own. Thank you for the most precious gift you have ever given—the gift of yourself—in your Son Jesus, and in the gift you sent through him, the Holy Spirit. Thank you for not only giving us forgiveness, but for giving us all new life and the ability, through Jesus and in the Spirit, to love the unlovely people you place in our lives. Amen.
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” John 3:16
“…the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Romans 5:5