Today marks the last day of Advent. Some of us (myself included) have flipped to the end of the story, the birthday. But we are not there yet. Be patient.
When my wife was pregnant with our son, we could hardly wait. Her abdomen looked ready to pop, quite literally. I wondered how, how much longer could she hold that child inside? My, she must be tired and ready to have that boy out of her body at last!
Those last days seemed like the longest waiting days.
We knew he was ready to be born. We knew his heart was strong and his lungs were capable of full breath. Now he was simply gaining weight inside, growing larger and larger each day.
When would he finally arrive? We didn’t know.
They didn’t know the king would be born in a barn. They didn’t know he’d have to use a feed box for a cradle. When Mary first became pregnant, she did not know her family would not be there to hold the baby and smile over him. That first night he was visited by shepherds, total strangers. This is not what one hopes. That is why they didn’t know it would turn out the way it did.
A book was filled with the things they didn’t know. His life is history’s most note-worthy.
Because he came to make friends with his enemies. What kind of person does this? Someone who forgives. Jesus, our exemplar, is named “God saves” because he atoned for a heritage of enmity, unbroken for generations.
I can list my enemies. I have many. You do, too. They are not nameless. They were likely once close to you. They might even be in your own family.
Our enemies are not the kind of people you read about in the news. You will not find a story about them on CNN. Nations they are not. They are next-door neighbors, classmates, colleagues, bosses, stepmothers, fathers or siblings.
You will not consciously write about them. What’s the point? They are not worth a second’s thought, let alone a cluster of computer pixels.
Nevertheless, they are written on your heart. And their voices are a part of each person’s story, whether we like it or not.
God is the only one whose enemies are written on his heart in love. The rest of us have them on our hearts in bitterness. That is why he sent his Son. So that he could give us his heart.
By faith, his heart can become our heart. We have a new capacity to make peace.
This year was no different than any other year I can remember in my lifetime. We witnessed culture wars in America.
Pick the topic: homosexuality, Obamacare, the war in fill in the blank, Duck Dynasty, the Pope, Christian celebrity plagiarism, and….as usual…the so-called “war on Christmas.”
The story goes that we have been told we should greet one another on the street and in public places with the words “happy holidays” instead of “merry Christmas.”
Christians do not like this. It is a sign we are “losing our country.” So…we’ll say “Merry Christmas” if we want to, by gum. “America is a Christian nation and don’t you forget it.”
But we should be the first to embrace the phrase “happy holidays” because a holiday is a holy day.
The word holy is so wonderful it means many things at once. It means “wholeness.” It means “set apart for something special and good.” When the temporal is impregnated by the eternal we call that holy. Holiness is more adventurous than puritan. It is more playful than serious. It is more like a dance than an exam. The word “shalom” accompanies holiness. It connotes well-being, peace, prosperity, abundance, rest. To be holy is to be blessed, happy. The very shadow of holiness is joy.
So, the greeting “happy holidays” befits the Christian. Say it with gladness.
But remember, it comes with a discipline: forgiveness. There is no holiness without forgiving and being forgiven. Christ’s clothes healed the wounded because of grace. Grace and only grace makes us holy.
To wish another “happy holidays” is to remind yourself to be a reconciler, a peace-maker.
In this light, our culture wars seem petty. In the light of eternity, Duck Dynasty will fade. We don’t need to fight that battle. Visit the small stable where the Christ was born, where eternity invaded the dying lands, and you will see how much smaller Obamacare is. 163 years from now the story around which we revolve will not be about celebrity pastors or the war in Afghanistan. It will be about the wonder of a God who forgave and still forgives.
This small story is the Christian’s anchor. The Christian story is a proclamation of hiddenness, the power of humility, and the scandal of grace.
Let’s keep Christ in Christmas, truly, truly. Let’s leave outcomes to God—and wait. It’s still Advent, after all.