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"Wait on the Lord, be strong and of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart...wait on the Lord. Psalms 27:14

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Saturday, December 24, 2005

A PERFECT CHRISTMAS

Emily is sick of the vomiting variety as of just a couple hours ago so, because I'm a super cautious and sensitive mother b/c she really, truly freaks out at being sick (she's only 4 and has been vomiting sick only one other time in her young life so far), in order to keep awake for a while until she was well and truly settled back into dreamland I was perusing the Google searches online trying to find a Christmas essay written by the late Harry Reasoner of 60 Minutes fame. I came across this wonderful gem while browsing the search results and it conveyed so wonderfully what the Christmas season is about that I had to share it with you, my blog readers, friends and those just browsing who happened to come across my site. My thanks to Tim Hudson, Campus Pastor UGA Christian Campus Fellowship for allowing this to be published online and rebroadcast.

May each and every one of you out there have a wonderfully blessed and Merry Christmas and may the TRUE meaning of Christmas be made real to you this year.
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Micah 5:2-5 -- 2) "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times. 3) Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor gives birth and the rest of his brothers return to join the Israelites. 4) He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. 5) And he will be their peace.”

A PERFECT CHRISTMAS PAGEANT

There was a church in the northern part of the United States that had held a Christmas pageant for 47 years with the same director.

Perfection was her goal — nothing less. For years the church's pageant ran like clockwork: perfect lines, perfect pacing, perfect everything. Then one year, something even better happened.

The director's commitment to perfection had been much greater than her commitment to children. Her reasoning was: "When there are too many youngsters, there is no control." As a result, many children in the church were excluded from being in the pageant. Only the "best" kids made it.

This particular year, however, the Christian Education Committee passed a resolution: "All children who wish to be in the Christmas pageant may do so. Parts will be found for them." This was more than the longtime director could handle. She resigned in anger and disgust.

The pageant didn't fall flat without the former director, but it was different. There must have been a dozen shepherds and at least 20 angels and probably more than two dozen wandering sheep.

The real climax of imprecision came when Mary and Joseph entered. Joseph walked solemnly beside Mary. The narrator was to read the Biblical story about Joseph going to Bethlehem ". . . to be taxed with Mary, his espoused wife, being great with child." One mother realized that the children didn't really understand the Elizabethan English of the King James Version about Mary being "great with child." At the last minute, she switched to the Good News Translation.

As Mary and Joseph entered, the narrator read, "Joseph went to register with Mary, who was promised in marriage to him. She was pregnant." As the last word echoed through the P. A. system, little Joseph froze in his tracks. This is not how he had heard it in rehearsal. He gave Mary an incredulous look, then looked out at the congregation and said, "Pregnant? What do you mean, pregnant?"

Needless to say, this brought the house down. The pastor's wife, wiping tears from her eyes, said, "You know, that may be exactly what Joseph said." The former director wore her triumphant "I-told-you-so" look.

Later, when they sang Silent Night, a couple of magical things happened. First, the sheep bleated their way down a side aisle and sat in the pews to watch the conclusion of the pageant. This meant the former director was suddenly surrounded by the children she had once excluded! Second, snow began to fall, and the entire church became very quiet. It was so beautiful; no one stirred for some time — not even the sheep.

Then, Minnie McDonnell — hard of hearing, and always speaking too loudly — broke the spell when she "whispered" to her husband in a voice that all could hear, "It's perfect! Just perfect!"

And it was perfect, only not in the way previous pageants had been perfect. It was perfect in the way God makes things perfect — the way he accepts our fumbling attempts at love and fairness, and covers them with grace.

Have you ever known anyone who was a perfectionist? A true perfectionist is just about impossible to live with. I don't mean someone who strives for excellence. That's an admirable quality; perfectionism isn't.

SPEAKING OF PERFECTION

In the British Museum in London you can see the final draft of Thomas Gray's masterpiece Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard. Lovers of English literature marvel at how every word seems so carefully chosen. This display proves that they, in fact, were. Gray wasn't satisfied with his first draft, so he rewrote it. Then he improved the poem a third time. This continued for eight years.

With all that persistent polishing, Gray never considered his poem complete. In the museum display you can see each successive copy carefully penned by hand -- all seventy-five drafts!

That is a commitment to excellence, and it is a good quality. The true perfectionist, on the other hand, isn't one who rewrites a poem 75 times, it is one who would never begin a poem in the first place because they know it could never be as perfect as they would want it to be.

True perfectionists are people who strain compulsively toward impossible goals and measure their self-worth entirely in terms of their achievements. As a result, they are terrified by the prospect of failure. They feel driven and, at the same time, unrewarded by their accomplishments. They are most unhappy people.

Sadly, many people confuse such compulsiveness with Christianity. They take Jesus' words in Matthew 5:48 — "Be perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect" — to mean that we are to be without a flaw. When Jesus made this statement he undoubtedly meant we are to be perfect in our love — even as God's very nature is love.

GOD IS PERFECT LOVE

I dislike bumper stickers with cute religious expressions, but there is one that is right on target. It says "Christians are not perfect, only forgiven." Christians are not perfect-even the best of us. But we can be forgiven. That is the reason for Christmas. This is why Jesus came into the world. He would have no reason to come into a perfect world.

When you look at the details of Jesus' birth, many of the circumstances were far from perfect. Caesar was imposing taxes for his own interests; Herod violently protected his throne, motivated by fear, greed and insecurity. Joseph and Mary were not married, yet she was pregnant. Though Joseph was a man of faith and obedience to God, I am sure this situation created tremendous concern among the members of their families.

And now, days before the baby was to be born, they find themselves on a journey to a tiny little town called Bethlehem, where there will be no adequate place for them to stay. The King of Kings was to be born, not in a major metropolis, not in luxury and comfort, but in a stable in a seemingly insignificant town.

A PERFECT PLACE TO LIVE

There was an interesting article in Money magazine a couple of years ago. It seems that Money ranked the area around Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, dead last among 300 cities surveyed in which to live.

Mayor Joseph Daddona of Allentown, which is part of the region Money panned, said, "Lee Iacocca's mother lives here. Do you think Lee Iacocca would let his mother stay in a place that wasn't fit to live in?"

Dick Strain, executive director of the Bethlehem Chamber of Commerce, referring to cities that finished much higher in rank, said, "I don't know too many people here who would rather live in Philadelphia or New York." An editorial in the Bethlehem Globe-Times newspaper, said: "What a remarkable coincidence! At the same time as their survey, we were concluding that Money is the worst magazine in the nation."

If Bethlehem, Pennsylvania was rated number 300, I wonder where Bethlehem, Georgia would rank and I would hate to think where Bethlehem of Judea would rank in Money's listings. In fact, if a committee were appointed to recommend favorable places for the birth of the King of Kings, I doubt Bethlehem would even make the list.

Bethlehem was, as the song goes, a little town, near to but far removed from the centers of influence and power in the world of its day. There was little to recommend Bethlehem for the birthplace of the Messiah. Yet it was God's choice. The prophet said, (v. 2) But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel.

In God's wisdom, Bethlehem was the perfect place for the Messiah to be born. It is a humble place, and God often blesses those with humble beginnings. Bethlehem was the home town of King David, who was far from perfect. Yet he was called a man after God's own heart. God is looking for something more than "perfection."

A PERFECT POINT

That is the whole point of the Christmas story. God didn't come to us at Christmas because we are perfect and good and wonderful. He came to us because we needed Him.

Recently our grandson Jonathan, who is 2-½, came for an overnight visit. If you think your apartment or dorm room is messy you should try to keep a perfectly clean house when a toddler is in residence! It doesn't work. When there is a toddler in the house you have to forget about perfection and think about love. That's the message of Christmas. It's not about perfection, it's about love.

A PERFECT TIME FOR CELEBRATION

Years ago the late Harry Reasoner wrote a piece about Christmas for the show 60 Minutes. He said: "The basis for this tremendous burst of buying things and gift giving and parties and near hysteria, is a quiet event that happened a long time ago. You can say that in all societies there has always been a midwinter festival, and that many trappings of our Christmas are almost violently pagan, but you come back to the central fact of the day ... the birth of God on earth.

“It leaves you only three ways of accepting Christmas. One is cynically, as a time to make money or endorse the making of it. One is graciously, the appropriate attitude for non-Christians, who wish their fellow citizens all the joys to which their beliefs entitle them.

“And the third, of course, is reverently. If this is the anniversary of the appearance of the Lord of the universe as a helpless babe — it is a very important day.

“It's a startling idea that a virgin was selected by God to bear His Son as a way of showing His love and concern. ... The story has a magnificent appeal. Almost nobody has seen God, and almost nobody has any real idea of what He is like. But everyone has seen babies, and most people like them.

“If God wanted to be loved ... if God wanted to be intimately a part of our life, He moved correctly, for the experience of birth and family is our most intimate and precious experience. So, if a Christian is touched only once a year, the touching is still worth it. Maybe on some given Christmas, some final quiet morning, the touch will take."


WE CELEBRATE PERFECTION

At Christmas, we celebrate the fact that God loved us so much that he sent his only son away from His perfect home so that he might come to our imperfect home. It's a heart-touching story: an innocent baby born to a teenage mother in a dark and lonely stable many miles away from home.

However, there was a meaning behind the birth. One day, the soft baby hands of Jesus which curled around the rough carpenter's fingers would have nails driven through them.

The beautifully shaped head of that baby would one day have a crown of thorns pressed into its skull. That warm and tender skin of the new born one day would be pierced by a sword. The soft, cooing voice one day would cry out, "My God, why have you forsaken me?" Why did Jesus leave his perfect home to come to our imperfect home at Christmas?

WHY WAS JESUS BORN?

The Bible makes it clear why God sent His Son to us at Christmas. The answer is proclaimed by John the Baptist at the very first moment of Jesus' public ministry when John said, "Behold the Lamb of God who has come to take away the sins of the world."

Jesus came to earth to complete a ransom payment for sin. Jesus was born in order that he might someday die. He would die the cruelest kind of death devised by mankind.

He would not simply pass away one day and wake up in heaven. Suffering was necessary to reflect the seriousness of our sins against God. Jesus voluntarily faced His suffering and death. No one forced Jesus to go to the cross. Jesus said in John 10:17 "I lay down my life only to take it up again."

A PERFECT “BUDDY”

At summer camp, we were told that no one could enter the swimming pool until each had a swimming buddy. When the counselor asked if everyone understood the buddy system, one wise guy (OK, it was me!) raised his hand and said, "Is that where your buddy drowns with you?"

Jesus was born at Christmas in order to take the buddy system a step farther even than that. His voluntary death was one in which he didn't "drown with us." instead he "drowned for us."

On the cross of Calvary, Jesus not only absorbed the full power of God's wrath against sin. He also paid the price for forgiveness for anyone who would receive him into their life. Jesus left perfection in order to bring us forgiveness.

A PERFECT LOVE STORY

Soren Kirkegaard told the tale of a prince riding in his carriage one day through the poorest part of the city. Looking through his curtains, he saw the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. He couldn't get her out of his mind. Day after day he created an excuse to return to the ghetto in his carriage in hopes of seeing her again.

Finally, he saw her and knew surely that he was in love with her. He desperately wanted to marry her, but how could he? As a prince, he could order her to his castle and demand that she marry him, but he didn't want her to marry out of compulsion — he wanted her to love him as much as he loved her. Finally, he developed a solution.

He laid aside his royal robes and moved to the ghetto. He took up a common vocation. He learned her language, came to know her friends, and in time gained her friendship and earned her love. After she fell in love with him, he revealed his true identity.

This is what Jesus did for us. He came to live with us, as one of us, in order to win our love. He gave up perfection because He loves us. He didn't come seeking perfection from us. He came seeking our love.

A PERFECT FREEDOM

Fall in love with Jesus and your life will change — you'll be free. Free to fail, free to begin again, free from bondage, free from having to act like you've got it all together, free to admit your need, free to hope, free to love!

One early morning during World War II, an American prisoner of war was awakened with the news that "the Scotsman" wants to see you. He ran to the barbed wire which separated the captured British and American soldiers. The Scotsman was in touch with the BBC by underground radio.

He whispered three simple words in the American's ear: "THEY HAVE COME!" The reaction was incredible. As that message spread among the allied prisoners, they began to jump up and down, shouting, laughing and rolling on the ground in joy.
The German soldiers must have thought they were crazy. After all, they were still prisoners and nothing outwardly had changed. Inwardly, everything was now different for they had received the news of the D-Day invasion. Freedom was within their grasp.

Freedom is within your grasp. Maybe this Christmas you'll finally realize that Jesus is a lover pursuing his beloved, a soldier invading enemy territory to deliver his beloved.

I hope you won't have a perfect Christmas. I hope it will be far better than that! I hope that you will see right to the heart of this sacred event -- to the God who is looking not for perfection, but for love.

6 comments:

greatwhitebear said...

dearest Nic,

May you have a truly blessed holiday season, may your Christmas bring you, Emily, and your family blessings far beyond wealth, and may your New year bring you nothing but joy....

Love,
the one and only greatwhitebear

Shelley said...

Wishing you a wonderful Christmas Nic!

Mike J. said...

I 3rd the sentiment! Happy, joyous, merry Christmas. Even if times are difficult, Christ is faithful, and His joy fills us up!

AubreyJ said...

A very Merry Christmas to you and yours, Nic...
AubreyJ.........

Michael Manning said...

Nic: First, so sorry to learn Emily was sick. That can be a scary and terrible time. May she get weel soon! I hope this Christmas brings you both all of God's abundance and warmth. My favorite part of you post was "Free to fail, free to begin again, free from bondage, free from having to act like you've got it all together, free to admit your need, free to hope, free to love!" I couldn't have said it better. That's the Gospel right there! Merry Christmas my good friend!

Bishop Jordan said...

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