Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Christmas in the Eyes of a Child

“At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of Heaven?”  He called a little child and had him stand among them.  And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom.”   Matthew 18: 1-4

Not all of us are men and not all of us are women, but each of us, at one time, was a child.  Many of us still act like we are!  So it should be easy for us to put ourselves in the perspective of a child right?  But it’s not.  It can be so difficult to see Christmas, to see Christ like a child, yet so vitally important, that it is mentioned in the bible not only in the Matthew 18, but again in Matthew chapter 19, a third time in Mark chapter 10 and a fourth time in Luke chapter 18.  In deed, it is more than difficult for a mature adult who has seen and heard too much of a hostile world to look at Christ, to look at Christmas, and to simply believe with the innocence and faith of a child. 

Yet Scripture is clear, in order to enter into the kingdom of heaven we have to receive it like a little child.  Why like a child?  What did Jesus see in children that so endeared them to him?  

Kid have a way of seeing the world that we adults somehow lose as we age. They possess this blind faith that what they have been told (especially by those they love) is true, they don't doubt what Mom and Dad say.  They have a kind of eternal hope that good will always win, that life is fun and fair and just.  Because of this eternal hope they have an overwhelming joy, sadness never lasts long and tomorrow will always be better than today.  So how can we, as jaded adults, look at Christmas through the eyes of a child?

When I asked my friends, family, kids, anyone I could get ahold of what Christmas meant to a child I got essentially  three distinct types of answers. 

I.  Presents

Is anyone surprised that the number one answer was presents?  There is no doubt that to all children Christmas gifts is a huge and imperative part of Christmas. And if you will allow yourself to admit it even adults eagerly anticipate the opening of presents.  The thing about a present is the mystery behind it.  You look at a gift that is all wrapped up and you take in the size and the weight and any sound it might make when shaken (gently) and you can make an educated guess about what may be in it. But you don’t actually know for certain.  Until that gift is open it could literally be anything in the world, your imagination is the only limit.  It’s especially true in my family, that the biggest gift may be in the smallest box and the smallest gift is almost always in the biggest box.  A gift that is light, will have rocks added to it, if a gift is so big or heavy that it can’t be wrapped at all then a note is wrapped (with a weight inside it) sending the recipient on a wild goose chase to find it.   Until the paper is off you can never tell what a gift might be.

Christ was a lot like that.  His greatness was hidden beneath the packaging.  Even though Isaiah, in the old testament gave us amazing insight into what to look for when the Messiah came, still people wondered, how could THIS baby be a king.  We know from Isaiah 9:6 that the son of David would come to us as a baby…  We even know from Isaiah 7:14 that the child would be born to a virgin. And in 9:7, Isaiah continues with predictions of the greatness this child will fulfill, His kingdom will never end! So with all this insight, why is it so hard to conceive that this humble little baby, born in stable, in a quiet night, was indeed the coming king, the son of God.  It had to be the packaging. He was so well wrapped that you couldn’t even fathom what he really was. 

And the bible says  "She...wrapped him in swaddling clothes.’’ Those are wonderful words. But there was more wrapped up in those swaddling clothes than a little baby.

Now he is a little Baby in Mary’s arms wrapped in swaddling clothes and laying in a manger, but soon, He will confound the pharisees in the Temple. He will be introduced and baptized by John. He will work miracles and call disciples. He will die on a cross, be buried in a borrowed tomb, and be resurrected the third day. He will ascend to the Father to become our Intercessor, Advocate, Mediator and great High Priest.

No one could have guessed the magnificence of that gift that was wrapped up in an infant in swaddling clothes.  Christ was and still is the most amazing gift that has ever been given.  And only a child could look at a gift like that, it’s size, shape, and weight and see in it all the greatness that was to come.  
II.  Wonder/Awe

 Have you ever seen a child’s face light up the first time they see the Christmas lights go on for the year.  It is the definition of awe.  Their eyes get big, literally reflecting the lights they see around them, their mouths drop open, but no words come out, and for a few seconds the whole body is perfectly still.  No small feat for a busy child. I imagine that’s what the shepherds look liked the first time they laid eyes on the Christ child.   They were there, the only ones to join Mary and Joseph at the time of Christ’s birth, an ordinary birth with extra-ordinary outcome.  And isn’t it the truth that children have a spiritual gift for finding the extraordinary out of the everyday ordinary.  

One of the mistakes we adults make at Christmas is that we get so caught up in the busyness of the “Holiday” that the people we encounter lose their extraordinary qualities. People become just ordinary, like grains of sand. The cashier becomes a hand that has money in it. The clerk becomes a voice with information. And the child becomes the inconvenience that always wants something.  And we fail to see the message of Christmas that God comes into our world & says, "Ordinary people are never just ordinary." When God touches them they become special, created in God’s image - And it’s perfect, just perfect.  For whatever reason, children are able to see the extraordinary, long after adults have lost that vision.  They see it all with the wonder and awe that we have lost.  Maybe that is one of our problems with Christmas. Christmas is such a familiar & common experience that we almost miss it. So this year I challenge you to see it again for the first time with the wonder and awe of a child.  Turn an ordinary light into an extraordinary splendor, turn an ordinary birth into the extraordinary miracle that saved us all.

III.  Innocence

When Christ talks about children in Matthew, in Mark and again in Luke he asks us to become like them.  Knowing how difficult it is, he calls us to embrace him with the faithfulness and innocence of a child.   

What does that innocence look like?  This week I got an email from a friend of mine and it was labeled “Children’s definition of Love” and among many other definitions was this one from a young boy named Bobby, age 7 “Love is what’s in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen.”  Bobby, at a tender age of 7, gets it.

Children choose to believe the story of Jesus birth not because they have seen it or touched it or have witnessed miracles themselves.  But simply, because they were told.  Someone they love, their father, their mother, their neighbor, or their Sunday school teacher told them a story.  And because someone they love told it to them, they believe.  That is faith.  Someone You love is telling you the story too.  Your Father in heaven, who loves you very much, is telling you.  And He is asking you to believe.  Just believe with the faithfulness and innocence of a child.

For me, all I have to do is look at an orange and I can find the innocence of Christmas through the eyes of myself as a child.  You see down in this tiny farm town in the middle of Kansas where I grew up, Christmas Eve was spent at church.  That’s when the children of First Mennonite Church put on their annual Christmas Eve program.  It was pretty much the same scene every year.  Someone read the passage from Luke; there were the leading roles of Mary and Joseph, some shepherds, a few angels and 3 wisemen.  We sang Hark the Herald Angels, Away in a Manger and Silent Night, we all lit candles and were filled with awe at the wonders of it all and then as everyone was heading home on Christmas Eve night the church gave an orange to everyone who attended.  Why an orange?  I truly have no idea! Honestly, no clue!  I’m not sure when it started but I know they have done it every year since I was a child and I know they still do it.  And because of that, because of that tradition, when I see an orange I see a Christmas scene, full of innocence, wonder and awe, in a dimly lit church full of glowing candles with a choir singing Silent Night and children on a stage dressed up like the holy nativity.  The picture of innocence.

What is it about children that endeared themselves to Jesus? Certainly they are cute. Certainly they are innocent in their understanding of life. But what impressed Jesus always was their faith… Maybe that’s why Jesus came as a babe in a manger – born innocent and full of faith he remained that way all of his life. The faith of a child is what you must gain to enter the kingdom of heaven. The surest sign of growing old gracefully is one who refuses to become jaded and cynical about life and people. Jesus never did and neither should we.

I urge you this Christmas, to look at it through the eyes of a child.  The way Christ calls us too.  Look for your own signs of Christmas they are all around.   You might find Christ in an unopened gift, beautiful Christmas lights, a child’s Christmas program, or an orange.  Whatever Your sign for Christmas may be, I hope you find it with the innocence, the miracle, the awe of a child.  Merry Christmas and God bless you.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Where God Wants Me To Be

I had a moment with God today.  Actually this moment has been stewing for quite some time now.

There is a restlessness inside of me, questioning where I am at and what I am doing.  It was bound to happen, I am just wrapping up my 6th semester of seminary. I have been going strong for 2.5 years and am just about half way.  As quickly as the last few years have gone, the road ahead still seems endless, like the finish will never come.  I will be stuck in this place of waiting forever.

Have you ever been in a place of waiting?  This is not my first time and it hasn't gotten any easier.  Erik and I had trouble carrying a baby to term (okay, technically I was the one with trouble carrying, but Erik was right there beside me on the journey).  We had two miscarriages before we had Isabella, add to that the months in between of waiting to be healthy again, trying to conceive, losing again, waiting get my drift.  I have been stuck in the never ending cycle of waiting before, it's not unfamiliar.  And honestly I don't think it's the waiting that is getting to me this time.

I knew this journey wasn't going to be easy.  Graduate school work is never easy.  I knew there would be tons of reading, long papers to write, assignments I loved and assignments I didn't.  I knew the school side of things would be hard.  And it is.  One of the most academically challenging things I have ever done.  But again, that's no surprise, that is not what I'm struggling with.

And sadly, I have actually gotten kind of use to the loneliness, this process of studying is turning me into somewhat of an introvert (heaven help me!).  It turns out solitude is actually not so bad.  The loneliness is not what is overwhelming me, it's there, but I have learned to manage that.

The thing that I am struggling with the most, the thing that right now is the hardest for me, is what this process is costing my family.  I'm okay with the sacrifices I am having to make.  I made this choice and I am willing to do the work.  What I am less okay is what my family is being forced to sacrifice.  We made the decision when the kids were very young that I would stay at home with them. I have identified myself as a mom for 12 years now, that is who I am, that is what God has asked me to do.  I gave up my career, extra money, peace of mind, and showering on a regular basis to stay at home with me kids.  I have honestly never regretted that decision.  I have been gotten to be there for all my kids firsts from words to waling to preschool to kindergarten and beyond.  I have been someone's class room mom for 7 years now, I have been on countless field trips, volunteered in classrooms and hosted playdates.

Unitl now.

I am no longer the mom I have always wanted to be.  I am still a mom absolutely, but not in the way I want to be.  I don't have time to volunteer in the classrooms any more.  The last 2 years I have missed more field trips than I have made.  My kids have less playdates because I am too busy to set them up.  Our house is rarely clean, I don't always have time to make dinner, let alone serve a friend by making them dinner.  I don't have time to hang out not the drive way with other moms or go grab lunch.  I'm no longer a stay at home mom.  But we don't have the luxury of two incomes either.

In fact we have less income than we did before as we juggle the expense of school.  My family is being cheated out of my time, my energy and the families money.  They are sacrificing heavily.  And I am frustrated because I don't see this ending any time soon.

So I finally sat down and unloaded all this with God.  I cried.  He listened.  I cried some more.  And then He spoke.  Do you know what he said?  He told me, "I've got this."  He's got my children, he's got my husband and he's got our finances. He's got this. And then He said, "Don't you trust me?"

And that is the question.

That has been the question since I started this journey.  Do I trust God?  Do I trust that this is plan for me and that his plan is always better than my plan?  Do I trust him that the end result will be worth the journey?  Do I trust him that he loves my kids more than I do and he wouldn't call me to do something that ultimately hurt them?  Do I trust Him?

Do I?

Yeah,  I do.

I don't know what tomorrow, or next month or next year will look like.  While I guess I kind of do, I'll still be in school spending all my free time studying, reading and writing papers, because that is where God wants me right now. And my kids will have a little less of me than I would choose.  But they will see me being obedient.  They will see me making sacrifices, and they will learn for themselves what it means to make sacrifices.  They will learn that money is a limited commodity and obedience is always more important than our own selfish desires.

So maybe this isn't exactly where I want to be right now, or where I want my family to be, but I am absolutely certain that this is right where God wants us to be.