This past week, I received from another pastor a very disturbing letter that presented itself as being in the Christmas spirit, but couldn't have been further from the truth.
In part, he said that it is time to prepare ourselves for the Christ Child by identifying Emmanuel, or Christ among us, in the margins of our lives.
Nothing could be further from the truth, for what is marginal is outside, or on the fringes, of the main body, such as with a book or letter.
That which is of Christ is infinite, and what is infinite has no margins, for there is no limit or fringe, no beginning and no end.
He went on to say that we will be honoring the Christ Child by giving a present to a specific church leader.
This, too, is far from the truth, and definitely not in the true Christmas spirit.
First of all, the Christ Child appeared some 2,000 years ago, and soon grew into a Man.
There is no longer the Child to honor, but Jesus Christ, our Emmanuel, is still among us as the Man, Messiah, and God that He is.
And by receiving Jesus, our Messiah, into our hearts and souls, we honor the Father, and this requires a repentant heart.
Jesus never said to give to the leaders, other than to pay taxes.
But what He did say many times was to give to the poor and needy, and that by so doing, we give to Him.
This is how we truly honor Jesus Christ.
This pastor isn't really interested in honoring Christ, but in receiving honor for himself by being the sponsor of the gift giving.
He is only a people-pleaser.
If clergy don't understand the true meaning of Advent and Christmas, how can we expect the people to understand?
We can, because the love, grace and mercy of God are greater than the people who misrepresent Him are.
And remember that the Christ child was God's gift to us then, and it is the shed blood of the Man Christ that is our continued gift, now.
In the true Christmas spirit, we are not to give physical presents to those who don't really need them, but we are to present salvation through Christ to those who have not yet received Him.
The writer of Psalm 85 understood this truth many hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus.
Let's look at what he wrote and prayed: (Psalm 85)
1. O Lord, Thou didst show favor to Thy land;
Thou didst restore the captivity of Jacob.
2. Thou didst forgive the iniquity of Thy people;
Thou didst cover all their sin. Selah.
This didn't come about because the people earned it, or deserved it, or because they followed all of God's commandments.
This happened in spite of these things.
This happened because of God's love, and because of His everlasting grace and mercy.
This happened because the people repented, and God forgave them.
This was a gift from God given to all who would receive it.
And remember that God's healing of the land is in part because of the people's repentance for harming creation, whether human, animal, or the environment, in part, or in whole.
True repentance has no limits, as we will continue to see.
3. Thou didst withdraw all Thy fury;
Thou didst turn away from Thy burning anger.
Why did God do this?
Because the people turned from their evil ways and repented.
But remember that there is no lasting forgiveness without true and lasting repentance.
4. Restore us, O God of our salvation,
And cause Thine indignation toward us to cease.
5. Wilt Thou be angry with us forever?
Wilt Thou prolong Thine anger to all generations?
6. Wilt Thou not Thyself revive us again,
That Thy people may rejoice in Thee?
7. Show us Thy lovingkindness, O Lord,
And grant us Thy salvation.
This also could be the prayer of someone who just doesn't want to suffer the consequences of their sins and the sins of the people.
Salvation comes to those who turn from their evil ways and set their heart and soul upon the Lord, which is exactly what the psalmist says next:
8. I will hear what God the Lord will say;
For He will speak peace to His people, to His godly ones;
But let them not turn back to folly.
First of all we must hear what God is saying to us, everything He is saying, not just what we want to hear.
God does speak peace, but to whom?
To His Godly ones; not to the unrepentant sinner; thus we have the warning not to turn back to the folly of our former ways, or we will wear out the peace, just as we wear out some of our physical Christmas gifts.
Let's think of an example of a Christmas gift that is part of our folly and wears out the peace of God: a fur, or fur trimmed coat.
Fur does not get on a coat without causing immense pain and suffering, and death to animals, whom God also lovingly created to be our companions and not our commodities.
Remember that Jesus was born among the animals as an example of God's love for them, too.
True repentance, like compassion is without limits; it does not turn away from sin in one circumstance while continuing it in another.
9. Surely His salvation is near to those who fear Him,
That glory may dwell in our land.
And this salvation is very near to us today, as well; in fact, it may even be closer today, for He indwells those who really reverence Him.
And the only way we are going to see God's glory fully dwelling in the land is to repent as a people.
All someone has to do is to reach out to God, and surrender his or her pride, desiring to be conformed into a child of Christ, and salvation will be theirs.
If we want peace in our lives, we need to make room for Jesus in our hearts.
Listen to what the psalmist says next:
10. Lovingkindness and truth have met together;
Righteousness and peace have kissed each other.
God's lovingkindness has come together with the truth, with the faithfulness of the believers; there is no longer a separation.
In fact, we come so close to God, that it's as if we actually kiss each other.
And it's in this closeness that we have peace.
11. Truth springs from the earth;
And righteousness looks down from heaven.
Our faithfulness, our living in the truth of God, springs forth from the earth as a plant from its seed.
And the righteousness of God looks down upon us, as the sun shining upon the earth, causing us to grow in the fullness of God's glory.
12. Indeed, the Lord will give what is good;
And our land will yield its produce.
Because of the blessings of the Lord, we have the abundance of physical produce in the land.
We cannot abuse or destroy any aspect of creation, and expect these blessings of peace to be fully experienced.
In the spreading of the gospel of Jesus Christ received by others, we have the spiritual produce.
And as our spiritual produce increases, so usually do the blessings upon our land.
13. Righteousness will go before Him,
And will make His footsteps into a way.
John the Baptist went before Him then; we, as repentant and forgiven believers are to prepare the way, now.
Give both the spiritual and physical gifts of God to those who are in need, that all of us would make room in our hearts for Jesus, and thus bring true and lasting peace to our land.
Think about the effects of our actions upon the whole of creation, before we act, and do only what brings peace on earth.
The Lord Jesus Christ is coming again!
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