Christmas from the other side

Published December 20, 2017

“God loves you!” the smiley face stickers say, and He does, but it doesn’t always feel like it. There is still longing, questioning, wondering about how this or that of life will pan out.

“God loves you!” is a good message, but it is incomplete. To interpret life’s challenges, “Satan hates you!” must be part of the equation. It’s a backdrop that makes “God loves you!” significant and meaningful.

If all we have is smiley faces and religious cliches, we end up attributing the dark stuff of life to ourselves: the failures, the brokenness, the despair. We don’t see the enemy at work or the battle at hand.

“There’s something wrong with me,” we’re convinced.

By now we know the story of the manger, that earthy account where greatest becomes least.

We treasure the silent night because it tells us that no matter where we go, the divine has gone before. He is not far off. He is very near. God with us. Emmanuel.

I know these things in my head. I don’t always feel them in my heart, and I’m not sure why.

When it’s hard to grasp what child is this, it is helpful to see Christmas from heaven’s perspective.

You can find the account not in Matthew but in Revelation, Chapter 12. It is quite graphic.

“The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child the moment it was born.” (verse 4)

Upon delivery, the baby is snatched up to God, while the dragon is hurled down to earth.

The dragon, we are told, is Satan “who leads the whole world astray.” Enraged at the woman, he goes off to make war against the rest of the woman’s offspring. (verse 9)

Tell me: What kind of beast would steal a newborn from a birth canal???

Exactly. One who hates your guts.

“The thief comes to steal, kill and destroy,” John 10 says, even while angels sing, “Joy to the World.” Now, that’s low. And that’s who we’re dealing with here.

None of us lies outside the devil’s purview. We are all targets of his anger.

“Woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short.” (verse 12)

Thankfully, we are also targets of the one who came upon a midnight clear. He defends us from accusation.

“Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of Christ. For the accuser of our brothers who accuses them before our God day and night has been hurled down.” (verse 10)

The first Christmas turns out to be less silent of a night than we first thought. It was actually a night of great war.

The battle’s victor entered the womb humbly and lived his life courageously. His enemy prowls in pride looking for souls to devour – but only for a time.

That’s the full story. Satan wreaks havoc on the earth, but God sends a rescue. Come, let us adore him.

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. He can be reached at kevin@kwt.info.


Bottling Christmas

Published December 22, 2015

If there were ever a time to freeze frame time, it’s most certainly the week of Christmas. Bottle the spirit of this season and become a billionaire. Easily.

Nights are cold. Hearts are warm. Days are short. Light strands are long. The anticipation of a gift received is surpassed only by the joy of giving.

If you’re like me, your list of people to buy for is longer than you ever imagined. Six months ago, you had no idea you cared about half of them. Suddenly, like an angel in a dark sky, you want to say thank you. Maybe even I love you.

It’s a season of miracles. You find a unique gift at a department store. You find an affordable one at a boutique. Traffic is lighter than you expected. You don’t mind hearing Carol of the Bells for the 234th time.

You think about families who have too little and people who have no families. You think about bare cupboards and sparse fridges. You consider trees with no gifts and homes with no trees. You even do something about it.

You grab a paper angel off an artificial tree. You fill a shoebox and wrap a gift. You wonder what it would be like to receive them. You remember life is relative and that kids in trailer parks laugh as hard as kids with a view. It’s about joy, not stuff.

You drop a few bucks into a kettle and say a prayer for the man at the stop light. You might also lift one up for his dog. Even animals get prayers this time of year.

You hit a movie, maybe a love story, and the popcorn tastes even better than you remember. You stay through the credits. You don’t dwell on tomorrow’s trials. You don’t dread getting up early to face them. You relax.

You recall the highs of the year but also the redemption in the lows. “I didn’t get that job, that relationship ended, my daughter struggled to carry on, but I can now see why. The smoke has cleared.”

You attend a Christmas Eve service and hear the town’s best voice belt O Holy Night. You close your eyes and it’s Mariah to your untrained ears. You go to dinner afterward. You leave 35%.

You see a child and remember what it’s like to want something so much, you can’t sleep. You try to imagine what that might be for you today. You may even write things down and review them come January.

You hear the year’s best jokes from Uncle Larry. You see Susie’s dance recital on Grammy’s smartphone. You cry with an aunt who retired too early. Her husband of thirty years just left.

You give someone the benefit of the doubt. You notice something redeeming in an in-law. You linger at the table a little longer and give more of yourself than usual.

You ponder joy and its source. You think about the sources you’ve tried and the mixed results you’ve gotten. You question whether a virgin birth really happened, and, if so, why God came so humbly.

You recall the baby who, for the joy set before him, endured a tortuous death, rejected its shame and returned whence he came to prepare a place for us. Joy – to the world and back.

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. Follow him at http://www.kwt.info.


Man’s dark struggle with Christmas lights

Published December 15, 2013

I’m generally a hopeful guy, so I rarely quote Dante’s Inferno. But one place needs the poem’s most infamous line: “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”

It’s the Christmas lights section at Home Depot.

Christmas lights are the bane of man’s existence. I do not overstate the point.

Of all the electrical appliances a man might assemble, there is nothing, I repeat, nothing like plugging in a freshly strung strand of Christmas lights and having nothing, I repeat, nothing happen.

Yes, smarty-pants, I checked them in the yard before putting them up. Yes, Mr. Know-It-All, they worked then.

Clark Griswold, the Christmas Vacation character who put 25,000 lights on his home, knows the feeling. He had spent days creating his masterpiece amidst spousal questioning: “Are you out here for a reason or are you just avoiding the family?”

When the time came to plug it all in, only criticisms lit up.

“I hope you kids see what a silly waste of resources this was,” derided Clark’s mother-in-law.

“He worked really hard, Grandma,” defended his daughter.

“So do washing machines,” reported his father-in-law.

At this point a man doesn’t want a diagnosis of the problem. He doesn’t want a handful of solutions. He just wants to be held. And he wants a trust fund to pay someone to do this tragic chore for the rest of his life.

For most men, the trust fund is not to be. The Christmas lights are his cross to bear — alone. And if he has small children, the stakes are as high as the roof line.

I understand the logic: no Christmas lights, no Christmas tree, no Santa, no presents.

But man’s dark struggle against the lights is anything but logical.

If it were logical, the extra replacement lights would actually fix a problem once in a while. If it were logical, there would be no microscopic replacement fuses – I last saw fuses like this in my grandfather’s 1982 Datsun.

And if it were logical, the Federal Trade Commission would close every light manufacturer known to man for their most reliable failure rate. 

Instead, a baggie of extra lights and fuses is taped to each strand by a belly-laughing factory worker. Instead, giddy consumers swept by the joy of the season keep forking over hard-earned dollars for what amounts to an exercise in character formation.

Sure, there have been decorative advances: the net of lights you can throw across your shrubs, the dangling icicles, the inflatable Santas and Frosties. Projectors can put a holiday Mickey Mouse on your garage door. Custom homes have exterior outlets lining soffits and eaves for easy access to power.

But there is simply no substitute for the hard work of installing one’s own creation, for overcoming the broken bulbs, for triumphing o’er the inexplicably expired segments.

There is no trading the thrill on the kids’ faces when the job is done. It’s the equivalent of a 1,000-volt attitude adjustment.

Even Clark Griswold’s easily embarrassed teenagers were moved when his lighted sight came to pass. As the Hallelujah Chorus rang out,

“Dad! It’s beautiful!”

 Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. He can be reached at kevin@kwt.info.

 


A Christmas night dream

Published December 22, 2011

It is said that in any dream, the dreamer identifies with and even personifies each character in the plot.

The Christmas story in Luke 2 is no dream. Or perhaps it is humanity’s dream come true. Either way, the Savior-child, the all in all, plays every role in the drama.

“Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.”

Jesus like Caesar is royal. The King of kings, the Lord of lords. In charge, he issues decrees and things happen. Demons flee, the dead rise, the disabled see and walk and run.

Like Augustus, he counts all people worldwide, even their hairs for that matter, for they matter to him. He counts because they count.

“So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem…”

Jesus is like Joseph, the faithful father. He is the very representation incarnate of the Heavenly Father. He impregnates those he loves with life. He fertilizes their dormant potential.

He guides and provides and, at times, carries. He is the loving protector, the helper, the feeder, the discipliner.

“Joseph went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.”

Jesus is like Mary, the giver of life. He is ever nurturing, always caring. He is the merciful one with the heart for the outcast; the tender one who wept at the passing of a best friend. “As a mother comforts her son, so will I comfort you.” (Isaiah 66)

“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.”

Jesus, the Lord, is my shepherd, of course. I shall not want for anything: food, warmth, direction, protection. Though I am dull, I am important to him.

He keeps me within his staff’s reach. I will not be left behind. He will leave ninety-nine others to come after me. Yes, the Good Shepherd cares for the one.

“An angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.”

Like an angel, Jesus was transfigured on a mountaintop. He radiated the piercing brightness of the Almighty. The glory of the Father was upon him. Paul writes that “the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4)

Was that terrifying? Yes. The Aslan of God, the lion of Judah, is fierce. In the words of C.S. Lewis, he is not safe, but he is good. As the angels were that night in Judea.

“While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son.”

Ahhh. Jesus as himself. The firstborn of all creation. The image of the invisible God. The one by whom and for whom all things were created.

Jesus, the humble, born in a shed. He did not consider being God himself something to hold vigorously to.

Instead, he made himself nothing, a slave, in fact, willing to enter by lowly birth and exit by lonely death.

So, Jesus portrays his traits through every character in his arrival story. But a question remains: Will the character of Jesus be on display in the reader, as well?

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star. He can be reached at kevin@kwt.info.