As the wind roars continuously around our house and the first snowfall is on the ground, I find myself wrestling with this season. I have also struggled with writing this. I feel it tugging at my heart, but I am trying to carefully find the words to speak it without sounding condemning or legalistic or self-righteous. Or like a Scrooge.
I have always struggled against materialism. America has whole-heartedly embraced the lie that the more I have, the happier I will be. That I can buy something to give me peace. That I have to look and dress and shop a certain way, that I am defined by my possessions and my social standing. During this time of year I can’t escape the clamor of consumerism. It’s everywhere, saturating the season.
What we need and what we can give is not of this world, though the devil is desperately trying to convince us otherwise.
It seems like this battle for our hearts is at a crescendo at Christmas. Heavenly treasure against worldly treasure. Unseen against the visible. Kingdom values against earthly values. The world, loud and wrapped in gold and good cheer is in utter contrast to the nativity: a homeless savior, born in cave to an unknown, unmarried couple. The world begs us to be someone. Jesus became no one. The world sings of gain and gifts. Our Christ speaks of loss.
The world says, “Give me”. Christ whispers, “Go, sell all you have…” (Matthew 19:21)
The world says, “I deserve it”. God says, “You are saved by grace, so no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8) and “No one is righteous, not even one.” (Ecclesiastes 7:20)
The world shrugs and says, “I’ll build a bigger garage for my things.” Jesus cries, “You fool!” (Luke 12:13-21)
On that cold night so long ago (which history suggests was in late September or October, by the way) Jesus came in humility and poverty and grace. He gave up his kingship, he gave up his sovereignty, he gave up his rights, he gave up every breath in his lungs, every beat of his heart for us. For an adulterous, rebellious people, bent on our own destruction, blind to the evil in our heart. He came down to us as a helpless baby born on the outskirts of town for the sole purpose of taking the entire wrath of God on himself at the cross. He came to die for his enemies. Us.
Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” (Matt 16:24, 25)
Jesus lost everything for us. He poured himself out for me. And he calls me to do the same for him, for his people, for his enemies. For whatever crazy, love-driven quest he sends me on.
I see none of that in what our modern world calls Christmas. I see the church desperately trying to cram Jesus into a secular box, to add a Christian spin on pagan or worldly traditions. I see the nativity toppled by lust and Black Friday and deals at Target. I see us drowning with the weight of obligations and traditions, and treading water deep in the world of consumerism. Christianity still shines the star for us to find our way back to shore, but it is lost in the glitter and sparkle of the season. The song of a carol is overcome by jingle bells and the sound of wrapping paper torn open.
In a world obsessed with receiving, the very heart of Christianity is loss. That may seem to be a strange way of looking at it, but in this season of excess and gain and worldly pleasure, I want to know the loss – the emptying, the utter humility – of my savior.
I loose my identify as a sinner. I loose my life. I loose my control. I loose my ties to the material things of this world. Jesus calls me to die, so that he can give me new life. So I may become a new creation. So I may accept his authority and control and direction. So his desires become mine, his sight is in my eyes, his love is what drives me.
God’s kingdom is upside down and backwards from ours. It’s foolish, he says.
So this Christmas, I ask you to dare to loose. Spend yourself. Risk going against the flow, against the massive tide of the world. It’s not about giving more, volunteering, listening only to Christian music, not having a Christmas tree or banning Santa (though those things may come). I urge you to think about all our savior eagerly gave up. All he joyfully lost – both in the moment he was born and every moment on earth after that – so that we might be found.
When the King of Kings, the Prince of Peace, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father came to earth the first people to see him were shepherds.
They had nothing. They were no one. They brought nothing but themselves. They brought nothing but their worship, their bended knee, their acknowledgement of the holy and divine. God invited them – with an angel chorus, the likes of which I imagine had never been seen – first.
The first, our God says, will be last. The greatest among us will become the least. This Christmas, I ask for a shepherd’s heart. To be aware that I have absolutely nothing to bring before my king but my empty hands. To know my loss, my emptiness, my sacrifice is what he desires. In the midst of excess and greed and performance-driven rewards, I desire to only bring my worship. Only give my testimony. To be content with empty hands and a full heart. To embrace loss and humility, because it means life and power.
In this season of giving and receiving, I want to give myself, just as Jesus did. I want to become nothing, to have nothing, so that I can bring the world what it really needs: A Savior.