A Tree’s Perspective

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So this thought happened upon me a few weeks ago. I was doing some devotional reading and stumbled across an excerpt that focused on the story of Zacchaeus  and that ole sycamore tree (Luke 19:1-10.) Obviously the first thing that popped into my mind was the little kid’s song that I learned growing up (sing along if you know it…)

Zacchaeus was a wee little man
And a wee little man was he
He climbed up in a sycamore tree
For the Lord he wanted to see
And as the Savior passed that way
He looked up in that tree
And He said, “Zacchaeus, you come down!
For I’m going to your house today
For I’m going to your house to stay!”

Once I finished singing the song to myself a couple of times,  I read the devotional. It relates the physical shortness of Zacchaeus to the spiritual “shortness of vision” we each have within our faith from time to time. You know… you get bogged down in all of life’s craziness, we lose sight of God’s presence in our current situation, we get selfish and think a little more about ourselves and less about others. Then, as the devotion shared, we have those “tree” moments; when someone or something allowed us to climb out of our situation and get a clearer vision of Jesus… a better look at God and at who we are supposed to be. Who in YOUR life has provided you with “tree” moments?

The Advent season seems to me like a pretty decent “tree” to help us prepare our hearts and obtain a clearer picture of what’s to come and why we celebrate this time of year. Each Sunday we light a new candle on the wreath and explain its meaning and how each of those candles allows for us to open our hearts before God and accept the REAL gift that is coming…that is the gift of Jesus… Immanuel, God with us. I like that the Gospel of Matthew refers to Jesus as Immanuel (Matthew 1: 23) because we need that reminder that God is truly WITH us and that we don’t have to live out this life on our own. The fourth verse of “O Little Town of Bethlehem” phrases it just right:

O holy child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born to us today
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord, Emmanuel

To me this verse gives me peace knowing that Jesus came to the earth to be with us and to show us that God wants to be with us and offer us all the love we need. And what assurance we have knowing that the one thing we truly needed is the one thing that God wanted to give to us: God’s love. So even though “Christmas” has passed, don’t let the significance of this holiday get lost in the piles of wrapping paper and bows. Take a tree’s perspective and seek God as the New Year approaches. Better yet, take a Christmas Tree’s perspective. Adorned with lights and colors, it reflects the joy and wonder that came with the birth of Christ. But it is also a reminder of what else is to come upon a tree… Jesus’ crucifixion and death. I know that seems morbid to think about that during Christmas but we need that graphic reminder to show us just how much God loves us. That God in Jesus went from the Christmas Tree to the Crucifixion Tree all with each of us in mind. That makes Christmas much more than just the holiday celebrating Jesus being born on earth. And speaking of Jesus coming to earth, I heard this revised version of a familiar tune that I found quite meaningful…

“Jesus Christ is Coming to Town”

Wipe away your tears, get rid of your fears;
Here’s the best news you’ve heard in years!
Jesus Christ is coming to town.

He’s makin’ a list in the Book of Life,
That’ll be the end of your trouble and strife!
Jesus Christ is comin’ to town.

He loves you when you’re sleepin’,
He loves you when you’re awake;
He loves you when you’re bad or good,
But be good for Jesus’ sake!

Now put on a smile, get rid of that frown,
Spread the “Good News” all around;
Jesus Christ is comin’ to town.

 

So what’s your next tree moment? When are you going to stop what you’re doing and go a little out of your way to interact and experience life with the Living God? May everyday from here on forward be a celebration of Christmas in your heart and in your life as we live out the love that God first gave to us in the form of an infant child in a little town called Bethlehem… And may you be the tree for those around you (family, friends, co-workers, fellow church-members, perfect strangers) as you help them get a better look at God.

Merry Christmas and remember and… be good for Jesus’ sake!

Mpaka Wakati Halafu…

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Tangled up in Christmas Lights…

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Each year as December arrives completely out of nowhere, one thing is inevitable: no matter how organized the Christmas lights are each year when they are packed up, you always retrieve the box out of the attic only to find that they are tangled up once again.

 

But the lights aren’t the only things tangled up this time of year. As I try to reflect on the Advent season and it’s true meaning, I sometimes catch myself getting tangled up in the beauty of Christmas lights and the colorfully-wrapped presents under the tree and even the family reunions of the holiday season. Not that lights, presents or family are bad. Actually, I LOVE Christmas lights and giving to those you care for is a sign of their importance to you [just don’t over do it]; and of course family is important in this season as we gather together in a spirit of love and unity.

I have to share this story now that I’ve mentioned Christmas lights… our family has an interesting and rather odd tradition that is very dear to my heart…and funny bone! Growing up in a town where decorating houses is a full-time job, my sisters and I used to have a competition when we rode in the car somewhere with regards to how many houses we saw with Christmas lights on our respective side of the car. For some reason or another, the catchphrase used to signify a decorated house was…”Stephen!” I’m not sure why we used that name or who it referred to but most night rides in December were filled with the ecstatic cheering of “Stephen!” But like I said, it isn’t that Christmas lights are bad; we must simply remember that there is more to Christmas than all the things we have to “do.”

When someone asks me what Christmas is about I usually have a few answers: (1) church answer: baby Jesus is coming! See you at the Christmas Eve service! (2) family answer: our family is going to be together for Christmas to share in each others’ company and see who can eat more of mom’s Christmas cookies! (3) selfish answer: we get a few weeks out of school or a few days off work and we even get presents for doing so.

But I believe, by being tangled up in the Christmas season, we numb the BIG DEAL that is Christmas. It’s not that Jesus is coming. It’s…THAT JESUS IS COMING! That God, out of incomparable and unconditional love for us, humbled God’s self to send Jesus into flesh and blood with the purpose of loving all through his life and loving us even more through his death and resurrection. And Jesus did not come as a mighty warrior or king to say, “I have come to have complete dominion over you.” Rather, Jesus entered this world as an innocent baby, inviting those around him to join him in love and praise to God…and then make that their life. A life of love for others and praise to God. And when we reflect upon who God is and all that is from God, to think that THAT same God who IS love came to be here with us and with us forever is worth more than a Christmas Eve service and a few colorful trees with way too many breakable objects. This Jesus, this Immanuel (“God with us”), is worth more than a few extra prayers and church appearances than the other 11 months. This act of love is a gift that God lavishes upon us freely and continues giving it to us forever (even if we aren’t acknowledging or accepting it).

I don’t mean to hate on the Christmas festivities so much. Nor do I propose that we eradicate all forms of Christmas cheer (who do you think I am…the Grinch?)

I simply want us to take  moments throughout the busy-ness of the season (to untangle ourselves from the Christmas lights) and reflect on what Christmas really means to you, to God, for this world. So with that, I will lecture no further. Rather I will ask questions that I pray you (and I) take the time to consider:

-What does it mean to you that God came down to earth to be with us?

-Is God’s presence in this world and in the church and in your life a big deal to you? If so, how?

-God shares his love with us that we may share it with others. How can you share God’s love with others this Christmas? (Then do it!)

-What does Christmas mean to you?

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“O Come, O Come Emmanuel
and ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.”

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Mpaka Wakati Halafu…