Jesus was a rule breaker, but not a Law breaker. I want that. Not for the purpose of breaking the rules, but for the purpose of not living for them anymore.
“Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
“Kingdom work” is a term I use to describe things that are inconvenient, but important to do in order to love someone well. Sometimes I am like Martha about it. Flustered, I start serving other people because it is all I know to do; meanwhile, my heart begs the question, “Won’t anybody help me with this?”
My toil is in vain when my heart is in this place. We actually can’t do anything for God unless we are abiding in his Spirit. That’s the tricky thing about “serving Jesus.” The value of our actions amounts to only checked boxes unless an eternal God is at work.
Jesus didn’t interject on Martha’s behalf. The work could wait because Mary needed to connect with Jesus and she chose to put that need first. She was just a girl who loved her teacher, and felt confident he wanted her close.
And that is the good news: he wants us close. We don’t need to will ourselves into more godly attitudes while we “love” others. We need to take every moment of jealousy, loneliness, performance stress, and obstruction to loving others straight to Jesus. Because hidden in a jaded attitude, is a disconnection with the truth that we are fully known, loved, and wanted by God.
Once there were two people. They stood together in brightness, but they were told they were going to be sent out into the darkness. Startled, the first person got to work building hundreds of lamps. Burying herself in in the busyness of her lamp ministry, she forgot about the light. The second person took a good long look around at the beauty of the light, then picked up a candle and walked into the darkness, carefully keeping her eye on the flame to ensure it would not be snuffed out. Everywhere she walked, the darkness would flee. Those who had been lost and afraid were forever changed by the Light of her candle. What’s more? That little flame multiplied. As she gave her light to another’s candle, torch, or kindling, she did not feel depleted; in fact, her world got brighter with every lending of her flame.
The lamp maker tried really hard. And we want to say “her heart was in the right place.” But it wasn’t. In her lack of appreciation, both of her need and and its power, she forgot the light altogether. Lamps are pretty useless without light.
Likewise, we are pretty useless without the Light. We can love, because he first loved us. If you walk around this world, knowing you are intimately loved by God, carefully addressing any wind of insecurity or judgment that could make that flame flicker, then you will push back the darkness. You will be like the candle-bearer. The Light will make that email you sent or dinner you prepared, matter. He will bring power and value to every relationship you have and every place you frequent. You will be enough for any darkness you have to walk through, because you will have your candle.
Do not fear. The love of God is enough for you and yours this Christmas, and every day thereafter. Don’t let the flame flicker because of the holiday clutter- this holiday is about this love. So put this love, first.
Corrie ten Boom was a Christian who, along with her family, helped rescue and harbor hundreds of Jews during WWII. Eventually being betrayed and reported to the Nazis, she was imprisoned in Ravensbruck concentration camp. Losing her father and sister, she survived narrowly, going on to write The Hiding Place about her experience.
In the quote above, written after her experiences, she describes love. Contemplate her statements. How has that been true in your life? Have you ever been blocked from love? Have you ever killed love in an attempt to quit hurting?
Reflect on this Advent season and your preparation for Christmas day:
How would asking God to open up another route for love to travel change your Christmas season?
Do you think that God can turn that darkness into light?
Reflect on your relationship with The Light:
How has He continuously loved you through different “routes” when you pushed his love away through sin and self righteousness?
How has he redeemed those dark places in your life through his inventive love?
Lord our Light,
We proclaim your glory. We bask in your kindness and truth. It is because of your great love that we celebrate this season. You, our King, came down as a baby so that we might have true life. It is your tender mercies that we proclaim this season. It is your sacrifice that sees us through this season and every season.
Help us, our Light, to lay down our hatred and get rid of our lists. Help us to rid our lives of expectations, exchanging them for you. May we ever sing and ever proclaim your great love. May we never forget the heights and the depth of your love and may we live surrounded by your light.
May your love be manifest in all that we do. To you be all honor and glory and praise. Amen.
Writing about love seems impossible. We have songs about it and movies declaring its virtues. Our souls long for it and our culture misunderstands it. But if we were to be honest, for many of us love seems like an unrealistic expectation. We walk through our days dragging long personal histories of not being good enough for our family, our friends, or our communities. Allowing the shame to wash over us, we isolate ourselves accepting that the best we can offer is simply not enough to garner the love we so desire. So we hide our lives away, cultivating picturesque social media platforms, and ignoring our need for connection.
But why does this plague us so? From an early age we are taught that to receive love, we must earn it. The very idea of Santa cements in our minds the concept of a greater being patiently waiting to punish us for misbehavior. Even though the years have long passed since we found out he’s not real, the thought of his judgment still lingers. At the heart of it, we are still little kids wondering whether we’ve been nice or naughty. Have we earned enough love to get presents from Santa Claus? Have we earned our spot at the table? Is this the year we get coal?
Or to put it in adult terms:
Will this present make him/her love me?
Will I wake up Christmas morning to find that I am truly alone?
Will they visit me again if I have a flawlessly ornate tree?
Will my family finally accept me if I bring the perfect cinnamon rolls?
But is this what Christmas was supposed to be?
We can have the most beautiful tree.
We can have the best presents.
We can have the ugliest Christmas sweater.
We can have the most delicious sugar cookies.
But if we don’t have love, we’re bankrupt.
In that truth is the miracle of Christmas. It’s the miracle of John 3:16:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
God so loved the world that he came as a helpless babe into a world of hatred, a world that eventually crucified him. He didn’t create a naughty or nice list. He didn’t wrap up coal and give it to you in exchange for your sins. He simply asked all “who are weary and burdened” to come to him for rest. His burden is light. (Matt 28-30)
That is Christmas. That is our story. A story we don’t deserve and a story most of us don’t intimately understand.
So this Advent season let’s lay down our hatred and let’s get rid of our lists and our expectations. Let’s stop dragging around our inadequacies and shame.
Let us exchange that for the truth of the season:
You, my friend, are dearly loved. Not for your accomplishments or your niceness. But for you. You are loved enough that Jesus laid in a manager and won the fight against darkness so that you might have life in the fullest, so that you might have love in the fullest.
Live that truth. Spread that truth. Love in that truth.
Have you ever been humbled by God? Not just experienced hard circumstances, but rather, had a mirror reflected to show the disfiguring blemishes in your faith?
Last spring, in the midst of our study of Luke, my house church discussed the parable of The Good Samaritan. We dissected and debated the parable, leaving us satisfied that we knew our neighbor. Resting in the comfort that my faith and love were purer than the Levite or the Priest. I settled into a smug acceptance that I was, obviously, the Samaritan.
It only took a short while to discover that I could not be more wrong.
There was a woman who immigrated from Asia to America. Finding her home here, she fought to learn English, become a nail technician, and build a life of her own. Every day she bent over and scrubbed the feet of strangers. Every day she avoided eye contact while pampering those whose lives were unlike her own. Every day she fought to live with dignity. And all the while, she held the death of her son deep in her heart. A pain so deep and debilitating, it seeped into every aspect of her life.
A Christian woman sat before her checking her Facebook app and texting whomever would text back. Avoiding conversation, she convinced herself reading the subtitles on the national news was a better way to save both of their dignities. She held as still as possible while getting a pedicure so as not to be engaged in conversation. It was just easier that way.
A gay man came along and sat beside the woman. Seeing the pain in the beautician’s eyes, he engaged her in conversation and sought the answers to the pain he saw hiding in the recesses. He held her as she cried and told her that she was loved and cared for. He salved the pain of her wounds with his friendship. He tipped her well and promised to come back to continue their friendship.
You see, I was exactly what I railed against. I was too busy, too conceited, too prideful to step down to heal. It took a sweet friend, a friend who in most religious circles would be rejected, to show me what truly loving my neighbor was to look like. May I seek to be less like the religious elite and more like my friend.