December 16, 2006

The Christmas Prayer

Here is my contribution to my church's Advent Devotional for 2006:

Scripture: John 1:1-14

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. . . . There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.

I grew up with church being a very large part of my life. Sunday services, Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, youth fellowship, and church family campouts were all part of the world in which I lived. Unfortunately, it was not until many years later that I understood that spiritual world to have been just as processed and sugar-coated as the breakfast cereals of the time. The offense of the cross and all the "divisive" doctrines of classical Christianity were largely absent from my education. The parables and moral lessons of Jesus were to be preferred, and we literally sang Kum-Ba-Ya around the campfire.

In spite of my spiritually deficient diet, I was still compelled by this Jesus, and if I would fail to pray on any other night of the year I would always break from my Christmas Eve anticipation to give thanks for Jesus. But what was I thankful for? I did not really know myself. All I really knew was that Jesus was somehow God's man. He was a great moral teacher and He had in some way "saved" the world. Being a citizen of the "world" I assumed I was covered, like everyone else, and for that I was grateful. The cross was simply a show of how much God loved me. God was "love" and not much more than that.

The more I grew and the more I discovered the distractions of the world the more attractive this picture of Jesus seemed to me. It certainly gave me no cause for restraint and caution in doing my own thing. After all, didn't God accept me just the way I was? Wasn't God all love and mercy? Didn't Jesus have my back covered? But still I prayed on Christmas Eve — my conscience convicted that I must fit Jesus into my world; my self-will determined to make it a custom fit.

It wasn't until many years later as an adult that I finally broke down and read the whole Bible for myself. While it didn't all make sense at once, it at least became clear that I had heard only part of the story. I saw that Jesus was indeed a moral teacher, but He had far higher standards than I imagined; and He cared even about my words and thoughts! I saw Him speak of God's love, but I noticed that He spoke just as much of repentance and judgment. I saw that He was certainly a man, but I saw Him command nature, forgive sin, and proclaim truth like a God. I saw the building blocks of doctrines that I had never been taught, or that only the stuffy "fundamentalists" believed — things like the bodily resurrection of the dead, the second-coming of Jesus, hell, and the Trinity.

I had been praying to a stranger.

It took some further years (which included exposure to the intellectual side of historic Christianity) for all the pieces to come together and to begin my journey in light of these truths, but I can now say that I know to whom I pray and I well know why I should be thankful for the coming of Jesus. Jesus Christ: The long awaited and prophesied Messiah; the second Adam, come to live the perfectly obedient life on our behalf; the bearer of sin for all those who would believe; judge of those who stand in their own righteousness; Lord and redeemer of those who trust and serve Him; Second Person of the Trinity; the incarnate eternal God, born into this world on Christmas Eve.

Activity:

Read the following and consider how they support the deity of Christ:

Matthew 26:63,64; 13:41
Luke 5:20-25
John 8:23,24; 8:56-59; 14:23; 20:26-28

Prayer:

Lord Jesus, forgive us for making You into what we most want You to be. Forgive us for failing to take advantage of the revelation of Yourself that You have gifted to the world. Thank You for not leaving us to our own idle imagination about You. Thank You for coming to this world and doing for us what we could not do for ourselves. Please give us the desire to know You better, and the power to follow You more faithfully. And it is in Your name that we dare to pray, Amen.

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Westminster Presbyterian Church Columbia, TN