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...and the soul felt its worth

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Here is an excerpt from the message I gave at the 11 pm service on Christmas Eve:

“What would you do for a Klondike Bar?”  This has got to be one of the most ingenious marketing campaigns of the 20th century.  On camera, people were willing to do outlandish and silly things in order to receive the prize of eating Klondike Bar.  It’s a memorable jingle, of course, but more than that, within the question, it insinuates that this specific dessert has worth.  It means that ice cream enveloped in a hard chocolate shell is worth making a fool of oneself on television.

The question “What would you do for a Klondike Bar?” could be put another way:  how much is a Klondike Bar worth to you that you’re willing to do something costly to your image?

This is an imperfect analogy, but it started me thinking about worth.  Worth is defined as value, whether it is monetary, personal, or moral.  Something worthy has desirability and weight.  It indicates that something is of substantial or significant merit.

For those of us who are lactose intolerant, perhaps a Klondike Bar is not worth much:  it doesn’t hold “substantial or significant” value in our eyes.  But for all of us, whether we tolerate lactose or not, have had moments when we ask the question, “Do I have substantial or significant value?”   In our darkest nights, we are not asking “What would you do for a Klondike Bar?” but rather “What would someone do for me?”  “What am I worth?”  

Because of these feelings of worthlessness, some of us may try to keep constantly busy and hyper-productive and people-pleasing, wanting everyone around us to admire us as highly capable.  We are doing whatever it takes to outrun the inner emptiness.  Some of us are addicted to entertainment, addicted to our phones, numbing our pain by distracting ourselves with a screen.  We may be on autopilot, just trying to get through the day on fear and caffeine, and we fall into bed each night, exhausted, without ever stopping to have a real thought or feeling or connection at any point during the long day.

Here at church during the month of December, we chose different Christmas carols to consider.  The hope is that, because of these songs, we will get out of autopilot and instead hear the story of Jesus with fresh ears and inspired imaginations.  The song for Christmas Eve was “O Holy Night,” one of my absolute favorites.  The line that has made a significant impression on me over the years is

“Long lay the world in sin and error pining, Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.”

It is not a stretch to acknowledge that the world is pining right now.  Every day we are confronted with the news of wars, violence, hostility, and fear.  Everywhere we look, we see people groaning for the making right of all things.  And when we look within ourselves, we recognize that we, too, are groaning for redemption.  There is so much darkness, and we are longing for light to appear, for dawn to come.  We are made weary by the presence of so much brokenness.  

And when this world was in this state of pining, the Lord God Almighty appeared.  Our hearts feel a thrill of hope when we begin to grasp God’s love for us.  God so loved the world that God gave his one and only son, sending him not to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 

And so, at the arrival of this beloved and saving son, the weary world rejoices.  The angel announces to the shepherds, “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Today a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.”

The Savior appeared, but he didn’t have the stereotypical trappings of looking like the Lord, like the source of our salvation.  Instead, the Divine One appeared as a vulnerable infant, wrapped in swaddling cloths.  This is in stark contrast to Greek mythology, where allegedly Athena sprung out of her father Zeus’ skull, already fully grown and in a full set of armor.  No, the deliverance we pine for does not come through military might and bravado.  It comes for us in the God of the universe humbling himself and becoming like us.  Jesus was completely dependent on Mary and Joseph for his survival, for his well-being. 

The angels tell the shepherds that the sign of their salvation is found in a baby lying in a manger.  Christ is born in a stinky, lowly barn.  The King of the glorious cosmos emptied himself of heavenly riches and chose poverty.  His mother had to improvise and use a feeding trough for a crib.  A humbler origin cannot be imagined.

Despite the poor and dingy setting, the stars brightly shine.  This is the holiest of nights when our dear Savior comes in the form of a child.  The song “O Holy Night” reminds us that, with Jesus’ birth, a fresh reality breaks in.  It is like a new and glorious morn shattering the gloomiest of nights.  The new reality is this:  that God loves us and has come near to us in our humanity.  God willingly chooses to go to the margins, selecting a teenage girl to be the virgin mother of God.  Jesus grew up in an insignificant and despised town, and he was no stranger to suffering. 

The question “What would you do for a Klondike Bar?” is trivial, but the question “What would God do for us?” is vital and is fully answered in the person of Jesus.  The soul did not feel its worth until Jesus appeared.  To the question “What am I worth?”  God says, “you are worth My lowering Myself, coming to earth, and taking on frail human flesh.  You are worth My sacrifice of infinite power, in order that I might reveal Myself at a particular time and space.  You are worth my experiencing every human weakness, trial, and neediness.  You are worth My enduring rejection by the public, abandonment by My friends, and being misunderstood and persecuted.  Beloved, I willingly chose helplessness, pain, and death—even death on a cross, in order that you might know My salvation.”    

The Mighty One has done great things for us.  While we were still enemies of God, Christ died for us.  The Lord was willing and able to do something incredibly costly to his personal self in order to bring many sons and daughters to glory.  Three days after Jesus’ death, God raised him to new life.  Because of grace, we have access to this new life as well.  We no longer have to be afraid of death and failure.  We no longer have to live with aggression and hatred and hopelessness.  We no longer have to strive to prove our worth. 

In Jesus, God has torn down the dividing walls that separate us from one another and from God.  Jesus is breaking the chains that shackle us and he is making oppression to cease.  There are all sorts of chains that oppress us still.  One such oppressive chain is the lie that says that we are not worth much, or we are not worth anything at all.  This lie comes at us from all sides—from society, from the evil one, and even from ourselves.  Perhaps we do not feel our worth because society looks down on us for being poor, childless, divorced, widowed, unhealthy, or uneducated.  Perhaps you feel disqualified from God’s love and favor because you think you are too old or too young, too fat or too skinny, too broken or too powerless.  Friends, there is nothing—not life or death, not angels or demons, not height or depth, not the present or the future or any powers, not anything in all of creation that could disqualify you from God’s love that is in Christ Jesus.   

The song “O Holy Night” declares that Christ’s “law is love and His gospel is peace.”  The Divine law commands us to love, caring especially for the marginalized, the weak, the refugee, and the lowly.  We love, because He first loved us.  Jesus taught us to love one another, and one of the ways that he taught was through modeling that sacrificial, generous love in his very person.  We are immensely loved by God, and that means that we have substantial and significant value in God’s eyes.   When we accept that we are of infinite worth to God, we experience his gospel of peace:  we are at peace with God, and at peace with ourselves, and we are eager to bring this peace to others, affirming their God-given worthiness. 

The carol “O Holy Night” commands, “Let all within us praise His holy name.  Christ is the Lord! O praise His name forever!  His power and glory evermore proclaim!”  Friends, we proclaim God’s power and glory this night and evermore through our love:  love expressed through actions.  Rejoice and marvel:  because of God’s love, a Savior has been born to you.

So, as we remember and celebrate this holiest of nights, my encouragement to you is to abide in God’s love.  This love prompted God to go to great lengths to secure your place in the Kingdom of God.  Remain connected to God’s abundant love, for God has made you worthy.  Continue to love one another, as Christ showed us to do.  The Lord has done great things for us in the person and work and love of Jesus.  Thanks be to God!

Posted by Emily Mitchell with 0 Comments

“What do you want for Christmas?”

“What do you want for Christmas?”

“Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”

One question.

One request.

Two different answers.

We hear the question, “What do you want for Christmas?” repeatedly this time of year. When I hear the question, I immediately think of Ralphie from the movie, A Christmas Story, sitting on the department store Santa’s lap overwhelmed and frantically trying to remember to ask for his heart’s desire; a Red Ryder BB gun.

(Here is link to the clip https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IQM_kWxrJNI)

If you were asked what you want for Christmas by Santa today, how would you answer? What would be your Red Ryder BB gun? I asked the question to a group of middle school students this week and here is some of what they said they wanted for Christmas: Timberland boots, a record player, Nike sweatpants, Adidas Superstars, Fit-Bit, iPhone, a shopping spree with gift cards, a dog and (my favorite) a profitable future career. Naturally, the answers to the question revolved around personal desires.

However, as the group transitioned from thinking about the question to the request, which was made by God, a shift in thinking occurred. The request was one that was delivered to King Solomon in a dream by God. In the dream, God requests from King Solomon, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you” (1 Kings 3:5).  This request was made to King Solomon by God as Solomon began his rule over the nation of Israel. He was a young man, around 20 years old, who lacked experience in ruling a kingdom and acknowledged this in his response to God when he states, “I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties” (1 Kings 3:7).  He continues in a humble manner when addressing God as he describes himself as God’s servant and referring to the people he will be ruling to be God’s people, rather than his subjects, as he describes them as, “this great people of yours” (1 Kings 3:9). His humbleness will be key in how Solomon responds to God’s request.

In the end, how does Solomon answer God? Does he ask for things that will fulfill his personal desires such as wealth or health or power? No, Solomon doesn’t ask for any of these. Instead, he asks God for the one thing he knows he needs most to govern and lead God’s people well. He asks God to give him a discerning heart, commonly referred to as wisdom (1 Kings 3:9). Because, in his humbleness, he asks for a gift that will allow him to glorify and serve God and others well, rather than satisfy his desires, God was pleased and grants his request. “I will give you a wise and discerning heart” (1 Kings 3:12).

When asking the same middle school students to consider how they would answer God’s request of, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you,” in light of Solomon’s story, they answered with the following: One student asked to have the gift of a peacemaker so they could promote peace in their relationships. Two other students asked for the gift of speaking well so they could communicate effectively and confidently about God with their family and friends. In their answers is seen the shift from focusing on the question of wants, to honoring God’s request, by asking for gifts that will serve others and God rather than themselves.

During the Christmas season it is easy to get wrapped up (no pun intended), like Ralphie, in answering the question, “What do you want for Christmas?” However, the answer to that question is commonly focused on fulfilling personal desires. Take a different approach this year and consider how you would answer God’s request, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” If, like Solomon, the answer comes from humbleness and from the selfless desire to serve God and others, it will change you and your community this Christmas season and beyond for God’s glory.

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