Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Light Broke Through

This will probably be my last entry before Christmas--quite possibly the last for this year. Although I haven't definitely committed myself to taking off until January 6 or 7, the idea is very appealing. Partly because my blog ministry seems to be suffering from the same problem that plagues most of my life (work and leisure time alike)--a largely self-imposed "obligation overload" manifesting itself in a constant sense of "hurry up and finish this so you can rush on to the next item on your list." Which tends to spoil enjoyment of the present moment and often sabotages the current task by impeding concentration.

Thousands suffer from similar problems--thanks in large measure to the voices of society. It's not just advertisers who bombard us with "you need this" messages until we go crazy trying to keep up. The average American is advised by doctors, pastors, authors, and experts of every stripe to get seven hours of exercise a week; pray for an hour or two each day; read at least a dozen good books a year; take four or five business courses annually; give some eight hours a week to assisting church ministries or charities; perform regular maintenance on a hundred things that keep home and auto functioning; spend at least half of any remaining leisure time actively building relationships with family and friends; and maintain active "Goals" lists in six or seven categories of life. Small wonder that we work as hard at our "time off" as in our jobs. Most readers--currently in the thick of Christmas shopping, Christmas parties, Christmas guests, and Christmas dinner--probably nodded in rueful recognition there; but the point will apply equally in six months as we include our laptops in vacation packing or rush about trying to see a city's worth of tourist attractions in four days.

Despite "peace and serenity" images of the first Christmas, Bethlehem that day was probably as hectic as any modern airport on a holiday weekend. The town was jammed to capacity with long-distance travelers grumbling about the inconvenience of the trip and the unfairness of the tax census that necessitated it. Jesus was born in a stable because every available guest room was taken. Even the shepherds who first received news of Christ's coming were "out in the fields" because they were working, "keeping watch over their flocks at night" (Luke 2:8, NIV). It could be hard, unpleasant work, no doubt, but at least they knew the routine. Then, suddenly, a light burst out of nowhere, and they nearly panicked. Here was something new and unfamiliar, something far bigger than the busyness of everyday life.

God's light rarely shines on people so obviously or so spectacularly. When it comes in more subtle ways--in a human need or the beauty of a wildflower--we're prone to ignore it, or if that's not an option, to complain that it interrupts our schedules. Still, there are moments when "ordinary" things are appreciated even by the overworked and jaded. After the weather has been gloomy for days, as often happens at this time of year, people who frequently take the sunlight for granted welcome its return with the enthusiasm of someone greeting a long-lost friend.

Many of us are going about with darker clouds in our hearts than the weather ever visited upon anyone. Now, as we prepare to celebrate Christ's coming, is the time to live according to Paul's words in 2 Cor. 4:6:

"For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ."

Two thousand years ago
A man lived life in darkness, blind from birth;
And then one day
A Man stepped up and rubbed blind eyes with earth,
And when those sightless eyes
Were washed and cleansed, the dark gave way to light;
For on that day
The man who was born blind received his sight.

Through years and years of time
Earth's people lived in darkness, slaves to sin;
And then one day
A Man stepped forth to die, and thus did win
Salvation for all souls
Who would believe, who would receive God's light;
And Heaven still sings
Each time a heart born blind receives its sight.

And so it is today:
All who live life in darkness, blind from birth,
Can still receive
The Power of Him Who came from Heaven to earth:
His gift of endless Love,
His bringing of new life, His gift of sight:
Just let Him in,
And He will turn your darkness into light.

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