Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Washed Clean

As a child, I wished I had been born in July rather than March, so I'd never have to go to school on my birthday. Dreams of having the world stop to honor the day of your coming are common in one's early years (while growing older actually seems like a good thing), so many a youngster considers a mid-December birth the worst thing that can happen to a person. Everyone is celebrating--but not birthdays.

Often not even the Birthday we're supposed to be celebrating. Those of us who complain about "politically correct" thinking that prefers to say "Happy Holidays" rather than "Merry Christmas" often do no better than anyone else. We get caught up in shopping, decorating, cooking, eating, dreaming of "what we'll get," and rushing about to event after event until even a worship service seems like just one more obligation. Once, Christians contemplated Jesus's coming for four weeks and then celebrated for twelve days. Now, we celebrate for what seems like twelve weeks (judging from the amount of time store decorations are up) and contemplate for perhaps four hours.

One movement dedicated to bucking that trend is Advent Conspiracy, which invites participants to put Christ back in Christmas not by bemoaning "commercialization" nor simply by singing "Silent Night" rather than "Jingle Bells," but by actively practicing the values Christ stood for--worship, simplicity, generosity, and love--and by spending our money and time not on our own pleasures, but on serving the least of God's people. The Conspiracy's motto is "Christmas can (still) change the world," which was, after all, the purpose of Christ's coming. He never intended to make anyone's life one long vacation; He wants to introduce us to the deeper joy of living in God's service through all circumstances.

Although most people wait until December 26 and the imminent new year to think seriously about how life could change for the better, why shouldn't we as Christians start during Advent? This week's poem was inspired by a classic sometimes called "The New Leaf," which focuses on how God wipes out our mistakes and enables us to start fresh.

After all, the celebration of Christmas shouldn't stop with remembering the manger. The manger has no real meaning without full appreciation of the Cross and the empty tomb.

He came in from play at the end of the day,
Dirty with grime.
"I'm sorry, Mother, I meant to stay clean;
I forget every time."
I scrubbed his arms till the mud was gone,
Then found clean clothes for him to put on:
"Now that you look neat,
Let's sit down and eat."

I knelt down to pray at the end of the day,
Dirty with sin.
"I'm sorry, Father, I meant to stay clean;
I forgot You again."
He doused my soul in His grace so free,
And clothed me fresh in new purity:
"Now that you are able,
Come sit at My table."

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