Sacrifice and Hope....

Every Christmas season, I have the honor of watching kids at the shelter rip open their gifts with a ton of excitement. I love watching the parents too. They obviously don't want their children to be living in a homeless shelter, but as soon as they're given a bag full of presents for their kids, their eyes light up and an immense burden is lifted! They realize that their Christmas just transformed from all these feelings of embarrassment and dread into something spectacular! Over the years, I've heard many parents say that their Christmas at CCO was their best ever!

There's something else that never gets old; at our men's Christmas party, I love watching grown men, (many who have struggled with addictions, frequent incarcerations, are gang members and have been "on the trail" for a long time), shed tears of happiness, simply because they've been remembered, given a good meal and a little something for Christmas. For days afterward, these fellas keep humbling me by repeatedly saying "thank-you", reminding me how important it is to remember those who society has ignored and forgotten for decades.
(gifts galore for our annual Christmas party for our men's program! All the fellas were blessed with a great meal and a range of gifts, which included hats, colognes, clothing, flashlights and so forth; no one left disappointed!)
For years, I've seen all the time, effort and sacrifice people have made to ensure that all these homeless families and individuals are blessed beyond measure. I've witnessed this firsthand, because Beth (my wife) is one of the warriors who heads it up; she spends countless hours buying, sorting and wrapping a ton of presents. During this time, I hardly see her, but she and Eve couldn't do with without all the hordes of dedicated people who rally around them, making sure that our homeless brothers and sisters, (who are quite possibly and quite often at the lowest point of their lives), feel special and loved this holiday season! 

Over this past couple of weeks, I was honored to witness all this again; another miracle! I love watching people who have next to nothing and who struggle to find a little hope, receive gifts, feel loved and have hope restored once again in their lives.

We're in the season, where we remember a far greater and bigger miracle, a miracle where we are eternally gifted, infinitely loved and hope comes alive. We are in the season when we reflect on how "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us", or as The Message proclaims it; "the Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood."

The phrase "Word becoming flesh" is so mysterious! It can seem so vague, so simple and so confusing, yet, this verse is insanely deep, very humbling and possesses infinite love. The "Word becoming flesh" speaks of our All-powerful God's love, sacrifice and humility, and that is far beyond anything we could ever comprehend or understand.

The Apostle Paul, when he reflected on the Incarnation, on the"Word becoming flesh", when he reflected on this great act of love and sacrifice, he wrote these words, found in Philippians 2:5-8...

“Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.”      (MSG)

Christmas is the season where we remember how our All-powerful God could have ignored and forgotten us, He could have executed vengeance on us, but instead, He decided to make a huge sacrifice and became a helpless little babe, who was born in a lowly manger and was chased out of His country by an angry jealous King. Jesus, out of His love, sacrifice and humility, lived a life serving others, spreading the Kingdom of God and promoting the good news of the gospel, only to be unjustly murdered by corrupt and crooked leaders!

This is the season where we marvel at how God decided to sacrifice all His power, prestige and privileges for you and me! This is the season where we celebrate how our Almighty God embraced mercy, weakness, lowliness and servant-hood for you and me! This is the season where hope and salvation comes alive, because God loves us so much!

But our response and our challenge is not just to marvel and celebrate at His love, sacrifice and humility, Paul turns this on us and tells us; "have the attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus!" In other words, Paul is challenging us, as followers of Jesus, to change our mindsets and our lives to follow this loving example of Jesus. Paul's challenge for us is to DO as Jesus has done!

The world tells us to embrace whatever power, prestige and privileges we may have, to trample on those who get in the way and make it to the top. The Christ Child turns all that upside down by bringing forth a Kingdom and the Gospel that humbles the proud and elevates the poor. Jesus challenges us to cast aside all our power, prestige and privileges for the sake of His Kingdom and for the sake of others; for the sake of those who are poor, weak, suffering and alone! 

The Christ Child reminds us, that we, as followers of Jesus, must humble ourselves and serve others. The Christ Child reminds us to lift up those who need our love and compassion. The Christ Child reminds us to step out of ourselves to bring the good news of the Gospel to those around us. The Christ Child reminds us; He came into the neighborhood to "proclaim good news to the poor, proclaim freedom for the prisoners, recovery of sight to the blind, to set the oppressed free and proclaim the year of the Lord's favor".    (Luke 4:18-19)

When we meditate on how the "Word became flesh and dwelt among us", we need to ask ourselves if we are using our power, prestige and privilege to trample on the weak or to bring the Eternal Love of His Kingdom to those around us! 

We need to ask ourselves how we can use what we have to help and love those who are homeless, living under the viaducts, sleeping on the trains and living in shelters. We need to ask ourselves how we can lift up the spirits of those who are alone in our halfway houses, jails and prisons. We need to ask ourselves how we can love and visit those who are suffering and sick in our local nursing homes, hospitals and in our own senior housing upstairs. We need to ask ourselves how we can love and show compassion to those struggling right next to us. 

This is the Spirit of Christ coming into the world. This is the "Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us". When we look at the tiny Baby in the lowly manger, let us gaze around our neighborhood and remember His sacrifice for us, and then go forth and follow the loving words and example of Jesus. 
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