The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?"
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you."
Jesus said, "Feed my sheep."
December 12, 2000
Ready for Christmas
"So, are you ready for Christmas?"
I've heard that question countless times in the past few weeks. This time of the year it replaces "How are you doing?" as the well-intentioned, standard greeting that you really don't want an answer to when you ask.
I've been thinking how I should respond to it as a follower of Jesus.
Oh, I know what people mean when they ask that. Have you done your shopping? Decorating? Baking? Card sending? And all the other obligations that supposedly get us into something called "The Christmas Spirit."
I hear the question from my Christian friends as much as I hear it from friends who don't know Jesus yet. And it's said in the same context.
A few days ago a Christian at work said, "So, are you ready for Christmas?" and for the first time, I actually replied very gently, "What do you mean by that?"
She said, "Oh, you know, do you have all your shopping done yet?"
I know what, and even how I'm supposed to answer: "Well, [embarrassed laugh] I've gotten started on my shopping, but I haven't done any baking yet. And my house is only half decorated. I guess I'll get it all done somehow! I don't know, [sigh] I just can't seem to get into The Christmas Spirit this year."
But there's this part of me that wants to say something very different in reply. The real answer is yes, I am ready for Christmas.
As I come to know my Lord better, I realize how much I need to reflect on why Jesus was born, and that Jesus was even born at all. Each year, Christmas comes and helps me think about these things.
Nine months before Jesus' birth, God ordained that Now is the Time. God actually went through with the capstone of the plan he had been working out ever since humankind's first sin broke our relationship with Him.
That God would choose to live as one of us is what we call the Incarnation. Jesus' sinless life models how God wants us to live. And His death as a perfect sacrifice was the way God chose both to satisfy the justice that His holiness demands for our sin, and to extend the mercy that his overwhelming love for us cries out for.
We are often told that Jesus' life here on Earth shows us what God is really like. If you have questions about God, just look at Jesus! At this time of the year I think about how God went about the Incarnation, and that also shows me what He is like.
Before anything ever happened to Mary, the angel Gabriel appeared to her (Luke 1:26-38) and let her know God's plan up front. How kind and loving that was. But God also was doing something else in that visit. He was, in effect, asking Mary's permission.
When Gabriel is through with his announcement, he waits for Mary's answer. Luke 1:38 records that Mary replies, "I am the Lord's servant, may it be to me as you have said." Only then does the angel leave. And only then does God's plan go into effect.
When I think about it, I realize God could have forced Mary to comply. He is God, after all. He can do anything he wants. But he didn't. Mary had a choice—-
—-just like all of us have a choice. That's another beautiful thing about God's gift of Jesus. He never forces us to accept the salvation that is in Christ. He could—-He's God! But forcing people into doing anything just isn't God's style, ever. He respects our freedom to make our own choices, no matter what. If you search the entire Bible, you'll never find a single place where God forced anyone into doing anything.
Christmas says that God really does care that much about us. He loves us enough to become one of us, to be the one who has to pay the price for all of the sin that has ever happened or will ever happen, to provide the way back to fellowship with Him—but never to violate our freedom to accept it.
So Christmas for me is a time of thinking. It makes me focus, again, on God's unfathomable love. Christmas brings me face to face with mystery. It sobers me to the implications of how faith should be lived out in my life. It reminds me of the renewal that is mine in Christ.
I need to come up with a new answer to the "Are you ready for Christmas?" question. Because the truth is I'm more than ready for Christmas. And shopping doesn't even enter into it.
I am the Lord's servant, may it be to me as you have said.