Jesus Called. He says “Relax!”

End of the year hub-bub. Last minute Christmas shopping. Projects piling up, demanding to be finished by year’s end. Commitments. Social invitations and requests. Church events. Year-end giving solicitations streaming non-stop in the mail and email. And stress over the mounting credit card usage over the holidays. “Was that really a wise purchase?”

I woke up this morning a little stressed. Not the panicky kind; just the feeling of being a little over-stretched. Praying for God’s mercy and help in covering my already-dangerously extended finances. Yeah, nothing new there for most of us, right? And in the middle of my wildly rambling thoughts, even before my first cup of coffee, a word popped into my head. “Relax.” May have been God or maybe not. Maybe it was just me, reminding myself of truths I should already know so well. And I immediately caught an image of Jesus standing in a boat surrounded by rushing winds and tossing waves: “Peace. Be still.”

It’s possible Jesus used the word so often uttered by frenzied Hebrew parents to their children: “shekket!” Be quiet — or as we’d probably say in America, “shut up!”

The waves in our lives don’t always respond immediately like they did for him. This morning, that word applied more to me, to the raging winds inside my own head, more than to the external circumstances I was considering. And maybe that’s how it is most of the time. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” Doesn’t mean problems and stressors suddenly vanish. It doesn’t mean we’re suddenly transported to fields of daisies, with sparkling streams and deer leaping in the distance. We know that. In fact we’re told from the outset, “in this world you will have trouble” — but we’re also encouraged, “don’t worry about tomorrow”, “be anxious for nothing”, “cast all your cares upon him.” It’s not about having a life of smooth sailing. It’s not about being organized and well-controlled, having all our ducks in a row, all the details worked out, or having our business properly taken care of. It’s about knowing that DESPITE all those things, we can relax. We’re not alone in all the mess, and these things can’t touch us deep inside unless we let them.

Some of those pressing issues in our lives will work themselves out with a little effort on our part. Like sudden storms, they eventually subside, and things return to normal. Some things won’t. Not everything works out the way we’d like, and some things get broken beyond repair. But that’s okay. If we can somehow manage to lift our eyes off the waves crashing around us, if we can focus on the bigger picture — Jesus in the boat with us, and his unshakeable, eternal love buried deep inside us — maybe those waves wouldn’t torment us as much. Is that truth gonna pay my bills, or sort out the priorities on my task list? Probably not. But it does mean that I don’t have to freak out over them. I can keep my peace. I can keep a grip on my sanity, calm my nerves, take a deep breath, and shake the tendrils of those worries off my soul. I can choose to relax.

Hey, it’s not the most supernatural, earth-shattering revelation one can have. But this morning, even before my first cup of coffee, I can get a grip on my day before it gets a grip on me. I can tap into that divine source of stability and speak “shekket” over myself. And isn’t that part of the whole Christmas message? “On earth, PEACE.”

Jesus called this morning. He says he isn’t in your boat for nothing. He wants you to relax.

John 16:33; Mt 6:31-34; Phil 4:6; 1 Pet 5:7

A Christmas Epiphany

bigbangA few minutes ago, as I was reading a note from my mom about the “joy unspeakable and full of glory” that is the heart of Christmas, I was struck by an image of the excitement in heaven over the birth of Jesus some 2000 years ago.  God himself, I suddenly realized, had looked forward to that day.  Set before the creation of the universe, he planned to come down and walk among humans again — this time in a form even more intimate than he had with Adam in the Garden.

Several years ago, in a moment of quiet gratitude to God for sacrificing his Son for our benefit, I was given a quick glimpse of insight into God’s perspective.  I thanked him not just for his suffering and death, but knowing that he’d wear a body (even if glorified) for eternity because once he took on humanity, he was stuck with it forever.  And as I expressed my gratitude for him taking such great measures to bring us back, he answered very simply, “It was my pleasure.”

With those four short words, I understood in a flash that it was his great joy to walk with us again.  It was so much his desire to be with us and for us to be with him that it was a sheer joy for him to come down and be with us in the flesh.

But I didn’t realize until just now, that God had eagerly looked forward to that day from the dawn of eternity.  Like the expression Jesus used speaking to his disciples about how he had looked forward to that last Passover with them, “with desire, I have desired to eat this with you,” it was with that same great intensity of desire and anticipation that God himself waited for the day when he could take on humanity himself, and walk with us — just to BE with us, and for us to experience him in a tangible way.  He felt such great joy at the prospect of the manger, of that great cataclysmic eruption of the divine personhood into this mundane reality.  It was his great pleasure, and all heaven exploded in celebration at that moment.  “EMMANUEL ! — With us, God!”  So powerful was the explosion that angelic hosts appeared visibly in the night sky.  The fabric of space and time was torn, the dimensions collided.  It was like a star exploding, a super nova.  The only precedent to the immensity of this event was the very first moment of Creation when God spoke the Word and an explosion of light filled the universe, and the very substance of everything that is in our world, our reality, came into existence.  This time, God himself, piercing through the barrier separating heaven from earth, took on flesh, to walk, talk, and touch his beloved — us.  He’d been waiting eons for that moment, and savored it with such pleasure.

The Cross, as essential as it is for our redemption and restoration, was a small price to pay in his eyes for the sheer joy of reuniting with us, and having us be able to spend eternity with him — as he’d originally intended.  Like birth pains in reverse.  Those hours of pain and agony at the Crucifixion he would gladly suffer for the joy set before him.  And that joy was US.

That was my brief Christmas revelation, and I wanted to share it with you all.  As we celebrate the birth of Christ, the redeemer of mankind, let’s also remember the heart of Our Father that motivated this occasion. He did it for us — for the joy of YOUR company.  The message of Christmas he earnestly wants you to hear: You are greatly loved.

Merry Christmas, indeed!