Thursday, December 21, 2006

What Do We Want For Christmas?

Why doesn’t God give me what I want for Christmas.
Why doesn’t God act the way we want him to?

Why don’t we give God what he wants for Christmas.
Why don’t I act the way God wants me to?


Our shopping would be much simpler if people tell us what they want for Christmas. As it is, it is very difficult trying to find a gift that is useful and not tacky. Our problem in gift buying is compounded when we are invited to a party and we have to bring a gift for gift exchange. In Emmanuel, we know the price of a penny, so we are asked to bring a gift that is not more than RM10. I asked our college CG folks originally to bring a gift of not more than RM5. There were howls of protest all round. "What can we buy nowadays for RM5?", they ask me. Even so what can we possibly get for RM10? At this rate, we are in danger of getting enough socks, assorted towels, key chains and toiletries for Christmas to start our very own RM10 shop.

Seriously, if given a choice what do we want for Christmas?

If you ask a beauty contestant for Miss Universe she would say “I would wish for world peace and love among mankind”

That sounds awfully corny, but the problem I suggest is not with her but with us for we have become so cynical. None of us believe there will be world peace and love and all the other fuzzy things that Miss Universe contestants talk about. When it comes to prayer for world peace and for love and goodwill among all men, God certainly doesn’t give us what we want for Christmas. He doesn’t act the way we want him to.

I suppose if we really want to complain there are many things in which God does not act the way we want him to. There are many things I want for Christmas, which God doesn’t seem to want to give me:

  • People still fall sick, deadly diseases still kill millions
  • Accidents, natural disasters are still a daily occurrence
  • Wars and rumours of wars
  • Dictators, madmen, downright evil men still rule failed states ( Zimbabwe, Haiti, Sudan, Somalia)
  • Near civil war in Iraq, Palestine
  • Missionaries and evangelists continue to be murdered, arrested, and tortured
  • Families torn asunder, Christian leaders failing morality tests
  • People in church not talking to one another

What did the Jewish community want from the Lord?

At the time of Jesus’ birth, what did the Jewish community really want? They wanted independence, they wanted the glory days of King David back. They wanted prosperity and justice. But in religious terms, the Jewish community wasn't particularly remarkable. In the 400 years of silence, there was no historical record of any community like that of Zinzendorf praying and interceding for a 100 years for God to act. At best there were a few individuals like Simeon and Anna looking for the consolation of Israel, i.e. waiting for the Messiah to come and rescue Israel.

Most of the Jews were just going through the motions of worship, going to the temple, the priests doing what they were supposed to be doing. People were praying but not really believing their prayers would be answered.

Zechariah for instance certainly did not expect the gift he received. He must have long forgotten his prayers for a child and no longer expected his prayers to be answered:

Lk 1. 11Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13But the angel said to him: "Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. 14He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth.[b] 16Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. 17And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord."

18Zechariah asked the angel, "How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

Similarly, who could imagine that God will come to a virgin and say,

Lk 1.30 "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. 31You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. 32He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end."

34"How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?"

35The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[c] the Son of God. 36Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. 37For nothing is impossible with God."

Even if godly people were praying, they were not expecting God to work in this way. They were looking for a mighty messiah that will deliver Israel from the bondage, the rule and the power of Rome. Hence John’s great confusion, doubts and despair in prison and his subsequent questioning, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?"

No human being could ever imagine such a possibility – a virgin conceiving a child by the HS and the son born will be very God and very man. Therefore no human being could ever pray that God will act this way.

Think about it. Our complaint is why doesn’t God act in the way we want him to.

If God acted the way we want him to, there will be no Saviour born today.

God doesn’t act the way we want him to, because to do so would be disastrous. It would reduce God to man's image, man's wisdom, and man's capabilities. God would not be God. He would merely be Superman, a 'god' moulded in our image. Able to accomplish only what man thinks is possible or imaginable.

As it is we do not have the answer for the problems we are facing. We cannot get our act together. We need a saviour. We do not know the way. We need a guide. We need a deliverer to free us from the chains that keep us in bondage.

Praise God that He doesn’t act the way we want him to. He remains God and therefore is our Guide, our Saviour, our Deliverer.

So what can we learn about God from the Christmas stories?

  • God does not work in the way we expect him to
  • God works in ways beyond our comprehension and imagination (Eph 3.20)[1] How we have limited him? Lack of trust, belief, godly imagination
  • God takes more time to work out his will than we expect him to. (birth of Isaac to Abraham and Sarah, John the Baptist born long after Zechariah and Elizabet had given up hope of ever having a child. How long did Simeon had to wait before he carried the baby Jesus in his arms? 2700 years passed before Isaiah's prophecy came true, that a virgin would conceive a child and named him Emmanuel).
  • God is not absent, even if he seems absent (Godly remnant, Good Friday and Holy Saturday)
  • God is strong even when he seems weak
  • God is victorious and triumphant even when he seems defeated
  • God cares for us and we are assured of a future and a hope even when all seemed dark and futile and hopeless

How can we be sure of this?

The birth of Christ the messiah

The life and ministry of the messiah

The crucifixion, death and resurrection of the Lord

On a more personal level we ask: Why don’t we give God what He wants for Christmas.

Why don’t I act the way God wants me to?

  • Why am I not experiencing victory in my life of faith?
  • Why am I still struggling to have a consistent prayer life. Why is my practice of prayer as Yancey puts it “often confusing and fraught with frustration?”
  • Why do I have no desire to read the word. But I spend hours reading the papers, novels, watch TV
  • I have been a Christian for more than 10 years and I am still angry, jealous, lustful, covetous
  • I am still superstitious – when good things happen I fear that God is toying with me and bad and evil things are waiting for me round the corner
  • I lack belief, faith, trust and am filled with fears, worries and anxieties, no matter what the leaders say
  • I am fearful of death, of pain, disease and disabilities associated with old age (recently friends of my daughter visited an old folks home where an old lady was tied up to prevent her from falling and hurting herself. The poor old thing wailed non stop in evident distress)

Why doesn’t God do something about it – answer my prayers and actively, consistently, successfully and permanently transform me into Christ’s likeness.

We expect supernatural, instantaneous transformation. Instead God doesn't seem to be doing anything.

We expect short cuts – some of us are taught, once we are born again, magically all things will become new, the old has gone. Or we are told, "once we are able to speak in tongues, we are baptised in the Holy Spirit, we will never be the same again" Yet despite all these extravagant claims, privately we find ourselves still asking, "Why don’t I act the way God wants me to?"

It is important for us therefore to take some lessons from the testimonies and examples of NT believers

John the Baptist had doubts, questions. He was in near despair at point in his life and ministry.

Peter denied Jesus, subsequently was inconsistent in his behaviour and needed to be rebuked by Paul. But at the end was executed for his witness

Paul the persecutor of the early church, became an Apostle. But later broke up with Barnabas over John Mark, only to be later reconciled with John Mark later thereby implicitly vindicating Barnabas. Executed too for his witness.

They worked hard.

2 Cor 11.27 “I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm.”(Paul certainly wasn’t lazy).

The apostles had high standards. Cf. 1 Tim 3 and its qualifications for elders. Paul urged the need for training in holiness. (1 Tim 4.8)But they were NOT perfect. However they all loved the Lord. In the end this is what matters. Not obsessing about obtaining sinless perfectionism.

In concentrating on ‘actions’, ‘behaviour’ and ‘obedience’ we are majoring on the minor. The consensus of the church for thousands of years, is that 'The Great Commandment' of the Lord is not that “ you must be perfect as I am perfect”, or you must "imitate me as I imitate Christ". Rather it is "you are to love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind and strength."

As a father I do not look for faultless obedience to my commands from my children. Neither do I look for competencies and abilities. I am their father, not their employer. I am not expecting returns from my investments. However I hope for, long for and I look for a relationship that is marked by love and affection. A loving child is not a perfect child. He is not 100% obedient all the time. He may even stray and rebel. But not for long. In the long run, love will always do the right thing, the proper thing. Love makes a man lay down his life for another. You cannot pay a man to do so. Suicide bombers are not laying down their lives for another – they are willing to lose their lives in order to kill as many of their enemies as possible. Besides "Love is patient, love is kind......" Above all, God is love.

The Pastoral Challenge:

The question is not “Why don’t I act the way God wants me to”. The question is “ Do I love the Lord my Saviour?"

So what do we want for Christmas?

May we genuinely be able to say, what I want for Christmas is to 'Love the Lord my God with all my heart and with all my soul and with all my strength and with all my mind.'

[1] Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us

1 comment:

Alex Tang said...

May we genuinely be able to say, what I want for Christmas is to 'Love the Lord my God with all my heart and with all my soul and with all my strength and with all my mind.'

amen to that, dear brother, amen