It was Christmas morning and to my parents despair I awoke at an hour so early it must have felt like an entire day before my allotted wake-up time. The once per year routine was nevertheless a familiar one. I walked nervously up to the living room, cresting the second of two small staircases with my siblings in tow, the anticipation nearly drowning us until we finally arrived at the beatific vision that lay before us: Christmas. The floor was covered in a virtual sea of circa 1980’s something wrapping paper, while macrame stockings were hanging desperately from the chimney for dear life. With, umm, care. Whoever was responsible for this smorgasbord of holiday delight—Santa Claus, mom and dad, or the easter bunny moonlighting for extra cash—nobody cared. Christmas had arrived.
Interestingly, if you could take a peek at a Martin photo album (these books that people put pictures in back in the day) from this morning, you’d find a pic of me holding a shiny new pair of motorcycle boots with an oddly disappointed look on my face. Nope, they were exactly the boots I’d asked for, and they happened to be accompanied with a Santa’s sleigh worth of goodies to go along with them. In fact, from the nuclear war remains of dead trees sprawled across the living room floor, you'd think I was the kid who got everything he wanted that year, and you’d be right as a reindeer. But from the look on my mug, you’d think my kitty cat had just died halfway through the present opening extravaganza. What was going on? Why the glum look on the greatest day of the kid year? To be honest, I forget exactly what was going on while mom was clicking off polaroids with gratuitous glee, but I do remember this: an unmistakable feeling
of letdown permeating my gift-saturated soul.
Sadly, what I’ve just described to you is a picture of the hollowness that would haunt my life for years to come. It’s the universal dilemma—I should be happy, so why am I not happy??
Interestingly, it wasn’t because my expectations weren’t met. They were met. I’d received all I wanted for Christmas. No, my expectations were definitely met. The problem was that they weren’t exceeded. Maybe this feels reminiscent of your own Christmas story, a story that seems to extend way beyond the 25th of December? Well, what do we need to jog our memories as another season of post-Christmas letdown looms on the horizon? Here are three things. And I’m not even a baptist, by the way.
In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:4-5).
If you were to look at my life, you’d see many lights. And by lights I mean the many blessings that God has given me that illuminate His kindness, goodness and Fatherly generosity. What you might not see as clearly are the myriad of ways I string up these “lesser lights” to be the key illuminators of my life.
Now believe me when I tell you that I strung up what felt like 100 boxes of mini-lights on my Christmas tree this year. But even with that decadent level of light emanating from the corner of our living room, I never would’ve expected our Christmas tree to be the sole provider of light for our entire house.
The good things we want in life— a loving spouse, healthy family, successful career, and thriving
relationships could all be described as lesser lights. That’s not denigrating these things. They’re
blessings, but not the blessing. They’re lights, but not the life. It’s the life-light of Jesus that helps us want what we need more than wanting what we want. We need this spiritual illumination renewed in our hearts constantly. We really need this next thing, too.
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God
Think back a couple of weeks ago to when you chopped down your beloved, but now dying Christmas tree. You strapped it to the car, drug it into the house like the domestic lumberjack you are, and have a pair of hands that’ll be sticky with tree sap until next summer to prove it. After wrestling it into the Christmas tree stand, you probably added in some tree preservative and thought I easily could’ve been a forest ranger. So good job, but here’s the bad news: all you really did was prolong the inevitable end of your poor tree. Your tree doesn’t need preservatives, it needs replanting. It needs to be reunited with the good soil it was taken out of if it has any chance of surviving Christmas.
When Jesus illuminated the depths of your soul with the light of the gospel, you were like a dead branch reattached to a living vine. Or, to keep it seasonal, like a Christmas tree replanted in the good soil of the Christmas tree farm it was tragically taken from. What really happened was that you were adopted by a Father God who surprisingly was not your Father at birth. No, upon belief in the name of Jesus, you were given the right to become God’s child. You weren’t given merely
rights. Rights are what the world seeks after, which is justification to live the life they want to live and preferably without any of the consequences that come with it. Being an adopted child of God means that Jesus has given you a righteousness of which no inalienable right can ever provide.
In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. Ephesians 1:4-6.
We could sit here until next Christmas unpacking this but you have presents to wrap and family coming over to argue with over dry turkey and lukewarm ham. Your spiritual adoption occurred because God lavished you with the riches of His grace by redeeming you through the blood of His Son Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins. You are His and He is yours. The identity God originally gave your father Adam who was known to take some light strolls with God in the garden has now been restored. You’ve been given the right to be God’s child again, which is a heckuva gift to not only need, but to want as well. This restored identity is what you really want because it’s what you really need. But you also need something to sustain it too, because in your not-yet-perfect condition you will still seek lesser identities that in the moment will seem uber enticing.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace (John 1:14-16).
Oddly enough, because we were born into darkness, we have a familiarity with it that we like. We’re drawn to it. It’s like on January 1st when I tell myself I’m going to lay off the sugar. I actually make it for quite awhile, but sometime after...well...lunch...I dive headfirst into the garbage can to retrieve those bags of candy I valiantly threw away hours earlier. Judge if you like, but sometimes my wife has already done the recon work for me. On an up note, one of our elders happens to be a diabetes doctor so he gets to happily stay employed.
But this is like our sin. We are in a battle with our wants, but God gives us the thing we need to pull us back to Him when we go back to craving our wants more like our needs. This is grace. Grace is God saying, look, I illuminated your heart, adopted you to be my sons, and even when you string up those lesser lights, my grace will continue to bring you back to the life-light of Jesus.
All I Want Is What I Need
Maybe you can relate to that feeling of hollowness I described in the beginning. That nagging chorus of I should be happy, so why am I not happy? Playing over and over again in your ear. Maybe, you’ve been stringing up those lesser lights for so long that you haven’t noticed how dim Jesus has become in your life? In the end, you realize you don’t need a little Christmas as the old carol goes, you need a lot more of Jesus. I wonder, and go with me here, if the level of letdown and disappointment you’re experiencing might be two of the best gifts God could give you this season? To finally realize that your wants have been too weak and will never be enough to sustain your needs. Maybe this will be the year when all you want will become what you truly need, which is the life-light of Jesus bringing renewed illumination, restored identity, and recovered grace to the dimly lit corners of your heart.