My Favorite Christmas Tradition

My Favorite Christmas Tradition.png

The following post originally appeared in the December 2016 issue of the Church of God Evangel in a segment called “Viewpoints.” The prompt was to talk about a Christmas experience that has made a lasting impact on my life. For the sake of clarity and consistency, below is the edited version as it appears in the original publication.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

John 1:1, 4-5, NIV

I love the way John tells the Christmas story. Sure, it’s missing the angels and shepherds and star, but John’s version gives us so much more, in a way.

The miraculous birth of Christ is an amazing story, but what is even more amazing is that it began long before that night in Bethlehem. It began long before the angel visited Mary, before Elizabeth conceived John the Baptist, even before Adam and Eve.

“In the beginning,” John tells us, before anything else existed, there was Light. Not the physical kind that was created on the first day, but a metaphysical kind, “the light of all mankind,” which allows us to see not just what is in front of us, but to see God himself.

In the beginning, God had a plan to reveal himself to humanity through the Light. On that first Christmas, the Light entered our darkness in the form of a baby boy. As The Message puts it, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood” (v.14). Christ came to us, waded deep into our mess, and brought us hope we never could have found on our own. That’s what Christmas is to me – light and hope where there was none before.

That’s also my favorite way to celebrate Christmas: bringing light and hope where there was none before. This year I will share my fifth Christmas reaching out to women in the adult entertainment industry. It’s not the only time I visit them; my friends and I take gifts and treats on every major holiday and several times in between, sharing love and friendship with those often hurt or ignored by the church.

I believe if Jesus were walking around our “neighborhood” in 2016, he would be leading the way through those doors to reach the people who don’t feel wanted, worthy, or good enough to approach him.

When I think about the darkness in our world, there aren’t many things that come to mind so quickly as the sex industry. Every day across the globe, millions of women, men, and children are sold for sex or adult entertainment, either by a pimp, trafficker, or – like many of my friends – by their own choice. The spiritual darkness is even darker than the literal dimness of the clubs I walk into, and it can feel overwhelming. In those moments I turn to John 1, where I am assured the light of Christ “shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it” (v. 5, NLT).

Christmas is my favorite time to visit my friends, because as we carry that light into the darkness of the sex industry, I picture Jesus entering our dark world, illuminating truth and hope for all.


Good Friday

John 16:22

“I assure you, corrupt tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the Kingdom of God before you do. For John the Baptist came and showed you the way to life, and you didn’t believe him, while tax collectors and prostitutes did. And even when you saw this happening, you refused to turn from your sins and believe him.”

Matthew 21:31-32

How do you celebrate Easter?

Of course our consumer culture is obsessed with bunnies and candy-filled eggs and sugary animal-shaped marshmallows that do not taste anywhere near good enough to compensate for the cavities you can immediately feel forming as you chew them.

Then there are the Christian “purists” who shun the pagan fertility symbols and shame the watered-down American church for promoting traditions rooted in sin.

And then you’ve got someone a little more like me, a Christian reflecting on and celebrating the defining moments of my faith while also taking my kids to Easter egg hunts. I’m not entirely buying into the Easter sales pitch (this may have more to do with my being broke than pious), but I’m not going to give you a hard time about it either. I usually forget to get/hide Easter baskets for my kids, and therefore we have sort of avoided the whole Easter Bunny thing. My family “believed” in the Easter Bunny growing up, and I think I turned out okay, so I’m not necessarily opposed to it. But do you think I’m a better Christian if I say we choose to focus on Jesus during the Easter season? We are Christians, we are pastors, we focus on Jesus… but I’m also forgetful, so try not to be too impressed.

The way I personally focus on Jesus during this season is by retracing his steps leading up to the Crucifixion. I’m not just talking about the Last Supper and trial, but I’m really interested in his ministry in Jerusalem. He knew this was his last stop before his death, and he had a lot to say to God’s Chosen people of Israel. Have you ever noticed the weight we give to a person’s last words? It seems only fitting we give that same weight to Jesus’ last teachings, as they may hold some important insight into the things Jesus valued the most.

In the synoptic gospel accounts, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, and his first stop was the Temple. He was so appalled by the blatant exploitation going on in the courtyard that he went on a rampage against the religious leaders who had allowed worship to be marketed as a commodity. (Well that could preach today.)

I don’t think it looked like this, but I love this video:

 What in the name of Me is going on in here??

Soon after this, Jesus started preaching in the Temple and among the people. He didn’t get a warm reception from the Pharisees, or the religious elite, because he said stuff like this:

[Jesus said to the priests and leaders,] “But what do you think about this? A man with two sons told the older boy, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ The son answered, ‘No, I won’t go,’ but later he changed his mind and went anyway. Then the father told the other son, ‘You go,’ and he said, ‘Yes, sir, I will.’ But he didn’t go. Which of the two was obeying his father?”

They replied, “The first, of course.”

Then Jesus explained his meaning: “I assure you, corrupt tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the Kingdom of God before you do. For John the Baptist came and showed you the way to life, and you didn’t believe him, while tax collectors and prostitutes did. And even when you saw this happening, you refused to turn from your sins and believe him.”

Matthew 21:28-32

The more we read and focus on Jesus’ words, the more we see that the Gospel is a message of the heart. Jesus came to fulfill the Law of Israel by demonstrating it was all about our hearts in the first place. His sacrificial death made a way for us to be reconciled to the Father by faith alone, and the works of love will be a natural outflowing of our hearts, which now have peace through Christ.

My favorite way to celebrate Easter is by sharing that message of hope and love with those who might not make it into church Sunday morning to hear it from a pulpit. Today’s post is late on this Good Friday because I was out late last night hitting up my local strip clubs. No, I don’t carry a Bible or memorize a sermon, and most of the time we chat about our kids or hair or movies. But the Love of the Father is consistent, pursuing, relentless, and doesn’t require that you get your act together in order to receive it. I don’t walk into those clubs carrying Jesus with me; I follow him in, because he’s already there, loving his children.

Don’t be like the Pharisees who missed the Truth standing right in front of them while those they condemned jumped on the Jesus train. Today is Good Friday, and in the sorrow of Christ’s death, we rejoice that he paid that price for ALL of us.