Our two boys, Jonah and Joel are tragically getting older. And with age I have noticed that Christmas is becoming less magical and far more commercial. They no longer believe in Santa, or flying reindeer, but they do believe wholeheartedly in getting what they want.
Joel, 10, handed me his usual Christmas “wish” list, only this time it read more like a grocery list. He had priced out all of the items in detail. Then he separated them into two lists, with running totals. One list was for us, and the other was for his grandparents. He explained that they were based on what he thought we could each afford. He also explained that if I wanted to, I could swap some items around and give some to other family members to buy. Just as long as he got everything that was on there.
When he finished, I took a deep breath and swallowed hard. I tried to hold it in, but alas, I could not. A long and mind-numbing dad lecture erupted from inside of me. I went on and on about how this isn’t the way Christmas works, how this isn’t his birthday, but Jesus’ birthday, and how we buy him presents as a way of showing love, and how we love each other, is how we show love to Jesus.
“This is not about us.” I said repeatedly.
“This is about Jesus.”
When I finished, my ten-going-on-seventeen-year old just stared at me dead pan. Finally, he blinked hard and slow, and said, “Anyways. Like I said, you guys mix and match whatever you want, just as long as I get everything on there.”
Parenting is challenging.
As easy as it was for me to lecture Joel on how, “this is not about us, this is about Jesus,” if I am being honest that is also one of the hardest truths for me to accept. Not just at Christmas time, but all year round and all lifelong. I find it difficult at times, not being the center of my own universe, not demanding my own way, not expecting to get everything I want out of life, and not blinking hard and saying “Anyways,” anytime anyone tries to tell me otherwise.
The painful truth about me, is that it’s not about me, and the painful truth about you is that it’s not about you either. It’s not that we don’t matter, it’s that the only way for us to be who we were made to be, and have the life that we were made to have is by turning from our selfish ways and following Jesus, because it really is about him.
This was John the Baptist’s message, as he cried out in the wilderness preparing the way for the Lord.
In those days John the Baptist came to the Judean wilderness and began preaching. His message was, 2 “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.[a]” 3 The prophet Isaiah was speaking about John when he said,
“He is a voice shouting in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming! Clear the road for him!’”Matthew 3:1-3 NLT
I picture this wild man with dreads, his prophetic voice echoing off the mountains, calling everyone to repent. As strange as it sounds, John’s message couldn’t be more practical. Repent means to turn around. It’s what you would say to someone who is heading the wrong direction on the highway, or heading down a dead-end street. Turn around. You don’t want to go that way. John was shouting directions in the wilderness. To everyone living for themselves, living as if it was all about them, and their own little kingdoms, he was crying out, “Turn around. You’re living in the wrong direction. That’s a dead-end street.”
John also had some things to say about the road itself. He told us to prepare the way. He told us to clear the road. Yes we have to turn from our selfish ways, but we also can’t ignore the potholes and rubble in our hearts that our selfish ways have left us with. The longer we live, the more our hearts can look like natural disasters. Hearts that have fallen trees, downed power lines, and streets flooded with debris. Hearts that are left with the wreckage of every selfish choice that we have made, and every selfish choice that those around us have made. How can we clear the way? How can we prepare our hearts for the coming of Jesus?
John knew that the only real way to do that was through death and resurrection. The only way to deal with our core issue of selfishness is to die to ourselves. And that was John’s invitation. After saying turn around, prepare the way, he invited everyone to come and die in the river, so that they could experience new life. That’s what baptism means. Back in John’s day water symbolized the grave. To be lowered into those waters, was to be buried, and to be brought out of those waters was to come alive again. It was, and is this stunning picture of death and resurrection. Dying to ourselves is what our hearts need to be made new. Dying to ourselves is how we prepare the way for the Lord.
May we practice dying to ourselves daily this christmas season, and with hearts prepared, may find Jesus, because it’s not about us, it’s all about him.