I woke up this morning to a beautiful blanket of snow several inches deep covering the grass and trees. It’s been many years since we’ve had snow on Christmas morning, so this “White Christmas” is a pretty big deal! I’ve spent much of the morning going back and forth from window to window in my apartment, watching the snow continue to fall. What a beautiful gift from above.
I’ll admit that I have struggled this morning with anger and sadness – not exactly ideal emotions on Christmas…especially because they are so self-centered on a day that’s not about me. But even in my sometimes unsuccessful effort to walk in the spirit as opposed to reacting in my flesh, God is so good to speak and teach me much. These conflicting emotions stem from wondering why my presence seems to continue to elicit reactions of jealousy, rejection, and offense from others. I don’t at all expect that people will have these reactions; yet I see it happening more often than my heart would like. Although I am well aware of my imperfections, my spirit realizes it is not really me that is offensive; rather, it is the One Who is my constant companion…it is His love that I carry and attempt to live out, and His message of Truth that I stand for at all times. His presence in me is attractive to some, but unfortunately generates seeds of division and offense from others.
I am reminded again of Jesus…the One Whose birthday we celebrate and honor today. Jesus’ entire life – from conception to death to resurrection to ascension, elicited offense, jealousy, anger, accusations and a host of other reactions from people who chose not to understand His purpose for being on this earth. Jesus’ scandalous conception generated offense and shunning for his teenage mother. Before Jesus had even taken His first breath, the mere thought of His birth caused Joseph and Mary to have to flee – for their lives and His. King Herod was so threatened by this Infant King, that he had all the male children two years and younger murdered, in an attempt to end Jesus’ life as quickly as it had begun.
As Jesus grew older, His actions were at times even offensive to His parents. He disappeared from them for days while preaching in the temple. His response when they found Him: “Didn’t you know I’d be about My Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49, KJ21). Even as a pre-teenage boy, Jesus’ focus was singular – intent on daily, moment-by-moment, fulfilling the will and plan of His heavenly Father. Years later, Jesus’ words would again offend family members: “ ‘Who is My mother and who are My brothers? …For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother!’ “ (Mathew 12:48, 50).
The Pharisees and Sadducees, religious leaders of Jesus’ day, were highly offended at His message and jealous of the authority and power Jesus operated in. They were forever trying to trap Him with questions. Perhaps Jesus’ greatest offense towards the religious leaders was that He was the fulfillment of the law they prided themselves in knowing and following. Jesus was the very One their souls hungered for, yet offense, jealousy, and pride caused them to miss out on what He came to offer them.
The examples are endless. Ultimately, this Man Who was guilty of nothing but loving people and speaking Truth was so offensive to the masses – the same ones who had welcomed Him into the city with praise just days prior, that they had Him nailed to a cross while choosing to let Barabbas, a vicious criminal, go free. To this day, the name “Jesus” is offensive to many…from those who believe in other gods, to those who would seek to be “politically correct.” Jesus, though no longer here in body, continues to cause quite a stir.
So the question remains…if I am a follower of Jesus, and my desire is to become more and more conformed to His image, then why am I surprised when my pursuit of Christ-likeness is a stumbling-block to others? Why am I shocked, and why do I allow sadness and anger to rule when those who have had opportunities to know my heart and motives still choose to believe falsely about me? Should I not consider it an honor to suffer (in a very small way) as Jesus did?
God speaks to me so much through nature, and this morning has been no exception. As I watched the freshly fallen snow, I could not help but think of purity. That beautiful white blanket, spotless and yet untouched by dirt, car pollution, or footprints. One of my many thoughts as I watched the snow fall came in the form of a couple questions: “Jesus, how did You manage to stay spotless – like that fresh snow – without sin or blemish, when people were so ugly to you? How did you keep from having one sinful, fleshly thought, when those You literally poured Your life out for – those You loved to the point of death, treated You so cruelly…choosing to falsely judge Your character, lying about You, and eventually…crucifying You?” Apart from my choice to believe by faith, it truly is incomprehensible to me that a man could endure all Jesus did, yet remain sinless. Not one angry thought towards those who wronged Him. Wow.
Even though Jesus was Immanuel – God in the flesh, He was still fully man. It’s not like He had one up on us. There was no unfair Divine advantage in His ability to respond to judgments, criticisms, and rejection. Rather, this morning I have realized again the stark difference between Jesus and me: He was fully submitted to walking in the spirit at all times. That means He was also submitted to responding in the spirit. So regardless of what people said or thought about Jesus, He had purposed beforehand to choose to forgive immediately and to love unconditionally. That didn’t mean people weren’t still highly offended by Jesus’ message and jealous of His power and authority. Nor did it mean Jesus didn’t have some solid boundaries in place. Scripture makes it clear that Jesus did not come to bring peace; rather, He came to bring a sword (Matthew 10:34). But what I recognize about Jesus is that He was a Man Who was so focused on His mission in life, no response by men or women around Him had the power to distract Him from His purpose. Not their praise, not their rejection, offense, or jealousy. Because He was fully man, Jesus no doubt experienced deep emotions just as we do. But His spirit-led emotions sent Him right back to His Father, asking for grace and strength to accomplish His will.
So today, Christmas 2010, I thank God for the gift of snow, which brought with it the reminder of the pure and spotless heart and mind of Jesus. While I am so grateful for the gift of Christ’s birth, I’m even more thankful for the example He lived out for you and me…showing us it is possible to respond in the spirit, no matter how people react to His message flowing out of us. I desire to respond as Jesus did…a somewhat scary thing to admit, as in doing so means I’ll no doubt be given more “opportunities” to practice my responses!! Yet I’m willing to practice as long as it takes in order for my fleshly reactions to become spirit-led responses that no longer distract from God’s ultimate purpose for my life.