A Caramel Cream Christmas

[Disclaimer: This was originally written for a devotional within LakeRidge’s 2018 Advent series. The author opened up this time for the past Sunday’s theme, Unexpected Gift. The following reflection was something of a fanciful invention by the author in order to stir up the imagination of the reader so as to contemplate the unexpected nature of the Incarnation.]

Have you ever reached into a pocket to find something you never expected? Was it some money, a note, a ticket, or just a piece of garbage? I remember one day reaching into my coat pocket to find one of the most peculiar things. I reached into my coat and found a caramel cream, tightly wrapped and looking like it had just come from the packing plant. A brief chuckle and bewilderment came from me, and I began to wonder about whoever placed such a wonderful, unassuming gift into my pouch. I didn’t necessarily assume it was of my own doing for I’m not one to leave candy around the linings of coats —I was chided as a boy for the neglect of well-made candy going undigested. Nevertheless, the culprit of this unexpected gift was the only thing my mind’s eye could savor.

I walked; I hummed; I yawned —all along meditating not on the candy, but the culprit. As I judged this candy, my dear mother came by to ask me what ever could be the matter. As I retold my story, she chuckled at her youngest son because I had done what many regularly do. I believed contemplating the giver without ever enjoying the gift would satisfy both the giver and myself. When in reality a reply in joy was what was needed because joy is the simplest form of gratitude. I obsessed over the giver and not the gift; my mother reminded me that participation in the gift took precedence over mere contemplation on the giver.

You see, many unwittingly forget that to receive a gift one must actively open up in the gift’s reception. An unexpected gift can only be given such a title when one opens up for the possibility of something willingly given without warrant or merit. Such is the birth of Jesus Christ, who is fully God and fully Human; it is an unexpected gift. It is like a caramel cream hidden unknowingly in a little boy’s coat lining — it is to be receptively enjoyed and actively savored. 

Text to Read:

John 4:10 (NET)

Jesus answered her, “If you had known the gift of God and who it is who said to you, ‘Give me some water to drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”

Being Understood From an Understanding God

(This is originally published in LakeRidge’s weekly Newsletter. The place where I am the Director of Spiritual Formation. It is abbreviated for the sake of the reader, but there was written before editing for the Newsletter. Published: Nov. 21, 2018)

Which should a Christian value more: understanding or being understood? This isn’t a trick question, but it is a pivotal issue for the Christian’s life while living in the world. Another way we can ask this is should a Christian be defensive or welcoming? I can ask my initial question in a variety of ways and scale it out to more than mere individuals. In fact, it is a question we should be asking our church. I digress, and you’re hoping I answer this puzzle. Any person centering their life in/because of/ through the person of Jesus Christ are people who display themselves to others through understanding, before ever being understood, because, in Jesus Christ, God sought for us to know that God understands our humanness.

I want to dial in on a section of Holy Scripture that symbolizes what I’ve indicated above. In Hebrews 2:10 and on, the writer considers the fitted-ness of Jesus Christ as our hope, model, and ultimately savior because he fully shares in our humanness. The point of this section of Scripture is “to bring” or better state lead human beings through a new kind of Exodus, which is reminiscent of language found within the book of Exodus where God chooses to lead people into salvation and freedom. The passage dives deep into thinking about the Incarnation, God, salvation, and human beings, yet the writer’s attitude isn’t to impress or confuse us about this great mystery of Jesus Christ. Instead, the author stresses that God values individual human beings to such a degree that God forwent other possibilities to ensure humanity’s salvation. God did such a foolish and risky thing in Jesus Christ so that we, who experience a messy, chaotic, at times horrendous, and beautiful life, might be understood by someone so, so Other than we could ever try to imagine.

Isn’t that good news, not just so-so or moderately entertaining news? God went to such great lengths to seek understanding about your life and my life that this God of understanding captivates, bewilders, and, maybe, frustrates a mind’s eye. So, then, as someone committed to this faith in Jesus Christ, shouldn’t it be common that we are a community that takes on this similar disposition of God? Are the people that God has redeemed in Jesus Christ who gather at local churches the kind of peculiar people that go to great lengths to understand others before ever being understood? Because, it seems to me, that God is a God who understands you and me before asking to be understood. Let me close with this question, what do you think your neighbor desires in a world that is so fractured and at times pulling itself apart from the seams? I think it is someone who continues 1) seeking to understand them, and yet 2) aches for someone to truly know them. The first one, we can do through the Holy Spirit as a witness of God’s love for us, even if we don’t agree. The second can only be achieved by Jesus Christ.