You Are Here (Part 2): Kneeling at the Manger, at Easter Time

“Once in royal David’s city / Stood a lowly cattle shed, / Where a Mother laid her Baby / In a manger for His bed: / Mary was that Mother mild, / Jesus Christ her little Child.” ~ Cecil Frances Alexander


I know, I know. It’s not Christmas time any more. However, we mustn’t see our celebrations as valid at only one time of the year and separate our sacred into the little boxes on the calendar. What we celebrate is part of who we are every day of the week. The thing which occupies our thoughts the majority of the time is the thing we truly celebrate. The birth of Christ is worthy of contemplation at any time, as is the Cross, the empty tomb, and the promise of Christ’s return. It seems so easy for us to forget that the day to day trials, struggles, frustrations, and heartaches that we all face have their direct answer in the birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and eventual return of Christ. Jesus’ death may not have paid for your overdue parking ticket, but his blood can cleanse your heart and fit you for Heaven, and even fit you for a better mental and emotional life here on earth.

Therefore, even though it is well past December, here we are again…..the same old problems, the same old stories, played over and over again in our homes, churches, and places of work. The news is full of yet another, familiar, senseless, tragic, hopeless ending of someone else’s sad tale. The tinny Christmas music that flooded the malls and grocery stores at the end of last year may have seemed often hollow. Decorations that were the be all, end all have mostly been torn down, thrown away, and forgotten. Christmas celebrations are a distant memory, as is the hope and goodwill they inspired. We may continue to wonder what there is to sing about in this dark world. We may wonder how we can trust our fellow man when he is capable (and culpable) of such great evil. How can there be any goodwill or peace on earth? How can we pull our eyes off of our own wants and needs and problems, and think of others when we’re barely hanging on ourselves? We fear for our jobs, our children, our futures, and in many cases our very lives. Celebration is a luxury we can ill afford these days….

And yet, there was once that one baby, Heaven’s crowning jewel, in the dirt and squalor of a stable in Bethlehem, and it meant something for all of us.

 “Even as [in His love] He chose us [actually picked us out for Himself as His own] in Christ before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy (consecrated and set apart for Him) and blameless in His sight,even above reproach, before Him in love. For He foreordained us (destined us, planned in love for us) to be adopted (revealed) as His own children through Jesus Christ, in accordance with the purpose of His will [because it pleased Him and was His kind intent]– [So that we might be] to the praise and the commendation of His glorious grace (favor and mercy), which He so freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption (deliverance and salvation) through His blood, the remission (forgiveness) of our offenses (shortcomings and trespasses), in accordance with the riches and the generosity of His gracious favor, Which He lavished upon us in every kind of wisdom and understanding (practical insight and prudence), Making known to us the mystery (secret) of His will (of His plan, of His purpose). [And it is this:] In accordance with His good pleasure (His merciful intention) which He had previously purposed and set forth in Him, [He planned] for the maturity of the times and the climax of the ages to unify all things and head them up and consummate them in Christ, [both] things in heaven and things on the earth.” ~ Ephesians 1:4-10 Amplified
It is bogus to imagine that preparing our hearts for Easter means merely thinking briefly and distractedly on a beautifully stained wooden cross up on the platform at church, draped artfully with some kind of cloth, maybe with lilies at its base. If the habit of our minds is to passively absorb the images and opinions of the day from Facebook and other media then the ability of us to consider anything seriously or thoughtfully will be pretty flabby. Life and it’s management requires careful planning and thought. No amount of memes or HTML will train your brain appropriately for the tasks necessary for a successful life, much less qualify you to thoughtfully and soberly consider the deeper things of life and spirituality. That would be as effective as flossing madly one day before your dentist appointment when you often forgot to even brush your teeth.
Most thankfully, the death of Christ on a cross is exactly what the doctor ordered. For we all do, indeed, fall short in some way. Personally, I frequently fall short when it comes to my patience and temper, not to mention my “homemaking” abilities. The fact that these things are constantly causing my grief has not been enough for me to improve. It seems ingrained deep, deep inside of me to be this way. I can work on these things, but gradually my efforts fall by the wayside and I am back in Molasses Swamp. Do you share this experience with me?
 “We know that the Law is spiritual; but I am a creature of the flesh [carnal, unspiritual], having been sold into slavery under [the control of] sin. For I do not understand my own actions [I am baffled, bewildered]. I do not practice or accomplish what I wish, but I do the very thing that I loathe [which my moral instinct condemns]. Now if I do [habitually] what is contrary to my desire, [that means that] I acknowledge and agree that the Law is good (morally excellent) and that I take sides with it. However, it is no longer I who do the deed, but the sin [principle] which is at home in me and has possession of me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot perform it. [I have the intention and urge to do what is right, but no power to carry it out.] For I fail to practice the good deeds I desire to do, but the evil deeds that I do not desire to do are what I am [ever] doing. Now if I do what I do not desire to do, it is no longer I doing it [it is not myself that acts], but the sin [principle] which dwells within me [fixed and operating in my soul]. So I find it to be a law (rule of action of my being) that when I want to do what is right and good, evil is ever present with me and I am subject to its insistent demands. For I endorse and delight in the Law of God in my inmost self [with my new nature]. [Ps. 1:2.] But I discern in my bodily members [in the sensitive appetites and wills of the flesh] a different law (rule of action) at war against the law of my mind (my reason) and making me a prisoner to the law of sin that dwells in my bodily organs [in the sensitive appetites and wills of the flesh]. O unhappy and pitiable and wretched man that I am! Who will release and deliver me from [the shackles of] this body of death? O thank God! [He will!] through Jesus Christ (the Anointed One) our Lord! So then indeed I, of myself with the mind and heart, serve the Law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.” ~ Romans 7:14-25 Amplified
As with me and my own failings and shortfalls, it is inappropriate for us to use this amazing Gift as an excuse to continue wallowing in our sin. We do not have an excuse to fail, but we now have a reason for Hope. Perhaps our continued failings can help to serve as a reminder that there is continual Hope for those of us living today. This Hope goes beyond this mess we have made to the very heart of each one of us, to the part of us that is most truly who we are and will live on after the death of our bodies. This Hope goes beyond the systems and plans and rules we use to try to force ourselves into being better, worthier, more employable, or more lovable. This Hope is even greater than all of these regulations and best intentions. This Hope is eternal, and this Hope has a name. His name is Jesus.
“So a previous physical regulation and command is cancelled because of its weakness and ineffectiveness and uselessness– For the Law never made anything perfect–but instead a better hope is introduced through which we [now] come close to God.” ~ Hebrews 7:18-19 Amplified
 “For I am the least [worthy] of the apostles, who am not fit or deserving to be called an apostle, because I once wronged and pursued and molested the church of God [oppressing it with cruelty and violence]. But by the grace (the unmerited favor and blessing) of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not [found to be] for nothing (fruitless and without effect). In fact, I worked harder than all of them [the apostles], though it was not really I, but the grace (the unmerited favor and blessing) of God which was with me. So, whether then it was I or they, this is what we preach and this is what you believed [what you adhered to, trusted in, and relied on]. But now if Christ (the Messiah) is preached as raised from the dead, how is it that some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not risen; And if Christ has not risen, then our preaching is in vain [it amounts to nothing] and your faith is devoid of truth and is fruitless (without effect, empty, imaginary, and unfounded). We are even discovered to be misrepresenting God, for we testified of Him that He raised Christ, Whom He did not raise in case it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised; And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is mere delusion [futile, fruitless], and you are still in your sins [under the control and penalty of sin]; And further, those who have died in [spiritual fellowship and union with] Christ have perished (are lost)! If we who are [abiding] in Christ have hope only in this life and that is all, then we are of all people most miserable and to be pitied. But the fact is that Christ (the Messiah) has been raised from the dead, and He became the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep [in death]. For since [it was] through a man that death [came into the world, it is] also through a Man that the resurrection of the dead [has come]. For just as [because of their union of nature] in Adam all people die, so also [by virtue of their union of nature] shall all in Christ be made alive.” ~ 1 Corinthians 15:9-22 Amplified

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