Holiday For Prodigals
I'm about to make a radical change in my Advent scripture line-up.
I know, I know. Why deviate from the beloved Christmas story? Why postpone pondering the prophecies of the Old Testament fulfilled in that little person born in Bethlehem?
And after all, I have all year to reflect on the other portions of the Bible. Studying the birth of Christ at Christmas really just makes sense.
Honestly, I'm doing it because Christmas is a holy day for the prodigals.
Of course we have other terms for the Christmas and Easter Christians. Chreasters, Submarine Christians (they only come up twice a year- if that).
I've been thinking about that over the past few days- the beloved Chreasters- and I regret to inform you that I have been, well, a jerk.
I'm not beating myself up. I'm convicted, not condemned. But the real deal is I've become this guy:
Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, "Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound."
But he was angry and refused to go in.
Now I'm pretty sure everyone loves the parable of the prodigal son- as long as they identify with the prodigal. The disgraceful idiot who squanders his inheritance, lives destitute with pigs, and finally returns home to the Father who has never stopped loving him, never stopped waiting for Him- yeah, I'm that guy.
We'd rather be the stupid one, not the jerk.
This morning I realized, I'm the jerk.
I don't pout at the door of the church, ignoring the masses whose faces I don't recognize, but I mentally tsk-tsk and want to shake them. "Don't you get it?! We get this Christmas deal ALL THE TIME! WAKE UP!" It sounds like compassion, but it is borne just as much out of frustration.
One thing is certain, I don't celebrate them. (My stomach just turned typing that one.) The packed church brings no lasting joy in the knowledge that, in just a few days, life will return to normal and the church will be half-empty again.
I guess that means that I possess the ability to look at a glass that's filled to the brim and see it as half empty.
Then I remembered this verse:
And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.
It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.
Christmas is for the prodigals. It just is.
I'm not saying three hours a year is enough to satisfy the needs of a weary soul, or that all that makes our God worthy of praise can be summed up in a couple annual holidays. I'm saying it is fitting to celebrate and be glad because they are there, and Jesus is there, and the Father is running to meet them, which means that is what I should do.
Because I am a prodigal too.
So this Advent I prepare not only to welcome the Christ-child, but those for whom He came. People like me- who need the embrace of the Father. People like the ones Jesus was telling His parable to- sinners and tax collectors, Pharisees and scribes. People who, like the nasty dirty shepherds, sit on the outskirts of society and venture in to the crowd hoping to remain invisible rather than feel the judgment of the "holy" every-Sunday Christians.
I prepare my heart with the what-if's:
What if the shallow, temporary goodwill the world preaches about during this time of year was completely blown out of the water by the never-ending, unconditional warmth and love shown by God's people in His house and world?
What if, instead of settling for the anonymous "acceptance" of a disinterested society, people experienced the intimate, I-know-you-and-accept-you-just-the-way-you-are true love of God through His body, the church?
Wouldn't that be the best Christmas gift we could give them?
Wouldn't that embody the purpose for which He came- not just to sacrifice, but to reconcile?
It is my Advent Prayer that the Lord loves the jerkiness right out of me- out of us- so we can love with a full heart the same people He loves with relentless passion. And so, when faces of our towns darken our doors for one of the few times this year, we will not be the stumbling blocks that trip them up on their way to the manger.