Today, I’m thinking about change. It is usually negative things that change us most quickly. Like my dad falling through ice into a river. That changed me. Now I hate even the thought of a cold shower. I think ice-water-swimming, “Polar Bear” clubs are a gang of idiots. (I notice that not a lot of people do that solo. Must be peer pressure.) Personally, I’m a slow learner – I stuck my tongue on frozen metal TWICE before I figured out that a wise man would not do that. Speaking of Wise Men, and I prefer Magi, let’s get a word from our Sponsor about how they changed “the day after Christmas”:
And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way. (Matthew 2:12)
Now, I know as well as you do, that “by another way” simply means a route based on different GPS coordinates. But don’t you also think the Magi, themselves, were DIFFERENT after their encounter with the Babe? Our Sponsor tells us that the shepherds who met Jesus also “went back another way”:
The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them. (Luke 2:20)
Most of my years in ministry have been as an associate pastor. That means I got to preach when the big dog didn't think there'd be much of a gathering - like the Sunday after Christmas. I always chomped at the bit for an after-Christmas message. It's full of opportunities to challenge followers to actually live out the message of Christmas. I loved preaching about the Magi and the Shepherds. Christmas is supposed to change us. December 25, yes, that’s supposed to be an encounter with Jesus. I hope your family began the day in Matthew 2 or Luke 2. I hope you explained that the reason we give gifts is to honor God the Father gifting us God the Son (that’s the point of John 3:16). But I must point out that followers of Jesus are expected to have an encounter with Jesus daily. Scriptures, throughout the Old Testament and New, call us to engage God/Jesus daily, just as the first followers did. Christmas is a celebration of Jesus’ birth. Did not Jesus live throughout the full year? Should not we celebrate all those days, as well? Be a follower of Jesus, follow him “day by day”. Please don’t be a C&E (Christmas and Easter) Christian.
Preparing to write this article, I asked myself what single experience has changed me most. I keep coming back to one thing – death. I’ve held hands with a husband as life support was removed from his beloved, brain-dead, 63 year-old wife. I've ushered a mourning widow from the hospital room, leaving behind her groom of 65 years. I loved a young couple throughout an emotionally whipsawing three dozen hours with an non-viable newborn. I’ll never forget standing in the middle of an intersection with my hands on the shoulder of a man who’d been blithely going about the pleasures of 20something life 45 seconds earlier. Now, his car had been t-boned outside my office and, given the nature of his injuries and his unresponsive convulsing, I can’t believe that he ever lived a normal life again. All I could do, in my dread terror and evangelistic urgency, was to whisper to him, “Jesus loves you. I want you to know that.”
Death is the worst thing that can happen to a human and it is something we all instinctively dread every day of our lives. At this moment, late on Christmas night, my mom, age 96, is rattling doors upstairs, getting herself ready for bed… or for the start of the school day, we never know what she’s thinking – she never knows either. First thing in the morning, I’ll check to see if she is still alive. Death is near. Let’s be honest, tomorrow is not guaranteed for any of us, let alone tomorrow night. For this reason I despise all this modern silliness with zombies, the ancient fascination with “Halloween”, and all other excuses to “play” at death. I don’t wear black clothes. It's a matter of personal preference, but, for me, black is too closely associated with death.
Here's what does matter and is NOT a matter of personal preference: Followers of Jesus, live urgently! Live each day urgent to feel the presence of God in your lives and live eager to share that presence with others. Followers of Jesus, live urgently to say “Jesus loves you” to someone BEFORE they’re at peril of death. Followers of Jesus, like shepherds and Magi, be changed by your daily encounter with Jesus. The color of your clothes isn’t any matter to me; I urge you to “put on Jesus” (see Romans 13:14). Whether celebrating a new birth or awaiting the pangs of death, LIFE is urgent and beautiful when you follow the Author of Life.
Clark H Smith
A Personal Note: I’m posting this article the day after Christmas which for the last… uh, very few years… has been the day the world celebrates the birth of my dear wife. I was changed forever the day I met her. (I proposed to her two days later.) She was changed forever the day she met Jesus. Every day she shows me, her family, and her wide world that she is a follower of Jesus. Happy birthday, DollFace. 143.