Attract or scare

Scottish Pastor John Bell published a hymn in 1987 called The Summons. The first line goes, “Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?” In the second stanza, the hymn asks, “Will you risk the hostile stare, should your life attract or scare?”

“Should your life attract or scare?”

Even at his birth, Jesus Christ had the power to attract and scare. 

According to Luke, God sent angels to announce the birth of Jesus to…shepherds. Even in an agrarian economy, shepherds were at the bottom of the pecking order. But the shepherds were immediately attracted to Jesus and went off to see Jesus for themselves.

According to Matthew, when King Herod learned about the birth of Jesus through the Magi, he was “disturbed, and all of Jerusalem with him.” In fact, Herod was so scared of Jesus that he ordered the killing of all boys age two and under.

Meanwhile, the Magi were so attracted to Jesus that they didn’t stop searching until they found him.

The outsiders got it right.

The insiders missed it.

Why would we expect it to be different today? 

No matter how loving and winsome we are, some people will get it and others won’t.  Revealing Jesus Christ to the world carries with it the risk of rejection.

What’s more, we need to commit ourselves to a process of ongoing revelation. The Magi had open minds and a star to guide them. They didn’t mind travelling a long way to a far-off country where their pagan religion would have been downright offensive.

But it was worth it to discover the truth of Jesus Christ.

Just believe

Back in 2014, IKEA produced a long Christmas commercial which you can still watch on YouTube. It’s in Spanish with English subtitles.

It’s about an experiment in which children are asked to write a letter to the “Three Kings,” the counterpart to Santa Claus in Spain, saying what they want for Christmas. They have no trouble telling the Three Kings they’ve been good and letting them know what they want: games, toys, musical instruments.

When they’re done, the children are asked to write another letter, this one to their parents, telling their parents what they want from them. This time the children are quiet and thoughtful. 

The folks conducting the experiment then shared the letters with the parents.

“Dear Mom and Dad, I want you to spend more time with me.”

“I’d like it if you paid a little more attention to us.”

“I’d like it if you would have dinner with us more often.”

“I want us to be together for one whole day.”

“I want you to play, mama, I want you to play cowboys with me.”

Some of the parents are overcome with emotion as they read the letters their children have written. The narrator asks, “Are you surprised?”

The parents all admit, “Not really, they have too many toys already. You can’t fill a vacuum with a toy.”

One mom said, “Imagine, you want to give them the best you can, and the best is yourself!”

Then comes the twist. The researchers ask the kids, if you could send only one of the letters, to the three kings or to your parents, which one would you send?

Every one of the children said if they could only send one letter, it would be the one to their parents. 

Does that surprise anyone?

Then why would it surprise you that the God who created you, the God who is the source of all joy and wisdom and love, would give you the gift of himself?

God’s greatest gift is available to you if you just believe. 

IKEA, The Other Letter:

God and sinners reconciled

It’s at the heart of what Christmas is all about.

It’s why God reached all the way down from heaven to earth and became one of us. It was the only way to fix the brokenness beneath all our other brokenness.

It’s why Jesus was born.

It’s why he lived, died, and was raised.

Perhaps there’s no better case study of reconciliation than the Risen Jesus’ encounter with Peter in John 21.

All the disciples had failed Jesus, but only Peter had boasted that even if everyone else fell away, he would stand by Jesus to the death.

Wrong. Not even close. Just as Jesus had predicted, Peter denied Jesus three times.

So when the Risen Jesus met Peter and the others by the lake, what would Jesus say?

“How could you, Peter?”

“What were you thinking, Peter?”

“Do you know how much you hurt me, Peter?”

No. None of the above. Three times Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?”

We reduce Christmas to schmaltz. We settle for warm feelings. But you can’t be reconciled to God unless you recognize that you’re a sinner. But the Risen Jesus didn’t point a blood-stained finger from his wounded hand at Peter and shout, “Sinner!” He simply asked, “Do you love me?”

Three times.

Well sinner, do you love him?