Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Holy-Days

In Responce to On-Faith's question, Why are many holiday family gatherings marked by tension and unhappiness?

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I've spent Thanksgiving apart from my family in England, France, Sicily, the Middle East, and now, the East Coast. I've eaten all sorts of things for Thanksgiving dinner, in Palermo I ordered camel, in Paris, the closest they could get to turkey was squab, and we just decided to drink Thanksgiving Dinner in England, after all, it was a four-day weekend. I've been served Thanksgiving dinner by Muslims, eaten it with atheists, Buddhists, and Christians, had it brought to me in a Styrofoam box as I rewired the countermeasures set on an F-15. Probably my worst memory is the pumpkin pie in Qatar, it was so processed and old that my plastic fork shattered in the process of trying to eat it. But I was thankful that I had people to care about, and people that cared about me in each place.

It puts a whole new perspective on things when the most you have to worry about is if everyone is pulling their own weight in getting the meal ready. We should ask ourselves, "What did Jesus do?"

Lets go see, the date is AD 28, the town is Bethany. Jesus and his disciples are welcomed into the home of His good friend, Lazarus, and his two sisters, Mary and Martha. Martha is busy with serving, and is visibly upset that Mary is content to sit and hear the amazing teachings of Jesus. Martha consults Jesus, she reprimands Jesus, "Do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone! Tell her to help me!"

But Jesus answered, "Martha, you are anxious and troubled by many things, when only one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen this thing, and it shall not be taken away from her."

The greatest Commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. If you do this, everything else will follow. The next time we see Mary and Martha, in AD 30, they both have jobs to do and are content with their roles, and the result is much rejoicing at dinner.

Now, of course, this rejoicing may have been spurred on by the fact that they now knew that death had lost its sting, that the Messiah had come and would indeed take away the sins of the world.

How many of us are guilty of placing the creation above the Creator? Martha sought to please her guests by her own doing, by serving an impeccable meal, which was sure to impress everyone. When it wasn't going the way she expected, she got angry, and the meal was almost ruined. But Mary was content to trust in God, not to strive to please men, but only to please God, and she was rewarded for this.

How many of us are guilty of wanting just a little more? When God gives us enough, we want just a little more? How many of us have come to this Thanksgiving and wish we could have afforded that new car this year, or are disgusted that we couldn't buy an X-Box because gas prices drained our wallets? What an insult it must be to God, who has given us life, knowledge, breath, love, food, and this beautiful country, that we would say it's not enough, could I have just a little more?

We've succumbed to the fallacy of equality, that I am at least as good as everyone else and therefore I deserve to be happy, to have a new car, and to have an X-Box. Martha was working hard and believed that it was only fair that if she was working hard, Mary should be working hard. After all, she set herself up as the measurement of how much ought to be being done.

But just how good are we? The Bible says "there is none good," then in order to drive the point home, it finishes the sentence, "no, not one." How much do we deserve? Job tells us, "Know that God exacts of you less than your guilt deserves." What guilt? I don't have any guilt...or do I?

Have you ever taken God's name in vain? The Bible is clear that God will not hold him guiltless that takes His name in vain.

Have you ever committed adultery? Jesus said, "Whosoever looks upon a woman to lust after her has committed adultery already with her in his heart." The Old Covenant punishment for adultery was instant death, today you get a few more years before the wages of sin are exacted upon you.

The truth is, we're all going to die someday, just like a criminal waiting to see the judge, we are in a holding cell. On this beautiful Thanksgiving we should be grateful that our holding cell is so huge and has such a beautiful blue ceiling and wonderful fresh air, but be assured of this, Alcatraz and San Quentin have nothing on this holding cell, because no one has escaped yet.

When you stand before the just Judge of all the Universe, how will you plead? The book of your conscience has recorded every thought, word, and deed, and it will be opened by your prosecutor. Deeds done in darkness will be brought to the light; every idle word will require an account.

Your guilt is assured, the evidence is overwhelming. What will you say? I have done good deeds? Good deeds do not commute sentences on earth, and they will not help in front of the Great White Throne in Heaven, at best the Judge will ignore this insult, at worst He will multiply your sentence for trying to bribe Him.

Will you repent and ask for forgiveness? To what avail? The Judge will say that your repentance is good, you should be sorry, you've done terribly wicked things to the detriment of all of humanity and creation, but the punishment requires payment. The Judge reads your sentence:

"But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the fornicators, the adulterers, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death."

This punishment is almost assured, but here is the Good News, the eternal reason to be thankful. Two thousand years ago, Jesus Christ, God manifest in the flesh, was born of the Spirit through the virgin Mary. He lived a perfect sinless life, He was tempted but He didn't succumb, He was perfect in every way. Love hath no greater man than this, that he would lay down his life for his brethren. Not that you loved Him, but that He loved you, Jesus Christ willingly gave Himself up to be crucified in your stead. Your fine was amassed, Hell awaited, but Christ stepped in and took your lashes, and died in your place so that you can be absolved.

Now the Judge can look at you and say, it is good that you have repented, and because your fine is paid, you are free to go.

Today as we remember what we are thankful for, I am thankful that I didn't get justice, because justice is what I deserved. I am thankful that I received mercy, because mercy is not getting what I deserved. But I am the most thankful for grace, that I get what I don't deserve, that being the righteousness of Christ attributed to my sake, so that when God looks at me, He no longer sees an enemy, but an adopted child.

Mary and Martha were rejoicing that death had been defeated, Jesus Christ first showed that this was possible by raising their brother Lazarus, but made it permanent by raising Himself on the third day, He defeated death and will live forevermore, and so will we if we will approach the throne of grace in humility, and repentance, and absolute trust.

On this beautiful Thanksgiving, I ask that you don't let another day go by without being reconciled to your Creator. He has provided the means, please reach out and receive this gift which was purchased at such a price. I cannot promise you that after you are born into the family of God, that you encounter prosperity or persecution, but I will bet that your Thanksgivings and Christmas' take on a whole new meaning after you do.

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