So Matthew portrays Jesus at the beginning and ending of his Gospel as a universal Messiah for the nations, not just for Jews.
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. —Luke 2:1–5
Have you ever thought what an amazing thing it is that God ordained beforehand that the Messiah be born in Bethlehem (as the prophecy in Micah 5 shows); and that he so ordained things that when the time came, the Messiah’s mother and legal father were living in Nazareth; and that in order to fulfill his word and bring two little peopl to Bethlehem that first Christmas, God put it in the heart of Caesar Augustus that all the Roman world should be enrolled each in his own town?
Have you ever felt, like me, little and insignificant in a world of seven billion people, where all the news is of big political and economic and social movements and of outstanding people with lots of power and prestige?
If you have, don’t let that make you disheartened or unhappy. For it is implicit in Scripture that all the mammoth political forces and all the giant industrial complexes, without their even knowing it, are being guided by God, not for their own sake but for the sake of God’s little people—the little Mary and the little Joseph who have to be got from Nazareth to Bethlehem. God wields an empire to bless his children.
Do not think, because you experience adversity, that the hand of the Lord is shortened. It is not our prosperity but our holiness that he seeks with all his heart. And to that end, he rules the whole world. As Proverbs 21:1 says, “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.”
He is a big God for little people, and we have great cause to rejoice that, unbeknownst to them, all the kings and presidents and premiers and chancellors of the world follow the sovereign decrees of our Father in heaven, that we, the children, might be conformed to the image of his Son, Jesus Christ.
We are at the beginning of the Advent season...and it’s gorgeous. I love this time of year. I like colored lights and hot drinks and hearing the familiar sound of Salvation Army bells ringing outside every shop. It is a season of great Hope and giving. I have great memories of this season as a child. My mom and dad were intentional in their actions: we felt love and we understood generosity during this special season. (My mom’s love language is gift-giving and she has 10 grandchildren, so this time of year is like her super bowl.)
I love Advent.
Several years ago when my husband and I were living out West, our church took part in something called Advent Conspiracy.
The gist was that we were going to participate in a conspiracy to take Advent BACK. It’s been “stolen,” in a sense, by commercialism and materialism - Black Friday and the latest gadget you just have to have. Not to mention that this buy, buy, buy mentality leads a good majority of the folks we know into some amount of debt EVERY YEAR. Think of that: It’s Jesus’ birthday. He came to set us free. YAY! Let’s go out and buy a ton of stuff (unnecessary stuff of questionable origin) and weigh ourselves down with debt.
We’ve got it all backwards.
Jesus didn’t come to connect with people commercially or materially. JESUS comes to us relationally: blessing us with his incarnation, with his time, with his physical presence. As my husband and I thought on it, we realized that our most precious Christmas memories were those moments when we were spending time and fully living life with family and friends: dancing around the Kitchen to Elvis’s Blue Christmas, that last minute 24-hour drive North to sing carols on my Uncle’s front porch, annual Christmas Day brunch in pajamas with our friends down the street, the singing of Twelve Days of Christmas around the dinner table.
What we can’t tell you or remember: what we got for Christmas when we were five .
As we enter the season of Advent and we hear Christ Community talking about the Christmas Offering, I know that a lot of us may be thinking, “I already have so many things to buy. I just can’t do it.”
I understand. I’ve been there.
But if you want to experience a very freeing holiday, let me suggest that less stuff and MORE you is WAY more meaningful to whoever you “need” to get a gift for.
Invite your roommates for hot chocolate before the Christmas parade (Thursday Night). Make a Christmas card with an inside joke. Knit a sweater, draw a picture, write a story or a limerick or a song. Give someone your time - fix your mom’s computer (again) or do lawn work for your sister. Play board games with the kids in your life. They all have enough stuff - but they don’t have enough of you.
And if you happen to have saved any money in doing that - put it towards a worthy cause.
Christ Community has committed to serve Downtown Academy and every year we try to not only put our money, but also our time and our prayers and our love where our mouth is. This year we are trying to raise $15,069. $10,069 of which will go straight to Downtown Academy to help to purchase Chromebooks and curriculum, and to fund various school programs.
The remaining $5,000 will go to funding some needs at Christ Community.
If you’ve ever been at a Gathering, community group, or a men’s/women’s retreat, you’ll see quickly that this church is driven by an army of volunteers - many of whom BUY things for us to enjoy (out of their own pockets). This $5,000 from the Christmas Offering will go towards funding our ministries that are currently unfunded (men, women, college, the Grove). This will take a little (okay, a lot) of financial burden off of our ministry teams and volunteers. A portion of this $5000 will also go to help fund our Director of Operations position. This position is currently unfunded by our church, but is one of two people pretty much running this ship administratively.
I cannot say how much this “less is more” attitude of Advent Conspiracy has changed my family’s view of Christmas and how it encourages us to focus our energies on making memories and serving others - rather than buying the next big toy and frantically trying to find space in the budget.
Jesus came to free us and He didn't do it with material gifts or money. He served us. He cared for us. He healed us. He got to know us. He met physical needs. He loved us.
That's the path we are called to follow.
During this season, let’s use our freedom to serve the children and staff of Downtown Academy, as well as help support to the team of people that make Christ Community a great church to be a part of.
“He will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” —Luke 1:16–17
What John the Baptist did for Israel, Advent can do for us. Don’t let Christmas find you unprepared. I mean spiritually unprepared. Its joy and impact will be so much greater if you are ready!
That you might be prepared…
First, meditate on the fact that we need a Savior. Christmas is an indictment before it becomes a delight. It will not have its intended effect until we feel desperately the need for a Savior. Let these short Advent meditations help awaken in you a bittersweet sense of need for the Savior.
Second, engage in sober self-examination. Advent is to Christmas what Lent is to Easter. “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23–24) Let every heart prepare him room… by cleaning house.
Third, build God-centered anticipation and expectancy and excitement into your home—especially for the children. If you are excited about Christ, they will be too. If you can only make Christmas exciting with material things, how will the children get a thirst for God? Bend the efforts of your imagination to make the wonder of the King’s arrival visible for the children.
Fourth, be much in the Scriptures, and memorize the great passages! “Is not my word like fire, says the Lord!” (Jeremiah 23:29) Gather ‘round that fire this Advent season. It is warm. It is sparkling with colors of grace. It is healing for a thousand hurts. It is light for dark nights.
Our Christmas Offering this year will support Downtown Academy and unfunded Discipleship Ministries and unpaid staffing of Christ Community Church. Our goal is to raise $15,069. In this post, we wanted to take the opportunity to share a little more about the growth and needs for both Downtown Academy and Christ Community Church.
Let’s be honest and talk a bit about college girls.
They either feel like they’ve got it all together or like their life is a trainwreck - and somehow never in between.
I’ve known them both. I’ve loved them both. And I’ve been both.
As much as the above description was written in jest (well, it is kind of a joke), I was much more often a trainwreck during my college years…a really confused, overly emotional train wreck.
I came to the University of Georgia in August of 1999. I came with what I thought was a fairly good head on my shoulders (it wasn’t nearly as good as I thought), a serious boyfriend that all around me thought would be my husband (that didn’t work out), and just a boatload of sin and heart issues that I was trying to hide from everyone else (news flash - you can’t).
I was lucky enough to get plugged into a campus ministry relatively quickly. I made some friends and had community. I was known by a group of people. Campus ministries are a good thing.
I spent four years at the same campus ministry. I joined leadership and was given an environment where I could be discipled. I went on mission trips and ministered to the homeless and transient of Athens. I made life-long friendships and discovered some strengths that I could bring to the table. I met my husband. These are BIG life-changing experiences and campus ministries foster an environment in which college students can have them.
One of my biggest regrets from my college years? The one that comes back and whispers to me often as I continue through different seasons of womanhood?
I was never plugged into a local church.
Campus ministries often create a bit of a bubble. You are surrounded by believers of the same age (give or take 5 years). You’re most often ALL college students or recent graduates. The grand majority of people there ascribe to similar theological beliefs. You probably all have a similar worship and prayer ‘styles.’ You share the same vocabulary and vernacular. You probably even look fairly similar to one another. It’s a monochromatic and monotone experience….
Please, don’t confuse this as an op-ed against campus ministries. I like campus ministries. I love them. They serve a wonderful purpose. They serve the people of the campus. But, please remember, that local churches exists and they too serve an important (but slightly different) purpose. The local church serves the whole of the community and has the potential to expose you to things that may be a little different - as long as you let it happen.
Christ Community is entering into an exciting season when it comes to college girls (and boys for that matter). We have THREE new staffers who came on to minister to young people (high school, college-aged, post graduation). These three want to help you get plugged into Christ Community.
I can’t think of a better way to tell you about it than to introduce you to these three great people. We will be giving small introductions via the blog to each of these new staff members over the next several weeks.
First up: Elizabeth Baker, Director of College Ministry for Women @ Christ Community.
Elizabeth Baker (EZbake as she is sometimes affectionately referred to) is pretty great. She’s got this peaceful, calm, quirky, and (sometimes) awkward demeanor that immediately makes you comfortable. And she smiles a lot. It’s not forced. It’s straight joy.
She’s the new point of connection for college girls here at Christ Community. Her role as she sees it:
“is to help younger women in our church follow Jesus.” To INVEST in the college-aged women of our church.
That can sound pretty simple, but when Elizabeth expounds on this seemingly simple idea - it comes to encompass a lot. So I’m going to try to break it down.
1) ELIZABETH WANTS TO MEET YOU
She wants to know more than your name, she wants to know who you are. We’ve never been a numbers-focused church - we focus on relationships. Just like our church, Elizabeth wants to live life with you. I think there is something fairly unique going on here.Campus ministries often rely on other students or unpaid interns who also have other responsibilities (not that it is a bad thing), which means that a lot of other life stuff can conflict with meeting and knowing the people they encounter. Elizabeth’s job description is knowing you.
“When I was a freshman, there were women who really poured into me and were patient with me. I am grateful for how they served me and I’m excited to be able to do that...
I’ll walk through that with you. I’ll cry about your break up with you...That’s valuable.”
2) Elizabeth WANTS TO CONNECT YOU
Here’s a big piece of my regret in not being a part of the local church during my college years: connection to others who were not like me. Elizabeth wants to know you, for sure. But she’s not gonna stop there. She wants to get you connected to other women. That doesn’t mean that she’s gonna put you to work in the nursery or connect you to other college-aged gals (although, those things will probably happen). She wants to connect you to other WOMEN. Older women who have lived, and are living, different seasons in their faith. This is priceless. Older women bring wisdom and perspective to a situation that younger women may feel completely lost in. Get connected to a mom and you’ll get to live life with her family - kids and all. This doesn’t mean you have to like babysitting and that kids will always be around - although they will be around a lot... and they will love you, scream your name in excitement on Sundays, and love you with the kind of pure love that only a three year old’s heart can muster.
It also means that you get to see how families who love Jesus function. How marriages function - warts and all. How empty-nesters function. Getting to observe women of all ages in all walks of life is a precious glimpse into the struggles of everyday life, but also God’s heart for you. Elizabeth knows this.
Elizabeth explains, “They show you what following Jesus looks like in ordinary life. Girls feel equipped to graduate and live post grad life knowing that they CAN commit to a church and knowing that they can commit to people and live life with people, even when it’s not always fun. I really learned how to be a family with people… I know what it looks like to commit to people because of the church.”
And you learn that in committing to a church, the church commits to you.
3) SHE WANTS TO EQUIP YOU.
EZBake wants to see you equipped - not just to live life with people, but to show Jesus to people.
She says it best, “I would love to really see more college students who aren’t believers coming to our church or at least having relationships [with college folks in our church]. Equipping our college kids to reach out to people on our campus, seeing more and more people following Jesus because of the [college] folks in our church feel equipped to share the love of Jesus and the Gospel...Yeah, that really excites me. Knowing that no matter where the are going, they are equipped.”
See, Elizabeth won’t leave it at you. She loves you. Already. But she doesn’t want to stop there. Her vision is a bit broader. She wants to help you (college girls) discover the fullness of God’s love for you in a such a way that you can’t help but share that love with the people in your life. All the people that you will ever come to meet and know - that YOU will point them towards Jesus’ love. That’s the whole of it.
So, make it a point to meet Elizabeth this Sunday. I know she’s going to try and make it a point to meet you.