Jesus’ Wish List

wish-list

 

Do you struggle each year to come up with the perfect gifts for friends and family at Christmas?

I know I do.

I wonder…what if we challenged the overarching focus of Christmas – one that is materialistic and self-indulgent – to one that is less about us and more about Jesus?  What do you think Jesus really wants?

Peace?

An end to hunger?

An end to poverty?

I think Jesus wants all those things.  But most of all, I think what Jesus wants for Christmas is…us.

Me.

You.

Our time, our talents, and our treasures.  And he wants them to be used in service to others.

As Christians, we are the hands and feet of Jesus in the world.  We have the love of Christ inside of us.  And how is this love known?  Through serving others.  With action.  We show the love of Jesus.  Jesus says in Matthew that what you did for the least of these – sick, hungry, homeless, oppressed, imprisoned – you do to me.  When we meet someone who has a need – be it hunger, or thirst, or shelter, or clothes – we are supposed to meet that need.  To take care of them.  To help them.  We are to visit the sick and imprisoned.  We are supposed to help ease their suffering.  We know that there are people in our community suffering during this season of the year.  I wonder… who are “the least” in our community?  And what can we do to ease their suffering?

Jesus teaches us that our lives have more meaning and value than we can imagine.  And what we do with them and choices we make really do matter.  It says in 1 John that “this is how we know love; that Jesus laid his life down for us.  And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.”  Now…not every Christian is called to literally lay down their life for another.  That truly is something special.  But every believer is called to respond to people in need and to help as best as they can.  It also says in 1 John, let us love with actions.  Sometimes all that is needed is something simple, like something to eat or drink.

Thinking about the needy can seem pretty overwhelming.  There are a lot of people in the world who are in need.  There are a lot of people in our community who are in need.  Now before we get too distraught, let me just say that I don’t think the heart of these verses is to make us feel guilty for what we haven’t done.  I see them as more of a “wellness check” that encourages us to do the right thing.  These verses are supposed to inspire us to be faithful, to serve the least in our community.  To encourage us to stop being so self-centered.  To help us gauge how we are – or are not – growing into the likeness of Jesus.  That serving others becomes so much a part of us that we do it before we realize we are doing it.  Before we know it, we are making time for others. We are getting out into the community and giving our time and our talents.  And when we get to this point, we are laying down our lives for our brothers and sisters. My seminary professor said that, “when we lay down the completely normal human desire to live for ourselves and instead allow the love of God to reorient us toward the needs of others, we are laying down our lives.”

When we serve, we lay aside claim to our own lives and put others first.  Because we love.  When we believe in Jesus, we believe in love.  And we cannot have love without action.  And when we let that love act, through things like giving clothes to the needy or food to the hungry, we can be sure that the love of God is what is pulsing through our hearts and our hands and our feet. [1]

Love has spurred us to action a lot this fall at Faith.  We have reached out into our community and painted a house for an elderly couple, given our time at elementary school carnivals, and given of our treasure when we filled up shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child and took ornaments from the Gift Tree*.

Hands for Housing with iACT, October 2012

Hands for Housing with iACT, October 2012

Gift Tree gifts for Joslin Elementary
Gift Tree gifts for Joslin Elementary

Gift Tree gifts for Zilker Elementary

Gift Tree gifts for Zilker Elementary

 

Love…. The Beatles had it right all along.

All you need is LOVE.

 

 

What does Jesus want for Christmas?

For us to love.  And how do we do that?  We serve.  Any and every way we can.

The Cotton Patch Bible says it best:  Let’s not talk about love.  Let’s not sing about love. Let’s put love into action and make it real.

Merry Christmas.

 

 

*The Gift Tree was an outreach that Faith did this Christmas to help needy families at Joslin and Zilker Elementary schools.


[1] Ron Cole-Turner, Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year B, Volume 2, 1 John 3:16-24: Theological Perspective, 2008,

God Speaks on Cap Metro

Monday morning, not so comfortable in the middle seat at the very back of a #3 bus on my way to work in South Austin, iPod in my ears listening to a Pray-As-You-Go podcast, one of my favorite daily prayer practices.

I wasn’t really quite awake when I got on, so I just kind of sat there, staring ahead, bouncing along, partly seeing, partly listening.  But then the podcast scripture reading began, this day from the New Testament letter of James.

Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! Those who hear and don’t act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like. But whoever catches a glimpse of the revealed counsel of God—the free life!—even out of the corner of his eye, and sticks with it, is no distracted scatterbrain but a man or woman of action. That person will find delight and affirmation in the action.  (James 1.22-25 from The Message)

As those words registered I slowly began to see, waking up to the divinity of just what is this present moment.  The whole human race riding on the bus with me: the stooped elderly housemaid on her way to work… the banker heading downtown in a lovely new suit… maybe 20 college students off to U.T. and A.C.C…. an exhausted and not quite sober man slumped against a window… the elderly gentleman who gave up his seat for an expectant mother standing in the aisle.  Also on that jam-packed morning bus were the two men, one my age, one in his 20’s, both sitting on their respective inside seats, defying anyone to try and take the seat next to them by the window.  Far up front I could hear the garbled ranting of a woman loudly cursing someone on a cell phone.  We were all there, the human family in all our goodness and all our suffering, self-inflicted, other-inflicted, hearts longing “stop requested.”

That scripture really pulled my chain.  I’ve heard the Biblical words about loving your neighbor all my life.  I bet most everyone on that bus had heard it, too.  And yet, how often does it go right out the other ear?  I think I’m a Christian.  I want to love my neighbor.  But two minutes later I’ve forgotten who I am.  O, to catch the revealed counsel of God.  O, to find delight and affirmation in acting on those three weighty words—love your neighbor.

I like to say, because I think it’s true, faith is verb.  Love your neighbor sometimes must mean more than thinking kind thoughts about them.  I also know loving my neighbor is hard, especially when the bus is crowded and hot and some of my fellow passengers haven’t bathed in awhile, when the seat is hard and the trip is long, when that annoying man would rather someone stand lurching and clinging for balance than share his bench, and especially, dear God, when people are shouting into a cell phone cursing someone for being inconsiderate and un-loving.

We’re all on the same big bus and loving each other is hard, don’t you think?  All I know to do is look in the mirror and pray to God, a God who loves me just as I am, who knows it’s hard, who knows I fall short, but still wants me to grow in grace and love toward everybody on the bus.  How about you?  What helps you to love?

A fellow passenger and friend on bus #3,

david gilliam, pastor, faith united methodist church, austin

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