When I was little, around this time of year, I would be almost beside myself with anticipation. I could not wait for the day to finally arrive. You know which one I’m talking about. My brothers and I would try to be on our best behavior, for one month out of the year, at least, because the day was coming. We didn’t want to lose out on anything that might be under the tree or in our stocking on the day. So we kept our rooms clean. Kind of. I mean, Mom was happy as long as she didn’t open my closet door. You know, my skateboard, which I stuffed in the closet last, could fall from the top shelf right onto her head.
But we cleaned a little, and we even asked Mom if she needed help with cleaning the kitchen as she prepared for the big day. We were like little angels, my brothers and I. We would even strike up a peace accord during the month, and agree not to shoot our BB guns at each other, until after the day. There was nothing more important than the day, and that’s why, on the Eve of the Day, for one night, we three brothers would sleep in the same bed. It got to be pretty cumbersome when we were 17, 15, and 11. But it was worth it, for Christmas.
Which leads me to a question: When did Christmas begin? Was it sometime around 4 B.C., in the dusty little town of Bethlehem? Or did Christmas emerge from a pagan holiday in Rome in the first century? Maybe Christmas was created when Nicholas was a bishop in Turkey in the 4th century. Perhaps Christmas doesn’t exist at all, and we should resign ourselves to wishing each other the more benign “Happy Holidays.” One note of irony is that even the word, “holiday” is a contracted form of “holy day.” The next time the clerk wishes you one, with a smile thank him or her for helping you keep this season holy.
The truth is, Christmas did not begin in a manger in Bethlehem, but long before that. In fact, Christmas had no beginning. It always was. If we define Christmas as the coming of the Messiah, the incarnation of the Christ, the time when God took on human flesh and dwelt among us for a while, then there was never a time in history that Christmas did not exist. At least, not in the mind of God. In fact, even before time existed, Christmas was. You could go back one hundred million years before the birth of Christ, and Christmas was there.
How do we know that? Because the Bible speaks plainly on the subject. Peter wrote of Jesus, “He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for you who through him believe in God.” In other words, it was in God’s mind to send Jesus to the earth long before God ever formed the world. He knew we would need a Savior, and there was only one available.
Remember, love is an action, a commitment of the will that results in one sacrificing for another. The Bible says that Jesus is “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” Do you want to know what God gave you for Christmas? Before the world was ever spoken into existence, God gave His son, Jesus, to die for you and for me. What else can He do for you? And how do we respond to such a gift? The songwriter said it this way:
What then can I give Him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb, If I were a wise man, I would do my part. What then can I give Him? I must give my heart.
The greatest single life event that has ever happened to anyone is when Christ gives the gift of faith, and the grace of God changes a man or woman from darkness to light, from dead to alive, from lost to saved. But what are we to do, then? How do we respond to this personal life-quake that rearranges everything in our hearts, and turns everything in our minds right-side up for the first time? Here’s one thing we should not do. I heard about a college coach years ago that got saved. Great! So he decided to buy a boat, leave his wife, and sail around the world, telling people about Jesus. Not great. That’s called zeal without knowledge, friends. It’s also called disobedience, not just for the obvious fact that he left his wife, but that he left the place where he was when he became a follower of Jesus. New converts often feel like the only way they can serve God is to become an evangelist, a pastor, or a career missionary. But Jesus calls people in all kinds of vocations, and he uses those whom he has called in those same places. That means of course that we are called to be Christian fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, singles, sons, and daughters. It also means that we are called to be Christian students, or homemakers, Christian business owners or teachers, Christian truckers or carpenters.
What does the Bible say? “Let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him.” Literally, “walk in the way” the Lord has assigned. Christians have two vocations, if you will. We are, as Martin Luther liked to say, “genuinely bi-vocational.” The first calling is vertical, a relationship with Christ. It is paramount, and it nourishes and sustains the second. The second calling is horizontal, the vocational calling to manage our time and resources and abilities to the glory of God in a place of work. Both are necessary, and both are God-given. But, here’s an important truth: You and I do not receive our identity from what we do, but from who we belong to. Christ. That means that you are a Christian realtor, a Christian homemaker, a Christian brick mason, not a realtor or homemaker or brick mason who happens to be a Christian.
That also means your work is not meant to provide ultimate fulfillment. God gave Adam work, but it wasn’t the garden that was Adam’s treasure; God was. It was those long walks in the cool of the evening with the Lord that defined who Adam was, even as he worked to tend and to keep the garden that had been assigned to him. What happens when we flip that on its head, so that we see our job as our identity, and therefore the ultimate source of our fulfillment? We get off the rails, because we put the vertical relationship in second place. We look to our jobs, our income, our position in the company, or our status in society to fulfill us. It cannot do it, so we get frustrated. We flounder. We become anxious, or depressed. We end up hating our job, or going from one job to another. Perhaps that helps explain recent data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, that 91% of millennials stay in a job less than 3 years, and will have 15-20 jobs over the course of their working lives. Of course, they are not much different from many Boomer parents who also lived for their jobs.
What is the answer? Lead the life the Lord has assigned to you. Make knowing him your first calling, and your most important job. Then, commit yourself to being the very best at your second vocation, for his glory.