Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Good For Goodness Sake

I have been trying to put something into words... an ideal, a feeling, a revelation... things are connecting for me in new ways this Christmas season. So here goes:

I'm watching stores fill up with Santas, Winter Carnivals or Wonderlands, Frosty, Rudolf, various seasonal characters and gingerpeople with the occasional nativity thrown in just to remind us of the original idea behind naming this holiday Christmas. Wandering aisle after aisle of bargain discount made-in-plastic made-in-China super-savings I'm listening to seasonal songs blaring from overhead speakers.

...Don we now our gay apparel...

Sleigh bells ring, are you listening?...

... voices singing 'Let's be jolly...

So this is Christmas, and what have we done?...

...He knows if you've been bad or good... That one stopped me in my tracks this year.

... he knows if you've been bad or good...

I was just talking with my mom about the way we both observe traffic laws even on roads where we know there's never any traffic or any cops. I still remember the ridicule from friends when I stopped for a stop sign on a deserted road in the middle of nowhere -- we hadn't seen another car for at least 15 minutes -- but I stopped anyway. In the idiolect of my college years I could say I've internalized Foucault's Panopticon as a sociological restraint -- but I think it's something more than that. Along those lines, maybe, but way more than that.

...he sees you when you're sleeping...

This past Sunday the pastor preached an excellent sermon -- completely unrelated to this train of thought, except for one tiny part when he asked if we had ever watched kids when they think there is no one watching. Children tend to, we'll say, "take more risks" when they think they are unobserved, than they do when they know their parents are standing right there. In reading a Scripture verse letting us know God is with us, the pastor explained that this tells us not just that God is there to comfort us, but that God is there watching to see how we behave in each situation. Hoping that we live up to the teachings He has given us, and loving us even when we don't.

...he knows when you're awake...

Every year we tell children the gifts given at Christmas are earned by good behavior. We spend the days leading up to December 25th telling children their naughty behavior will get them coal in their stockings, telling them that they have to earn the nice gifts with good deeds, telling them that "Yes, Virginia there is a Santa Claus..." and he's omniscient enough to know what you've been up to when Mommy wasn't looking.

But Salvation, the gift of Christmas, is not something we earn. We are given that gift, completely undeserving of it. For those of us who accept that gift of Salvation through Christ, those who spot it under the tree and unwrap it, this is the gift of adoption. We are made sons and daughters of the Lord.

Our Heavenly Father sees what we do when Mommy isn't looking, He knows when we've been bad or good, and He is there when we think no one can see. Like most parents He wants more for us than we can imagine for ourselves and He loves us in a way that both overlooks our flaws and fully knows each foible. He is omniscient and omnipresent. In the words of a Brooks and Dunn song: "Imagine someplace God could never be... He's there."

He's got it all over Santa.

But the jolly red fat guy with the sleigh full of gifts has climbed into the manger and is telling us we have to earn our gifts -- including the freely given gift of the Christ Child.

How many Christians are on that treadmill of earning Grace? Earning our way into heaven? One more good deed, one more kind word, and we can have that Barbie's dream house/many mansions. We are buying into Santa's version. The goodness of God doesn't ask us to deserve our gift. The goodness of God simply says I love you enough to hope you can do better next time. And the goodness of God still loves us even if we mess up that next time too.

Even when we deserve that lump of coal, even when He watches us disobey Him, even when naughty outweighs nice... that gift of grace, the mercy and the miracle of the manger and the cross , that goodness -- that's still ours to keep.

... so be good for goodness sake...

because goodness know He loves us.

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