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Saturday, December 19, 2009

A Parable for Christmas, Unexpected but Appropriate

Luke 10:25-37 (English Standard Version)

25A)">(A) And behold, aB)">(B) lawyer stood up toC)">(C) put him to the test, saying, "Teacher, what shall I do toD)">(D) inherit eternal life?" 26He said to him, "What is written in the Law? How do you read it?" 27And he answered,E)">(E) "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, andF)">(F) your neighbor as yourself." 28And he said to him, "You have answered correctly;G)">(G) do this, and you will live."

29But he,H)">(H) desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" 30Jesus replied, "A manI)">(I) was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31Now by chance aJ)">(J) priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32So likewiseK)">(K) a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But aL)">(L) Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34He went to him andM)">(M) bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35And the next day he took out twoN)">(N) denariia]">[a] and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, 'Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.' 36Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?" 37He said, "The one who showed him mercy." And Jesus said to him, "You go, and do likewise."

What's that? The Prodigal Son is not a Christmas parable? Take another look! The priest and the Levite both went to extremes to cross on the other side of the road so they wouldn't be too close to the man who had fallen under attack by roving bandits. Some readers of Luke have been highly critical of these religious men, but what if he was already dead. He would thus be a corpse and it was forbidden for priests and Levites to even come close to a corpse, let alone touch one. So while we may be tempted to lampoon them as hypocrites and maybe they put more emphasis on rule-keeping than compassion, they weren't technically in the wrong. It was not Jesus' point to criticize them so much as it was his point to show a new way - the way of compassion.

The Samaritan saw the wounded man and was moved by "compassion." And he came close - close enough to touch. Maybe he was touching a dead body. Even if the body was alive, he was bruised, bloodied, dirty. And there was risk. What if the bandits laid in wait and fell upon the Samaritan as well. All these concerns be darned, this man was moved by compassion and he came close.

The coming of Jesus is God "moved by compassion." God was so moved out His deep love for humanity - lost in sin as humans were (and still are) - that God departed from the glory of Heaven to take on fragile, dirty, fallen human skin. God came close - close enough to tough. Jesus is God, up close and personal.

I totally disassociate the commercial/secular holiday of Christmas and the faith celebration we observe to commemorate Jesus' birth. To me they are two separate things that happen at the same time. My wish is that people would hear the scriptures that tell of the angel coming to Mary and of Jesus' birth in the stable and the coming of Magi from Persia, and people would pause to consider the reality of God.

God is personal. In my thoughts and in my preaching lately, I keep coming back to this - a lot of people miss the fact that God wants a personal relationship with men and women, boys and girls. I don't care how secular Christmas is. I would like to see people get past the tradition and actually listen to God's word in the scriptures. And then as they hear God speaking to open their hearts to a true encounter with God.

It's not something that is fixed in time. O three years ago I had a real spiritual experience and I'll always remember it fondly and with wonder. That type of understanding stays in the "three years ago." A true meeting with God as I understanding is something that transforms the individual and from the epiphany going forward, that individual is never the same. How he sees people and how thinks about and relates to God is forever altered. How he views himself and his place in the world is never the same.

Throughout the year, my wish and my work is for people to meet God. At Christmas, if the holiday is a vehicle the Holy Spirit uses to help nonbelievers realize the significance of Jesus God-come-close (close enough to touch) then there is reason to praise and celebrate with holy joy.

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