A New Captive Israel


Make safe the way that leads to Thee.

It’s not hard to notice the onset of Christmas in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.  In fact, I’d argue that it’s uncomfortably obvious when the season is in full swing:  traffic on every piece of pavement in town, worn out faces forcefully smiling at checkout lines, painfully packed Wal-Marts, frantic last minute Christmas shoppers on the edge of insanity (i.e. me)… Some dude earlier about gnawed off a man’s head for accidentally bumping into him in a department store line. A girl working in a coffee shop passive aggressively got onto a family for “blocking” the stairway with a booster seat roughly the size of my big toe (exaggerated… but no rude words were needed).  A little girl threw a fit because her Mom wouldn’t buy her 12-year-old self a MacBook Pro. I mean… what is this? I can’t help but ask the frightening question… What have we done?

Fun fact: I love most things built. I love old buildings, abandoned barns, burnt down school buildings, and architecture as a whole.  But what I don’t love is what we have built on this 23rd of December in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. It’s like we’ve taken the barn and feeding trough that Scripture tells us housed our Savior and turned them into a mansion and a king size bed.  We have remodeled an event in history to be something…well something grossly glamorous. Something it’s not. Something that has us written all over it. I saw on the news the other day that somebody ran a poll of random people asking if Christmas was more of a cultural or religious holiday. Almost half answered with the first option. I guess you can argue that religion might be part of that culture, but if we are honest with ourselves, that argument is a feeble attempt to cover up a frightening answer. Has culture built its Christmas walls so high that no one sees the kid who, ya know, brought salvation to the world (nbd)? Whatever structure we’ve crafted, whatever building we’ve formed, seems to me to be absolutely nothing like what Christmas actually was. We are not Israel, and yet… we are still.  A new captive Israel– culturally captive, bound by the hands we use to raise worldly walls and structures distracting from a promise fulfilled, a baby born where animals eat.

What God has done for me will never be forgotten, the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others. -Luke 1:46-55  

Mary spoke these words after the angel told her she would give birth to Jesus. She promised never to forget what God had done for her, never to forget the significance of what she had been chosen for.  And as I read her words, I envy them. Because no matter how many church services we go to on Christmas Eve, no matter how many presents we buy one another, no matter how many meals we prepare… it seems we’ve forgotten. No, not forgotten in memory.. Forgotten in deed. We know the story and live another. Rubbed numb to what Christmas is. Distracted by this “cultural” holiday.

I legitimately feel like Satan fist pumps a little bit when he sees this mansion of Christmas we’ve made. And I’ve been more and more convicted of it the past few days. We don’t get it. I don’t get it. You don’t get it. We don’t get it.  If we did, we wouldn’t be living a captivity that has already been taken away from us. We’ve taken Scripture, sifted through the cute parts, and built what we want around it. And if we do this with Christmas, don’t you think that pattern carries over into other areas of our lives? Church? Family? Relationships?

 “O come, O come Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel.” That Christmas carol has proven to be a favorite this holiday season, mainly because of the true desperation in its author’s words. It’s the song of a slave, the song of a longing soul waiting to be unshackled from exile by a Savior. And if you step back and watch the world turn for a second, you might forget he already came. But he did. Emmanuel came. He ransomed. We do not have to be captive Israel anymore. And yet we still live like it. Worse still, we are captive by the work of our own hands–culturally captive even when freedom is available to us.

I think I am perhaps the most guilty of everything I’ve mentioned above. Missing the whole point. Building walls around the soul of Christmas, building distractions around a God who embraced the status of a man to save mankind. Isn’t it funny how busy Christmas break becomes? This religious holiday that marked the start of a prophecy coming to fulfillment that began with the fall of Adam somehow separates me from the God it’s about… And so here I am, “mourning in lonely exile here,” like the song says. Living like nothing has changed since Jesus’s kicking captivity in the face.

Stop building. Stop making Christmas into tradition. Stop making Christmas a cultural holiday and let it be about the birth of a Savior that provided safe passage to relationship with the One who made you. Read God’s words and only those words. That’s Christmas–that’s the holiday we have so forgotten. That’s the reason for the season we’ve run over a million times on Hardy and 98.

Make safe the way that leads to Thee–that is my prayer tonight. And it should be my prayer every night. Remembering the way to Him– remembering Jesus, the only way to our Father that we no longer have to be exiled from. John Eldredge always says, “To be fully alive, we must be fully aware.” I urge you this Christmas to be fully aware that Jesus has come. Emmanuel has already come and gone, leaving with us an incredible invitation to a life of relationship. Stop living like Christmas happens every year and remember that it already did–once and for all. Live a life of freedom and fight the urge to be the new captive Israel held captive by the culture we live in.

Airstream or no airstream–it’s time to go offroad. Jesus ain’t the mainstream (cue in hipster comments). Kick it into four-wheel and live a life death can’t even tarnish.

Rockin’ around the Airstream,

Alex

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