Blessed are the entitled?

An Expert Pouterphoto © 2007 Sharon Mollerus | more info (via: Wylio)

*Reposted from December 8, 2010 

“Christmas survived the Roman Empire, 
I think it can handle the renaming of the Tulsa parade.”
  

- Jon Stewart (watch the video)

Ever witness a kid digress into complete meltdown mode after his parents refused to buy him that new video game?  

“But I want it! It’s mine! Give it to me!”  

Entitlement can get ugly, especially around Christmastime.

And the only thing more embarrassing than watching a little kid throw a fit is watching a grownup throw one.

 “If you don’t play religious music at your store, we’ll boycott it!” 

“We demand that manger scenes be placed in front of all government buildings!” 

“How dare you say ‘happy holidays’ to me? I want to speak with the manager!”

 “I want it! It’s mine! Give it to me!” 

I’m not sure when or why it happened, but in some circles, entitlement has been declared December's Christian virtue. Suddenly it’s not enough that Americans spend millions of dollars each year marking the birth of Jesus. Now we’ve got to have a “Merry Christmas” banner in front of every parade and an inflatable manger scene outside of every courthouse... or else we’ll make a big stink about it in the name of Jesus.  Having opened the gift of the incarnation—of God with us—we’ve peered inside and shrieked, “This is not enough!  Where are the accessories? We want more!” 

This is a strange way to honor Jesus, “who, being  in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped…but made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant.” (Philippians 2:8) 

Jesus didn’t arrive with a parade. He arrived in a barn.

Jesus wasn’t embraced by the government. He was crucified by it. 

Jesus didn’t demand that his face be etched into coins or his cross be carried like a banner into war. He asked that those who follow him be willing to humble themselves to the point of death, to serve rather than be served, to give rather than receive. 

What a tragedy that history’s greatest act of humility is being marked by petty acts of entitlement and pride. 

Don't tell anyone, but sometimes I wonder if the best thing that could happen to this country is for Christ to be taken out of Christmas—for Advent to be made distinct from all the consumerism of the holidays and for the name of Christ to be invoked in the context of shocking forgiveness, radical hospitality, and logic-defying love.  The Incarnation survived the Roman Empire, not because it was common but because it was strange,  not because it was forced on people but because it captivated people. 

Let’s celebrate the holidays, of course, but let’s live the incarnation. Let’s advocate for the poor, the forgotten, the lonely, and the lost.  Let’s wage war against hunger and oppression and modern-day slavery.  

Let’s be the kind of people who get worked up on behalf of others rather than ourselves.

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The Sign

The Sign

You will find Him wrapped in swaddling clothes
Wrapped in flesh
Wrapped in blood
Wrapped in bone
Wrapped in the calloused hands of a carpenter’s son
Wrapped in scandal
Wrapped in genocide
Wrapped in poverty
You will find Him

You will find Him lying in a manger
Lying in stench
Lying in sweat
Lying in forgotten places 
Lying in a disheveled heap on the street corner
Lying in newspapers
Lying in garbage
Lying in urine
You will find Him

You will find Him
Wrapped in swollen bellies
Aching for food
Wrapped in wrinkled hands
Clinging to subway seats 
Wrapped in dimpled skin
Shivering, exposed
Wrapped in flesh
Wrapped in blood
Wrapped in bone

And this will be a sign to you
You will find Him

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Still Waiting

“O come, Thou Day-Spring
Come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death's dark shadows put to flight
Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, o Israel”

I never really understood the significance of Advent as a season of waiting until this year, as Dan and I have mourned alongside a dear friend recently devastated by the betrayal of someone close.

For three weeks now, we have been waiting—waiting for word, waiting for an explanation, waiting for direction, waiting for even the smallest sign of hope.

Nothing.

We have prayed that God would bring about repentance, reconciliation, and redemption.

Nothing.

We have prayed for patience, for wisdom, for a miracle.

Nothing.

Often I have thought about the people of Israel—mourning in lowly exile, waiting for the Messiah to release them from captivity. And often I have thought about the Church—waiting for a second Advent, waiting for all things to be made new and for the Kingdom of God to reach fruition.

This year I understand better what the Apostle Paul meant when he wrote, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.”(Romans 8:22)

Encountering once again the devastating effects of our broken and sinful world, particularly this time of year, has stirred inside of me a strange sense of solidarity, and a surprising sense of hope. I don’t know how this specific situation will be healed, but Advent reminds me that God rewards the patient in unexpected and beautiful ways.

To those awaiting a military victory over their enemies, He sent a Messiah who taught liberation through forgiveness and peace.

To those awaiting political victory, He sent a King who was crucified on a cross.

To those awaiting wealth and power, He anointed a Servant to “preach good news to the poor…to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to release the oppressed.” (Luke 4:18)

And to those awaiting a mighty and vengeful God, He sent a helpless baby.

God’s ways are always unexpected, but always right. He answers our prayers, not by giving us what we want, but by giving us what we need. At Advent we remember that God will make good on His promise to redeem this screwed up world, even if He has to squeeze Himself into flesh and blood to do it.

But in the meantime, we wait.

And sometimes waiting sucks.

***

In what ways are you waiting this Advent season? What have you learned about patience and hope this year?

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God and Santa Claus

My friend Elizabeth Esther wrote a great post this week that detailed aconversation she had with her son about Santa Claus. In it, she gently guides him through the disappointing realization that Santa isn’t a real person.

I don’t know about you, but I held out on my belief in Santa long after most kids had given it up.  In fact, I used some of my Christian apologetics training to defend his existence to my skeptical fourth-grade classmates, arguing that St. Nick was actually one of God’s angels who had been given supernatural powers similar to that of Michael or Gabriel.  “You can’t prove Santa’s existence,” I explained. “But his existence is supported by the evidence—nibbled cookies, presents under the tree, the presence of his helpers at every shopping mall in the country.” (Fourth graders are smart enough to notice the fact that there’s a different Santa outside each J.C.Penney.)

Of course, I eventually gave the thing up—but not without a fair amount of bitterness toward my parents (and the local weatherman) for perpetuating the lie.  I think the worst part of accepting the truth about Santa is the subsequent concern that the existence of God is also a myth.  As a kid, the question crossed my mind momentarily, but didn’t resurface until college, when I started to worry that maybe I’d been brainwashed…about everything.  

So, when do you think parents should tell their kids the truth about Santa? How should that conversation go? Is the Santa phenomenon good for our culture? How do we nurture imagination and wonder in children without deceiving them?

When did you realize Santa wasn't real?

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Simplify, Simplify: 10 Things We Don't Actually Need

The other day I caught this TV show called My Fair Wedding about a Hollywood wedding planner who sweeps in to save middle-class brides from their cheap weddings. As I watched him lecture a bride about how she shouldn’t settle for a less-than perfect dress, how it’s “bad etiquette” not to serve the most expensive drinks to guests, and how she needed to ditch her homemade centerpieces for the “right” floral arrangements at $500 a pop, I got to thinking about how, in our consumer-driven culture, we are easily convinced that we NEED things we don’t actually need

Rarely is this more obvious than at Christmastime, when even the most idealistic of us cave in to the relentless desire to buy, buy, buy.  I finished up my holiday shopping yesterday, and at every single store I was asked by the cahier if I wanted to get a store credit card and save ten percent.  Every time I said no, the guy or girl behind the checkout counter looked a little horrified.  “You don’t want to save ten percent?” they would ask with their eyebrows raised.

By the end of the day, I’d spent hundreds of dollars on people I love and care for very much, who are probably simultaneously spending lots of money one me and Dan because they love and care for us very much...and yet I’m pretty sure that all of us are feeling a little panicky about our bank accounts right about now.

How did this happen? Who told us that all of this was necessary?

From wedding planners, to retailers, to economists, to Oprah—the voices telling us to spend more money are getting louder and louder, despite the bad economy.

Given enough time, I can convince myself that I NEED all kinds of things I don’t actually need—upgraded exercise equipment (for my health), a boatload of new books (for research), games for our Wii console, (to justify the initial purchase of the Wii console), a new kitchen (for entertaining guests), and Starbucks-brand chocolate truffles, (for my sanity). I know that none of this stuff will actually make me happy...or skinny, or smart, or sane...but I still feel like I NEED it.

Knowing that I don’t is both freeing and scary.

With this in mind, here’s a list of ten things we think we need, but probably don’t. (Honestly, I own many of these things myself.) What else can you think of, and what are you doing to simplify your life this holiday season?

  1. Over 100 TV stations...or any TV stations for that matter, I suppose
  2. Wardrobes that keep up with ever-changing trends
  3. Three bedroom, two bathroom houses with living rooms, dining rooms, kitchens, and dens
  4. A new cell phone every twelve to twenty-four months
  5. Things from Wal-Mart
  6. Weddings that put young couples (or their parents) into debt
  7. Snacks
  8. Gym memberships (which would become even less necessary with the removal of snacks!)
  9. Moisturizers and beauty products that promise to make us look like 16-year-old models
  10. Wrapping paper (okay, so I've had a rough week with some oddly shaped packages

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