Celebrating Life AND Death at Christmas

christmas celebrateIt’s not a traditional Christmas carol, but this– my favorite modern Christmas hymn– stirs my soul like no other. While most people I know have Christmas as their favorite holiday, mine will always be Easter. But, of course, they are connected.

We begin in the dark: a humble stable, a pregnant girl whose faithfulness means giving birth in a barn, a baby king with no cradle but a manger.

And it gets darker still: abuse and blood and death, a broken body in a sealed-up tomb.

But it ends (or is this actually a new beginning?) in the light: LIFE LIFE LIFE LIFE LIFE.

That’s why “I Celebrate the Day” by Relient K is a holiday gem. Because it celebrates it all: light and dark, life and death and life again, the entire plan.

Listen below.

 

Lyrics:

And with this Christmas wish is missed
The point I could covey
If only I could find the words to say to let You know how much You’ve touched my life
Because here is where You’re finding me, in the exact same place as New Years Eve
And from the lack of my persistancy
We’re less than half as close as I want to be

And the first time
That You opened Your eyes did You realize that You would be my Savior
And the first breath that left Your lips
Did You know that it would change this world forever

And so this Christmas I’ll compare the things I felt in prior years
To what this midnight made so clear
That You have come to meet me here

And the first time
That You opened Your eyes did You realize that You would be my Savior
And the first breath that left Your lips
Did You know that it would change this world forever

To look back and think that
This baby would one day save me
In the hope that what You did
That You were born so I might live
To look back and think that
This baby would one day save me

And I, I celebrate the day
That You were born to die
So I could one day pray for You to save my life

Merry Christmas, friends!

Why is it Called GOOD Friday?

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Growing up, I was always confused about why the Christian church called this day Good Friday– the day that Jesus Christ was put to death. I knew the story: the blood, the nails, death on a cross, the method used for criminals. I had learned about crucifixion in gory detail, and how the one crucified would struggle to breathe in such a position, how Christ would have needed to lift his body weight just to get a breath– his body weight pressing against the spikes nailed through his feet. I knew about the hours of darkness, the quaking earth and breaking rocks. About the curtain of the temple being torn in half, top to bottom.

My family would go to a Good Friday service, the front of the sanctuary bearing a cross adorned with a drape of purple fabric. Sometimes we would hold a railroad spike in our hands. We would always take communion: a small tab of bread to represent Christ’s broken body, a small sip of grape juice to represent his blood.

And I would wonder: why is this good?

I remember as a passionate, deep-thinking, sensitive child thinking, I wish I could have stopped this nightmare.

My God had been ridiculed, beaten, and killed. Why was this good?

……………………………………

Friday is good because of Sunday.

Because Friday was not God losing the battle– it was part of the battle plan all along. It was a well-conceived, strategic move before the checkmate.

Because, as I said above, the curtain of the temple was torn in two— this represents our direct access to God, where before we needed a priestly intercessor.

No matter what it looked like on Friday– the end of the world, I’m sure many of Christ’s followers thought, and certainly the end of hope— Sunday was just around the corner. Sunday, the resurrection, the culmination, the checkmate, the victory. It was all part of a master plan, one that we– nearly 2000 years later– can see in full, even if our brothers and sisters at the time could not. We can see the rescue waiting just around the corner. We can say, This is good.

……………………………………

Years ago, I attended a conference where I heard a sermon by Louie Giglio that I will never forget. It profoundly moved me and helped to shape my worldview. The bottom line of it is this: when the bottom drops out of life, we can still have hope — because of the cross.

If you will do just one this for me this entire year, would you please watch 1 minute and 38 seconds of this sermon? I’d love to have you watch the entire thing, but please at least watch from 24:45 to 26:23.

From the foot of the cross, the cross appeared to be the worst thing– from the perspective of history, we Christians see it as the best.

And we can trust that God is at work even in the times that are hardest. This is why I have hope.

……………………………………

This is so core to my identity that I put it into my book in the form of a parable.

Silas tells West that he believes that God is in control, even over the bad things, and she asks him why.

“Writers know that the climax comes before the resolution.” He was quiet for a second, then said, “Not just in fiction, either, West, but in real life too. How many times has the worst thing turned out to be necessary? Or even the best? Rescue wears masks, you know. It’s why people say it’s darkest before the dawn. Sometimes things take a long time to make sense. Could be years and years—or only a weekend. Or they might never make sense. But that doesn’t mean you stop trusting that the world is being rescued.”

Or only a weekend.

Good Friday, everyone. I’m looking forward to Sunday.

How/why does a good and all-powerful God allow bad things to happen?

In light of the recent shooting at the Connecticut elementary school, many people are asking this question.  Years ago at a youth workers’ conference in Atlanta, I heard one of the most stirring messages of my life, delivered by Louie Giglio, and I have never forgotten what he had to say there.  In fact, his message has taken up residence inside my heart so permanently that it made its way into the novel I’m writing.  Here’s an excerpt:

He moved so that he was sitting beside me, both our backs against the tower wall.  “You know, West, I believe that God is in control of everything.”

“Even over the bad things?”

“Yes.”

“Death?  Disease?”

“Yes.”

“Catastrophe?”

“Yes.”

“Solipsism syndrome?”

The pause was brief.  “Yes.”

Why?” I asked.

“The cross,” he said simply, and when I didn’t answer, he took my hand in both of his and explained, “When Christ died, his followers looked at his bloody body on the cross and said, ‘That is the worst thing in the universe.’  The ugliest.  The most horrific.”

I nodded, prompting him to go on.

“After the resurrection, Christians say that same image was the most incredible, amazing thing in the universe,” he said.  “How is that possible?  How is it that one weekend separated the worst thing from being the best thing?”  He leaned his head back against the wall, looking up toward the tower roof.  “That is how I believe that God is in control of everything.”

One thought wrestled its way to the front of my mind, and I blurted out, “But why was it necessary?”

Silas frowned.  “Eden.  The fall of man,” he said.

I shook my head.  “Even that,” I said.  “If God is in control of everything—like you say—then why did humanity fall at all?  Why wouldn’t God just have life go on perfectly, like in the garden at the beginning?  He could have stopped Adam and Eve from ever screwing things up.”

“I think,” said Silas with a sincerity that almost frightened me, “that God favors redemption over perfection.”

“You mean … you mean, he prefers a rescue operation over having no need for one?” I asked.

“That,” said Silas, “is exactly what I mean.”

You can watch the sermon that so impacted my life below, and I hope that you will.  Forty-five minutes of your time is a small price to pay for such a life-changing message.  If you choose to watch, will you post your thoughts in the comments section below?  I’d love to start a healthy and friendly discussion.