Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A Christmas Invitation

Jacob runs. He runs until the sun sets and darkness descends. Taking one of the stones, he puts it under his head and sleeps.

Jacob dreams. He dreams of a ladder, resting upon the earth and stretching to heaven. He dreams of the Lord atop the ladder, His angels walking up and down.

Jacob stirs. He awakens aware of another presence. "Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it."

And Jacob trembles. "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven." Could Jacob have stumbled upon a portal between heaven and earth? Jacob seems to think so. He sets up the rock and names the place, Bethel, meaning "the house of God."

1800 years later, in a stable in the town of Bethlehem, the ladder fell once again. The gateway between heaven and earth opened and God, Himself, passed through. From the womb of an innocent girl, a baby came.

Christmas is about coming. Christ came and bids us come. You see, the portal between heaven and earth opens both ways. This morning, I read through the lyrics of Jason Gray's [newly released] Christmas album. The album feels to me like an invitation.

Christmas excites different feeling in different people. Some look back on Christmas past with warm nostalgia; others with regret. To some, the season is a happy reminder there are better times and brighter days ahead. To others, every peal of laughter is a mockery of the silence felt, every family gathering a painful reminder of those absent. Some get lost in lists; others feel unprepared. Some thrive on hope and expectancy; others temper giddiness and lower expectations. Perhaps you've felt one or all of these emotions yourself. I know I have. This album is for you. You are welcome, come.

Come, step back in time and see the events unfold through the eyes of the characters present. Christmas Stories: Repeat the Sounding Joy intersperses classic Christmas hymns like "O Little Town of Bethlehem" and "O Holy Night" with original songs telling the stories of the Christmas characters. While we can easily dismiss cold facts, stories don't allow that luxury. They spark imagination and draw us in. Story disarms us. Before we know it, we turn from a passive observer to an inhabitant within the tale. We are the Innkeeper looking for Sabbath rest. We are Mary, carrying hope and bearing shame through the darkness. We are Joseph, faced with a choice between resentment and forgiveness. We are the Shepherd, bursting with good news. We are the Wiseman, hiding behind gifts.

Come, be filled with joy. Though the songs lead us through the darkness of betrayal, fatigue, disgrace, and fear, this album, ultimately, is an invitation to joy. How fitting that "Joy to the World" puts the punctuation mark on this collection of songs.

Come, let the season awaken your inner child. Christmas Stories celebrates little things: a baby, a town, the humble. What better way to illustrate that God's Kingdom "belongs to such as these," than to turn the lead vocals over to a child? "Christmas for Jesus," sung by Jason's son, Gus, wonders what kind of present God would put on his list. Bracketing the album are "Christmas is Coming," a song about how the season beckons the child in us all, and "Children Again," a song for the wizened grown up. Christ came as a baby. Could it be that, in order to come to him, we must become children, as well? "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of God" (Matthew 18:3).

So, come. Oh Jacob, what you once knew in part, may you now know fully. The portal was never a place. It is a person. Christ descended the ladder. He came that we, too, could come. "Love found a way in and left open the door." Will you crawl through?

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