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The Irony of Christmas

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During my high school years, I spent a majority of my after school working hours (and summers as well) in various roles at the local private country club.Growing up in mid-Michigan, the four seasons necessitated a variety of offerings for the private club clientele. These were not weekend warriors or driving range junkies. These were professionals that used the club for an assortment of purposes. For some, it was a business venture, entertaining clients and the like. For others, it offered an opportunity to work on their golf game in an upscale environment on one of the nicer courses in the area. Still more utilized for their households, access to entertainment options while the family breadwinner was bringing home the proverbial bacon. For a few, it was simply a status symbol. The methods by which each individual attained the means to finance the cost of membership (initiation fee, annual dues, greens and carts fees, tournaments, monthly food minimums, pro shop purchases, etc) were as diverse as the personalities embodied within those individuals. And for those costs, many members expected a large number of diverse options to maximize the return on their membership cost investment.

In the warm weather season, starting in the early spring, peaking in the summer months and stretching into autumn (the golf portion always bookended by the truly diehard fanatics), I’d work virtually every job aside from grounds crew. I’d be in the pro shop doing all kinds of things – running carts, picking the range, scrubbing clubs, stocking shelves, tournament prep, etc. For big golf events, I’d work the men’s locker room, usually polishing and shining shoes. When I reached the culmination of my varied positions, I’d start the day addressing the remnants of the previous night – cleaning locker rooms, vacuuming carpets, washing windows, replenishing inventories, and various other duties centered around bringing the club back into shape, ready to accept another days’ worth of activities. Then there would time spent working the pro shop, covering most of the items listed previously. And the day would spill over into the night by working the restaurant, running plates, busing tables, replacing empty bottles with full, and anything else that needed to be done.

In the cold weather season, usually late autumn through Christmas, I’d spend most of my time in the clubhouse, working almost exclusively in the restaurant area. It was quite common for the business owners who were members of the club, as well as non-member business owners and community organizations, to host holiday parties at the club. On any given night throughout the entire month of December, we would accommodate multiple groups within the same complex. This required significant planning, effort and time. Which items and quantities needed to be ordered (food, drink, other)? What layout was required in terms of tables, chairs, place settings, etc.? Staffing, timing, schedules, on and on and on. It was quite an undertaking that unfolded at breakneck speed and generally left a decent level of carnage to be dealt with in the morning.

It was during one of those insane cold weather seasons that I discovered something that was probably known but not fully understood due to lack of experience.

I produced a decent quantity of words to start this post in order to help you grasp a basic, foundational point to this illustration. Not only was the job at the club hard work, there was a lot of it. Simply, there was a lot to do and the only way to actually accomplish it was to put in the time to do so. Hours. Upon hours. That’s the point. I worked a ton of hours.

With those hours came an hourly pay rate. And that particular December, a whole lot of overtime at time and a half. I had a couple checks that amounted to more money than I had ever earned. Gotta tell you, that felt good. I knew how hard I worked to earn it, I knew that I deserved that money and I had a sense of anticipation, knowing that I had attained it on my own, which entitled me to sole discretion as to the end use of those funds.

I don’t remember the specific decision-making process itself, but I certainly remember the outcome. I bought gifts. Christmas presents for my immediate family. What types of gifts is immaterial, so insignificant that I don’t recall. I know I spent a lot of money. And I know how I felt when I gave those gifts. Fulfilled, warm, satisfied. Taking something that was rightfully mine, that I could have kept without any sense of retribution or fear of rebuke, and freely giving it to those that I loved. And I recall how they felt. Not only bewilderment, as they didn’t fully grasp the time put in to afford the presents, but their peculiar sense of wonder at the liberality of the giving.

Don’t get me wrong – my motivation was pure without expectation. But that season showed me something I hadn’t fully grasped before. I gained wisdom at a level that can only be obtained by real-life experience. Giving freely of what was rightfully mine and having it received with genuine gratitude. Not only did it feel great, it provided a small glimpse, a minor perspective, on the greatest gift ever.

Before time existed, God was. In everything we see, hear, touch, taste, feel, God is. And after everything we know is gone, God will be. The Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. All authority, power, might, righteousness, magnitude belong to Him. Everything is His because He is. Everything exists because He is. Everything continues and will be because He is. There is none other, there is none higher. All glory and praise is rightfully His because He is.

Yet, despite all that, God loves us more than anything.

God freely have His Son for us. Salvation in Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man. That whosoever believes in Him will not die but have eternal life. John 3:16 – everyone knows that verse. Look up it sometime. Read it. Really read it. Try to get your head around it, even just a little bit. Then correlate it with Romans 6:23 – “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” And drive the nail home with the hammer of Ephesians 2:8-9 – “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

Christmas represents God’s greatest gift to all mankind. The coming of His Son from His rightful position of glory seated on the throne in heaven to become flesh for us. To live the perfect life that we can’t and to taste death so that we don’t have to. To become our sin, to stand in our place, to accept the just wrath of God in our place, so that we can be righteousness in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21).

That December of a couple decades past showed me something. It revealed to me the irony of Christmas. In so many ways for so many people, how ironic the true meaning of Christmas really is.

The irony of Christmas is that God didn’t have to give His Son for us, but how so many of us act as if He did. Sure, we won’t say it out loud. We’ll put on our good Christian mask and say the right words. But inside our deepest heart places, we refuse to accept our complete insignificance in comparison to the Almighty.

The irony of Christmas is that despite our complete insignificance in comparison to the Almighty, He still gave His Son for us.

The irony of Christmas is that He saved us first, before we have a single conscious thought or take a sole deliberate action. It’s not us – nothing we say, nothing we do, nothing we earn. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)” – Ephesians 2:4-5. We were finished, destined for an eternity separated from God. And then, perhaps the best two words in all of scripture: “But God”!

The irony of Christmas is that so many of us think we deserve salvation. We’ve done enough to earn it. We give, we serve, we believe, we do. It’s not really a gift to us – it’s the proper paycheck for our so-called devotion. But we deceive ourselves by measuring heavenly matters with an earthly yardstick. “For all of us have become like one who is unclean and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment” – Isaiah 64:6a.

The irony of Christmas is that we claim to “get it” but then keep the gift to ourselves. Not only do we act like we deserve it, we act as if others don’t. If we truly got it, we shouldn’t be able to keep our mouths shut in proclaiming what God has done for us. In Mark 7, there is a story of Jesus healing a deaf man. In verse 35, it reads “And his ears were opened, and the impediment of his tongue was removed, and he began speaking plainly.” And continuing in verse 36, it recounts the reaction of the witnesses to the healing, which should be exactly our reaction to the free gift of God in Jesus. We should be utterly astonished and widely proclaiming it.

The irony of Christmas is that everyone “celebrates” it – takes advantage of it for paid holidays, over-eating and over-spending. Corporations want to expel “Merry Christmas” from our vocabularies but they’ll gladly accept our paper and plastic in exchange for their goods and services. Organizations practically shame us into making a charitable contribution to their cause but scarcely offer anything to those less fortunate beyond temporary relief of essentially non-vital needs.

God took everything that was rightfully His, that He could have kept without any sense of retribution or fear of rebuke, and freely gave it to those that He loved. This Christmas season, let us commemorate this greatest gift with bewilderment, even if we cannot fully grasp it, and maintain a peculiar sense of wonder at the liberality of the giving.

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