Christmas Reflection: Going Against the Grain

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When they came on the eighth day to circumcise the child, they were going to call him Zechariah after his father, but his mother said in reply, “No. He will be called John.”

Luke 1:59-60.

Think of a time when you chose to do the unexpected. What were the results?

Going Deeper

Read Luke 1:39-45, 56-60.

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John was the only son of Zechariah and Elizabeth. Everyone in their community assumed they would follow tradition and name their first-born son after his father. Their neighbors couldn’t imagine why Zechariah and Elizabeth would choose the name John, a name that wasn’t even in the family. Despite their neighbors’ objections, the new parents were determined to follow the angel’s instructions and named their son John.

The name John means “Yahweh has shown favor.” John’s name was selected not to show the world to which earthly family he belonged, but rather to point to his role in salvation history.

There are many examples of people going against cultural norms, often with very positive results. A fun example can be found in the Joe Diffie song, “John Deere Green.” In it, Billy Bob paints his message of love on the local water tower using the color ‘John Deere green.’ The song explains: “The whole town said the fool should have used red, but it looked good to Charlene in John Deere green.” I’m guessing things probably turned out pretty good for Billy Bob.

Other examples are profound in their simplicity—like Pope Francis traveling around Washington DC in a small Fiat instead of a fancy limousine.

I chose to ignore cultural norms when I accepted a weekend option position at work. Most people try to do everything they can to avoid working weekends. All the good stuff happens on weekends—if you’re working, you’re going to miss it. And here I was, committing to working Friday, Saturday and Sunday, with only a few weekends off each year. While I did miss some events, and I had to work a little harder to plan time to hang out with friends, the whole experience was an amazing blessing. I was able to spend time with my sister while she was in treatment for breast cancer. I took classes and got my doctorate degree. But perhaps most significant, it felt like my life was in balance (a three-day week and a four-day weekend helped a lot in this regard!).

Think about the things that are part of your routine because our society expects it or our culture demands it. Are you being called to make a change in one of these routines? What would happen if you did?

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Christmas Reflection: John the Baptist’s coming announced

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But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall name him John. He will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah to turn the hearts of fathers toward children and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous, to prepare a people fit for the Lord.”

Luke 1:13,16-17

What can you do to guide people to God, to turn the hearts of fathers toward their children, and to bring the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous?

Going Deeper

Read Luke 1:5-25.

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A quick glance through the headlines on CNN.com reveals stories of murder trials, civil wars, a newborn baby left in a cardboard box next to a trash can, pornography, and kidnapping. It seems now, more than ever, we need someone like John to “turn many…to the Lord their God,” “turn the hearts of fathers toward children,” and turn “the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous.”

John the Baptist lived a lifestyle that was counter-cultural. He hung out in the desert, abstained from alcohol, ate bugs, and wore camel’s hair clothing. I’m quite certain that the average dinner party in Jerusalem did not feature a dish of locusts and a glass of water.

John didn’t dress or act like everyone else. He didn’t deliver a comforting “I’m ok, you’re ok” message. In fact, he called those who came to see him a “brood of vipers,” warning that “every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire” (from Luke 3:7,9). And yet people flocked to the desert to see him. They recognized the truth that John spoke and their need for repentance. Can you imagine what a different world we would live in if we all followed John’s call to repent and turn back to God?

So, does that mean we need to pray for God to send another John the Baptist to transform our world? Maybe. Prayer is our first and best defense against the evils we find in our world. But we also need to take action. It might be that God doesn’t plan to send a new messenger; maybe he plans to use you to spread his message. Jesus did challenge us to “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19a).

How can you, like John, turn people’s hearts toward God? God is probably not calling you to move to the Sahara and replace all of your fresh veggies with wild honey. But he may be calling you to live your life in a way that shows that you value the things of heaven more than the things of this world. Something as simple as refraining from gossip or profanity can serve as a powerful testimony.

I wouldn’t recommend that you adopt “brood of vipers” as your standard greeting for your neighbors. But God may be calling you to share with them the truth about how God is acting in your life. Just as important as sharing where God has brought you, you need to be vulnerable enough to share where you were when God reached down and touched your life.

So, what can you do to guide people to God, to turn the hearts of fathers toward their children, and to bring the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous? There are many answers to this question, including prayer, living counter-culturally, and speaking the truth about your own encounters with God. Pick one thing that you will do this week, in imitation of John the Baptist, to draw other people closer to God.