Love Comes Down, At 1 O’Clock Christmas Morning

Empty bed love comes down
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Mama. Oh mom, oh mom, oh mom, oh mom, my 13 year-old moaned.

My stomach hurts so much. Mama, please come. 

I wished he’d called for Papa instead. Because Mama was nestled, all snuggled in bed. The heat was turned low and she didn’t want to go.

After a week of late nights, I’d set this Christmas Eve to be my long winter’s sleep.

Mama, please come, he cried again. I rolled over. It was 1:04 a.m. I’d knelt beside his bed at 9 p.m., rubbed his head at 10, and given meds at 11. After which I finished wrapping the gifts—yes, I am that mom—arranged them under the tree, then settled myself in bed.

But I couldn’t ignore his pitiful cry.

So This Is Christmas

Coming, I called with a sigh. 

So this is Christmas. I thought as I lay in the dark, groping about for glasses and socks. I forced myself out of my snuggly, warm bed and stumbled shivering toward my son’s groans. 

Then it hit me—this is Christmas. Rolling out of a warm bed to help a sick child is closer to the “real meaning of Christmas” than cozy and comfy and Silent Night by candlelight.

Christmas is a lot like leaving a warm bed to love in the cold. 

The creed says, “For us and for our salvation he came down.” The King of the Universe condescended. Almighty God came down.

Love Came Down

Paul told the Philippians, Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 

I crawled out of my warm bed to care for a sick, pitiful child. The Son of left the glories of heaven and the warmth of his Father’s side to care for his sin-sick, pitiful children. For our sake, God the Son left heaven for sick, cold earth.

I love how C.S. Lewis explains that.

The Eternal Being, who knows everything and who created the whole universe, became not only a man but a baby, and before that a foetus inside a Woman’s body. If you want to get the hang of it, think how you would like to become a slug or a crab.

Mere Christianity

A Measure Of Love

Leaving aside our comfort for the sake of others is one measure of love. 

Jesus Christ came out of heaven’s bright glory and was wrapped in swaddling cloths and laid in a manger, “because there was no place…in the inn.” My Bible footnote on Luke 2:7 says that he could have been born in a stable or cave, but since mangers were often outdoors, “it’s possible that Jesus was born in the open air.”

Open air or stable or cave—they all sound uncomfortable and cold. 

But that is how Love came down.

Condescending: Seriously Bad & Gloriously Good

Baby feet in cloth

Ooh. That sounded condescending, I confessed seconds after using the phrase, “So cute.” The topic? Christmas decor.

What does condescending mean? asked the 13 year-old son.

Like you’re God’s gift to the people you’re with. I paused, As if they’re beneath you and you’re so great to get on their level and give them the time of day.

Oh, he said.

I didn’t tell him the Latin part.  

Condescending Is Seriously Bad

I can be condescending. The bad way—the smug, snooty, Seriously?! way. The, How could you not know that? way. I don’t say it. But sometimes I think it. And thinking it even once is too often for a child of God.

But I begin to think how good it is of me to “go low” and help someone “up.” Even with “so cute” Christmas decor. That thought betrays my pride. For humility is not thinking less of yourself, Lewis said, it’s thinking of yourself less. Jesus said, Don’t let your left hand know.

Bad condescending is bad not only because it’s proud, but because it lacks sympathy. I condescend the bad way when I feel like the people I’m “gracing” with my insight or presence should know better or know more or fear less and trust more.

I’m not alone in that mire. Even the great preacher C.H. Spurgeon confided,

There are distresses to which God’s people are subject with which their fellow Christians can have but little sympathy. Some Christians whom I have tried at times to comfort, have had fears so silly that I have felt more inclined to laugh at them than to console them.

I must have more sympathy to condescend the good way. Because there is a good way.

Aunt Merriam says to condescend means 1: to assume an air of superiority, 2: to descend to a less formal or dignified level; to waive the privileges of rank. Number one is bad. Number two is the good.

Now here’s that Latin part. Condescendere comes from the Latin words con- which means ‘with’ or ‘together’ + descendere which means to ‘descend’ or ‘come down.’

A question for us: When we descend to be with another, is it with love and sympathy or pride and superiority?

Condescending Is Gloriously Good

The God way is the good way. Philippians 2, verses 6 and 7 explains the “good” condescension so beautifully,

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 

Do you see it? Almighty God condescends to us, not by reminding us of our smallness and neediness, but rather by stooping down to make us great. The All Wise God who does great things beyond our understanding speaks to the creature in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, the Word made flesh. The Holy God in whom there is no sin became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God.

Have you ever sung that old hymn “Come, Christians, Join To Sing,” by C.H. Bateman? Here’s the second verse:

Come, lift your hearts on high,
Alleluia! Amen!
let praises fill the sky;
Alleluia! Amen!
he is our Guide and Friend;
to us he’ll condescend;
his love shall never end.
Alleluia! Amen!

Did you see it again? God’s condescending love is worthy of our praise. God’s is gloriously good condescension; his condescension is free from pride and full of sympathy. Spurgeon—and I— know that even when we are unsympathetic and condescend in the bad way, our God in not like us. Thank God he is not like us.

Now our God is so tender and gentle that He even condescends to deal with our silly fears…His gentleness shows itself in His being afflicted in our afflictions and entering into our sorrows, and putting Himself side by side with us in the battle of spiritual life.

C.H. Spurgeon, Divine Gentleness Acknowledged

Condescension like that makes me want to worship Christ the newborn King. Oh yes our God condescends.

And not just to the whole wide world, but to sinful, needy you and sinful, needy me.

God Condescends

Fourteen years ago last month, I made a once in a lifetime announcement. With Jim’s family gathered around to say grace before Thanksgiving dinner, I asked if I could recite a Psalm.

It was Psalm 13, a condescension Psalm.

Who is like the Lord our God,
    the One who sits enthroned on high,
who stoops down to look
    on the heavens and the earth?

He raises the poor from the dust
    and lifts the needy from the ash heap;

he seats them with princes,
    with the princes of his people.
He settles the barren woman in her home
    as a joyful mother of children.

The Lord who is enthroned on high nevertheless stooped to look down upon me. He was mindful of my humble estate. After ten years of barrenness, he remembered me. He came down with me and lifted me from the heap.

The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God.

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianiy

But our Lord condescends in everyday ways too. Today he gave me peace in conflict and strength to forgive again. Then he allowed a cancelled session which gave me time to finish a report. In big and small ways, God stoops down.

But He did it biggest at Christmas.

Christmas Is About Condescension

I think C.S. Lewis saw it that way. The Eternal Being, who knows everything and who created the whole universe, became not only a man but (before that) a baby, and before that a foetus inside a Woman’s body, he wrote. If you want to get the hang of it, think how you would like to become a slug or a crab. (Mere Christianity, Book IV, Chapter 5)

That condescending conversation in the van last night brought this song to mind in the morning. You might like it.

Who but God would send his Son
To condescend and make himself the likes of a mere mortal man

For in the end, condescend is one of the sweetest, most Christmasy words I know. It’s why we stretch Advent out. Because in the incarnation, God did way more than just come down and give us a hand. More than just step out of his castle for an evening of revelry with his serfs at Ye Olde Pub. Oh, no. Infinitely more.

He became one of us. He took on our weakness, sympathized with our weakness and bore our sin. The Creator became a creature. Like us becoming slugs but far more shocking. Who would condescend like this?

All glory be to Christ. Who but God.

Who is like the Lord our God,
    the One who sits enthroned on high,
who stoops down to look
    on the heavens and the earth?

Psalm 113:7

Selfish Me or Timothy?

Do nothing from selfishness or vain conceit, but with humility count others more significant than yourselves. Look not only to your own interests, but also the interests of others. Philippians 2:3-4

For people will be lovers of self. 
2 Timothy 3:2a

Ughhh. My groan was guttural.

How could I have forgotten? The thoughtlessness was sickening.

I had just hung up after an hour long conversation with my sister-in-law, Lynn. And in that hour-long call not once did I think to ask about her mother. Not once.

Last week, Lynn confided that her mom was very sick. So sick, she had shared, that she and her sister had called hospice. And I didn’t even think to ask.

I wish I could tell you it was because I was to busy about her son’s arrival home for the summer or her daughter’s dance recital, but I can’t. It’s simply not true.

Oh sure, I spent a few minutes asking about my niece and nephew. But the real truth is, Lynn spent three-quarters of an hour asking me about my writing. About my blog and my hopes. Lynn preferred my interests and counted them more important than her own.

Selfish Springs 

Figs are not gathered from thornbushes…The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasures produces evil, for out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. Luke 6:44-45

Think on that for a second. As much as I hate to admit it, my lop-sided conversation with Lynn was no mere faux pas. It was overflow; a selfish heart laid bare. It was a surprise answer to that prayer, Search me, O God and know my heart. 

Selfish hearts beat strong for their own interests. They’re not so concerned for others’ interests. They think that joy is private affair. And they tend to be takers not givers.

We all have these selfish, cynical hearts. And if we’re oblivious to the the one beating in our chest, eagle-eyes spot tell-tale signs of other selfish hearts from a mile away.

We see it in how they talk and how they spend their time and treasure. One friend takes big-ticket cruises but tips at 10%. Another is 20 minutes late whenever you dine, but annoyed by two minutes in line. And one whose topics seem to trump yours: her kids and her job, her health and her-um-blog.

Enter Timothy

A decade ago, Jim and I were embroiled in a church conflict that gripped us tight. Then one night, after another grim meeting, we came home to this voice message from a senior friend:

Hello Jim and Abigail. This is Doris Goodman. I want you to know that I am praying for you two and for this conflict that’s troubling you. I trust God will resolve it in his good time and his good way. Please know He cares about you and I do too. 

Her message would have lifted any soul. Now add this: Doris was in the last days of her fight with cancer. Two weeks later she would be home in heaven. And she was interested in us.

Paul urged the Philippians to consider others’ interests, even count them more important than your own. Then Paul put a name on the love that seeks not its own. Timothy.

I have no one like him, who is genuinely concerned for your welfare. They all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.  Philippians 2:20-21

Do you know a Timothy? They sometimes go by other names.

Like Jan, whose six kids didn’t stop her from bringing soup the spring influenza laid me low. Or Diane, she-whose own womb never bore- delivered orchids one special Mother’s Day. Or Chris, who took me to the ER at 11:30 the night a cake plate crashed and gashed my hand. Or Sandy, who risked her kids’ precious nap time Friday to listen to my latest mishap.

Or Doris “Timothy” Goodman.

To Be A Timothy

Name it right.

Selfishness is such an ugly word we don’t like to say it. We couch it. We justify selfishness with I deserve and Just getting what’s mine. We excuse selfish omission with our strong sense of fair play. We shake our heads and say, Not my circus, not my monkeys. 

Jerry Bridges included selfishness in his book, Respectable Sins. While some selfishness might be obvious, it’s usually more subtly expressed. Since we do care what others think of us, Bridges notes, our selfishness will likely be more delicate and refined. 

But let’s not deceive ourselves. It’s there and way more serious than than most of us make it sound. Almost 400 years ago, Richard Baxter wrote, that self is the god of wicked men, or the world’s greatest idol; and that the inordinate love of pleasure, profits and honor is self-love. Every man is an idolater, so far as he is selfish.

So selfishness is a mother sin. It explains great sins of commission and excuses our sins of omission. It not just self-indulgence; it’s why we daily don’t take others’ interests to heart.

Author Paul Tripp explains how serious it is, and how it reduces our relationships.

Sin does something terrible to me. Sin turns me in on myself. Sin shrinks my life to the size of my life. Sin makes me obsessed with my wants, my needs, my feelings. I want. I want. I want. I want. I want. I want.

If sin turns me in on myself so that all I live for is me, then sin in its essence is antisocial. Living for myself and the satisfaction of my selfish desires dehumanizes the people in my life… People are reduced either to vehicles to help me get what I want or obstacles in the way of what I want.  

Thank God. There is a way out of our life-shrinking, selfish mess.

Look to Christ 

Selfishness must always be forgiven you know, because there is no hope of a cure.      -Jane Austen 
Apologies to the Jane fans, but she got this one wrong. Mostly. 
Because sin’s disease does have a remedy. Selfishness, like Richard Baxter wrote, may well be the hardest sin in the world to overcome. But it is not without cure. In 2 Corinthians 5:14-15, Paul explains that Christ died that those who live would no longer live for themselves, but for him who for their sake died and was raised (2 Corinthians 5:15). 
Sometimes we trip and must be forgiven. Pride and selfishness are replaced gradually. Remember James and John’s request, Grant us to sit one at your right hand and one at your left in your glory? Even walking with Jesus didn’t drive it out completely.

We know God is faithful to forgive and cleanse from us from our sin, our selfishness. So we confess and turn giver again. Then we get up and fight. 

Fight it right.

If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live (Romans 8:13). We fight selfishness the same as other sins. We take up the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. And we meditate on that true Word day and night. It’s how we put out selfish fires.

The fight might look like this:

Selfishness says, Don’t bother making a meal for Sally. She never brought you a meal when your baby came. You put out that flaming dart with Acts 20:35, It is more blessed to give than receive, and ask Sally if lasagne’s okay.

Selfishness says, You’ve got a right to be mad. Can’t she see that I’ve got other places to be? I’ll make sure she knows once I get to there. You put that one out with Romans 15:1, We who are strong ought to bear with the weak and not to please ourselves, and smile friendly at the clerk.

Selfishness says, Not my turn turn to host. We’ve had them over the last three times we shared dinner. You repeat Matthew 5:46, If you love those who love you what reward do you have? And intone, It is more blessed to give than receive, as you type your invite.

Selfishness says, Let them get their own glass of water. You’re not their servant. You worked hard all day and they ought to be asleep anyway. You fight back with Mark 10:45, For even the Son of Man did not come to be serve, but to serve, and fill a glass with water.

Selfishness says, She never sent you so much as a Facebook greeting so she doesn’t deserve mine. You fight and recite Luke 6:35, Do good expecting nothing in return and your reward will be great. 

And intone, It is more blessed to give than receive, as you send some birthday wishes.

Timothy’s Secret

Anyone can sympathize with the sufferings of a friend, but it takes a fine nature to sympathize with a friend’s success. -Oscar Wilde

You won’t find this secret in Ayn Rand’s The Virtue of Selfishness or Bud Harris’ Sacred Selfishness. It’s not in Healthy Selfishness or Cultivating the Fine Art of Selfishness, either. I found it in the same place where I read It is more blessed to give than receive. 

The Enemy wants us believe joy is a zero sum gain. As if my joy will shrink when I’m take interest, take joy, in another. As if joy were a pie and a slice for your friend means you’re down a piece.

That your joy may be full. That’s why we obey and love this interested in others’ way. Paul assumed it was true in 2 Corinthians 2:2: For I felt sure of all of you, that my joy would be the joy of you all. Timothy knew that the happiest ones are the ones who share others’ joy.

I think Doris and Diane and Jan and Chris and Sandy know it too.

Givers and Takers

We’re all givers and takers. God made us that way. What’s deadly is to let love flow into your life without finding an outlet in others. 
That’s a picture of the Dead Sea. The Jordan River flows in, in, in. Never out. There are no outlet streams. The water just evaporates. You might say it’s wasted. As a result, the Dead Sea is too salty and mineral rich to support much life. 
But the Jordan River also feeds the Sea of Galilee, just north of the Dead Sea. The Jordan’s water flows in and it flows out. And the Sea of Galilee supports much marine life. 
The difference? Both bodies have a life-giving water source. But the Dead Sea only takes. The Sea of Galilee is a source. And God loves a cheerful giver. He makes his grace abound to us so that our giving will overflow in others thanking God (2 Corinthians 9:7,12). Sea of Galilee. Taker and Giver. 
*  *  *  *  *  *  * 

I know how relentlessly daily this fight for a others-interested heart is. Some days I make way more room for self than I ought. Or I’m not up for the fight and selfishness sneaks in through Fair play, and My time, and Do for you. I’m like the Dead Sea.

But other days, by God’s grace, the Spirit is mighty in me and the truth transforms this self-interested talker, and staunch defender of her time. Then I live love’s secret, that shared joy is full joy.

I recite the words of the Lord Jesus, ‘Tis more blessed to give than receive. And I make a meal and send the note and listen up. And He makes me Timothy.