Hope of all hopes, dream of our dreams,
a child is born, sweet-breathed; a son is given to us: a living gift.
And even now, with tiny features and dewy hair, He is great.
The power of leadership, and the weight of authority, will rest on His
His name? His name we’ll know in many ways—
He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Dear Father everlasting, ever-present never-failing,
Master of Wholeness, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6
Gosh, I need Christmas this year. You, too?
I need the Prince of Peace, and the perspective, and the reminder that there’s something bigger underneath the everyday. I need the challenge to slow down, to stop working, to stop striving so much.
A year ago, I needed the Mighty God. I needed to know, to believe, “the power of leadership and the weight of authority” really did sit in His hands because I lacked strength like never before. That was the year I read Psalm 40 over and over, begging God to not let go because I certainly wasn’t “steady enough to continue the journey again.” I read that passage well into 2018.
The year before that in 2016, I needed the Counselor at Christmastime. There was too much to navigate. There were too many questions and not enough answers and certainly not enough wisdom.
Yes, I’ve needed peace, strength, and wisdom numerous times over the years — but never, ever would I have said I need sacrifice at Christmas. I can weave suffering and sacrifice into Easter, but Christmas? Yet the theme of surrender is imprinted on the hearts of all those in the Nativity story — Mary and Joseph and the magi and shepherds and all the unknown, unremembered people who were part of God’s great design we’ll never know.
Mary radically surrendered to God’s plan, and Joseph eventually did, too. They risked their reputations in order to join God in His rescue plan despite all the glances and whispers and judgments made without the whole story. They exchanged people’s approval for the chance to help bring redemption to humanity. God’s hand pointed to a different path as their hands held their former dreams loosely.
Sacrifice. The sacrifice of plans.
The magi set aside their pursuit of knowledge and sacrificed their time. They exchanged prestige for humility, safety for risk, and became active participants in God’s rescue plan rather than just discussing it. All the years of reading and deciphering and wondering and dialogue — they boldly reimagined their purpose and became travelers and worshippers. Their role became even more radically defined as they stood up a power-hungry, blood-thirsty king to protect the very One humanity had waited for.
Sacrifice. The sacrifice of time. The sacrifice of safety.
And the shepherds, the ones in the margins of society, left their stations and risked not feeding their families that day. They walked away from their work — and maybe away from their paychecks — and ran toward mystery. Hearing God speak in the song of angels, they turned a deaf ear to the boundaries of society. Exchanging their social-class shame for the belief that God valued them, they joined His rescue plan and worshipped Him on that first night He kissed the world in the flesh.
Sacrifice. The sacrifice of material security.
Embracing the “hope of all hopes, dream of our dreams” meant sacrificing what all these used to hope for before they knew there could be more. A quiet family life built on tradition and hard work and religion… A life of research and study and academic discussions… A way to provide for their wives and feed their children — Mary and Joseph, the magi, and the shepherds traded it all to participate in something bigger than themselves. They sacrificed, and this sacrifice became their offering.
Yes, I really need Christmas this year in the worst way. I’m anxious about my son and daughter — their present and their future — and I’m not quite sure how to guide them when I don’t have answers. Surrendering — when it involves my kids — is the hardest for me.
And I want the quiet academic discussions instead of rolling up my sleeves. I want to live my life the way I planned instead of embracing what’s clearly given to me, forcing me to reimagine my purpose. It takes so much humility to surrender.
And in a bizarre way, sometimes it feels safer to hide in my shame instead of living a life of passion. Maybe my sacrifice this year involves letting go of the way others define me, embracing vulnerability, and trusting God really will sustain me. It’s hard to let go of control.
Those we hold dear… Career dreams… Relationships… Our place in the world, our place in society — Yes, I really do need Christmas — excuse me, I really need Jesus this year.
So, what does sacrifice look like? Is it death? Is it life?
Yes and yes.
Come back for Part 2. We’ll define sacrifice in a counter-cultural way…