Category Archives: Christ
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness can never extinguish it. ~John 1:5 NLT
Three angels perched on our lawn. They were all a little forward leaning, tethered by rope and peg against the grade of the hillside which tugged them and threatened to topple them. But they stood sturdy and stalwart, against rain, snow, sleet and high wind. As the world waited for the Christ child, they stood their ground. Halo’s aloft, they each held fast to an item and presented it before them. Two of them held books — hymnals or Bibles, we could never be sure — while the middle one held the light, a special candle with a flickering bulb.
Each angel we inscribed with a name, specifically, one of the names of our three daughters. Not to proclaim that they were angels, but rather to designate which wings went with which body when we pieced them together each year and made ready to place them on the lawn. Our two oldest daughters held the books while our youngest was singled out to hold the light. This responsibility she took to heart. The light she held shone in the darkness all night until the rays of the morning quenched it.
Until one year, upon returning from the Christmas Eve service, we noticed that the little angel’s light was not lit. On closer examination we discovered that the bulb had not gone out: it was missing. Someone had stolen the angel’s light. Big tears rolled down our little girl’s cheeks. Yes, because an unkindness had been done and a theft had been committed, but most of all because the little angel, her little angel, could not present the light of Christ.
In this tiny, earth-shattering moment our small daughter saw that the forces of darkness in this world are real and they are on a mission to extinguish the light. Her world would never be the same. As I hugged my teary child, searching for words of explanation as comfort, her dad knew just what to do. He raced into the house and emerged a moment later holding a small box with a replacement bulb. We held our breath as he screwed it back into place and the light was restored. Our daughter beamed with joy.
The light shone in the darkness; darkness did not extinguish it.
Sheep and goats. Goats and sheep. That’s all we are. All we’ve ever been. All we’ll ever be. But here’s the rub, which are we?
Recently, I have been hearing a lot folks say they are tiring of the battle. Tired of the in-fighting. Tired of the online fighting. Tired of the rock-throwing, vitriol spewing free-for-all they are witnessing among their friends and family and in their community. They say with a sigh, “I just want to be part of Matthew 25 community.”
The Matthew 25 society they seek refers to the parable of the sheep and the goats — the one where Jesus does his sorting.
To the sheep on his right, he says, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.“
To the goats on his left, he says, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.”
What’s a bit unnerving is that both sheep and goats respond to Jesus’ proclamation the same way. “When?… When did we see you?” Apparently, we don’t get to keep our own score. We aren’t privy to our sheep or goat status. What separates sheep from goats is the did or did not.
“Truly I tell you,” Jesus says, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Jesus is in each of these interactions, and counting it for or against us.
We don’t get to record our own righteousness. Jesus does that. If we want a Matthew 25 community, we can build it, attending to one need at a time. Beginning with our own need of a Savior, who will help us with our deepest longings and strengthen us in our weakness. In our gratitude, we’ll begin feeling sheepish.
I have a sneaking suspicion that when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with him, and he sits on his throne, if he looked out upon all the nations gathered before him it would be to his utter delight to say, “Y’all come.”
Perhaps he knows though, that very likely there then would be a mad dash to the Kingdom door, with pushing and shoving and trampling. He would have to appear in the rear of His glory and remind us, The last shall be first… You goats in the back need not bother. Perhaps the separation of right and left is just his way of keeping things orderly so no one gets hurt.
The church is funny that way. Sometimes, it seems, that we think the ordering is up to us. Then in our trying to keep things orderly people end up getting hurt. I remember my hurt when I was a new Christian and, while I sat in the coffee shop reading my NIV version of the Bible, a total stranger approached in order to share that I was reading the wrong version of the Bible. The King James version was the only right one. What a goat, right?
Not necessarily; not my call. But certainly anyone witnessing this moment left with a sour taste in their mouth. Surely, at the very least, we should be living as good pasture grass so no ewe sheep will be driven to the goats.
What if, instead of aspiring to be sheep and not goats, we considered this sincere and honest admission from Abraham Lincoln. When asked why, with his obvious interest in religious matters and his familiarity with the Bible, he did not join a church, Lincoln replied:
When any church will inscribe over its altars, as its sole qualification for membership, the Savior’s condensed statement for the substance of both Law and gospel, “Though shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul and with all thy mind and thy neighbor as thyself,” that church I will join with all my heart and soul.”Henry C Deming, Congressman from Connecticut, as quoted by Carl Sandburg in the introduction to Lincoln’s Daily Devotional
I want to be part of THAT community. Don’t you?
Don’t just tell me you love me,
Visit when I’m sick
sick of life
sick of hardship
sick of loneliness
Nourish when I’m empty
pangs of hunger
out of options
Supply when I’m thirsty
offer a sip
of what you’re drinking
melted chips of ice
When I’m unprotected
victim of the hurtful
vulnerable to the willful
Don’t just tell me that you love me,
If I’m opposed, understanding
If I’m young, humor
If I’m old, honor
If I’m angry, calm
If I’m confused, clarity
If I’m distraught, empathy
If I’m falling, lift
If I’m hurt, help
Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these, you did for me.