New Year’s Day Reflections—or The Eighth Day of Christmas

New Year’s Day Reflections—or The Eighth Day of Christmas

I woke up today with an odd assortment of things running through my heart and mind. Thankfully, my vow to abstain from alcohol gives me a wondering spirit instead of a hangover on this New Year’s Day. But I must confess that the numbing effect of alcohol might be preferred to full consciousness when it comes to a fresh tragedy.

Yesterday, one of our Trevecca professors lost a grandson. Marvin’s daughter, son-in-law, and twin boys were sitting still at a stop sign on a city street when a vehicle driven by an 82-year-old woman plowed into them from behind going 90. One of the twin boys, age 6, was killed and the other is in serious condition. The surviving twin has autism.

Both parents are in the hospital with serious injuries. Marvin lost his wife to a long cancer battle a couple of years ago. Yesterday he lost a grandson. We talked about his journey through Advent and Christmas in the church parking lot a couple of weeks ago. He said the music was helping him this year. And now this. I know few finer men than Marvin. I ache in ways that can only pray in groans.

I’m trying to celebrate Christmas for 12 full days. Today is day 8. The world is past Christmas already. The decorations are already gone. I’m listening to Kenny Rogers’ Christmas CD, The Gift. It is still one of my favorites. All the songs are about a vulnerable baby who changes the world. Today, Kenny is pretty good theology.

Over the 12 days of Christmas, I’ve been reading. Tom Noble’s book, Holy Trinity: Holy People, is a book about sanctification, the making of a people who are holy. His chapter on incarnation floored me. He writes, “We have to insist that the sanctification of our humanity in Jesus takes place right from the moment of his conception.”

He goes on to say that Jesus actually took upon himself our sinful, fallen existence and then sanctified our humanity in his own body by a life of obedience as well as by offering himself as our sacrifice on the cross. In other words, the atonement occurs beginning with his birth. Jesus was bearing our fallen likeness while sanctifying our humanity, yet was without sin.

Too often we explain holiness as the absence of sin and thus spend too much energy pounding the sin out of people. Jesus was holy, not because he was sinless, but because at his birth he was filled with the Holy Spirit. Holiness is explained more by a presence than an absence. It is the sanctus spiritus that enables Jesus to be perfected by obedience on our behalf.

So then I turn to a Mark Yarhouse book, Understanding Gender Dysphoria: Navigating Transgender Issues in a Changing Culture. I really do want to understand the sexual identity/gender issues going on in our world today. A cultural tide of acceptance and normalization is now flowing strong.

As I read Yarhouse, I am not moved to normalize sexual identity of any type. Rather, it breaks my heart that my neighbor experiences in the flesh an identity that is at odds with their birth gender. And I find myself asking how Jesus sanctifies this by becoming flesh and taking upon himself our fallen humanity. I don’t know. Is there helpful grace for those reaching toward a transgendered identity?

I’ve lost most of my anger over these issues and find myself on the 8th Day of Christmas broken in spirit and praying for healing for my neighbors. And many of them would tell me to stop viewing them as broken. I remind them that I too am broken by a fallenness that requires cleansing. To speak truth in love is much needed today. But to be formed by the perfect love of Jesus may be even more necessary. Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

I know. A really heavy post on a party day. Denise and I did watch her favorite football team last night. Alabama dismantled Michigan State. A text came from a Carol who has just gotten engaged. We are deeply glad for her, even though she is a rabid Ohio State fan. They lost to the team that Alabama beat 38-0. My engaged friend really needs to look south for a team worth rooting for. I have reminded her that Ole Miss was the only team in the nation who beat Alabama, who beat the team that beat her team.

So today is January 1, 2016, or as I prefer it, the 8th Day of Christmas. Denise is working on her grief by sitting with the children of our pastor’s wife so she can be at the hospital with a shattered family. I am working on mine with words in a blog. I think Denise gets incarnation better than I do.

Life seems to come at us in a mixed bag of tragedies, challenging books, gender dysphoria, football teams, engagements, and stuff. I’ve stopped believing that I can hold it all together and started believing that only in Christ are all things held together. Thank God for a baby, full of the Holy Spirit.


  1. Tricia Pollok says

    Do you believe the Messiah was sinless? I can’t tell by your sentence: “Jesus was holy, not because he was sinless, but because at his birth he was filled with the Holy Spirit.”

    • Great question, Tricia. Yes, I believe that Jesus was sinless. But what makes him holy is not the absence of sin but the presence of the Holy Spirit. When we preach holiness as an absence of something rather than the presence of Someone, we make it moralistic, attainable by human effort, rather than empowered by the indwelling presence of God’s sanctifying Spirit.

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