not “What?” but “Why?”

Why is Christmas a celebration?

During Christmas, it is hard enough for people to stay focused on what is being celebrated let alone why they are celebrating. Luckily there are little reminders of what Christmas is about –

Nativity scenes. Pins and magnets calling Jesus the “Reason for the Season.”  Linus’s famous speech to Charlie Brown.

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However, this Christmas I want to look even further than that and not just ask what are we celebrating but why. Why did Jesus have to be born at all?

Here is a brief history explaining why I celebrate Christmas…

God created man to be in fellowship with him. Adam and Eve lived in perfection in the garden of Eden and freely walked with God.

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Man sinned.

Adam and Eve did the one thing God commanded them not to.

One. That was it. They had one rule to follow, like fight club, and they broke it.  This introduced sin into a perfect world and eternally put a divide between God and man but I’ll get back to that.

First, what is sin?  ἁμαρτάνω (hamartanó): missing the mark.  The mark is God’s standard.  The standard is perfect obedience.

Man is sinful by nature and no matter how hard we try, we all end up missing this mark of perfect obedience.

I remember the first time I witnessed the inherent sinful nature of man. I was at my brother’s house and my two year old nephew lied to my face to try and avoid getting in trouble for something he had done. Nobody had taught him that. It is simply human nature to lie, cheat and steel to preserve our well being and there is nothing we can do to change it.

We are effectively screwed.  (That’s a Merry Christmas message isn’t it?)   Luckily for us that’s not the end of history. That was only the beginning.

Yes, God’s standard is perfection. Always has been, always will be.  But if you remember, God created man to commune with them, so he established a system that would atone for sin as well.

He gave detailed instructions, a whole book of detailed instructions found in Leviticus, of how the Jewish people could makes themseles right in his eyes by bringing gifts and sacrifices to him for everything imaginable.

Sins against a family member.

Sins against a friend.

Sins against an enemy.

Sins against yourself

Sins committed on purpose.

Sins committed on accident.

Lots of grain, fruit, doves, lambs and other things were brought before God so he would forgive people’s sins.

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Yom Kippur was established – the Day of Atonement.

This one is so important to Jews that it is still listed on calendars today.  Once a year, and only once a year, the High Priest of Israel would enter into the Most Holy Place where the ark of the covenant was, where the literal presence of God dwelt, and would offer the sacrifice of a perfect lamb without defect or blemish. This would have been the blue ribbon winning lamb at the national fair competition if there was such thing. By this one sacrifice the sins of the people of Israel were forgiven for that year and only that year. Then the same festival, ceremony and sacrifice was repeated the following year. (Click here for an interesting Christmas perspective about the shepherds and The Lamb).

If this sacrificial system was working, then why didn’t we just keep going with this – other than the fact that we may end up with a shortage of lambs and who doesn’t like a good lamb stew or curry?

Because it wasn’t really working.

Yes, God established this system so man could still commune with him, but forgiveness isn’t perfection.

Hebrews 10 sums it up perfectly

The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming – not the realities themselves.  For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship.  If it could, would they not have stopped being offered?  – Hebrews 10:1-2a

If the system was working, the sacrifices would have stopped being offered.

The system was like a patch covering a hole in a torn piece of fabric. It covers up the hole, but the hole is still there.  The fabric hasn’t been made new.  Eventually the patch rips out and has to be replaced by a new patch

Therefore when Christ came into the world, he said:  “Sacrifices and offerings you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me;”  Hebrews 10:5

Jesus had to come to earth to make us perfect before God because the sacrificial system in place was not good enough.  (I wrote a blog last year that was talking about this sacrifice).

Day after day every priests stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices which can never take away sin.  – Hebrews 10:11

These priests were never finished, their work continued so they stood and continued.

But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.  – Hebrews 10:12

Jesus sat. His work was done

because by one sacrifice he made perfect forever those who are being made holy.  – Hebrews 10:14

We no longer have come to God with our offerings and sacrifices because for one, he wasn’t pleased with them, even though the law requires them to be made (Hebrews 10:8).  But more importantly, because Jesus in his perfection entered our world, coming as a baby, to experience all the pain suffering and temptations of every other human on earth so that when he died on the cross to make atonement for our sins, once for all, he had lived and experienced life and was still perfect

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who was tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was with out sin.” Hebrews 4:15

Jesus had to be born so he could live like the rest of us, so when he died, he died still perfect without sin – without ever having missed the mark.  Jesus lived to be both sacrifice and priest.  The shedding of his blood which he brought before God, was and is enough. The blood of Jesus who was born, lived and died perfect meets God’s standard of perfection and just as the blood of the lamb covered the Jews for a year, the blood of the Son covers us for eternity.

So why do I celebrate Christmas?

I celebrate Christmas because if Jesus hadn’t been born, he wouldn’t have lived. If he hadn’t lived, he wouldn’t have died.  If he hadn’t died, then his perfect blood would not cover me and forgive every sin I have ever and will ever commit. I celebrate Christmas because I celebrate the birth of a life lived in perfection that allows me to stand perfect in the presence of God.

 

Merry Christmas

 

nativity

 

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‘Twas the Night Before Christmas…on the AFM

 

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the ship,

Not a patient was stirring, no pallets or lips.

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The IVs were hung from the ceiling with care,

In hopes Dr. Gary would soon be there.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,

While visions of straight legs danced in their heads.

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Leeanne in her ‘kerchief, John in his cap,

Had settled their brains for a long sailors nap.

When out on the dock there arose such a clatter,

I sprang from my bunk To see what was the matter.

Away to my porthole I flew like a flash,

Tore open the curtains, threw up the sash.

The moon on the crest of the ocean below,

Gave a luster of midday to the pollution that glows.

rover

When what to my wondering eyes was in view,

But a flying Land Rover and eight tiny crew.

With a driver so yovo, so southern and quick,

I knew in a moment it was Reverend Nick.

Senior Chaplain Nick Cash leads worship on the bow of the Africa Mercy.

More rapid than zemis his small crew they came,

He whistled and shouted and called them by name,

“Now Eli, now Caroline now Abby and Emma .

On Lucas on Zaiden, on Jack and Hannah.

To the top of the deck, the top of the funnel,

Now dash, away dash away, dash away all.”

As the fronds that before the wild cyclone did fly,

When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky.

The Africa Mercy during sail from Durban, South Africa to Cotonnou, Benin

So up to deck eight the courses they flew,

With a Rover full of mangos and Reverend Nick too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard up above,

The screeching chatter of children we love.

Down the red stairs and turning around,

Into reception Nick came with a bound.

He was dressed in blue scrubs from head to his toe,

Gave a nod to Jacqui who said, “Mikwabo.”

COM389 Jacqui Saward (AUS) Receptionist at work on the Africa Mercy.

A bundle of toys he had on his back,

He headed to the wards to unload the sack

He spoke not from the Word but went straight to his work,

He filled the children’s shoes then turned with a jerk.

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Then laying a hand on the side of his belly,

Up the elevater he rose in a hurry.

Quick to his Rover, to his crew gave a tug,

I think they all caught a GI bug.

I heard him exclaim as he drove out of sight,

Not, “Happy Christmas to all and to all a good night.”

But an important phrase we should all keep in mind,

“Use hand sanitizer, so you don’t all die!!!”

 

The Africa Mercy during sail from Durban, South Africa to Cotonnou, Benin

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Tradition of Sacrifice

I started this blog on Christmas but it has taken me a month to actually finish and post it – please forgive, azafady.


 

Growing up we didn’t have too many Christmas traditions.  We put up a tree but nothing else really sticks out as being the same year to year.  The food sometimes changed.  The environment changed.  The number of people home changed.  Celebrations even moved back and forth between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day depending on who was working.  I enjoy Christmas but for me it was never a stand out holiday.  I’ve always preferred Thanksgiving or 4th of July and the festivities surrounding those days.

This year however, Christmas struck me in a unique way and I think I inadvertently started a Christmas tradition.  I have been reading through the Bible chronologically for the last year and a half.  This means when it comes to the Gospels, reading the events in each one as they take place.  The week of Christmas I was reading the events surrounding Easter – Palm Sunday, Good Friday and the Resurrection – four accounts of these same events.

For some reason, reading about Jesus fulfilling his work here on earth through his death and resurrection gave even more meaning to his birth celebrated at Christmas.  I have always read these passages around Easter but never at this time of year.  In reality though, we cannot celebrate one without the other.  Obviously, if Jesus hadn’t come to Earth there would be no Easter but without his purpose of redemption through resurrection there would have been no reason for his birth at Christmas either.

However, this year I have seen that his birth was so much more than just coming to Earth, there was incredible sacrifice involved.  I usually only focus on Jesus’s sacrifice at Easter and am too busy celebrating the joy that his birth ushered in to think about what he had to give up to be born.  However, let us not lose sight that in order for Christ to come to this Earth had had to take on a human body and all the pain and suffering that accompanies that – physically and emotionally.

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The Word  became flesh.  

I don’t think Jesus had a human form before his birth in Bethlehem and seeing how he maintained that human form after the resurrection there was no going back for him.  It is a bit of a stretch, but I cannot help but think of the scene in Field of Dreams when young Archie Graham steps off the field to save a choking Karin turning into Doc “Moonlight” Graham never to play baseball again.

moonlight graham2

Christ sacrificed his life to redeem us, me, at Easter but he sacrificed his very being at Christmas.  He entered into a fallen, broken world with the purpose of saving a people who rejected and killed him never to return to his previous state.  Yes, Jesus is complete in glory but will we ever know the nature in which Christ lived before coming to Earth?

Christmas has now come and gone but in years to come, let us not forget the sacrifice involved in the birth of Christ.  Let us not sing the songs of his triumphal entry and overlook that he gave up everything to come and save us and that is why he came after all.

 

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Beauty and Restoration

Mercy Ships mission statement says that we are to bring hope and healing to the world’s forgotten poor by following the two thousand year old model of Jesus Christ.

What does this mean? What is hope and healing?

Healing is probably a little more obvious.

We perform lifesaving surgeries.

Tumors are removed that if left to grow can and often will kill the patient.

Photo Credit Katie Keegan - Patricia (MGC07074) before surgery

Patricia before surgery – photo credit Katie Keegan

Cleft lips and pallets are repaired allowing infants to eat properly and be restored to nutritious healthy lives.  We restore women’s lives by repairing obstetric fistulas that have caused them to be social outcasts in their communities.  We straighten the legs of children allowing them to live lives unhindered by what these deformities could cause.

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Fifaliana before surgery – phot0 credit Ruben Plomp

 

We graft burn contractures that restrict or in some cases eliminate movement of necks, arms and legs.

We donate our own blood to allow for these surgeries to take place.

olivienne blood bags

blood used for a single surgery – photo credit Silke Kessing

 

That is healing but what does it mean to bring hope?

I have heard stories of patients who travel across the whole country because they have heard of a ship that may be able to help them.

Photo Credit Ruben Plomp

Patricia before surgery – photo credit Katie Keegan

This big white surgical ship brings hope just by entering a country providing the opportunity for sick and injured people to receive care that would typically be unavailable or too expensive to afford.  This is all before the surgery actually takes place but what about the hope that we bring after surgery.

 

There is hope in restoration.

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OBF Dress Ceremony at the HOPE Center – photo credit Katie Keegan

 

Most of our patients have given up on a chance at a “normal” life.  The woman’s health ladies have often lost children in pregnancy, are left incontinent and often cast out of their homes.  Orthopedic children may not be aware of what lies ahead of them but even in these young, precious patients we can see a sadness about being “different” than the other kids with the inability to walk, run and play.  We know that as adults these kids would not be able to sustain the same kind of work with deformed legs.  Many of our tumor patients have given up on life completely watching the tumor grow larger and larger taking more of their ability to eat and breath.  We give these patients hope in new life.

But we do more than this

Joy is returned to these patient’s lives.

 

Beauty is returned to these patient’s lives.

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Patricia at her final discharge appointment – photo credit Justine Forrest

 

Love is returned to these patient’s lives

 

Jesus came to restore the Kingdom of Heaven.  At creation the Garden of Eden was a place of perfection.  There was no hurt or pain or sickness or sadness or turmoil.  When Jesus says that he comes to seek and save the lost he isn’t just talking about salvation in redemption from sin, he is talking about redemption from a sinful world and restoration into perfection with him.

Are we making these patient’s lives perfect?  No.  But we are helping to restore some of the beauty that was robbed.

Beyond this, we are showing these patients the love of Jesus and the hope and healing that he brings.  We come and volunteer our time, money, sweat, tears and blood but we can only bring restoration to a point.  Jesus is the only one who can bring full restoration inside and out.

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Fifaliana plays in the ward after – photo credit Katie Keegan

Jesus brings hope to a hurting world and light to the darkness.  He brings the promise of perfection with him in heaven and a love that will never fail or disappoint.

This Christmas let’s not forget what we are celebrating.  Christmas is so much more than presents and it is even more than families.  Christmas is about a way out of this broken life and a way into restoration.

This Christmas take time to look at your life and see how Jesus has brought hope and healing to it or how you can bring this hope and healing to others.  You don’t have to be in Madagascar or somewhere else in Africa or another third-world country.  Being a light of hope and love to those around you in the midst of darkness and hurt can be done anywhere.

One thing I have learned is that people are people no matter where they are and we can all use a little hope and healing, especially around Christmas.

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