Gary Chapman wrote a book a number of years ago entitled the Five Love Languages. In it he makes the point that we all have essentially five ways in which we prefer to give/receive love. Part of what he diagnosed is that sometimes friends, families and couples have trouble experiencing love from the people that matter to them, because the other friend or familiar member is not speaking their language. For example, for some people love feels like love when it is shown:
- Through acts of service.
- Through words of affirmation
- Through quality time (spent together)
- Through thoughtful gifts
- Through physical affection
And Chapman’s over all point is that we all have ways we prefer to show our love for others AND ways we prefer to receive love from others. Starting to see yourself? Anyway, he does a great job of laying that all out in his book.
So, I was thinking about this in relationship to how God showed his love for us at Christmas. God being the kind of God he is, would want all of us to know his love in the ways that would most feel like love to us. So, if Chapman’s theory is correct, we should be able to see all five love languages in the story of Christmas. Love should be seen by God through his service, words, time, gifts and touch. And the more I meditated on the story of Christmas the more I could see each of these dynamics in and through the Christmas story.
As a result, I started getting really excited about sharing this in this year’s Christmas blog.
I hoping this will be a really cool way for us to celebrate our inaugural blog together.
One of the things that makes revisiting the Christmas story year after year somewhat difficult is that it becomes increasingly challenging for us (who are already familiar with the story) to see the story with fresh eyes. We are so familiar with it, we can almost anticipate what is coming next. It is hard to catch the surprise that is inherent to the entire story itself.
As a result, when we talk about the fact that Jesus was born in a manger – no one today is surprised by that element of the story. It’s the only way we know it; it’s on almost every card we send. In addition, no one is surprised that he was born in Bethlehem (a small insignificant town in the middle of nowhere). We have a Christmas Carole that talks about that (O Little Town of Bethlehem). No one is even surprised by the fact that Jesus’s mother was a 14-15 year old unmarried virgin. It might be fantastic for some of us to believe that factoid, but we are not surprised by it. Its all part of the story that many of us have been told ever since Sunday School – and even if it has been a while since we have been there – we still remember the flannel graph depictions of it.
The reason I mention all that is because for the rest of the world (at the time it actually happened) were anticipating a very different kind of savior, and nobody saw this one coming. Our familiar story didn’t match any expectation those people had about a coming king.
When you read through the OT, you begin to catch a glimpse of the fact that the Jewish people were very much looking forward to a coming Messiah. They were under oppression for much of their history – mostly because of their own disobedience. When you receive the designation of God’s people, and you are always suffering, it is hard to live up to that moniker. But, as things played out, the prophets of old would begin to share this story of a promise that God was going to bring a mighty deliver – even greater than King David. And as people in the midst of their daily hardships would share these stories around the camp fire they would encourage one another with this promise. You have to believe that there was a mental image that begin to develop in their minds about what this great king would be like.
I invite you to put yourselves in their shoes for a moment. If you were promised a deliver that would set the nation on a different track (given the stories you heard around the campfire), what would that leader have looked at in your mind’s eye? I am sure his coming to earth would be be-fitting of a king of that stature. You would not have expected a baby born in a feed trough. You would not have expected a messiah who would become an itinerant preacher dressed in shepherd’s clothing. You would have expected something far more impressive. That is what this task (and the associated promise) would have required – at least that is what you would have thought.
One of the reasons that Jesus was not accepted as the prophesied king who would save the world, was simply because he didn’t look or act like what people thought a king would do and say. Jesus took on the form of a servant instead. No one expected that. It only made sense after the fact.
Even his disciples had a hard time understanding this. When they started following Jesus they had certain ideas of what this would mean for them. And if you don’t understand this context, you will have trouble making sense of an odd conversation that is recorded for us in Mark 10. Two of the disciples approached Jesus secretly and asked him, “Lord, when this thing really starts kicking and you are raised up to your rightful place as ruler of Israel, can my brother and I be given the seats on your right and left hand?” They were still thinking of a traditional earthly kingdom – with robes, and thrones, and all the accruements of that kind of life.
And when the other disciples heard this question, they were pretty ticked off – probably because they hadn’t thought to ask it themselves first. But, Jesus pulled the two brothers aside and he gives them a lesson in leadership, and here is what he shares with them,
You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.
Jesus at some fundamental level saw himself as one called to serve. Now, let’s pause for a moment and think about this through the grid that we have set up for this blog. Some of us when we need to feel love, prefer to experience it through the dynamic of service. God so loved the world – and so loved you – that he sent his son in the form of the ideal servant.
Ponder that again.
In fact, in his hour of greatest need, on the night before he was going to stand trial, he saw this message of servanthood as so important that he shared it one last time in an extremely humbling manner.
They were gathered together for the last supper, and it was customary for someone to arrange to have a servant available to wash the feet of the guests before they sat down to eat. They typically sat at low tables, and because most people wore sandals it was a matter of etiquette to have your feet washed before sitting down for supper. But, in the haste of making arrangements somebody forgot to schedule the foot-washer, and everybody was too proud to do the task. So just before they were getting ready to eat, Jesus himself picks up a basin to wash the disciples feet. I think they were all mortified. But, Jesus had an important point to make. And after washing each of their feet, he talked again about his role as a servant and that they too were called to serve. He said,
Do you understand what I was doing? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because that’s what I am. And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you…
For everyone who feels love best through service – that is exactly how Jesus came and how he lived among us. Know that you are most certainly loved!
Now, as we just read, part of why Jesus showed his love to us in this way is not just so that we might know his love, it is also so that we would follow his example – because we have been so wonderfully served, we need to be ready and willing to follow his lead.
Now, for these last few paragraphs, I want to write a bit about how we can be better servants ourselves – no matter our calling – whether in sacred service or the marketplace. I’d like to get into that by asking you this question:
What made Jesus so good at serving?
We might assume (and maybe rightly so) that Jesus was great at serving because it was in his nature to serve. That might relieve us of some of our responsibility. We might conclude that it is not in my nature to do this… so I don’t have to…
But, let me make something really clear on that point, Jesus may have had it in his nature to do so, but he was also subject to the very same personal challenges we face.
For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.
What that says to me is that Jesus also had choices to make. I am sure, when it came time for dinner that night, he would have wanted (and perhaps even preferred) for someone to wash his feet. He would have loved to have been served. He had a long day. Lots of people on his case. How wonderful it would have felt to be served. But, even in this time he choose otherwise.
One of the things that I think made Jesus so good at this is that he was extremely observant. There are many different places in the narrative of the story of Jesus where we read that Jesus could perceive what was happening with people,
Jesus knew what they were thinking…
Matthew 9:4, Mark 2:8, Luke 5:22
Again, we could chalk that up to his supernatural power or we could say that he was just really tuned into people. But, I believe, he was selfless in the best sense of the word. He knew what people needed. He knew what might be most beneficial for them to hear – because he was highly observant. We can learn from him in this regard. In fact, if we are actually going to get better at this serving thing, it will go hand in hand with our willingness to increase our capacity to look beyond ourselves and observe how it is we might make a difference (for good) in the lives of people all around us.
Let me close with this.
The older I become the more sentimental I become. As we are into this holiday season, I can’t help but think about some of the traditions that we grew up with. One of the things my parents would invariably do was take us all out to dinner at a nice restaurant some time during the holidays. My family didn’t eat out that often so that was a big deal for us. Often we’d go to this place called the Smithy – it was a rustic place with a shorter menu and a big fireplace in the middle of the restaurant. My parents loved it because the food was good and the service was great. It was the kind of place where people remembered your name and your favorite wine. The wait staff was attentive, but not too much. And every time we went, we knew this much for sure, we would leave full AND well-cared for! That is why my parents didn’t mind driving the extra 30 minutes to get there.
Funny thing is that we would drive by all kinds of other places that were probably less expensive and maybe even had better food. But, my parents were always the kind of people willing to drive further in order to be better-served. Do you know people who will do that? Do you do that?
Great service is not easily forgotten.
People remember it. They come back for more of it with amazing regularity. With Jesus it has been remembered for more than 2000 years. I have a feeling that if those of us who feel called to serve as CEOs, mid-level managers, internet providers, cell phone sales people, and the like, we might do well to pull a page of out of the life of Jesus and follow his example. Something tells me it wouldn’t just make Christmas better – the rest of the year might benefit as well.