Friday, December 12, 2014

Giving the Gift of Relationship

For at that time I will change the speech of the peoples
to a pure speech,
that all of them may call upon
the name of the LORD
and serve him with one accord.
From beyond the rivers of Cush
My worshippers, the daughter of my dispersed ones,
Shall bring my offering.
                                                                     Zephaniah 3:9-10

Christmas time is always a sweet reminder of God’s faithfulness to the nations. The long awaited promises coming true, the bursting forth of the Gospel- the Good News- to the ends of the earth, beginning in the unlikeliest of places. The pagan-astrologers from the nations, drawn to come and see in order to go and proclaim, a microcosm of what has been and what will yet be. The power of Babel reversed- I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech, and the sure and certain hope that indeed, Uganda (along with many other African nations) has a certain place alongside the wise men to yield offerings at the feet of Jesus and to speak to us today in our own need- From beyond the rivers of Cush (Ethiopia- Nile?), My worshippers… shall bring my offering.

Many Africans do not have much offer, materially that is. And yet how funny it is that we too often make the giving of material gifts the highpoint of the celebration of the greatest gift humanity and the world has ever known. Yes, Jesus was a material Gift, God Himself wrapped in human flesh. Yet the Gift was that which heals and sets the heart free, which reveals itself to the poor and lowly, redeems broken manhood and womanhood, and restores broken marriage and family. The Gift restores relationships, first with people and God (those who receive this gift and turn from sin and self to Jesus), which allows grace and love to flow in our hearts toward one another, grants the gift of lived repentance before one another, grants real the lasting relationship.

It is the wealth of relationship that distinguishes many Africans from those of us from the West. It is in relationships that Africans quickly note the poverty of most Westerners. And it is here, in the place of the gift of relationship, that Ugandans have much to offer to each other and to us in response to the King born so many years ago. For it is in relationship where we join together to worship God and enjoy one another with one accord.

I remember our first Christmas in Uganda. We had only one child (that seems a long way off from our current five). We were culturally exhausted. I had attempted a Christmas Eve candle-light service that left me disappointed and frustrated. We missed family. And then we had to be in church on Christmas day by 10am for a four-hour Christmas service followed by a community meal (probably not eating until 3!). Everything within me wanted to rebel. It simply went against my individualistic Christmas expectations of family time at home. But we made it through a hurried Christmas morning, enjoyed singing and dancing with God’s people, and feasted together in a community meal. But above all, we enjoyed one thing: relationship. And when all was over we crashed for a Christmas-nap!

After ten years we have made new traditions, and one of them is the joy of celebrating Christmas in the joy of relationship in community. And so this year, once again, we join with our brothers and sisters here, we join with the fatherless who have found their Father along with those who are still searching, we join with friends and true Ugandan family, to delight in the One who came to undo all of the sorrow and brokenness unleashed on the world through our self-exalting worship of the creation and desire for things above God Himself (i.e. sin). We rejoice in the hope that demolishes our pride, brings together nations, and gives us freedom to walk in the gift of relationships.

This year, consider offering to one another, to family, friends, loved ones and unloved ones, a gift in response to this Greatest Gift that we celebrate- give the gift of relationship: share the central meaning of Christmas: Jesus, and then give the gift of time (unplugged and media-free), the gift of forgiveness, the gift of serving, the gift of repentance, the gift of humility, the gift of love-in-action. This is the offering of God’s worshipers, the Gospel on display, hearts exalting in Jesus, drawn back to God and to each other, which surely is what Christmas should be all about, both in America, here in Uganda and around the world.


Aimee Haywood said...

Love this Keith. Thank you.

A Born said...

Keith, I love your incite into the value of relationship. I get so exhausted by what is "culturally" expected of us here in America. This year we decorated very simply and I was amazed how freeing it was to only take 30 minutes vs the several days it has taken in the past. I wonder what other things I have spent useless time on in years past? We sent cookies and other treats to the neighbors but did we invite them over to eat and celebrate with us? Not yet. I am praying that the Lord give us the opportunity to show relationship to our neighbors.