It's a little chilly. It's early morning. It's Christmas Eve...
My feet are making quick and unseen tracks along the pavement of the winding country road as we travel the mile to where the trail begins, just past Lake Nicol.
Oh yeah, it's Christmas Eve. Feels like any other Sunday, headed out to exercise. Very ordinary, almost mundane.
"God, I don't want this to be just another Sunday. I want it to be a day of Christmas.... What does Christmas really mean anyway? It's a fun holiday, probably my favorite... I know that it celebrates the plan of salvation... But God, I want you to deepen my understanding...
what does Christmas mean to you?
Please show me... "
There was no immediate answer, no obvious voice, no clouds took formation in the sky to spell out life answers, no thrilling sensation of love and joy.... My feet plod along in a steady pattern... soon reaching the trail I am coolly greeted by woods-in-the-winter scents sprinkled with sparse dose of sunlight... woodpeckers sound from their choice trees, I laugh wondering if they have their own Morris Code system...
"Lord, Please show me..."
Pressing myself hard, I am gasping for air when I finally reached the top - proud that I can still run the entire length of the hill....
"Lord, Please show me..."
All the way back out to the main road, past the dam, the lake... my mind wanders off on tangential tracks, some of which are not very happy.
"Caitlin, you need to pick up that trash," caught by surprise I almost stop. The thought comes so clearly that it jolts my many trains of thought back to their central station. Immediately recognizing this to be a divine prompting.... well I could write what I wish I did, but that wouldn't illustrate the lesson I learned, so I will continue with what happened, though I'm not proud of it.
"No God, I don't want to pick up trash!" I sullenly mumble, "I know that the way people have littered this road is disgusting, but it's their germy trash - and I don't want to pick it up!
It's Christmas Eve, and I don't feel like reeking like beer from those old cans! It's gross!" Continuing to walk on, I feel glummer than before...
"You should pick up some trash." The idea will not leave me, "But Lord, honestly, the few things I can carry will not make any difference in the aesthetics of the roadside, or reduce great amounts of environmental damage.... You know that most any other time I would gladly, without comments or complaints, carry as much as I could hold.... but basically I just don't feel like it!"
After several more yards... "Caitlin, pick up that beer can, yes, that one."
"OK, fine," I grumble to myself, am I usually this ornery? Feeling only a sliver of repentance I stoop to pick up an old Budweiser can and some foam cups from Sonic...
The air is shivers with the wild call of the Pileated woodpecker somewhere off to my right...
and suddenly I realize that this might be the answer to my prayer - God has used these quirky birds to get my attention before...
Adding more items to my dirty collection, I apologize for being so dense and obnoxious. With my mind shifted into a more serene gear, I can hear with greater clarity. I contemplate how sad this earth is, how awful, trashy, dirty, and despicably disgusting it has become. "A stark contrast from Your original creation, isn't it? I'm so sorry.... "
Imagining what it must have been like for Jesus walk around on this earth - it almost makes me shutter. How repulsive, how discouraging, how tragic! I try to picture Jesus walking along this road with his arms full of trash... and gently He says, "See, the disgust you have over roadside trash is just a fraction of how repulsive sin is to me"
"Wow... " My heart hurts for Him, how awful it must be to see the beautiful world ruined, and to see His people trashing, not just their environment, but their lives without a second thought. How hard it must have been to come and walk in the middle of all this mess, while knowing the joys and pleasure of heaven above. "Lord how did you stand it?"
As the question exits on a thought, a beautiful phrase of scripture enters in sweet answer: "for the joy that was set before Him..." Its meaning swells deeper in my heart, for joy, for joy before Him...
Do you realize that you are the joy that was set before Him? You are the joy, I am the joy, we humans are the joy that he hoped for. We were the goal of His mission, the desire of His heart, the love of His life.
If you have ever felt like scum-of-the-earth, road-kill, or just plain trash... well, this simple phrase blasts all confining, bitter, and self-depreciating thoughts to smithereens!
You are the Joy that was set before Him!
The idea of adopting us back gave Him the steadiness, the rush of adrenaline, the grit and determination He needed to stick to the plan of Salvation. He didn't just run up a little hill for Sunday morning exercise, he ran a marathon of thirty-plus years... with a grueling climb up Calvary.
You are why He was born into a world of squalor and filth, walked through the stench of garbage-filled alleys, touched and healed every type of disease, raised the dead, prayed entire nights, was tortured, murdered, buried... for you - the joy that was set before Him.
That is what Christmas means to God.
I pray that His meaning will create new meaning for for your life, as it has for mine.
"Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." Hebrews 12:2