Advent Reading Day 17 – Scrooge or Free

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4

Obligation.  It can be word that goes along with the holidays.   You know how it feels when you receive a gift from someone you didn’t expect to get one from and all of a sudden you find yourself obligated to brave the last minute Christmas crowds to find something.   Or someone brings you that plate of Christmas cookies and you feel obligated to return the plate filled with something else for the person in return for their gift to you.   Or, you have to decorate the outside of the house and make the show bigger and better than last year because after all the whole neighborhood is counting on you to do your part and how could you think of letting them down?   Or, how about the office gift exchange – you know the kind where everyone in the office feels that they have to participate in buying that $15 or less gift that in the end the other person probably will not find that useful anyway.   I wonder if Soap on a Rope was invented especially for the Office Gift Exchange?

Obligation seems to go hand in hand with the holidays.  Obligation also has a habit of sucking the life and joy out of every single thing it touches.   Maybe you want to buck the trend and push back against the obligation, yet you know deep down you’ll be seen as a modern day Scrooge if you do so and may be shamed into thinking that somehow you never quite got into the Christmas Spirit.  A sidenote is that I am hearing of more and more people that are bucking the trend and are finding amazing meaning in The Season as they focus on simple and relationships rather than consumerism…Kudos to those folks to taking hits for being modern day Scrooges because others can’t quite grasp why they are going against the flow!

Obligation has an even uglier side, however.  Here in Ethiopia the holidays come with a lot of obligation and expectation.   Holidays are Feast Days.   It is expected that people eat large on these days and host the extended family to eat sheep and goat and ox and chicken.  People spend hours cooking dozens of kilos of onions to make wot, butcher the livestock themselves, make drinks weeks ahead of time and then play host for sometimes multiple days of feasting.   It is a beautiful thing, however this obligation also comes at a cost.   A sheep alone can easily cost more than 1,000 ETB ($65 US) as it gets close to the holidays and a chicken over 100 ETB ($6.50 US)  Just for that meat alone it would take over 1 month of an average teacher’s salary!   Imagine needing to spend one month of your salary in order to have the holiday meal.  And, remember there is more than 1 holiday in the year  which you are expected to celebrate large including Christmas, Timket, Easter, and New Years at a minimum.  The obligation of holidays and feast days can weigh greatly especially on the poor for whom there is an expectation that they will be able to celebrate, yet there are limited means to do so.  Any opportunity to save even a little bit easily gets consumed when the next holiday rolls around for many of the poor throughout the world.

What if we were to capture the liberty and freedom that Jesus extends to us in its fullness?  How could that brand of freedom totally blow the doors off of any holiday experience we have had before.   How could that freedom lead us to celebrate and feast and party focused on Him, but without any sense of obligation or need to provide or measure up.  I believe that kind of freedom would lead us to true celebration, rather than a celebration that measures up to our cultural expectations, but that in the end leaves us somewhat exhausted, lacking and in debt.  I believe that kind of freedom would lead us to true generosity that sparks life rather than an obligation that becomes lifeless.

Luke 4 brings us amazing news of how Jesus coming changes everything.   Within Luke’s writing is the phrase, “Freedom for the Captives.”   Jesus came proclaiming this brand of Freedom and He still does so today.   It is incredible news to know that Jesus set us Free from the Enemy, from The Law, from sin, from bondage…We are free indeed.  This Christmas may we taste true Freedom.   May we know the Freedom that we have as followers of Jesus and how we are set free from The Law as well as the many well-meaning obligations that can be placed on us in the form of shoulds and musts and don’ts.   May we taste true freedom in Jesus this Christmas season that sets us Free to truly worship Him and celebrate fully all that His coming means.   And, may we be agents of freedom this season – bringing words of life to those around us that set those who are captive free.

So, this season seek His freedom.  Of course, you may be labeled a Scrooge along the way…but remember even Scrooge in the end found out what true and free celebration looked like in a way that shocked his world.

Prayer: Jesus, thank you for the freedom you extend to us.  I pray that this Christmas season you would teach me how to walk in that freedom.   Help me to not simply go through the motions out of obligation, but instead set my heart aflame for you.   May this Christmas be different as I don’t focus on what is expected of me, but instead I focus on celebrating You and Your coming.  And, may we freely party together – spreading the joy of authentic celebration all around us!  Amen.

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