by Megan Johnson
C.S. Lewis wisely said, “We must lay before God what is in us, not what ought to be in us.”
As we approach Christmas, I’m reminded of a situation I was in a couple of months ago. Now, this situation is not for the faint of heart; it is going to make you squirm, so be forewarned and proceed with caution … Okay, now that I’ve warned you (and you’re still with me) I’ll cut to the chase:
My daughter, Maggie, had lice crawling on her scalp several weeks ago. She woke up in the middle of the night crying and clawing at her scalp. A vague recollection of a student at preschool having lice the week before buzzed in my brain, so I courageously pulled out a flashlight and checked. Yep. There they were, as clear as could be. I nearly dropped her!
Here’s the thing … where I’m going with this is: Just a few hours before, I was blow drying her hair for the first time (because she never lets me) and we were all oohing and aahing over her smooth, soft, golden, beautiful hair. Truly, all 5 of us, encouraging her about how pretty her hair looked because she let mommy fix it. Yet, crawling not so far below the surface of all that shine, were bugs. Bugs that were immune to normal shampoo because, I read, they hold their breath! (If you’re not itching at your head by now, you’re stronger than I.)
The spiritual implications of this were obvious to me immediately. I remember Jesus’ proclamation to the Pharisees:
Woe to you! You clean the outside of the cup, but inside you are filthy – full of greed and self indulgence.
Or David crying out to God in
You delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.
How often do I ooh and aah over my outwardly apparent righteous works (or others’ outward works) or long for recognition for my “righteous” acts? And yet, there are bugs crawling beneath the surface. Daily, friends. Yes, daily.
And yet, as we celebrate Advent, we remember that this is exactly why Jesus came! He came to cleanse us from the filth inside; from the “bugs” that hold their breath and make themselves immune to all the forms of self-denial, discipline, and work on our part. And so Jesus comes – to a sin ridden, lice infested, broken world. Emmanuel! God with us! He comes to us (like He did to all those He encountered in Israel who were broken over their sin), to clean us, to pick out the bugs.
You see – Maggie couldn’t get the lice out by herself. She was completely dependent on me. If she hadn’t sat still for 3 hours (while I washed her hair with special shampoo and divided her hair into way-too-many-to-count half inch sections using the tiny comb to scour through every millimeter of her hair) we wouldn’t have gotten rid of the lice, and they could have infected the rest of us.
I’ll be honest, I squirmed and pushed her away at the first sight of the infestation. I was scared for myself. But Jesus! Jesus, who comes to us in our sin, our greed, our self-righteousness, our selfishness, never winces, doesn’t leave us, and constantly moves toward us. The gospels remind me that Jesus is constantly moving towards sinners, not away from them. Because He must get close – yes, that close, to destroy what seeks to kill us. And often we try to hide behind our shining, beautiful hair of good works (and comparison to those who are “worse”), not acknowledging that like Paul, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst.” (1 Timothy 1:15). Paul must have known the secret of acknowledging his need and dependence on Jesus.
Which brings us back to our C.S. Lewis quote – “we must lay before God what is in us, not what ought be in us.”
Young kids are honest, painfully so at times. Maggie will tell you she had bugs in her hair with no shame or thought that you would scurry away from her. She knows Mom will take care of it if it happens again. She knows she needs a source outside of herself, and has no shame admitting it. What would it look like to confess our weakness and need that freely? And embrace those who do?
Now, I know my analogy isn’t perfect and does break down, but I can’t help but see it spiritually. I’m reminded of what James, the brother of Jesus, tells us:
Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.
And we can. We can because Jesus came to “forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9); and wash us whiter than snow even though our sins are like scarlet (Isaiah 1:18).
And not just for me, but for my kids! How often am I repelled by their sin? Offended by their greed, selfishness, discontentment, and anger? All things in which I’m actually the bigger sinner, and with which I am on equal footing at the cross. What if I walked towards them in love in their sin? An imperfect example of how Jesus comes to me in mine: not repelled, but full of grace, as Emmanuel, God with us.
So, friends, this Advent season (and always):
Let’s take to Jesus what is actually in us, not hiding in our works, because we are already hidden in Him.
Let’s walk our kids to the edge of the manger (and foot of the cross) to gaze in wonder and gratitude at the One who came, who comes, and who will come again.
Let’s run towards Him and towards the sinners He came to rescue – proclaiming his light in the darkness, his healing in the parts we didn’t know were infected, and his life abundant – all for sinners, even the chief.
After all, that’s why He came.