Come! (Four Simple Words of Christmas #1)

I’m not a fan of parades. The idea of sitting on a curb and casually observing people walk in formation is right up there with giving blood or taking down Christmas decorations. Parades are an entirely different experience if you’re a little kid, though. For most kids, parades are magical festivals. 

To celebrate the first days of winter, Kristin and I took our three kids downtown Chicago to see the lighting of Michigan Ave. I took some vacation time and arranged to stay at a family member’s really nice apartment overlooking the Chicago river, Michigan Ave in sight from our couch. That couch came in handy, because it rained the whole time we were in the city and we watched the parade from the apartment. Occasionally we’d look out the window and see a float pass by, and we’d turn to the TV to see it was the characters from Frozen or a musician. Even though we weren’t on the curb, it didn’t stop our kids from the anticipation that at some point in the parade would be Mickey Mouse and at the end of this parade was a Santa Claus. 

“Mickey’s coming! Santa’s coming!” Squealing, they would race to the window to catch a glimpse of their life-long friends.

Parades are all about anticipation and arrival. The whole thing is simply a movement of our most celebrated people, promised to be there, now arriving on the scene right before our very eyes. Adults know these characters are going to disappear back into regular people who have day jobs and student loans. But kids are enraptured with the beauty, majesty, friendliness and celebrity of the character. For a brief moment, Santa has come. It’s Christmas. 

In a similar way, we see in human history this progressive movement, this parade, so to speak. Godward people from generation to generation share a godward message regarding the arrival of God. The prophets each took their turn, one by one proclaiming to the nations the rule and reign of Almighty God. When the prophets spoke, it was received as the literal words of God to the people. And receiving God’s words meant people were receiving God himself. He was moving toward them. 

At one point in the proclamation parade of the prophets, Isaiah declared this promise:

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
— Isaiah 7:14

When Matthew tells the story, he includes this verse in his account and translates the name Immanuel for us, which means "God with us," or rather, "God has come." Later, the prophet Micah took his turn in the parade: 

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.
— Micah 5:2

The main attraction in this parade of prophets isn’t Mickey Mouse or Santa Claus, but the eternally promised ruler, a son divinely and miraculously born to a virgin, whose coming is literally “God with us.” The prophets gave voice to the eager anticipation embedded within humanity, crying out to God, “Come!” And simultaneously God assured his people, saying, “I will come!”

The Advent season is wrapped up in this one longing and promise: Come! For centuries now, Christians celebrate the Advent season as a time of preparation and promise, anticipation and arrival, the fact that God said he would come and he did.

Advent draws our attention to the story of Christmas as a story of movement. Joseph and Mary are required by law to move back home. Angels announce the birth and move the shepherds to find the baby. Non-Jewish astrologers see the star and move across national borders to find the child. The baby even grows up and launches the greatest movement in history. But greatest of all, Advent reminds us that God moves. The full sense of Christmas is remembering how God bridged the divide between heaven and earth by moving in our direction and living among us. He arrived. He has come.

Today, the Christmas season is more than ever about movement and arrivals. Companies like Amazon spend billions on logistics to get packages where they are destined to arrive. Many families I know make elaborate plans for when they will spend time with one another, the anticipation building. Mom eagerly awaits the return of her kids. “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” plays nonstop, fueling our excitement for celebrating with those who matter most. 

There is a spiritual metaphor found in the movement of Christmas today. Something deeply spiritual is happening in the anticipation we feel when we track packages online or circle dates on calendars when our family members will arrive. We are anticipating the arrival of something grand. With a little bit of awareness, we can see how the emotion of excitement and longing really reveals our deeper longing and deeper excitement for something even greater than smiling cardboard boxes and grandkids. We are remembering the greater one who has come to us, our God. 

Often the collection of packages and family members assemble around the Christmas tree on Christmas morning. It may not be a tradition found in the pages of Scripture, but in many ways this precious moment of celebration reminds us of the parade of God’s promises, that he would come and rule. God wrapped himself up and delivered himself right to our door so that we might rejoice that our King has come.

The Fountain of Youth, The Quest For Love, & Promise of Peace

I took an informal poll on Facebook the other day where I asked my friends what they thought people wish for at their core.  More than one person said something along the lines of “living a long and healthy life.” “I want to find love and have a family.” And the super cliche pageant answer of “World peace.” 

Ironically, the Jesus that I follow shoots holes in each of these three categories

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The Sin of Subversion

We all hit our heads against a glass ceiling at some point. You came up with the perfect strategy, a more efficient means of doing something, or a more profitable venture. And in your enthusiasm for what could be, you’ve brought it to your boss only to have them poke holes in it and say “No, it’ll never work.” Worse, they might simply say, “I’ll think about it.” Read: “I hate it, but don’t want to tell you no, so…”

This happens to me consistently. And even more so, I’ve been the leader who has done this to other people on my team. Roadblocks and ceilings might be the biggest source of frustration in any organization. I would hazard a guess that this juncture has more power to solidify or destroy a non-profit team. Whatever you decide to do at this important juncture will reveal your heart.

There are three options that people take when they think they’ve hit the ceiling: quit, sour, or subvert. Quitting might be a valid option, while souring is surefire way to becoming a deadly toxin in your organization. And even worse is to commit the sin of subversion.

The Sin of Subversion

“I know I’m right, I just need to prove it to them. They’ll see its worth once I prove it to them.” The Sin of Subversion is the Millennial’s calling card. It’s a subtle way of flipping the win-lose situation where you turn the tables to win at the expense of the team. The Sin of Subversion is being told plainly, “No, that’s not how we want to move forward,” and yet pressing on quietly, behind the scenes, often justifying it by saying something like, “I’ll ask for forgiveness later.”

Nothing good comes from operating this way. If your team is struggling, chances are someone is acting with this mindset.

Subversion is the first step in hijacking vision.

Vision doesn’t have to be top-down, but it has to be agreed upon. If you launch the team into a new priority without the team’s buy-in, you’ve just hijacked the vision. You’ve jumped into a moving organization, thrown out the person in the drivers seat, and raced off with their car, taking it where you want it to go. But if you’re the only one to cross the finish line of your vision, you still lose.

Subversion is a surefire way to more policies and procedures, not less.

You were trying to avoid this in the first place, weren’t you? But rest assured, at the end of the road there will be a company-wide policy instated that reads something like, “Executive approval is required for any x …” Instead of creating a pathway for freedom, you’re walking into chains. 

Subversion undermines your standing with your coworkers and your bosses. 

You may feel like you’re getting things done, but really your co-workers are seeing you make autonomous decisions that go against the expressed desires of your leader. And they see you for what you are… a renegade. They may admire your drive, but they detest the way you’re willing to make your boss look like a fool at your own gain. Surely you’ll do this to them at some point. And while you’re demonstrating how foolish your leader is, you’re actually damaging your own reputation. 

Subversion destroys trust. 

Every organization’s main goal ought to be the development and protection of trust. Trust enables you to apologize for messing up. Trust allows you to take big risks together when the future isn’t clear. Trust allows the team to communicate without having to decipher any code in your words. Trust helps you make decisions faster, recruit better talent, and in for-profit businesses, it increases your profit margin exponentially. Subversion is a shotgun to the soul of trust.

There is a better option for what to do when you hit a ceiling, one which I hope all next generation leaders who are sitting in the second or third chairs in their organizations would learn to do well. It’s to simply recognize that your great idea is worth executing, but only if it doesn’t make your leader look like a fool, and you look like a renegade, and make your fellow team members pay with added policies once its all done. And when you come to these simple convictions, it allows you to take a step back, get creative, and lead your leader.

I’ve always found the ceiling to get a few feet taller, too.