Friday, December 21, 2012

Validating a Christmas Paradox


Some attention.  Confirmation that we're really worth something.

If you think about it, our news media is brimming with stories of people all seeking the same thing, even if they're seeking the same thing in different ways:

"Will somebody please validate my existence?!"

Yesterday afternoon, former three-time Olympian Suzy Favor-Hamilton, a wife and mother, admitted that an article on outing her as a $600-an-hour Las Vegas call girl is accurate.  She tweeted that selling herself seemed to give her the attention she craved.

"I was drawn to escorting in large part because it provided many coping mechanisms for me when I was going through a very challenging time with my marriage and my life."

Here in north central Texas, baseball fans are still seething over MVP Josh Hamilton's unexpected bolt from the Rangers clubhouse to the team's division rival, the Los Angeles Angels.  During his introductory press conference in California, Hamilton offered a simple explanation of what - in addition to the big-money contract - convinced him to leave Texas:

"I'm excited to be with people who want me to be here."

And speaking of sports, the unexpected deflation of Tim Tebow's football career, which just seemed to be getting started only a year ago, must be as dejecting to the popular star as it is puzzling to his legions of fans.  He was paid by the Jets, but hardly ever played.  Played on the field, anyway.  Meanwhile, the Jets' front office played his PR value royally, to his detriment.

Even Sandy Hook mass-murderer Adam Lanza almost certainly acted out of some twisted desire for validation in his life.

Usually, like Lanza and Favor-Hamilton, the only time you become famous is when you take your search for validation into areas which our society has decreed is wrong.  Killing people is obviously wrong.  And, even though plenty of people engage in it, sexual prostitution is wrong, too.  Lanza will be rightly vilified for his merciless attempts at personal satisfaction, while Favor-Hamilton, since her violation of society's rules titillates us more than anything, will face vastly less acrimony.

Yet, speaking of prostitution, how many people seek validation in areas where our society says it's OK - and even expected - for you to prostitute yourself?  Areas like corporate careers, the path Lanza's father took, in which disentangling one's self from complications that divert attention to earning money and position may be frowned upon by some people, but is generally accepted as a necessary part of playing the corporate game.

The corporate game of professional sports is awash in stories where players jump from team to team chasing the almighty dollar, instead of fan loyalty.  We shrug our shoulders and resign ourselves to the reality that sports is a business these days.  Even when deserving players like Tebow unwittingly get caught between an owner's greed for media attention and a coach's apparent ambivalence towards one's potential.

To some degree, we all seek a measure of validation for our lives.  Most of us seek that validation in socially-acceptable ways, even if they're not sinless ways.  And to the degree that the validation we seek is some sort of juice for our ego, or a balm on our bruised self-centeredness, couldn't our search itself be considered sinful?  Think about it.  We evangelical Christians like to talk about what each of us has been placed on this planet to do, and among all the good answers we usually give, we rarely mention that we're supposed to "die to self."

Wow.  Ouch.  Just saying it sounds so counter-cultural, doesn't it?  After all, America is about achievement, self-sufficiency, and individualism.  Not dying to self.

Yet consider these Bible passages:

- I [Paul] have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. - Galatians 2:20

- And he [Christ] said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. - Luke 9:23-24

- So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. - Romans 8:12-13

- "He [Christ] must increase, but I [John] must decrease.” - John 3:30

As you can see, "death to self" isn't my idea.  But it's what believers in Christ are to do.

This year's Advent season is almost over, and we're preparing to celebrate the incarnation of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Who came to Earth as both a King, but also a helpless baby. He was born into a royal lineage, but that lineage included a prostitute, Rahab, and a murderer, David.  Not exactly a flawless family tree, huh?

Unfortunately, the correlations with the other people in my essay today end there, since I rather doubt Christ has any football or baseball genes in Him, considering neither sport had been invented then.  But you get my point, don't you?  And don't think I'm preaching exclusively to you, because I'm really preaching mostly to myself here.  I can drift into a good old-fashioned pity party during Christmastime as well as anybody else can, and I need to be reminded that my worth isn't ultimately in who I am, or what I do, or who anybody else thinks I am.  My worth is validated by Christ, not by what attention I can get from society.

By dying to self during this season of so much gluttony and materialism, I can paradoxically find life in the birth of the One Who gave His for mine.

And you can, too.

Infant Holy, Infant Lowly
Tra­di­tion­al carol in Spiewni­czek Pies­ni Ko­sciel­ne, 1908;
trans­lat­ed from Po­lish to Eng­lish by Edith M. Reed, 1921.

Infant holy, Infant lowly, for His bed a cattle stall;
Oxen lowing, little knowing, Christ the Babe is Lord of all.
Swift are winging angels singing, noels ringing, tidings bringing:
Christ the Babe is Lord of all.

Flocks were sleeping, shepherds keeping vigil till the morning new
Saw the glory, heard the story, tidings of a Gospel true.
Thus rejoicing, free from sorrow, praises voicing, greet the morrow:
Christ the Babe was born for you.

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