I can just imagine the scene. Black donned sweatshirts. Mischievous upturned mouths. Squinty eyes. With a nervous 180 degree look around him, Johnny abruptly veers towards the median and lunges to a stop. Freddy is scarcely out of the car before it tears off, leaving the lone soul among a few stray cars whizzing past him in this middle of the unlit night. Freddy, a black stocking cap upon his head, slings his sack on his back as he runs across the ankle-tickling grass of the median. His nervous eyes dart around the highway as he dresses a lone evergreen bush in a thin string of red tinsel garland by way of headlight. His quick hands even manage to hang silver balls on the tree before the escape vehicle swoops in from the other direction. Freddy rolls into the backseat before his hand can even reach for the seatbelt. Tires screech. The car peels away. The Christmas Highway Ninjas have struck again, decorating the dark and mundane highway with gaudy tinsel and cheap Walmart ornaments. M-6 will never be the same.
* * * * *
...who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." - Hebrews 12:2
I couldn’t believe my eyes.
Someone had really decorated a bush in the middle of the hectic highway median?
My eyes smiled at the decorated Christmas bush I would quickly whizz past at 70 MPH. The sunny December day forced me to slow down to squint at the the unusual sight. Cars impatiently darted around me. Couldn't they see I was marveling at the unexpected act of highway good cheer? Even though I needed to continue a few exits down the lane, I turned around at the next exit and tried to snap a one-handed photo out the window in another drive-by. Of course, when I stopped to look at my phone later, I discovered I managed to get a few great pictures of the median abutments and an awkward picture of my nose.
What does one do when she needs the picture for a blog post? Why, she calls her husband, of course. And thus, my Knight in Shining Armor came and rescued the day by taking 278 burst photos from the backseat, one of which is my blog photo. What can I say? This is only one of many reasons I totally love this man!
When I knew I must write about this experience, the ninja image immediately popped into my head. But I knew it wasn't quite right.
I searched long and hard for a precise word for our Christmas Median Ninja.
I wanted a kind of word that added a sense of mystery and intrigue. I soon found out those words tend to belong more to the realm of "gangsters" and "vigilantes" rather than a brave and enthusiastic soul decorating bushes in the median of a highway.
Do-gooder? Possibly. Too humdrum, though.
Straight-arrow? Ummm…. way too William Tell-like.
Benefactor? No. Usually charity is involved rather than tinsel garland.
Philanthropic? Nope. Although this is closer, I’m not sure the Christmas Median Ninjas acted with total love motive.
Ninja? This was my hubby's vote from the beginning. At first, I argued that ninjas fought with sticks and chains. He countered with his definition of "Somebody quiet and sneaky." I'm using this one until I have something better. It does give off that mysterious vibe I was going for.
Altruist: One who acts with altruism. Okay. Maybe. And that means …what?
Altruism: Regard for others, both natural and moral without regard for oneself; devotion to the interest of others; brotherly kindness; selfishness; contrasted with egoism or selfishness. Action or behavior that benefits another or others at some cost to the performer.
Bingo! Winner, winner, chicken dinner.
Let's see how our Christmas Median Ninja fits the bill here.
Our Ninja certainly displayed a regard for others in the hope of happiness the decorated shrub would bring to others despite the inherent risk in getting hit in the middle of a busy highway.
Once, when I was a sophomore in college, my friends and I stopped the car next to the median so we could get out and collect its unexpected gift of sunshine daffodils. It may or may not have been my idea. Not telling. But I do know this: my "only a friend" hubby was driving the car then, too. Rather than the Christmas Ninja who risked his life to decorate our world, I risked mine to pilfer beauty. (The older and wiser me raises her eyebrows and warns people "Don't do it. Please. It's unsafe. I was just a crazy and unwise kid.")
I imagine our gangsters anticipated many laughs and smiles at the highway absurdity. They wanted our good. Kind of. Or at least they wanted our laughs. But that’s worth something, don’t you think?
My Christmas Median Ninja was very kind to his fellow man, a bit reckless perhaps, but still kind. Maybe?
Oh, there were some costs to our Ninja for sure. First and foremost--danger. He could have been hit by a huge Fedex truck or some rogue Swans delivery van. It was simply not safe. Second, non-motorized access on freeways restricts pedestrians from using the highway as a nice walking lane. I looked it up. I'm sure it probably resists Christmas Ninjas from decorating median foliage, too. Mine obviously didn't care, though, and took the risk upon himself.
So... Christmas Highway Altruist? Hmm. While it kind of fits, I think I will stick with "ninja". I just like it better.
But, in thinking through the definition of "altruist", immediately my mind raced to another person who fits this bill better than any Christmas ninja ever could, even with the world's biggest sack full of Ethan Allen Christmas bulbs.
Let's see how Jesus Christ stacks up to the “altruist” definition, too, shall we?
How did Jesus Christ not show regard for himself? Oh, so many ways. Here are merely the thoughts I pondered today.
First, Jesus willingly chose to come to this earth as one of us, to die for in our place. "Who, although He existed in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but emptied Himself by taking the form of a bond-servant and being born in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death: death on a cross." (Philippians 2:6-8.)
For me, the thought of Jesus Christ willingly emptying Himself of relying on his own divinity FOR ME is mind boggling. Instead, he sought to live solely in dependence from his Father in heaven. “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” (John 6:38) Can you imagine emptying yourself from every right you could possibly have for the very people who would crucify you? Again...mind boggling.
Second, he was born in our likeness as the only propitiation for sin. “He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:1-2)
Propitiation? Hold on. That's a big word. You lost me there. What in the world does that mean?
Let’s ask Webster again. This time we’ll ask the 1828 version.
In theology, the atonement or atoning sacrifice offered to God to assuage his wrath and render him propitious to sinners. Christ is the propitiation for the sins of men.
Ummm...helpful, but still not helpful. I still can't wrap my finger around this definition. If I can't explain it to a six-year-old, then I really don't understand the word. But since I phoned a friend to talk it through (Thank you, Theresa Slabbekoorn!), let me give it my best effort.
Let’s say you’re playing catch in the back yard with your brother while your dad mows the lawn. Yesterday you broke brother’s laptop. On purpose. You need to pay him back for your mistake. You look in your piggy bank and you only have four dollars. It’s not enough to pay for that costly laptop. You’ll never have enough. But your brother has another idea. You will pay. Your brother lifts his leg, draws back his arm, and lets the ball fly. It’s hurdling toward your nose faster than a wink of an eye. You freeze; you know you deserve it. Your dad takes in the situation and knows your total inability to really pay for it. He sees that you are going to take the hit and his heart stirs with love. He is moved into action. At the last second, before busting open your head, your Dad steps in front of you, and takes the hit in your place. That’s propitiation.
Somebody takes the hit instead of you.
Because he always followed his Father’s will, that ultimate somebody, Jesus Christ stepped, onto the cross in our place. He took the penalty. That alone allows me to exhale. When I think about ME being Jesus' WHY, I am utterly amazed. He did this for me? Umm...wow. Just wow. But why? Why did he do it? He did it because of the next definition of an altruist.
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8) I used to think that Christ's death was merely a ticket out of this unfair world into a future heavenly world. I'd learn to play the harp and eat all the chocolate I'd like. I knew of the forgiveness of sins, but failed to see I was given new life in my spirit meant as a new source for today. "Much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life." (Romans 5:10) Right now, I have that same source of life inside of me that I will one day have in heaven - just minus the chocolate.
"But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother." (Proverbs 18:24) Once upon a time I believed if I could only find the certain friend who would stick closer than a sister (I don't have any brothers), then I will have it made. A few years ago, I was standing in the laundry room waiting to pull out towels from the dryer when I realized - Jesus was that friend. It wasn't talking about me finding that good friend or even striving to be that good friend. No, I already had that good friend in Jesus Christ! Why does he stick closer than a brother with whom we share some of the same DNA? It's because we now share one spirit. "But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him." (1 Corinthians 6:17) We are as close to Christ Jesus as we could ever hope and dream and dare to be. That thought just about blew me out of the water.
While the grace of Jesus Christ was a free gift to us (Rom 6:29), it cost Him something great. To me as recipient, the gift is free. To Him as provider, the gift was costly.
As a kid, I was very concerned with fairness. (Okay, who am I kidding? It's as an adult, too. In fact, I just struggled with thoughts of fairness today.) If my sisters had received a tad more pop in their solo cup than I, I couldn't stand it. Maybe that's why this northener (pop, not soda) can't even imagine Christ having "died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God." (1 Peter 3:18) And if that isn't even enough, Jesus Christ became sin itself as he hung on the cross. Can you just imagine what it was to be divine, yet giving that up, and becoming the very nasty and vile thing for which you will die? "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin in our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." (2 Corinthians 5:21) Talk about unfair! But he didn't see it that way. Why? Two letters. US. The joy set before Him. What an immeasurable gift of grace!
There is nothing cheap about giving up your life so another can live. Mike Q. Daniel writes, "a profoundly transformative truth is that the immeasurable grace of God is FAR from unmerited - it is just unmerited BY YOU. In this one realization we are loved and grateful and available and have incredible security and hope. Without it, grace seems cheap not expensive, automatic not awesome, lacking more than lavish, easy instead of truly extraordinary! We can easily take for granted a grace that cost nothing, but we cannot ignore the implications of a grace that cost everything." (www.MikeQDaniel.com)
Altruism: Regard for others without thoughts to your own interests...devotion to others...brotherly kindness...cost to the performer.
Rather fits, doesn't it?
Put these definitions of an "altruist" all together and out shines a message of immeasurable grace in the person of Jesus Christ, able to pierce the darkest and most menial place. It is in that place where our unexpected joy is found.
Our Lord Jesus Christ created beauty in the most mundane and dark places of life. He brought light and life to a lost world in desperate need of hope. He brought the median of this world a much-needed gift, found in a little baby wrapped in swaddling cloths. Our thoughts go there to that manger. But may they not stay there. May our thoughts go to a cross where that swaddled baby would grow and sacrifice his life for our own. His love gives us hope, and hope gives us joy.
Let's face it. This year, Christmas is different. There's no large family gatherings. No children's Christmas programs. No Mannheim Steamroller Concerts. No balancing packages aside a coffee house table, sipping coffee with friends. It's all rather missing. We had enjoyed it so much in year's past. It feels like there is a part of Christmas missing. It has all changed. But, there is a part that can't ever change. It's available and revealed in a special and unexpected way this year. The joy can not be stopped.
So, thank you, Highway Christmas Ninja for reminding me of this joy unexpected - even in a highway median. You decorated the highway with the unexpected. Your Christmas bush declared, “There is great joy.” Your tinsel garland and Walmart bulbs shouted “Joy to the World, the Lord has come.” Your bush turned my thoughts to the true source of joy that can never be taken from us.
But, thank you most of all, Jesus Christ, for being that very source of joy unexpected - even in a world filled with chaos.
Through the reminder of a lone highway Christmas bush, you shouted out a reminder of your message of joy that you sent to our weary world 2,000 years ago. It was true then and it is true now.
Hey world, I know it is bleak right now, but here I am to brighten your day with the gift of myself. I am here to be your hope, your peace, and your life, even in these overwhelmingly turbulent times. You were the joy set before me at the cross, and now I am decorating your dark and dreary world with unexpected joy. It is found in me. Joy to the world, I have come! Let heaven and nature sing.
Yes. Let heaven and nature sing.
Even in a highway median.