I walk out of a Christian women’s conference and step oblivious right over a cross.
I’m a woman rock hard and blind, a woman who forgets her own face, oblivious to the appalling miracle of rain that becomes wheat, bread in the mouth that becomes grace in the veins, of God taking my place when my sins are that I keep taking His, and honestly, I would have just kept walking straight on into the dark coming on and never looked back.
We are headed to the car — we have places to go and there are roads that lead away and I have no idea why we think that the Way that got us here isn’t always The Way.
I don’t even remember which one of us pauses there in the parking lot and murmurs it into the dusk: “Oh —- someone has lost their cross.” I hadn’t thought it was me. I mean, I had never seen that cross before, the one lying on the pummelled gravel, the gravel all punched out by wheels spinning and leaving and moving on. It’s lying there next to a puddle, a black cross, the forgotten remnant of a key chain.
I did linger — because I had felt it, something in me lunging to reach out, wipe off the cross’s muddied surface, clasp it. I had felt it, the recognition, like noticing your family name scrawled across a scrap, then the longing, the belonging.
I had almost knelt down.
Had almost claimed it as my own.
Almost let it take hold of me.
But did I really need a little homeless, dirty cross?
I had a few necklaces with crosses — I was wearing one. I had come to the cross way back there already, laid my burden down. Yes, I say the Cross is the crux of my life —- but do I really need to rescue this specific lost cross from a mud puddle?
I had considered it — for a moment — and then turned. Walked off into the shadows.
Sunday morning finds me in the Church of Brook Hills. Walking into the church, I mumble awkward that I’ve left my Bible in the vehicle, joke that I’m the heathen walking into church without her Bible and Robin laughs that she’d like to see me finally get saved.
We find a seat and David Platt is in jeans on the platform. His book Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream is at home, dog-eared and in the Bible-box because we’ve read it as a family after meals, after Scripture, and we’d swallowed it down, the stuff that gets caught in your gullet and won’t let you go.
There are pictures of the poor and needy hanging everywhere in this church, faces from the deep south, a slum in Africa, a run down tenement from around the corner.
I am sitting beside Kristen, a real-life Radical who’s picked up these poor and they’ve got a hold of her and they are holding her close to Jesus and from the platform he says it, words he says are for already believers, the already claimed ones,
“Your only hope for joy, your only hope for peace, your only hope for comfort, your only hope for strength and your only hope for love in this life — is found in the cross of Jesus Christ. Your only hope in this life is found in the brutal, bloody, humiliation of a naked man on a wooden post.
My hope is that you go out of this building clinging to the cross of Christ.”
And I can feel it, like it was gutted out of me, the black carved emptiness of that lost thing I left back in a parking lot outside a stadium on my way out of a Christian women’s conference. That cross I said didn’t really need right then, not the muddied one, the ugly one, the one that will mean my hands will have to get dirty. The cross I say I’ve already once came to, been there, done that, asked for the forgiveness of sins, and then carried on, out into my life, that one time work of saving and redemption and justification all neatly wrapped up and finished up and done. And it is finished and Christ finished it but I am never finished with the cross —
I need a Cross-Centered life if I am going to live the Christ-Filled life and how do I get back to that parking lot and never move on and kneel right down and cling to it for all I’m worth?
David Platt’s saying that this Cross is the sign of God’s affection for us, that we need the Cross daily because how else can we die daily?
I know — we need a place of flesh execution in our lives if we’re ever to rightly execute a life of faith.
And I know my life needs an axel on which to turn and my Christmas needs to be cross-centered ….
For the cross is the intersection of His love and my need, the cross is the beam that supports the whole of my life, the cross is the tree on which God hung Grace, the Light of the world, the only Star that shattered my dark.
If my life isn’t cross-centered, my life is off-centered, and the warping spin leaves me sick. And if there is no cross in my Christmas, then my Christmas has lost the Christ —- what is the manger if it not for the Messiah, the one who saves us with the scars? My life needs centrifaith force and the centrality of the cross is the force that holds together my universe.
Grace is my gravity.
The Cross is my cosmos.
And a Tree needs stand certain at the center of Christmas.
The worship team is playing music quietly and Dr. Platt invites anyone who needs to come to the cross again, to cling to the cross, to come again…. And it’s only after the service is over, after one stream of people have flowed out and folks are trickling in for the next service, just before we need to leave, head out for the airport, that I say it aloud to Robin, Kristen, Molly —- “Can I just have a minute? I have to … go touch that cross.”
I need to find what I didn’t even know I’d really lost.
This Christmas that we celebrate, this is the Winter Passion, the white hot burn of His love, and there’s a cross at the front of the sanctuary and I don’t care how many people are milling about and this time I kneel right down.
I look up at the cross and I can feel it in my heart, the white hot burn of His love, and it heats me right through, liquifies everything hard, and my love leaks slow and then it comes in waves, and I am overtaken, surprised, the shoulders shuddering, the sobs spilling, and I am the woman who needs saving from herself again, again, everyday, the dirty that needs to be wiped clean everyday, the hands that need a cross to wrap a life right around so she won’t get lost.
The words slip off the tongue, a whisper, with everything else sliding down, “I will cling. I will radically cling to You and I won’t let go.”
When we walk out of the church, the air’s turned cold and bitter, and the blast of all the wind of the world hits us hard.
I walk across the parking lot toward the car and I finger along my silver chain to feel it again, the white hot heat of the cross.
Three reasons Why Christmas needs a Cross at the Center
1. Because the cross is the only thing that can support a life, the cross where we can lay it all down and just rest —- and then rise to Christ.
2. Because though this season may stretch us, it was never meant to be a burden — Any weight of Christmas is of this world and all the weightlessness of Christmas is the Grace of the Wood with the flesh wrapped over Deity.
3. Because God’s gift to us this season is made with wood and nails and a heart bled out to heal ours. The Cross is how God signs His Love to a loud and deaf world, a world with wounds of it’s own. He knows — He knows. And in love, He won’t leave us alone.