Letting Christmas Come Alive
A number of years ago, there was an old tenured professor at Harvard Divinity School who was being subjected to considerable ridicule because of his belief in the virgin birth of Jesus. One day, one of his younger colleagues challenged the old professor for holding what was regarded as an intellectually irresponsible position. The younger professor said, “Do you mean to tell me that if some young woman from Boston came into the hospital and said she was going to have a baby, that she was a virgin, and that an angel had appeared to her, you would believe it?” The old professor hesitated, thought for a long while, and then answered slowly: “No, I probably wouldn’t believe her story. I probably would dismiss her words. But I tell you one thing for certain: If that baby grew up to manhood and his teachings changed the whole course of history; if he grew up and died on a cross and eventually rose from the dead; if two thousand years later, over one third of the world’s population called him Lord and Savior; if that happened, I think I might give her story a second hearing.”
Jesus was born in a stable and laid in a manger because there was no room for him in the inn. And I would argue that for many today, there is still no room for Jesus. We’re too busy. We’re too successful. We’re too damaged by organized religion. We’re too distracted to let God break into our lives. The real meaning of Christmas is a gift that money can’t buy and Amazon can’t deliver. It’s the gift of inner peace and joy deep within our soul that only the Christ child can bring. Peace is something that we all struggle with, but it’s something that we all want desperately. There is a well-known Chinese proverb which says that, “If there is light in the soul, there will be beauty in the person. If there is beauty in the person, there will be harmony in the house. If there is harmony in the house, there will be order in the nation. If there is order in the nation, there will be peace in the world.” Some will say, “You can talk about peace in your big beautiful church and sing about it all day long, but in the real world, you better hire an attorney; in the real world, your better build a nuclear weapon; in the real world, you better keep a gun in your car and at your house to take care of your family because that’s the way it is!” And you know what? There is a sense in which this type of cynicism affects all of us and we believe it to be true. Sometimes it seems as though it doesn’t matter whether we desire peace, or pray for peace, or want peace – there is no guarantee for peace in this world.
Yet as we enter this final week of the Advent season, all of us have to remember that peace must be more than a human ideal. Peace must be more than just a social goal or protest. Peace must be more than just a psychological state of being. It must be more than just wishful thinking by Christians and people of other faiths. It must become a reality in the way we live our lives. The biblical scholar William Barclay says this: “Here is the amazingly new concept – that God could and would become a human being. That God could enter into the life that we live. That eternity could appear in time. That somehow the Creator could appear in Creation in such a way that human eyes could actually see him.” The miracle of Christmas is that God came down to earth to dwell among us. Through Christ, the divine became human. The eternal appeared in time. The Creator became a part of Creation. Or, as John so beautifully writes in the fourth Gospel, “The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and full of truth.”
The real meaning of Christmas is the joy that we feel deep within our soul when we realize that God reached out to a hurting world. And we do live in a world where many are hurting and are longing for the joy of Christmas. Many people are alive, but they’re not really living. Many people are going through the motions, but they’re not really happy. Many people are present, but they’re not really there. They’re distant! They’re sad! They’re hurting! They’re lonely. They’re waiting! And I would say that during this final week of Advent, many of us need Christmas to come alive in our own hearts. And if we can keep our spiritual focus and celebrate it in the right way, it will.
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