A Violent Christmas
Yesterday, an insecure king ordered the death of every male child in Bethlehem under the age of two. It was a decree that revealed the nature of people when they are given thrones to rule. Today, we mourn the mindless deaths of children at a school in Peshawar. It was a massacre that reveals the nature of people when they are not given thrones to rule.
Yesterday and today, bad news continues to shock our minds, break our hearts and numb our spirits to the very idea of hope. This Christmas, the past and the present collide in a strange but disturbing familiarity—reeking of cynicism, starving of hope.
A Reader’s Christmas
A reading of the Gospels reveals something silent and something emphatic. While an outside observer may think that Christmas is of great significance to present-day Christians, the birth of Christ did not matter that much to the Gospel writers.
Only two of them tell the story in just four out of 89 chapters. But together they take 25 out of 89 chapters to record the final days of his life. Although they are silent about His birth, they are emphatic about His death and resurrection.
The first day of His life has meaning because of the last days of His life, when exclusion turned into embrace and death turned into resurrection.
A Writer’s Christmas
Dorothy Sayers, a British novelist, was one of the first women to be granted a degree from Oxford. She wrote a series of mystery novels featuring an amateur sleuth Peter Wimsey.
Peter was an endearing but flawed person. He was not an easy person to get along with and his life was not without trouble. A little later Dorothy Sayers introduced a new female character, Harriet Vane—a mystery writer educated at Oxford, just like Dorothy. Peter falls in love with Harriet and after refusing repeated proposals, finally agrees to marry him. With his marriage to Harriet, Wimsey is rescued from his troubled life.
As an author, Dorothy Sayers fell in love with her character and wrote herself into the story to rescue him. The birth of Christ is a sign that God loves His world and has written Himself into our story to save us.
A Fearless Christmas
A few years ago my wife and I got a pair of rabbits. They are creatures of prey and for a long time the only emotion they showed us was fear. The only way to reassure them is to do the impossible—to become a rabbit and speak to them in the language of rabbits. The birth of Christ is the good news that God had done the unlikely. He has become a human being to speak to us in the language of human beings. If God is anything like Jesus then we have nothing to fear.
A Forgotten Christmas
No saviors come out of Bethlehem. It was a small town of no significance. No rulers are born in a manger. It was a smelly stable of no consequence. No kings are announced to shepherds. They were a forgotten people of no importance.
It is a symbolic thing that the good news was given to the people who were never in the news. They were among the first to hear that an unlikely King was entering the world through the back alley, not the high street.
He was forsaken by God so that we can be remembered by Him. It is the reason that the ones who have been remembered must not neglect to remember the forgotten.
A Joyful Christmas
Any nation with a new leader knows the joy that comes with the expectancy of justice. But it only lasts until new leaders turn out to be like old ones. The Hebrews had been ruled by Romans, Persians, Greeks, Babylonians, Assyrians and Egyptians when the news came to them of another king. But this king was not the king they expected. His enemies were not their enemies. His kingdom was not the one they wanted.
Like a greedy tax-collector, God was a threat to the religious system. While religion held power over people through guilt and shame, God was cancelling their debts at the expense of Jesus.
Like a rival suitor, God was a threat to political ambition. While rulers sought vengeance through victory in battle, God announced a kingdom that was open to all nations, even and especially her enemies.
The hope of justice brings joy to all people except the unjust. It is an exclusive idea but it is the kind of idea that we want to be true. The Gospel is the hope of redemption for all people except the self-righteous. It is an exclusive idea but it is the kind of idea that we need to be true.
An Inclusive Christmas
The Christian hope is the most exclusive and the most inclusive at the same time. It affirms the exclusive nature of truth and undermines the exclusive nature of people.
We think of God in religious terms and we create religious labels for each other but the Gospels tell us that God does not think of us in such religious terms. He thinks of us as sheep without a shepherd and reveals Himself as the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep.
The death of Christ is a sign that God was moved to love us when we were His enemies so that we can be moved to love people when they become our enemies. We can love our enemies because He loved us when we were His.
An Incomplete Christmas
The birth of Christ is only the beginning.
It is an intervention. It is the breaking in of a new kingdom into an old one. It is the assurance that the world has already changed but not yet in its fullness. It is the confidence that the One who promised His coming will keep the promise of His return.
The language of the New Testament is not the language of a departing community but a returning King. It tells us that the One who is risen will return to rule, and his reign will be unlike any king of any nation at any time in history.
Like a bride preparing herself for a wedding, it is a hope that gives us reason to prepare the world for His return. It is not religious or non-religious. It is simply reality. It is simply true.
It is simply good news.
Image Credit: John Ragai