Sunday, December 8, 2013
Why Christmas Matters
Nearly fifty years ago, a small child answered the doorbell in his parent's home. He opened the door and immediately recognized the old man standing there. They had never met prior to that day. They had never even laid eyes upon one another before that moment. Yet this child knew instinctively who the man was. He was an old gentleman who wore a tidy, grey suit and tie. He also wore heavy, thick framed glasses and was clean shaven. His hair was the color of snow, yet he stood his full height and carried a briefcase. He asked the child if his parents were home.
In the child's mind there was no doubt as to who this man was because the child knew who he was without a doubt. He was God. That knowledge was instant and certain. As certain as the child was aware of his own identity, and he knew it as surely as he knew his mother and father with identical certainty. Many would question the "certainty" of knowledge within this child. After all, how could a child of about 3 or 4 know such a thing? The only answer that I can provide is that the child was an innocent.
He knew nothing of hate or greed. He knew not the pitfalls of pride or lust. He had no pre-conceived notions about how the world worked and why, and he knew nothing of guile or corruption. In short, the knowledge that had condemned man when Adam first tasted of the forbidden fruit was absent within his mind. As the child would grow, such knowledge would doom him as surely as it had doomed all men, but at that moment, he was relatively pure and looked upon the world with the eyes of innocence, and through that lens he recognized God.
In the secular world such innocence is shunned as a detriment to living in the world of men because it marks you as easy prey for others. That has been the case for countless generations. But our children are different in that we seek to keep them as innocent as we can for as long as we can. It is why we pursue those who prey upon children with the full measure of our laws and with the righteous contempt of our society. Perhaps we subconsciously recognize that our children represent the last vestiges of our connection to the lost Garden of Eden before man disobeyed God for the first time. Perhaps it is because we are reminded of our own brief innocence during our childhood. It matters not. We recognize it as special in our children, and we instinctively protect it as vigilantly as a she wolf protects her cubs.
To the question, "how could a child know such a thing?" I answer, how could an innocent child not know his Creator? Do you not know your parents? God has created us all in His image. He breathed life into the dust that He formed us out of and He watches over us and cares for us still. God has never turned His back on man, and that child's experience proves it. If the Almighty took the time to visit an average American household on a winter's day in 1966, how can man say that God cares not for His children? There was much that was happening during that time.
Man was reaching out into space for the first time and seeking to visit the moon. There was a war in
and men were being drafted
to fight it. There was unrest on Vietnam, 's streets, and protests
against the war, and hedonism had taken over the hippie movement. The fight for
civil rights was heating up. One would think that God had bigger fish to fry.
But such thinking is far too small. The Almighty is not merely the God of
nations or of peoples. He is the God of the individual, and of the family. He
has an interest in us one and all. An interest so keen that even a child's
prayers are heard. America
All too often we blame God for our own foibles. We ask how a benevolent and loving God could allow the horrors we witness upon the world's stage to happen. The answer to that is simple, man has free will. He always has and he always will. Such a thing allows for the perfect tension between the forces of good and evil where the decisions of man determine the outcome between right and wrong. If the balance shifts too far toward evil, then horrors and atrocities occur. The world is no more than a reflection of man's struggle within himself as he wrestles with his own conscience. That internal struggle is ultimately the struggle with temptation.
I know what you are thinking. Temptation is Lucifer's tool to lead good men astray, and you are correct. But temptation is also a tool of good as well. As the world moves to one polar opposite or another, it becomes increasingly difficult to resist the temptation of that side. The balance within a man is identical, as Aristotle once observed in his Nicomachean Ethics. This is the essence of free will. It keeps the balance in check between good and evil by acting as a balancing mechanism. Without it, parity between the two opposites is lost, and one side or the other would be forced to overcome the opposite. As man is caught between these two opposing forces, it would not be difficult to imagine the result of that contest. The scriptures refer to that event as Armageddon. So what is left for man? The answer to that question is hope.
Man's greatest hope arrived with the Star of Bethlehem. Born in a manger, the King of Kings arrived to give man that hope. Christ would spare man the wages of his sins by offering up His own flesh as payment. The words, "for God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son" takes root with the birth of Christ. For the first time since Adam and Eve were cast from the Garden of Eden, man had true hope at long last. Thus Christmas is a celebration of that hope and of the love of God for His children. A love so great, that even Hell was harrowed to provide hope for the tortured souls therein.
Man's world had fallen far into sin and evil and the sacrifice required to restore the balance would be a heavy one. Therefore there was no other way, but the Crucifixion and suffering of Christ to restore balance. One who had never known sin would be sacrificed so that humanity could be forgiven. Would a God who would willingly do that for man, turn his back upon His children today?
As you have likely suspected by now, I was the child I wrote of in the first paragraphs. Today, it seems more a dream than a memory. When God took His leave from my family I asked my mother about Him. When I identified Him as the Almighty, she laughed and told me that He was just an insurance man and to go play. I have never doubted that I was right in my identification of Him. Even now, I am as certain as I was on that day so long ago. Why He came to our home and what He wanted to do there or to observe, I know not. Who can discern the motives or reasons of God?
What I do know is that God takes an active interest in His children. He has been active in the lives of men ever since we were created. The rub is that we just don't notice the vast majority of time, but is that really His fault or ours? We go at breakneck speed from here to there, we text and email, we surf the web, and we distract ourselves with a myriad other things to boot. I tell you now, the Lord is subtle. One must pay attention to see His hand at work in the world. If one pays attention, the evidence of His presence will be discernable and you will see that miracles still occur and that prayers are answered. You just have to observe, and the presence of God will become evident to those with eyes to see.
If you do, you will take a step into a world where the extraordinary is not only possible, but frequently occurs. You will see that miracles still happen and that God is alive and well in our world. And you will also know the hope and joy of Christmas for what it really is, and why we should keep it close to our heart. More importantly you will understand why we should carry the spirit of Christmas within ourselves throughout the year. Christmas is a time of giving, of caring, of family, and most importantly of hope. Hope for ourselves and our neighbors. Hope that there is something far larger than ourselves in this world. Hope for our children, and hope for the future.
Christmas is also a time of renewal. We renew the bonds of family and friends. We renew ourselves with the act of giving to others, and we renew our faith in God as we give praise to our Creator. Faith is a living thing, and it needs care and attention or it will wither and die. But it too can be renewed should it come to that, and that is a miracle in itself. The magic of Christmas lies not in what we receive or in the crass commercialization of the event, but in the gift that humanity received on that very first Christmas. A gift that is eternal, and one that was given with great love by a caring God. We are not alone in this world, and we are loved.
Merry Christmas my friends, and may the true spirit of the holidays live within you for all time!