A Christmas Reflection for Skeptical Friends
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Christmas is coming! I’ve strung up the lights to shove out the darkness and my wife is baking cookies to bring warm, gooey-goodness into the world. Bells will be ringing. Ding! Dong! Ding! Dong! Choirs will be singing and women everywhere will curl into their favorite couches to binge on Hallmark Christmas specials. The stories will be familiar, but strangely satisfying. The pretty, but confused heroine is about to make the biggest mistake of her life by marrying Mr. Wrong (or taking the big job in the city). Mr. Wrong will be expertly played by the guy who is loaded and good looking…ish (as a rule Mr. Right is always better looking). At some point, Mr. Right will see Mr. Wrong present an engagement ring to our leading lady, but slink off before seeing her turn him down. After one or two romantic, near-misses, an angel will intervene to help our gal meet Mr. Right under the mistletoe. Occasionally, Santa himself will show up. They kiss! Finally! It’s a Christmas miracle!
Christmas is the best of times, but also the worst of times. We could all use some of those Hallmark miracles! Some of us have lost our jobs. Rising costs and a listing economy results in lay offs, “It’s not personal, it’s fiscal”—but it sure feels personal. Some of us will face our first Christmas without a loved one. Still others will sit alone on Christmas Eve, no wassailing and no wassail, just one long, silent night with the promise of a January that is “always winter and never Christmas” (C.S. Lewis). It’s no wonder that many of us are Christmas skeptics. But even if you don’t believe the Christmas story about a virgin birth and peace on earth, you should want it to be true. The Christmas story tells us that…
God Loves the Lowly
The Christmas story starts, not in Bethlehem, but in the throne room of God. Amidst flashes of lightening and peals of thunder, God sends a message of hope to a twelve year old virgin. The archangel Gabriel descends from the highest place to Nazareth, down, down to the lowest, most redneck town in Israel, with a message of hope for the humble and hungry. Little Mary will bear a Son and this child will save us all from our brokenness.
Christmas reminds us that God likes us, so much in fact that he would become a man and take on our weaknesses—fevers, runny noses, and even temptations. God loves the lowly. He loves the children that go to bed with rumbling bellies and the single mothers that work three jobs to put a meal on the table. He loves the men who push a broom and use Gojo to clean the gunk from under their fingers nails. He so loved the dirty, unwashed masses that he became one of us, to save us and re-launch project humanity.
God Cares About our Suffering
The story of Christmas invites us to entrust our deepest hurts to God. If you’ve lived long enough, you’ve wrestled to exhaustion with the dilemma of why an all-good and all-powerful God, for reasons unbeknownst to us, ordains terrible hardships. The “why” question of suffering is an unanswered question mark turned “like a fishhook into the human-heart” (Peter De Vries). Christians are not exempt from suffering. We suffer unemployment and emergency brain surgeries and die with Alzheimer’s too. We are not immune from tear-stained pleas, hurled at an opaque heaven in desperation, but we cling to hope because the story of Christmas tells us that God entered into our suffering, bearing our moral-failures in his own body on a piece of bile-stained wood. Pastor and author Tim Keller writes:
If we ask the question, “Why does God allow evil and suffering to continue?” and we look at the cross of Jesus, we still do not not know what the answer is. However, we know what the answer isn’t. It can’t be that he doesn’t love us. It can’t be that he’s indifferent or detached from our condition.
When Mary swaddled baby Jesus in shabby strips of linen, God rolled up his sleeves to put an end to our suffering. He cares about our deep hurts and injustices, and in Christ Jesus—he has done something about it. Christmas is God with us, in suffering and beyond suffering.
God Restores Wonder to a Broken-world
A simple shoebox stuffed with dollar store toys and toothpaste produces smiles in remote villages. Little girls everywhere hug dollies close to their hearts and little boys peal out in their Big Wheels. Even cardboard boxes, if the imagination is big enough, can serve as forts and fortresses. Christmas brings a sense of wonder to children around the world, but as we get older and more jaded, our thick hearts lose the ability to feel awe. Ravi Zacharias reminds us “…the older you get, the more it takes to fill your heart with wonder, and only God is big enough to do that.”
In the Christmas story, God restores wonder to a broken world. Mary was astonished at the angel’s words about giving birth to a son. She was only twelve or thirteen, but she knew how babies were made, “How can this be, since I have not been intimate with a man?” The angel’s explanation strolled past biology in favor of theology: With God, nothing is impossible. Oh the wonder of this teenage girl’s humble commitment, “I am the Lord’s slave, may it be done to me according to your word.”
The announcement of the virgin conception took Mary by surprise, but if you know anything about the God of the Bible, it’s not unlike God to do the unlikely. This child, swaddled in strips of shabby linen, “born that man no more may die,” would one day swallow up death, forever destroying the “burial shroud covering all the nations.” Even if you don’t believe in the Christmas story, you should want it to be true, because your heart was made to wonder at the work of God and we were meant to live.
I cling to the Christmas story, not because I’m naive or simple-minded, but because I believe it possesses greater explanatory power than the other virgin birth story, you know, the one where Stephen Hawking tells us that the universe “…can and will create itself from nothing.” One story tells us that help is coming for people with hearts that are “two sizes too small,” the other story offers me dirt. As for me, I’m going with the story that brings the most hope to a hurting world, but wherever you stand on the big questions of life, I wish you a happy Christmas!
My parting gift to you is a reflection on the two stories from comedian Norm Macdonald:
Norm: What’s the evidence that God exists?
Norm: Well that’s not good.
So then you go, “Hey, what’s the evidence that God does not exist?”
Someone else: None.
Norm: So it’s people, but one of them is for sure right.
So what I do is try to look at the two choices, I’ll say to a guy, “What do you got [to offer]?”
Some believer: When you die, you go up and play a harp on a cloud.
Norm: I say, “…I’ve always wanted to play the harp.” [To the other guy] What do you got? What happens when I die under your plan?
Some non-believer: Well, we put dirt on you.
Norm: [Back to the believer] So, let me ask you one other question, what else happens up there? Somebody told me I could see me someone or something?
Some believer: You meet your loved ones…all of them.
Norm: Well, what about Barky, my dog?
Some believer: He’s going to be there.
Norm: [Getting excited] My dog Barky, when I was a little boy? Barky?
[To the non-believer] Hey, is Barky gonna’ be there?
Some non-believer: No, just dirt.
Norm: Stop saying ‘dirt’! I’m going with this guy.