It’s the story that will never get old. And that’s a good thing, because last week – through some creative dramatic means or some clever repackaging – we both heard the story of Christmas for the umpteenth time.
We were surrounded at church on Christmas by people who were not there to renounce or reject it. Key points that demand faith that goes beyond human wisdom – messengers from God delivering advance warning of miraculous conceptions and happenings; smart guys from distant nations who joined their knowledge of astronomy with their scholarly awareness of other cultures’ historic spiritual records to launch a mega-expensive expedition involving dozens of people, months of time and gifts suitable for royalty; alien beings appearing in the dark wilderness sky unleashing a multimedia extravaganza for a bunch of low-life shepherds who had no community credibility given their lack of status – we heard all of that and more in the retelling of Christmas, and not one person stood up in protest or shouted-out in an irrepressible incredulity that refused to imagine the reality of the heavenly forces at work on that night in Judea, over 2000 years ago.
At the same time, there were people like a small-town innkeeper who saw only a couple without means – with a wife ready to deliver – who extended hospitality with no sense of the historic. Herod, the shrewd and self-serving flunky wearing a Jewish crown but serving a Roman appointment heard “King of the Jews,” and could only think to protect his own turf and slaughter dozens of babies to rid himself of a possible competitor. Not all of the cast in the Christmas saga were bowing at the manger.
Over two millennia ago, the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ caused some to believe beyond the tangible and conceive the impossible as a move by Almighty God that would allow Him to declare, “checkmate” against sin and death and to begin the inevitable march toward the protection of His King (Jesus), His Queen (the Church), and the defeat of the opposition, once and for all.
Think about all of the people who missed it when Jesus was just down the street, or around the corner: how could they have bypassed the events that have been forever place-marked in eternal history? How could they just go on about their business when the Creator was in the neighborhood? The simple but accurate answer: they weren’t expecting Him, and they had no hope in a supernatural intervention.
This week, I’m watching a world that is not much different than the one surrounding Jerusalem all those years ago. People scrambling to collect as many dollars or bitcoins as possible before the artificial deadline of next weekend. People sequestered at home as they live in fear of Omnicron (the latest version of the virus sent to kill us all). People dug-in for political life-or-death standoffs over legislative differences. People living elbow-to-elbow in urban settings with no meaningful relationships and no social savvy likely to foster them. Families now separated by philosophical differences that have disconnected generations that were not together last week for Christmas, and may not return.
For many – dare I say, most? – of the lonely members of our 21st Century world, they missed the replay of the Christmas story last week. They know just enough of its scenes and its nuances to reach their conclusion and dismiss it from consideration: a fairy tale embraced by religious zealots with whom they find little or nothing in common.
The Lord Jesus Christ is still in the neighborhood, but the same forces that kept the people in Bethlehem and Jerusalem from making Him personal are still at work today. The majority today aren’t expecting the God of Creation to really be there, and they have no hope of a supernatural intervention.
We’ve got some work to do! Among your friends, family and colleagues: who belongs next to you next Christmas, ready to celebrate the mystery and embrace the magnitude of God’s gift?