By Bill Webb
Have you experienced Christmas?
Someone might answer, "Yes, I've experienced Christmas in the smile of a child opening a Christmas gift." Another might explain, "I've experienced Christmas as I visited with family and friends over the holidays." Another might well respond, "I've experienced Christmas when I've volunteered or given money to help the less fortunate." Many might say they experience Christmas while driving past elaborate displays of lights or while going from store to store in a shopping mall.
Have you experienced Christmas?
Churchgoers might answer that they've experienced Christmas in a holiday pageant. Perhaps that experience has come during a Christmas cantata, a caroling activity, a candlelight Christmas Eve service or participation in the Lord's Supper with family present.
It would be hard to truly celebrate Christmas without acknowledging the Christ of Christmas.
In some ways, the coming of the infant Messiah into the world so long ago seems like such a simple event. Babies are born all the time. But it is beyond any of us to understand how the "one true God" — all-knowing, all-seeing, ever-present, Creator of all that is — could enter human history as one of us. And not just as one of us, but — by the economic standards of this world — as one of the least of us.
God arrived as a person — the Word made flesh — in a most unexpected disguise. The one who had it all arrived on the scene as the firstborn of a blue-collar couple. All-powerful God appeared as a newborn baby, one of the most vulnerable of earth's creatures.
The timing of Christ's birth — this eternal ray of hope — was precise. The world was a particularly dark place 2,000 years ago. The awesome brute power of Rome cast a heavy blanket of oppression over the known world. For occupied people, it was hard to visualize relief. Pagans who satisfied their own lusts at the expense of others ruled the day.
Upon learning that the Messiah might have arrived as a newborn, many people became anxious about what He might grow up to be. The ruler Herod became concerned for his own position and ordered the genocide of Jewish baby boys in an effort to snuff out the Messiah before God could achieve His purpose in the world.
Cousin John's admonition, "He must increase and I must decrease," may preach well today, but many religious leaders weren't satisfied with that kind of relationship. Among many of them, Jesus was nothing more than a threat.
At one level, Jesus was God showing us what He really was like in terms we could understand. "If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father." That's what Jesus said. Some of the leaders who should have been the most astute had created in their minds a God who acted like they wanted Him to act. Faced with their circumstances, a David- or Moses-like messiah sounded far superior to a turn-the-other-cheek suffering servant.
Of course, the baby grew to be a man, winsome to many and endorsed by God. Jesus became the underdog's best friend and advocate. While some pressed Him to gather an army and recapture Israel by force, He advocated prison and hospital ministry, food distribution and the like. In Jesus, God showed us that life is more than who is on top in the world's eyes.
When it came time for God to prove His love for people, the innocent child in the manger became the innocent Lamb of God, free of sin but willing to become sin so that undeserving people could have a present and eternal relationship with Him. When Jesus laid down His life on a cross, it was the ultimate way of saying, "I love you enough to take away the penalty for your sins."
He is still not a God of force; the gift of eternal life must be accepted. With acceptance comes a never-ending relationship. That's when we experience the Christ of Christmas.
Most of us enjoy and cherish various Christmastime experiences. They are gifts from God. But foundational to a genuine Christmas experience is a relationship with Jesus Christ. Because of the Hope born and placed in a manger many years ago and the sacrifice Love made on our behalf some years later, we have every reason to celebrate.
Word&Way has among its readers a large number of people who know the hope and joy described above. If you are among them, rejoice. However, it is likely that someone may read these words and recognize a spiritual void in his or her life. If so, act on the invitation God extended through the little gift who became the Savior. Respond to the words of John 3:16:
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
Our desire is that every person would discover the Christ of Christmas. Without the Savior, the holiday is devoid of meaning.
This column is adapted from one that appeared in the Dec. 24, 1998, issue of Word&Way.