So this is Christmas. A time to celebrate the advent of the greatest story ever told. This is a time of great joy, great celebrating, and great rejoicing. But it is also a time of sadness for some. Indeed, this time of year is always a mixed bag.
We always read of great tragedies just before Christmas. The Sydney jihadists made life hell for many, with two dead. Eight young children lost their lives in Cairns, and many families are now grieving. This will be a very hard Christmas for them.
And of course friends, family and loved ones of rocker Joe Cocker are also in a time of great sadness just now. Why these things happen we just do not fully understand. It is all part of living in a fallen world. In a sin-encrusted land, we will always face this mix of great joy and great sorrow.
But this is exactly where the Christmas message comes in. God did not leave us alone in our predicament, but decided to act mightily on our behalf. Thus the incarnation of the Son of God. This is great news indeed, just as an angel of the Lord told the shepherds 2000 years ago: “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).
His birth, life, death and resurrection is the answer to our dilemma. He has done all he can to put the world to rights, and restore that which was lost. But he does not just snap his fingers and coerce us to get with the plan. We can still choose to work against his purposes – and many do.
I recently had an angry atheist write in, offering the usual clichés about the “sky fairy” we worship, etc. She mentioned the tragedies we find all around us, including the two Australian examples I mentioned above, plus the 140 children slaughtered in Pakistan by devout Muslims.
Soon enough I hope to reply to her misotheist nonsense properly, but here let me just mention a few points. Two of the three examples she mentions were explicitly committed by those committed to Islam. Why blame God on this, when here we have a political ideology which is clearly to blame? The third case we just do not know enough about at this stage.
She went on to offer more clichés: “Oh and all the starving in Africa despite years of prayers for them. Sorry but the evidence does not point to your imaginary friend being real.” But just how does starvation disprove the existence of God?
And of more interest, just who is actually doing something about this starvation? Are atheists like her doing anything about it, or are they just using this as an excuse to further push their obsession with, and hatred of, God – the one they claim does not exist.
The truth is, it is exactly because of the Christmas story that people – Christians – are doing all they can to help the poor and needy. And even the more honest atheists will admit this. Back in 2009 atheist Matthew Parris wrote a piece with the provocative title, “As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God”.
In it he showed how it was Christianity which was making all the difference in Africa. Christians there are up to their ears in work for the poor, the destitute, the needy, the sick, the infirm and the displaced. As an atheist Parris had to give credit where credit is due: these believers were helping to transform Africa. See here for more on this: billmuehlenberg.com/2009/01/10/christianity%E2%80%99s-positive-contributions-an-atheist-confession/
Yet all my atheist buddy here can do is whine about why God doesn’t do something. As I said, God has already done something. He has come into this world to set us free from sin and self, so that we can be part of the answer to the problems all around us.
He has provided a way out of this sin-soaked world, but he has also commanded us to remain in the world to be salt and light, to make a much-needed difference. Joe Cocker sang about getting by “With a little help from friends”. Jesus is of course the best friend we can ever have, to help us not just get by, but succeed and flourish.
And he brings to us brothers and sisters who can help one another, as well as help those who do not yet know Christ. As I mentioned, while many people are celebrating this week, many others are grieving and in great pain. We Christians can help them, bring them comfort, and at least pray for them.
And persecuted Christians around the world also need our help and our prayers. Take for example the American-Iranian pastor Saeed Abedini, who for a third Christmas in a row is imprisoned in Iran for his Christian faith. A recent article about him says this:
He’s also still waiting to receive medical attention for pain and internal injuries he suffered as a result of multiple beatings in prison over the last two years. “These days are very cold here. My small space beside the window is without glass making most nights unbearable to sleep. The treatment by fellow prisoners is also quite cold and sometimes hostile. Some of my fellow prisoners don’t like me because I am a convert and a pastor. They look at me with shame as someone who has betrayed his former religion,” writes Abedini in the opening of his letter.
“The guards can’t even stand the paper cross that I have made and hung next to me as a sign of my faith and in anticipation of celebrating my Savior’s birth. They have threatened me and forced me to remove it,” he continued.
“This is the first Christmas that I am completely without my family; all of my family is presently outside of the country. These conditions have made this upcoming Christmas season very hard, cold and shattering for me. It appears that I am alone with no one left beside me,” he noted.
After pondering further in the letter about the conditions and season in which Jesus was born, however, Abedini’s narrative shifted into an encouraging message about the meaning of Christmas and why Christians should endure and have hope.
“Today, we like Him should come out of our safe zone in order to proclaim the Word of life and salvation through faith in Jesus Christ and the penalty of sin that He paid on the cross and to proclaim his resurrection. We should be able to tolerate the cold, the difficulties and the shame in order to serve God,” he wrote.
“We should be able to enter into the pain of the cold, dark world. Then we are able to give the fiery love of Christ to the cold wintery manger of those who are spiritually dead,” said Abedini. “It might be necessary to come out of the comfort of our lives and leave the loving embrace of our family to enter the manger of the lives of others, such as it has been for me for the third consecutive Christmas. Christmas means that God came so that He would enter your hearts today and transform your lives and to replace your pain with indescribable joy,” he added.
As we celebrate Christmas with our loved ones, let us not forget those less fortunate, such as Pastor Abedini. With a little help from his Christian friends, we will hopefully see him soon released. So as we enjoy our lavish feasts this Christmas season, please reflect on the real meaning of this time of year.
Reflect on the words of this brave pastor who is sacrificing everything for the sake of the Gospel. And recall the reason for the first Christmas: God becoming man, and sacrificing everything, that we might be set free from our sins, and made new in Christ.
Let me finish with four quotes:
“He lies in a manger, but contains the world. He feeds at the breast, but also feeds the angels. He is wrapped in swaddling clothes, but vests us with immortality. He found no place in the inn, but makes for Himself a temple in the hearts of believers. In order that weakness might become strong, strength became weak.” St. Augustine
“The Almighty appeared on earth as a helpless human baby, needing to be fed and changed and taught to talk like any other child. The more you think about it, the more staggering it gets. Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as this truth of the Incarnation.” J.I. Packer
“Infinite, and an infant. Eternal, and yet born of a woman. Almighty, and yet hanging on a woman’s breast. Supporting a universe, and yet needing to be carried in a mother’s arms. King of angels, and yet the reputed son of Joseph. Heir of all things, and yet the carpenter’s despised son. Oh, the wonder of Christmas.” Charles Haddon Spurgeon
“Who can add to Christmas? The perfect motive is that God so loved the world. The perfect gift is that He gave His only Son. The only requirement is to believe in Him. The reward of faith is that you shall have everlasting life.” Corrie Ten Boom