Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Way In A Manger

I love the Christmas season. It's my favorite time of the year. I love the food, the festivities & the family time. The warmth and the spirit that envelopes everyone this time of the year.

I also really enjoy Christmas movies. The Christmas Story, The Santa Clause series, A Charlie Brown Christmas and I even like Elf.

One of the classic Christmas films is Frank Capra's, Itʼs a wonderful life.

You know the story. George Bailey owns the savings & loan in sleepy Bedford Falls and it's getting ready to go under due to a mistake his uncle made. Heʼs going to lose everything, his house is rickety and needs
repair, he has a wife & several children to provide for and no where to turn. All he has is a few dollars in his pocket and a life insurance policy. He arrives at the conclusion that he is worth more dead than alive. As he's standing on the bridge preparing to end it all Clarence the angel intervenes and, in a night he'll never forget, shows George Bailey what Bedford Falls would look like if he had never been born.

It's not only a great Christmas movie but one of the greatest films of all time because we all sometimes wonder, what if…

What would the world look like without you or me? How different would our friends and family be if we had never been born? What difference have I ever made?

Then I read John 15:22 where Jesus is talking to the disciples. He is speaking to them about the way the world will reject them and ultimately Himself. He tells them that the world hates Him because He shines light in their darkness, and theyʼd rather have darkness. During this discourse He makes a simple point by saying, “if I had not come…”

It had not occurred to me before. What would the world look like if Jesus had never been born? So much of our present world is informed and influenced by His life and death.

What would it look like if we could scroll back through history to 30 BC and from that year forward begin to pull out from the root, like a weed from a garden, every result and reference to Christ.

There would be no manger, no wise men, no shepherds. No story of God coming to earth, no peace on earth, goodwill to men. There would be no Peter, no walking on the water. No John, no Paul, no Revelation of Heaven. No triumph in the catcombs, no Mars Hill, no Constantinople, no Byzantine architecture.

Forget about the renaissance, the paintings & the frescos. What would Bellini, Michaelango & DaVinci muse over? If Jesus had not been born there would be no St. Peterʼs Basilica, no Sistine Chapel, no fresco on the ceiling, no Notre Dame, no national cathedral. Donʼt forget the music. Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart composed what they did to be played in churches.

There would likely be no Harvard, Oxford, Yale, Dartmouth or Princeton. All began as Christian seminaries.

What about the hospitals? It is not the pagans building hospitals but the followers of Jesus Christ. Hospitals, as an institution of healing and care for the sick and wounded, are first found in Rome around 100 BC. The First Council of Nicea, in 325 AD provided for a hospital to be built in every city where a Cathedral was built. Similarly, Itʼs been Christians to build orphanages, shelters & rescue missions.

Think of all the people, believers, whoʼs decisions and lives were informed by the gospel of Jesus Christ. MLK, Jr., Abraham Lincoln, and George Washington were all influenced and guided by the teachings of Jesus Christ. Without Jesus there would've been no Puritans and Pilgrims to leave England for religious freedom, no Mother Teresa, no William Booth and his Salvation Army, and no CS Lewis.

Then there's the believers The nameless thousands who minister daily to the poor, the sick, the hurting. Who help others and endeavor to follow peace with all men as the Bible instructs. What would our world look like if there were no people as an aggregate who believed in something bigger than themselves and in a savior who saw every soul as something worth giving and dying for.

Our world would be indelibly different if it had not been for Jesus Christ.

The world He came into was not much different than ours. Athens & Rome were in decline. The gods of Greece and Rome no longer could command the blind allegiance of the masses. Their world was as advanced or more than our own. Pound for pound they were probably more advanced than us in every way.

Rome gave us engineering, acquaducts, coliseums & hippodromes. The senate, governmental structures & law. Greece gave us philosophy, art & athletics.

Art, literature, poetry, music, architecture, and the greatest military machine the world had ever known, all of it taken together could not provide meaning to life, or point the way to lasting
forgiveness, or offer any answer to three questions we all must answer: Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going?

Again, it is a simple historical fact that the condition of the heathen world was deplorable. Even the Roman poets said as much. They saw the problem but were powerless to do anything about it. They had no power to effect lasting change. The result was gross superstition,
debased immorality, widespread corruption, evil run amok, and rank injustice.

This is the world into which Christ came. It is the world Paul describes so graphically in Romans 1, a world that knew the truth but suppressed it, ignored the true God, and turned to idolatry. It was a world that was given over to paganism, sexual immorality, homosexuality, murder, perversion, dishonesty, and brutality. A world of broken promises, broken dreams, broken homes, and broken hearts.

Education, power, philosophy and great art created desires they could not fill. In the end the verdict was clear. Athens could produce Aristotle, Socrates, Euripides, and Aristophanes. Rome produced Seneca, Cicero, Juvenal, Tacitus, and Julius Caesar. But 2,000 years later here we are celebrating a baby born in a tiny village of an obscure nation, in the corner of the great Roman kingdom, and laid in a manger. Into the darkness of their world, and into ours, God shined a light that will never be put out. He gave us Himself, Jesus our Lord and Savior.

The earth needed peace but we had no way.
We needed salvation but we couldnʼt do it ourselves.
We needed joy but had no way to acquire it.
We needed a promise and hope of eternal life but we had no way.

So God made a way in a manger and invited everyone to take that way.

It was Charles Spurgeon who said, "Come now to the babe in Bethlehem’s manger. Little children should come for he was once a little child himself. Young women should come for Mary was a young woman who was God’s instrument for bringing Christ into the world. Young men should come for Joseph was a young man who had great faith in God. Old women should come for Anna was an old woman who looked for the coming of the Lord. Old men should come for aged Simeon waited for the consolation of Israel. The working men and women should come to Christ because the shepherds represent all those who work with their hands for a living—and they too came to Bethlehem. Finally, the highly-educated of the world should come for the Wise Men came bearing gifts. They too bowed and worshiped the King."

Jesus made a way in a manger for all to find peace & to celebrate glad tidings of great joy. It was something Rome could never do, a vacuum Athens could not fill. Itʼs something Capitol Hill and Washington DC canʼt give you. Something youʼll never find in a shopping center.

We need Jesus and He made a way for us to get to God, and that way was first seen in the manger. It sounds banal but Jesus really is the reason for the season.

Heʼs the reason for everything.