It’s not about the labels…

Here are two thoughts which I jotted down while enjoying a marvelous worship experience at a neighboring church.

“A Muslim who loves his neighbor does more honor to Christ than a Christian who does not.” “An atheist who forgives a wrong has more Christianity than a Christian who holds a grudge.”

Seems to me that each of these statements could be supported with the words of Christ himself.  I’m sure some readers will nod their heads in agreement, while others may vehemently object.   How do they affect you?

Christmas Eve

No one was expecting a miracle.

The oppressive government had taken things from bad to worse.  People were preoccupied with their own problems.  Stories of God intervening in people’s lives were still told, but they were ancient tales, and held onto by people who themselves were old: people like Simeon and Anna.  Any talk of dreams or visions was looked on with skepticism, and held privately, not broadcast, by those who had experienced them.  Joseph, of course, had made some major life decisions based on his dreams, which seemed as real to him as broad daylight; and Mary had envisioned a messenger from God, assuring her that her pregnancy was in the plan.  She of all people, maybe, knew that something was coming, and that it had to do with the child growing within her.  But it wouldn’t do to talk about these things, least of all to strangers, as they traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem, to comply with the Emperor’s order that everyone be counted.

In the hills nearby, workers on the night shift were just doing their jobs.  They also had no expectations; nothing had prepared them, warmed them up, or promoted to them the event that was soon to happen:  a message from God, not just for them, but for everyone.  The light that they saw, and the voice that they heard, directing them to the place where a baby was being born that very night, was not something that anyone had rehearsed.  But without expecting it, they found that they were part of a miracle, and went to see for themselves.

Far away to the east, men who studied the stars, men of a different nation and religion, saw signs in the sky that prompted them to take a journey westward to find the king of the Jews. Maybe they, the foreigners, were more open to a miracle than anyone was closer to home.  It took them, by most estimates, more than a year to organize an expedition and travel with gifts of homage to the place where they hoped to honor the newborn king.  News of their search created turmoil in Jerusalem, putting the baby himself in danger; but these foreigners paid attention to their own dreams, heard from God, and did not visit Herod’s palace again.

At an early age the miracle God had sent thus became a fugitive, a refugee, escaping to Egypt until it was safe to return.  No doubt those who thought miracles were too much to hope for soon had reason to forget what shepherds had said, or what those strange fellows had come talking about.  King?  There had been no real king for hundreds of years.  But Mary, and Joseph, and Simeon and Anna, and some unnamed shepherds and some wise men from far away all had reason to ponder what had begun.

It took years for this miracle to be revealed to more people.  He showed his kingship in a healing touch, in acts of compassion, and in words about the love of God that astounded the experts, because he talked like someone who  knew what he was talking about.   He trained a few people to also reach out with a healing touch and acts of compassion, and promised them a Presence that would never leave them.  But he also taught them that his rule, his government, would be built with service, humility, and sacrifice, and that as leaders they would need to lay aside the ambition for power.

And then he taught them the greatest miracle:  that life, eternal life, is given to those who are willing to die, that victory comes for those who dare to lose.  Here is how he put it:

Calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead.  You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am.  Don’t run from suffering; embrace it.  Follow me and I’ll show you how.  Self-help is no help at all.  Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self.  What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you?  What could you ever trade your soul for? (Mark 8:34-37, The Message)

The real miracle is that he not only taught this with words, he demonstrated it with action.  As a result, not many weeks after he was arrested, falsely accused, tried and executed as a criminal, one of those  who had learned from him was able to stand up and say:

God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. (Acts 2:24)

Here is the joy the angels announced to the shepherds, that the star revealed to the magi, that Mary pondered in her heart:  God with us (Emmanuel) has conquered death.  This miracle is still unfolding, calling all people to lay aside ambition, lay aside power, and take up the way of Jesus.  This is what Christmas brings to us; God’s gift is himself, as Jesus said in a prayer:

And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. (John 17:3)

The knowledge of God:  that’s Christmas.  May yours be blessed.

Bob Buehler's Wordpress blog

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