With Christmas hoving into view it is instructive to stop and ask what we in fact believe about the occasion. Of course reactions will vary. Some will say, “I believe God stepped onto the planet in that first Christmas.” Others will say, “It’s a beautiful idea, because Jesus was the greatest. It’s super to remember and honour such a good life.”
Yet others will affirm, “I don’t believe in anything. I don’t have a faith. Christmas is just a party time. Fun for the kids too.” Let’s take these in turn, but in reverse order.
First of all, for all of you who say you have “no faith in anything”, let me point out that to be human at all is to hold some sort of belief system. We may be largely unaware of the beliefs which control much of our thinking and behaviour, but they are there, just the same, formed partly by culture, partly by the social structures we live in, partly by family and other influences.
Through these influences we develop a belief system. This said, it thereafter becomes a major moment in life when we realise that we do in fact have foundational beliefs. These beliefs may be that humans are the measure of all things, or that nature is our guide, or that the universe is an absurd accident, or that all life is an illusion or that God exists or even that God does not exist. Everything is accidental– the result of Impersonal Energy, plus Time, plus Chance. Whichever way it is we are believing something and this is affecting how we live and behave.
The atheist therefore is a believer. He believes the universe is a closed accidental system with nothing beyond. Of course, his problem is consistency because he will generally act as if life had some value and as if morals did exist. He will be cross if you steal his wallet or his wife and he will tell you it is wrong. Then he will make value judgments on the “beautiful sunset” or the “fine person” he just met, or “the swine who just swindled him on a business deal.” One Hyde Park orator well illustrated the consistency problem, “My grandfather was an atheist”, he thundered, “my father was an atheist, and thank God, I’m an atheist too!”Christmas for this sort of person will be little more than a chance for a good party or a warm fuzzy feeling.
Then there are those who say Jesus is just a good and great man, perhaps the greatest who ever lived. They will even admit the extraordinary fact that after 2000 years, Jesus Christ still counts far more in human life than any other person who ever lived. However, the reasons for that they decline to explore. In any event, they are happy for Christmas to be a reminder of Jesus’ birth. In fact Christmas religion is OK. It is filled with sentiment, music, poetry and fun. But there is a big problem here. It doesn’t get Christ out of the stable or out of the past.
Nor does such a view take cognisance of His extraordinary claims, of the reportedly historical nature of His Resurrection or of the witness of millions in every age who say they know Him as a daily reality. Such people must face the real issue. Jesus was either MAD, BAD, or GOD. They must decide which.
The third view is that Christmas speaks of God becoming flesh. Says St. John, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… and the Word became flesh” (John 1:1, 14). Said Jesus, “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Christians call this truth “incarnation”. Martin Luther once said, “Take hold of Jesus as a man and you will discover that He is God.” In fact the preparatory period before Christmas is a good time to do just this. Read the opening chapters of the Gospels and ask, “Now, who was this person?”
Start by looking at Him just as a man. Quickly you will conclude with Jesus’ first century antagonists, “Never did a man speak like this man.” Soon perhaps you will say with Thomas, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). Then Christmas will explode into its true meaning for you and will become not a Happy Holiday date on the calendar but an appointment with the Living God in Christ.