Too often, when people hear a Christian dealing with the frustrations and fears of life with confidence in Christ, and especially when they do it by looking forward to the resurrection, they do not understand. This happens nearly as often among those who call themselves Christians as it does with those who are unbelievers. Upon hearing about the hope in Christ as the antidote to worry and stress, and the certainty that when all is done in this world, afterwards life with the Lord in eternity will be incomparably better, they think that Christians have no interest in this world, really, and are only about what it coming later. One of my former employers, Fred Myers of Ft. Wayne, Indiana, referred to that Christian approach to life as being only concerned with "pie in the sky by-and-by". Such a perspective on the faith of true Christians is common, but absolutely wrong.
The complaint against Christians is that they have their heads in another world. They don't care, or so the gripe goes, about this world, about the troubles around them, about the misfortunes of others. They are all about heaven. They have their "piece of the pie", and they could not care less about how day to day is working for the people around them. That judgment is a caricature, of course. It is dishonest, often deliberately so, and, like any good caricature, it distorts what it does see for the personal purposes of those who use that distortion.
Christians do care for others, and invest themselves in others, often heavily. Christmas is the perfect answer to the false and hypocritical charge that Christians do not care about this world. Christmas is - above all - a celebration of the Incarnation of God. That may be theological language, but it is the shorthand way of saying that God is invested in this world. He is so invested that He took on human nature, and human flesh and blood and became a man. He did not become merely "human", as though we can pretend He became a woman too. He became a particular person for the sake of every particular person.
The creation accounts in Genesis teach us that God was careful and deliberate in what He created, and that when He was done with creating, it was good - very good! God has always been concerned with this world and involved in it. He hasn't always seemed to care about the same things as mankind, or care in the same way, but God has been at work among men and women from the get-go. When He became part of this world and took on human flesh and blood and became a particular person, He demonstrated the value He places on this world and His commitment to those of us who live it is - which, generally speaking, means everyone. If there were a "pie in the sky" the Baker brought it down here when He came to dwell among us.
God renewed His commitment to this place we live by taking a stake in it. He did not take His place among us to approve of sin, for example, or say that everything was going just fine here on earth. Quite to the contrary, He came because we had spoiled things, and He came to put things back to right. But by His coming, He also gave testimony that human life in this world is good, and important. He cares about it and us, and so those who are His people must also care.
Christmas is about caring. We love because He first loved us. That was one way it was stated. God put His seal on earth, again, and said that there is something worth working on the behalf of in this place. Of course, ever since Christ came to rescue sinners, people are marked as worthwhile. But the Bible also tells us that the creation around us is also enslaved to corruption, and struggling due to human sin. Think of all the passages of Scripture you have heard which speak of mountains, or trees, or rocks praising God, clapping their hands, bearing witness to or about God. The creation is not dumb stuff. It is aware, in its own fashion, and serving God and man, and bearing up under the burden of condemnation due to sin which has befallen all of creation due to us.
Christmas is God stepping in and taking sides, and reaffirming the worth of life here and now, and of this reality and not just something yet to come. That something yet to come is valuable too. In fact, it is our hope and joy in the face of physical death - which some think puts a damper on our participation in this world. But that world to come is not our single focus, nor would God have us lose sight of this life and this world, which He gave to us to live, and for His servants to utilize to serve Him by serving one another - and all mankind.
Caring for our planet, for the environment, for those creations of God around us is appropriate. Radical environmentalism is not. By "radical environmentalism", I mean that school of thought and action which places the smallest elements of the creation higher in value than man. Such thinking is a species of unbelief and hostility toward both God and man. Nevertheless, caring for this creation is part of our mutual first responsibility as given to us through Adam and Eve by God. In Genesis 1:26-31, God gives man "rule" over the various elements of the world. That rule is a stewardship - a charge of responsibility of man toward the world. God made it, it was very good, and God gave man the office of caretaker. Genesis three describes not just the fall into sin, but also tells us that man failed his first stewardship toward the world around him by stumbling and falling into sin. Thus the world was also subjected to corruption and decay for the sake of man, who sinned, and began to die.
When Jesus was born, God did not just reach in to save man, but also to lay claim again to the future of the world. Of course, He never lost His claim, but when Christ came, God was announcing once again His claim on and interest in this life, and this world, and those in it - and not just the humans in it, but especially us people. St. Paul says, in Romans 8, For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. We have it pictured here as though the whole world is standing on tippy-toe, looking and awaiting eagerly the day when it will be released from "slavery to corruption". It, too, dwells in hope.
So, Christmas is a clear celebration of the worth and significance of this world and life. God gave it such worth by choosing to become part of it. He is not distant, unconcerned, the watchmaker who started some grand machine and is simply allowing it to run down. He is Father for the whole of Creation, and His Son is Savior. In fact, the person of Jesus gave personhood value, and by His death on the cross for us, He declared a divine value placed on each individual person.
Of course, Christmas is a re-affirmation of the value of life, human life, in this world. While it is true that this life is a short prelude to eternity for those who enter eternal glory with Jesus, nevertheless, God would have us live this life here and now, and treasure it. Christmas assigns a divine value to living in the here and now. Human philosophies often disparage this world and this life. They make of it something to be endured, or something to be ignored, or something evil. But since Jesus came, and lived among us, the essential goodness of life and of living it cannot be denied. Our lives in this world have great meaning and value.
The meaning and value is often as difficult to sense as God's presence and providence for us, so many people just plain miss it. Unbelievers can be depended upon to despair of life when it gets painful or difficult, but that is not the part of a believer. We are to walk by faith, not by sight. We are to see the value God has declared to us, and demonstrated for us by the Incarnation.
I did not say that we are to "feel" it. The life of a believer has many twists and turns and will often make the cross God has appointed to him or her more clear to that one than the value or meaning of one's life. It is at those moments that we are to ground our thoughts on the realities revealed to us in God's Word, and not on our feelings at this moment or that.
Look at the life of Jesus. He partied. It is not a major theme of Scriptures, but Jesus joined in the celebration of life and its blessings. There was the wedding at Cana. I would guess that it might not have been the only wedding Jesus attended, but it is the one the Bible tells us about. He not only attended, He made wine, when the couple had run short during the wedding feast. He made gallons and gallons of wine! That certainly implies that He did not disapprove of the celebrating, and it suggests that perhaps He was celebrating too. It doesn't suggest that Jesus approved of sinful excess potentially practiced by some, but He clearly valued the celebration and that sort of joy in the good things of life.
Jesus enjoyed the fellowship He had with His disciples. He looked forward to the eating of the Passover with His disciples on the day just before He was betrayed. He knew what would follow that meal, and yet He "earnestly desired" to eat it with them. He loved His family, demonstrated in His care for His mother even from the cross. He had particular friends, people He liked better than others, just as we do. One such person was John, "the disciple whom He loved". The purpose of the Scriptures does not appear to be to give us a biography of Jesus or to tell us how He spent His days and what sorts of things He enjoyed doing, but even though the book tells us about His ministry, there are those hints about the attitudes of Jesus towards life among men. He lived it, finding the same sorts of joys and pleasures in it that we might - yet without sin.
Christmas is, in part, God's seal of approval on living your life. He created life to be lived - and enjoyed - in His presence. That of course, means that He did not create it for sinful pastimes or self-centered living. He created it to be lived fully aware of His presence and blessings and in society with our fellow-people. He created it to be lived with thanksgiving at every turn! The point is He created it to be good, and enjoyed and to be satisfying. It is our stubborn selfishness and sinfulness that makes life difficult and hard to enjoy at times.
And our lack of faith plays into that too. When life does not feel good to us, or we can imagine some difficulty or sorrow approaching, we often withdraw from the full-throated (or full-throttled) participation in life with which God would have us approach our lives. We so easily forget that God is with us, on our side, protecting us, and guiding us through even the sorrows and pains for His good purposes and toward blessings. That forgetting is a failure of faith. Not utter failure, to be sure, but a momentary failure which blinds us to the love of God for us, and the surpassing abundance of good and blessings with which God has filled our lives. Our sinful flesh takes every good and says, "That's normal. That is just as it should be.", and only responds to the pain of the moment.
Christmas is God's love, writ large in history and shining on the screen of human experience to demonstrate that however pessimistic and gloomy our sinful flesh can be, God has not forgotten us, but He loves us enough to send His own Son into human flesh and existence with the single purpose of rescuing us from our own sin. Christmas tells us that life is good, in God's eyes, and that this world is still a place worth living in, and that each one of us is precious. Sin can lead us to conclude that life is harsh and hard and bad - and sometimes it is painful and difficult! But God is always with us. His care has never wavered. His plan to redeem us and bring us to a life of unmixed good and joy is on course, even when our daily life is harsh and difficult to rejoice in.
Christmas is so many things, and teaches us so much, if we are willing to learn from it. It is a significant step in the story of our salvation, and of our hope of eternal life and glory, but it is clearly not an excuse for anyone who really believes to turn their back on this world or our living fully within it! But, most obviously, Christmas is the story of the Baby born in Bethlehem, about whom angels sang - and still sing, just not so as we can hear them today. And the song is still the same, "Peace on earth among men with whom He is well pleased!"
Yours in the Lord,
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