Bethlehem will not teem with worshipers this year, as it usually does
during the Christmas season. The little town where Jesus was born is
located within Palestine territory, and has become a flash point for
hate-fueled gun fights and acts of terrorism. It is a dangerous place to
Access is difficult to Manger Square and the Church of the Nativity
built over the grotto, where it is believed that Jesus was born of Mary.
The few who seek to get there must leave tour buses and walk a nervous
100 yards across an Israeli military checkpoint to the Palestinian side.
They can then board Palestinian buses or walk the remaining 2 miles to
the center of town.
But while access to the place where it all began is severely limited,
access to the extraordinary meaning of Christmas is there for the
asking. The spirit of Christmas is not a place; it is a condition of the
Christmas is the day on which Christians celebrate the birth of their
Savior. For many believers, that day 2,000 years ago is easily the most
significant day in the history of the human race.
There is nothing complicated about the reason. Jesus Christ came to
rescue humanity from itself and from mortality. One of the most simple
and most eloquent descriptions of what the life of Jesus is all about
came from Indian political and spiritual leader Mohandas K. Gandhi. He
described Him this way: “A man who was completely innocent, offered
himself as a sacrifice for the good of others, including his enemies,
and became the ransom of the world. It was a perfect act.”
Christians are not popular in America these days. Jesus was not a
very popular figure either, particularly toward the last few years of
the time He spent on earth. His message threatened too many people, just
as it does today.
He was the truth they feared. His presence gave the lie to the
self-serving illusions around which they had built their lives. He was
the light which illumined dark corners and recesses, exposing the black
sins they sought to hide.
He was the pure mirror which reflected back to them the image of the
evil they had become. His very existence was a threat to their
lifestyles and their rationalizations. They could not change or corrupt
Him, so they killed Him — not because He was guilty but because He was
When Pontius Pilate asked the people in the crowd whom to spare from
crucifixion, a criminal or an innocent man, they chose to let the
criminal go free. They chose Barabbas. They still do.
Centuries have passed. Nothing has changed. Those who are threatened
by purity and virtue are still trying to wipe away every vestige, symbol
and sign of Him. The fear, even the loathing, of His message is why the
celebration of Christmas gets more pagan each succeeding year.
It was all said in John 3:19-20: “And this is the condemnation, that
light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light,
because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the
light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.”
Sophisticates make fun of religion and religious people, but if their
car broke down at night on the other side of town, in a strange
neighborhood, they would, given the alternatives, be thrilled if the
first to come by was a born-again Christian.
Despite all the calumny and harassment, Christians are generally
happy, well-adjusted, and uniquely unconfused about the purpose of life.
They are not confounded by arrogant intellectual elitism, which asserts
that human existence is a meaningless event in an unending, mindless
flow of meaningless events. They are unimpressed by the pompous,
humanistic idea that we are born out of nothingness, to live and die
only to disappear back into nothingness.
Christians know this kind of thinking makes absolutely no sense at
all. They see this dark rhetoric for what it is: the verbal flailings of
disoriented and frightened people who do not have philosophic handles on
themselves or the universe in which they live.
Christians believe there are no throwaways in life. Everything
matters. In the course of time, with the perspective of eternity,
everything is reconciled, every detail attended, every wrong righted,
every kindness thanked, every wound healed, every hurt kissed, every
love requited, every sin atoned, every life vindicated, every loss
recovered, every loved one found.
Life has meaning. The universe is rational. Hallelujah! Merry