...And the star rains its fire while the beautiful sing, for the manger of Bethlehem cradles a King!
- Josiah Holland
One friend asks, Are you ready for Christmas? and I wonder what readiness category shes talking about. If she means is my shopping done, my house decorated, or my first greeting card mailed, I tell her, the answers are all, no.
But she doesn't mean any of those things. She wonders if I have the Christmas spirit, not the Fa-la-la-la-la variety, but, Is your heart ready to receive the newborn King.
She doesnt know Ive been spending this Advent season readying my thoughts on what makes Christianity different from other religions, especially now that the world seems to be at war over the principles, if not the theology, of those religions. We agree that the other things, pared down if necessary, will all get done, but pondering how we can know Jesus is the Christ, the King of a higher kingdom, and the only Son of God will be the focus of our getting ready for Christmas this year.
I review my thoughts so far. The central figures of most religions follow a similar pattern:
Promises, promises, promises: Poverty, injustice, and oppression replaced by political and/or material utopia;
Peaceable, perhaps, at first, but as the promises fail to materialize or endure, succumbing to the cry of their followers to take up take up the sword.
Jesus, who had all the power of God at his disposal, used that power sparingly, and He bore no arms. Though He owns the cattle on a thousand hills, the wealth in every mine.... (Psalm 50:10), His promises include the basics on a higher plane: living water (John 4:10-15), the bread of life (John 6:48), and the door (shelter), by which, if anyone enter in, he shall be saved (John 10:9).
Not everyone understood Him, and the temptation was always there to capitulate like the others: Come on, Jesus, give us more loaves and fishes... be a spectacle: cast yourself down..., and on the cross, If you are the Son of God, save yourself and us, too.
A baby born in a stable instead of a clean, well-equipped palace defied belief. A child of humble parentage, who grew in wisdom and stature (Luke 2:52) well beyond his peers, stunned the most learned of his day (Luke 2:46-47).
A man who chose to live as humbly as he was raised, confounded those who expected an earthly conqueror instead of a servant who let the children come unto me (Luke 18:16), washed his disciples feet (John 13:5), and spent more time trying to capture human hearts than overthrowing the kingdoms of their foes.
A Savior who wrestled with the horror of his certain death, prayed not my will, Father, but yours be done (Matthew 26:39), and because of the joy that was set before Him (our salvation, reunion with His Father), endured the cross with no thought of the shame (Hebrews 12:2).
In all my exploration of those other faiths, the saddest words I heard were these: Its up to us to live a good life, and up to God to decide who goes to heaven and who does not. If we live badly, theres no savior wholl come along on the day of judgment to save us.
God created a perfect and plentiful garden for the first inhabitants of earth, and they made it imperfect.
God provided a land, a leader, food from heaven, and rules to live by, but the Children of Israel ignored the rules, wallowed in discontent, and lost their land.
God sent more leaders - judges, kings, and prophets - to bring the people back to Himself, but they wouldnt listen or be led.
Finally, God sent his Son. Some listened; some followed Him, but many did not. He wasnt the leader they expected. But, those who did believe in him, to them He gave the power to become the children of God (John 1:12).
God didnt wait for his people to be good enough, but while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). Neither do we need to fear the day of judgment, for God didnt send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved (John 3:17).
Joy to the world, the Lord - our Lord, Savior, Messiah, the Son of God - is come; let earth receive her King!
(Barbara Seaborn is a local free-lance writer. E-mail comments to email@example.com.)
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