Christmas, 2018

Posted on January 19, 2019


I am going to assume–always a dangerous thing to do–that the readers of this column occupy the spectrum of religion, from true believers to atheists.

I am also going to assume that most of you have a Christian formation, all the way from the practicing Christians to those who may have wondered “what’s it all about?”

If I were writing in Iran or Pakistan, I would of course have a different religious context—most of you would be Muslims—but I’m here in America, not Pakistan. Our roots go back to the Puritans who came over in the early seventeenth century to escape persecution and practice their Christian faith freely in a “new” world.

Our Founding Fathers were believers in a great God in the Christian context and we have continued as a Christian nation to today. About three quarters of Americans today identify as Christians. If we narrow our focus a bit to Alabama, about 86% identify as Christian. We are, recall, in the “Bible” Belt.

By comparison, in California only 63% identify as Christians and, interestingly, 27% responded as unaffiliated, or religious “nones.” That’s a category I sometimes wonder about, but that for another day.

Diversity has always been a strength in this country, as well as the ability for everyone to have their say without being pilloried and categorized by their critics as liars and hypocrites. Christmas seems to bring us all together for a while, and I think that is important, even if we are just dropping a buck into the Salvation Army bucket in front of Walmart or worshiping with enthusiasm and vitality in church, or in some other place, giving of ourselves in time or money to love on as many as possible.

Christmas is always, along with Easter in the spring, the best attended church service in the year. Pastors are always faced with what to preach: to the faithful who know the Christmas story from the Scriptures almost by heart, or to a visitor and her family who haven’t been in a church in months but came in because of the season. Or maybe it was their first visit.

To veteran Christians, whether you are 12 or 102, the story of the Baby Jesus sent by his Father God to the Virgin Mary, the manger scene, the gifts of the Wise Men, the shepherds standing watch by night, the ugly King Herod, the message of peace and love, we may know it by heart, but always are lifted up by hearing it again.

Who hasn’t sat quietly as the pastor read “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.” It begins the familiar story of Joseph packing up his betrothed Mary, expecting a child, and heading to Bethlehem to register for the census.

I would suggest Luke 1:26-38 and Luke 2:1-21. It is not the whole story, but, like Jesus’s parables, it is simple and clear. It brings us the message again in a glorious moment as we remember the birth of our Lord and Savior, a mere baby born in humble circumstances and placed in a manger. What a way to introduce the Savior of mankind who still works in our lives?

If you are only barely familiar with the account of Jesus’s birth, or are hearing it for the first time, or have simply been away from the church for too long and find yourself caught up in the “Christmas spirit” but wonder what it’s all about, then read the first two chapters of the Gospel of Luke.

Next, pick out a church and go to it today, or Christmas Eve, or Christmas day. It can be the church of your parents, the church of your friends, don’t worry about whether it’s the “right” church or not. That will come in time as you get familiar with the life of Jesus that began over 2000 years ago in the town of Bethlehem in the land the Jews called Judea.

The narrative of Jesus, as told in the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, is the true story of God’s intervention in the lives of humankind through the grace and love of God for all his people. The only thing he asks of you is to listen and act on the truth. It began with Christ’s birth—Christmas—and can transform you just as it has transformed millions of believers over the centuries. Peace on earth, goodwill to men.

Published as “A simple, clear story for all mankind,” in The Tuscaloosa News, Dec 23 2018

Posted in: Christmas