Thursday, December 02, 2004

Madonna Without Child

1 “Nevertheless the dimness shall not be such as was in her vexation, when at the first he lightly afflicted the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, and afterward did more grievously afflict her by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, in Galilee of the nations.2 The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.3 Thou hast multiplied the nation, and not increased the joy: they joy before thee according to the joy in harvest, and as men rejoice when they divide the spoil.4 For thou hast broken the yoke of his burden, and the staff of his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, as in the day of Midian.5 For every battle of the warrior is with confused noise, and garments rolled in blood; but this shall be with burning and fuel of fire.6 For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.7 Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.”

My favorite Christmas season movie is Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life.” It’s the story of a small town hero, George Bailey of Bedford Falls. You probably all know the story. George, at a major crisis point in his life, considers committing suicide, somehow believing that the world would be better off if he’d never been born at all. It is at this point that God intervenes. Clarence Goodbody, George’s guardian angel, who has yet to earn his wings, is assigned the task of rescuing George. Clarence devises an ingenious mechanism to do just that, giving George the ability to see what the world would have looked like and been like without him. George watches helplessly as tragedy after tragedy unfolds before his eyes. He is now powerless to stop what’s going on. He objects. At one point he sees his brother Harry’s grave marker and attempts to remind Clarence that his brother was a Medal of Honor winner, a man who had saved the entire crew of a ship from certain death. Clarence tells him that, because he was never born, he was never there to rescue Harry from death in a winter accident and that the entire ship’s crew had also died because Harry, in turn, was not there to save them. George also sees his wife, never married. And his own mother doesn’t know him. And Bedford Falls has become Potterville, a town under the thumb of a better, greedy banker. It’s anything but the idyllic place that George helped build into a place where families could stake down roots and build a good, solid community.

In the end George comes to his senses, realizing that his life was full of meaning, that he had friends who loved him, and that, as his brother Harry says, “He is the richest man in Bedford Falls.” It’s a wonderful story, one that says a great deal about the power of one life. It’s a wonderful story because it hits us right in the heart. Haven’t most, if not all, of us thought at one time or another that the world would be a better place without us? George concludes that it is a wonderful life and we, vicariously, conclude the same.

This morning I was browsing through some of my favorite blogs and came across a piece on Michael Gallaugher’s Conservative Christian. The piece that got my attention was titled “Christmas and the ACLU.” In his unique way, Michael outlined six cases in which the ACLU is, and has been, attempting to overturn Christmas traditions in the name of “equity and fairness.” What can I say? Sure…..Right…..Fairness and equity…..So that’s what this is all about. Michael was right. The ACLU = the Grinch!

Here in Emporia we have an annual Christmas parade. It’s not much by big city standards. There are bands and floats, Christmas carols, and prayers. There are no big celebrities, just the folks of Emporia kicking off the Christmas season. No one objects, and why would they. If an organization like the ACLU came to Emporia like a group of neighborhood bullies it wouldn’t be well received, but that has never stopped them before. In the name of fairness they take away much of what is good in our communities. It’s really nothing more than an exercise in raw, obscene power.

I put the two thought together and wondered what we’d have today if Jesus had never been born. What if heaven had made an Executive decision and said, “They’re not worth it. They’re going to reject my gift. Let them try to make it on their own.”

How would history have changed?

We take so much for granted. We send Christmas cards with one depiction or another of the “Madonna and Child.” Without Jesus it would have to be something like the “Madonna Without Child.” We listen each Christmas season to Handel’s Messiah, possibly the greatest single piece of music ever written. If it hadn’t been for Jesus, Handel would have had no theme to extol in music. And what would this time of the year be without Silent Night or Joy to the World? There would be no sermon on the mount, no beatitudes. There would be no cross, no salvation. It would be a very empty season.

But, some might say that the void in art or music would have been filled by someone else. To that I would say, “What would motivate someone?” The motivation behind the great art and the great classic was Jesus himself. Who, or what, would have replaced Him?

The answer is, of course, that no one could have (or would have) replaced Jesus. But think of it. If God had decided not to send Jesus there would be no redemption possible for man. We’d be on our own. If we think there is trouble in the world now, imagine what things would be like if Jesus had never been born. There would be little or no mercy. There would be little or no forgiveness. There would be little or no grace. Our world would like much like Potterville, Bedford Falls without George Bailey, a town where it was every man for himself. It would be all but unlivable.

Thankfully, though, Jesus did come to us. He was born in that stable in Bethlehem. He lived and walked and talked and ate with us. He came to fulfill the hopes of the prophets:

Isaiah 53

1 “Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? 2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. 3 He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 4 Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. 6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. 8 By oppression [1] and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken. [2] 9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. 10 Yet it was the LORD's will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes [3] his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand. 11 After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life [4] and be satisfied [5] ; by his knowledge [6] my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, [7] and he will divide the spoils with the strong, [8] because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.”

And, most important of all, Jesus died for us, and then rose from the grave to lift us from the sting of death and sin.

Yes, if the ACLU could have its way we’d live in a world without God, without Jesus. We’d be at their mercy. But the truth is that Jesus came. He didn’t decide to abandon us in our hour of need. He knew the cost of His coming and He came anyway. Aren’t you glad? Aren’t you glad that the ACLU cannot take Him away? They may try, but you and I are witnesses to that truth! Rejoice then! Be glad! “The people who walked in darkness have (truly) seen a great light.”

1 comment:

Tom Reindl said...

The reminder of a life without Jesus is one we should all bear in mind, Phil. On the one hand, remembering God in everything we say and do is the toughest battle going on around us. On the other, remembering what we were like before we were born into Christ is also a difficult battle.

There are many in this world for whom Jesus truly wasn't born, as if He never existed, and some believe their eternity will reflect that. What is going to spur us on to do something about that? Do we truly care what happens to them?