What If It’s True?

Dec 23rd, 2023 | By | Category: Culture & Wordview, Featured Issues

The mission of Issues in Perspective is to provide thoughtful, historical and biblically-centered perspectives on current ethical and cultural issues

We live in a world where one of the few constants in life is change.  I recently read media theorist Douglas Rushkoff’s book, Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now.  It captures quite effectively the unsettledness and disorientation many feel in our postmodern, post-Christian, media-saturated culture.  Rushkoff’s analysis is brilliant, but he offers few solutions and little comfort in a world of religious skepticism, moral/cultural progressivism and animosity toward traditional values and religious convictions.

But, then there is Christmas—a season of hope and expectancy.  Christmas is not about rapid change, disorientation, unsettledness or animosity toward tradition.  Christmas in 2023 celebrates nostalgia and tradition, but not necessarily the historic faith of biblical Christianity.   In our world of cultural chaos and upheaval, perhaps the words of young Susan Walker in the 1947 movie Miracle on 34th Street accurately reflect how faith is portrayed:  “I believe; I believe. It’s silly, but I believe.” Faith is thus a blind leap; believing for no reason at all.  The shepherds, the wise men, the Bethlehem star, the babe in the manger make us feel warm and comfortable, but whether they are true or not is irrelevant.  But what if it is true—all of it?  What if the angels, the virgin birth, the Incarnation were true?  What difference would it make?   I suspect that even those who do not believe the facts of the Christmas story secretly wish it were true.

In The Last Battle, C.S. Lewis wrote that “In our world too, a stable had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world.”  For centuries it almost seemed as if God were hiding; God seemed passive, unconcerned, and deaf to His people’s prayers.  Yet, in a backwater town in the colossal Roman Empire, a child was born.  Luke’s narrative surrounding that birth captures the exhilaration of people as they responded to the news.  As Philip Yancey suggests, it “resembled a joy-filled musical.”  Characters crowded into the scene: a white-haired great uncle (Luke 1:5-25), an astonished virgin (1:26-38), the old prophetess Anna (2:36).  Mary lets loose with an astonishing hymn (1:46-55).  Even Jesus’ unborn cousin kicks for joy inside his mother’s womb (1:41).

The narrative of Christmas is part of a much larger biblical narrative—the narrative of redemption.  The Old Testament Prophets told of a coming Savior, the Messiah, who would be born in Bethlehem, die a substitutionary death, rise again and establish the kingdom of God on earth.  Consistently using the term “fulfilled,” the Gospel writers established the connections between the Prophets and Jesus, the one born that Christmas morning.  The New Testament Epistles continued unfolding the redemptive story, which, they argue, brings hope, cleansing from sin and purpose for life.  This good news offers humanity God’s love manifested in a person.  It is the story of God becoming human—beginning as a dot on an ultrasound— in order that humans might dwell with Him forever.

Christmas then represents God’s incarnation, when this broken world became His home.  Malcolm Muggeridge suggested that the circumstances of Jesus’ birth “were calculated to establish his detachment from power and authority in human terms.”  Indeed, His entrance was not characterized by privilege, comfort, public celebration or self-glorification.  Instead, it was marked by lowliness, obscurity, humility, fragility.   Craig Barnes of Princeton Seminary writes that “He was raised by unremarkable parents in an unremarkable part of the world, conducted a ministry that was missed by most people, died as a criminal on a cross and his ascension was seen by only a small band of disciples who then led a movement that within three centuries changed the world.”  As Peter Wehner reasons, “No one thought it would start quite this way, an infant in a manger in a troubled corner of a troubled world.”  You would have thought he would be among the most inconsequential individuals who ever lived.  You would have been wrong.

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