Written By: Chris Mace
Christmas is a season of lights. Flickering candles brighten darkened windows and warm mantels. Artificial lights decorate trees and yards and parks with colorful displays. Brilliantly lit stars are everywhere. The world seems warmer, kinder, and brighter as goodwill, generosity, and cheerful expressions of love reflect the spirit of Christ’s advent, that wondrous moment when “The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world”
In that amazing, inexplicable miracle, God’s transcendent love was poured out on floundering, weary humanity. “The light of the world” lay swaddled in a manger in the dark recessess of a Bethlehem stable. Jesus “became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:9-14) The long awaited Messiah had been born. Now there was more than a glimmer of hope for a discouraged, suffering world.
The good news first came in a frightening burst of light as an angel delivered a startling message “of great joy for all people” to some tired Shepherds as they watched over their sheep in the dark fields of Bethlehem. “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. ” And suddenly there was a heavenly host singing and praising God: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
Although at its deepest level Jesus’ advent reveals humanity’s desperate need for a merciful, grace filled redemptive way forward to reconciliation with God, he has never received full acceptance as the Savior of the world. Centuries of evil forces and moral rebellion, of angry and jealous men, of distracting and detracting religions, of sufferings and injustices, and of doubt filled minds and disbelieving hearts have threatened to devalue, discredit, blur, obscure and obliterate him. Yet regardless of how unpopular he may be or how drawn away from him we become, his light constantly shines even through the worst circumstances or the most aggressive unbelief. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:4-5) Perhaps the first written Christmas carol expresses that. “Jesus Light of All Nations” was supposedly penned after Constantine recognized Christianity and halted its persecution.
Christmas carols may be simple but soul touching in and of themselves. Others are majestic and particularly beautiful when their back stories are known. Not long after the loss of his beloved wife, H.W.Longfellow spent several weeks looking for his son who had been wounded and was septic from an infection sustained in the Civil War. On Christmas day 1864, from a grieving , anxious heart and in troubling circumstances, he penned hope through his anguish:
I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.”
Till, ringing singing, on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,
Of peace on earth, good will to men!
In a time of personal tragedy and huge national division, the Person of Christmas held the answer of peace on earth and God’s good will for humanity. There is no other legitimate answer. Just as God gave physical laws governing physical light and life, men’s souls are governed by spiritual laws which give spiritual light and life.
The Gospel continues to enlighten and change lives. It “is the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2Corinthians 4:6) The cost of our salvation, the marvelous grace of God, and the glory and determination and enduring, patient love of God will be forever visible not only in the tender face of a baby but in Christ’s bloodied face distorted in agony for us on the cross.
Christmas is the beginning of a beautiful but epically sad and tragic human journey. However, Jesus could never have been spent his life with more meaningful and selfless purpose—that of being God’s love. God’s love entered time to walk life’s journey with us. Jesus’ life remains crucial to humanity’s outcome. His light takes us from darkness to eternal hope.
He can deservedly and truthfully claim: “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.” (John 8:12 ) That includes the promise that even though one will experience physical death one will have eternal life if one chooses to live and believe in him.
What better reason could there be for a Merry Christmas?