I think a lot of people today can sympathize with Charlie Brown in the opening scene of the American TV classic A Charlie Brown Christmas when he admitted that, although the Christmas season had arrived, he was depressed. One look at the news and that state of mind is quite understandable: riots broke out at a mall & a man was shot over the release of new Michael Jordan retro sneakers; police armed with riot gear were needed to break up a fight at a youth football game in California; free condom dispensers are being placed at Philadelphia high schools for the holidays; and of course none of us can shake the unimaginable tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary. It's tough to digest six-year-old children being so violently robbed of their chance to live a full life, and the scars the survivors will carry with them for the rest of their life.
These stories and infinite others like them pummel our sense of "merriment" into submission, leaving us dazed & confused about the world surrounding us. Why did this happen? How could it happen? Where's God in all of this? Shouldn't He be doing some serious smiting or something? I wish I had the answer to the how's and the why's, but I am not going to pretend to have all the answers. I know we have free will & I know evil exists - but why does something like the Sandy Hook tragedy happen? Simply stated: I do not know.
But let me share with you what I do know: while we live in a fallen world, there is hope. Not a hollow 'things will get better' promise based on nothing in particular; but real, true hope. The ultimate proof is the very reason we celebrate Christmas: "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life."
That is the real meaning of Christmas. The message many Christians complain is lost in an onslaught of the winter solstice, holiday trees, stuff, Santa and yet more stuff. And that's true, but I'll take it a step further - and this is where non-Christians, atheists, Muslims, Jews, Wiccans and everyone in between can come together: the real meaning of Christmas isn't just about the baby Jesus. It's also about what we do with the knowledge of the Christmas story.
Making sure our National Nativity Defense Force is vigorously patrolling manger scenes all across America and bickering with atheists shouldn't be the extent of our Christianity. We should instead be on the lookout for those in need: the poor, the needy, widows, orphans, loners, the rejected, the suffering, the lost, the angry, the depressed, neighbors, strangers, brothers, sisters, co-workers, friends, and yes even enemies. And we should help and love them because God first loved us. Just doing that alone will shine a giant spotlight of hope into a dark world.
When Charlie Brown's cast for his Christmas play had lost sight of the real meaning of Christmas, Linus stepped up to the stage and recited this from Luke:
"'And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not; for, behold, I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and goodwill towards men.'"
The message of hope caused the gang to have a change of heart and start loving instead of complaining. My prayer this Christmas is for more people everywhere, believers and non-believers, to be inspired by the Christmas story and the love God showed His people, and for them to pass that love on to others.