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CHRISTMAS AND MIRACLES

CHRISTMAS AND MIRACLES

Ted Schroder, Christmas, 2004

"At that time Jesus said, 'I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children." (Matthew 11:25) "These things" Jesus is referring to are all the miracles he had performed in Galilee: healing the sick, driving out evil spirits, feeding the hungry and calming the storms. Yet the majority of the people doubted his authority, refused to pay him any attention or change their way of life. They tried to interpret the stories they heard about what he was doing in terms of their own understanding, but they were limited by their own skepticism. They didn't have adequate categories to comprehend what was going on. Like his contemporaries, it is not possible for us to know what Christmas is, or who Jesus is, unless we are willing to accept that it is possible to receive new information from outside ourselves - from God. And that is not possible unless we believe in a supernatural reality bigger than the universe. Jesus said that the Father conceals these things from those who are wise in their own conceits, and reveals them to those who come with childlike trust and teachableness.

The most popular Christmas movie this year is THE POLAR EXPRESS, produced by Tom Hanks. A boy dreams of contacting Santa Claus. He dreams that a train picks up children who take a night-time ride to the North Pole to see Santa Claus. Some of the children are skeptical about Christmas. Some have been disappointed in the past and are afraid to hope that Santa will come for them on Christmas morning. Some doubt that Santa exists. They all learn that some of the best things in life cannot be seen with the naked eye. They all end up experiencing the miracle of Christmas. In the movie, each child had to decide whether to accept the invitation to climb on board the Polar Express. One boy hesitated, and decided not to, and then changed his mind. It was too late for him to catch up with the train until one of the other boys pulled the emergency stop alarm. The Express grounds to a halt allowing the little boy to catch up and climb on board. So many people hesitate climbing on board the Faith in Jesus Express and are left behind. They may be paralyzed by their past disappointments, they may feel themselves unworthy, and they may be skeptical that there is anything out there for them to experience anew. They find it hard to believe in miracles, or that they will ever experience one. "Sometimes," observes the conductor on the Polar Express, "seeing is believing. And sometimes the most real things in the world are things we can't see."

Max Lucado comments in This Holiday Season....Believe," (Teaching Illustrations on The Polar Express) "What things can you not see and yet, not deny? What invisible, unmistakable elements populate your world? The list comes quickly: love, hope, devotion, commitment. Such treasures cannot be boxed, bought, or seen, nor can they be denied. Apparently the conductor is right. The most real things are things we cannot see. If we can accept the reality of invisible attributes... are we that far from accepting the reality of an invisible God and living Savior? All of us, to one degree or another, live by faith. All of us trust the unseen... some trust human emotions and qualities. Others, using the same faith muscle, trust in Jesus. He is able to keep us on the train. We all slip, we all fall, but Jesus catches us. He wants you to make it home more than you do." Christmas is a time of miracle. It is a time when we remember that the supernatural came into this world of nature, and did something extraordinary in the birth of Jesus. Christianity is the story of a great Miracle. We believe that "in addition to the physical or psycho-physical universe known to the sciences, there exists an uncreated and unconditioned reality which causes the universe to be... and that this, at a definite point in time, entered the universe we know by becoming one of its own creatures and there produced effects on the historical level which the normal workings of the natural universe do not produce; and that this has brought about a change in our relations to this [divine] reality. ... The central miracle asserted by Christians is the Incarnation. They say that God became Man. Every other miracle prepared for this, or exhibits this, or results from this...every particular Christian miracle manifests at a particular place and moment the character and significance of the Incarnation.... The account of the 'miracles' in first-century Palestine are either lies, or legends, or history. And if all, or the most important, of them are lies or legends then the claim which Christianity has been making for the last two thousand years is simply false." (C.S. Lewis, Miracles)

There is a key principle in the Incarnation: "the power of the Higher to come down, the power of the greater to include the less.... In the Christian story God descends to reascend. He comes down; down from the heights of absolute being into time and space, down into humanity; down further still, if embryologists are right, to recapitulate in the womb ancient and pre-human phases of life; down to the very roots and seabed of the Nature He has created. But He goes down to come up again and bring the whole ruined world up with Him. One has the picture of a strong man stooping lower and lower to get himself underneath some great complicated burden. He must stoop in order to lift, he must almost disappear under the load before he incredibly straightens his back and marches off with the whole mass swaying on his shoulders." (Lewis, op.cit.)

That is what Lewis calls the Grand Miracle - God in love reaching down to us to rescue us. It is the pattern which we find in all Christian endeavor. When my wife and I were in London last November we worshipped at our first church, All Souls, Langham Place. Seated behind us was an old friend, Mary Stokes. When we asked her where she was living she replied, "I am trying to learn to live among the poor." Mary, now in her late seventies, is a practicing physician. She bought an apartment near her hospital so that she would be available for emergencies. The previous evening she had returned home to find a burglar in her apartment. She had an appointment with the police after Sunday worship to go over the details. She has given her life to that community because she felt led to enter it and serve in it by God. She is following in the footsteps of Christ. In the process, she has had her automobile vandalized, and her belongings stolen, because she has put herself at risk by entering into a world that is very different from hers. She goes down in order to bring others up. This is the miracle of the Incarnation. It is the miracle that enables followers of Christ to go down in order to come up again to bless others. Belief in Christ changes people, and through them, the world.

In The Polar Express, the boy asks for, and is given, one of the bells worn by the reindeer on Santa's sleigh. Only a person who believes can hear the bell ring. He could hear it, but his parents couldn't. What Jesus said is hidden from the wise and learned, is revealed to little children - the reality of the invisible.

"When did the boy hear the bell? Before or after belief? The music of the bell followed the decision of his heart. We call this the leap of faith. We ride the train of exploration. We ponder the questions of fellow travelers. We hear the convictions of those who believe. But, at some point, we have to choose for ourselves. In the dream, the boy did. In life, we do. Only we don't choose for, or against, Santa's bell. We choose for or against the Son of God." (Lucado, op.cit.)

When we choose to trust in Jesus and follow him, the music begins. Belief precedes the music of Christmas. The boy dreamt of contacting Santa Claus. Christmas tells us that God is connecting with us. We hear the invitation: "I became like you, so that you could become like me." The Polar Express boy ended up with the gift of the bell and the gift of faith. The child of God ends up with the gift of God's love, hope, a pattern to follow, and eternal life. When you get on the Faith Express you are going somewhere worth the ride.

Amelia Island, Florida

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