December is here again, and what an important month it is! Not only does it bring an end to the old year but it reminds us of two very important events. It was on December 10, 1942, in a little room in the Chicago Stadium, that science discovered nuclear fission, a discovery that unlocked the secret of the stars and ushered in the atomic age. An editorial in the New York Times sounded this significant note:
Man used to wonder why the stars shine. Now he knows. He even knows how to create a little ephemeral star on earth. But he does not yet know whether this star is to light the doom of all his culture, all his hopes, and all his civilization.
Knowing how to build hydrogen into helium, understanding the process that lights stars, is not enough, for such knowledge in the hands of irresponsible man could indeed bring an end to civilization. Important as it may be to know the secrets of the stars, it is vastly more important to know the secret of God and His love for lost man.
And no date is more important than December 25, for it reminds us of the time when God, the Source of all science, the Upholder of the universe, became flesh that He might reveal Himself to men and bring a lost race back into fellowship with Himself. True, the exact date of our Saviour's birth is unknown, and most authorities agree that it was much earlier in the year, but let not the uncertainty of the date cause us to lose the opportunity this season affords of entering into the spirit of joy and good will, especially as we remember anew the wondrous Gift that was cradled in Bethlehem.
In unfolding the full message of God for this generation we are responsible to inform our congregations that Christmas, like so many other church festivals, has an unchristian origin and is actually a carry-over from the apostasy of the Middle Ages; yet to choose the Christmas season itself as the occasion for such emphasis is surely ill-timed. The reason we mention this is that we have known of some who have followed just such a plan with unfortunate results. Rather than launching a crusade against Christmas at this season, would it not be more in keeping if we led our members and those interested in our message to adore the Saviour we love, and at the same time help them to understand how He can be born anew in their hearts?
In a world of fear and frustration, with broken homes and broken hearts everywhere, surely it is something for which we can thank God that millions during these few weeks in December are contemplating the wondrous story of God's love, which permitted Him to come to earth a homeless outcast, that He might provide an eternal home for every lonely, homeless child of Adam who will accept His love. The date is surely of small consequence when compared with the Gift itself. In South America, for instance, it is not December 25 but January 6 that is celebrated by the exchange of gifts and good will. This date is believed to commemorate the visit of the Wise Men. The date is a detail, but the event is tremendous.
As workers we do well to follow the example of our Lord who made the religious feasts and festivals of His day the occasion for bringing new revelations of God's love to the multitudes. He was not confused. He understood clearly the ultimate end and purpose of it all. But He nevertheless chose these periods of festivity, while hearts were happy and worshipful, as opportunities for unfolding great truths.
When God broke into human history, everything was affected, and even the common things of life came to have new meaning. Edwin Markham puts it this way:
Now have the homely things been made Sacred, and a glory on them laid, Now that the King has gone this way, Great are the things of every day)
Yes, homely things become holy things in this new dimension. And that is what Christmas can mean to everyone. The good news heard by the shepherds was not for them alone, but for "all people." Everybody is somebody to God. No matter how dark the future or how discouraging the outlook, the light that shone in Bethlehem so long ago can light the way of each and all.
Ours is a bewildered generation that seems to have lost its way. To many it is as if the lights have suddenly gone out. Those who have visited Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico will recall the long walk underground that leads to the great chamber of the Rock of Ages. The journey to that point has been well lighted, permitting all to view the entrancing colors and formations. Then when all the visitors are quiet, calm, and seated, the lights are suddenly turned off. To be hundreds of feet underground and surrounded by impenetrable darkness gives one an eerie feeling.
On one such occasion a little girl began to cry. Her brave little brother seated next to her threw his arm around her and spoke tenderly in the darkness: "Don't cry, honey, it's all right. There is a man here who knows how to put on the lights." How wonderful to hear a voice of comfort in the darkness! A moment later a little glimmer appeared, which was increased little by little until the whole chamber was ablaze with light. Yes, there was a man there who knew how to turn on the lights. And in the darkness of our day we must remember that there is One who knows how to turn on the lights. It was He who shone amid the darkness nineteen centuries ago. Let us take the opportunity of Christmas and talk about Him who is the Light of the world.
Maxwell Anderson in his poem "Lost in the Stars" states a tragic truth when he says that many are like stars "crossing the skies in a lonely arc." But no one need be lonely, for God Himself came down from the glory land like a long-awaited comet, predicted and expected, that He might be a friend to all—the lonely, the outcast, the sin-sick, and the sorrowing. Yes, light has come into this world, but "the darkness comprehended it not." In the face of tragedy, loss, and death, many are trying to hold together the pieces of their broken world while God seems so far away.
Though "science is compelling us to think great thoughts of God," yet with many, the more they learn of the universe the less they seem to know of a God who cares. Some have declared that "there is no Friend beyond the skies to whom we can turn." But at Christmas time the world reminds itself of this Friend beyond the stars, a Friend of sinners, a Father to the fatherless, who came seeking to bring His lost children home again.
Huber, the great Swiss naturalist, when but ten years old, was standing with his mother beside an anthill. The ants• were rushing about in real agitation. "They're afraid of me, Mother!" exclaimed the boy. To which she quietly answered, "But you wouldn't hurt them; you are so fond of them." Then after a moment's pause he said, "But how can I let them know that I'm so fond of them except by becoming an ant?" Here is the gospel in a cameo.
Looking down from the place of His sanctuary, the Lord beheld the earth. And hearing the groaning of the prisoners, He longed to loose those appointed to death (Ps. 102:19, 20). Ah! but He did more than look; He came. And as a penniless preacher He moved among men, the embodiment of love and sympathy.
What a wonderful opportunity is ours, especially at this season of the year, to help men understand the meaning of the incarnation. God became flesh because that is the only thing we humans can really understand. He had written of His love by the pens of the prophets. But that was only a fragmentary revelation. When He became flesh He became one of us. Since then it has been easier to comprehend His love.
Christmas tells men that they need no longer wander around like lost souls in an alien universe. The lost has been found. This little world has been reclaimed and reconciled to God by the incarnation and death of His Son, for "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself."
Christmas brings the opportunity to preach with power the glorious redemption that is ours in Christ Jesus. Then let us not submerge ourselves in multitudinous details of mere historic reference. Rather let us bring the living Christ to dying men. Let us once more kneel with them by faith at Bethlehem's manger, while we contemplate the mystery of omnipotence sheathed in that Babe's arm. The infant cry from His crude cradle was the Voice that once spoke creation into existence. But more, that same Voice will call the dead to life again when He comes in glory to bring His ransomed ones back to the Father's house. He who became the homeless, helpless Babe amid His own creation did so that He might re-create us and give us an eternal home with Him in glory.
O ye heights of heav'n, adore Him;
Angel-hosts, His praises sing;
Powers, Dominions, bow before Him,
And extol our God and King:
Let no tongue on earth be silent,
Every voice in concert ring,
Evermore and evermore.
Thee let old men, Thee let young men,
Thee let boys in chorus sing;
Matrons, virgins, little maidens,
With glad voices answering;
Let their guileless songs re-echo,
And the heart its music bring,
Evermore and evermore.
—Hymns Ancient and Modern
R. A. A.