By J. Grant Swank
Saturday, November 01, 1997
Some ask: What is Christmas?
Again it has come
To strum at our heartstrings,
To decorate home,
To drain us of pennies,
To dissipate strength
In running 'bout stores, shops,
Our nerves thus so spent.
But is all this Christmas?
Just boxes and bows,
Just tallying up lists long
Of names there in rows?
No, Christmas is more than
A present or two,
Some eggnog at dinner,
Choirs singing on cue.
For Christmas is God's tune
Hummed forth in a Son
Who's laid in a manger,
Hope's story begun.
Come hum that sweet song then,
It's written for you --
God's Hope in a cradle --
It's simple -- it's true,
The story of Christmas is that God has not given up on us
In the Garden of Eden, God talked with us, walked with us.
In the ark, God protected us.
In the temple, God sanctified us.
In the lion's den, God intervened for us.
In the fiery furnace, God stood with us.
In the preaching of the prophets, God sought to redeem us, to rescue us, to revive us.
In the Incarnation -- the Christmas story -- God gave the message that
He still believes in us -- He has not given up on us!
Indeed, He has such hope focus, that He came to earth as one of us
Imagine, the Creator of all things,
the One who made something out of nothing,
the Great Mind,
the One who brooded over the waters
who formed the animal kingdom
the vegetable kingdom
who molded humanity and breathed life into him...
Became One of us -- mortal, human, creature!
This our Hope, our Rejoicing, our Starting Point.
Where then has mankind gone wrong?
By forgetting Christmas!
By forgetting the message of God in the cry of a baby boy!
By starting with the human rather than beginning with God!
When we start with space travel rather than the One who made space, we get into trouble.
When we start with skyscrapers rather than the One who created the sky, we get into trouble.
When we start with computers rather than the Creator, we get into trouble.
When we start with ourselves rather than the Savior, we get into trouble.
But when we Become Wise Men,
following the star of holiness,
making our ways to Bethlehem,
bowing rather than bragging,
we find our Hope and we discover that God has Not given up on us.
Throughout the Old Testament, God sought to communicate His mind.
He tried to get across His Word through
Noah preaching atop a boat,
Moses stomping atop a mountain,
Samuel teaching atop the Israelite's clamor.
He tried to communicate through the
Psalms, Proverbs and
Wisdom of spiritually sensitive speakers in the marketplace.
He tried to throw up some dust with the evangelism
of the likes of John by the
Jordan and the mouthpieces who preceded him:
Isaiah, Micah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel.
But...deaf ears all around,
busy limbs flailing here and there,
tongues wagging rather than being still.
Yet I still cannot give up, God said,
And so I will become one of them... walking with
them, talking with them,
as in the Garden of Eden.
That's where Jesus comes in.
How ingenious of the Creator, confounding the Adults by becoming a Baby.
Stumping the Rich by becoming Poor.
Confusing the Politicians by becoming a Peasant.
Surprising the Prophets and Priests by becoming a self-appointed Rabbi.
Dumbfounding the System by Criticizing it...
Crossing the Establishment by seeking to Reform it.
Pleasing the Masses by Milling with them.
And in all of this, God was saying: I have not given up on you!
I have become so anxious to get through to you, that I have become one of you.
I want to tell you that I care, love, understand, redeem,
if you will but get the message and follow me!
And that's where Baby Jesus comes in.
I hear that message again this Christmas. Do you?
Midst bombs and bloodshed, terror and torment, apprehension and anxious fears,
I hear God speaking again from a Manger.
And I have faith enough to believe this time there are more than donkeys listening.
There are repentant hearts, sensitive spirits and willing souls wanting to latch onto His message of Sheer Hope.
When we've come to the end
Of earth's bait and its lure,
When we've given up hope
In our emptiest store
Then we'll come to the stall
In blest Bethlehem town,
Then we'll find Jesus boy
Dressed in baby's fresh gown.
When we're sick of our pride
And so tired of our sin,
When we've turned against greed
And forsaken hell's din
Then we'll bow in the straw --
Humbled only to find
God wrapped in a youngster --
Reaching out to mankind.
Have you looked at the babe?
Have you seen in His face
All the glory of heaven,
All of purity's grace?
Has that holiness bent
Your tired frame to its knees,
Crying out for the Lord --
His will only to please?
Come with me to God's hope --
It's in Jesus so small,
Then in you hope will spring
As you yield Him your all.
Hope in a manger.
Hope in your heart, too.
Hope from the Godhead
Transplated in you.
I believe that there are still those who have come to the end of their Toys and want something more.
They have done with lust, greed and murder, under cutting, drugs and drink.
They are then crying out for Hope in God.
And so I still see peasants of the earth crouch before a cradle filled with straw.
They do not understand it all,
any more than the shepherds did,
but they are caught up in the wonder of it,
the marvel of the promise, the reality
of the power.
No wonder we call Jesus the promise fulfilled, the embodiment of the power of God, the purity of the divine one: "the holy one."
And that's where the Baby Jesus comes in.
God has not given up on us.
We have given up on Him, at times.
We have not prayed to Him as we should,
not worshiped Him as intensely,
not read His Word as frequently,
not witnessed for Him as obediently.
But He has not given up on us and so He still speaks to us from a barn beside an inn. Not all have ears to hear, but for those who do, it means the Worth of All Eternity.
We have given up on the "genius of government."
We have turned sour on the integrity of those who promise us less taxes, more jobs, better cities, world peace, safer schools.
A stiff skepticism cuts through much of life today-- something like a knife stabbing through the back of human existence so as to spill too much blood, but with all that pressing in our weary heads,
Behold, I come to you with the
message of good news...
To You this Day Is Born in the City of David a Savior, Who Is Christ the Lord.
We can Trust Him...We can Come to Him...We can Cry before Him. We can Unburden before Him... We can Lean upon His breast... We can hear from His lips again and again, "I have Not given up on you."
How come? we still ask in surprise.
Why haven't you given up on us...taudry as we are, weak, undone, willy-nilly in our promises, cold-hearted against the woes of the world?
Why haven't you tossed us over, God?
Because, He answers, I came once as a Surprise Package in Bethlehem's barn, and I will come again to Every Waiting Heart who dares to wear my blood upon His door. For I have Hope in those who repent, who turn from their sinful ways and follow Me. I still have Hope in those who mean business for heaven.
So we hear Him, and we join the angels in rejoicing: Glory to God in the Highest, and on Earth, Peace, Goodwill Toward Men.
If you take time this Christmas -- from wrapping gifts, running through the stores, hanging ornaments, and humming merry tunes to Tip-Toe to a Manger...there you will see -- Hope.
It is not so much a decree, doctrine, policy or theology as it is a Person -- a Baby catching the world by the Heart.
It is God -- yes, God -- lying there, reaching up for you to take hold of Him, saying to you and to me: I Love You...I Have Hope in You. We Can Make It -- Together.
The other day I was talking with a man who was weighted with personal sorrows.
I told him, after hearing him out for about an hour, that there was HOPE in his situation... all was not lost, there was still something to build on, some good fiber left.
With tears in his eyes, he looked back at me and said,
Do You Really Think so?
Yes, I answered.
I was hoping someone could tell me that, he responded.
Well, I can tell you that, I said again.
And he wiped the tears away from his eyes, shook my hand and thanked me for the encouragement. What made the difference? Hope!
There God is, in all His simplicity, starkness and sanctity? crying out in His own childlike way:
I Have Hope for those who find Me.
I have hope for those who care to trudge to Bethlehem,
I have hope for those who will follow the star,
I have hope for those who will share their lambs with me and stay awhile
by the side of an inn on a busy road.
I have not lost hope for those who will follow Me.
That is the story--the splendor--the surprise-of Christmas.
Has it touched you today?