It was a Saturday afternoon; a man is relaxing, reading his paper. His wife walks in and gushing with excitement says, “Honey, you know your brand new sports car? Well the air bags work.” And with that, she marched out of the room.

That’s one perspective isn’t it? The air bags work.

There’s a cartoon I found several months ago that I thought was worth keeping. A couple is being welcomed into eternity with these words: “Welcome to eternity. Please note our super wide screen television that plays non-stop football, pro wrestling and Arnold Schwarzenegger action flicks.”

The husband pumps his fist in the air and says, “Yahoo! I made it to heaven!” His wife standing next to him thinks to herself, “Yikes, I ended up in hell.” It’s all a matter of perspective, isn’t it?

What’s your perspective, your outlook this morning? Without the right perspective, without the correct outlook, it’s easy to miss something important.

Wilbur and Orville Wright repeatedly tried to make their plane take flights. It was design, experiment, failure, redesign, experiment failure and so on till one December day, off the sand dunes of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, they did what man had never done before. They actually flew. Elated they wired their sister Katherine. “We have actually flown 120 feet. Will be home for Christmas.” Hastily Katherine ran down the street and shoved the telegram – with the news scoop of the century – at the city editor of the local newspaper. He carefully read the telegram, smiled and said, “Well, well, how nice. The boys will be home for Christmas.”

Perhaps the most tragic example of some wrong perspective occurred as two US soldiers observed something on radar. They reported it to their supervisor, a rather young, inexperienced Lieutenant. It was a peaceful Sunday morning, nobody else around and this young man, thinking it was planes on maneuvers from California said, “Don’t worry about it.” Those 353 planes were still a couple of hours away from Pearl Harbor when first spotted on Dec. 7th, 1941 but one person’s perspective was, “Don’t worry about it!”

How about this for an insightful perspective on more recent happenings?

Billy Graham’s daughter was interviewed after the September 11, 2001 attacks. She was asked, “How could God let something like this happen?” Anne Graham gave an extremely profound and insightful answer. She said, “I believe that God is deeply saddened by this just as we are. But for years we’ve been telling God to get out of our schools, to get out of our government and to get out of our lives and being the gentleman that he is, I believe that he has calmly back out. How can we expect God to give us his blessing and his protection if we demand he leave us alone?”

What’s your perspective on God’s involvement in the world? What’s your perspective on the endless rounds of debates as to where we can hold a baccalaureate service or where we can post the 10 Commandments or where we can display a Nativity scene? Isn’t it sad that our courts feel those are issues they need to rule on and restrict?

The events of September 11 notwithstanding, public schools across the nation are again squelching the Christmas spirit. The Washington Times cited several examples of school officials overstepping their bounds, inconsistently banning expressions of Christmas while allowing symbols of other religions:

* Frederick County school employees were prohibited from handing out Christmas cards because those with a Christian message “may not be a legally protected right on a public school campus.”

* Two middle school students in Rochester, Minn., were disciplined for wearing red and green scarves in a Christmas skit and ending the presentation by wishing the audience, “Merry Christmas.”

* A teacher in Plymouth, Ill., was warned not to read a book about Christmas to her secondgrade students even though it was in the school’s library.

* Students in Silverton, Ore., had to remove “religious” holiday decorations from their lockers, but were allowed to leave secular ones.

* The county school board in Covington, Ga., deleted the word “Christmas” from the school calendar after the ACLU threatened legal action.

* A New York public schools policy allows the display of the Jewish menorah and the Muslim crescent, but not the Christian nativity. A memo from the general counsel of the New York City Public Schools chancellor said, “The display of secular holiday symbol decorations is permitted. Such symbols include, but are not limited to, Christmas trees, menorahs, and the star and crescent.”

A preacher friend of mine said he’s getting tired of all the controversy from people who don’t want any religious emphasis in Christmas that he decided that maybe we should just give in to the secular crowd and cut a deal. He said we’ll give them all the non-religious stuff and we’ll keep the things of Christmas that promote all the controversy, the religious side. The way he figures it, here’s how it will work out. First of all, he’s not a politically correct kind of guy so he says bluntly; “They get the fat guy in the red suit.” But, they don’t get his name because that’s a derivative of Saint Nicholas, an obvious religious connection. Further, they don’t get gifts because that traces back to the wise men. So now his sack is empty. We get most of the music, in fact we get the best music (Handel’s Messiah, the great Christmas Carols) and they get Rudolph, Frosty and Jingle Bells. My friend says they get Christmas trees because they aren’t in the Bible but I have heard that it was Martin Luther, a religious leader, who popularized them and put candles on to represent Christ, the light of the world so the trees are debatable. In fact, we get most of the decorations, including lights and tinsel because tinsel represents the gold given by the wise men. He says they get the date because it’s really unknown as to when Christ was actually born so maybe we can just join the Orthodox brethren who celebrate on January 7th.

They can call their celebration Sparkle Season or Winter Celebration but we get Christmas because obviously the name Christ is right in it. So when you break it all down, they get a date, an anonymous fat guy with an empty sack, accompanied by Jingle Bells & Frosty oh and they get the fruitcake! The point is that obviously without Christ, there just isn’t much left to Christmas.

Last year around this time, I received a wonderful perspective on Christmas. It’s entitled, “How terrible if My Dream was Real.”

“I had a dream, Joseph. I don’t understand it, not really, but I think it was about a birthday celebration for our Son. I think that was what it was all about. The people had been preparing for it for about six weeks. They had decorated the house and bought new clothes. They’d gone shopping many times and bought elaborate gifts.

“It was peculiar though, because the presents weren’t for our Son. They wrapped them in beautiful paper and tied them with lovely bows and stacked them under a tree. Yes, a tree, Joseph, right in their house. They’d decorated the tree also. There was a figure on the top of the tree. I think it was supposed to represent an angel. Oh, it was beautiful. Everyone was laughing and happy. They were all excited about the gifts. They gave the gifts to each other, Joseph, not to our Son. I don’t think they even knew Him. They never mentioned His name.

“Doesn’t it seem odd for people to go to all that trouble to celebrate someone’s birthday if they don’t know Him? I had the strangest feeling that if our Son had gone to this celebration He would have been intruding. Everything was so beautiful, Joseph, and everyone was so happy, but it made me want to cry. How sad for Jesus – not to be wanted at His own birthday party. “I’m glad it was only a dream. How terrible, Joseph, if it had been real.”‘

What’s your perspective? What will your Christmas celebration be like this year? The one whose birth we celebrate also said this, “”If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even’sinners’ love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that.” (Luke 6:32-33)

If our Christmas celebration is limited to an exchange of gifts with those who love us, we haven’t even begun to take the first steps of faith in our Christmas celebration. Be sure to keep the right Christmas perspective this year.

Have you ever done anything to deliberately celebrate the birth of Christ during Christmas? Or is your Christmas celebration the same thing you’ve always done – the same traditions your family has always observed? Perhaps the same traditions your family observed even before you or they were Christians? If you were not a Christian, would your celebration be any different? In the Denver zoo some years ago they were undergoing a major renovation. The polar bear enclosure was being changed to a natural environment. A polar bear arrived before renovation was completed so the new bear was enclosed in a small cage that allowed it to take three, nice swinging steps in one direction, whirl around and take three steps back in the other direction. Back and forth it went, month in, month out till the renovations were complete. The bear was then let loose in it’s new environment and do you know what it did? Three steps in one direction, whirled around and back the other way. Three steps in one direction, whirled around and back the other way. Over and over without stopping, the polar continued as if the cage was still there.

That’s how people can be. That’s how Christians can be. Some call it a rut. We do the same thing over and over without varying. That’s how our Christmas celebration can be. We do the same thing year after year. Ever watch people while they’re in the mall or store, you know the long lines waiting to see you know who – the cashier. Ever hear them talk – how hurried they are, how frustrated. What would it take to give you a new perspective on Christmas? What would it take to celebrate the birth of the one who said as a man, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?” There’s nothing of a Christian perspective in buying expensive gifts for our own family and friends – that’s loving those who love us. Challenge your Christmas perspective this year. Challenge yourself with the words of the one whose birth we say we are celebrating.

Matthew 10:32-33 “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.”

Perhaps there’s someone to whom you can share a word of witness – what an opportunity when someone speaks of how hectic their Christmas preparations are – what an opportunity to say, “Hey, have you forgotten about what the season is all about?”

Matthew 6:14-15 “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

Is there someone you need to forgive? What a gift to Jesus that would be! To just say, Lord, I don’t know how I can do this but in faith I’ll trust you if you will help me to forgive this person.

On Dec. 7th, 2001, survivors of the attack on both sides met and shook hands. A Japanese pilot was there – who knows how many Americans he killed but 60 years later, he shook hands with some of those he had once fought against. How meaningful your Christmas would be to Christ if you forgave from the heart – a note, a phone call, a prayer, a visit to say, “Hey, let’s put this old quarrel to rest.”

You know we all get a bit weary this Christmas season. We all get a bit weary buying gifts, waiting in the lines, cleaning the house, decorating the house, bringing a live tree into the house so we can have a bigger mess to clean later, so we can step on pine needles in March. We all get a bit tired of the baking, cooking and it’s so hard, it’s just too hard, preacher to squeeze in time to visit the shut-ins, preacher. I’ve heard that – we’re so busy celebrating Jesus’ birth that we can’t do the things Jesus said. Isn’t that a bit strange?

Matthew 25:35-36 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

Does your Christmas perspective include any room for those who are hungry, thirsty, sick, shut-ins, in prison etc?

Friends of ours once worked the night shift in a kind of a halfway house that was run by a Christian organization. Dave and Vicky said they felt they had to do that to tell Jesus how thankful they were for their home. That’s an interesting perspective isn’t it? They also said later that you get a new perspective talking with people there in the house; some grateful for the service they were receiving, some angry at the world and wanting even more and feeling that the world owed them a living. What’s your perspective this morning? What’s your Christmas perspective? Is it just a holiday, a day off, a day of giving and receiving gifts? Or is it the celebration of the one who has drastically changed your life and provided eternal life for you? And does your celebration include acts of gratitude to the one who gave his life for you? With all the blessings we have received and continue to reap, is it too much to ask for a bit of sacrifice, a gift to Jesus even now when we feel we’re just so busy. Sure we all get a bit weary in this Christmas season, but isn’t the King whose birth we celebrate worth whatever sacrifice and gift we can give, isn’t the King of Kings worth all of that and even a bit more?

Isn’t that the right perspective?

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Dan Nicksich is Pastor of First Christian Church in Somerset, PA.

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