This was to be an unusual but fun Christmas for our family. We were set to leave this morning for the Creation Museum in Kentucky. Glowing reports from friends enticed us to see it for ourselves. But yesterday our van developed a mechanical problem that grounded our plan.
When bad things happen to us this time of year, we usually wonder, “Why now?” That question does not occur to Christians in many parts of the world, because they live on the edge every day. Here’s a little perspective. While we enjoyed peace on earth during our pre-Christmas church services, a church in Nigeria was attacked by terrorists who murdered the pastor and several others during their Christmas Eve service.
Yet, even minor inconveniences are intrusions on our expectations for trouble-free living. In a post on Christmas Eve two years ago, I shared a refreshingly different view from a local emergency room physician, Dr. Edwin Leap, who had just received news that his wife had cancer. After I re-read that post recently, the Holy Spirit used the doctor’s insights and my reflections on them to make a personal application.
Two years ago Dr. Leap’s response to his bad news was, “isn’t it wonderful that Christmas came now,” meaning that Jesus’ coming brings hope in adversity. He wrote on his blog today that his wife spent this Christmas with their family “as healthy as ever.” But for my family, it was our first Christmas without my sister Ruth, who died on November 12. We are relieved that her suffering is over, but the pain of her absence tinges our celebration.
Is it still “wonderful that Christmas came now? Yes, because severe losses are the most poignant reminders of how much we needed Jesus to come. They add a new meaning to Charles Wesley’s beloved carol, “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” His line, “late in time behold Him come,” probably means that the human race had a long wait for Messiah. But that line could just as well be, “Right on time, behold Him come.”
We can be fairly confident that Jesus was not born on December 25. That date had its origins in pagan ritual, but was converted for Christian purposes to rid the day of its sensual excesses. Some, like the Watchtower Society, react by abandoning the holiday altogether. This strikes me as perhaps right-hearted but wrong-headed.
A better response is to embrace the truth that Jesus’ coming signaled the departure of the monopoly of sin and death. Adversity has no respect for when we celebrate holidays. So Christmas is the best possible news, any day of the year.