One of the best loved of all Christmas carols is “O Little Town of Bethlehem”, written more than a hundred years ago. The first part of the song is primarily historical, celebrating those events that surrounded the birth of Jesus. But the last verse makes Christmas a very personal thing. It says: “O Holy Child of Bethlehem, descend on us we pray. Cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today.”
We have never understood Christmas until it goes beyond a historical fact and becomes a personal experience. It is true, of course, that all of us have benefited by that historical fact whom we call Jesus of Nazareth. Our world has been influenced by His life and teachings more than any of us probably realize. Almost every day our lives are touched by things that are an extension of His presence on the earth. It may be art, or music, or maybe just a figure of speech such as “Good Samaritan”, or “going the extra mile”. But to recognize all of this and even to be grateful for it, still leaves Him only a fact of history, a wonderful fact, a beautiful fact, but nonetheless only a historical fact. It has been the conviction of the saints and prophets of the ages that He can and should be more to us that that. How can Christ, in some measure, become a living reality, a personal experience for you and me in the holy season?
Christ does not belong to any one time, to any one place, or to any one people. He leaves Bethlehem behind, shakes the dust of Palestine from His sandals, and walks straight into the 21st century. He can be born again in us, as we open our hearts and minds to the eternal God, whom He has made known to the world.
In so doing, He let loose in the world a kind of life that none of us will ever be able to completely escape. We can ignore it; we can put it aside; we can walk around it, but always it will be there like a haunting melody that we try to forget but cannot.
What is the most powerful influence in your experience today? … People. What keeps you straight when you are tempted to go wrong? … Some people whom you know. What could most of all wreck your life? … To have certain people let you down. Our lives are most deeply influenced, not by abstract truths and virtues, but by people who make those truths and virtues visible.
We do not fall in love with unselfishness. We fall in love with unselfish people. We are not inspired by courage. We are inspired by the attitudes and needs which we observe in the lives of courageous people. Whatever genuine goodness there is within us, we have not learned from a list of rules or from a sturdy of ethics. If we have any such goodness, we have caught it from a few good people who have touched our lives with their own.
All of this is what Christmas really means. What we have in Christ is the incarnation, the flesh-and-blood reality of life at its best, the very life of God. Our deepest faith and our highest hopes have been given a body. Those things we believe in most have been lived in Him. And to know Him and love Him until His Spirit, in some measure, is reproduced in us, until the Christ who was born in Bethlehem is born again in us – that is vital Christianity. We need to allow the person of Jesus to personally touch us in every way possible. Please allow Him into your hearts this Advent.