The wish of the easy life
Perhaps it's the lights, colors, and ribbons, but Christmas expresses our desire for an easy life. The ideal is elaborately wrapped gifts, smiling faces, cheerful words, nice people, warm gatherings, and layers of peace, joy, love, generosity, and human kindness covering it all. If there is a time of near-perfection on the calendar, it may be at the close of the year when we're all on best behavior. You know, Santa Clause is coming to town, and he knows what we're thinking and doing.
Of course, life in hard and has been since the Garden of Eden. God promised Eve labor for listening to the serpent, and Adam was promised the sweat of his face as a result of listening to Eve. The text of Genesis 3 makes us understand the pain of childbirth and the work necessary for producing the necessities of life. But, at least for me, those verses extend to every aspect of life. Labor and sweat are the deal for humans. The easy life is a pipe dream.
A couple of years ago we were all applauding Oklahoma Wesleyan University President Dr. Everett Piper's written comment, "This is not a day care. It's a University". He was responding to an incident on campus when a male student whined about being victimized by a chapel sermon from 1 Corinthians 13, the love chapter. The young man evidently felt bad because he didn't show enough love to others. So, the chapel message used hurtful speech that made the student body feel uncomfortable. Dr. Piper was explaining that a university education was supposed to make students uncomfortable, challenging them to examine their values and beliefs and experience personal growth as a result. The cheering section for Dr. Piper was loud around the nation. He had struck a nerve in a world pining for an easy chair.
Among many other things, Christmas is the declaration that life isn't easy. Since the birth of Jesus happened at just the right time in God's calibration of redemptive history, it was the final announcement that life would demand more than could be achieved by fallen humans. Certainly we understand and affirm in faith his coming to earth to accomplish the redemption of mankind. But, Jesus explained his coming in terms that give substance, meaning, and fullness to life, if not ease. He said, "I came that they may have life and have it abundantly" (John 10:10). As a result, our confession includes salvation of our souls, but also "...all things that pertain to life and godliness..." (2 Peter 1:3), you know, the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), as well as endurance, steadfastness, discernment, understanding, spiritual strength, character, encouragement, and more. Knowing that life would be hard, God in Christ brought us spiritual armor so we could live it His way. Jesus told his disciples, "In this world you will have tribulation. But take heart, I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).
Christmas is the fulfillment of the prophecy that promised God's presence for those He chose to live this hard life. The angel of the Lord had spoken to Joseph about the birth of God's Son. He said, "Behold the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel", which means, God with us (Matthew 1:23). It was a
verbatim of Isaiah 7:14. Again, it was God's provision for His people living life His way. Jesus completed the thought when he said, "I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5). Jesus makes real life possible.
Suddenly we're the world expecting the rocking chair alongside the Christmas tree, tinsel and mistletoe, shiny paper and delicate ribbons, dreams of the easy life. Much of the new orthodoxy today involves the squeaky clean life of lab coats and sanitary conditions, the life of ease that yields the mission of ease. Yet, the Incarnation is God in human flesh. He did it the hard way.
But, there's a word that adds spiritual depth and rich meaning to this hard life. It's the word "blessed". In this hard life, those who are his are blessed, even as it is hard. Jesus spoke the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12) to his followers and spoke blessing into their lives. He wanted them to know and experience blessing even when it was not easy.
Christmas reminds us that life is hard, but that we are blessed. Eternally. Glory hallelujah.