Not miles or years.
The manger in Bethlehem seems so far away from us moderns. And, I'm not talking miles or years. Sure, it's 6,291 miles, the distance from Charleston, South Carolina, to Bethlehem, Israel. At first glance it seems so far. But, really!!! To mobile Americans 6,291 miles isn't that significant, perhaps an eight to ten hour flight depending on a predictable list of variables. Get real. Sophisticates who'll drive four hours to eat dinner won't pause a second over a 6,291 mile dream. The creche doesn't seem far away because of the miles. No, this distance is more than a call the to travel agent.
It's not time either, the 2,000+ years separation from one millennium to the next. Yes, of course, years matter. Take note of the person in the mirror this morning and see the scroll work of time on that face. While you're at it imagine the descendants of David vying for WiFi time to register their family via an on-line, government engineered census system. In my mind I can visualize impatient Americans standing in the fast-food falafel cue or waiting for their oxcart to gain passage on a crowded alley. There's no doubting the distance 2,000+ years have made in the ebb and flow of everyday life. But, humans are humans. Our toys and goodies are light-years beyond anything those simple people could have dreamed. The essentials, however, are fixed in human nature. it's not merely years that make the manger in Bethlehem so distant. There's more.
The real distance between us and a manger in Bethlehem is more subtle. In my mind we're "away from the manger", to spin the old traditional Christmas song to favor my bias, because of one enormous spiritual reality---American believers no longer marvel at the wonder of it all.
This isn't to say we're no longer capable of being captured by a sense of amazement. Shoot! Remember the star struck faces of the media and political wonks on late election night last year. Or, the vivid descriptives movie goers use to portray the special effects wizardry of the latest Star Wars flick. Sit down with your ten year old grandchild for a short tutorial with MineCraft or other tablet magic. No, without doubt we can still be awed by spectacular sights and sounds. Oooh. Did you notice Clark Griswold's Christmas lights?
But, the manger is old hat to most of us. Except for displays on private property nativity scenes are pretty much absent from the contemporary Christmas landscape. Us urban and suburban and exurban folk are more awed by a garage band or basement start-up than by stinking animals and worn hay. For most of us a first century stable has little wow factor. Unless perhaps the animals there are on the endangered species list or harassment charges have been leveled against the Spirit. So, there's a small glass nativity scene ornament on the tree, maybe one on a shelf around the house, perhaps a picture of the Magi. But typically, the only seasonal wonder are the children waiting to see Santa or the question marks about what is in that elaborately wrapped package.
Luke's orderly account of Christ's birth includes this sentence---"And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them" (Luke 2:18, ESV). Those people hadn't seen the manger, the angelic hosts, the Christ child, or The Little Drummer Boy. Still, wonderment characterized their hearing this miraculous news. Maybe there was a sense of spiritual expectancy in them, a hopeful readiness to hear about angels or to believe that peace on earth was even possible. Perhaps they were so beaten by the times that they were more open to the Good News. No matter. They wondered.
It's a central theme in Scripture, the expectancy of a genuine biblical worldview. You know, the many inspired verses about being watchful and alert, ready for the one who will come like a thief in the night. It seems to me that real disciple making involves teaching that grows and builds this kind of expectancy. It's a troubling trend in the evangelical community these days, our bent toward creating doubt about the matters of biblical faith rather than confidence. Let me rant.
Right now the debate about evangelicalism isn't in the media or among the
political parties, but among those traditionally identified as evangelicals. While
the world is going to you know where in a hand-basket we're obsessed with
shooting at each other. Give me a break! The other day I read a post on The
Gospel Coalition site identifying five misconceptions about Christmas. Good
grief! I'm trying to convince my grandchildren and classes of college students the
reliability and authority of Scripture while these guys are teaching them to
question the faith of their uneducated but believing parents and grandparents.
While we're at it maybe we should go ahead and question whether or not Jonah
actually got swallowed by a fish or suggest that Goliath wasn't really a giant.
Sure, we'll pat the brilliant scholars who devised those five misconceptions on
the back for their skilled translations, maybe agree with them. But, their timing
and venue was childish and egocentric. Building doubt certainly doesn't instill
Today we're away from a manger because emphasizing the wonder and amazement of God becoming man in a lowly stable isn't such a big deal anymore. It's not miles or even the 2000 years that separate our sophisticated culture from the simplicity of the nativity. It's that genuine disciple making has taken a turn. Now, let us teach you how to question everything that seems irrational or too heavenly so everyone can greet the manger of Jesus with a yawn or a question mark.
Want some wonder and amazement about what happened on that day? Read Matthew 1:18-2:12, and Luke 2. Then read John 1. Next read Colossians 1:15-23. Pay attention to Colossians 1:21-23. It's time to "continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard...".
Wow. Amazing. Marry Christmas!
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