My wife and I traveled to Philadelphia, where we joined family members from a wide range of ages for Thanksgiving. It was truly a blessing. Sadly, the local paper carried a headline over the same weekend that Philadelphia passed the mark of 500 homicides, setting some kind of crazy record.
Somewhere in the midst of our Thanksgiving, a mother or a father, a grandmother or grandfather, an aunt or uncle was grieving, broken in heart and soul. Although our family experienced a blessing, there is someone who suffered loss and faced trauma, someone whose life will never be the same again.
As we drove home, stuffed after a wonderful Thanksgiving meal, I could not help but think of the emptiness experienced by that person whose loved one was now another statistic in Philadelphia. The same holds true where we live in Louisville. Even here, statistics tell a tragic story. Though law enforcement, rehabilitation centers, and even churches work nonstop to curb violence, the killing continues. We have come to the point where we need a miracle. A savior.
While violence assaults us from all sides, Christians around the world are celebrating the birth of the Christ child. The ancient prophet Isaiah foretold the event and called this child the “Prince of Peace.” In his letters, Paul reflects on the “peace of God that passes all understanding” (Phil. 4:6). Peace passes understanding because it is a matter of faith. Faith then informs understanding and produces the fruit of peace, a gift of the Spirit.
This does not constitute a quick fix or strategy that can be implemented overnight to end violence or remove all evil and suffering from the planet. A brutal world laughs at such a simplistic, naïve approach, A culture of death and darkness has little value for life. It simply turns off the light. Such a culture no longer tolerates a witness of faith, leaving no room for good. No room for values or morals. “Times have changed,” we are told. Yet, the prophet’s words speak: “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil” (Isaiah 5:20)
The Christmas story tells us Joseph and Mary could find no room at the inn. Yet the Prince of Peace was born where there was no room. For many, this means miracles are still possible. A savior has been born unto us from the lowliest of circumstances. The revelation of Jesus, the incarnation of God, now brings us into the realm of the divine, a sacred manifestation that not only connects to our world but enters our lives and relates to the bones of our very existence. Yes, God is on this side of heaven.
C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, “Aim at Heaven and you will get earth thrown in: aim at earth and you will get neither.”
So now, to the shootings, homicides and tragedies that occur with numbing regularity, we add COVID-19 and the Delta and more recent Omicron variants. Then Mother Nature strikes out of nowhere with indiscriminate force and breaks us. Like the horsemen of the apocalypse, they rob and cheat us out of life. As a result, many give up hope. Others become anxious. Work is disrupted. Relationships are strained. Of course, with social distancing and gun violence, and now tornadoes wreaking their destruction, it is tempting to retreat into silence.
And the idea of peace seems far removed, perhaps because we are aiming only at earth. Christmas is a time for worship, and worship has to do with worth. When we worship, life becomes worthwhile. Worship creates meaning and purpose and value in our life with God. The relationship with God is at the core of our being. In fact, this relationship with God brings us into being and lays the foundation for faith, morals, values, and love.
So, go ahead this Christmas and sing, “Joy to the world! The Lord is come: let earth receive her King; let every heart prepare him room, and let heaven and nature sing.”
There is joy in heaven. As people who live in and trust God, this marvelous gift of joy is present here on earth just as its in heaven, an answer to the Lord’s Prayer. Christmas does not deny the harsh, brutal, destructive side of life. Rather, Christmas makes room for God who loves this world, in spite of its brokenness. The miracle of Christ’s birth reveals that with God all things are possible. The Savior reminds us not to fear.
Christmas is a God-given time to take aim at heaven and get earth thrown in.
This blog as appeared in The Courier-Journal’s Opinion section on Wednesday, December 22, 2021.