And the light shined in the darkness,
and the darkness did not overcome it.
Like St. Jude, I’m a sucker for lost causes. I’ve been one myself, and I’ve known plenty of others.
Some of us sprang from circumstances we had no control over; many of us created our own mess. Either way, our lives looked shabby, the future looked bleak, then God looked down.
In fact, “but God” is one of my favorite phrases in the Bible, a bold reminder that we worship the Great Interrupter, the One who sees a childless elderly couple and morphs them into parents of many nations; who yanks an overlooked shepherd boy out of obscurity and elevates him to become Israel’s greatest king; who turns a morally discredited Samaritan woman into an evangelist, then knocks a Pharisee off his horse to convert him into a humble Apostle of the Church he used to persecute.
The great I Am is also the great I Am Not Finished, and real joy erupts in me when I remember that. Lost causes are projects in His workshop, favored toys in His playground.
That’s what stands out to me this Christmas – how the God of lost causes prevails in desperate situations.
Away in a Manger Isn’t Such a Sweet Thing
When my wife was in labor, the trip from our house to the hospital was just fifteen minutes, and they were the longest of my life. Every bump on the road made her cry out; every stoplight seemed to last hours. And that was in a comfortable car, in route to a reserved room in a pristine,
Mary’s trip to Bethlehem, forced by a census and made atop an animal, cannot have been anything but hard, and then some. Then upon arrival, no room; then a manger. Then labor, under those conditions. Unimaginable.
Had she lost her baby, I’ll bet no one would have been surprised other than Mary and Joseph, knowing the plan as they did. But that’s the point: they did know, and the light did come, and the darkness overcame it not.
The same Holy Spirit who came upon Mary lives in me (I Corinthians 6:19), given as an empowering advocate (John 14:16) who’ll one day quicken this mortal body (Romans 8:11) as He did His. Likewise, the same light who came into the world that day is Christ in me, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27)
So that’s where my focus needs to rest and dwell this season, and this can’t be stressed too highly. The Light of the World is a Person, not just some force, who lives in us today. Just as surely as the darkness did not prevail against the light that first Christmas, so the light in you and me cannot be overcome by the same forces that lost when they challenged that same light 2000 years ago.
Let Nothing You Dismay
In that sense, very little has changed. The World, man’s Flesh and the Devil hated Him before He was even delivered, conspiring to prevent His safe arrival, and plotting to kill Him shortly thereafter.
But nothing could prevent God’s sovereign purposes, not then, not now. That same unholy trinity – world, flesh, and devil – still hate Him as much as ever, doing all they can to snuff out His work in us, and in that sense the Bethlehem story continues.
It continues as I get tired, very aware of my weaknesses and limitations, confused about the future, and discouraged by countless disappointments. Then I pick up the newspaper and get punched in my already sullen gut, and the despair kicks in. Because the ability of Light to prevail in this mounting darkness seems as remote today as the ability of a young mother-to-be safely delivering her baby safely under such harsh,
But she prevailed, and so will I, and so will you. Christmas, then, is about
It’s about the Light of the World gently but defiantly saying an everlasting “No” to forces of death who thought they had a lock on the world God so loved. And it’s about the millions who follow Him today who He Himself commissioned to likewise be the light of the world (Matthew 5:14) and about our ongoing charge to say “No” to despair as surely as He did.
Joyful and Triumphant
So I hope our Christmas celebrations will be about passion, not just sentiment; about gritty prevailing alongside sweet caroling. Because the Nativity is a scene of contrasts: a babe who will be king, defeating the prince who would be king.
And it’s about His followers, who can sing with lusty abandon that the gates of hell didn’t prevail, don’t prevail, won’t prevail. Not in our church; and not in our lives. Darkness lost, as one of my favorite carols so beautifully reminds me:
‘Twas a humble birthplace but O how much God gave to us that day!
From the manger bed what a path has led, what a perfect holy way.
Alleluia, O how the angels sang! Alleluia, how it rang!
And the sky was bright with a holy light
‘Twas the birthday of a King.
The Light came into the world, and the darkness overcame it not, and that same Light invited us to be in Him, and He in us. So Merry Christmas to all my joyful and triumphant friends.