Most of us walk away from the manger and the Christ child and walk right back into a world of dashed hopes and despair.
This is my comfort in sorrow: that your promise gives me life. —Psalm 119:50
I do believe! Help my unbelief. —Mark 9:24
For the last month or three the world has been shouting about Christmas, culminating in binge-opening presents this morning. After Christmas dinner this evening, nativities will be packed away, lights taken down, and trees left by the curb, just as Christmas is beginning.
Much as I’d like the whole world—or at least radio stations—to celebrate Christmas for its full 16 days (or 40, depending on how you’re counting) there’s something so right in a big bang of a celebration followed by quiet worship.
The night Jesus was born, the angels sang glory to God and shepherds came to worship. There was great rejoicing in Bethlehem that night, but then things seem to have settled down. The Holy Family began an ordinary life, presumably somewhere more permanent than the stable, and until the Magi came calling there was nobody but Mary and Joseph worshiping the infant God. The world kept moving while they reveled in the promise that was being fulfilled.
Because for all that Christmas seems like a completion, it’s really just a manifestation of a promise that is being fulfilled. This God-made-newborn is the desired of all nations and the joy of every human heart, but the salvation he offers won’t come to fruition until his Passion, Death, and Resurrection.
But the psalmist doesn’t say it’s the salvation that gives life; no, it’s the promise that gives life. It’s the plan still unfolding, the heart still mending, the emptiness still aching that somehow transform us. That’s a hard thing to understand, that even on the journey we rejoice in being home, but at Christmas I think it makes a little more sense.
At Christmas, we look at the little child who will be our salvation and trust that it’s coming. We revel in his sweet weakness and recover the awe our world-weary souls have lost over the past year. Though often the lonely are lonelier and the harried stretched thinner, those who kneel at the manger feel a lightness impossible outside that dark stable.
The trouble is that we move on too soon. Even if we celebrate Christmas all the way to Candlemas, most of us walk away from the manger and the Christ child with his clear eyes and tiny fingers and ordinary little body that is a promise of freedom. We walk right back into a world of dashed hopes and despair.
What if instead we made this resolution: in 2017, I will live Christmas. I will stay at the manger. When those I love hurt me, I will trust in him. When the things of this world are too much to bear, I will gaze at his newborn loveliness. When I see no hope for tomorrow, I will remember the promise of Christmas and trust in the Easter to come. Even if 2017 is just 2016 regurgitated, I will let that promise give me life.
It’s so much easier to believe at Christmas. Even the movies are filled with the magic that comes if only you believe. But we who are willing to worship God in a feed trough in December often refuse to believe that he’s working in our February lives. This year, let’s hold on to the belief we have in Christmas and ask him to transform our unbelieving hearts.
Lord, I believe that angels sang your praises; help my unbelief in answered prayers. Lord, I believe that the shepherds worshiped you; help my unbelief in your power to change hearts. Lord, I believe that in ugly circumstances the Father provided for you; help my unbelief in your Providence at work in my life. Lord, I believe that you were born for me; help my unbelief in your love for me.
Today, we loudly proclaim the birth of a Messiah. For the rest of Christmas, we’ll quietly trust in the promise of deliverance that his birth heralded. For the rest of our lives, may we be changed because of that promise. Lord, help our unbelief.