If we got to write the Christmas story, I believe we would flip the story upside down. Instead of God coming to us, we would go to God. Walking through a divine portal brought into existence through some form of trauma we would arrive in heaven to sing songs and to hand Jesus some presents. Books such as Heaven is For Real, 90 Minutes in Heaven, and My Journey to Heaven are just some of the many stories the describe humanity reaching up to God. Yay us!
We think God and heaven are within our reach because our fallen hearts are quick to deny their fallenness. Most every fictional Christmas story from The Christmas Carol to The Grinch That Stole Christmas believes humanity can save itself. If we give Ghosts, Christmas songs, magical snow, and goodwill a chance, we can be confident that our hearts will grow the three sizes needed to crave the roast beast at Christmas.
But despite all our hopes, we haven’t been able to grow our hearts even one size…much less the fix world at large. We are still singing Stevie Wonder’s song wondering when if ever, “we’ll see a land With no hungry children, no empty hand.” Despite the promises of Christmas fiction which resonate with our belief that heaven is within our grasp, we never achieve the “Peace on Earth,” promised in all those Christmas stories Boys are still playing with bombs, kids in Africa are still hungry, and our families are still dealing with depression.
Should we give up on the whole Christmas Spirit thing, then?
No! Christmas Spirit exists because God got the story right. God knows we cannot reach heaven. He knows we are frail sinners living in a broken an distraught world. He knows we need help. We have all lied, cheated, stolen, gotten angry, or spread some office gossip at some point. And he who commits one sin deserves death. “The wages of sin is death (Rom. 3:23).” Because we are sinners infused with death and devoid holiness we cannot sneak into heaven. The magic portal is closed. We cannot live with our holy, loving and perfect God. We are fallen and he is not. If he allowed sinners into heaven, he would cease to be good, loving, and just. For evil has no place with goodness. Drug dealers don’t belong in baby nurseries and sinners don’t belong in heaven. We need help!
And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. – Luke 2:9-11.
That is the beauty of the Christmas story. Christ came down to live with us. And he came down to poor parent and slept in a dirty manager in a stinky barn. As Paul David Tripp rightly notes: “Most of us would be in a complete panic if we had to birth a baby in such conditions.” Yet, God chose a manager because he came to suffer for us. His whole life and death was offering to good to pay for our mistakes and errors. He came to live the lives that we are supposed to live. He suffered all the disappointments that we suffer. But he always responded with faith and love; we often respond with disbelief and anger
British novelist Dorothy Sayer captured the true meaning of Christmas when she wrote:
He himself has gone through the whole human experience – from trivial irritations of family life and the cramping restrictions of hard work and a lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, death…He was born in poverty and…suffered infinite pain – all for us – and thought it worth his while.
Jesus died on the cross because he loved his children. He did not die for his sins. He died to pay for the sins of his of those who repent and believe. He died so that he could bring many sons to glory!
The Christmas story is worth celebrating precisely because we did not write it: we did not go up; Christ came down! Don’t you agree?