Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Tonight, the redhead and I attended a neighborhood Christmas Eve potluck in her hometown of Houston. It's an event she hasn't missed for the last fifteen years.

Halfway through the potluck, we took a moment to pause and remember what it's all about. We were asked to read the following commentary originally given in 1971 by Harry Reasoner on "60 Minutes." May it remind you of the wonder and astonishment of what happened that first Christmas in Bethlehem.

"The basis for this tremendous burst of buying things and gift giving and parties and near hysteria, is a quiet event that Christians believe actually happened a long time ago. You can say that in all societies there has always been a midwinter festival, and that many of the trappings of our Christmas are almost violently pagan, but you come back to the central fact of the day, ...the birth of God on earth.It leaves you only three ways of accepting Christmas. One is cynically, as a time to make money or endorse the making of it. One is graciously, the appropriate attitude for non-Christians, who wish their fellow citizens all the joys their beliefs entitle them. And the third, of course, is reverently.

If this is the anniversary of the appearance of the Lord of the universe in the form of a helpless babe -- it is a very important day. It's a startling idea, of course, the whole story that a virgin was selected by God to bear His Son as a way of showing His love and concern for man. It's my guess that, in spite of all the lip service given to it, it is not an idea that has been popular with theologians.

It's a somewhat illogical idea, and theologians like logic almost as much as they like God. It's so revolutionary an idea that it probably could only have come from a God that is beyond logic, and beyond theology. It has a magnificent appeal. Almost nobody has seen God, and almost nobody has any real idea of what He is like, and the truth is that among men the idea of seeing God suddenly, and standing in a very bright light, is not necessarily a completely comforting and appealing idea. But everyone has seen babies, and most people like them. If God wanted to be loved as well as feared, He moved correctly here, for a baby growing up and learns all about people. If God wanted to be intimately a part of Man he moved correctly, for the experience of birth and family-hood is our most intimate and precious experience.

So it comes beyond logic. It is either a falsehood or it is the truest thing in the world. It's the story of the great innocence of God the baby. God in the person of man has such a dramatic shock toward the heart, that it, if it is not true, for Christians, nothing is true. So even if you have not got your shopping all done and are swamped with the commercialism and the frenzy, be at peace...The story stands.So, if a Christian is touched only once a year, the touching is still worth it, and maybe on some given Christmas, some final quiet morning, the touch will take."

Here’s praying that the touch will take in all our lives…and that the amazement will remain all year long. Nothing could make for a better Christmas.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Believe and See

The redhead and I were home Friday night, playing an intense game of Scrabble (I know, I know…we sound like an old married couple…but she was sick…and…never mind…). We had the TV on and between turns, we watched “The Polar Express.” I hadn’t seen this film in a few years and forgot about how much longing it stirs up in me (I’ll save that for another blog post). The film is about a boy who’s grown skeptical of the whole Santa Claus thing until one Christmas Eve when a train shows up in his front yard. The conductor invites him to take a ride on the Polar Express to travel to the North Pole to meet Santa himself.

I was intrigued by how the movie addresses the whole topic of skepticism. For the boy, seeing is believing. Until he sees Santa, he won’t believe.

Near the end of the film, the skeptical boy is at the North Pole, he’s surrounded by thousands of elves, stands within eye shot of the flying reindeer and is standing with a group of ecstatic children, all jumping up and down with excitement over the appearance of Santa. All of them can see him, except, that is, for the boy who won’t believe until he sees. The crowd is blocking Santa and he can't get a good, convincing glimpse of him.

Suddenly, he has a change of heart. He shuts his eyes tightly and vows that he believes in Santa. Upon opening his eyes, he finds himself standing before St. Nicolas himself. Believing leads to seeing.

The film reminded me a of a quote attributed to Blaise Pacal, a French philosopher and scientist who converted to Christianity and penned the Penses (sayings)…a collection of sayings that scholars believe to be the basis of a book he was writing. (Pascal died before the book's completion. but the sayings have been in print for a few hundred years). In the Penses, he states that “God has given us enough evidence of himself so that faith in him is a most reasonable thing…but you won’t get there by reason alone.”

The boy has a lot evidence for the existence of Santa: he’s at the North Pole and he's surrounded by elves and flying reindeer. There’s enough evidence to conclude that belief in Santa is reasonable, but he doesn’t get there by reason alone, he chooses to believe, and then he sees the Jolly Elf.

It seems like God puts us in a similar situation as the boy in this movie. It's not unreasonable to believe in him. There’s enough evidence. But we have to choose to believe before we see. Why? Why doesn’t he make himself more obvious?

I think God hides himself a bit because he wants more from us than the mere acknowledgment of his existence. He wants to be known. I know that in my own life, I personally could care less how many people on this planet are aware of my existence. I do desire, however, to be known and loved. Jesus said the greatest thing we could do was to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength (loving our neighbor comes next). God wants our love, and that has to be freely given. He gives us the space to reach out to him or reject him. He doesn't leave us without evidence of his existence. He leaves just enough of a trail to follow if we want to find him. And if we hope on board the train, he provides us with more clues to his existence. But there's just enough of a lack of a trail if we want to reject him. His distance gives us the space and freedom to to either love him or reject him. The choice is ours…believing is seeing.