The year was 1972. She was my friend’s girl-friend. She was really pretty. She had great legs. But when she came for Youth Fellowship her pretty legs showed evidence that she had been caned. Her dad was dead set against her becoming a follower of Jesus. Any request to go to Christian meetings would provoke a caning. He would often tear pages of her Bible and flush them down the toilet. Did I mention that she was 14 years old?
Christmas is a time when we celebrate the coming of the Prince of peace. Indeed the Lord Jesus came to bring us the gift of ultimate shalom. But He also drew a line in the sand. To be recipients of His gift of shalom you need to make a decision. Are you on the side of the Prince of peace or not? And because different people take their places on different sides of the line, there is conflict in the coming of peace. Here are Jesus’s own words:
“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn
“‘a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’
“Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10: 34-39 NIV).
Sounds somewhat harsh for the Christmas period, but maybe a better description of what happened. King Herod saw Christmas for the threat it was. Like despots everywhere he tried both trickery and butchery to erase the line in the sand. To get rid of Jesus (Matthew 2:1-23). This was not a Jesus reduced to an annual excuse for shopping and partying. This Jesus was dangerous and Christmas was a divine invasion; God calling to a rebellious world, “Lay down your arms.” Christmas as it is usually celebrated shows nothing of this battle for life and death.
But isn’t Jesus the Prince of peace? Didn’t the angels declare:
“Glory to God in the highest heaven
and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.” (Luke 2:14 NIV)
Yes, Jesus came to bring a comprehensive shalom to all. But He is indeed Prince, come to demand allegiance, and His favour rests on those who understand and embrace His true identity. His favour rests on those who take up their cross and follow Him.
So Christmas is first and foremost bad news. Christ came because we are a humanity in rebellion, needing deliverance. But it is also good news. Jesus did come to get rid of sin and death once and for all. He came to make things right again. And if we lay down our arms and surrender to His loving Lordship we receive all that He came to give. So Christmas is bad news and good news. It is also news for sharing. God has come to give us all that we need, now and forever, life abundant and eternal. But first He draws a line in the sand and asks: “Which side are you on?”
I think about that 14-year-old girl so many years ago who chose to cross the line, to be on Jesus’s side, and the price she paid. I lost touch with her after high school and didn’t connect with her till about 15 years later. She had married and had moved to another town. (No, she didn’t marry my friend.) We talked for a while and I asked her about her dad. She said that subsequently he too had become a follower of Jesus. Sometimes someone has to cross the line first, sometimes at great price, to help others cross the line too.
A blessed Christmas to all!