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What a difference Christmas makes

By Thomas Lindberg

Earlier this year, a couple my wife and I know well had a healthy baby boy.

“A new baby sure changes your life,” the dad told me one day over lunch. He went on to say, “We used to sleep through the night; not anymore. We used to enjoy relaxed meals at restaurants, but all that has changed. And going out the door to run an errand used to be a piece of cake. Wow, does a baby change your life!”

Being a father of three, I know exactly what he means. He’s not complaining. He loves his new boy immensely, is a great father, and wouldn’t trade his son for the world. He’s just stating an irrefutable fact — a baby will change your life.

The very heart of Christmas is the news that a Baby has been born, and that Baby has changed the world forever. As one philosopher put it, “Christmas is the day when time and eternity intersected, and our world will never be the same again.”

The memories of Christmas

Just like you, I have clear childhood memories of Christmas. I grew up in an area of our country that normally had a soft, white blanket of snow covering the ground each Christmas, so the celebration of that Child’s birth left indelible footprints in my mind. For me, Christmas Eve was always spent at my Grandma Lindberg’s house. About 25 of us (uncles, aunts and cousins) would gather for a traditional Swedish meal. We laughed, ate heartily and savored the night.

After the dishes were washed, each person received one small gift to open. Then came time for the Christmas Eve candlelight service at the church. We sang carols, listened to our pastor as he recounted the Christmas events, and praised God for sending His Son. With the service over, it was time to head home and tear open the full cadre of gifts. For a boy, there was no night like it.

The mystery of Christmas

Who can explain Christmas? One Christmas card pictures a montage of kings, leaders and dictators who have walked across the stage of history: Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Napoleon, Hitler, Lenin. The caption on the front of the card reads, “History is crowded with men who would be gods.” Inside, under a picture of Jesus, are these words: “But only one God who would be man.” That says it all — the marvelous mystery of Christmas.

The meaning of Christmas

How could an event 2,000 years ago still cause traffic jams and stir the hearts of people today? What can Christmas mean to men, women and students living in 2008? Let me describe three amazing components of Christmas’ meaning.

Christmas means our past can be forgiven. Have you ever been halfway through a project and wished you could start over because you saw some mistakes? Many people feel that way about life. “I wish I hadn’t done that or said that. I wish I could start over.” Jesus Christ’s birth at Christmas promises that people can begin again.

A person once asked me, “Isn’t there a verse in the Bible that says our lives can change?” I responded, “There’s far more than one, but let me paraphrase my favorite: ‘If any person believes in Christ, he becomes a new person. They are not the same anymore, for the old life is gone and a new life has begun’ (2 Corinthians 5:17).”

I call that God’s fresh start program. Jesus didn’t come to Earth at Christmas to condemn people; He came to forgive. No wonder the angels on Christmas Eve told the shepherds His name was “Savior.” It’s good to know that our mistakes, foibles and sins can be wiped out in a moment by God’s amazing grace.

Christmas means present problems can be controlled. Often, life is bigger than we are and hard to manage. Problems can come out of nowhere. A friend of mine told me of a recent trip to the grocery store for a few items. Upon returning to his car, the back fender was all smashed in — and no one stayed around to admit responsibility. Life can be like that. The day seems to be routine, but before it’s over, your mind, heart, will or psyche has a dent in it.

I have the privilege of talking to hundreds of people every month. Do you know the most common questions I hear?

• My life is out of control. How can I change?

• I’m facing so many pressures. How can I handle them?

• I feel powerless to save a relationship. Can anyone help me?

Christmas makes a huge difference in each of these challenges. The Bible says the Baby’s name is Immanuel, which means “God is with us.”

Picture a funnel with the small barrel pointing down and the wide mouth pointing up. That’s Christmas! God poured His infinite Son into the funnel and Jesus walked on planet Earth in order to help people. God never designed our lives so we would live by our own strength. The Lord said, “Come to me, let Me live in you, and I will give you My strength.” That’s the difference Christmas makes.

Christmas means our future can be secure. People look at the future and wonder, Will my IRA be there when I retire? Will Social Security be solvent? Will my health hold? We plan, think and worry about the future, but can it really be secure? Everyone faces death.

I recently read some words children wrote about death. Richard, 8, wrote, “When you die, they put you in a box and bury you because you don’t look good.” Michelle, 9, wrote, “If you have a good doctor, you get better. If you have a bad doctor, he sends you right to heaven.”

We chuckle at those words, for they are the thoughts of kids. But every thinking adult realizes death is real. How can the future be secure? That’s where Christmas provides an answer no one else or nothing else can match: Jesus was born to change our lives and secure our futures — for all eternity.

A popular Christmas carol sung each year wraps up everything I can say:

Good Christian men, rejoice; With heart and soul and voice;

Now ye need not fear the grave: Peace! Peace! Jesus Christ was born to save!

Calls you one and calls you all. To gain His everlasting hall.

Christ was born to save! Christ was born to save!

THOMAS LINDBERG is senior pastor of First Assembly of God of Memphis in Cordova, Tenn.

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