Let Christmas Happen to You
The General’s Christmas Message
By General Paul A. Rader –
So much happens in our troubled modern world over which we seem to have little control despite our highly touted scientific sophistication. Satellites circling high above the earth can predict with increasing accuracy the approach of devastating storms but can do little to avert them. Predictions of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are powerless to prevent their massive destruction. Tornadoes carve a path of devastation across the land, while storm chasers risk death to plumb their mysteries. Pandemics of Ebola and AIDS sweep through a vulnerable population, cutting down the young and virile like a huge scythe leveling the tall grass. The seeds of violent behavior that explode over our overcrowded inner cities may have been planted a generation ago. Those we love grow ill and die.
God can and does intervene in mercy far more than we know or acknowledge. But not always. More often than not, he chooses to permit matters-even human tragedy and natural disasters-to take their course in a universe of cause and effect. Sovereign wisdom restrains mercy in order to preserve for us our dignity as human persons made in the image of God. In such situations, he requires us to exercise those God-given qualities of mind and spirit that set us apart as his unique creation. For 400 years until the coming of Christ, the skies seemed strangely silent. But then “when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman..” (Galatians 4:4) It was epochal.
The astonishing announcement of what God intended to do came first to a young woman in an obscure village in Israel. She had grown up in the time of the silence of God. The yoke of Rome had become more and more galling. The religious establishment had long since settled into an acceptance of the harsh and humiliating realities of the political situation. But common folk stubbornly cherished this hope God would yet intervene. A deliverer would come. This hope fairly bursts from the hearts of Mary and Zechariah as they sing in simple eloquence of Israel’s deliverance in the rich imagery of the prophets (Luke 1:46-79.) We know full well in our own day how a people can be sustained in suffering and oppression by such a hope.
Without the slightest forewarning, God sent his messenger, the angel Gabriel, to the humble home of a devout Galilean girl to break the silence of the centuries. It was time. God would intervene in the human story. “You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.” (Luke 1:31,32)
“What about Joseph, my betrothed?” “What about my parents?” “What will they think?” “When will this happen?” “Why me?” The questions tumbled over one another in her mind as she listened to the angel. But faith pushed all queries aside. Hope triumphed over caution “Here I am, the Lord’s servant,” Mary responded. “Let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38, NRSV) The miracle happened. Christ was born. We will be reminded of the ageless story in myriad marvelous ways this Christmastide.
There is so much that happens that we are helpless to do anything about. We can only commit these things to a God who has proved convincingly his love, his wisdom, and his power. But there is something we can do. We can offer God the gift of ourselves, just as Mary did.
Gabriel will likely not make an appearance this Christmas. But in a thousand ways God will make his voice heard by you and me. Perhaps it will be through the reading of this publication. There is so much to be done in a world of desperate need. There are causes to espouse. There are hurts that need to be healed. The hungry need to be fed; the homeless need to be housed. Those who have lost hope need to hear a word of promise. Children need to know that someone cares about them and their uncertain futures. The lonely need a friend. The joy and radiance of Christmas needs to be reflected into the gloom of poverty and despair. “Whatever he says to you, do it!” That is advice Mary, the mother of Jesus, gave years later. It could be an invitation to an unforgettable Christmas adventure for you.
And what if he wants to make his saving life and power real in you this Christmas? Is it time for you to open your heart to the presence and reality of Jesus? You can invite him into your life by a simple act of faith. The response of the young Mary could be your prayer: “Here I am! Let it be with me as you have said.” Let Christmas happen in you. “To all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12.) It is so now. You can become a child of God by faith in Jesus. It is God’s gift. A gift as unmerited and unexpected as Gabriel’s announcement to a teenage girl in Galilee two millennia ago.
*All Bible quotes from the NIV unless stated otherwise.