In the short story, later turned into a film, The Life of Walter Mitty, the main character has an overactive imagination. Living a commonplace life, he fantasizes about entering wildly adventurous storylines: as a wartime pilot, an emergency-room surgeon, and many others.
Underlying that story is Mitty’s hopeful desire to experience “real life” in the midst of what seems like his less than interesting existence. Mitty wants to live a life story that is meaningful. He wants to see his hopes come alive in the end.
Most of us are like that. We live, most of the time, very commonplace lives. Joy does break in and peaceful interludes arise, but life is, oftentimes just … life.
The world we live in is a mash-up of all of our diverse lives we live. There are great joys, like Eliud Kipchoge, the first ever runner to break the two-hour mark for completing a marathon. That accomplishment was the culmination of his lifelong pursuit of endurance and victory. There is the joy and peace that follows: his wife, Grace, and children, who have never seen him run live leap onto the course after the race and embrace him in his accomplishment. When we see someone else realize their hopes, it boosts our spirits as well. Moments like this help keep our hopes alive.
But there are also some that are quite the opposite. There are events that steal our hope. Disasters and difficulties, like the Rohingya refugee crisis where over 800,000 refugees have fled their homeland with no hopes of returning home. 55% of these refugees are children. We see their hopes stolen away, and we fear that our own hopes, too, might vanish like mist in the morning.
These flashes of joy and peace mixed with echoes of suffering, impact our own everyday lives. More than ever before we are bombarded by messages and news, images and views, that drop into our lives, sometimes soothing, sometimes breaking our hearts where hope is held.
We hope to live a meaningful life but in the midst of all rubble of our world, we wonder if hope can really grow at all. We know this: hope is delicate. It can arise or be crushed, it seems, in an instant.
Jesus the Revelation of God
Today, we celebrate the story of Christmas. It is a story of hope that is rooted in the everyday world we live in. The story of Christmas collides in a combination of divine hope and world weariness.
Joseph takes Mary as his wife. The Child within her was a promise from God, but to the watching world, it looked more like an illegitimate pregnancy explained in blasphemous terms.
Angel messengers appear to both Joseph and Mary, reassuring them as they travel to Joseph’s ancestral hometown in response to the demands of the occupying Roman forces.
In Bethlehem, hospitality should have been available but was not. With no guestroom to stay in, they likely lodge in the home of a relative or friend who had mercy upon them in spite of their difficult situation. They end up sleeping near the stalls of the animals, often kept indoors at this time for warmth and safety.
Mary and Joseph were not the clean, idyllic figures we often see in Christmas cards. They were commonplace people like us, hoping to live a meaningful life in the gritty, messy reality of our everyday world, where joy meets disappointment, and peace collides with fear.
In the midst of it all, the promised Child is born. As instructed by the angels, they name the baby “Jesus,” which has this hopeful meaning: God will save his people.
Later in the Bible, we encounter these descriptive words about Jesus:
(Read Heb. 1:1-3)
The message of Jesus’ birth—the meaning of Christmas—is that God is showing himself to us.
In a world that lives by hope and dies when hope dies, God is coming close to bring hope and show us what he is like. So let me focus in today on three truths Jesus shows us about God.
Jesus Shows Us that God Exists
The question of God’s existence is a central question of human experience. According to one survey, about 63% of Americans believe in God with absolute certainty. Some of the rest think there is a God but aren’t certain. And about nine percet of Americans don’t believe in God at all.
This question of whether God exists nags at our lives as human beings. As one religious text says, God “has planted eternity in the human heart” (Eccl. 3:1, NLT), meaning there is something inside us longing to touch the eternal, the divine.
The celebration of Christmas is built on the belief that there is a God who exists. Without that belief, all the wondrous joy and the hushed peace crumbles like a building with no foundation into the earth. But Jesus comes as a testimony, saying by his birth that there is a God who exists.
According to one early Christian, Paul of Tarsus, Jesus “is the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). I think we would all agree that those are strong words. Those words tell us that there is a God who exists and Jesus displays what he is like. And the picture we receive through Jesus of this God who exists is a God who breathes hope back into our spirits in the midst of the mash-up of our weary world.
That leads us right into the second thing Jesus helps us see about God.
Jesus Shows Us that God Cares About the World
When I served as a chaplain in a hospital for a brief time, a fellow chaplain once shared a phrase with me that was so basic it was easy to dismiss, but was so true it was hard to ignore:
No one cares how much you know
until they know how much you care.
It’s hard to ignore this because we’ve all experienced people in our lives who exist, but don’t really care for us. Sometimes it’s a friend who’s a friend more in name than in action. Or a parent who doesn’t love us in the way we need, or maybe, want. Or a spouse who falters in their commitment. They may have all sorts of knowledge and all sorts of words, but what we really want to know is: Do they care about us and will they show it?
Jesus’ birth tells us something about this. More than merely telling us that God exists, Jesus’ birth tells us that God loves the world more than we understand. Even though the world is weary with wrong, God has not turned his back on us.
Instead, God has entered the world in the form of a man, Jesus of Nazareth, to rescue the world. Why would God do something like this? Because no one cares how much you know, or who you are, until they know how much you care.
Deep in every person’s heart eternity is planted like a pulsating seed, leaving a longing for God that we often cannot articulate or describe. Jesus shows us something shocking: God has that same longing deep within his very self for us and that is what the coming of Jesus is all about.
God cares about us so deeply that he will come into our world himself in answer to all our longings and needs.
One of Jesus’ closest followers, John, wrote a letter to a young church about this very thing. In it, he wrote these words:
(Read 1 John 4:9)
Yes, Jesus shows us that God exists. But even more, Jesus shows us that God cares about us and the world he has made.
Jesus Shows Us that God Is Here
When an amazing athlete arrives at a game we know they have arrived. They sign autographs or give away their shoes. But there is something else that happens when that athlete gets on the court or field and offers an amazing athletic performance. We say they “showed up.” They outclassed and overwhelmed everyone else by making their best performance.
One of the nicknames for Jesus, picked up from another part of the Bible, is Emmanuel, which means “God with us.” Jesus shows us that God is here. But that does not mean merely that God has arrived, like you could take attendance and God would say “present.”
It means that God shows up. Yes, he is a God who exists and a God who cares, but he shows up in the midst of our weary world with what we really need.
When the game is on the line, you need someone to show up and bring victory from defeat. When the orchestra is playing their hardest piece, you need someone to show up, bringing the various parts together, from chaos into resonant beauty.
In a world that’s a mashup of joy, peace, brokenness, and pain, we need someone to really show up. Jesus shows us that God does show up. He is here as a God of truth and grace, as a God of joy and peace, as a God of hope in our weary world.
In the midst of our longing to live a meaningful life, of searching for our hopes to be realized, the real question of Christmas is not whether God exists, cares, or will show up. The real question is whether we will show up with God. Will we reach out to him in the midst of our lives, or will we fall asleep after the celebrations, letting the eternity burning in our hearts fizzle out after we take the tree and the lights down. Will we meet God in the manger, in Jesus, who shows us that God exists, cares, and is here?
Jesus is the perfect picture of what God is like. He is the thrill of hope that brings joy to a weary world, and to people like you and me. He is the One who opens to us a life worth living, a life of hopes realized in God. And because of this, today, we worship him … the One who shows us God because he himself is God.