My parents never made much of Santa Claus, but Christmas was usually a warm season of carols and cookies, lights and family.
Then came my eighth Christmas and the warm goodwill faded fast with a quick trip to Southern California where my oldest brother had walked out on his family leaving two little boys without their dad at Christmas, and my sister, working her first job out of college, had suffered a mysterious trauma that years later I learned was a sexual assault.
Both of these events were alien to my heartbroken Christian parents, but their instinct was to reach out to their hurting children and grandchildren. They packed up my other brother and me and headed four hundred miles south. We ate diner food instead of Christmas dinner and stayed in motel rooms instead of our house with the decorated tree.
I’ve always viewed Christmas with a bit of suspicion since then. The season has no power to set things right despite the tsunami of advertising that a special gift placed beneath the Christmas tree will do exactly that.
I am attorney-on-call for the hospitals this holiday and I have already dealt with multiple assaults on women and the case of a drug-hazed mother whose alleged criminal negligence almost killed her little child. Peace on earth seems a distant possibility.
Yet, I believed in my childhood and believe now that Jesus, whose birth we celebrate tomorrow, has the power to save and transform lives. Our Savior and the Father who sent him to us was the recipient of the prayers my parents prayed with fervent hope and the subject of the songs and carols we sang in harmony with Dad as we drove those weary miles.
Jesus came, not to magically spare us the sorrows and pains of this earth, but to be one of us experiencing and knowing our wounds and grief, and to be with us as we endure them. (Isa 53:3-5; Matt 1:23).
Many happy Christmases have passed for me since then. There have been a few bleak ones that made me long for fulfillment of the promise of peace on earth and grace for humanity announced on the eve of Christ’s birth (Luke 2:14).
The hard seasons have involved the stripping of my illusions that perfection in relationships, institutions, work, and, indeed, any aspect of life is obtainable on this earth. Much of my unhappiness in this life was caused by a refusal to accept this sin-born imperfection until reality left me with no seeming choice in the matter.
Learning patience, for instance, was impossible for me until I had to endure situations over which I had no control like the death of loved ones or their suffering with cancer or ALS or dementia, the bad choices and behaviors of others, or the random natural disasters of a world marred and broken by sin.
But I did and do have choices – I can curse God and die as Job’s wife recommended he do in the face of overwhelming suffering (Job 2:9). I could live hedonistically in the thought that I should enjoy whatever I have here and now because there won’t be anything beyond this life – what the Bible refers to as the “eat, drink, and make merry for tomorrow we die” philosophy (Isa 22:13; Ecc 8:15; 1 Cor 15:32; and Luke 12:19). I could try to hang on to every material thing I could grasp like Scrooge. I could seek to control my surroundings and my destiny by trying to remove any threat to my hegemony over them in the manner of the vicious King Herod who slaughtered infants who he feared might lay claim to his throne (Matt 2:16). Or I could merely go along to get along in this life in a mode of survival like most people do.
All of those choices are limited by time, resources, my own capabilities and weaknesses, and the cooperation of others with their capabilities and weaknesses. Therefore the end of these choices will be unsatisfying. Are these our only options?
C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”
Out of that other world into ours, came Christ as a vulnerable infant. His willingness to live with us, as one of us and to die for us for no other reason than he loves us was God’s answer to the strategies of power, greed and lust that dominate the world when God is not worshiped and reverenced in love.
His love is revealed in us by how we treat each other. The Apostle John noted that our love for the God is revealed in the love we display for God’s children (1 John 4:20-5:2).
I read a lot of history as a child and much as it entranced me, it also taught me that humanity will never rise above its self-interest and selfishness to save others on its own. Without love, our capacity for brutality and venality is limited only by the grave. But love somehow blooms and thrives generation after generation. In that love, God lives and becomes known to us, says John (1 John 4:12).
God wants to leave no doubt that his intention for us is love. He comes as an infant, not as a wrathful tyrant or avenging warrior. Selfishness and defensive anger are undone and shown up for the terrible error they are in the presence of a helpless baby.
Our souls find their worth in his love, not in their strength. The Christmas hymn, “O Holy Night conveys this truth in its line, “Long lay the world in sin and error pining, then Jesus came and the soul felt its worth.”
In my experience, we defend, deny, evade and self-protect because we neither believe we are loved or loveable. Jesus comes to us and gives his life for us in love to prove otherwise.
“O Holy Night” also has this line — “His law is love and His gospel is peace.” Accepting Jesus’ love for us changes us from alienated rebels to wanted, loved children.
That change involves stripping from us all the material wrappings and emotional ribbons by which we try to package ourselves as worthy of approval or independently defiant of any need of anything or anyone but ourselves.
His grace says, “I love you as you are, not as you should be. Nothing you can do can make me love you more or less. Please trust my love and accept my life.”
The Revelation of Jesus Christ describes Jesus as one who stands at the door of our hearts and graciously knocks and calls to us in greeting, waiting for an invitation to come in. He says, “If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me” (Rev 3:20).
Sitting down to share a meal in fellowship is a sign of acceptance and vulnerability. It is the beginning of relationship. It is the place where friendships begin and relationships are restored.
What the waiting father wants in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son is for both of his sons to come inside with him to sit down and eat together in love and enjoyment (Luke 15:11-32). To do that, both sons have to let go of their defenses and claims and just enjoy being loved.
It takes real love to cause us to give up our compensating mechanisms against the threats of this world. It requires us to give up our desires for acceptance and safety which will never be satisfactorily fulfilled here. Giving up those defenses and claims strips us of everything though and makes us so vulnerable.
We are called to come to Bethlehem to kneel before the Christ child in the manger in vulnerability so that God’s love can have his way with us. I started to learn this as an eight-year-old child when my Christmas dreams were first disillusioned. The learning process continues for me to this moment.
I put this thought in a prayer last week for some friends going through real pain and life and death anguish. I leave it with you now for your contemplation.
If it were not for the difficulties experienced on the journey to Bethlehem, I would never accept the stable for my lodging. If it were not for the devastation of my dreams and plans, I would never kneel at the manger. All that shines in the gathering darkness is you. You are enough. Thank you. Amen.
“O taste and see that the Lord is good. Happy are those who take refuge in him” (Ps. 34:8).
Under the mercy of Christ,
Please note that the content and viewpoints of Mr. Hansen are his own and are not necessarily those of the C.S. Lewis Foundation. We have not edited his writing in any substantial way and have permission from him to post his content.
Kent Hansen is a Christian attorney, author and speaker. He practices corporate law and is the managing attorney of the firm of Clayson, Mann, Yaeger & Hansen in Corona, California. Kent also serves as the general counsel of Loma Linda University and Medical Center in Loma Linda, California.
Finding God’s grace revealed in the ordinary experiences of life, spiritual renewal in Christ and prayer are Kent’s passions. He has written two books, Grace at 30,000 Feet and Other Unexpected Places published by Review & Herald in 2002 and Cleansing Fire, Healing Streams: Experiencing God’s Love Through Prayer, published by Pacific Press in spring 2007. Many of his stories and essays about God’s encompassing love have been published in magazines and journals. Kent is often found on the hiking trails of the southern California mountains, following major league baseball, playing the piano or writing his weekly email devotional, “A Word of Grace for Your Monday” that is read by men and women from Alaska to Zimbabwe.