It's easy to get wrapped up in the joy of that baby in the manger. To be overwhelmed by the voices of the heavenly host singing Hallelujah, to witness a star so bright that men came all the way across the known world to discover the one over whom it shone. How sweet is the picture of the God whose son lies in a manger, whose very human mother feeds him at her breast. He's the one who also calls children to come to Him. He's the one who calls people away from whatever nets they spend their lives hauling, so that they might become fishers of people. People are drawn by the voice of this One who calls. When he was a baby. Or a twelve-year-old boy, or a man in the river on whom a dove rests. A man who opens His mouth and draws people in.
That's just plain truth. People were drawn to this Jesus of Nazareth. They must have been. When I was a teenager, a poster hung in my bedroom called, "One Solitary Life.": Here is a man who was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another village. He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty. Then for three years He was an itinerant preacher.
He never owned a home. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family. He never went to college. He never put His foot inside a big city. He never traveled two hundred miles from the place He was born. He never did one of the things that usually accompany greatness. He had no credentials but Himself...
While still a young man, the tide of popular opinion turned against him. His friends ran away. One of them denied Him. He was turned over to His enemies. He went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed upon a cross between two thieves. While He was dying His executioners gambled for the only piece of property He had on earth – His coat. When He was dead, He was laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend.
Nineteen long centuries have come and gone, and today He is a centerpiece of the human race and leader of the column of progress.
I am far within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, all the navies that were ever built; all the parliaments that ever sat and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as has that one solitary life."
When that poster was hanging until it was tattered in my bedroom, it was the property of my sister, LD. We were both followers of Jesus, very involved in Bible studies in those days. LD's dream was to be a missionary someday (I...not so much). Down the road a few years, we both had our years on the mission field--for good and not so good. And during high school I was in a large circle of friends who also followed Jesus. Everything we did was about Him, one way or another. We used to laugh about the idea that if we were sitting at a burger place having fries, he was sitting across the table from us. Or if a bunch of us went bowling, we were really "having church." Whatever we did, we were His.
And I couldn't imagine that any of those people would ever be anything but completely faithful, sold-out, lock, sock and barrel for Jesus Christ. I just couldn't imagine it.
But it happened. It happens. Life happens. Things go wrong. "When God calls a man," Dietrich Bonhoeffer says, "He bids him come and die." This is a very, very hard thing to get. This dying to oneself, or, taking up one's cross and following Christ. It isn't easy. We don't just sit in that stable and listen to a heavenly choir sing pretty ditties over a baby God. We have to follow that God to Golgotha (a much harsher word than Calvary, don't you think?). We have to get--really get--who He is. And why He came...that is, who we are. It's all very well to say, "Jesus loves me," but if we don't understand it in light of what HE's given for us, it's a watered-down, sickly sweet tune with no teeth in it.
But it's the very truth of His death, and that death didn't hold Him, that has siphoned off some I expected to always walk with Him. Romans 1: 18 says "the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God."
When I think about all those I used to walk with, I wonder how deeply they ever got the message of the cross, how much it penetrated to them what God's love really is. How much it costs. And how much it costs us. What are we willing to give up to the one who gave up all for us? Are we willing to go all the way to Calvary? Because I have the feeling (the Faith?) that that's what we're in this for. To walk with Him as far as He asks us. No matter what that is, no matter where that is. Trusting that whatever He does is made of the same love that brought Incarnation, Calvary and Resurrection. Love that changed the world is how much He loves us. Not always gentle but always through and through.