FIRST-PERSON: Christmas disappointments
NEW ORLEANS (BP)--I was 7 years old when I received my first Christmas present. That morning, as I opened the package, I already knew: It was broken.
Here's what happened.
That year, our family had moved from the farming and mining regions of north Alabama into the mountainous coal fields of West Virginia. My dad accompanied a number of our uncles and their friends looking for work, and they all landed jobs in a coal camp just outside Beckley. With a steady paycheck, this year for the first time in my brief life, the six children in our family would receive Christmas presents.
One Saturday early in December, Mom and Dad made the difficult trip into town and returned laden with boxes and bags. They hid everything in a closet and warned us away. "Not until Christmas."
A few days later, when our parents were out of the house, my older brothers found the stash. "This must be for you," they said, handing me a box containing a lovely golden tractor. This would be my first brand new toy ever. It was a magical moment. I examined it lovingly. With a windup key, the track could be made to pull the tractor. I twisted it, and it worked -- a few times.
Then it broke. No doubt it was simply shoddy workmanship. But to a 7-year-old, this was major stuff.
I had the sad and difficult task of returning the tractor to the box to be re-hidden in the closet, then awaiting Christmas morning knowing that my present would be a disappointment.
When the morning came, I faked excitement. We never let on to our parents that we had broken into the gifts early or that my tractor would not work.
No doubt I was not the first to be disappointed on Christmas morning.
Some are disappointed because the gifts they expected are not there. Some are alone and missing loved ones and are sad.
Too many others are on the outside of the Christmas story looking in, and wondering what the excitement is all about.
Millions of people in this world do not know the reason, the reality, or the result of the first Christmas when God's Son, our Savior, arrived on this planet at a stable in Bethlehem. They do not know Jesus.
Now, it's likely that most non-Christians, if they know anything at all about Jesus, admire Him. But they do so in the same way they admire Gandhi or Mother Teresa or Albert Schweitzer -- from a distance. They respect the dedication which drove these to do what they did, and admire their courage and discipline, but nothing more.
However, far too many in this world are disappointed in Jesus Christ. He is not what they want in a Savior and not what they would have asked for in a Lord.
THE WORLD IS DISAPPOINTED IN JESUS' BIRTH
The world drives past your church's nativity scene and thinks it's cute. But for many, the stable with its shepherds and kings and angels falls into the same category as the North Pole, populated by Santa and his elves and reindeer. Just cute, not to be taken seriously.
Few things about the birth of Jesus are the way the world's sophisticated elite would have preferred.
Look at Jesus' lineage. Matthew 1 tells us that among the illustrious religious leaders -- most of whom would be acceptable to the world, which is also intensely religious -- several people of dubious character stand out. Two adulterers, Judah and David, and two adulteresses, Tamar and Bathsheba, made the list. Two Gentiles, Ruth and Rahab, are included, with Rahab being called an outright harlot.
Such is the family tree of Jesus. Not very impressive. Not likely to get Him invited to join the local heritage society. Look at Jesus' conception. The Bible calls Mary a virgin and says Joseph learned it from an angel and believed it. Matthew 1 and Luke 1 make this absolutely clear. How much easier the modern mind could take the message of Jesus if Christians did not insist on the doctrine of the virgin birth. The modern scientific mind knows such things do not happen.
Look at Jesus' birth. Born in a stable, the absolutely most unsanitary place on the planet for a newborn, attended by shepherds and later foreigners, and ignored by the outside world. King Herod sends soldiers to kill all young babies in the Bethlehem region in an attempt to keep down the competition.
The world does not understand or appreciate the birth of Jesus because it has no concept of the depth of man's need nor the riches of God's love, both of which motivated this emergency redemptive mission from heaven.
THE WORLD IS DISAPPOINTED IN JESUS' MINISTRY
From the start, Jesus served notice that His work would displease a lot of people. After a demanding day of healing the sick, early the next morning Jesus rose while it was still dark and went walking in the hills to talk with the Father. A disciple found him and interrupted his quiet time. "Lord, we don't have time for this! There's a line of people waiting back at the house, needing to be healed."
Jesus said, "Come on and let's go to the next town. We must preach the Gospel to those people also." (My version of Mark 1:35-38)
The modern mind of man ranks preaching on spiritual things miles below actually ministering to the physical needs of people. For Jesus to walk away from the sick in order to preach is offensive.
In his novel "Elmer Gantry," Sinclair Lewis has a backslidden preacher complain that if Jesus was who He claimed to be, instead of all the healing miracles which had only a temporary value, why didn't He do something of lasting benefit for mankind -- like give us a sanitation code. (The fact that God had already done just that through Moses in the Old Testament seems to have escaped Lewis' notice.)
Then as now, observers of Jesus' ministry were not impressed that the Lord did not work through the religious system of the day. With a whip of ropes, Jesus drove the money changers from the temple and rebuked merchants with legitimate licenses issued by legal authorities to do business on those hallowed grounds. He called the religious leaders hypocrites and blind leaders of the blind.
The world does not value Jesus' public ministry of teaching repentance and calling for salvation, of proclaiming forgiveness and reconciliation, for the simple reason that it does not appreciate the magnitude of the problem of sin nor the estrangement sin produces.
THE WORLD IS DISAPPOINTED IN JESUS' DOCTRINE
Many of the religions of the world have cherry-picked bits and pieces from our Lord's teaching to incorporate into their systems in order to make them seem more universal and more open-minded. What those systems reject, however, is the heart of Christ's message.
Jesus taught that He was the only way to God. He declared, "No one comes to the Father except by me" (John 14:6) and even more exclusively, "No one knows the Father except the Son and they to whom He reveals Him" (Matthew 11:27).
Jesus taught us to pray in His name. "Whatever you ask in my name, that I will do" (John 14:13). As a Christian, you may be invited to pray at public gatherings, but in most cases, your hosts would appreciate your not mentioning Jesus' name. They call that being inclusive.
Jesus taught that after this life, the judge of mankind will be none other than He Himself (Matthew 25:31).
Jesus spoke of only two eternal destinations -- heaven and hell. Furthermore, He talked more about hell than heaven. (See Matthew 25:34, 41, among other places.)
THE WORLD IS DISAPPOINTED IN JESUS' DEATH
A young Asian woman attending college in our city asked me, "Why was it necessary for Jesus to die? That makes no sense." To her religion, it didn't. She had no concept of personal sin and the judgment facing all of us which Jesus intercepted and for which He made atonement.
To the Jews, the death of Jesus was a stumbling block; to the Greeks, it was sheer foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:23). To the Hebrew mind, anyone dying on a cross was cursed. To the Greek mind which saw everything in terms of wisdom, there simply was no need for this bit of cosmic drama.
To contemporary man, all Jesus had to do in order to save people was teach pious platitudes of love and kindness and then exit the scene. The death of Jesus has no place in such a system. For that reason, hymns celebrating His blood are offensive to modern sensitivities. To this day, liberal religious leaders calling themselves Christians ignore all the distasteful elements of the Lord's work and teachings to focus only on the more palatable aspects of love and acceptance.
The world has no use for the death of Jesus since, if one sees no problem which demands it, he can ignore God's work to cure it.
THE WORLD IS DISAPPOINTED IN JESUS' RESURRECTION
Asking the modern mind to believe in the resurrection of Jesus is the twin to demanding that they accept the virgin birth. Both Jesus' entrance and His exit are presented in Scripture as works of God -- brackets, if you will, for His incredible life of love and sacrifice.
Other than the miraculous aspect of the resurrection, one feature in particular stands out as objectionable: In His resurrected body, Jesus appeared only to believers, never to the outside world.
That in itself makes it look suspicious, and encourages many to reject it.
Clearly, if the Lord Jesus wants the acclaim of the world, He is going to have to change His identity, revise His ministry, find new tactics, and adapt His teaching. He will have to ease off on warnings of judgment and teachings of hell and claims to deity.
All of which is not about to happen.
The plain fact is that Jesus has little use for the shallow and superficial adoration of the world. He knows how fickle popularity can be. The crowd that cheered Him into Jerusalem on Sunday was clamoring for His crucifixion by Friday.
Almost as though giving his analysis of this situation, the Apostle Paul put it like this: "What if some did not believe? Will their unbelief make the faithfulness of God without effect? Certainly not! Indeed, let God be true but every man a liar!" (Romans 3:3-4).
Earlier in Romans, Paul uttered one of the great declarations of the Christian community when he said, "I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation" (Romans 1:16). Far from being disappointed in the message of Jesus, Paul literally strutted with confidence as he proclaimed it.
One of my favorite but little known promises of Scripture is found at the end of Psalm 17. "As for me, I shall behold Thy face in righteousness; I will be satisfied with Thy likeness when I awake."
I love the sweet promise of that -- that we who in this life may experience disappointment almost as our daily bread, shall one morning awaken on the other side of the dark night to find that the half has not been told, that God is as good as His Word, that our Lord is there and He is wonderful.
And when that happens, we shall be satisfied.
No more disappointments.
Joe McKeever is a former director of missions for the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans. Originally published by Disciple Magazine, online at disciplemagazine.com.