I interrupt the series on The Problem of Evil to post some thoughts on the meaning of Christmas.
Many people in today’s world are concerned about self-esteem or self-worth. We all have a certain sense of personal value or lack of it, often grounded in childhood experiences. People can spend a lifetime searching for value and few seem to find it in ways that are both satisfying and lasting.
What does this have to do with Christmas? Christmas is not about what we think we are worth, it is about what God thought we were worth when He sent Jesus to be born in Bethlehem. In the words of Matthew 1:23: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel (which means, God with us).” In sending Jesus to be born of a woman, God placed a high value on human existence. It was something like the architect of a church becoming a cricket or a beetle to explain to the insects in the church the meaning of their existence and environment.
There are three basic ways that people attempt to find value for themselves. First, they seek value in the things that they possess. This is expressed by the bumper sticker on the Mercedes: “He who dies with the most toys wins!” This is the bottom line approach: the more you have the more you are worth. But it doesn’t really work. The things we buy rot, rust, scratch and crash. The more you have the less value you find in things. And in any case, you can’t take it all with you when you die (although the Pharaohs really tried!). It may feel good to buy stuff, but the feeling doesn’t last. Ask any rich person.
The second way people seek value is in performance, to be the best at something, whether it is sports, business, politics, fashion or even church. “If I can be the best, then I’ll be somebody.” “If I become president, then I’ll be somebody.” And achievement really does mean something. But again, as the basis for self-esteem, it does not last. Athletes get old and decrepit, teachers get old and senile, beauty queens wrinkle and fade, and even if you are at the top of your game, you can still have a bad day, and then what?
The third way people seek value is in other people, what others think of them. The ugly duckling becomes a beautiful swan in the eyes of a young Prince Charming. People drop names of the celebrities they have met. Parents find pride and meaning in their children. But even this method doesn’t last. The people you love may move somewhere else, change their minds, betray you or even die. And nothing is more damaging to self-esteem than divorce. Relationships are meaningful parts of the value we sense in ourselves, but they are rarely permanent enough to based one’s self worth upon.
The bottom line is this. If possessions, performance and people solved all of life’s problems, Tiger Woods would be the happiest man on earth. He is worth a billion dollars, has achieved the top all-time rank in a high-profile sport, and obviously has the attention of more beautiful women than he knows what to do with. But would any reader really want to trade places with him right now? The rich know that things don’t truly satisfy. The high-achievers know the limits of satisfaction that performance provides. The well-connected know how fragile relationships really are. The rest of us are dreaming about things that will not get us where we need to go.
It seems to me that there is only one path to genuine and lasting self-worth. And that is to find our value in relation to a unique kind of friend, someone with the following four characteristics: He or she is genuinely valuable, knows all about us, loves us just the way we are and lives forever. The love of such a friend would provide a sense of worth that would even out the emotional ups and downs of life, it would provide inner peace and stability. To be loved by such a person means it would no longer matter what other people think of us.
Such a friend lives! His name is Jesus. Is He genuinely valuable? He made the whole universe. He knows all there is to know about us, yet loves us just the way we are. Having died on the cross, He will never die again. No one can separate us from His love. To know the love of Christ is have a sense of infinite value, He would have died just for you. And no one, not even death, can take that away from you. That’s the infinite value of God did on the original Christmas day.
That’s what Christmas is all about.