A mountaineer got lost while climbing in the Alps—or so the story goes. After days of stumbling around in a blizzard, he found a mountain pass that led to a valley that no one from the outside world had visited in centuries. In this valley he discovered a community of people who had survived for generations with no eyesight.
When he tried to describe to these people the beauty of the night sky, the color of a sunset, and the joy of seeing someone smile, the valley people were first confused, then convinced that he was insane. Because no one they knew could see, the experience was beyond their understanding. They didn’t even have the vocabulary to understand what he described.
Then the mountaineer met a young woman of the valley, and they fell in love. When they told the villagers that they wanted to be married, the leaders foresaw that the mountaineer’s descriptions of the joys of seeing and of the outside world would disrupt their community. They told him that he could stay and be married only if he agreed to have his eyes blinded so that he would be like everyone else. Torn between his appreciation of his sight and his love for the young woman, the mountaineer finally agreed to meet their condition.
The night before the wedding and the ceremony that would blind him, the mountaineer took a walk to enjoy the night sky one last time. He climbed higher and higher on the mountain that rose above the community. Eventually, he noticed that he had come to the mountain pass through which he had entered the valley. Keeping his sight would be a simple matter of climbing through the pass and returning to the outside world.
The conflict between his love for his fiancée and his love of sight raged fiercely within him. But finally his love for the young woman won out. He returned to the valley and to the community where he would be married—and where he would be blinded for the rest of his life.
What a conflict! What a decision! What love the mountaineer had!
Of course, this is only a story—and a fictional one at that. But I know a similar story that’s true, a story in which the Hero accepts a handicap that will restrict Him throughout eternity—all for love.
Suppose that 2,000 years ago God the Son had looked at the sacrifice He would have to make to be born in a manger and die on a cross and had decided that the price was too high. Imagine the consequences to you and me if, at the mountain pass of His decision, Jesus had turned His back on us and returned to the glories of heaven that He was so familiar with.
Fortunately, He didn’t consider the price too high, which is why we celebrate the birth of Jesus, who was 100 percent God and became 100 percent human. Do we really understand what that means—what it meant for God and what it means for us?
The sin problem
Consider God’s problem. During the thousands of years people had been exposed to sin, their view of Him had become increasingly distorted. Every deviate interpretation of His character had been made the object of worship. Some of those who believed Him to be an overbearing tyrant had come to believe they must appease Him by sacrificing their own children in their worship rites. Others, who viewed Him as a weak, permissive being interested only in a good time, worshiped Him with acts of prostitution, bestiality, or gluttony.
In the name of their gods, the strong overwhelmed the weak, and the rich dominated the poor. Apathy and greed flourished, and love and generosity withered away.
God realized that to salvage the situation, He couldn’t simply speak to people in overpowering tones, as He did from Mount Sinai. No, to teach human beings what He was really like in a way they would not soon forget, He would have to provide them with a living example of His character in terms people would understand. In a world where God was an unfocused reflection of humanity’s own selfish desires, He would have to be focused into a Being who was the essence of both humanity and divinity.
Imagine that you are unencumbered by time and space, able to know everything, to be everywhere at once, with limitless power available to you at any time. Then you can understand how being born in Bethlehem as Jesus Christ, the Son of Mary, changed God the Son forever. At His birth, Jesus took human nature upon Himself permanently, including our restriction to being in only one place at a time.
Before Jesus became a human, we could only hear about God—what He’s like and what kind of character He has. When Christ became a man, human beings could—for the first time—actually see in the flesh who God is. “Anyone who has seen me,” Jesus said, “has seen the Father” (John 14:9).
The difference Jesus makes
We recognize that Jesus’ death on the cross made heaven possible for us. But what of His life? What difference did it make? As we celebrate Jesus’ birth and His life this Christmas season, let me suggest four ways His life makes a difference.
First, by living on earth as a human being, Jesus challenged the conventional judgment and even the moral values of the time. Greed, selfishness, and lust for power influence our judgment more than we realize. The concern for others that Jesus’ life reflected was just as disturbing to the status quo at His time as it would be for you and me to reveal to the community of blind people what it’s like to see. Jesus’ example turned conventional wisdom about love and morality—and the path of society—on its ear.
Second, Jesus taught us that motive rather than performance is what counts. Remember the story about the emperor’s new clothes? They were invisible, “sewn” by a clever tailor who, aware of the king’s vanity, claimed that fools would not be able to see them. Afraid of being recognized for the fools they were, everyone—including the king—went along with the charade. It took a young boy to state the obvious and draw attention to the king’s lack of both britches and good sense.
Living in sin is like that. We’re all inadequate; we all have selfish motives. Yet we go through our lives desperately seeking to ignore the obvious. Let a little honesty creep in, and we’re suddenly presented to the rest of the world as the emperor without his clothes—no longer regal, in desperate need of something to cover us up. Jesus exposes our dishonesty, our spiritual nakedness. Yet He tears us down to build us up.
Third, Jesus showed us that a positive approach is most effective at bringing out the best in people. Jesus didn’t need to condemn men and women as miserable sinners. His mere presence revealed to them their moral shortcomings. Then He called them to look at the world from a different perspective, to center their lives on God instead of on things or on themselves. This message led some people to seek spiritual wholeness. Others, in turning from it, headed down a path of anger and resentment that eventually led them out of His presence and even into conspiring to get rid of Him.
Imagine, if you will, a cluster of flowers struggling to grow in a deep, junk-strewn ravine from which trees hide the sun. Then a landscaping crew cleans out the ravine and thins the trees, allowing brilliant sunshine to pour down on the plants.
Overwhelmed by the powerful sun, some plants wither and die—perhaps wishing (if that were possible!) that everything had remained as it was before. Others, still shaded by the trees that remain, continue on much as they had in the past. But a few of the plants withstand the initial shock of their exposure to the full light of the sun. Soon they are basking in its light—and flourishing and multiplying beyond all previous ideas as to what their potential was.
Such is our relationship to Christ. As we spend time with Him, we realize that His power is overwhelming. But if we’ll welcome it and let it change us, we’ll flourish to a degree we had never before realized we could.
The power of love
Finally, Jesus’ life teaches us a proper appreciation of the power of love. Jesus revealed that most of us love selfishly and limit our love to a chosen few. He showed that the most important thing any of us can do in life is to reflect the love God has shown us, to reflect it by loving our fellow humans.
Modern society talks a great deal about love and how it can change the world—or one’s personal life. But society’s attempts at loving have merely resulted in increases in divorce rates, child pornography, incest, and terrorism—making it obvious that most people have no idea what real love is.
Chances are, they’ll never understand this kind of love until they learn where it comes from. It comes from God—not that He created it; He is love. Period. When you read 1 Corinthians 13, you’re reading about God: “Love is patient; love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (1 Corinthians 13:4–7).
When we learn to show this kind of love to those around us, we’ll be reflecting the character of God as well as human beings can in this imperfect world.
In the harried lifestyle that’s all too common these days, the word awe has lost its meaning. Indeed, the last time I can truthfully say I experienced awe was when my daughter Melissa was born and I first held her in my arms. Her birth was an event that I had part in—yet I could claim no credit for the quality of the end result. It was an incredible, humbling experience!
That’s what awe is—humility before something so big, so grand, that we have trouble comprehending it. That’s what we’ll feel when we really understand what Jesus’ birth means to us.
The community of blind people in that legendary Alpine valley could never understand what the mountaineer’s loss of his sight meant to him or how that loss demonstrated the profound love he held.
Jesus also made the difficult decision to give up His home in heaven so that He could become a human Being and live among us for some 33 years. But suppose He hadn’t gone through with the plan for Him to be “God with us” (Matthew 1:23). Suppose He had decided that the cross was too high a price to pay.
Fortunately, Jesus made the decision to pay that price, and that’s why you and I can celebrate His birth this Christmas season.