“The Reality of Christ”
Two weeks ago in the Middle School Bible Club, I asked all the kids there what it is that they wanted for Christmas. The first hand that went up noted to me that she wanted an Xbox with virtual reality glasses. All the other kids chimed in on how “cool” that would be.
I got some other responses along the same lines. The last hand that went up was from a very thoughtful youth sitting in the back. He might have been thinking about what the expected answer to a pastor should be: “I want eternal life!” he shouted out from the back. Good answer, good answer. I could not help but wonder if that were a “real” answer. Yet, it is the reality of Christmas!
Virtual reality devices are the hot tech items this Christmas season. The story of the Bible at the time of Christ’s birth should not be taken as ‘virtual’ reality but rather “virtuous” reality. This term comes from the Latin “virtus” meaning to have strong life in it, brave, courageous. I see the opposite in virtual reality devices. I think they make us shrink away from life.
Just out in time for Christmas are new “Magic Glasses” that mix reality for you. These glasses have cameras on both sides that take the 3d image of where you actually are and then convert that into images that are augmented into a new reality. In this way, one can for instance walk through a room without hitting any objects, but everything you see will not be what is actually there.
Now, I am of course a pastor, so my take on this may seem a bit erudite. “Just read the Bible if you want to see a new reality!” Is that not what the Apostle Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 13:12, “Now we see through a glass dimly, but then face-to-face. Now I know in part, then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood.”
Recently in a social media post from YWAM missionaries in Nepal, and some of you will remember Haely and Sidney from two years ago here in Waimea, I noted the couple had called their new baby “Our little world changer.” The baby is about three months old now. It is so true that every time a baby is born, the world changes. I can speak for my wife and me in affirming this reality that our lives certainly changed when our children were with us.
What I found so interesting in this post from Sidney and Haely was that they were in Nepal already to change the world. They went there as missionaries. They went there to change other people’s lives. Through the birth of their child, they discovered the reality that it was their own lives that would be changed. What a realization that is! That is the realization that takes place at childbirth!
I want us this evening to realize Christ’s birth at Christmas. Do you realize that the term “realize” does not even mean “to realize” any more in English? This word also comes from Latin and is a common mistake foreign speakers make when learning English. They think it means what it sounds like it means. For instance, in German we can say “realizieren” but that does not mean “realize” in English. “Realización” in Spanish does not mean “realization” in English. So it is in French, Italian, and so on, even into Russian (реализации).
To realize something actually means to make it a reality. So, if I ask you to “realize” Christ’s birth at Christmas, this means that I want you to see the absolute reality of the moment: Just as Sidney and Haily stated that their child is their own “Little world changer,” so it is that Jesus is also a world changer even as a baby. He is not a “little” world changer, but rather the “bigger” world changer. This is God’s Son being born. This is God’s very physical presence being realized, made real, a true reality in our world!
What was the reality then of Christ’s birth for us? We have seen so many representations of the birth in nativity scenes, crèche sets, and movies. Was Jesus born in a wooden structure that resembles a European style stable? Was he born in a cave as we can see in the movie “The Nativity”? All houses in Bethlehem in that day were made of stone. So, the idea that Jesus was born in a wooden structure is just not real.
I want us to look at Luke 2:16, “And they went with haste and discovered Mary and Joseph and the babe lying in a manger.” Most of our lives we have laughed at the idea that Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus could somehow fit in a manger. That is because we think that the manger is a little wooden box. In fact, the mangers of that day were hollowed out areas of the floor of the stable. And, yes, they were large enough to hold Mary, Joseph, and their child. That is the reality that we should see. They were a loving family. Jesus was not set aside at all. He was kept warm by his mother and father. They were all together there in that manger, in the hollow of the floor.
So, why have we been shown this false representation of the birth of Jesus all of our lives? It used to be that in the Middle Ages, in Europe, people represented the birth of Jesus in their time so that it would be REAL to the people. They could not imagine a family sleeping together in a stone hollow in the floor. It has always been an attempt to make the birth of Jesus real for the time in which we have lived.
In this regard, then perhaps we should envision Jesus being born in a modern hospital room with Mary and Joseph sleeping together with Jesus on one of those electric adjustable hospital beds. This would be more real to all of us today then thinking of Jesus sleeping in a wooden box alone.
Now to the absolute reality of Christmas: Just as the boy in the Middle School stated as his preferred Christmas gift, Jesus came to give us life eternal. I think therefore of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus in the manger together. Joseph and Mary holding this new life, but as they are holding this new life, the realization is that Jesus is holding their eternal lives in his hands too. “Realization” meaning that it becomes real through the birth of Jesus. Eternal life with God, that which has only ever been dreamed of, is now made real; it is realized in Jesus at Christmas.
One day a two years ago, I was looking out the front window of the parsonage and noticed a red glow coming from the bottom of the driveway. I went to investigate what the strange light might be. Believe it or not, it was a Coca Cola vending machine. Apparently the police station needed to have a Coke machine behind it. Yes, there is a real Coke machine at the bottom of my driveway now. Coke it is the real thing.
At Christmas, the light of Christ is not just a warm glow; He is the real thing. He is the real thing even before Coke was the “real thing.” God came to us because God loved us enough to make the sacrifice to become real, that we might now know the reality of God. Realized God in Jesus Christ! Amen.