‘Familiarity breeds contempt’. There are celebrations like Christmas that initially fill us with awe. But as time goes on we become indifferent and sometimes even cynical about them.
Whenever familiarity produces contempt we are potentially in danger. We begin to accept things unthinkingly and our responses become automatic, disconnected. For example, amidst the familiar trappings of the lights and music of Christmas we can easily be blind and deaf to the explosive significance of the humility of God. We are so familiar with the birth of Jesus that we forget that it fulfilled God’s ancient promise that a young woman would bear a son whose name would be ‘Immanuel’ – God with us (Isaiah 7:14).
How would we respond if we celebrated Christmas only once every ten years?
It’s important we think about this, for Christmas celebrates the birth of a man who stands unique in history. We see it in the records of the integrity of his character, his compassion for the needy, the profundity yet simplicity of his teaching, and in the extraordinary powers he wielded.
Hegel, the German philosopher, commented, “One of the lessons of history is that we don’t learn from history”. Secular progressivism’s outright denial of the reality of the uniqueness of Christianity’s founder is one of the tragedies of our age. Jesus Christ is not just great: he is goodness incarnate. His voice is the voice we desperately need to hear and heed.
Yet such is our nature that we need to re-learn the truth about Jesus, generation to generation. It is easy to forget the lessons of the past. So we’re tempted to ask, ‘Is God really in control?’ ‘Does he really care?’ ‘Has he left us alone to fend for ourselves?’ ‘Is there any hope for the future?’
Back in the day of Isaiah the prophet, it would seem that these kinds of questions were in the mind of King Ahaz when he was confronted by the Assyrian threat on his northern border. It was in this situation that the prophet Isaiah spoke: ‘Keep calm Ahaz. God will give you a sign – any sign, all you have to do is ask’ (Isaiah 7: 10).
But Ahaz was not interested in any sign. Even though God had given him this special offer to demonstrate that history was in God’s control, Ahaz refused. 2 Kings 15 reveals that Ahaz chose to do it his way: he paid tribute to the Assyrian king in the hope the danger would go away. Ahaz turned his back on the familiar – the lessons of Israel’s past. Prayer and listening to God’s Word was not part of his response.
We can be like Ahaz. We ignore the enormous influence for good that Christianity has had on the western world and we look for human solutions and not God’s solutions. A study of God’s Word and prayer are not the way we respond to life’s challenges. We have allowed a liberal, secular progressivism to drive our thinking, even in our churches.
Yet what does this have to offer? In its apparent humanitarianism, secular progressivism appears to resemble Christianity in that it encourages tolerance, love, understanding and the relief of poverty and injustice. But at its center, it is myopic and cruel, because it teaches that this life is the only life. It ignores the lessons of history that reveal that God not only exists but that he has acted in great humility to serve our greatest need.
Secular progressivism fosters the current preoccupation with security which can infect us. The first Christians did not expect security! For them the incarnation and the events of the life, death, and resurrection were real. Their security, their life, were rooted in God and his Word. The daily insecurities of the decaying Roman Empire with its organized persecutions did not affect their basic confidence. They looked for the day when Christ would return. Indeed, they heeded Jesus’ words: “Stay awake at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that are going to take place and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:36).
Familiarity with the Christmas story can breed an indifference to the miracle of the incarnation. Are you praying that the Spirit of God will keep your faith fresh, confident in God’s promises? Are you praying that God’s Spirit will awaken hearts that have grown cold towards him because familiarity has bred contempt? Recent research shows that one-third of those who have not been in church for six months would accept an invitation to go to church. Christmas is a great time to invite them.
© John G. Mason