It’s said that familiarity breeds contempt. Christmas celebrations can at first fill us with awe. But with the passing of the years, we can become indifferent and sometimes even cynical about them.
Whenever familiarity produces contempt, we are potentially in danger. We can disengage and become weary and cynical. Amidst the familiar trappings of Christmas, it’s easy to become blind and deaf to the overwhelming significance of the humility of God.
How many of us have become so familiar with the account of Jesus’ birth that its reality and true meaning no longer touches our hearts. We forget that it fulfilled God’s promise made seven centuries before, 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 to think about this, for Christmas celebrates the birth of one who stands unique in history. We see in the Gospel records the integrity of his character, his compassion for the needy, the profundity yet simplicity of his teaching, and his extraordinary powers.
Hegel, the German philosopher observed, ‘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 our world desperately needs to hear and heed.
Indeed, every generation needs to hear or rediscover the Gospel truth. Furthermore, it is up to all of us who believe to play our part in ensuring that God’s gospel is effectively passed on to the younger generations.
As we endeavor to do this it’s very easy to forget the lessons of the past. We’re tempted to ask, ‘Is God really in control?’ ‘Does he really care?’ ‘Will his Spirit continue to open blind eyes and unstop deaf ears?’ Has he left us alone to fend for ourselves?’ ‘Is there any hope for the future?’
At the time of Isaiah the prophet, it seems that these kinds of questions were in the mind of King Ahaz when he was confronted by the Assyrian threat on his northern border.
Into this situation 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, Ahaz refused. Second Kings, chapter 15 reveals that Ahaz chose to do it his way: he paid tribute to the Assyrian king, hoping the danger would disappear. Ahaz turned his back on the familiar – what was known from Israel’s past. Prayer and listening to God’s Word were 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 look for human solutions, not God’s solutions to the challenges we face. We have allowed a liberal, secular progressivism to drive our thinking. And tragically it’s happening in many churches.
Yet what does the current wisdom of the world have to offer? In its apparent care for the needy, secular progressivism appears to resemble Christianity in that it encourages love and compassion, tolerance and the relief of poverty and injustice. But at its center it is myopic and cruel because it teaches that life as we know it is the only life. It ignores the lessons of history revealing that God not only exists, but that he has acted in great humility to serve us in our greatest need: our need to be rescued from our self-absorption.
For the first Christians, the incarnation and the events of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God were real. Their familiarity with these truths didn’t weaken their faith but enhanced it. Their lives were rooted in God’s promises.
The daily insecurities of the decaying Roman Empire with its organized persecutions didn’t 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 and the uniqueness of Jesus. Are you praying that the Spirit of God will keep your faith vital and fresh, confident in God’s promises?
Are you also 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 some time would accept an invitation to go to church. Christmas is a great time to invite them.
A prayer. Lord, we beseech you, pour out your grace into our hearts; so that, knowing the incarnation of your Son Jesus Christ by the message of an angel, we may be brought to the glory of his resurrection by his cross and passion. We ask this through Jesus Christ who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.