Christmas in the Middle of a Mess
December 12, 2018
by Steve Cartin, MDiv
“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, From everlasting” (Micah 5:2, NKJV).
Christmas carols slip past the guardians of cultural sensitivities every now and then, bringing a smile to our souls in the midst of our troubled world. We remember so many times when God broke through history on the pages of His Word to make things new again. We long for a renewal in our lives and world. Sights, sounds, reflections and meditations on Christmas rekindle that hope, and we are reminded that a baby in a small-town stable marked a new beginning in which not just some but all things will one day be made new.
Several years ago I flew into Gatwick Airport outside London for a couple weeks of coaching and speaking on the other side of the pond. In the United Kingdom, I’ve been told that only about 2 percent of the population attends any church on a regular basis. As I have visited village and city churches in Scotland, England and Ireland, those numbers seem optimistic. Empty buildings and aging congregations dot the landscape. But this trip renewed my hope for that corner of God’s world. From Gatwick, my train brought me into Victoria Station from which I was to catch another train and then a ferry to the Isle of Wight. There in Victoria Station, in a sea of spiritual forgetfulness, Christmas carols greeted me in the form of loud, live voices. About 30 members of an evangelical church had traveled more than 50 miles and were gathered there to sing their carols. Whether you were Arminian or atheist, Baptist or blasphemer, Nazarene or naysayer, you had no choice but to hear sweet truths of the gospel in carol song. It struck me how different things are back here in America.
There, God’s people brought their Christmas songs into the middle of the world’s mess, shining a light in the darkness for all. They were not huddled with the saints in the sanctuary but singing in the street where the contrast could not have been greater, where hope was needed most.
The prophet Micah paints a similar picture of Christmas in the middle of this world’s mess, a mess not unlike we find ourselves in today. He spoke of corporate greed swallowing up family businesses with callous profiteering (2:1-5). He spoke of businessmen preying upon those with no defenses against professional dishonesty (6:10-11); and of communities where no one knew whom they could trust (7:5-6). Adding shame to misery, people who advertised themselves under God’s own name had played the harlotry of compromise with the world for the sake of gain (1:7). Those with the privilege of spiritual leadership sold ungodly favors to swell their purses while they boasted of their relationship with the Lord (3:9-11). They soothed wounded consciences with religious observances and patterns of worship, both godly and ungodly (6:6-7).
But into the dry, parched cracks of Israel’s fallow ground, Micah dropped a small but sure seed of hope for the cultural, religious and commercial messes of his day. He foretold the birth of the One who would save them from their sin. God’s Messiah would not be born in the temple. Mary did not sing her lullabies in the king’s palace. The shepherds would not find Him in the holy city. He would take His first breath, hear His first songs and greet His first guests in the disarray of an animal’s stall. He rested in the warmth of a feeding trough as people from all walks of life strolled in and out of Bethlehem on business, on pleasure and to a government-appointment census for taxation.
God brought it all to pass in the most unexpected of places, not unlike the church choir who took their stand in Victoria Station that day. Jesus reminded us, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick” (Matthew 9:12, NIV 1984). Far from being discouraged about the mess around us this Christmas season, the joy of our Savior’s birth can energize us with light for the darkness.
In four places, Micah’s Savior guaranteed precious promises to “the remnant.” They would be saved from judgment (2:12-13), blessed in the coming kingdom (4:4-8), victorious over their enemies (5:7-8) and cleansed from all their iniquities (7:18-20). The Christmas season multiplies our opportunity to penetrate the darkness. Jesus said, “But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:20, ESV). I once heard an old preacher say, “The only way to lay up treasures in heaven is to invest in someone who is going there.”
May God use us this Christmas season and always to enlarge the remnant for whom Christ was born—among our teams, our patients, our families and our world.