The world today is full of division, conflict, anger, crime, corruption, death and disease. Daily news accounts catalog the worst of these. Mass killers invade gathering places, including schools, and kill indiscriminately. Governments oppress. Religious believers worldwide are persecuted and, in some cases, killed for their faith. Political dialog is tinged with hatred.
Yet because of the miraculous birth celebrated today, none of those things will win. Ultimate, they won't have the significance of even a tiny mustard seed. God did not create us and then leave us for other pursuits. He loves us so much that he sent us his son.
What a glorious thing to celebrate in the darkest, coldest time of the year!
The world's condition is not new. It may seem relentless, but the message of this morning is sure and unchanging.
Consider that the Christmas story — the accounts of a traveling Mary and Joseph, forced to seek shelter in a lowly manger, the birth of God's son in the humblest of circumstances, the angelic visits to shepherds tending flocks in neighboring fields — all hinged on an oblivious political decision by Caesar Augustus to levy a tax.
We have no doubt that this census-taking for purposes of taxation was unpopular, as it surely would be in today's world where, as the French recently learned, taxes can lead to riots and rebellion. It certainly was inconvenient, requiring people to return to their ancestral homes to be enrolled.
And yet ancient prophets had foretold that the Christ child would be born in Bethlehem.
Caesar Augustus surely was clueless about the earth-shattering events unwittingly set in motion by his decree, and of his role in fulfilling prophecy. The clear message, however, is that he was powerless to stop them. The powers of the world are utterly incapable of frustrating the plans of an omniscient and loving God.
And that is the ultimate message of hope this Christmas morning, as well.
As the familiar poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, "I heard the bells on Christmas day," puts it, "The wrong shall fail, the right prevail." This is the unwavering and unalterable reality of Christ's birth, life, ministry, ultimate atoning sacrifice and resurrection. No one, regardless of worldly power, military might or technological prowess, can alter this in the least.
Longfellow wrote that poem in 1864, at a time when this nation was embroiled in the darkest, most violent days of the Civil War. The North had begun to take the advantage, but the cost in lives was as unimaginable then as it is today. Innocence was gone. The romantic ideals of noble and chivalrous battle had devolved into a stark and bloody slaughter.
Yet Longfellow, like many of his fellow countrymen, wasn't about to surrender to hate or despair. "God is not dead, nor doth He sleep," he wrote.
Today, hate is strong, as well. And yet, on this morning, faithful hearts sing merrily and presents are exchanged.
That is the gift Christ gave us. He made possible the triumph over everything the world may throw our way. He brought a peace impervious to hate, violence or sorrow. His sacrifice made the mockeries and indignities he endured appear as they really were — puny and insignificant. He does the same for us. His victory is sure.
This gives everyone, regardless of circumstances, the right to shout "Merry Christmas!"