I was raised in a Christian home by dedicated Christian parents. We prayed before we went out, whenever we got in the car, before we cooked, before we started our homework, and of course, before going to sleep. The bookshelves were full of children’s devotional books and Bibles, and we watched Bible cartoons in the evenings.
I recently reread the touching story of a wealthy man and his son who loved to collect works of art. (The story appears in several sermons and books, but the original author is unknown.) It goes like this:
One of my favorite movies is the 1967 classic Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. The movie was released at a very sensitive period in American history when race relations were highly volatile. It went on to become a major hit and acted as a great agent for social change.
One of the portions of the Nativity story that I find most beautiful and meaningful is when the angel appeared to the shepherds and announced Jesus’ birth, followed by a multitude of heavenly hosts praising God. It’s such a fitting entrance for the birth of the Son of God:
I still remember that day. It was the early 80s and I was a teenager sitting in the back seat of our car. Somebody at a stop light handed my parents some beautiful color posters to read, and they quickly handed them to me in the back seat. Then they stopped at a place where they had some business and left me alone in the car for a while. As I had nothing else to do, I picked up the posters and glanced at them. They had a picture in the front and a message at the back about salvation and the gift of eternal life through Jesus.
I grew up in a Christian family, but when I was a teenager, feeling overwhelmed over the world’s problems caused me to start doubting my faith. When I was 18, though, my boyfriend was a firm believer. We had some discussions on faith, and he was so sincere that I started doubting my doubts.
When the time was right, God sent his Son, and a woman gave birth to him. His Son obeyed the Law, so he could set us free from the Law, and we could become God’s children.1
God sent His Son into the world at a specific time and place to live as a human being, to die on a cross, and to be raised from the dead to redeem fallen humankind, so that humanity would have the opportunity to enter into His kingdom and into a special relationship with Him.
I was gathered with friends in a living room full of Christmas decorations. There were refreshments on the coffee table, and we were singing Christmas carols together. What could be more typical?
But I live in Southeast Asia, and I was surrounded by local friends and was attempting to sing “O Holy Night” in a foreign (to me) language. As my eyes traveled around the circle, I briefly thought of each one that was there.
“This humanitarian work you do—is there some religious motivation? If it’s religious, I’m an atheist.” The old bum tugging at my arm looked more like a beast than a man. His shriveled body bore all the marks of extreme alcoholism, but his eyes were alert and pled with mine.
“I was once an atheist, too,” I told him.
I dreamed that I was invited to a luxurious banquet. Everything around me shone with glory and splendor. Crystal goblets were filled with the best wines and all my favorite dishes were present. Then there was the command, “Eat and be happy.”
So I ate and was happy. By the time the desserts were served, I could hardly take another bite, and then …