In his classic autobiography Confessions, Saint Augustine, a theologian of the early church, narrates an incident which happened when he was a teenager. There was a pear tree near his family’s vineyard loaded with fruit that wasn’t even attractive in appearance or taste. Yet he and some friends stole pears from the tree. They did so not to eat them themselves, but to throw them to the pigs. He says that he and his friends committed the theft simply because they had pleasure in doing something that was forbidden, a tale as old as that of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.
Jesus Christ has done more to change history, the course of civilization, and the condition of man than any other leader, group, government, or empire before Him or since. He has given the love of God to billions and made the way for as many as will believe in Him to receive eternal life.
It never ceases to amaze me how Jesus shows up in the dark and difficult places of our lives. One such example is told in Luke 8.
Jesus, already being thronged by crowds of people eager to hear His words, is begged by Jairus, a cleric and a man of some importance, to come to his home and heal his dying daughter.
There are many things we can celebrate at Christmas, the most essential being the gift of our relationship with God through His Son, Jesus. To paraphrase a beautiful promise in the book of Daniel, the closer we grow to Him, the more His wisdom will “shine as the brightness of the firmament in us,” and His righteousness through us “as the stars forever and ever.”1 Remembering to pause and take those moments to acknowledge Him allows His Spirit to flow freely in our lives and replaces the stress and strain that bottles up our joy. All we have to do is let that peace flow in, and He goes to work helping it shine out to others.
My wife has a fondness for miniature nativities, or manger scenes, as they are sometimes called. Twenty-five years ago she made small nativity figurines as gifts for her family. She sculpted them from clay, painted them at the kitchen table, and then baked them in the oven. Her sister still displays her set every Christmas.
Each year, when Easter comes around, I find myself overwhelmed by the thought of what Jesus went through for us. So much suffering, anguish, and pain He took in the hours before His cruel execution. Not to mention the mental distress of knowing what was coming. Yes, He knew the purpose behind it all, but it was clearly still terrifying. In fact, Jesus requested an exemption from the cross.1
The other day, I found myself sitting in a restaurant alone, as my friend was running late. As I waited, I decided to jot down some thoughts about what Jesus means to me and what I love most about Him. This is what I came up with:
I am not a fabrication, a figment of the imagination, or a fable. I am real—and I am what you need. I can give you comfort in place of anxiety, faith in place of fear, rest in place of struggle, peace in place of worry, happiness in place of sadness, and answers to your questions. I can be your strength, your help in time of need, your friend and companion. That doesn’t mean you will never have another problem or challenge in life, but I can help you with life’s problems.
I’ve always especially liked Easter. While Christmas is a celebration of joy and excitement for the entire world to take pleasure in—even non-Christians—I feel Easter is a celebration of what Jesus did for each of us as individuals.
Easter is all about the relationship between Jesus and me. As a child, I never understood this relationship. Jesus was my friend, sure, but it didn’t really go beyond that. I guess I sort of saw Jesus as a “get out of jail free” card, someone who was there to be leaned on, but only when necessary.
“Who lives in a stable?”
“Jesus lives in the stable!”
At first I laughed at that answer my four-year-old sister gave during my impromptu lesson on animals and their habitats. But her answer kept coming back to me. Jesus lives in the stable. Was that the only place she saw Jesus come alive for me?