‘Twas the week before Christmas, and all through the net
Bloggers were blogging from New York to Tibet.
Tweeters were tweeting and Facebook went wild
And no one remembered the birth of the Child.
The stores were all filled with shoppers exhausted,
The halls were all decked, the streets, they were frosted.
The children, intent on candy and stockings,
Indulged in annoying behaviors quite shocking.
Lights were all hung from the houses with care
In hopes that the neighbors would all stop and stare.
Cards were all stamped, presents all sent,
Nativities banished, the atheists hell-bent…
Which brings home to me my purpose in writing—
Though the concept of hell is not real inviting,
The idea of escaping is adequate reason
To celebrate Jesus this holiday season…
Boy – that was lame, and I can hear the objections now, “For pity sake, it’s Christmas; why would you talk about hell?” Because freeing us from that inevitable torment was why He came. That’s why.
Christmas has become meaningless not because of the greedy retailers and the advertising geniuses. Not because we’re so materialistic. Not because we’re a bunch of spoiled hedonists. No. No one remembers Jesus because no one will admit what it is He saved us from. Time was when hell was taken so seriously that polite people never said the word – it was too real to banter about, too horrifying to let slip into your conscious thought.
But now, our culture is permeated by the vague notion that heaven is a given – if you’re interested. If not, that’s OK too. As long as you are a reasonably decent person – somewhere north of Charles Manson, then you’ll do fine. After all, religion is nothing more than each of us picking a fairytale and sticking with the label. I’m a Snow-Whitean – what are you? It doesn’t really matter, because none of it is true anyway; it’s all just make-believe. That’s the assumption.
But allow me a “What if?” What if Christopher Hitchens, the famous atheist who just died of cancer, was wrong and God is really out there? That’s a rhetorical question; God is really out there, in here, everywhere and I’m sure that Hitchens has realized that dying is – pardon the pun; I am not trying to be funny – a hell of a way to find out your views were incorrect. What if God really means what He says? "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not believe in the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him," (John 3:36). What if the “wrath of God” is real? And unending?
Look at the story Jesus recounts in Luke 16.
The Rich Man and Lazarus
“There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
“Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.’
“Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’ Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead,’”(vs. 19-30).
The rich man here is thoroughly miserable – so miserable that just a drop of water seems like a huge boon, and the worst of it is that there is no hope – not for him and not for his stubbornly unbelieving brothers. What did he do wrong? He got rich? No. He didn’t believe what the Old Testament scriptures taught. And what was that? From the Fall of Man to the last page of Malachi, the idea of a Messiah who would come to earth and be a sacrifice for us is clearly the main point. And Abraham? (and obviously the beggar Lazarus) What did Abraham do right? “Abraham believed and it was credited to him as righteousness,” (Genesis 15:6, quoted again in Romans 4:3).
We celebrate – oh Joy to the World! – the fact that many of the prophecies have been fulfilled in the birth, life, death and resurrection of our Lord. (The rest will come to pass at the Second Advent.) We celebrate the amazing fact that His work allows us the option to escape the horrors of unending torment. And all we have to do is believe. (You’ll notice that the rich man was very much conscious, very much aware. He did not just cease to exist; he didn’t get a pass. The justice of God meted out to him exactly what his unbelief earned him – eternal hell. )
Over two thousand years ago, in Bethlehem, God took on human form. He lived a perfect human life, proved over and over again that He was the Messiah, allowed Himself to be nailed to a cross where He made up the huge difference between perfect God and imperfect man. He died doing it. He rose. And now there is no longer that necessary gap between us; hell is no longer required. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved.” Hallelujah!
So go out and shop, buy gifts and be jolly,
Indulge in all sorts of silliness and folly
For Jesus has come to save us from our plight --
“Happy Christmas to all and to all a good night!”