A friend of mine sends me two or three email forwards a day — and almost every one of them is worth reading. But one that I got today was even more pertinent and poignant than usual. Here it is:
A woman was out Christmas shopping with her two children. After many hours of looking at row after row of toys and everything else imaginable, and after hours of hearing both her children asking for everything they saw on those many shelves, she finally made it to the elevator. She was feeling what so many of us feel during the holiday season, overwhelming pressure to go to every party, every housewarming, taste all the holiday food and treats, get that perfect gift for every single person on our shopping list, make sure we don't forget anyone on our card list, and so on. Finally the elevator came, and it was crowded. She pushed her way in and dragged her two kids and all the shopping bags in with her. When the doors closed, she couldn't take it anymore and blurted out, "Whoever started this whole Christmas thing should be found, strung up, and shot."
From the back, everyone heard a quiet, calm voice respond, "Don't worry. We already crucified him."
For the rest of the trip down the elevator, it was so quiet you could have heard a pin drop.
Don't forget this year to keep the one who started this whole Christmas thing in your every thought, deed, purchase, and word.
If we all did it, just think how different this whole world would be.
That was how the email ended. But I think that we should take the matter a little further.
Christmas is more than just a holiday, of course. But it's also more than just the celebration of the birth of Jesus. It's the celebration of the birth of a savior — a savior sent from God to us, bearing the extraordinary gift of eternal life. Every other religion is essentially about man finding a way to God. Christianity alone claims to be about understanding and accepting God's way to us. Some people love to dilute and play down this message today. They place Christianity on the same plane as the other religions — and suggest that they're basically all the same — there are just some cultural differences, some different ways of explaining God, some different contexts. They hold that we're all really looking for the same God, and any way that gets us there is just as good as any other way. It has become almost fashionable to say that Jesus is the Christian prophet, just as Mohammed is the Muslim prophet.
But is that really possible? Does the adult Jesus, as revealed in the New Testament gospels, even permit us to logically entertain that possibility? In
C. S. Lewis' memorable little book Mere Christianity, he poses what has later been called the trilemma: that Jesus must be Lord, Liar or Lunatic, but could not simply have been an exemplary person and a great teacher.
The trilemma rests upon the repeated assertions by Jesus, and confirmed by several of his apostles who went to their deaths defending the proposition, that Jesus was the Messiah and a person of the Godhead himself. If Jesus claimed to be God, but knew deep down inside that he was not, then he was a liar. And if he was delusional, and truly thought that he was God, but in fact was not, then he was mad, or in Lewis' alliterative formulation, a lunatic. Now how could either such a liar, or such a lunatic, also be an exemplary person, great teacher or great prophet? Those possibilities are mutually exclusive. The third possibility, of course, is that he claimed to be God and in fact was God. In that event, we should accept him as Lord, as a person of the Godhead. And "accept" is the key word here. Just as, at Christmastime, when someone offers you a gift, it does not become yours until you accept it, so the offer of salvation through Jesus Christ, arguably the greatest gift ever offered anyone, must be accepted in order to become yours. So this year, at Christmastime, do not simply recall that we celebrate Jesus' birth. Instead, ponder the trilemma — the only three logical possibilities that Jesus was Lord, Liar or Lunatic, but could not have been just a great teacher — and accept the gift of salvation through his death as well as his birth.
If you do that for the first time this Christmas, you'll find that Merry is too trivial a word to express your joy.
(Colin Hanna is President of Let Freedom Ring, USA. This commentary can be heard on www.americanradiojournal.com.)