“The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” — which means, “God with us.” (Matthew 1:23)
Christmas for Judy and me really is the most wonderful time of the year. It’s not just because of the festivities and family traditions that surround our happy memories of years gone by. No, it’s much more than that.
In the early hours of Christmas morning fifty-five years ago we submitted our lives to the Lord and Savior of the world.
I was a young naval officer and Judy was a brand-new mother. Life was unfolding for us pretty much as we had always envisioned, having planned our future together as responsibly as we knew how as young adults. I would put twenty-something years in the service while helping Judy raise our children when I was not deployed at sea. We would regroup after that and deal with whatever would be next. What did we know?
As usual, God had his own ideas and didn’t have a problem messing with ours. He had seen our future mapped out long before we even knew we had one. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10)
So, here we were in our little apartment in Norfolk close to where we both grew up. My ship was in port, and I had a full week of leave to visit with our special guests, Judy’s brother along with his wife and small child. Her brother was also an old high school buddy of mine and a frequent partner in teenage mischief. He was probably the most viable witness who could impart his newfound faith to us.
He had served out his military commitment and was now attending a Bible school while ministering in a large church in Southern California. During their week with us he and his wife almost glowed as they shared their testimony with us; how the Lord had met them in their need and changed their lives with new hope and direction. Our hearts longed for the peace and assurance they obviously enjoyed, and we could hardly wait to do what was necessary to have it.
Kneeling around our coffee table, Judy and I said an assertive “yes” to the Lord’s invitation to follow him and received his Holy Spirit into our hearts. Right then and there our pilgrimage of faith had its humble beginning.
Little did we know where this path would eventually lead, but we agreed that whatever the price, our new life in Christ would be well worth it.
More than a half-century later, our hearts and minds remain committed to that pursuit. Looking back on our life together, we can see that God’s grace and mercy were there with us the whole way, even in the darkest situations. Yes, Christmas has a special meaning for us. It is our new life birthday.
Later that morning, while holding my two-month-old firstborn son, I heard the Christmas song, “What Child Is This,” playing softly on our radio. How amazing, I remember thinking to myself … that God would send his firstborn Son into the world as an affirmation of his great love for mankind and who would become our Savior and Lord.
”For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:16-17)
God well knew what he was doing and why, even though his sovereign plan remains a mystery to mankind. ”He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God — children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:10-13).
What child is this? Indeed.
Holding my son close to my chest I silently reasoned that if I, being a mere man, could love this infant of ours so much, how much more does our Heavenly Father love his only Son. I would have gladly given up my own life to save my son but sending him to die for unworthy people would be unthinkable.
Yet, God loves us enough to have sent Jesus Christ to live among us, to suffer at the hands of the very ones he came to save and to die as the atonement for our sins so that we might possess everlasting life with him in Paradise. That scenario seems too good to be true, yet it is the Gospel truth and the basis for our blessed hope.
As it is written, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8)
In short, Jesus was born to die so that we might live. That is part of the great mystery of God’s eternal purposes and far beyond the comprehension of mankind. Even the angels marvel.
I well realize that all this biblical stuff is a stumbling-block to those whose hearts are set against anything remotely “Christian.” I also know that the Christmas story is mere foolishness to the wise of this world, and yet for those of us who believe, it is the solid foundation of our faith and hope.
The Light of Life has come into the darkness that had enslaved mankind, and now we have been set free from the law of sin and death. It is fitting that we rejoice in this most wonderful time of the year when we celebrate the coming of our Lord, God’s most precious and priceless gift presented to us in such a simple and plain wrapping.
There was our Savior King wrapped in swaddling clothes, helplessly lying in a manger. The intentional humility of that is astounding. Immanuel, God with us, not as noble royalty or with lavish ceremony.
He seemed to be an ordinary little infant born to a couple of regular country folks who were simply trying to obey God’s instructions to them. They were as astonished and amazed as anyone else that God would use them to bear and rear his only Son. I wonder how often they said to themselves and each other, “not our will, but his,” as they committed their lives to raising the Christ child into his human adulthood. We can only imagine.
What child is this? That is so much more than a simple question. It is a fundamental key to understanding the Christian faith. Jesus confronted His disciples with the question. ”But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” (Matthew 16:15)
He asks each of us the same question. Our answer will determine the course of our life on earth and the ultimate destination of our eternal life.
Early that one Christmas morning, Judy and I emphatically agreed with Simon Peter; “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16).
May your Christmas be merry and bright as you celebrate “God with you” wherever you are.
[LeRoy Curtis is a graduate of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and Asbury Theological Seminary. He served four years as a U.S. Naval Officer after which he became a pastor, Bible professor, educator, author, and missionary living in E. Africa for eight years where he and his wife developed a curriculum of biblical studies for untrained pastors in rural Kenya. His passion for training young church leaders takes him to various parts of the U.S., Latin America, and Africa. He and Judy are currently residing in Carrollton, Georgia.]