It's the Christmas season, and amid the baking and the bustling and the bows, it's easy to lose sight of what the fuss is all about. A baby. As the old carol asks, "What child is this?".
There's a lot riding on your answer. Because that baby is the central figure of human history.
Human history, in fact, is divided into two eras (BC and AD) by His existence. (Your birthdate? Counted from His.)
He never traveled more than 100 miles from home, but His followers permeated every country in the world with His story.
He never wrote a book, but more have been written about Him than anyone else in history. By far.
The first book about Him (the Bible), has been translated into almost 3000 different languages. The first runner-up (Don Quixote )? Only 60.
He had only 12 disciples, but billions of people discuss His teachings every day. According to one Harvard professor (not a Christian), the Sermon on the Mount alone represents the "most luminous, most quoted, most analyzed, most contested, most influential moral and religious discourse in all of human history." The professor adds, "This may sound like an overstatement, but it is not. "
He was homeless during His public life, but most of the world's most beautiful buildings were built in His honor (Notre Dame. Westminster Abby. Hagia Sophia. Chartres. St. John's Cathedral. And so on.)
He died as a criminal, but today thousands of names of cities and countries memorialize His life. (San Salvador, for example, which means Holy Savior, or San Juan, named for the apostle John. And so on.)
He never married, but more wedding vows have asked His blessing than any other.
He never had kids, but there's a really good chance you're named after one of his family or his friends.
Untold numbers of people throughout history have willingly gone to their deaths rather than renounce His name.
It begs the question, "What Child IS This?
Author Ralph Waldo Emerson (an atheist) observed that the name of Jesus was not so much written as ploughed into the history of the world.
And author H.G. Wells (also an atheist) said this:
"a historian like myself finds the picture centering irresistibly around the life and character of this most significant man… The historian's test of an individual's greatness is …Did he start men to thinking along fresh lines with a vigor that persisted after him? By this test Jesus stands first. "
Jesus is recognized by skeptic and saint alike as the turning point of history. What child ISthis?
We've had 2000 years to speculate: A really moral man? A great philosopher? A champion of social justice? A pacifist? A mythical figure? A revolutionary? An example for all of us to follow?
Those aren't the right questions. The real question is, "Just who does He think He is?".
And Jesus, tellingly, said none of the above.
Jesus said that He came to "seek and save that which was lost." (Luke 19:10) NKJV
Jesus said that He came to "give his life as a ransom for many." (Matthew 20:28)
In fact, He said that He came specifically for that one moment in time, His crucifixion. (John 12:27)
And Jesus said that He came to be the make-or-break issue in your life and mine.
"For judgment I have come into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may be made blind.” (John 9:39).
What child is this? We all have to answer that question for ourselves. And eternity rides on our answer.
Why? Because God created humans to be with Him. But you probably know what happened next: Adam and Even disobeyed the one rule that God established, and humanity became tainted with sin. And as descendants of Adam and Eve, we inherited that condition.
We're all SIN positive.
The problem is that sin can't survive in the presence of the holiness of God, but that same God still loves us and wants us to be with Him. So Jesus came to seek and save that which was lost.
We're what was lost.
Some Christmas carols call Jesus another name: Emmanual. It means God with Us. And Jesus, God in the form of a man, came to earth to make a bridge. A bridge described in a lot of different places in the Bible.:
"To all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God." (John 1:12)
"he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life. (John 5:24)
"For God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son, so that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." (John 3:16)
And so on.
Maybe you're thinking "that's great for you, but it's just not my thing." Or "I have my own faith".
Or "we all worship the same God."
Than what child is this? Jesus made some pretty amazing statements:
"I am the way, the truth, the life. No man comes to the father but through me." (John 14:6)
"all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me". (Matthew 28:18)
Nobody else said that. Not Mohammed. Not Confucius. not Buddha. Not Joseph Smith. Nobody.
Some people say that's awfully exclusive. Except that John 3:16 said that whosoeverbelieves in Him can have eternal life. Whosoever. His public life lasted barely three years, but it shaped the rest of history.
So what child is this?
You can call Him a liar. You can call Him a lunatic. Or you can call him Lord.
"Undecided" isn't really an option. He didn't mean for it to be.
Jesus was crucified because He claimed to be the Messiah, a Messiah described in Isaiah as "wounded for our transgressions", whose chastisement made peace for us with God. Jesus said that He came to give us life as a ransom for many. Nobody else said that. Not Mohammed. Not Confucius. Not Buddha. Not Joseph Smith. Nobody.
That's what sets Jesus apart. Only He laid down His life for your sins and mine. And when He died on that cross (a fact documented in Roman records) it would have certainly seemed that that was the last history would hear of Him.
But the cross that He died on is now is the world's most common symbol, engraved on tombstones, mounted in and on churches, scattered on hillsides and hung around a whole lot of necks.
(And at Ground Zero. At least for now.)
So what child is this? That's the question. And the answer.
As G. K Chesterton observed,
"since Jesus died on the cross it has never been quite enough to say that God is in His heaven and all is right with the world", since, according to the Bible, "God left His heavens to set it right. "
God, in the form of Jesus, left heaven to seek and save that which was lost, meaning you and me. When He died on the cross, God was saying that He loves you. He Himself came to earth to give
His life as your ransom.
It was the God of all the universe, whispering into your ears, "I do".
And that God, who still loves you, stands at the altar, waiting for your answer.