“Of course not!” I answered. It was ridiculous. Who says things like this? I wondered.
My boyfriend then explained that he saw a future for us, but that he couldn’t marry someone who didn’t accept Jesus as their Savior. But then he told me something that I had never heard: “If you can keep an open mind,” he said, “God can reveal Himself to you.”
This didn’t sound right to me, but I had so much respect for this man that I didn’t feel I could dismiss his claim out of hand. But I warned him that even though I was willing to show up at church from time to time, the chances of me becoming a Christian were less than zero.
But it turned out that the church he attended was pastored by a man named Tim Keller, who might be the most persuasive Christian apologist and evangelical pastor of his generation (if not the century). His sermons would weave together threads from philosophy, history, music, literature, and even popular culture. I had never heard anyone talk about the Bible, or Jesus, the way Keller did.
About a year into this unlikely journey I came to the conclusion that the weight of evidence was on the side of Christianity being true. But this was a head decision, not one of the heart.
Shortly after arriving at that conclusion, I went on a business trip to Taiwan. During the travel I prayed fervently that God would reveal Himself to me, though I didn’t really understand what I was asking for. And then one morning I awoke from a dream in which Jesus had come to me and said, “Here I am.” I was overwhelmed and frightened because the experience was so real.
I called my boyfriend, half a world away, but before I had a chance to tell him, he broke up with me. I can see now that his purpose in my life had been fulfilled, but at the time it was quite a shock, if for no other reason than the fact that he was the only Christian I really knew well. Who was I going to talk to about this dream?
I ended up reaching out to a Christian I had met through my (now ex-) boyfriend and uncomfortably recounted my dream to him. He himself had become a believer through a dream and insisted that I needed to join a Bible study.
So I took a breath and headed to the Upper East Side Bible study my friend had suggested. I wish I could remember exactly what was said that first day, because as I stepped out onto the sidewalk after the meeting I was overwhelmed by the truth of the Gospels.
Ironically, after all of this, Christmas lost its luster for me. The rank materialism became too much to bear, and the Christmas season morphed from being a time I savored into something I tried to survive each year. Santa Claus, Christmas trees, the holiday jingles—they all felt like pagan oppression. When people complained about a war on Christmas I often smirked and thought to myself, Where do I sign up? Honestly: When a sale at Crate & Barrel gets entangled with the birth of Jesus Christ, something has gone horribly wrong.
But then I realized that I had allowed the secular celebrations of Christmas to crowd out its transcendent meaning. As theologian N. T. Wright points out, it’s Christmas that is the moment when God launched a “divine rescue mission” of humankind.
God didn’t just condescend to come to earth as a human. He came as a helpless infant. The King of Kings was born amid barnyard animals and piles of hay after His lowly parents were turned away from better lodgings. When the Magi came to see the Lord, there was no security on hand to judge whether they were worthy. The Messiah was approachable.