“At Bethlehem men may recover the lost sense of where they are”
A new book tells the story of Bill Bradley, Princeton’s basketball star and the greatest player in the history of the Ivy League. The title of the new book (A Sense of Where You Are) is anything but bouncy. Yet no one who has seen Bill Bradley play doubts that on the basketball court he knew where he was. Happily, Bill is also a serious-minded Presbyterian, and in the courts of religion he knows equally well where he is.
A person who does not know where he is, by that very fact is surrounded by meaninglessness. Without a relationship to reality, all meaning is lost, and the person himself is a lost person. Not knowing where he is, he does not know how he got there or where he is going. This loss of the sense of where one is characterizes millions of confused men in our time. And this sense of lostness has been immeasurably increased by the modern invasion of outer space. The further man reaches out into the boundless skies, the less he has of what Bill Bradley’s book calls “a sense of where you are.”
Christmas 1965 is a good time to rediscover where we are. And Bethlehem is the right place. For it was there, and not on some distant star or yet unvisited planet, that God broke through the limits of creation and became a man among men. Where are we? We are where God moved in, where the Eternal became temporal; we are where the Creator became a creature and the Almighty God a baby, while yet remaining God. Modern man lives in the world that cradled a baby who was God—a baby who, had he not been fed by his mother and protected by swaddling clothes, would have died. We live where this thing was done. We are where God came to help and to redeem us. This is where we are!
Twentieth-century man does not know his own origin and is therefore confused about himself. Uncertain of who he is, he searches for identity. The atheistic existentialist tells man that he was simply catapulted into existence, and that there is just no more to be said. The balder forms of evolution teach that man evolved from animal life. If so, he cannot “turn again home,” for the realm of animality can never be the home of the human spirit. But at the place in our world called Bethlehem, modern man can regain that sense of where he is and from whence he came, because at Bethlehem he sees the Creature who is his Creator; he meets the God who is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and also his own Father and Creator. Here also he meets his Lord, who is the Way and the Determiner of man’s destiny. And with this knowledge of where he came from and where he is going, he is no longer lost; he knows where he is, and why.
What man will find one day when he lands on the moon and on far-flung planets, no one knows. But he who like the shepherds travels to the land of Palestine to see the things that happened there knows that nothing comparable will ever be found in all of space. For there in the birth and life, the death and resurrection of God in Christ, God did something that can never be matched, surpassed, superseded, or repeated. On our planet, God moved in to help, to become our Friend and Neighbor, our Saviour and Salvation. Here where we live God became our very present help in trouble. The sinner whose life is adrift, the confused man who moves without direction and whose days are spent without meaning, may here, and only here, in this world where he lives, find him who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. At Bethlehem men may recover the sense of where they are.
Our world is restless and troubled, a place of human turbulence and suffering. Yet the Christian does not cry, “Stop the world—I want to get off,” for it is here and nowhere else that God has come in Jesus Christ to be his eternal help and comfort, his everlasting Redeemer from every human sorrow and pain. Mankind lives where this occurred, and those who believe in the true meaning of Christmas have this profound and comforting awareness of where they are. They are where God came to help; they are where Immanuel came to be God with us, and thus God for us.
Bethlehem was troubled when God broke into humanity to become man, while yet remaining God. This was bound to be disturbing, for God became man to change man, to redeem him from sin and death and hell, and even from himself. Small wonder, then, that Mary was troubled, unable to give an account of herself that others would not regard as a “likely story”; small wonder that Joseph was grieved to think of putting away the woman he loved, that Herod was troubled and all Jerusalem with him, that the mothers of Bethlehem wept with their dead children in their arms and “would not be comforted,” that the shepherds were filled with fear! God entered this planet, and the earth shook. The old time and history ended when God entered the world. A quake and a shudder went through humanity. What else could be expected? For here on the planet where we live, all things, in all the universe, are dying and becoming old—and also becoming new! But in and through this shaking of the planet on which we live, the redemption of mankind and the reconciliation of all things, visible and invisible, in heaven and on earth, is taking place.
Who would want to be and who would want to live anywhere else? Sing that carol, ring that bell, light that colored light, trim that tree, and deck those halls with holly! All men, every creature and all nations, must truly know where they are, in the most turbulent place in all the universe—in the place, and the only place, where God moved in to help man!
Even in this space age, we must look, not to the science of space and to the planets it hopes to bring near, but to Bethlehem, where God became our neighbor. We must look neither to the heights to bring the Christ down nor to the depths to bring Christ up. For neither in the heights nor in the depths but on this planet where we live, God moved in and came near to all.
When The Power Failed
Thousands of ministers used the Eastern “blackout” to fortify Sunday sermons and give them added flair. Among them was Martin Luther King, who preached in New York City on “what to do when the lights go out.” He likened the power failure to the blackout in morality and in international and race relations.
Some illuminating insights emerged from the darkness. One wag exclaimed: “There’s more to this than meets the eye.” The New Yorkers who sought refuge in St. Patrick’s discovered that the cathedral had candles but no rest rooms. Washington newspapers picked up the story of Jeane Dixon, local seeress, who two years ago predicted the blackout and related it to Communist activity. One man left a barber shop with his left side trimmed, his right shaggy. A young reporter assigned to write a “mood piece” as he watched the city lights come on fell asleep on a narrow ledge of his fourteenth-story watchtower and missed it all. His editor said “he will not be court-martialed.”
Certainly it would be foolish to assign eschatological and apocalyptic significance to the blackout. But one fact should not be overlooked. Millions of people kept their heads. There was no panic; aside from one or two minor incidents, Americans and Canadians demonstrated maturity and good sense.
We had blithely assumed that no power failure could happen in the United States. We had taken for granted the notion that electrical power would flow forever. Do we not also presume on God’s providence? The survival of a nation depends not only on its physical resources but also on the mercy and the common grace of God.
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