Several years ago, I watched a documentary of the “Lost Boys of the Sudan.” Approximately 20,000 young boys were resettled in the United States after a very heroic and dangerous escape from Sudan to Ethiopia. They were leaving behind the horrendous genocide of the Second Sudanese Civil War.
The boys were excited over their opportunity to live in America. They heard that the United States was a Christian country.
One group of boys arrived just before Christmas. The joy of living in a Christian country during the Christmas season was intoxicating. They could not wait to see how a Christian country celebrated the birth of the Messiah.
In the documentary, there is a scene of the boys wandering through a mall and asking themselves, “Where is Christmas?” They saw many Christmas sale signs, Santa, reindeers and evergreen trees. But the boys could not find anyone celebrating the Christ Child.
Modern celebrations of Christmas often leave Christ out of Christmas. They seem to blind us to the theological and political nature of the birth of the Messiah. The decorations, joyous songs, great food and gift giving, masks the fact that God sent us a Messiah, because we needed one.
Jesus was on a rescue mission. All of humanity has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Like sheep, every human on the planet has gone astray. We have all missed the mark. No one has received a passing grade. Tragically, all are incapable of changing this reality.
With that backdrop, God sends a Messiah in the form of the Christ Child. This fragile little boy grew to give his life to save us all. He took upon himself the sins of the whole world.
This is a story of joy and hope. But our hope is tempered with the realization of God’s great love and sacrifice for us. It is a gift we do not deserve and could never repay. God’s gift humbles us.
God’s gift also reveals the severity of our sin nature. In Isaiah’s prophecy of the coming Messiah, he compared the preparation of building a road in the ancient world to our human systems. In preparation for the Messiah, the valleys had to be filled in and the mountains had to be lowered. The rough terrains were made smooth and the crooked trails were straightened out.
This was a commentary on the world led by humans. Our sins created a world of favor, privilege and discrimination. We elevate some and restrict others. The Messiah comes to provide a level playing field – a world where justice rolls down like rivers and mercy like an ever-flowing stream.
For me, keeping Christ in Christmas is a daily endeavor. I am constantly reminded of who I am without Christ. I am a sinner. I am also reminded of God’s work in my life.
God sent me a Messiah. With joy, I receive God’s gift of the Messiah. But there is also the solemn thought that the gift was given because of my need.
The Rev. Dr. Jon R. Black is senior pastor at Campbell Chapel A.M.E. Church in Bluffton.