Death has a way of sucking life out of living—especially at Christmas.
It was two weeks before Christmas 2000. Around midnight I walked out of St. Luke’s Hospital in Columbus, NC, not far from where I was serving as Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church Landrum, SC. I had just left the hospital room of a church member who was not expected to live through the night. Earlier in the evening I had been in a hospital room in Spartanburg (SC) Regional Hospital with another church member who had just been told there was nothing his doctors could do except make him comfortable as death approached. Meanwhile, lying in Mary Black Hospital across town in Spartanburg was a third church member also at death’s door.
I drove from the rear parking lot of St. Luke’s Hospital with a heavy heart as I contemplated the collective weight of those three near-death situations. Death stinks anytime, but especially at Christmas when reminders abound of “joy” to the world. As I emerged from the tree-lined driveway I saw it—a large lighted cross high above Columbus, NC, on White Oak Mountain. What a timely reminder it was to me during that Christmas season, without the cross which one day stood on a hillside in Jerusalem, the humble manger in Bethlehem serving as Jesus’ first cradle would have little, if any, significance for us today.
You see, being born of a virgin was significant. But in and of itself, Jesus’ miraculous birth was not sufficient to divide time into BC/AD. Being heralded by a heavenly host of angels to low-on-the-totem-pole-of-society shepherds was powerful stuff, but even that is not enough to cause most stores to close their doors on December 25. Being visited and gifted by wise men from the East was attention getting, but even that is not enough to cause millions to set aside time each December 24 to attend Christmas Eve worship services in honor of Jesus’ birth and life.
No, only Jesus’ death on the cross to save mankind from sin, and only Jesus’ resurrection from the dead to make available eternal life to all who believe in Him, give adequate reason for there to be a worldwide celebration called Christmas every December 25. But why? Because only Jesus’ special life and death and resurrection suck death out of dying and put life back into living.
And that is why we can say Merry Christmas!