December 24, 1995 | First Presbyterian Church Orlando |
Psychologists are all agreed that we as human beings are shaped by three great driving dreams. We dream of having a sense of belonging, a sense of personal worth, and a sense of ultimate security. Fulfill those dreams, the psychologists say, and your life will be good. Well, interestingly enough, when you look at the Christmas story, you discover that the Christ child of Christmas actually fulfills each of those dreams. I’ll show you what I mean.
First, the Christ child of Christmas gives us a sense of belonging.
In life, we must have a sense of belonging to something or someone else. Without that, life has no meaning; and we live in aloneness.
But think of it. In the Bethlehem Babe, God says unmistakably: I love you. We can never again doubt that we belong, because now, in Jesus Christ, we belong to God, and He belongs to us. Our dreams and hopes are fulfilled.
That’s precisely the experience Taylor Caldwell had when she was very young. Years later, after she became a famous novelist, she wrote about it in a story called, “My Christmas Miracle.” She said that when she was in her 20s and divorced—she had a small daughter and no job—she had worked eight months to save seven dollars to buy her little daughter a Christmas present. She felt completely alone and absolutely hopeless. She prayed and prayed, but God did not seem to answer her prayers. In a couple of weeks, all she had would be gone. She would have to move from her small apartment. She would be homeless, foodless and jobless. She said, “I began not only to doubt God, but to doubt humanity as well. The coldness in my heart was colder than ice.” Then it was Christmas Eve. There was a snowstorm. Suddenly, she heard the church bells ring out, and she decided to bundle up her child and wander out onto the streets. There were people everywhere walking to church, and they smiled at her, and she smiled back. After a few minutes, the snow stopped falling, and the sky was glittering with stars, and then someone on the street began to sing “O Come, All Ye Faithful.” She joined in; as did others—and they all sang together the words. She wrote later: “In that moment, finally, suddenly it came to me, I am not alone at all. I never have been.” You see, in that moment the truth dawned upon her that God at Christmas had sent the Baby Jesus in order to say to her, “I love you.”
Her dream and our dreams are fulfilled when we know that in Jesus Christ we belong to God. Our hopes and dreams are answered at Christmas when God says to us in Jesus, “I love you.”
Secondly, the Christ child gives us a sense of personal worth.
If we don’t have a sense of our own worth, value, significance, importance—if we don’t have a belief that we count for something in this world, then we are nothing more than animals. We are only cogs in the machine, easily replaced if the machine breaks down. But the birth of the Babe in Bethlehem is an event in which God says to us: “You are of such incredible worth and value to me, that I give you my only begotten Son.” In essence, God is saying to us at Christmas not only “I love you,” but also “I believe in you.” That gives us a sense of personal worth. We know that we count.
It makes all the difference in the world, doesn’t it, when someone believes in us. Luciano Pavarotti is considered by most to be the greatest tenor of this time, perhaps the greatest tenor of all time. But as is often the case when one is successful, the climb to that success has not been easy. We look at Pavarotti with his enormous gifts, and we think it has come so easily for him, but that is not true. He began his career as an athlete. His vocal coaches, at the time, did not realize how good he was, so they handed him off to the athletic coaches. But he became completely frustrated. Later he said, “You have to be discovered and rediscovered every time you perform. People do not remember what you have done before, and if they do, they expect you to be as good as before—or better.” Nevertheless, by sheer determination, he embarked upon a musical career, but his success was marginal at best. And then, by chance—I suppose by providence would be a better term—Rudolph Bing, the impressario of the Metropolitan Opera in New York, while touring in Europe happened to hear Pavarotti sing. He invited Pavarotti to come to New York to sing. It seemed to be the break he needed. Unfortunately, he was ill and did not sing well that first night, and the next night he became so sick that half way through the opera he had to leave the stage. He felt sure that his reputation in this country was ruined, and so he returned to Europe in deep despair. And yet, periodically, Rudolph Bing wrote to him, assuring him that if he kept working hard he would achieve his dreams. In 1972, Rudolph Bing invited Pavarotti to return to New York. In the first act of the opera, he was to sing one aria which had nine high Cs and no tenor had sung all of them correctly in more than 100 years. No one in America had ever heard this aria sung correctly. Before Pavarotti took the stage that night, Rudolph Bing called him over and said: “I believe you can do it, and I want to make a bet with you that tonight you will hit every one of those high Cs. Pavarotti accepted the wager. He then went on stage, and he did it. The audience was in ecstasy. It was the performance which secured his reputation forever, and it was all because he was encouraged by a Rudolph Bing who said: “You can do it. I believe in you.”
You see, when someone believes in us, it makes a tremendous difference in our lives. We discover that we can do things we never dreamed we could do. That’s why it is so important for us to remember that in the birth of the Christ child, God is saying to you and to me: “I believe in you. You are worth the world to me. I am counting on you.” Dream fulfilled.
And then the Christ child of Christmas gives us a sense of ultimate security.
We dream that amidst the fears and the uncertainties of this life we can be certain. That amidst the complex insecurities of life we can be secure, and that against the threats of destruction and death,we can find the way to eternal life. Of course, that’s been the dream of people in every generation. But the birth of Jesus Christ delivers to us the message of ultimate security. God says: “Do not be afraid. I will save you.” The cross begins at Christmas. Calvary’s cross is inseparably linked to Bethlehem’s Babe. The empty tomb in Joseph’s garden was the fulfillment of the birth in the stable. Easter and Christmas are the same story. God’s fulfillment of our dream for ultimate security comes in the birth of Jesus Christ—God saying: “I will save you.”
Bishop Arthur Moore tells of going to China to observe the mission work there. At one mission station, the missionary had several of the Chinese Christians, all of them recently converted, share their testimony. Bishop Moore could speak no Chinese, so the Chinese tried to speak English. It was difficult, and they spoke very haltingly, but he said it was tremendously moving to hear one after another of them rise to speak of their commitment to Christ. Finally, they came to an older Chinese lady who could muster up only a few words of English. But these were the words she spoke: “He live, I die. He die, I live forever.” No theologian, no scholar, no preacher could ever put it better than that. “He live, I die. He die, I live forever.” That is the confirmation of God’s fulfillment of our dream for ultimate security. In the Bethlehem Babe God says: “I will save you.”
In the Christ child God says: “I love you. I believe in you. I will save you.” That is why on this Christmas Eve, we can sing, “the hopes and dreams of all the years are met in Thee tonight.”