No wonder Jesus said of himself, "I am the light of the world" (John 8:12). Without Him, all else is darkness.
One Sunday evening, while seated in church listening to the choir's rendition of a lovely Christmas cantata, I noticed one of the sopranos in the front row. This young lady spent most of the time trying to adjust the wick on an artificial candle that evidently wasn't connected with the battery and therefore wouldn't light.
She twisted and turned that tiny stub, then stroked it in hopes that a gentler touch would be more persuasive. I thought that in time she would give up, simply cup her hand over the tip of the candle, and pretend that all was well, but she never did. To the very end of the concert she kept poking at that little white stick.
As I left the building I felt sorry for the young lady. She was there the entire evening, had sung in the choir, but had missed the wonder of Christmas. She had not seen Jesus. All she had noticed was a defective flashlight.
In the second row of the same choir had been a middle-aged woman whose face was aglow. She was caught up with the beauty of the music and the message. I thought about the contrast between the two and concluded that the second woman was truly singing for Jesus, for her eyes were upon Him while participating in the evening's celebration.
No wonder the shepherds left Bethlehem praising and glorifying God! They had seen Jesus.
How was this so? Partly because they never doubted the message told them by the angels. They believed the unbelievable--that a peasant baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, laid in a cow's trough, and overseen by youthful parents was indeed the Messiah, the Son of God, the coming King. So strong was their faith that they dared to leave the barn and broadcast the exciting news to the world.
In a world of nuclear weapons, abuse of all sorts, and the disintegration of society, are we able to believe with a faith so simple that we can see Jesus? For those who will look into the manger with believing hearts, Jesus will surely be seen.
I have a friend with multiple sclerosis who is confined to a health-care center. Her husband has deserted her and is now an alcoholic. She has no children, and her parents are no longer living. The other night she phoned to say that her closest "friend"--with whom she shared a bank account--had taken her checkbook. "You don't need the money," this so-called friend had told the handicapped woman.
And if that wasn't enough, the social worker in charge of her case had turned on her and was not only unpleasant but just plain nasty. "I don't know how much more I can take," my unfortunate friend told me in tears as she bared her heart over the phone.
This lady is a believer and faithfully serves the Lord in spite of her disability. Although crushed by her friend's betrayal, she took the dilemma to God in prayer.
A week later she called my home again. "I have all my money back," she said, "and the social worker has been fired from the center because of excessive drinking." Her voice broke as she quietly sobbed. There was no need to say any more. Through the darkness of her despair she had found Jesus.
To see Jesus, the shepherds did something else many people refuse to do. They were willing to kneel.
To truly see inside the manger, we must kneel; we must bend in adoration. For a person who is reaching for status and trying to climb the ladder of worldly success, kneeling is not easy. But when we are in love with the Baby--the Christ child-we bow before Him.
During a cantata there were a number of tableaus to illustrate visually the message that was being sung.
I watched the children gather around the manger scene by the tree. Their faces were glowing and their eyes were shining, because lying in that crib was a baby. Kneeling, they were able to see the baby. No wonder Jesus admonished adults that if they were to be a part of His kingdom, they must become as little children.
This season, follow God's directive. Just as the shepherds were told by the angels to go and were helped in their quest with signs to keep them on track--the city of David, a Baby in swaddling clothes, a manger--so we, too, must go. When we are obedient to God, we will surely find Him.
Some people try to find God in their own way: through drugs, gurus, "trips," the occult, "psychic tickles," and "soul massages" of one sort or another. But these are not the means by which God has directed us to find Him.
When told by the angels to go to Bethlehem, the shepherds could have refused. They may have preferred to stay with their flocks or decided to go to Galilee instead of Bethlehem. They could have chosen dozens of other options. But they didn't. Instead, they followed God's leading. As a result, they found Jesus!
We can see Him today, even in our confused, sinful world with all that is going on to point us in the wrong direction. Listen to the angels--do as they say.
A few years ago a serious gas leak in India killed more than 2,500 persons. Mother Teresa never flinched but flew right into the horror. Gathered around her were swelling crowds. She turned and faced them, knowing that carcasses were being lifted from the ground to be burned in piles in the surrounding acreage.
She shared with the crowds that a beautiful thing was happening in spite of the pain and sorrow--the tragedy was bringing out the best in everybody. It was forcing those who would otherwise never become involved to serve the suffering. Love was overcoming suffering.
Meeting with 14,000 schoolchildren, Mother Teresa urged them not to have bitter feelings. She told them that this could have been an accident. Like a fire, it could have broken out anywhere. She pointed out that it consequently was important to forgive. Forgiveness offers a clean heart, and people are a hundred times better for doing it.
It is still possible today for people of faith to bend before the manger and see Jesus.
J. Grant Swank Jr.