Every year, about this time, Linus comes marching on stage with his trusty blanket. And he uses a passage from the Bible to help poor ol' Charlie Brown understand "what Christmas is really all about." ..."And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and laid Him in the manger." Until recently, I had no idea how loaded those words were.
Christmas Eve at our house is anything but a "Silent Night." How about "Family Circus"? Each year brings a lot of high-energy, high-decibel giving and the opening of gifts. One year, somewhere in the flying wrapping paper, was one overwhelmed two-year-old. Quietly dazed amid the happy din. There was one person who noticed. Grandma, of course.
That Christmas is going to be a tough Christmas for my friend Rob - his first Christmas without the love of His life. Yeah, I know about that feeling. She actually had died just a few weeks before - Rob's wife had. Like a lot of people whose Christmas joy is bittersweet. I've lost the love of my life. Well, I know where she is; I didn't lose her. She's in heaven. And you know what? There are other times it was a very close call; three times I almost lost her. And God gave her back to me those times. But Christmas makes us think about the loves that we've lost doesn't it? Which, by the way, could lead us to the greatest love of all.
You may have noticed firstborn children are usually known for their independence, which can sometimes get them in trouble. When our daughter was four years old, we were on a family shopping trip to the local grocery store. Her little brother was riding in the cart and our daughter was walking ahead of Mom and me and the cart. At a moment when we were looking at the corn flakes or something, she wandered off and into another aisle. To this day she still remembers the panic of realizing she did not know where she was or where we were. She told me, "The aisle looked so long, the shelves looked so high, and I didn't recognize anybody." Suddenly, our little girl realized she was lost.
Every time you sing that Christmas carol, "Hark the Herald Angels Sing," you sing those words, "Peace on earth and mercy mild." But if you ever watch the news or read a newspaper, you might well be asking, "Whatever happened to peace on earth?" That's a good question. Some have said that the terrorism danger for Americans has remained high long after September 11, 2001. One national correspondent expressed on television what a lot of people are feeling. He said, "I have never in my lifetime seen such a high degree of threat to our personal security." And financial developments, political developments? They haven't helped much. Then you throw in the dangers that you might be facing personally, it could be medical, or financial, your personal life. Where's that peace that Christmas is supposed to be about?
A family on vacation. Nobody feels especially like doing the usual chores, like picking up the mess. Besides, there's that "room fairy" who comes while you're out and magically makes it all better, right? Unfortunately, "room fairies" only work when you're away from home. They don't do your house for you. Have you noticed that? My friend, Mike Silva, was staying with his family at a hotel in Nigeria, he told me, and they heard a knock at the door. Mike opened it and found a smiling Nigerian gentleman standing there ready to clean the room. That was no small order. Actually, they were pretty embarrassed because of all the travel bags and curling irons and crumpled clothing sprawled all across their unmade beds. And the bathroom floor was carpeted with beautiful wet towels. Mike apologized profusely. The young man, though, just put him at ease. He said, "No problem, sir. For this reason I have come, to put your things in order."
It was one of those disasters that years ago riveted the attention of the nation. Nine Pennsylvania coal miners had been excavating when they apparently broke through a flooded shaft. An estimated 50 to 60 million gallons of water rushed in, trapping the men in this underground chamber. When the water rose over their heads, they had to swim to higher ground - still 240 feet underground. For two and a half days, rescuers didn't know if the miners were dead or alive. Once they made contact through a phone line they lowered into the flooded shaft, they established a line that would deliver compressed air and they began pumping out water. Seventy-seven hours after the ordeal began, rescuers brought the miners, one at a time, up to the surface in this cramped yellow rescue cage. As the last man was pulled to the surface, the Governor of the state simply said, "All nine. All nine."
Amy Biehl was 26 years old, and she really wanted to make a difference. Her graduate studies took her to South Africa in the turbulent days when the repressive system of apartheid was coming down and that nation's first all-race elections were approaching. She actually helped develop voter registration programs to help black South Africans participate in a system that up until then had always shut them out. She was driving three black coworkers back to the township where they lived. Suddenly a group of youths pelted her car with stones and forced it to stop. Dozens of young men surrounded the car and they started chanting, "One settler - one bullet! One settler - one bullet!" They pulled Amy from the car, hit her with a brick, beat her, and stabbed her in the heart. During that attack her black friends were yelling that she was a friend to black South Africans, all to no avail. Amy died from her wounds.
It was one of those nightmare days, trying to get a flight out of Chicago's O'Hare Airport. Some thunderstorms actually sent flight schedules into chaos for about 24 hours. You know what that means. Two hundred flights were cancelled that day, a lot more were delayed, and thousands of people were scrambling to find a way to get to where they needed to go...including me. Finally, I just gave up on trying to get out that day and I reserved one of the last seats available the next morning for the city where I was supposed to be speaking. Well, 7:00 A.M. the next morning my coworker and I were in our seats for a full flight. The engine was running - it seemed like we were ready to go. Until the cockpit came on and made this announcement, "Uh, folks, we've encountered one problem this morning. We can't find a captain for this flight." What? Oh, great! No captain! We're not going anywhere, folks! Well, thankfully, a captain finally came, and we finally got there!
Amy Carmichael was one of India's most heroic missionaries, and a woman whose life continues to inspire a lot of people today. She has written some inspiring words, but none more inspiring than her account of a scene she saw in her mind one sleepless night as she agonized over the people around her who didn't have a relationship with Jesus. She saw herself standing on the edge of a sheer cliff that dropped off into this dark and seemingly bottomless space. She described the people who were moving steadily toward that edge. She saw a blind woman plunge over the cliff with a baby in her arms and a child holding onto her dress. Streams of people began to come from all directions; all of them blind.