610) The Greatest Gift (part two)

Before his conversion to Christianity, Lee Strobel had been a journalist for fourteen years.  He was also an atheist.  Here is the story of how Strobel got started on his spiritual journey to faith in Jesus.  This article (second of two parts) is adapted from his book The Case for Christmas.  Strobel has written several books explaining and defending the truths of Christianity.  His website is:   http://www.leestrobel.com

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     (…continued)  I was pondering this as I drove back toward Tribune Tower.  Suddenly, though, my thoughts were interrupted by the crackle of the car’s two-way radio.  It was my boss, sending me out on another assignment.  Jarred back to reality, I let the emotions I felt in the Delgado apartment dissipate.  And that, I figured at the time, was probably a good thing.

     As I would caution myself whenever the Delgados would come to mind from time to time over the ensuing years, I’m not the sort of person who’s driven by feelings.  As a journalist, I was far more interested in facts, evidence, data and concrete reality.  Virgins don’t get pregnant; there is no God who became a baby; and Christmas is little more than an annual orgy of consumption driven by the greed of corporate America.  Or so I thought.

     As a youngster, I listened with rapt fascination to the annual Bible story about Christmas.  But as I matured, skepticism set in.  I concluded that not only is Santa Claus merely a feel-good fable, but that the entire Christmas tale was itself built on a flimsy foundation of wishful thinking.

     Sure, believing in Jesus could provide solace to sincere but simple folks like the Delgados; yes, it could spark feelings of hope and faith for people who prefer fantasy over reality.  But as a law-trained newspaperman, I dealt in the currency of facts; and I was convinced the facts supported my atheism rather than Christianity.

     All of that changed several years later, however, when I took a cue from one of the most famous Bible passages about Christmas.  The story describes how an angel announced to a ragtag group of shepherds that “a Savior who is Messiah and Master” had been born in David’s town.  Was this a hoax?  A hallucination?  Or could it actually be the pivotal event of human history– the incarnation of the Living God?

     The shepherds were determined to get to the bottom of the matter.  Like first-century investigative reporters being dispatched to the scene of an earth-shattering story, they declared:  “Let’s get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can, and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.”  They left, running, to personally check out the evidence for themselves. 

     Essentially, that’s what I did for a living as a Tribune reporter:  investigate claims to see if they’re true, separate rumors from reality, and determine facts from fiction.  So prompted by my agnostic wife’s conversion to Christianity, and still intrigued by memories of the Delgados, I decided to get to the bottom of what I now consider to be the most crucial issue of history:  who was in the manger on that first Christmas morning?

     Can we really trust the biographies of Jesus to tell us the true story of his birth, life, teachings, miracles, death, and ultimate resurrection from the dead?  Did the Christmas child ultimately embody the attributes of God?  And did the baby in Bethlehem miraculously match the prophetic “fingerprint” of the long-awaited Messiah?

     I ended up spending nearly two years investigating the identity of the Christmas child; you can read what I discovered in my book The Case for Christmas.  At the conclusion, I found the evidence to be clear and compelling.

     Yes, Christmas is a holiday overlaid with all sorts of fanciful beliefs, from flying reindeer to Santa Claus sliding down chimneys.  But I became convinced that if you drill to its core, Christmas is based on a historical reality– the Incarnation:  God becoming man, spirit taking on flesh, the infinite entering the finite, the eternal becoming time-bound.  It’s a mystery backed up by facts that I now believed were simply too strong to ignore.

     I had come to the point where I was ready for the Christmas gift that Perfecta Delgado had told me about years earlier:  the Christ child, whose love and grace is offered freely to everyone who receives him in repentance and faith.  Even someone like me.

     So I talked with God in a heartfelt and unedited prayer, admitting and turning from my wrongdoing, and receiving his offer of forgiveness and eternal life through Jesus.  I told him that with his help I wanted to follow him and his ways from here on out.

     As I have endeavored to follow Jesus’ teachings and open myself to his transforming power, my priorities, values, character, worldview, attitudes, and relationships have been changing– for the better.  It has been a humbling affirmation of 2 Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.”

     And now, what about you?  Perhaps, like the first-century shepherds, your next step should be to further investigate the evidence for yourself.  If any of my books can be helpful, great.  But I hope you’ll promise yourself at the outset that when the facts are in, you’ll reach your own verdict in the case for Christmas.

     Or maybe you’re more like the magi.  Through a series of circumstances, you’ve maneuvered your way through the hoopla, glitter, and distractions of the holiday season, and now you’ve finally come into the presence of the baby who was born to change your life and rewrite your eternal destination.

     Go ahead, talk to him.  Offer your worship and your life. And let him give you what Perfecta Delgado called the greatest gift of all: Himself.

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Luke 2:15  —  When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

Luke 2:16-17  —  So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.  When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child.

Luke 2:19  —  Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.

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Simeon took Jesus up in his arms, and blessed God, and said:

Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word:  For mine eyes have seen thy salvation.

–Luke 2:28-30

The Adoration of the Shepherds, 1622, Gerrit van Honthorst (1590-1656)

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