24th December 2021, Christmas Eve
In the last week the people of Surigao City and other places in the Philippines have been devasted by a powerful Typhoon. My own MSC confrères were there and for three days we heard nothing about their welfare or even if they were alive. One MSC from Butuan City drove 3 hours to reach them and to our relief we heard they were okay.
It reminded me of a story. A few weeks before the Christmas of 1988, an earthquake devastated the north-western section of Armenia. An estimated 25,000 people were killed. In one small town, just after the earthquake, a father rushed to his son’s school where he had earlier dropped him off for classes. When the father arrived, he found that the school had been completely levelled. There was no sign of life. All that remained was a pile of rubble, rising dust, and utter silence.
Like every other morning when he dropped off his son, he said, “No matter what, I will come for you when you need me.” It was kind of his motto. “I will come for you.”
Though the prospect of finding his son appeared hopeless, the father began desperately removing rubble, and digging under beams in the place where he believed his son’s classroom had once stood. Other parents helped at first.
After several hours, no person was found alive. Despair set it. Many parents and volunteers started going home. Some told that father to go home, that there was no chance that anyone could survive this. He responded, “I made my son a promise that I’d be there for him anytime he needed me, and I won’t give up.”
And so this relentless father worked alone. He simply had to know for himself whether his boy was alive or dead. After six hours of digging, no signs of life. Six hours quickly became nine hours. Nine hours became 12 hours, and so on. Around the clock, through the night, this loving father searched for his child. Then, after 38 hours of tireless digging through the collapsed school, he heaved away a heavy piece of concrete, and his heart nearly stopped.
A child’s voice—his child’s voice—could be heard faintly under the rubble. “Dad! It’s me!” The father’s heart burst with joy. He yelled back to his son that he was here and wasn’t going to leave him. The boy had been spared by a tent-like pocket that had formed over top of him, keeping heavy chunks of concrete and metal from crushing down upon him. But he wasn’t alone. Through his own tears, this father heard his son’s tired voice, call to his classmates trapped under the debris with him, saying, “I told you that He would come!“
Christmas is like God’s great rescue operation.
One particular verse probably sums up this selfless act of love more than any other. This verse is John 3:16. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”
The first part of John 3:16 communicates to us the depth of God’s love.
The word for “loved” here is a form of the Greek word, “agape,” which is selfless, deep, committed love. It is the most eternal and permeating love that can exist and is an eternal characteristic of the God we love, serve and worship. The word “world” is a nonspecific term for humanity in a general sense. While God loves humanity in general, God so deeply loved the world he provided a way that people could open their hearts beyond the sin that separated them from him. It meant a great sacrifice would have to be made, for no human could ever pay for their own sins. The only way possible that God could be in communion with us, would be if his only son would be human, and live like men and women. God’s motive for giving the most indescribable gift to us is his DEEP love for us!
What an amazing and overwhelming truth this short verse engraves on our hearts. It is the essence and substance of Christmas; that the most perfect and pure gift is given to those who are totally unworthy to receive it. It truly is beyond comprehension that our holy and pure God would take upon himself our humanity and be so willing to give his whole life for us. It is also beyond our comprehension that in addition to such an overwhelming love, that the Father and Son would send the Holy Spirit to live within us! To take up residence within us to guide, teach, comfort, empower and convict us to live holy lives so that we could live in constant fellowship with God. This is the true meaning of Christmas.
There are many reasons God loves you, but one of the best reasons is because he is fond of you. He likes having you around. He thinks you are the best thing to come into his life in quite a while. If God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it. If he had a wallet, your photo would be in it. He sends you flowers every spring and a sunrise every morning. Whenever you want to talk, he’ll listen. He can live anywhere in the universe, and he chose your heart.
1 John 4:19-20, “We love, because he first loved us.”
1 John 4:7-8, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.”
A gem dealer was strolling the aisles at a Gem and Mineral Show when he noticed a blue-violet stone the size and shape of a potato. He looked it over, then, as calmly as possible, asked the seller, “You want $15 for this?” The seller, realizing the rock wasn’t as pretty as others in the bin, lowered the price to $10. Since then, the stone has been appraised at $2.28 million. It took a lover of stones to recognize the sapphire’s worth.
It took the Lover of Souls, Jesus Christ, to recognize the true value of ordinary people like us, so much that he chose to live our ordinary lives with us, so we could see that our lives are not at all ordinary, but rather extraordinary expressions of God’s love in the world.
Let us, each one of us be Christmas for others. Let us be faithful as the Dad who went searching for his son in the rubble, or my MSC confrère who located his brothers in the Typhoon devastation. Let us always remember, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him may not perish, but have eternal life.”