The everlasting engine of life is rich in names — God, Father, Father/Mother, Love, Spirit, terms of instinct in a vocabulary almost extinct. Such are passwords, easily remembered, lifting lids and opening books, raising curtains and unlocking gates. Try Jesus, try Mary, try holy men and women from any continent or contingent, and hear the rewarding click as the doors open, and we’re in heaven. It looks familiar. It is where we were and where we are.
God is a parent who does not do our homework or rig games for us. When I was a little kid I used to visit my pal Harold Lind at his house, and sometimes his dad would haul me into a game of checkers while Harold completed his chores. Chores he set for himself ranged from writing in his diary to reading a short story published in our daily newspaper. His dad beat me time after time. He never let me win. He didn’t think his own kids or a visiting kid could learn how to live if somebody cheated on their behalf.
So, I think, with God, whose answer to a prayer may be, “I love you too much to do your exercises for you while you just watch, wither and weaken.” God’s ratings do not always measure up to expectations, and that is an odd blessing for agnosticism.
One of the first books I owned was called the Bible Story Book, and it was on my bedside table when I was six years old. I was supposed to read one story each night before turning in. I was also supposed to fill in the blanks on a Lifebuoy Soap calendar to affirm fulfillment of hygiene. I was more faithful to Lifebuoy than to the Bible Story Book, but I read some of the stories. This was before television, and there was no radio in my bedroom, and there were some stirring pictures in the book. There were David and his slingshot, Goliath and his grimace, the Egyptians being drowned, a lion’s den and a fiery furnace. What happened to Jesus was uglier than anything in a Saturday matinee serial.
The Christmas story is one that everyone knows and loves, a story that affirms the presence of God in a savage and brutal world in need of mercy, forgiveness and love. How many of us look to God for mercy, forgiveness and love? But, it is God who looks to us to practice mercy, forgiveness and love. God’s prayer is that we will confess, convert and consecrate our minds and bodies.
That’s one of the inexhaustible messages of Christmas, one that like most of the others enlivens the dream of Merry Christmases.