Then Jesus said to his disciples, "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?" (Matthew 16:24-26 NIV).
There is a wonderful line from the American scholar Stephen L. Carter that is appropriate to the Christmas season: "Religion is, at its heart, a way of denying the rest of the world." He is surely, astutely, and gloriously correct.
Faith's view of this world is strangely skeptical. No, more than that. It is a posture of unequivocal distrust leading to rejection! When the world recites its mantras — you matter only if you are beautiful, the most important thing is money, winning is everything, Look Out for Number One — faith protests them all. It adopts a posture of doubt and incredulity. It lives in skepticism and disbelief.
I refuse to believe that selfishness is acceptable or that it is permissible to resent another's good fortune. I will not swallow the world's way of thinking in order to justify prejudice, aggression, and hatred. No believer can be anything but incredulous about the claim of this world that she is entitled to anything she can get her hands on or that he should feel no guilt in exploiting others.
So distrust the alleged certainties of sense that cancel the mysteries of faith. Dispute the tendency of the masses to look forward only for the sake of declaring the impossibility of living with hope. Deny altogether the inevitability of such greed, hatred, and violence that we cannot prove the reality of love.
Faith isn't self-deception. It is neither wish projection nor wishful thinking. It is our willingness to hear and stand with the things God has shown us through events and people as awe-inspiring as a trembling, smoking mountain in the desert and as modest as a baby's first cry in the village of Bethlehem.
So let Christmas deny the hold of this world on your heart. Let it open your eyes to what the willfully blind will never see, your ears to things the incorrigibly deaf can never hear. See Immanuel — and know God is with us. Hear the song of angels — and receive God's peace given to anxious hearts. Hold the confusion, cynicism, and antagonisms of this troubled world suspect — and choose God's reign as your way of affirming the true realities.
Merry Christmas to all!