This Christmas is our first in the warm climate of Florida. There is no snow at all either falling or accumulating on the ground. I must say that, as beautiful as it is on the first day it falls, I do not miss shoveling my weather! Having just experienced a wonderful Christmas Day celebration with family, friends, and neighbors who likewise are staying here in Florida for the holiday, I am reminded of an incident that happened the other day right here in our neighborhood:
We live in a gated community. At every entrance to our community there is a gate. These gates are designed to restrict access to the community to residents or invited guests only. Every resident is given a special key card which as he approaches the gate he waves at a box outside the gate to electronically signal the gate to open.
One day not too long ago a large, heavy-set gentleman in a large expensive car drove up to the gate of his community, pulled out his key card, and waved it at the box outside the gate. This particular time, nothing happened. The gate did not rise. The gate did not move at all. The gentleman was confused, but it did not take but a few seconds for him to realize the reason the gate did not respond: He was too far away from the box. He had not pulled up close enough for the electronics to work to open the gate.
So the man unbuckled his seat belt, put his car in “Park” and opened the door, stepped out of the car, and waved the key card in front of the box close enough for the gate bar to raise. As the bar was rising, the man got back into the car, fastened his seat belt, put the car in gear, and just as he was about to accelerate through the gate, the bar descended, blocking his access again.
This same scenario happened three times. The man just was not fast enough! Each time he tried to be faster, but he failed.
Finally on the fourth time, the driver in the car behind him, who had been patiently waiting for him to proceed through the gate, got out of HIS car, walked up to the box, and waved his card in front of the box so the gate would rise, and allowed the first man to get through the gate successfully.
In a very real sense, that scenario is a beautiful picture of the Christmas story.
In Paul’s letter to the churches in Galatia, he wrote these words, “But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman,…to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children.” (Galatians 4:4-5). What Paul is saying is that at just the right time, Jesus came up and waved his card in front of the box, so that the entrance gate to heaven would rise and allow us in.
We could not do it on our own. We were not smart enough, rich enough, or quick enough to enter in on our own. Everything we attempted would be a failure. But God sent Jesus at just the right time, right when we were so ready to give up and give in, to open the gate and free us to enter in.
Many people, when they hear the story of Christmas, give assent to the story, saying comments like, “Amen!” or “That’s a good story!” all the while believing that it is impossible for God to let them in, knowing all they have done in their lives to merit being denied entrance through heaven’s gate. Their heartfelt response is more like “Impossible!”
That is exactly the thought that entered Mary’s head when she first found out she would be carrying the Christ child. She was told she was pregnant, and would give birth to the Messiah. She said, “Impossible! No way! I’ve never been with a man! I can’t be pregnant!” When she said that, the angel Gabriel just laughed, and said, “God specializes in the impossible! You’ll name the baby Immanuel, meaning ‘God with us’!” When he said that, Mary’s tune (and her heart) changed, and she said, “God DOES specialize in the impossible. Far be it from me to not believe Him!” (Check out Luke 1:26 and following).
She believed that God could do the impossible, and He did!
The message of Christmas is God doing the impossible in each of our lives, no matter what challenges we face. Health issues? No problem. God is in the healing business. Financial woes? No sweat. God owns the cattle on a thousand hills. Marriage or family issues? God is the very author of relationships. He is “Immanuel”, God with us. Whatever the challenge, it is no surprise to God. God can do what we see as impossible. Furthermore, God wants to do what we see as impossible. He may not do it in the way we foresee, or in the time we desire, but He will do it! Because He can see farther than we can.
Christmas is all about Him sending a Savior to take away all our sins and open the gate to heaven – yes. But Christmas is also all about God being with us – Immanuel – in all that we encounter in this life as well. He is in the business of opening all the gates for us, of removing all the obstacles in our paths, so long as we trust Him and let him do His work in His way. All He wants us to do is rely on Him, to believe Him, and to count on Him to do all that He promises. Christmas is indeed a special time for us to recognize just how close to us He wants to be. That is exactly why He is called Immanuel.
Merry Christmas and God bless…
Chuck Tabor is a regular columnist for the News Journal and the Times-Gazette. He is also a former pastor of Port William United Methodist Church.