Dear Family and Friends,
At our Christmas Eve service last night we sang a carol I was unfamiliar with, “Where Shepherds Lately Knelt.” The last verse of this song really spoke to me. It goes like this:
“Can I, will I forget how love was born, and burned its way into my heart unasked, unforced, unearned, to die, to live, and not alone for me, to die, to live, and not alone for me?”
Even more specifically, I have been reflecting on the paradoxical words “to die, to live.”
Christians celebrate Christmas so that we will never forget how love was born, the night God came to earth in the form of a newborn babe lying in a manger. While love may have been born that night, love was put to the ultimate test when Jesus willingly gave His life, in the most inhumane, excruciating manner, so that we could live a life reconciled to God. John 15:13 puts it this way: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Jesus loved us so much that He died—so we might live as people of faith and hope who have the opportunity to get to know God in a most personal and life-giving way.
The concept “to die, to live” may have started with Jesus’ death, but it doesn’t stop there. There are two deaths each of us must consider. The first is a spiritual death—a dying to oneself. We are asked by God to give up the idea of controlling our own lives and destiny, and realize we belong to Him, and were made to be in relationship with Him. The Bible says that because of Him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). Even common sense should tell us that the air we breathe, the complex way in which our bodies are formed and function, and the sleep that renews us each night, are just a few of the multitude of things required to sustain our lives, and yet which, are totally beyond our own ability to control. So why do we work so hard to believe that we have no need for God?
In C.S. Lewis’ book, The Great Divorce, citizens of Hell are offered a chance to take a bus trip to Heaven for a day. At the end of the day’s sightseeing, the tourists are offered the chance to stay in Heaven, but under one condition. They must give up control and lordship of their own lives and submit to the authority of God in their lives. Surprisingly, most of the tourists prefer to re-board the bus and return to Hell, where they don’t have to answer to anyone but themselves. To be reconciled to God through Christ’s death for our sins requires that we die to self and give up control of our lives and hearts to God. “I” must die, to live.
The second death required of us is our physical death, whenever that time should come. While the spiritual dying to self is not a requirement, but a choice, if we want to have a relationship with God, the physical dying is required of each and every one of us, whether we believe in God or not. But the good news is, for those who have given their lives to God, this second dying also produces life—life everlasting with God in Heaven. As someone living with a very serious cancer, I give a lot of thought to this second death that will be required of me. When will it come? What will it feel like? Will it hurt? Will I feel afraid? How will my family handle the grief of losing me?
When these thoughts come, I can turn my thoughts to the words of that Christmas Eve carol. I can remember how love was born that starry night, and burned its way into my heart, unasked, unforced, unearned. How Jesus died, that I might live. How at age 14, I gave my life back to Him, that I might live a life filled with purpose, and the love and closeness of God. And how, when that final dying comes, there lies a life eternal with Him in Heaven that is beyond my wildest imaginings.
To die. To live. And not alone for me. The gift of Christmas is for you, too.