Pastor Paul Naumann • Tacoma, Washington
“Appearances can be deceiving.”
No one knows the truth of that statement more fully than does a Christian.
Most people understand the principle. They keep it in mind as a salutary warning against the false and deceptive product advertising that floods the media in our day. They use it to bolster their defenses against the subtle tricks of con men on the street and scam artists on the internet.
But it may be that no one understands the deceptive nature of appearances better than does a follower of Jesus Christ. For the Christian believer, almost nothing—certainly nothing important—is as it appears. And nowhere is this more clearly illustrated than in connection with the Christmas event.
Christian faith, by definition, deals with the things which do not appear, as the writer to the Hebrews reminds us, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen…” (Hebrews 11:1).
By faith Christians know that things are not as they seem, especially when it comes to the most important questions of life.
• HOW DID OUR WORLD COME INTO BEING?
Rocks that seem to be ancient and starlight that seems to have taken eons of time to reach the Earth lead scientists to conclude that our universe originated in a big bang four billion years ago.
But things are not as they seem. For “by faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible” (Hebrews 11:3).
• WHERE DID HUMAN LIFE COME FROM?
Judging by appearances, it might seem plausible to some that humans evolved from lower life forms, laterally through the great apes.
But things are not as they seem. The third chapter of the book of Genesis tells us that Adam and Eve were created fully formed by God, becoming the crowning achievement of His creation rather than the product of an evolutionary process.
• HOW CAN ONE ACHIEVE SALVATION?
The answer that seems most likely is that evil deeds must be atoned for with good deeds.
But things are not as they seem. Romans 3:20 says, “By the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight.”
And at Christmas especially, things are not as they seem. A young couple of modest means is delivered of their first child while traveling, even without the benefit of a room at an inn. How poor and inconsequential the Infant seems to be! A cattle-trough is His cradle, strips of cloth are His garments, and humble shepherds are His attendants.
Yet things are not as they seem! For in this crude stable in Bethlehem is a mighty Monarch, the Lord of all creation and the world’s Redeemer! Here is the fulfillment of the prophesy issued by the prophet Micah centuries ago: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting” (Micah 5:2).
And Christmas removes a final deceptive appearance for the Christian believer–the appearance that one’s sins are insurmountable. We confess with Dr. Martin Luther in his Small Catechism that “we daily sin much and indeed deserve nothing but punishment.” Our flaws and failures seem innumerable, the sins of omission and of commission accumulate in our lives until it seems as though we will be crushed with their burden of guilt.
But things are not as they seem! “Do not be afraid!” the angel reassures us, “for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For
there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
Our Savior is born!!
Softly from His lowly manger
Jesus calls, One and all,
“You are safe from danger.
Children, from the sins that grieve you
You are freed: All you need
I will surely give you.”
Come, then, banish all your sadness!
One and all, Great and small,
Come with songs of gladness.
We shall live with Him forever
There on high In that joy
Which will vanish never!