by J.R. Miller
The world is growing old. We date time from the birth of Jesus Christ, as if there had been no years before he was born. The truth is, there were many long centuries before that time-no one knows how many. But somehow centuries without Christ do not count for much. The years seem like long rows of ciphers, with no numeral preceding them to give them value. At least, from the day Christ was born into this world all things had a new meaning.
Perhaps we do not think often of the real significance of the abbreviations A. D., which we use continually in noting time. They tell us that the years in which we are living and all the years that have passed since Jesus was born are years of our Lord. They are years of His stay in this world. The birth of Jesus was indeed a new beginning of time. From that day forward there was something in this world that never had been in it before. It was not merely new teaching, although "no man ever spoke like this man." The words of Jesus have been seeds of blessing all these twenty centuries. It was not merely the life of a great man like other men whose names have immortal honor, whose influence is imperishable. The birth of Jesus Christ was the coming of God into this world. We need not dogmatize, but we all stand with uncovered head beside the manager in the little town of Bethlehem, for He who sleeps His first sleep there is Emmanuel-God with us. That is why we write Anno Domini in all our dates. These are years of our Lord. Whatever of good, beauty, gladness, and hope there was in the centuries before Jesus was born, it was indeed a new beginning of time when He came.
We need not say that this was not God's world before Christ came. "The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof." Nor is it true that He was not in it then. The Old Testament tells of divine appearances. But they were rare, and gave scarcely more than glimpses of the ineffable presence. There were divine revealings, but they were only flashes or gleams of glory. We do well to reckon time from the birth of Jesus Christ, for in His incarnation all the fullness of the divine life was brought down among men.
We may say, for example, that love was given a new meaning when Jesus came into this world. Of course, there was love here before. Mothers loved their children. Friend loved friend. Some of the rarest friendships of history belong in the centuries before the beginning of the Christian era. But Jesus illustrated in His life the love which reaches out beyond all lines of kinship and of natural affection. "What do ye more than others?" was the test question the Master put to His disciples. Anybody can love his friends, and be kind to those who are kind to him, and salute graciously those who salute him. Even the Gentiles loved in this way. Jesus said, "I say unto you, Love your enemies, and pray for them that persecute you; that ye may be sons of your Father who is in heaven." Forgiving injuries is not an expression of natural affection, but the love which Jesus taught prays, "Forgive us as we forgive."
The ancient law said, "Thou shalt love they neighbor as thyself"; The Christ law and love requires, not "as thyself," but more than we love ourselves. We are to give our own life, if need be, in love's service. The parable of the good Samaritan is our Lord's own illustration of the way we are to love our neighbor. He may be an enemy-it was so in the story-but the man who did us a cruel wrong yesterday, if we find him in need today, is our neighbor. Then the love we are to show is not merely pity, but help to the uttermost, whatever the cost may be.
But a lofty teaching was not all that Jesus brought o earth. People might have said that no one could live up to the standards which He gave, that no one could realize the splendid ideals of His teaching. But Jesus lived up to His own standards, and realized every one of His own ideals. He brought into the world, not merely new interpretations of the duty of living-He brought love itself. Some scientific men, in trying to account for the beginning of vegetable life in this world, have suggested that it's possible some fragment of a bursting planet may have been hurled to our globe, bringing with it is roots and seeds and that thus life began here. We need not give the fancy any thought, but it illustrates the way love came to our earth. Out of heaven came One who himself was the infinite and eternal Love. In bringing life, He brought love-for life is love, and love is life. All the love that is in this world today, and all that has been here since Christ was born, was kindled from the one flame that burned in the heart of Jesus.
For not only was He the very love of God brought to earth in the incarnation, but He came to give that same love to others, to put it into the heart of every one who would believe on Him. It is not impossible for men, therefore, to attain the lofty standards of living which Jesus gave for His friends. He came not to teach lessons merely, but to give life, and to give it abundantly.
Every one who touched Jesus carried away in his own heart a new warmth, which by and by transformed his life. Then every one whose life was kindled at this flame of love, in turn kindled other lives. So the work has gone on through these twenty centuries. Though all human strifes and contentions, amid cruelty, injustice, and oppression, love has wrought persistently, winning its victories. Every one who endures wrong patiently, who keeps his heart sweet under harshness or insult, is helping in the triumph of love. Every one who does a kindly deed makes the wintry air a little warmer.
It is such deeds as these that are the truest interpretation of the love that had its earthly incarnation that first Christmas night. We can best hasten the coming of the kingdom of Christ in its full glory by letting love have its victories in us over all that might make us bitter or resentful-the love that beareth all things and endureth all things, and by doing ever the gentle deeds that comfort lonely hearts and relieve suffering and distress.
"A friendly smile, and love's embering spark
Leaps into flame and illumines the dark;
A whispered Be brave' to our fellow-men,
And they pick up the thread of hope again.
Thus never an act, or word, or thought,
But that with unguessed importance is fraught;
For small things build up eternity,
And blazon the way for a destiny."
We can make Christmas worthy of its sacred meaning only by love. We need not seek far for opportunities. All about us are those whose hearts we can warm, whose loves we can inspire and enrich, simply by bringing to them the love of Christ.