An American missionary family was living in a big city in Siberia. The children attended public schools, and every day mom and dad planned for dropping off and picking up the kids. They had no vehicle so they used public transportation. On one particular day, dad was scheduled to pick up his son. But he forgot. When he remembered, panic swept over him. He couldn’t just jump in the car and beat it over there. He was at the mercy of the trains and buses. When he finally got there, school had been out two hours. He found his young son sitting alone on the steps, sobbing, an island of fear and grief, no idea what had happened to his parents, helpless and alone. Maybe he would never see them again. But then dad came—late, but what a comforting sight. In a moment, all the fear and darkness and sorrow melted into joy.
That’s a picture of Bethlehem that first Christmas. The world sits on the steps in darkness and fear. But joy is on the way in the person of a child, a unique individual who in himself comprises every blessing of God to man (2 Cor 1:20). The baby will rescue the world. He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His kingdom will never end (Isaiah 9:6-7).
Joy was on the way when a baby was born, a baby who would become a king, a king who would die, and then rise from the dead, and claim all authority over heaven and earth. He will come to fully establish the kingdom he inaugurated at the first Christmas. His kingdom will bring justice and righteousness. He will end war. He will bring peace forever. Joy is on the way.
Many people deem the Christmas story a fairy tale, a sort of religious version of Santa Claus. When I was a kid I believed in Santa Claus, they respond, but I’m not a kid any more. Why should I believe this story? It’s charming, but why should I believe it?
Yet millions of other people regard the Christmas story as true. Which is it: truth or fairy story?
It’s both. Christmas has all the charm of a fairy tale, and all the power of truth.
As to its historicity and veracity there can be no doubt. In fact, every truth in human history finds its reality in this one truth: God became man in the person of Jesus Christ.
But Christmas is also the original fairy tale; that is, not a story that isn’t true, but a story (almost) too good to be true.
Every fairy tale is an echo of this one. Every story of wonder, every tale of woe that ends in joy, is a little picture of this story. This is the story everyone wants most to be true. That’s how J.R.R. Tolkien (creator of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings) put it: “The gospels contain a fairy story, or a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy stories. … There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true,” Tree and Leaf, p. 71. He goes on to affirm that this story “is supreme; and it is true” p. 72.
Bethlehem speaks to the longing of every human heart for joy. All human desire, every unfulfilled wish, is a longing for this story. To every grieving heart, every lonely soul, every boy waiting on the steps, this story cries out: Joy is on the way!
- Gary Brumbelow