Week 51 (December)
It was my turn as pastoral counselor in the Florence evangelical social services center.
The three-member staff had just opened the doors and I was making small talk with them when Elena walked in.
An 18-year-old who had been involved in prostitution, Elena was now trying to find a way to put her life back together.
She had made contact with the center a month earlier through its remedial night school. Since then she had come by several times to talk and even to pitch in on secretarial work.
I told her I'd like to get to know her better. So we went into the little library room and sat down.
She talked for a long time about her life story. Then I began to ask her if she ever thought much about spiritual matters. She told me she always said a couple of "Hail Marys" at night but that she never went to church.
Then her dark eyes brightened: "But I do think often of Pope John XXIII. He saved my life!" Then she went on to tell me about a dream she had had in which this deceased Pope had spoken to her.
Finally I asked her what she thought of Jesus Christ.
Well, she never really thought much at all about Him. "He's the one we call the Lord, isn't He?" she asked.
Elena had no idea that God, through the events of that first Christmas, now offers us a personal relationship with Himself. It's a relationship that does not depend on a third party such as a dead Pope or Jesus' mother.
Some of the rich significance of the Incarnation is depicted in a trilogy of Psalms: 22, 23, and 24. Here are unfolded the sufferings, the shepherd-love and the Lordship of the Messiah whose birth we celebrate at Christmas.
The way we celebrate Christmas often places a heavy emphasis on the Baby Jesus. A good deal of Christian art, particularly that produced by Roman Catholic artists, focuses on the Christ child.
However, the real story of Christmas is not that a baby was born. As an Italian evangelical author recently wrote: "The exaltation of the Baby Jesus is contrary to the gospel teachings. The real story of the New Testament is that of Jesus the adult. In fact, some Gospels do not even mention the Baby Jesus."
It is possible that this Italian writer was reflecting a hyper sensitivity of the tiny Italian Protestant minority that lives in the shadow of the politically, religiously and economically powerful Vatican. However we evaluate what he wrote, we would do well to remember that the biggest news out of Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago was not that a baby had been born. The news was that the promised Savior, Shepherd, and Sovereign had finally come.
That's good news for you and for me . . . and for a girl named Elena. As we prepare to celebrate another Christmas Day, let's use these three psalms (22, 23, 24) to remind us that God is really with us -- not just as a baby, but as a baby who came to become Deliverer, Shepherd, and Lord.
Would you also join me in a special prayer that soon Elena will come to know this Jesus as her Savior, Shepherd, and King, as she puts her broken life back together?
These devotional thoughts by Howard Culbertson appeared in the December 21, 1980 edition of Standard
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