Many years ago, in a preaching class, I had a professor who suggested that we should always ask, “So what?” at the end of writing a sermon. In other words, what difference would it make for us to preach, and people to hear, that particular sermon. Since then, I’ve learned that sometimes I just don’t get time to be that intentional. But most of the time, I make time to ask that question. And I teach my students in the Local Pastor School to ask that question. After all, if the sermon isn’t going to make any difference in anyone’s life, why preach it? Why listen to it?
I’ve come to think that way about a lot of theology, as well. “What difference does it make?” Frankly, some theology is a great mental exercise with little practical application. Other theology can be fundamentally life and world changing (even keeping in mind that all theology is descriptive, not definitive). Such is the case with the birth of Christ. It is a fundamentally world and life changing event. That God would love the world – that means you, me, and all creation – so much that He would choose to become enfleshed, incarnate, one of us – it simply boggles the mind! I don’t expect to ever apprehend the depth and power of this act of love completely. But I do plan to keep trying.
What difference does it make to you that God chose to be born into this world in Jesus Christ? I’m not talking about how you describe that event or what fancy theology you might have read. I’m talking about when you get up and pour the coffee each morning, what difference does it make? When you go to work or school, what difference does it make? When you’re in the love of your family or struggling with your family, what difference does it make? When you celebrate a birth or mourn a death, what difference does it make? When you write a check, what difference does it make? When you listen to a speech or cast a vote, what difference does it make? At the beginning of your life or the end of your days, what difference does it make? When you lay your head on the pillow each night, what difference does it make?
If you can’t answer this question, I encourage you to start working on it. I meet too many folks for whom Jesus is an idea – but not a life-changing reality. And they are missing out on this amazing act of God’s love. Everywhere I have travelled across the world – from Alaska to Australia and everywhere in between – I have encountered people for whom Jesus’ birth makes all the difference. He is not just an idea or concept. Following him is not just another activity in a busy life. He is the life-giving person and presence that transforms their life. Following him is everything. These disciples showed me that Jesus is the difference between darkness, death and despair - and light, life and hope. That has been true regardless of the circumstances or culture.
Before New Year celebrations begin, ask yourself this about the birth of Jesus Christ, “What difference does it make – to me, my family, the community, the world?” Pray and struggle with the question. Seek very specific answers.
Because the truth is that Jesus’ birth makes all the difference.
Grace and Peace,