The Babe in the manger and the babe in the bathwater...
(Note from Tim: My dear brother Nathan Alberson wrote this Christmas meditation for his church newsletter and I post it here, now with his permission, to strengthen us all.)
Cynicism is a peculiar vice because it blossoms under the light. Expose malice to love, and malice will shrivel. Introduce selfishness to selflessness, and selfishness will slink away ashamed. But the more love and light you throw at a cynic, the more he will gorge himself on deflating and twisting them. A cynic needs an ideal at which to sneer.
And what ideal is more bloated with sentiment than Christmas? As a recovering cynic, I can say that Christmas is one of our favorite times of the year. We smile and sharpen our knives for the kill.
“Why not scoff at Christmas?” The cynic asks. “War and hunger continue in the world, greed and materialism continue in America, and strife and sloth continue in my family – and you’re saying praise God for peace on earth and goodwill towards men?”
This Christmas, how do we defend ourselves against the cynics - and against the cynic in ourselves...
Have you ever heard the old saying “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater”? That’s what we’re trying to do. We want to preserve Christmas, even in the face of the bad things encroaching on it. But how do we do that?
The temptation is to focus on throwing out the bathwater, but that’s how the cynic became a cynic. A cynic begins as an idealist. He has a perfect mental image of a beautiful baby in clean bathwater (to stick with our analogy). Then he starts to notice impurities in the bathwater. Eventually, he becomes so obsessed with noticing impurities that he comes to expect nothing but impurities. His soul withers. His ideal was not too low, but too high. In some ways, a cynic is the ultimate idealist – but his idealism is misplaced. He has focused on purifying the bathwater, and it’s all come to nothing, and left him with nothing in which to believe.
What he should have done is firmly grasp hold of the baby.
Before I stretch this analogy to the breaking point, let me explain. This Christmas, Christ is the baby, and all the woes that come shackled to Christmas are the bathwater. We need to grasp firm hold of the baby. “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus” (Heb12:2a).
The cynic in me calls that answer trite. Maybe he has a point. If our conception of Christ narrows at Christmastime entirely to images of a babe in a manger, then I think he does have a point. The trick in celebrating Christmas is to celebrate that babe in the manger without entirely forgetting Christ’s other aspects - the Son of Man who died on the cross, and the Son of God who will return to judge the world.
Remember the words to the great old Christmas carol?
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
”God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!”
There’s the answer to the cynic. The story of Christmas isn’t a devotional fable about a baby. It’s the story of God setting His plan into motion to wrest the world away from Satan and Death forever. Understand this truth, and war and famine and greed and broken family and all the rest really do become bathwater. They are pinpricks, gusts of wind, nothings. I wrote earlier that the cynic feeds on light, but here at last is the Light so strong it will devour him.
This Christmas, let’s remember the many aspects of Christ. Let’s see Christ as Bridegroom, Brother, Gate, God, Judge, King, Lamb, Light, Priest, Prophet, Shepherd, Son, Warrior, and Word. Then when the cynic snarls that our little baby Jesus must be helpless in the face of the world’s woes, we can smile. Praise God, we know better.