I love Christmas movies. Two of my favorites are "It's a Wonderful Life" and "A Christmas Story" (I, too, always wanted a Red Rider BB gun as a kid). But two years ago a new "classic" was added to my must-see list at Christmastime.
I remember when my wife and I first saw "The Nativity Story," a simple, true-to-the-gospels retelling of the most familiar story in Christianity. As we walked into our local multiplex, past the throngs of moviegoers in line for the opening of the latest fantasy action flick of the week, I couldn't help but smile. As we made our way into the half-empty theater, showing the film that tells the story every human being desperately needs to see and hear, I thought to myself, "Isn't this the way it has always been?"
I thought of the week Princess Diana and Mother Theresa died. It was as though the media was annoyed that in the middle of the most important story of the decade, the quiet passing of the gentle nun of Calcutta was an afterthought they had to cover. The attention paid to the violent death of the beautiful young princess in a Paris tunnel contrasted so stunningly with the coverage paid to the passing of one of the 20th Century's towering spiritual role models that I remember thinking, "This is just like God to take her at this time."
"The Nativity Story" reminds us again of the irony inherent in the fact that God chose the humblest of settings to bring the Savior of all humanity into this world. Even King Herod's men did not think to look in a stable for the king of the world, and for two thousand years we have looked for something more. Something flashier. Something more glorious. Something greater. For those of us who passionately believe in the truth of this story, it was a clear reminder of why our faith is more than just a belief to be followed by the letter of the law. It is a life to be lived in the Spirit of the living God. What could be greater than that?
Therein is the difference between Christianity and every other religion in the world. Virtually every other faith speaks of Jesus Christ as a wise prophet, a great teacher, a good man. But scripture tells us that Christ is "the way, the truth and the life." Other religions are willing to acknowledge that following Jesus is one of the ways to heaven. Christ says he is the only way to heaven. No wonder he was crucified.
Christianity also is unique in that it proclaims that its central figure is still alive. Hindus think their leaders have been reincarnated. Buddha and his followers are thought to be part of some vast cosmos of energy. Mohammed, fiercely and violently defended though he may be, is still dead. Even the body of Moses has long ago turned to dust. Jesus Christ alone is believed by his followers to be physically alive - even after having faced the worst death imaginable.
Far too many in our society reject the simple gospel presented by Christ and his disciples in favor of alternative religions that teach vague notions of piety through good works. Discontented seekers of new age solutions to age-old problems need only look to the truth of the nativity story.
As we celebrate the miracle of a baby whose life was given as a gift of sacrifice for all humanity, we also should remember that he is still with us. Like Christmas itself, the reality of Christ persists and grows stronger. He was born, lived, died, rose again, ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of his Father to make intercession for us, and sent his Holy Spirit to live within us. What a story. To hundreds of millions of us, it is still the only one that makes sense.