Christmas renews faith in miracles

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 26, 2003

At no time are miracles more prominent in our thoughts than at the approach of Christmas, the celebration of the birth of Jesus, with all the miracles associated with that birth, life, death and resurrection.

&uot;The thoughts are always the same,&uot; writes Delia Smith in &uot;A Feast for Advent,&uot; a devotional book first published in 1983. &uot;How can it be? How could almighty God actually become man &045; one of us? ŠThis is the divine exchange, Jesus humbling himself to share in our humanity in order that we may share his divinity.&uot;

The great miracle of God becoming man continues to be a mystery beyond human comprehension. It is an appropriate place to begin in any journey of faith, said the Rev. Bill Hurt of First Baptist Church in Natchez.

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Along with the familiar Christmas story in the book of Luke, &uot;In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them Š,&uot; seekers also should look to the first chapter of the gospel of John, Hurt said.

&uot;John 1: 14 tells of the miracle of Christmas,&uot; he said. &uot;And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.&uot;

The message of the manger

In a lowly stable, the baby lay in a manger &045; a miracle baby, but was this not a highly unlikely place for one who was God becoming man?

&uot;The message of the manger speaks of the mystery of God,&uot; Hurt said. &uot;And the stable speaks of the stark simplicity of God. The baby was born in an obscure part of the world in a fashion that would enable him to speak with all the people of the world.&uot;

On the other hand, that image of Jesus in the manger symbolizes his rejection by the world, said the Rev. Kerry Smith of Covington Road Church of Christ. &uot;Here he was in his own hometown, not a large town and one where everybody knew each other, and nobody offered them a place to stay,&uot; Smith said. &uot;The world continues to reject God and Jesus, even though God loved us that much to send his son.&uot;

Spiritual author Delia Smith puts it this way: &uot;Let us remember that Jesus comes to us, in the words of the carol, in the midst of bleak midwinter &045; in humility and poverty, in suffering and rejection but also ultimately in triumph and victory.&uot;

God’s love for mankind reigns

As extraordinary as the birth of Jesus seems to men today, another miracle supersedes it. Kerry Smith said the miracle of Christmas and the heart of Christianity is love. &uot;God loved us so much that he was willing to give us his son to die for us,&uot; Smith said. &uot;That a super Deity would care about us human beings that much &045; wanting us not to be lost but to be united with us through the Christ child &045; is the miracle.&uot;

Hurt agreed. The famous biblical quote John 3:16, &uot;For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life,&uot; has affirmed the Christmas message for many believers.

&uot;If we could climb Jacob’s ladder and peer into Heaven, how many people would we see whose lives were changed by those words,&uot; Hurt said.

Miracles in today’s world?

Miracles do occur in these days more than 2,000 years after the birth of Christ. Some are physical and clear to see. Others are spiritual and perhaps not so roundly noted. &uot;Sometimes it is not the miracle of physical restoration but of spiritual healing,&uot; Hurt said. &uot;And sometimes we’re so busy debating the miracle that we don’t see it.&uot;

Pastors at two Natchez churches spoke candidly of miracles of healing that have occurred in their congregations recently. The Rev. Stanley Searcy of New Hope Baptist Church and the Rev. John Collard of Abundant Life Church have brought intercessory prayer to the forefront of their ministries.

&uot;Two months ago it was laid on my heart to teach that we can provoke God to work miracles in our lives, the way Abraham did when he left his homeland and had a miracle child,&uot; Searcy said.

One of the first signs of God’s healing came when a woman with imperfect vision began to see clearly, he said. &uot;We asked in simple prayer to God that he would open her eyes. That night she was able to see. She drove home from church that night.&uot;

Others came for healing and received renewed vision or hearing, Searcy said. &uot;One was a child. ‘Bishop, I can see out of my eye,’ he said to me. He went back to school and one of the ladies who had recommended glasses said he no longer needed them. The teachers wept at God’s miraculous power.&uot;

The mystery of miracles

&uot;The mystery of God is beyond us; all we can do is be open enough to receive him on his terms,&uot; Delia Smith writes.

Searcy echoed that idea, saying miracles happen as a result of faith. &uot;When we expect God to do great things, it can happen. Sometimes it’s not the way we want it to happen, but God has providence.&uot;

Collard described similar examples of healing in his church, even his own wife having overcome a serious illness through what he attributes to prayers.

&uot;I believe the miracles of God are received by faith,&uot; he said. &uot;You put limits on your beliefs, you limit what miracles you can receive.&uot;

His wife’s illness led to prayers for her healing. &uot;God began to speak to me,&uot; he said.

&uot;It was like the difference of daylight from dark what God did for her,&uot; Collard said. &uot;You can’t deny it when you see it before your very eyes. I didn’t do anything. Jesus did. We are vessels. He flows through us.&uot;

Kerry Smith believes miracles happen but that sometimes an event that is called miraculous really is not.

&uot;I believe God does intervene and work in our lives. We don’t know how he does it, but we know it happens.&uot;

Hurt agreed. &uot;God is always in the miracle business,&uot; he said. &uot;But it happens according to his will.&uot;

Miracles have impact on faith

Miracles can deepen one’s faith and can warm the heart of a cold skeptic, Searcy said. &uot;There are some who say ‘this miracle can’t possibly happen; does God love me enough to make this happen?’ We are loved, blessed and highly favored of God, each and every one of us, no matter where we come from and what we’re going through.&uot;

Smith said a miracle to cherish is &uot;that our sins are being washed away at baptism. We become a new person, united with Jesus in his death and in his resurrection. It’s not the water but what Christ did on the cross.&uot;

Searcy said miracles among the faithful provide joy to many. &uot;God is so good. Sometimes when you preach about faith and God’s gifts and he shows up, it makes you really love what you do.&uot;

Will it be a miracle Christmas?

&uot;It’s ironic, really, that more than at any other time of the year we are likely to have less time for God during this hallowed season,&uot; Delia Smith writes. She recommends that we &uot;make a radical pruning of our Christmas activities.&uot;

John Collard has concerns about the diminishing emphasis on the real meaning of Christmas. &uot;It ends up being the most depressed time of the year for people, and it shouldn’t be,&uot; he said. &uot;Too many are looking to material things rather than to Christ. We have a void. Christ is the only one who can fill that void.&uot;

It is a miracle that Christ died for us and brought new life to us by doing that, Collard said.

&uot;He went to the cross. That was his purpose in coming, something that man could not do.

&uot;He writes a new covenant and

puts it in our hearts, not on stone. That’s a miracle.&uot;

As important as miracles can be, they should not obscure the message of that new covenant, Delia Smith writes.

&uot;While, undoubtedly, our faith is enhanced by witnessing miracles, healing, prophecy and the rest, we must continually ask ourselves the question, ‘am I seeking God for himself or am I seeking him for what he can do for me?’&uot;