Christmas can drive us crazy. On one hand, its songs declare that God loves us. Its practices flaunt happy people doing happy things. Its traditions say peace has come to Earth.
On the other hand, non-believers challenge, “Excuse me! That sounds good, but have you looked around lately? If your God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-caring, why does he allow terrible things to happen?”
It’s a fair question with a simple answer. God’s Word (Psalm 115:16) tells us that Heaven belongs to him, but he gave Earth to men. The whole world is ours. We do anything we want, any way we choose, any time we desire. And it’s been that way since the Fall. We left the Garden saying, “Thanks, Lord, for the cool planet. We’ll call if we need anything.” God keeps his promises and doesn’t snatch his gifts back—planets or free will—even when we violate his commands, ignore his entreaties, and ridicule his heart.
When we come to our senses and finally admit that maybe, just maybe, we could use a little help, we smack into an unpleasant reality. We passed through a one-way door when we left Eden. Just like exiting airport security, there’s no way back to the airplane or into God’s presence. Neither diligent study, strong desire, nor extreme need enables us to force our way back. We’re stuck on our own planet, trapped by our own schemes, writhing in our own mess.
Game over? Not quite. God did an astounding thing. He punched through the barrier between Heaven and Earth to present his plan. He created a stage out on the backside of nowhere, in the middle of the night, for an audience of … a few shepherds and their flocks.
An angel stepped through the opening. Heaven’s glory gushed out all around him as he announced the arrival of the long-awaited Redeemer, King of kings and Lord of lords. Then the new door split wide, and a myriad of angels proclaimed God’s message: “Peace on Earth and goodwill toward men.”
They could have sang anything, anything at all! But “goodwill”? Doesn’t make sense, and it’s certainly not fair. But, God gets even more perplexing. His goodwill isn’t that he just let us off the hook with an arbitrary decision not to exact the penalty due—this time. Nor is it that he adopted us poor kids into his family out of pity. Nor is it even that he allows us to serve him because we need some job for dignity’s sake.
The truth is, he lives in us and works through us. He doesn’t morph us into robots. Instead, he allows us to keep his gift of free will and remain who we choose to be. He transforms us from rebels into representatives. He asks us to come alongside the hurting, the oppressed, the bewildered, and the lost, who are scattered over the face of our planet like sheep without a shepherd. We get the privilege of demonstrating that God is not against us. He is for us. Then our lives echo the angel chorus that God’s goodwill is, indeed, toward men.