In our house, we have begun Christmas celebrations in the lead-up to Christmas. But amongst the busyness, I'm reminded to stop and reflect on just how much of a difference Jesus's birth, ministry, death, and resurrection have made to the world.
Before Jesus came to the earth to reveal heaven and God's heart to us, the world was much more brutal. Every day, people didn't seem to mind seeing people flogged to death, hung on crosses, burned or whatever other despicable thing they could think up. The Colosseum in Rome is a living monument of what humanity is capable of and is characteristic of the time before Jesus came to earth.
But Jesus changed everything when he came that starry night and our systems in society, literature, the arts and music, education, welfare, architecture, and science have all been shaped by Jesus and his teachings.
Christianity played a role in ending practices such as human sacrifice, infanticide and polygamy. The early Christians were the first ones to get babies from the rubbish heap, adopt them, and initiated adoption centres for the children who were rejected from their homes. They recognised that everyone is made in God's image and deserves a chance at life.
A Hindu woman once said to a Christian missionary, "Surely your Bible was written by a woman.' 'Why?' he asked. "Because it says so many kind things for women".
Sati – widow burning was once commonplace in India. Thousands of girls and women, some as young as 13 years old, were married to men who were fifty or sixty years old. On their husbands' deaths, they were expected to throw themselves on the burning funeral pier and die. However, it was through the agitation of Christian missionaries in India that it was made illegal in the 1830s. Thousands of girls and women owe their lives to the influence of those missionaries.
The morality of any society can easily be judged by its view on human life. Remove the influence of Jesus in the world, and you will quickly see how cheap human life becomes.
Before the spread of Christianity, there was no organised extensive charitable effort around the world. But the example and teachings of Jesus changed how the world reacted to those in need, especially the poor, the widowed and the orphaned.
The Bible repeatedly teaches us to love our neighbour, give, have compassion and bear one another's burdens. "He who despises his neighbour sins; But he who has mercy on the poor, happy is he." (Proverbs 14:21)
Hospitals as we know them began through the influence of those who sought to follow Jesus's way and teachings. This gave rise to nursing care and organisations started by Christians, such as The Red Cross.
Education available to everyone has its roots in Christianity, and the greatest universities worldwide were started by Christians for Christian purposes. While many of them may today be quite hostile to the Christian faith, the fact is that it was through the labour and sacrifices of Christians that Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and others were created.
It's a little ironic that society now tries to make Christians look ignorant or uneducated when Christianity has done more to inspire education in the modern world than any other group.
A serviceman in World War Two is documented to have been out in the jungle on one of the pacific islands when he came across an indigenous man carrying a big bible. He pointed at it and said, "we don't believe in that book anymore". The man looked at him and smiled, "well, it's a good thing for you that I do, or you'd be in here by now", and he pointed at his stomach.
The spread of Christianity caused the widespread practice of cannibalism to decrease as people came to know Jesus and follow his teachings.
One scholar said, "Without Jesus' influence in our society, we would not have benign neutrality, but a sinister form of secularism, where life would have diminished value."
Jesus Christ was born; He did come to earth, and it's important to understand what a difference historically and individually He has made.
One, because it affects our life both now and for all eternity, and two, so that we are ever mindful of continuing to protect and stand for that which is pure, holy, loving and good.
As Tim Keller said, "If you want to live intelligently in the world, then you need to know something about Jesus." Because Jesus of Nazareth is still the most influential person in the entire narrative of human history, regarded by Christians and non-Christians alike.
I encourage you this Christmas time to not take for granted or forget what Jesus has done for you. The gospel's truth and the hope Jesus brings still have the power to transform and change your life and those around you. It is just as the angel said on that starry night.
Prayer: Jesus, help me not to take for granted or underestimate the difference you coming into the world made. You are the one who taught us how to love, to be compassionate, and how to reach out to the hurting, the sick, and the lonely. Please help me take hold of all that you have done for me individually and the world this Christmas. In Jesus name Amen