This time of year people often disagree over the meaning of Christmas.
It's easier, somehow, for conversations to drift to the subject of religion.
With people you don't know well it can get a bit dicey.
If you ask what they know of Christmas you might hear, "It's kind of a nice story this time of year, something about a baby in a manger. But I can't really relate. I mean, a baby in a manger?"
Or someone may say, "Well, I think all religions are pretty much the same. Besides, what difference does it make? We're all headed for the same place, no matter how we get there."
What about it? Are all religions "pretty much the same?"
Not according to a traveler to a Middle Eastern country that's over 90 percent Muslim. This American looked up his old friends, let's call them Anisa and Abbud, whom he believed to be Muslim. No, they told him, ever since they heard the Gospel proclaimed they've been Christ-followers.
The American asked what differences they were aware of in the two religions. Without hesitation Abbud answered, "Every Muslim is taught that God is impossibly far from human beings, that we must try our hardest to reach toward Him through being faithful in our spiritual practices.
"Then one day I heard the Good News of Jesus
"Imagine, God came to earth as an infant, just so he could live among human beings. Among people like us!
"The more I read of the Bible the more I was amazed. In Exodus it tells how God dwelt with His people, the Israelites, there in the wilderness. God went before them in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. He even spoke to Moses directly!"
Then Anisa said, "And then we read it was God's plan all along to send His Son to earth. He came to pay the price of all our sins. To set us right with holy God. Now we are free! Free from fear, free from condemnation. Right away I felt lighter, as if someone unlocked my heavy chains.
"Jesus did it all! For me! I will never be the same."
Abbud smiled, "That's what sets Christianity apart."
Christmas is nothing less than a miracle of God
In the Bible Jesus often is called the Word, as in John 1:1-5, 14 NIV:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. he was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without hijm nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
The Christian faith is not about a far-off, distant god
Nor is it about magnificent monuments or cities where followers must go and worship to prove their faithfulness. It's not even about living up to a list of dos and don'ts.
The Christian faith is all about our Lord being up close and personal for every one of us. Our Savior and best Friend. Our Comforter. Our strength. Our Deliverer. Our Peace. Our Joy.
That's why God came to earth, born as a human baby to a human mother, there in Bethlehem. Fully human and fully God.
For all the world.
That's the real Christmas story.
May it be your story, too. I pray your heart will be filled with the joy of Jesus this Christmas and all through the New Year!