Life needs a center, a core, an axis to revolve around and anchor our physical and philosophical existence. Whether we like it or not, we all center our lives around something – it might be family, career, money, or sex, or ego, or an addiction. There is some element that will drive our life path forward toward good or ill, whether we’re conscious of it or not. So Christmas is a time to consider what we want the center of our lives to be, and we want a center we can trust. Throughout history, people long and search for this purpose. Whenever this quest is directed away from the self or from material “stuff,” it inevitably passes into the realm of the eternal. And precisely because the infinite is beyond the grasp of our senses, faith is born.
But what do we put our faith in? What is that core? Faith is the hope in what we do not see (Heb. 11:1). There is a tendency for strongly held beliefs to cause division, arguments, power struggles, and even war. Many are skeptical of religion for that reason, and admittedly there is evidence to support this doubting. But there is a far stronger case to affirm a loving and life-giving faith in one core Truth. And that Truth is Jesus! Jesus Christ is God made man. Jesus is the center of life, of love, of everything.
God made a promise of faithfulness to his people in return for obedience to his law. The law was an amazing gift, but not sufficient to keep peace and order in our world. God, the everlasting creator, had the most wonderful plan of salvation: Jesus, his one and only Son.
God placed Jesus into the womb of the Virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit, the giver of life. God chose that most protected space to be the center and beginning of all new human life, and also of the spiritual rebirth for his created people. To be conceived is God’s thought taking life, to be born is life taking breath and action. Jesus was sent to the beginning; he came from the source, the center, right into the center of human existence, in the womb of a mother.
God planned a human father and a family to nurture his Son, now the Son of Man, and so he sent an angel of the Lord to tell “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:20–21). “And the child grew and was strong in Spirit” (Luke 2:40).
Precisely because the infinite is beyond the grasp of our senses, faith is born.
Jesus’ ministry started with baptism, the symbolic renewal of repentance that John the Baptist was preaching to crowds of seekers. This is another birth, a re-centering on the source of life. As Jesus rose from the Jordan, the spirit of God descended like a dove and rested on him. God confirmed the faith saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17).
Jesus’ first teaching was blunt: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17). Every action of Jesus was central to people’s lives: celebrating marriage, blessing children, forgiving sins, healing the sick and mentally ill, feeding the hungry, teaching, business consulting in his parables and fishing advice, and even raising the dead. Jesus loved and nurtured the core, the spark, the center of every soul he encountered, even of his enemies who plotted his betrayal and brutal murder.
Yes, Jesus is the center. We too should be centered on him. But to be Christ-centered is not to be moderate. It is not compromise. It is living by the life-giving power of humility and faith. It is starting from and returning to the source. It is to live the radical love of Jesus that lays down its life for others and trusts God’s plan for salvation and eternity. This Christmas, take Jesus to your heart, your center, your core, and feel the joy that being truly Christ-centered gives.
J. Heinrich Arnold is a father and grandfather, as well as a pastor, physician assistant, teacher, and musician. He lives at Woodcrest, a Bruderhof in Rifton, New York. Follow him on Twitter: @JHeinrichArnold.