Pastor and accomplished author Max Lucado’s latest book Because of Bethlehem: Love is Born, Hope is Here reminds readers why the Christmas message is so radical and so needed in our day.
Here is a Q&A with Lucado about his book and the Christmas season.
First of all, why do you love Christmas so much?
Max Lucado: I love everything about the Christmas season. But spiritually, I love it because somewhere someone will ask the Christmas questions: What’s the big deal about the baby in the manger? Who was he? What does his birth have to do with me?
The questioner may be a child looking at a front-yard crèche. He may be a soldier stationed far from home. She may be a young mom who, for the first time, holds a child on Christmas Eve. The Christmas season prompts questions.
When did you start asking these kinds of questions?
When I was a young kid, my dad, a man of few words, had told my brother and me, “Boys, Christmas is about Jesus.” I thought about what he said, and I began asking the Christmas questions. I’ve been asking them ever since. I love the answers I have found.
Like this one: God knows what it is like to be a human. When I talk to him about deadlines or long lines or tough times, he understands. He’s been there. He’s been here.
Because of Bethlehem, I have a friend in heaven. Because of Bethlehem, I have a Savior in heaven. Christmas begins what Easter celebrates. The child in the cradle became the king on the cross.
And because he did, there are no marks on my record. Just grace. His offer has no fine print. He didn’t tell me, “Clean up before you come in.” He offered, “Come in, and I’ll clean you up.”
It’s not my grip on him that matters but his grip on me. And his grip is sure. So is his presence in my life. God is always near us. Always for us. Always in us.
We may forget him, but God will never forget us. We are forever on his mind and in his plans. He called himself “‘Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’)” (Matt. 1:23).
You say that Jesus promises a “repeat performance.” How will his next appearance differ from the first one in a manger?
Bethlehem was just the beginning. I call his next appearance, Bethlehem, act 2. No silent night this time, however. The skies will open, trumpets will blast, and a new kingdom will begin.
He will empty the tombs and melt the winter of death. He will press his thumb against the cheek of humanity and wipe away all tears.
“Be gone, sorrow, sickness, wheelchairs, and cancer! Enough of you, screams of fear and nights of horror! Death, you die! Life, you reign!”
The manger dares us to believe the best is yet to be. And it could all begin today.
How does the name Jesus imply the way God saves us from ourselves?
Look carefully at the words the angel spoke to Joseph. “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matt. 1:20– 21)
We may not see the connection between the name Jesus and the phrase “save his people from their sins,” but Joseph would have. He was familiar with the Hebrew language.
The English name Jesus traces its origin to the Hebrew word Yeshua. Yeshua is a shortening of Yehoshuah, which means “Yahweh saves.”
Who was Jesus? God saves. What did Jesus come to do? God saves. Jesus was not just godly, godlike, God hungry, God focused, or God worshipping. He was God. Not merely a servant of God, instrument of God, or friend of God, but Jesus was God.
God saves, not God empathizes, cares, listens, helps, assists, or applauds. God saves. Specifically “he will save his people from their sins” (v. 21). Jesus came to save us, not just from politics, enemies, challenges, or difficulties. He came to save us from our own sins.
Here’s why. God has high plans for you and me. He is recruiting for himself a people who will populate heaven. God will restore his planet and his children to their Garden of Eden splendor. It will be perfect. Perfect in grandeur. Perfect in righteousness. Perfect in harmony.
While the Christmas story is full of beauty and wonder, there is a bad guy. Describe the message his life offers.
We can learn a lesson from the sad life of King Herod. It’s always better to step down from the pedestal than to be pulled off of it. Herod missed an opportunity to see Jesus.
God did everything necessary to get Herod’s attention. He sent messengers from the East and a message from the Torah. He sent wonders from the sky and words from Scripture. He sent the testimony of the heavens and the teaching of the prophets.
But Herod refused to listen. He chose his puny dynasty over Christ. He died a miserable old man. The path marked Pride will lead you over a cliff. The path marked Humility will take you to the manger of the Messiah.
How is Christmas a season of waiting and watching?
The first Christmas was marked by “lookers” as well. Joseph looked for lodging. Mary looked into the prunish face of Jesus. A thousand angels looked upon the King. The wise men looked at the star.
But no one was looking with more intensity than a seasoned saint named Simeon in Luke 2. History is not an endless succession of meaningless circles but a directed movement toward a great event.
God has a timeline. And because of Bethlehem, we have an idea where we stand on it.
As the apostle John said, “My dear children, these are the last days” (1 John 2:18 NCV). We enjoy the fruit of the first coming but anticipate the glory of the second. We refuse to believe that this present world is the sum total of human existence.
We celebrate the First Advent to whet our appetites for the Second. We long for the next coming. ’Tis the season to be looking not for a jolly man in a red suit but for a grand King on a white horse.
At his command the sea will give up the dead, the devil will give up his quest, kings and queens will give up their crowns, broken hearts will give up their despair, and God’s children will lift up their worship. Wise is the saint who searches like Simeon.
If you knew Jesus was returning tomorrow, how would you feel today? Anxious, afraid, unprepared? If so, you can take care of your fears by placing your trust in Christ. If your answer includes words like happy, relieved, and excited, hold tightly to your joy.
Heaven is God’s answer to any suffering you may face. If you knew Jesus was coming tomorrow, what would you do today? Then do it! Live in such a way that you would not have to change your plans.
How is the story of Christmas the story of God’s relentless love for us?
If God was willing to wrap himself in rags and drink from a mother’s breast, then all questions about his love for us are off the table. We might question his actions, decisions, or declarations. But we can never, ever question his zany, stunning, unquenchable affection.
The moment Mary touched God’s face is the moment God made his case: there is no place he will not go. If he is willing to be born in a barnyard, then expect him to be at work anywhere— bars, bedrooms, boardrooms, and brothels.
No place is too common. No person is too hardened. No distance is too far. There is no person he cannot reach. There is no limit to his love. When Christ was born, so was our hope.
MAX LUCADO (@MaxLucado) is a pastor at Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, Texas and a best-selling author with millions of books in print around the world. Because of Bethlehem is his first original trade book devoted entirely to Christmas.