On this 11th day of Advent, Norman Vincent Peale, the founder of Guideposts, celebrates the difference Christ's birth has made in so many lives...
Day 11: If Christ Had Never Been Born
On a July day last summer several of us were standing by the entrance to a cave in the shepherds’ fields less than a mile from Bethlehem where Jesus Christ was born. The cave’s blackened ceiling and flue bore witness to its use by shepherds over many centuries.
Those famous shepherds, who were tending their flocks that night, may have wonderingly heard the heavenly choir. Perhaps from this very spot they started for Bethlehem to see “this great thing that has come to pass.” (Luke 2:15)
Gazing reflectively across the fields to Bethlehem, a businessman named Fred said feelingly, “It sure would have been tough for me if Jesus had not been born.” Then he added with quite remarkable insight, “Obviously, birth is one of Christianity’s key words. He was born and I and thousands of others were reborn.”
As he spoke my mind went back to a May Sunday morning months ago in the Marble Collegiate Church on Fifth Avenue, New York. In my sermon that day I described the changed life that is possible when one truly surrenders himself to Christ. I told of John Sherrill, one of our Guideposts editors, whose spiritual experience brought him healing from illness and stimulated amazing new life.
This great thing happened to John through an act of surrender when he said simply, “I give my heart and life to Jesus.” John then experienced a deep and profound new birth.
At the close of the sermon, I felt moved to issue a spiritual invitation. “I shall be in a room off the main sanctuary after this service,” I said to the congregation. “Anyone who desires to surrender his problems, fears, hates, illnesses into the hands of Jesus is invited to meet me there.”
Some 30 people joined me in that little room, among them Fred. In unison the entire group took the step of personal surrender. We were just about to close the meeting when Fred asked if he might say something. He described himself as in a great crisis physically and spiritually.
“The doctors have found something that looks very bad for me. I go to the hospital tomorrow. Please help me to give myself completely to Him.”
When I put my hand on his shoulder, I could feel him trembling inwardly all down through his body. A prayer was offered for his healing, but even more for a complete rebirth in heart and mind.
Through God’s grace Fred did receive a physical healing. Furthermore, the ever-generous Lord granted him a vital new life that now effervesces within him.
This past summer Fred joined a group of us who traveled to the Holy Land. It was soon after this visit to the fields outside of Bethlehem that we had a meeting one night during which everyone was given an opportunity to tell of Christ’s power in their lives.
Hardly ever have I heard a witness at once so sensible and yet so real and moving as Fred gave in his characteristically down to earth manner.
This man’s experience actually is a demonstration of what Christmas means. Christ was born to give rebirth to people who had lost the way, whose lives had gone stale.
How dull and hopeless life would have been had He never been born. No wonder we sing “Joy to the world, the Lord has come.
This applies also to the many unhappy, frustrated, defeated people who have found new life through Jesus Christ. Had He never been born or had they never discovered Him, they would have gone from defeat to defeat with life simply a burden and making no sense.
But since Christ was born into this world and since a personal relationship with Him releases within one hitherto unrealized powers, those who are really changed by Him become victorious individuals.
No one or nothing in all history has had the dynamic and revolutionary effect upon individuals as did Jesus. That is why millions every Christmas turn toward the little town of Bethlehem and give thanks that Jesus Christ was born.
This story first appeared in the January 1963 edition of Guideposts.