Christmas and accepting God's help

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Beatles once had a song called "Help!" Not a single person reading this column fails to understand what help is. That's because each of us has been helped, at one time or another, in one way or another, by someone else.

At Christmastime, we make our annual declaration that God helped us by sending Jesus to earth -- to share our common lot, to teach, heal and perform miracles and to do the work for which God glorified Him -- death on a cross and resurrection from the grave. In other words, Jesus helped us when we were helpless in the face of sin. It is clear, however, how many people seem to believe that God only steps in after we have done the heavy lifting ourselves.

Christian Century magazine, in its Nov. 29 edition, quotes Jay Leno of "The Tonight Show," who once asked passers-by in Los Angeles to name just one of the Ten Commandments. The most popular answer: "God helps those who help themselves."

Friends, the Bible never says that anywhere. These words are properly credited to Benjamin Franklin in the 1757 edition of Poor Richard's Almanac -- and Franklin's words have found their way into people's minds as being biblical. They are not.

Perhaps the most recent public example of this error came from the lips of White House press secretary Jay Carney, who told the assembled press corps this fall: "I believe the phrase from the Bible is, 'The Lord helps those who help themselves.'"

Wild and inaccurate Bible quotes are found in other sources. Mick, the trainer in the 1976 boxing movie "Rocky," once offered this tidbit: "It's just like the Bible says -- 'You have to get a psychological advantage.'" I assume, dear reader, that you know this isn't in the Scriptures either.

Let's get back to the main point of this column.

Help, to be of any value, must be accepted. Why is it, however, that those who need the most help won't take it?

As Rev. Maclean opined in the 1992 movie "A River Runs Through It" (a movie based on the real-life exploits of a pastor's family in Montana in the 1920s), "It is true we can seldom help those closest to us. Either we don't know what part of ourselves to give or more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted."

Jesus, God's help for a lost and sinful humanity, was given to us. We celebrate this gift at Christmas, which is always a mixture of secular merriment, family tradition and religious observation.

Jesus, God's help, is only of value to us if we accept him. A most common word used to describe Jesus at Christmas is Savior. So, let's parse this out to a logical conclusion.

If he is Savior, then we must need rescued. To be rescued is to be helped. Ergo, if you accept him as Savior, you accept his help.

In Jesus, with all due respect to Dr. Franklin -- that great Founding Father, God helps those who cannot help themselves. He helps those who accept his help -- and hopefully, that's all of us.

Christmas will never make much sense unless we realize how much we need his helping hand.

Merry Christmas.

The Rev. Dr. Jeff Long is senior pastor of Centenary United Methodist Church in Cape Girardeau.

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