TIME magazine recently announced its annual “Person of the Year,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The European head of state was selected over seven other final candidates, but for many of us, we’re poised to celebrate the One who could rightly be called “The Person of Every Year.”
We would be hard-pressed to identify anyone that’s ever walked the earth who has had greater impact than Jesus Christ, whose birth we celebrate each Christmas. For those of us who identify ourselves as followers of Christ, or “Christians,” He is our leader, teacher, example, inspiration, and guide. The Bible describes Jesus as Savior, Lord, the Good Shepherd, the True Vine, the Great Physician, and many other names. Perhaps I’ve left out one of your favorites.
But even for those who don’t profess faith in Christ, even those who vehemently reject Him and His claims to be the Son of God, God incarnate, Jesus’ influence in all of our lives remains unmistakable.
Consider: From time to time the secular media refer to someone who willingly volunteers to help a stranger, even at personal peril, as a “good Samaritan.” In Luke 10:25-37, Jesus told the parable of the good Samaritan to illustrate what He meant when commanding His followers to “love your neighbor as yourself.” That phrase itself has become a virtual cliché, regularly used by people of many faiths – and no faith – to assert our obligation to show compassion, mercy and generosity to those less fortunate than ourselves.
The so-called “Golden Rule,” which admonishes us to “do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12), is another of Jesus’ declarations – downright revolutionary for His time. It’s employed with abandon by those who insist on tolerance for all people, except perhaps for those who believe in and follow the One who said it first.
From time to time we’ll hear about a “prodigal son” who returns to a family, a company, even a political party, after a time of “going astray.” Jesus didn’t use the term “prodigal,” but it comes from another of His parables, also referred to as the parable of the lost son or the two sons, found in Luke 15:11-32.
Jesus was unparalleled in His ability to use what writers call “verbal imagery,” communicating a truth through a vivid oral account. A picture on which to hang a principle. Perhaps this is why so many people remember His stories, even if they don’t understand or dismiss His theology.
Sometimes we hear people being described disparagingly as thinking too much of themselves – “she must think she walks on water.” Jesus did this literally, as recounted in Matthew 14:22-33. And more than one business executive has declared, “I sweat blood to get that account,” a phenomenon Jesus experienced the night before His crucifixion: “And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44).
Of course, Jesus’ uniqueness goes far beyond the words He spoke and His activities on earth. He is the only leader of any religion or belief system reported to have died and then be resurrected. Mohammad, Buddha, Moses, Confucius and others don’t and can’t make that claim.
He boldly declared, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father (God) except through me” (John 14:6), and also stated, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). As C.S. Lewis stated, making such statements would mean Jesus either was a liar, a lunatic, or who He said He was – God in the flesh.
And to those who would accept His gift of forgiveness for their sins, possible only by His atoning death on the cross, Jesus made this promise: "In My Father's house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:2-3).
So as we gather this Christmas with family, friends and loved ones, along with the familiar traditions we have adopted through the years, let’s not stop at reflecting on the pastoral scene of a young mother and father, and a baby in a crude feeding trough – hardly fitting accommodations for the One who would become known as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Let’s remember that Jesus Christ truly was – and is – like no other. He’s not the person of the year; for many of us, He’s the person of every year.